PMGenesis: Chapter 19

Peter Milward's Autobiography: Genesis of an Octogenarian (2008)


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Who is Peter Milward?
0. About PM Genesis of an Octogenarian
1. Attempt at an Autobiography
Pre-conscious World
Local Patriotism
Wimbledon in Wartime 
Pastoral Peace
Pastoral Philosophy
7. Life at Oxford
Between England and Japan 
9. A New Language and Culture
10. Rural Japan
Pastoral Theology
12. Teaching Shakespeare in Japan
13. A Missionary in Japan
Student Revolt  
A Floating University  
16. Literary Pilgrimages  
A Scholar's Paradise  
To and Fro in Japan  
Words, Words, Words  
Annus Mirabilis  
21. Renaissance  
Lost Years  
Two Papal Pilgrimages  
Two Peninsular Pilgrimages

More American Adventures
26. In the Footsteps of Hopkins and Newman  
Two International Conferences  
Catholic Shakespeare  
Last Words  
Bibliographical Afterword  










Villa at Gora











Globe Theatre, London
















Who is Peter Milward?

Blog Brittonia

All About Francis Xavier


Who are the Jesuits?

Joining the Jesuits in Japan







  A Lifetime with Hopkins  by Peter Milward

















     Jacobean Shakespeare
by Peter Milward










Shakespeare the Papist by Peter Milward 









 Mystical Journey, the autobiography of William Johnston, S.J., author of Mystical Theology and many other works on mysticism








 Arise My Love by William Johnston, S.J.












All About Francis Xavier (Articles on Japanese Catholic History and Jesuits) 



















19. Words, words, words!


When asked by Polonius what he is reading, Hamlet merely replies, “Words, words, words!”  Such, too, may be my reply to the other question, what I am writing.  Ever since I came to Japan I seem to have been writing something or other, first articles and essays, then books.  It all began, I suppose, when I was at Oxford, having to write essay after essay for my tutors.  Even before then I had spent much of my time thinking and writing rather than reading.  So I have my eye trouble to thank for not having wasted my time in reading and for having used it more profitably in writing.  So when I joined the teaching staff at Sophia, it was one of my early ambitions to write for myself all the textbooks I needed for use in class.  The first of them was, as I have said, my Introduction to Shakespeare’s Plays (1964).  Then came my Christian Themes in English Literature (1967), and then various commentaries on the poems of TS Eliot and GM Hopkins.  But I soon tired of writing textbooks, as being too pedestrian for my taste.  I really wished to do something more equestrian, possibly not unworthy of Shakespeare himself.  I wished to write something creative, imaginative, more inspired in myself and more inspiring to others.  So I came to write essays and to put them together in book form, after the example of my other favourite author GK Chesterton.  These, too, of course, might be used by Japanese teachers as textbooks for their English classes, or what are called “side-readers” as supplementary to class-work during vacations.  Still, from my point of view they were just collections of essays on my favourite topics, something, anything, even (or especially) nothing.


To begin with, I put together a number of essays composed for various occasions, under a title I recalled from my boyhood days, Things Wise and Otherwise.  No doubt there was more “otherwise” than “wise” in these essays, but the title was surely inspired, considering that the Japanese are more likely to be attracted by “otherwise” than merely “wise”.  Anyhow, once the book was published by Eichosha in February 1970, I was amazed to see one edition following another in rapid succession, till by the end of the year the book had established its position as the textbook best-seller of the time, and my reputation at least in the textbook market was made.  No wonder that from then onwards I came to be in such demand for lectures on behalf of the Yoyogi Seminar and the YMCA, not to mention other groups and institutions.  Then, of course, one book had to be succeeded by another, and one publisher by another, according to the saying, “One good turn deserves another.”  Now I had no need to submit my material to a publisher in the usually vain hope of its being accepted.  Now it was the publishers who came to me in eager search of fresh material, and I was always ready to satisfy them.  It was a case of the well established Japanese principle, “Nothing succeeds like success.”  It was also, as I have said, a point of mine never to refuse a publisher or editor any request for a manuscript, even if I knew nothing about the subject they might propose.  None of them could make more requests than I was prepared to grant.  I felt like echoing the words of Desdemona to Othello, “I wonder in my soul what you could ask me that I should deny.”  I have no doubt but that this was also Shakespeare’s principle in writing his plays, even when it led him into the composition of such dramatic monstrosities as Titus Andronicus.


