PMGenesis: Chapter 20

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


<- Prev *** Next ->

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  










View from Boars Hill, Oxford













 Catholic Church, Cambridge














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) 


















20. Annus Mirabilis


   Again in 1973-74, as before in 1965-66, I was granted a whole year’s sabbatical leave from my university.  This, more than before, was to prove a year of wonders for me.  Already I had received an invitation from our Jesuit university in Korea, Sogang University in Seoul, to come and give lectures on English literature during their first semester.  After that I looked forward to completing my work on the two volumes of religious controversy in the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages.  At the same time, I had other plans in my mind which were realized in due time.  First, however, as the school year in Korea began simultaneously with that in Japan, on April Fools’ Day, I thought I would take this opportunity of beginning my sabbatical with a pilgrimage to the holy places for Japanese Christians in Nagasaki.  All this time since coming to Japan I had never been there or paid my respects to the Christian martyrs enshrined there.


   On arriving, therefore, at the airport of Omura, the nearest to Nagasaki, which is too hilly to have an airport of its own, I took an express bus to this Christian city, the only city of its kind in all Japan.  Along the road I was delighted to see many plum trees in blossom, and I composed another haiku of mine with the rhyming repetition of –saki, which means end or tip or headland, “Nagasaki no/ ume-edasaki wa/ tabi no saki” – “On the way to Nagasaki the sprigs of plum-blossom brought me to the end of my journey.”  Of course, I was in fact just at the beginning of my long sabbatical journey, but already in my beginning I had found my end, the shrine of the 26 martyrs, put to death for their faith under the ruler Hideyoshi in 1597.  I planned to stay there for two or three days, and the Jesuit house which afforded me accommodation almost coincided with the memorial to those martyrs.  So it was most convenient to my purpose.  The superior of the nearby Jesuit retreat house was also a good friend of mine from our early days together at Taura, and he kindly undertook to show me round the holy places.  He also drove me to the fearful place of Unzen, where other martyrs were hung suspended for hours over the sulphur pits till they either apostatized or died in agony.  The Japanese of those days certainly knew all about the art of torture, and had little to learn from Shakespeare’s contemporaries, the torturers at the Tower and the executioners at Tyburn.  Also, just as in England, here, too, it was the apostates themselves who entered into collaboration with the authorities by persuading them (by means of torture) not to make martyrs but apostates.


   Then from the international airport at Fukuoka in Kyushu I made my way to Seoul.  Looking down from the plane, I saw Korea as a brown waste land with little sign of vegetation, quite unlike the lush countryside of Japan with its many evergreen trees.  Seoul, too, as I saw it on my way from the airport into the city, struck me as a waste land of concrete buildings.  Unlike Japan, where traditional houses were all made of wood, here in Korea everything was constructed with concrete.  Yet out of all this concrete there arose, as if by a miracle, innumerable spires of Christian churches, not only Catholic but also – as I was later informed – Protestant, especially in the severer, Presbyterian, form.  Subsequently, I met some Protestant students who asked me if I drank alcohol.  When I answered, “Of course!” they were shocked.  Then it was my turn to ask them, “What about Jesus, and all the water he turned into wine at the marriage feast of Cana?  And what about the last supper?  Didn’t he then institute the sacrament of communion with bread and wine?”  They answered that what is called “wine” in the Bible is really grape-juice.  All I could say by way of rebuttal was “Prove it!  If it is called wine, it must have been real wine.”


