PMGenesis: Chapter 21

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  







Sophia University Library







Renaissance Centre














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) 







21. Renaissance


   Renaissance means “rebirth”, and as I look back over my life, it seems to me that I have enjoyed many rebirths.  It seems as if I am always dying and rising again.  As we say, “You can’t keep a good man down” – though I have to admit that we say the same of a bad smell.  When I came to Japan and began my study of Japanese with the sentence, “This is a book”, I felt as if I had just been born again, or that I was a child again.  When I began the study of theology a few years later, I had much the same feeling, especially as it wasn’t conducted on the same sophisticated level as it would have been in England or Europe.  Then, especially when I was ordained priest at St. Ignatius’ church in Tokyo, I found myself entering upon a new priestly life.  Also when I began teaching Shakespeare at Sophia University, I felt myself renewed in mind and heart, such is the effect Shakespeare always has on me.  Later, when I was hospitalized with what was diagnosed as TB, I felt like a baby again, reduced to utter helplessness.  At that time, what enabled me to get better more than anything else was my rediscovery of Chesterton’s Father Brown stories, which never failed to put me in a good humour.  Thus I might say it was from Chesterton that I got the idea of a “renaissance of wonder”, which was the very phrase used of him and his writings by a reviewer of his early book on Robert Browning (1903).  In this way I conceived the idea while I was still in hospital, of founding a GK Chesterton Society of Japan, but it didn’t materialize till after my return from my first sabbatical in 1966.  I may thus claim that, to the best of my poor knowledge, our society was founded in Japan long before any such societies were formed in England or Canada or America.


   In the spirit of Chesterton himself, however, we never kept any records, and so I can’t say when precisely we held our first meeting.  In fact, we had no regular meetings but we met as the spirit moved us, according to mutual convenience, as the saying goes, “once in a blue moon”.  All the same, we began our proceedings with a clear end in view, namely the production of a book of critical essays on Chesterton – in the sense not of carping criticism, to which the round shape of the great man might have lent itself only too readily, but of literary criticism or rather appreciation.  As for my own contribution, I submitted essays on Chesterton’s appreciation of Shakespeare and his sense of humour in Orthodoxy, which I had already used as introductions to editions of his Essays on Shakespeare (from Kenkyusha) and his Orthodoxy (from Hokuseido).  Other essays dealt with Chesterton’s paradoxes, his Christian faith, his prose style, his poetry, his journalism, his novels, his Father Brown stories, his view of English history (without dates), his relation with George Bernard Shaw – they seemed made for each other as GKC and GBS – his appreciation by Paul Claudel, together with supplementary material on his reception in Japan and the main dates of his life and writings.  It was the first substantial book of Chesterton criticism in Japanese, after so many of his novels and short stories had already been translated.  It was, moreover, on the occasion of the publication party in honour of this book that I was approached by one of the editors of the publishing company of Shunjusha, a former student of Sophia, about a project for bringing out a series of translations of Chesterton’s philosophical writings which hadn’t yet been introduced to Japanese readers.  We therefore began with a selection of six books that soon increased to ten and eventually – in view of their favourable sales – to fifteen.  The most important of them, and the most widely read, was, needless to say, Orthodoxy.  I felt like calling it “the paradoxy of Orthodoxy”!