 Incidentally, about this play I was once giving a lecture on the early drama of Shakespeare, and I was saying with my customary exaggeration that the dramatist ought to have been ashamed of having written such an inferior play.  I even added, “If you have any opportunity of going to see a production of this play, even if you are offered a complimentary ticket, don’t go!  It isn’t worth it.”  On returning to my room, however, I received a phone call from a friend, saying that she had received some complimentary tickets for a Shakespeare play at the Tokyo Globe Theatre, so would I be interested in coming to see it that evening?  Naturally I asked her which was the play, but she didn’t know.  Anyhow, that evening I was free, and so I went.  Then inevitably, given the circumstances, the play turned out to be Titus Andronicus – not in English, nor in Japanese, but in Romanian!  I might perhaps have enjoyed it, as one may enjoy an opera in Italian, but I didn’t enjoy it, even in Romanian.  At least, the experience served to confirm the advice I had given my students in the morning.  I, too, may claim to have written many atrocious things, but nothing, I am sure, quite as atrocious as Titus Andronicus.  Nor am I speaking of Shakespeare’s puns, many of which are even more atrocious than mine!


To return to Things Wise and Otherwise, what sort of essays, I may be asked, were included in it to make it so attractive to students, or rather to the teachers who chose to make use of it for their classes?  In it, among other matters, I criticized the common tendency of Japanese to speak about themselves in the plural as “We Japanese”, thereby assuming the dignity of representing their whole nation.  “We English,” I ironically added, “never speak of ourselves in such a manner.  We are all individualists, and we only speak for our individual selves.”  Of course, when I venture to say such a thing in public, I have to look round the lecture hall to make sure there are no English people present to contradict me.  I further dwelt on the famous phrase attributed to the American missionary and teacher in Hokkaido, Dr. William Clark, “Boys, be ambitious!” I contrasted his words with those of William Shakespeare in the warning he gives Cromwell through the mouth of Wolsey, “Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition!”  Then, I spoke of “Examination Fever” in March, of “V for Victory”, of Progress, Humanism, and Freedom, of the Student Struggle, of War and Peace, of “Ladies and Gentlemen!” and finally of Hamlet’s famous question, “To be, or not to be?”  I wondered what there was in such titles to provoke such a stampede of students to the bookshops, or of their teachers to the publisher.  Much no doubt depended on the words I had used in treating of such topics, words I had in turn derived from my study of Shakespeare.  But much also depended on the publisher, who was a well-known textbook publisher in Japan, and on my annotator, who was also well-known in the field of English teaching besides being a good friend of mine.  Even more, no doubt, depended on chance or the right time, or rather what I prefer to call divine providence.  Then, as I say, one thing led to another, and one good turn deserved another.  So from the same publisher I went on to bring out two more books on my early experiences in Japan, contrasting them with my memories of England.  They both steadily climbed the charts of best-selling textbooks, though not as phenomenally as the first.  As Shakespeare also says of his fellow countrymen through the mouth of Falstaff, “It was always yet the trick of our nation, if they have a good thing, to make it too common.”  That is, as I have always found, the very principle of Japanese publishers.  They don’t know when to stop!