   Sogang itself was on the outskirts of the city.  It was blessed with a wider, more grassy campus than Sophia.  Considering I would only be there for a few months, I made no attempt to learn the language.  I was advised not to speak Japanese, even if the older Koreans knew the language, since they had such bad memories of Japanese rule up till the end of the war.  Naturally, I used English for my classes, like the American fathers who largely staffed the English department, and the students spoke to me in English.  They were so much better than their counterparts at Sophia.  Why?  The only explanation that occurred to me was that the Koreans were more outwardly oriented, looking one straight in the eyes, whereas the Japanese were more introverted, with eyes perpetually cast down, like statues of the Buddha.  But outside the English department, and outside Sogang, I felt like the proverbial three monkeys of Oriental tradition, with their hands one over the eyes, one over the ears, and one over the mouth.  For one thing, I was unable to read the strange Korean writing.  Since the end of the war they had largely dispensed with Chinese characters, associated as they were with the Japanese occupation, and they had developed their own logical form of writing.  For another, I was unable to understand the spoken language, or to communicate with the people.  So I was deaf, dumb and blind.  This, however, made it paradoxically easier for me to appreciate the sounds of Korean speech, in much the same way as an opera sounds to me more melodious in Italian, which I can’t understand, than in my native English.  Even with the old Latin liturgy used in church, not a few of the older Catholics used to say they preferred it in Latin, precisely because it was beyond their understanding and therefore more mystical.


   For this reason I found I had much more spare time while teaching at Sogang than I ever had at Sophia.  My extra time I used in three ways.  One way was a series of articles I was invited to contribute to the local English newspaper, The Korean Herald, once a week.  In one of those articles I developed a contrast between the waste land of Korea as I had seen it from the aeroplane and the green vegetation of Japan, as well as the further contrast between the spiritual waste land in Japan and the flourishing of Christianity in Korea.  At that time Billy Graham happened to come to Seoul on one of his preaching crusades, attracting vast audiences of upwards of 500,000 people.  In one of his sermons he began by quoting from that article of mine, saying that he didn’t know the author, that the author may not even have been a Christian, and that he might even hate God, only he couldn’t help noticing the difference between the Koreans and the Japanese.  Then I wrote to him to reassure him that I was indeed a Christian and a Jesuit priest, but I never got a reply out of him.  He must have been too busy to answer me.  All the same, I enjoyed writing those articles, and when I returned to Japan I had them published in book form by my friend at Azuma Shobo under the comprehensive title of A Japanese Englishman in Korea.


   A second way was my book on insects.  It struck me that an appropriate title, for the purpose of indicating its humorous content, would be Insects Anonymous.  This was partly an echo of “Alcoholics Anonymous”, considering the tipsy manner in which not a few insects seem to walk around, partly because insects are so numerous and remote from humanity that we rarely know them as individuals by name.  As for the contents, I thought it would be advisable for me to proceed in alphabetical order, from A for Ant to Z for ZZZ, which is the name preferred by many insects for themselves.  Proceeding in this way, I resolved never to resort to a dictionary or encyclopedia for information, or even for solving the difficulty when I couldn’t think of the name of any insect beginning with that particular letter of the alphabet, as in the above-mentioned case of Z.  In my book, moreover, I determined not to pry into the private lives of insects, like those busybodies called entomologists, but merely to record how they have entered, usually uninvited, into my own life.  I professed to record, not what nobody knows about nothing, like a scientist, but what everybody knows about everything such as insects.  I aimed not at communicating any new knowledge, but at considering how much wisdom we may derive from what we know, or think we know, about these little creatures of the good God.  It was such a simple idea.  I even marveled that no writer before me had ever thought of it.  Then, as I progressed from chapter to chapter, I found I had never derived so much pleasure from writing a book, and I only hoped that my readers would enjoy reading it as I had enjoyed writing it.  But, as I have said, my London publisher turned it down as being too “fee” or fantastic, in contrast to my more serious book on Shakespeare.  So I left the MS with Azuma Shobo, and it was a flop.  Only, it proved to be more successful in its Japanese translation, since the Japanese have more kinship with fairyland than most Western readers.


