PMGenesis: Chapter 7

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  











 Christ Church, Oxford












 Campion Hall, Oxford









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















Blog Brittonia

All About Francis Xavier

















7. Life at Oxford


   At each stage in my Jesuit formation, from the time of my entrance into the noviciate at St. Beuno’s, it seemed as if I was progressively withdrawing from the modern world into what Shakespeare calls “the dark backward and abysm of time”.  During the noviciate the main emphasis had been on the Rule of St. Ignatius, composed in the sixteenth century, together with his Spiritual Exercises, which we received in their full, undiluted form as “the long retreat” lasting a whole month.  During the next two years of juniorate I chiefly studied the Greek and Roman Classics, with a view to specializing on them at Oxford – as I had already specialized on them at school for what was then called “the Higher Certificate”.  At the same time, I had been particularly interested in the history of the Church from early times.  At Heythrop College I devoted all my time to scholastic philosophy, with special attention to the thought of St Thomas Aquinas.  At the end of my three years there, I was ready to go yet further back in time to a renewed study of the Classics at Campion Hall, the Jesuit house of studies at Oxford University.  Not all those who had been engaged in the study of philosophy at Heythrop went on with me for a university degree, and that year only two were chosen, a friend from our college at Leeds and myself.  Both of us were destined for classical studies, as being the best of what Oxford had to offer from the age of humanism, the age of Erasmus and St Thomas More.


   It might be thought that, the fame of Oxford being what it was, the lectures we received there on such an important subject as the Classics, would have been outstanding.  Sadly, they were not.  I had thought our lectures on scholastic philosophy were bad enough, but little did I realize how bad lectures could be till I came to Oxford and had to sit through some of the lectures offered by that university.  Then I was taught the lesson that a great scholar isn’t necessarily a great teacher.  Some of our lecturers didn’t seem to realize that they were speaking to an audience of students, they spoke so indistinctly.  They merely mumbled!  Even when they spoke clearly enough, what they had to say wasn’t so interesting.  Or rather, it was weighed down with all the miscellanea and paraphernalia of learning.  Typically of scholars the world over, they failed to see the wood for the trees.  All their emphasis was on the minute details of their highly specialized subject, and they seemed to be incapable of putting them together in any comprehensible order.  In a Japanese context it might well be said of them, “Rongo yomi no Rongo shirazu” – “It is the expert in Confucius’ Analects who fails to understand them.”  Fortunately, there was no compulsion at Oxford to attend any lectures, except in so far as they were recommended by our tutors, and those we found uninteresting or unhelpful we easily abandoned.  We also wondered how many weeks into the term the lecturers themselves would notice the declining attendance at their lectures and eventually follow our example!  No doubt, they didn’t mind!  Only two of our lecturers I found really inspiring.  One was a Jewish exile from Hitler’s Germany, who spoke to a large audience of appreciative students on Greek tragedy and the epic poetry of Virgil.  The other was an Englishman who explained Lucretius’ philosophical epic De Rerum Natura – “On the Nature of Things” – for those, including my friend and myself, who were taking this as our set book.


   The Oxford degree in Classics – unlike other degrees which might take only three years – took four years, divided in two parts, which were respectively termed “Mods” for Moderations (on classical literature) and “Greats” (on classical history and philosophy).  The exam for Mods took place after five terms, covering the major authors in classical literature, both Greek and Latin, with Greek and Latin prose composition and optional papers in verse composition.  Fortunately, our studies depended not on the lectures we attended but on the direction of our tutors, who seemed to be chiefly interested in prose composition, while giving advice on the classical authors we were expected to read and the way we should answer questions on them.  My friend and myself both had the same tutor at Magdalen College, but so far from inspiring us with any enthusiasm for our subject, he only left us in a state of despair after having dissected our attempts at prose composition and shown us how, no doubt as a result of our three years’ study of mediaeval philosophy in Latin, our Latin prose was more mediaeval than classical.  Half-way through the course we decided to leave him, and we found another tutor at Balliol College, under whose direction we prospered so well that we were both awarded “firsts” in Mods.


