PMGenesis: Chapter 6

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  















Blenheim Palace 





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 






 Arise My Love by William Johnston, S.J.








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











6. Pastoral Philosophy


On leaving my middle-class home in Wimbledon to join the Society of Jesus I may well have had the feeling of rising in the world.  Not that I remember having had that feeling, as I was preoccupied with other, more urgent matters.  But on arriving at St Beuno’s College I was amazed at the width of the galleries – rather than corridors – along which we had to walk to our rooms, the chapel, the refectory and the kitchen.  Everywhere was so spacious, both inside and outside the house, with vast gardens, orchards, avenues and the view of the Clwyd valley.  If I may compare it with my subsequent experience, it was like a journey from Japan to America, from a land where one feels narrow and cooped up, as in the proverbial rabbit hutch, to a land of wide open spaces.  The actual college was monastic, built in the Victorian Gothic style in the mid-nineteenth century for the needs of the Jesuits and according to their specifications.  But when I moved to Manresa House, I was indeed rising in the social scale, as the building had formerly belonged to the Earls of Bessborough from the eighteenth century, and the rooms, as well as the chapel, were really grand.  At St Beuno’s we had lived two to a room, divided from each other by a red curtain, but at Manresa we occupied a large ball-room divided into small cubicles, with a space in the middle for our study desks.  Here, too, we were blessed with a splendid view, as I have mentioned, over Richmond Park.  It wasn’t quite as wide as that of the Vale of Clwyd but wide enough with oak trees, tracts of fern and grass and occasional glimpses of deer.


Then after two years of juniorate, partly at St Beuno’s, partly at Manresa, it was time for me to proceed with my companions to the next stage of our Jesuit formation, three years of scholastic or mediaeval philosophy at Heythrop College in Oxfordshire, a building situated on the main road from Oxford to Stratford.  Not that it was actually on the road, but from the road there was a long private drive leading to the college, set among trees away from the distracting noise of cars, lorries and buses.  Like Manresa House, it had also in its time been a stately mansion built in the eighteenth century for another nobleman, the Earl of Shrewsbury, who moved in the same social circle with the Duke of Marlborough at Blenheim Palace only a few miles down the road at Woodstock.  Here, too, on all sides we could enjoy extensive views down avenues of lime and chestnut trees, and here we were monarchs of all we surveyed.  The property had been acquired by the Society of Jesus in the late 1920s for the use of Jesuit students of both philosophy (some fifty in three years) and theology (some sixty in four years).  The original mansion was reserved for the professors and classrooms of theology, while we students were relegated to what had once been the stables for horses with the additions of new rooms for human habitation.  Not that we ever felt ourselves as belonging to the upper crust of English society, for all the grandeur of the mansion and its adjacent grounds.  But from time to time we were reminded of its past days of rural splendour, when the huntsmen and hounds of what was still called the Heythrop Hunt would gather before the gates of the mansion.


Here at Heythrop we were effectively cut off from the outside world, not only the upper class but also the middle and lower classes, not to mention the changing affairs of the post-war world, whether in Britain or Europe or the wider Commonwealth.  What chiefly counted for us in view of our studies was the mediaeval academic world, when all that mattered was philosophy, with its various divisions of Logic and Epistemology, Cosmology and Psychology (not Freudian but Aristotelian), Ethics and Metaphysics or Ontology, and Natural Theology.  All these subjects were treated in the mediaeval Latin language, to the accompaniment of logical disputations conducted in the form of Aristotelian syllogisms.  Everywhere we encountered the living spirit of Aristotle, as raised from the dead in the thirteenth century by St Thomas Aquinas, with hardly a glance at the other spirit of Plato.  By contrast to the somewhat stifling atmosphere of Manresa, where I never managed to settle down in the limited period of one year, I felt myself in my element at Heythrop.  Here, too, we were joined by some of the older second-year novices, who had been allowed in view of their age and experience to jump the juniorate.  In them, rather than in my former companions, I found kindred spirits with whom I could discuss those philosophical questions which now came to absorb my fascinated attention.


Here I might add that all this time, from the noviciate onwards, I was having trouble with my eyes, owing to an accident on the rugby field in my last year at school.  Then I had my eye kicked in as I was trying to tackle a boy with the ball from behind.  I opened my eyes and saw everything upside down.  From then onwards I was in the hands of oculists both at Kingston (from Wimbledon) and at Liverpool (from St Beuno’s).  In my two years of novitiate there wasn’t so much trouble as I didn’t have to read so much, but all through my two years of juniorate and three years of philosophy I had to make do with as little reading as possible.  Instead, therefore, of reading books on the subjects we were studying, I would find a quiet place in the grounds for thinking and reflecting on what we had studied.  Thus I developed a useful habit of thinking things over for myself, instead of trying to assimilate the thoughts of others from books.  I found it, moreover, easier to write than to read, and so I developed the further habit of writing.  Especially during those years of philosophy I would take copious notes of the lectures – not that they were at all inspiring – and subsequently rewrite them in my own words with my comments.  These notes, rewritten, provided me in turn with endless matter for discussion with my friends, especially on long walks through the surrounding countryside.  The discussions I specially cherished, far more than the preceding lectures.  Whenever I came back from the walks, I remembered the whole course of our conversation in connection with the particular places, the trees and flowers – not to mention any wild animals – we might have passed on the way.  Then, just as I had done with the lectures, I wrote out the conversations, which I have kept with me as treasured possessions ever since.  As for the lectures, I should mention one notable exception, those given on the History of Philosophy by Fr. Frederick Copleston, whose name is now famous in the academic world.  Even then he was beginning to become famous.  It was the time when he was engaged in radio debate with such atheistic philosophers as Lord Bertrand Russell and Professor Alfred Ayer.  His radio talks were so well prepared and so fascinating, we wished he could have devoted the same care to our lectures, which were all substance with little incidental decoration.  Only when I came to write out the notes I had taken from his mouth did I realize how substantial they were.