Anyhow, in 1974 I transferred my publishing allegiance from Eichosha to Seibido, another best-selling textbook publisher, who liked to specialize in things English.  So I humoured his preference and produced yet another best-seller entitled England in Sketches, based on my tours of England and illustrated with my own sketches – also annotated by my above-mentioned friend.  Not that I had any special reason for thus moving from the one to the other publisher.  So far as I was concerned, either would do.  But for the increasing number of my manuscripts I needed a wider selection of publishers, according to my favourite motto – which was no doubt also Shakespeare’s motto, for marriages at the end of his comedies and for deaths at the end of his tragedies – “The more, the merrier!”  But now, I may be asked, what do I mean, or what is meant in the Japanese textbook market, by a best-seller in terms of the number of copies sold?  I can’t give the exact figures, but Things Wise and Otherwise sold over 100,000 copies in the first few years and by now its sale must have topped 200,000.  The other two books for Eichosha, I think, sold over 80,000 copies each.  As for those I published from Seibido, they sold on average 50,000 copies each.  It all convinces me that everything depends less on the author than on the publisher and his promotional expertise.


To illustrate this last point, I may mention another publisher at the other end of the scale, who lacked any promotional expertise I could see but with whom I developed a warm friendship, and so he was more than willing to publish any MS I had to offer him.  To him I was introduced by another colleague of mine at Sophia.  (There were so many colleagues of mine who were drawn into this whirlpool of making books, about which the wise author of Ecclesiastes makes the weary comment, “Of making many books there is no end.”  To that author I might have replied, “Not if I can help it!”)  Sometimes I would gather with my colleague and the publisher at a coffee-shop near Sophia and discuss various publishing projects.  Out of such a conversation there might emerge not just one but two or more MSS, which I was ever ready to provide and my publisher to publish and my colleague to annotate – though he took much more time over his annotations than I had done over my text.  It was from this publisher that I brought out two parts of my Insects Anonymous, which had already proved something of a best-seller in Japanese translation.  In it I presented the imagined thoughts of various insects arranged in alphabetical order, with more humour than entomological expertise.  I hoped to have it published abroad, but my publisher in London, who had brought out my Shakespeare’s Religious Background in 1973, regarded it as too fee or fantastic, and not academic enough for his taste.  I could well see his point.  It was what I had warned all prospective readers of the book from the outset, “To anyone hoping to improve his knowledge of the works and days of insects, I say from the outset, ‘Abandon hope!’”  Only in Japanese the book was taken up by TV and weekly magazines, to such an extent that one national weekly expressed amazement at the favourable notices it had received from two such opposing parties as those of the Communists and the Komeito (the rightist, Buddhist-inspired party).


From the same publisher I brought out two slender volumes of Shakespeare’s Tales Retold, one including four of the tragedies and the other four of the comedies.  I also brought out a fairly successful book on English grammar, its rules and exceptions, under the title A Miscellany of Mistakes – illustrating my penchant for alliterative as well as punning titles.  This was based on the typical mistakes in English grammar which I found recurring in the essays of my Japanese students with a monotonous regularity.  So I dedicated the book, not without affectionate irony, “To my students at the universities of Sophia and Tokyo, the first authors and lasting inspirers of this volume.”  From this publisher, Azuma Shobo, I brought out altogether some eighteen books, and so I can hardly be expected to speak about each one.  Only, I must say something about the last two, which made a consecutive pair, under the title Adventures in the Alphabet.  They also arose out of a conversation in the same coffee-shop near Sophia with my colleague, my publisher and myself.  I proposed the idea of going through all the letters of the alphabet using a kind of “stream of consciousness” technique.  When I got back to my room and sat at my typewriter, I found this idea so inspiring that I had my typescript ready for handing to the publisher within a matter of days.  To be precise, it was on a Thursday evening that I sat down at my typewriter and the following Sunday evening that I phoned my Sophia colleague and told him it was all ready for his annotations.  Only, at 120 pages it was too long for one textbook, and so I had to divide it into two parts.  But for all my inspiration in writing it, the book (or books) proved to be the least popular for use in classrooms, and from then onwards I was asked for no more MSS by that publisher.