   Meanwhile, I had applied to Rome for permission to go to the Japanese mission, where there was a need of teachers from all nations at Sophia University in Tokyo.  It was, however, only after I had entered on my classical course at Oxford that I received the long awaited permission.  So when I had completed the five-term course of Classical Mods, I changed from Greats to English.  That was in the spring of 1952.  The two of us had been planning to celebrate our completion of Classical Mods with a six-week journey to France, to visit the Roman remains in Provence, while spending most of the time at the Jesuit college at Avignon.  The day before we were due to leave England, however, we were summoned to the room of the Master at Campion Hall.  He asked us if we wouldn’t mind changing our plans in order to fill in the gaps left by two teachers at Wimbledon College on account of TB.  It would only be for three weeks, after which we might still spend the other three weeks in France.  Of course, we had to say we didn’t mind, though we really did.  The following morning, therefore, instead of taking the boat for France, we took the train for Wimbledon.  It was a Saturday morning, and when we reached Wimbledon, we found that the headmaster was away for the week-end and wouldn’t be back till the Sunday evening – though our classes were to begin on the Monday morning.  So it wasn’t till Sunday night, when the headmaster at last got back, that we were told what we had to teach – namely, anything but our special subjects to small boys aged between 10 and 13.  Neither of us had any experience of teaching, nor did we have any time to prepare for the worst before entering our respective classrooms.  This was surely a textbook example of blind obedience, which is supposed to be the special virtue of Jesuits!  Anyhow, we managed to survive the ordeal, even though it included classes on April Fools’ Day, when boys become particularly ingenious in ways and means of making fools of their masters.  Then at last we were free to enjoy our postponed holiday in the South of France.


   In changing from the Classics to English, I found a notable improvement in the quality of the lectures I was now able to attend.  Most of the lecturers who were active in the School of English (as the faculty was called) subsequently became famous for one thing or another.  One was Professor Tolkien, who is now famous all over the world for his trilogy of The Lord of the Rings.  Another, who has become even more famous for his children’s stories on the Land of Narnia, was Tolkien’s friend, CS Lewis, who only became a professor on moving from Oxford to Cambridge the same year as I left Oxford for Japan.  As a student of English from now on, I was specially desirous of having Lewis as my tutor.  But I was told he didn’t like giving tutorials to students from other colleges, and so I was sent to a lady scholar for literature and another professor (not Tolkien) for language.  Whereas I attended none of Tolkien’s lectures – he spoke in such a low voice, it was impossible for me to catch what he was saying – I faithfully attended those given by Lewis.  He was by far the most popular of the lecturers in our School of English, and consequently an object of academic jealousy among the others.  I also made a point of attending all meetings of the student society he had founded, the Socratic Club, though the topics dealt with were more philosophical than literary.  This was indeed, I thought, as it should be, since my own interests were more philosophical than literary.


   Anyhow, it was in this way, by changing from the Classics to English, that I came closer not only to CS Lewis – we never thought of him as “Clive”, still less as “Staples” – but also to William Shakespeare.  It was, as I have said, thanks to Japan that I now came to acquire my lifelong interest in Shakespeare, and it was my new literary tutor, Mrs Bednarowska, who now suggested that I devote my first term, the Trinity Term of 1952, to the plays of Shakespeare.  Needless to say, I had already studied many of his plays at school, according to the custom of all self-respecting English schools, and I had also added two more plays of his to my repertoire during the juniorate.  But it was from now on that I began to realize his dramatic genius.  I might even say that now I am willing to yield to none in this realization and accompanying appreciation.  I also came to realize that the way I had all unwittingly taken couldn’t have been bettered as a way of approaching Shakespeare.  To have come to his plays from the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, from an interest in Church history, from the study of scholastic philosophy, especially that of St Thomas Aquinas, and finally from the study of the classical literature of Greece and Rome, for me there could have been no better way.  If I had desired to specialize first in the Spiritual Exercises, then in the writings of St Thomas Aquinas, then in the poetry of Virgil and the philosophy of Plato, the one way of fulfilling all these desires together and of killing all these birds with one stone, lay for me through Shakespeare’s drama.  There I had better leave the matter in general terms, except to say that, after I had gone through all the major authors of English literature from Caedmon to Keats, I could say that only one of them was really worth reading, and he was Shakespeare.  Like Mount Everest over the other mountains of the Himalayas, he stands high above all other authors in English and even world literature.  He is simply the best.


   Then what was it, I may be asked, that made me so desirous of going out to Japan that I was prepared to sacrifice my devotion to the Humanities and turn to the relatively (for me) lesser known field of English?  For me the sacrifice was incidental.  When I first applied for the Japanese mission, I didn’t even know if I would be sent to Oxford or not – though it was likely.  Then, once I was at Oxford and received the necessary permission, I wrote to Japan to find out if they wanted me at once or if I should stay on at Oxford and finish my degree, and if so, should I go on with my study of the Classics or not?  I was told that in Japan a classical degree wouldn’t be so useful, and that a degree in English or History would be desirable.  Much as I enjoyed History, I chose English as being closer to the Classics and calling for less previous preparation than History.  After all, one can’t go up to Oxford for a degree without any previous preparation!  Yet in turning from the Classics to English, I was as it were starting from scratch.  So I had to restrict my attention to those parts of English on which I could more easily concentrate, such as poetry and drama, whereas I found I could get by without reading any novels.  Without the novel, it was punningly remarked that mine was at once a novel and non-novel approach to a degree in the English School!