   A third was the preparation of a lecture course I was planning to give in England, at my old college of Campion Hall, Oxford, on the general subject of Biblical Themes in Shakespeare.  I had allowed myself some six months in England over the winter, from October 1973 onwards, spending the so-called Michaelmas Term (till Christmas) at Oxford and the Lent Term (after the New Year) at Cambridge.  At the latter university, to which I had no special allegiance, I planned to stay at the Catholic church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs, while working on the chapters for my projected book on the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, to be entitled Landscape and Inscape.  Thus I had plenty to keep me busy at Sogang, in spite of my deafness, dumbness and blindness to the outside world.  I was, in fact, too busy to do much sight-seeing.  Only, on one occasion I went with a group of Sogang students on a day’s outing.  Then I noticed how little preparation they put into it, without even checking on times of trains or provision for lunch.  They were so happy-go-lucky, quite unlike the Japanese who, if they go anywhere in a group, have to foresee every detail and provide for every eventuality, including a whole medicine chest.  Then the thought occurred to me that, if the Japanese might be called the English of the Orient, the Koreans were doubtless the Irish.  Subsequently, I met some Korean professors who professed themselves overjoyed at this comparison.  On another occasion, I went on a school excursion by boat among the islands off the South coast of Korea.  It was then that I met those Protestant students who were so convinced by their prejudice against alcohol that Jesus had drink not wine but grape-juice.  Then, too, I discovered that the Koreans had only one great national hero, Admiral Lee, who had led his army to victory over the Japanese by his ingenious invention of a turtle-shaped ship – a ship that never turned turtle!  On yet a third occasion, I visited a leper colony where a former Sophia student of mine was working.  In their distress those lepers might have seemed pitiful, but they might well be envied for their lovely natural surroundings, which were no longer brown in winter but green in the springtime.


   Once the term was over, I was free to make my way to the United States, to do further research on the religious controversies at the Huntington Library.  I also went from place to place, and from one Jesuit college to another, marking what I could only describe as “an abomination of desolation” – owing to a misconceived “liberalization” that had taken place in the wake of Vatican II.  Only in one place could I find any gleam of hope, though the liturgy observed there was abominably “liberal”, and that was Loyola University at Chicago.  There my friend, Fr. Ray Schoder, was awaiting me to discuss details about a project we had conceived when he had visited me in hospital years before in Japan.  Now we went through his large slide collection on places associated with Gerard Manley Hopkins, and I selected those slides which I could use and weave together in chapters for our Landscape and Inscape.  The title we chose implied both the “landscape” as shown on his slides and the “inscape” (using Hopkins’ favourite word) as explained in my chapters.  It was on the basis of the slides we then selected that I decided on the content of each chapter, expecting the publisher to put the illustrations in the appropriate places.  My expectation was, alas, frustrated by the publisher, who put considerations of economy before those of artistic presentation.  When I saw the finished product, I was so disappointed, on finding the illustrations gathered together without any observable relevance to the text.  It was so ironical to find one or two reviewers criticizing the book for its lack of connection between text and illustrations.  It was no less ironical when the following year our volume was actually awarded a prize in America for “the best illustrated book of the year”.  How blind, I reflected, are both reviewers and judges of books! 


   Eventually, I found myself in England at the end of the summer.  After a week at home, now, alas, without my father who had died the previous year, I went up (as Oxfordians say) to Oxford for the Michaelmas Term.  The lectures, which I had duly prepared at Sogang, I now proceeded to give once a week (during the term of eight weeks) at Campion Hall with an average of some 10 students plus a cat.  This was Mao, the Burmese cat of Campion Hall, who seemed to have conceived a particular affection for me as he invariably attended my lectures without fail.  Later I was informed that his real motive wasn’t any personal affection for the lecturer but a preference for the lecture room, which happened to be the only heated room in the building.  Anyhow, I went so far as to dedicate the lectures, when they were published in the series of “Renaissance Monographs” in 1975, “to the Cat of Campion Hall, for his faithful attendance at my lectures – though I admit he did fall asleep during them, in full view of a sympathetic (or scandalized) audience”, adding the prayer, echoing that of Jesus on the cross, “May his sins not be remembered against him, but may he rest in peace.  He passed away this summer (of 1975).”