Anyhow, as Shakespeare also says, “There is a tide in the affairs of men” – and especially, I might add, of writers.  If I had taken it at the flood in the early 1970s, it was already in the process of ebbing about the mid-1980s when those two books were born.  This was also the time when – if I may boast of my prose prowess – I brought out yet another book that might claim a similar place in the Guinness Book of Records, namely the composition of a book in a day.  One morning in summer – or to be precise, August 15 1985 – I woke up and wondered, “What shall I write about today?”  Then I got the idea of writing about the events of that day, as it happened to be the anniversary of both the landing of St Francis Xavier at Kagoshima in 1549 and the end of the Pacific War in 1945 – as well as being the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, within the zodiacal sign of the Virgin.  So in the course of that one day I did in fact write the whole book, admittedly only 50 pages and admittedly in rough draft.  It still remained for me to get down to my typewriter and type it out neatly before sending it to another publisher.  Needless to say, like the other pair of books, it proved to be an immediate flop and so it remains in its first edition, if it is still in print.


All the same, I remained dissatisfied with these little books of essays which I found so easy to write and to win publishers.  It was also my ambition to take my place in the Japanese market not only for textbooks but for general books, too.  The first such book of mine is that which I have already mentioned, that on the anonymity of insects, which was taken up by one of the leading publishers in Tokyo, Shinchosha.  Then it attracted another leading publisher, Kodansha, who also came and asked me for my manuscripts.  I was able to offer them two at once, The English and the Japanese – of course, in Japanese translation by another colleague of mine who specialized in the art of translation, and Jesus and His Disciples.  Both of them soon became best-sellers, the former attaining the heights of Things Wise and Otherwise with 200,000 copies sold, and the latter with only half that amount, though still a respectable number.  With another publisher named Shunjusha I arranged for an edition of Chesterton translations, not his novels or Father Brown stories, which had almost all been translated into Japanese with considerable success, but his more philosophical writings.  At first the plan was only for a series of ten volumes, but they proved to be so successful, with a sale of 40,000 for them all together, that the publisher went on to bring out another five volumes of literary biography, which failed to achieve the same success.  Yet another publisher, Taishukan, who specialized in dictionaries, sought my assistance also in this field, and from them, too, I brought out a series of dictionaries, all in Japanese translation, such as A Dictionary of Plants and Animals in English Literature and A Dictionary of Animals in the Bible.  For these books I hardly need to say that the writing of them took me considerably longer than my other books of essays.


At various stages in my book production, in which I have been assisted by so many friends and colleagues, whether as annotators or translators, I have had various celebrations – first of the 100th book, then of the 250th book, and lastly of the 300th book. On that occasion a publishing friend of mine edited a large volume about all my books with essays of friends and acquaintances, under the title (in Japanese), The World of Peter Milward.  At the time of my largest output I might well have claimed membership of a book-a-month club, not in the customary sense of purchasing a new book every month, but in the unique sense of writing and publishing a new book every month.  Only, I should add in the interests of truth and humility that most of these books amounted to little more than 50-70 pages of text, with the addition of annotations to bring their pagination up to 100.  In the 1990s, however, I might again have quoted the words of Shakespeare, about their decline in number, “O what a fall was there!”  Now I find textbook publishers unwilling to accept my MSS, as being no longer relevant to the needs and demands of the younger generation of students and teachers.  What publishers now require are books of conversation and practical English, on a more pedestrian level to that on which I was writing.  And my response to such new requirements, prompted by the Ministry of Education, was simply, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!”  At the same time, more and more of my books were going out of print.  If I may mention a notorious example, in 1994 I published in Japanese translation a book on famous words of the Bible from PHP, and for the first edition alone 37,000 copies were printed, but within a couple of years, when I ordered more copies, I was informed that the book was already out of print.  Obviously, if it had been sold out in such a short time, it would have been immediately reprinted as a promising best-seller.  So I could only suspect that not so many copies had actually been sold and the rest must have been shredded without a word mentioned to the author about this massacre of his innocents.  Such is the fate of mortal flesh and the books that go with it, apart from the plays of Shakespeare which still seem to be immune from decay.  Yet in so far as he still lives, it is due partly to the bardolatry of modern critics, partly to the iconoclasm of modern producers.