   All the same, why did I choose Japan in the first place?  This may perhaps be traced partly to my childhood fascination in geography, partly to my childhood desire to become not only a priest but also a missionary.  In my childhood I had been somewhat prejudiced against a missionary vocation by my horror of snakes, even when armed with a snake-stick, but I had been encouraged by the prospect of being able to grow a beard.  More seriously, on entering the English province of the Society of Jesus, the “missions” practically meant one of two countries, either Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) or British Guiana (now Guyana), and the qualifications for these missions were such practical skills as the ability to drive a land rover over rough terrain and the ability to deal with natives.  So from the time of my noviciate I had sadly given up my missionary ideal and reconciled myself to the real possibility of teaching the Classics at one or other of our Jesuit colleges in England.  Then, while I was studying philosophy at Heythrop, I heard of an appeal made by our Father General for volunteers to the Japanese mission, and especially to Sophia University.  It also occurred to me that Japanese students would respond more favourably to my teaching than English schoolboys, of whose mischievous propensities I was soon to have personal experience.  Another consideration was that, by going to Japan, I would be following in the footsteps of St Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit patron of the missions.  So I applied and was accepted.  Then, once my studies at Oxford were finished, I went out to Japan without waiting for the degree ceremony, which I regarded as a mere formality.  Nor, I may add, have I once regretted my decision.  All was for the best in what then seemed to me, and still seems to me, the best of possible worlds.


   Now, it may be asked, what about my life all this time at Campion Hall?  If my enjoyment of a place depends on the length of my stay there, Oxford should have been even better for me than Heythrop, with four years of the Classics and English to three of scholastic philosophy.  Still, I preferred Heythrop, because of its pastoral setting and because I had more leisure to sit and reflect on my favourite philosophical subjects.  At Oxford, however, I had no leisure for sitting back or reflecting on anything.  I had to study, study, study, day in day out, morning, noon and evening.  Fortunately for me, my eyes had improved so much that I had no more difficulty in reading, and now I had so much to read and to write.  In any case, Oxford wasn’t such a healthy place for study as Heythrop had been, surrounded as it was by the river Thames (or Isis) and the other river Cherwell, with mists rising from both rivers in the morning.  There in my room at Campion Hall I would sit ploughing through the texts of Homer and Virgil, Demosthenes and Cicero, with a growing headache, even though I was using the Loeb editions with the English translation every other page.  The winter months I found particularly heavy, but even in the summer the continual pressure of work for my weekly tutorials hardly allowed me to enjoy the days of sunshine with the prospect of punting on the river.  Moreover, I wasn’t at Oxford all the time, as I had been at St Beuno’s and Heythrop.  If there were three terms of eight weeks each, the three vacations were even longer, and for them we were turned out of the Hall and forced to find places in various colleges, where we weren’t always made welcome.  For vacations I preferred to go back either to Heythrop or to Manresa, where I might be with other, younger scholastics.  This was all right for me, except that it disrupted the continuity of my life at Oxford and Campion Hall.


   What was more, the Hall itself wasn’t such a homely place.  The architecture had been entrusted to the famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, who had previously designed the state buildings in New Delhi, and for Campion Hall he had grandiose plans that didn’t make for homeliness.  The previous master, Fr Martin D’Arcy, who had asked him to undertake the task, was also a man who had little idea of what it took to make a home.  He was a celebrated philosopher, who liked nothing so much as hob-nobbing with great thinkers and authors and members of the nobility.  From being Master of Campion Hall he had gone on to being Provincial of the English Jesuits.  He it had been to whom I first mentioned my desire of going to Japan, but he didn’t seem to welcome my proposal and only told me to pray about it.  He it had also been who sent me to study Classics at Oxford with my friend from Leeds.  But when I actually applied to Father General in Rome, it had been under his successor, Fr. Hailsham, who was more understanding of my desire and added a covering letter with mine.  Anyhow, when the new building had been opened in 1934, it was hung with innumerable objects of art which had been donated to the master, and so they came to be known as objets d’Arcy.  It was a delight and an education in itself to look at them one by one, but they hardly helped to make the place any more of a home, which is characterized by the homely and the humdrum.  So, to tell the truth, I felt rather relieved when the vacation came and I was free to return either to Heythrop or to Manresa where I was closer to my old home in Wimbledon.