   During the term-time, however, I didn’t stay at Campion Hall, since in spite of my lectures there I would have had to pay for my upkeep.  Instead, I found a college outside Oxford on the nearby Boar’s Hill, the Anglican seminary of Ripon Hall, where I was granted free board and lodging in return for a series of lectures on “The Religious Controversies of the Elizabethan Age”.  Here I found myself in another ironical situation – for me as a Jesuit to speak without restriction to a group of Anglican seminarians on the Elizabethan religious controversies, when the Jesuits and the Anglicans had been, as we say, “at daggers drawn”.  At that time Vatican II was, of course, long since past, and its decree on Ecumenism had been proclaimed as early as 1964.  Now here I was, putting that decree into practice in a remarkable way, though at the time, so far as I knew, no one either on the Catholic or the Anglican side remarked on it.  As for myself, I must have been too shy, with my Japanese feelings, to do the remarking.  My main purpose had merely been to stay at a place in or around Oxford where I wouldn’t have to pay for my upkeep.  At the same time I enjoyed this opportunity of speaking with the Anglican students both in the classroom and in the dining-room.  My sojourn there was also memorable for my daily experience of the sunrise, when I would leave Ripon Hall to say Mass at the nearby Plater College, a college originally founded for Catholic workers.  As I had my Japanese camera with me, I was able to take many colourful slides of the changing scenery.  Another memorable experience while I was staying there, though not such a pleasant one, was of a particularly gruesome murder committed at a house not far from the college.  The police came and interviewed each of us, in case we might have some clues to provide or suggestions to offer.  At the time of the murder I hadn’t noticed anything significant, but I had what I thought was a good suggestion.  What about calling on Agatha Christie to give them her expert advice on solving the crime, it was so much like the ones she was always writing about?  I fear my suggestion wasn’t taken seriously by the police, who aren’t commonly noted – as Agatha Christie herself often points out – for a sense of humour.


   Then, after a week spent with my family at Christmas, I made my way North to Cambridge, where I felt a comparative stranger.  In my days at Oxford there had been little intercourse with Cambridge, and CS Lewis had been frowned upon when he left his college at Oxford on 1954 – the very year I went to Japan – to take up residence at the similarly named but differently spelt college of St Mary Magdalene at Cambridge, in order to occupy the newly founded chair of Mediaeval and Renaissance Studies with the title of “Professor”.  Here, instead of staying at any of the colleges where I would have had to pay for my upkeep, I found free board and lodging at the rectory of the Catholic church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs as priest on supply – as I had been at Pasadena.  This was a Victorian Gothic church, which had two claims to distinction.  First, it was built by the great Catholic architect of the Victorian age, Augustus Welby Pugin.  Secondly, it claimed to have been made of cats’ eyes.  How, you may wonder, can a church be made of cats’ eyes?  Of course, the building doesn’t actually consist of cats’ eyes, but it was put up on the proceeds from the ingenious device of glass balls, known as “cats’ eyes”, inserted in the middle of country roads for reflecting the headlights of traffic passing along at night.  When the inventor of those eyes died, his pious widow devoted her wealth to the building of this Catholic church.


   Anyhow, while I was there, I was preoccupied with writing the text for each chapter of Landscape and Inscape, so that I might leave the MS in the hands of the London publisher, Paul Elek, together with the slides to be used as illustrations.  I was also able to avail myself of the resources of the Cambridge University Library for my continuing work on the religious controversies.  This I found vastly superior to the Bodleian Library at Oxford for the simple reason that readers were allowed into the stacks to see the books they wanted for themselves.  Moreover, whenever I wanted a rare book, no sooner had I asked for it than it was brought to me – in contrast to the interminable waiting I had to put up with both at the Bodleian Library and at the British Library in London.  I forget now, but I think it was in England, in the spring of 1974, that I was able to complete my work on both volumes of religious controversy, for the Elizabethan and the Jacobean ages respectively, though they weren’t published till 1977 and 1978.  As for my publisher, the Scolar Press, I found he had just gone bankrupt – as often happens when I am about to publish a book.  Fortunately, however, the company had been taken over by another owner and another editor, who were happy to proceed with my project.  I felt so relieved.  Thus my annus mirabilis, my wonderful year, drew to its auspicious close, as I flew back from London to Tokyo, with my projects either fulfilled or in process of fulfillment.

  <- Prev *** Next ->