Now at the end of this too brief chapter on my many books, I have to deal with an obvious objection.  Hasn’t it all been a frittering away of my talent, a useless dispersion of one among many, or what TS Eliot would call one long distraction from distraction by distraction?  Of course, I can’t agree.  My basic idea is that I have come to Japan not as a scholar, nor primarily as a university teacher, but as a missionary of Jesus Christ.  In all I do and speak and write, this is my final aim, that of evangelization.  In modern Japan, however, it is impossible to carry out this aim in any direct form through the Church, seeing that the Japanese today aren’t interested in Jesus Christ or his Gospel.  Or rather, they think they aren’t interested, since they imagine, like not a few Westerners, they have heard all about it.  So mine has to be an indirect apostolate.  As Shakespeare complains in one of his sonnets, “I may not evermore acknowledge thee.”  In the same way, I find myself unable to speak openly of Jesus Christ in most of my textbooks, considering that most teachers would simply decide not to use them openly in their English classes.  Nor can I blame them.  Rather, I have to be in my books, as I see Shakespeare had to be in his plays, seemingly secular.  I have to speak about this and that which I find in the modern world of Japan or outside Japan, in order to attract readers.  At the same time, I contrive to insert something of a religious and Christian message without making it too obvious, just as Shakespeare did, or even (I may add) as Jesus himself did.  If I have any message, it isn’t any original message of mine but it is what I find at least implied in the Bible.  And what I want to say about the Bible is that it, too, isn’t only religious, in the modern sense of that much abused word, but also secular.  Jesus himself appears in the Gospels, not least in the eyes of those professionals of religion, his Pharisaic adversaries, as secular, and so I can easily draw on his teaching without seeming to do so.


This is why, instead of proposing to myself a ten-year or twenty-year plan for my publications, like the Puritan poet John Milton, I prefer to have no plan at all and, like Shakespeare, to leave the shaping of my ends in the more capable hands of “a divinity”, while rough-hewing them as best I can.  Over the past forty years of my life I have been offered so many opportunities of writing now this, now that, by one editor or publisher or another, and I have readily accepted all of them without ever, to the best of my memory, having said “No!”  True, some of those opportunities may have been dead-ends or culs-de-sac, apparently leading me nowhere.  But not a few of them have been most fruitful and I have managed to reach a wide audience in Japan, wider that I could ever have foreseen.  Always, however, my meaning has been the same, not just to entertain, even with my poor jokes, but rather to impart some message or word of instruction.


Above all, it has been increasingly borne in on me that at least part of my mission in Japan, not only as a Christian and a missionary, nor only as a scholar and a teacher, but also as a Westerner and a foreigner, has been to protect the Japanese from themselves.  From my detached position as an observer from outside Japan, I can see so clearly that the Japanese have been doing nothing since the end of World War II but destroying themselves and their country.  The motive behind it all has been partly the making of money, especially amid the urge to recover from the disaster of the war, partly, and more recently, the desire to be “with it”, in terms of what they see as “Americanization” or what an American friend of mine calls “Los Angelization”.  So I regard it as no small part of my mission in Japan to remind the people of what they have been senselessly abandoning in their precious Japanese tradition.  Not that I subscribe to the antiquarian spirit of so many experts on Japanology.  Mine is rather the simple viewpoint of one who loves Japan and the Japanese and who wants them to know and to be themselves.  While saying this of Japan and the Japanese, however, I am aware that I have to say the same of all men in the modern world.  Ever since the end of World War II, and before then, too, we human beings have been engaged in an almost systematic attempt to destroy ourselves and we have all but succeeded.  We have all been seduced by the Siren voices of “reform” and “revolution”, of “liberty” and “liberation”, and we have turned almost savagely against any form of “conservatism” and “tradition”.  We have been continually urged to look forwards to the future, with all its uncertainty, and away from the past, which has already taken place.  We have forgotten that only in the past can we find the light to guide our footsteps towards the future, and that every successful revolution, like that of Jesus himself, has been rooted in the traditional ideals of the past.  As St Augustine says of the Bible, “Novum in vetere latet, vetus in novo patet” – “The new is latent in the old, while the old is patent in the new.”  His words are true not only of his day but also of today, and not only of the Bible but of all human history.

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