   From the time of my arrival at Campion Hall it had become a fashion among us, as it had already been in my last year at Heythrop, to paint our rooms in whatever colour appealed to our fancy.  In spite of my mishap with the hut at Heythrop, I had painted my room there sky-blue, and at Campion Hall I was prompted by my neighbour to do the same.  He had opted for red on all four walls and ceiling, but for me that was too overwhelming, and I kept to my original choice of sky-blue, as Mary’s colour.  It helped to lighten the tedium of my first two (winter) terms at Oxford, as well in the task of painting as in the enjoyment of what I had painted.  In my first year at the Hall I had been relegated to one of the rooms in the attic, but after that year I was able to descend to a more delectable room, in so far as any of the rooms of the Hall could be called delectable.  What enlivened those dull days of study, study, study, were our occasional guest nights, when we could invite our own, humbler guests, while the master invited his more distinguished academic guests to the high table.  It was on such an occasion that I first set eyes on CS Lewis as one of the master’s guests.  I could hardly believe my eyes, he was such a portly, ruddy, jolly-looking man.  I even said to myself, almost in the words of Debra Winger (as Joy Davidman) in the film “Shadowlands”, “You don’t look like CS Lewis!” – meaning the image I had formed of him after having read so many of his books.  Professor Tolkien, of course, came on another occasion, and he was just what one would imagine from a reading of his Lord of the Rings – though I didn’t have the opportunity of reading it till after my arrival in Japan.  Then, after dinner was over, we would adjourn first for fruit and coffee in the library, then for port or sherry with cheese and biscuits in one or other common-room, the Senior for senior members and their guests, and the Junior for mere undergraduates with our guests.


   As for the pattern of week-days at Oxford, the mornings were assigned to lectures and tutorials and the work necessary for those tutorials.  The afternoons were given over to exercise, for which I preferred the form of tennis or canoeing with a friend on the river.  The evenings were often spent on attendance at meetings of one or other student society, such as the Socratic Club.  For guest nights I not only invited friends of mine to the Hall, but I would also be invited by them from time to time to dine at their colleges.  That was quite an experience, to dine in candlelight in such an old-fashioned dining-hall as one found in the older colleges, though not in our newer Campion Hall.  Even more memorable were the times I went with a friend after tennis or canoeing to his rooms for afternoon tea, when we would toast crumpets on forks in front of an electric fire.  Those crumpets, tasted in such circumstances, were so delicious, but sadly they are altogether unknown in Japan – in spite of the fame of TS Eliot, who in one of his poems makes a small child during a procession suddenly cry, “Crumpets!”  In the evenings, after a formal dinner in the dining-hall as guest of a friend, I might repair to his rooms and engage in some discussion that might last well into the night.  I remember on one such occasion tactlessly asking a Brahmin if he really believed in transmigration or reincarnation, and on another such occasion, when speaking with a student of the Greek Orthodox Church, I expressed my wonder at all the fuss made between the Latins and the Greeks over the Filioque clause in the Nicene Creed.  The moral which I overlooked on each occasion was, “Let sleeping dogs lie!”

   Finally, as a result of all my study at Campion Hall, and my further reading at other colleges, I proceeded to take my finals in the Examination Hall on the High Street.  There I spent some thirty hours dealing with ten examination papers over a period of one week, more or less as I had done for Classical Mods.  After the written exams were over, there still remained the oral exam known as the Viva (voce) before the board of examiners, of whom Lewis himself was one.  He was the first to put me a question, for which I was quite unprepared, so I was sent down with only a second-class degree.  Then I was at last free to follow my missionary vocation and take the boat – not the plane, since in those primitive days there were no commercial flights between England and Japan.  Then I found that I wasn’t alone but with two companions, who had come to join me from the ranks of the philosophers.  Together we took the boat train from London and boarded the boat at Southampton – not an English ship but a German freighter, which had already begun her voyage in Germany and put in at Southampton to pick us up with other English passengers destined like us for the Far East.


   Then again, I may be asked, “What were my general impressions of Oxford?  Didn’t I feel it a great privilege to have spent four years studying at such a famous university?”  No, I didn’t.  I have to confess I felt no special sense of privilege.  Nor was I aware that present-day Oxford was at all deserving of that fame.  I was too preoccupied with the need of incessant study, or mere book-learning, to be aware of much else.  I even felt a contrast between the place and the people.  The place, I thought, was deserving of fame with the “dreaming spires” of Matthew Arnold looking back to “the good old days” and its natural surroundings consisting of so many meadows and playing-fields, not to mention rivers.  But as for the people, the scholars, the lecturers and the students – well, in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Only the inmate does not correspond.”  We had so little leisure, with all the insistence on study, to enjoy our surroundings, to take them in, or to take in the thoughts implicit in our studies.  All that has had to wait for the passing of time, during which I have been able to digest those studies not at Oxford or in England but at my university in Japan, which I find appropriately named “Sophia” after her who from mediaeval times was hailed as “Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom”.

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