   Shortly afterwards, I conceived another idea, that of founding another learned society, this time devoted to the study of Gerard Manley Hopkins.  After all, we were both English Jesuits, having been born and brought up in London – he in the North and I in the South.  We had both studied the Classics at Oxford and entered the Society of Jesus.  As Jesuits we had both lived in many of the same houses.  He had made his noviciate at Manresa House, Roehampton, for two years, while I had spent my second year of juniorate there.  He had gone on to study scholastic philosophy at Stonyhurst for three years, while I had visited Stonyhurst on many occasions, though not for longer than a fortnight.  He had studied theology at St Beuno’s College in North Wales for three years, the same period of time I had spent in my noviciate and first year of juniorate in the beginning of my life as a Jesuit.  Many of the churches to which he was subsequently posted, such as St Aloysius’, Oxford, Farm Street, Mayfair, St Francis Xavier’s, Liverpool and St Aloysius’, Glasgow, were familiar to me.  All the same, while I was in England, I had never paid much attention to him or his poetry – not even at St Beuno’s, where I had hardly been aware that here was the place he had composed so many of his great poems, including “The Wreck of the Deutschland”.  Even at Oxford, where I had gone on from the Classics to English literature, with special attention to poetry, I had failed to include Hopkins in my “repertoire” of English poets, partly because he belonged to that Victorian period which hadn’t been regarded as belonging to “English literature”.  It was only after my arrival in Japan that I considered the time had come to make myself an expert no less on the poetry of Hopkins than on the drama of Shakespeare.  As for the study of Shakespeare – what with so many plays composed by him and so many books of criticism written about him – it was indeed a life’s work, and by the time I arrived in Japan, I was well on the way to taking up this work.  But the study of Hopkins – for all the incomprehensibility of his poetry, or perhaps because of it – didn’t seem to offer so many obstacles.  For one thing, there were so few of his poems to be studied, and at that time there were so few books of literary scholarship or criticism dealing with him.  So I thought I might well make him and his poetry a second string to my academic bow.  When I suggested my idea about forming a Japanese Hopkins Society to a friend of mine, whom I had assisted in his MA Thesis on “The Windhover”, he warmly seconded my proposal and went on to introduce me to an elderly acquaintance of his, a real fanatic of Hopkins, who became our first general secretary – with myself as a kind of honorary president, as I was for the Chesterton Society.  One great difference between these two societies, however, was that, whereas the Chesterton Society met only “once in a blue moon”, such was the enthusiasm of the elderly professor that the Hopkins Society from its beginning met literally once a month, blue or not, with two papers presented at each meeting.  It was incredible, but we somehow managed to do it!


   Then I conceived a third idea in the way of “renaissance”.  I couldn’t found a Shakespeare Society of Japan, since that already existed and was sufficiently large and prestigious.  All I could do was to belong to it as a mere member.  But to my mind Shakespeare stood for the English Renaissance, which may be seen as going back to the time of Sir Thomas More and forward to the time of John Milton.  At that time, moreover, I was enjoying an increasing amount of royalties from the sales of my many best-selling books.  So, with the approval of my Jesuit superior, I was able to put much of it to good use by the foundation of a “Renaissance Institute”, which would be independent of Sophia University and committed to the publication of books on the English Renaissance, particularly on the drama of Shakespeare, in both English and Japanese.  In English we produced a series of “Renaissance Monographs” of over 100 pages, once a year, on various aspects of the English Renaissance, and in Japanese we published a similar series of Renaissance Sosho, based on seminars we organized every autumn given by different scholars in Japanese.  The latter series, however, came to an end in 1991 with the decline both of my royalties and of the annual interest accruing from the Renaissance Institute Fund.  One of the early monographs was my above-mentioned lecture series given at Campion Hall, Oxford, on Biblical Themes in Shakespeare, and I have also found them a convenient outlet for several of my writings on Shakespeare’s plays – as well as for the writings of other members of the Institute from all over Japan.


   With my royalties I was also able to purchase a remarkable set of facsimile reprints of “English Recusant Literature”, consisting of books by Catholic authors from the accession of the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I in 1558 till the outbreak of the Puritan Rebellion in 1642.  Most of these books by “recusant” exiles on the continent had to be produced by printing presses abroad, since to be found printing Catholic books in England or even smuggling them in from abroad was considered an act of high treason incurring the death penalty.  Many of these books naturally appealed to me with my interest in the religious controversies of that period, but by the time they came into my possession I had already perused most of them, and my two books of religious controversies were published by the same Scolar Press which had undertaken this series of reprints in some 400 volumes – often including two or three titles in one volume.  These formed the nucleus of the Institute in my study at the university, as well as the basis of a new “Renaissance Centre” belonging to the new Library, which replaced the old building in 1984.  So we now had to draw a delicate distinction between the Institute, which never belonged to Sophia and which I called “an entity of reason without foundation in concrete reality” (with a parody on the scholastic saying, “Ens rationis cum fundamento in re”), and the Centre, which has always belonged to Sophia with a secretary drawing her salary from the university.  From its foundation I was director of the Centre (for which I insisted on the English spelling) till I reached my age of retirement in 1991, but for the Institute from the time of its foundation we had another scholar, not necessarily from Sophia, to act as “chairman”, till in 1991 on my retirement from the Centre I was asked to take over the direction of the Institute.  In this way, even in my retirement I have always had what the French call a pied a terre at the university, till the coming closure of the Centre in 2007.  Not that I have deliberately arranged for things to happen in such a way, but I am not displeased with the outcome, which I attribute as usual to (what Milton calls) “the unsearchable dispose” of divine wisdom.