At that time some of us formed a circle of those devoted to the thought of St Thomas Aquinas.  We would meet from time to time in one or other of our rooms to read selected opuscula of the great mediaeval theologian and discuss his ideas.  There was always so much in them for our discussions.  I was so enthusiastic about his philosophy that I even expressed the desire to my provincial superior for devoting my whole life to this subject, but I’m afraid my desire wasn’t taken seriously – like most of my desires.  Other such desires were, for instance, for devoting my life to the study and exposition of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the basic handbook for all Jesuit retreats, of the classical poetry of Virgil and the philosophy of Plato, of the wisdom literature of the Bible.  In the event all these ambitions had to give place to my study and exposition of the plays of Shakespeare.  But that didn’t happen till I had departed from the shores of England and come to Japan.


All the same, those three years I spent at Heythrop College weren’t entirely occupied with the study of philosophy.  At the same time, I made full use of my rural retirement to take up a further interest in wild flowers.  As a boy living in the suburbs of London, I had always envied other boys who had the priceless advantage of living in the countryside, surrounded by the changes of the seasons and all forms of wild life.  Thanks, however, to my entrance into the Society of Jesus, I found myself closer than I had ever been to the world of nature.  Already at St Beuno’s College in North Wales, already at Manresa House on the edge of Richmond Park, but even more at Heythrop College in the heart of the Cotswold Hills, I was able to foster a new interest in wild flowers as well adapted to the pursuit of mediaeval philosophy – in contrast to the urban philosophy of Descartes.  On my walks through the surrounding countryside, therefore, I was never so intent on what we were talking about philosophy as to ignore the scenery along the way.  Rather, I kept my eyes open to all the flowers we passed and I would pluck uncommon specimens to put in a vase on a college window-ledge which we called Botany Bay.  At first another scholastic had been in charge of this ledge, but on seeing my interest he urged me to take his place, which I was happy to do.  During the subsequent May and June I remember identifying over two hundred different kinds of wild flower, all from the same area of the English Midlands.  Merely by learning their names, I found my eyes opening to the flowers we passed on our walks.  It was a true “nominalism”, quite unlike that arid form of philosophy associated with the name of William of Ockham, whose extreme cult of logic evoked in me no enthusiasm but only repulsion.


Considering the position of Heythrop College, halfway along the main road from Oxford to Stratford, one might have expected me to take this opportunity of visiting the Oxford colleges with their gardens and of attending productions of Shakespeare’s plays at Stratford.  But it wasn’t so.  To us Oxford was merely the place we had to go for occasional visits to the doctor or the dentist.  For this purpose we would take a bus along the main road, past the imposing entrance to Blenheim Palace at Woodstock.  As for Stratford, I did go there once to see the famous places associated with the great dramatist, but at that time I had no idea of devoting even part of my life to him or his plays.  It was too far for us to walk there and back, so we took the way of hitch-hiking.  For walks in the countryside we had no money to spend on public transport, and so hitch-hiking came in useful, since no fee was charged.  This enabled us to visit many of the scenic villages of the Cotswold Hills to the West.  We called it “the apostolate of the road”.  None of us were ordained priests, but we all wore Roman collars with black suits, according to the prescribed clerical attire.  So when we thumbed a lift, usually on a lorry, the driver would notice our attire and launch into a conversation on the topic of religion.  A typical remark on such an occasion was, “I’m not a religious man myself, but I believe in helping others.”  Anyhow, it was a welcome opportunity for us to speak about our religious vocation as Jesuits.  Such drivers were only too willing to stop and pick us up, since theirs was a lonely occupation and they were glad of a companion and an excuse for conversation to while away the time.


Also on these walks we might bring with us equipment for cooking, when we went out for the whole day.  For lunch we would look out for a stream flowing in a valley, where we could also expect to find twigs and branches for a wood fire.  There we would boil water from the stream for tea and fry bacon and eggs on a frying-pan over the fire, at which we could also toast our bread.  It was such a pleasant, natural repast, provided the weather was reasonably fine.  Or instead of going out for a walk, we might stay at home and work in the extensive grounds of the college, where we had a number of huts for various groups.  I liked to cook for one of these huts, where we looked after the woods on the estate.  My first experiment with boiling potatoes, however, wasn’t so successful.  I sprinkled an equal amount of salt and pepper over the potatoes while they were on the boil, but that made them too hot for most of my companions.  I also helped with the painting of a new hut, for the bee-keepers.  I was standing on a precarious perch brushing the ceiling with white paint, when the perch collapsed and I fell to the ground in such a way that the paint came down over my head.  I must have looked like a Christmas pudding!  It was so funny, that I myself couldn’t help joining in the general laughter.  But I had to go back to the college at once and rinse my head over a bath with strong-smelling turpentine.  That smell lasted for several days and acted as a discouragement to any form of intimate conversation.  Otherwise, we had good facilities for both tennis and cricket in summer and for soccer in winter, though I avoided rugby after my unpleasant experience at school.

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