   In addition to the books on the Renaissance with which the Centre has long been filled to capacity, and the publications of the Renaissance Institute, the Centre has for long been sponsoring series of open lectures in the spring and autumn, all given by myself in English.  The spring lectures have been devoted to Shakespeare’s plays, and those in the autumn to more general aspects of the English Renaissance.  These open lectures in turn form a spring-board for membership of the Institute, since many of those who come to attend the lectures remain as members of the Institute.  At its peak the Institute could claim upwards of 300 members from all over Japan, and every year they received copies of four different series of publications, the Renaissance Monograph, the Renaissance Bulletin, both in English, the Renaissance News and the brochure for the year’s activities, both in Japanese.  For the sake of economizing on postage we have had to send out all four publications together in the spring.  Before then I enjoyed the unlimited use of my royalties for the Institute and then we had no need to economize, but now, as Bob Dylan sings, “The times they are a-changing,” and we have had to economize in a variety of ways, not only in terminating the Japanese Renaissance Sosho but also in taking more care over our choice of a printer and the printing of our publications.


   It may be objected – and for all I know, it has often been objected – that this is all a one-man show.  Yet it can’t be helped.  So far the Institute still exists, though the Centre is now facing the axe, and with the restrictions on finance in Japan, not to mention my declining royalties, I am obliged to give all the open lectures in English, without receiving any remuneration – according to the original Ignatian ideal.  Those around me in the Institute seem to be content that things should continue in this way for the time being.  As for the future, the Centre may be coming to an end, but the Institute will continue somehow or other.  The outlook for the twenty-first century is by no means as bright as we thought from the outset, but cloudy with showers, if not another big earthquake such as shook the Kanto area in 1923.  Anyhow, whatever may be happening in Afghanistan and Iraq, we are all growing old, not only those associated with the Centre and the Institute, but also the “old familiar faces” at Sophia University and SJ House.


   Meanwhile, a recent development that emerged at the Centre remains to be recorded.  While I was still actively involved in teaching at Sophia, I noticed a growing interest among my students in the department of English literature, especially the women, in the field of “children’s literature”.  Accordingly, I purchased a collection of books on the subject from an English bookseller friend of mine and put them on shelves at the entrance to the Centre.  Visitors to the Centre were often astonished, yet pleased in their astonishment, at the sight of all these books on Peter Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, as well as Brother Cadfael and Harry Potter, which lead on to our more substantial collections of books on Shakespeare and Chaucer, More and Milton.  Nor is that all they have to be astonished about.  As they approach the secretary’s desk, they find themselves confronted by a large, even unique, collection of animals – not real animals, of course, but toys and tiny models of cats and dogs, ducks and swans, cows and monkeys and I don’t know what.  Not that I ever set out to make the collection.  I rarely set out to do anything.  But my friends and former students know of my English love of animals, and so they know what kind of presents will be acceptable to me.  Then I put them all on the shelves facing the secretary’s desk, and I have jokingly put her in charge of my zoo.  From time to time friends visit me in the Centre, bringing their little children, and the animals prove to be an unfailing source of delight to them.  So while we are drinking tea round the table in the centre of the Centre, the children are playing with the animals.  Quite a number of these children come from the nearby Catholic girls’ school, with their mothers in attendance, and so I call the Centre a branch of the kindergarten.  They help me to feel as if I am reborn and become a little child again.  That is a real “renaissance”, or rebirth, according to the heart of Jesus himself.

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