Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On Adrian Fortescue

H

e loved and read the classics, particularly Plato and Virgil, on whose works he gave many a memorable discourse at Letchworth... He was a specialist in Dante, whom he loved supremely. Indeed his Dante notebooks are a joy to peruse and to possess. The interleaved notes, the occasional illuminations, the little maps in colour or in black and white are done with the perfection almost of a miniature and the volume of the Paradiso closed with a singularly beautiful drawing of the Rosa coelestis. Dante has kindled his enthusiastic devotion early in life and Dante, as ever, has led out and beyond the Divina Commedia to splendid vistas of history, art and literature. Dante had led him to Virgil and Plato. Dante, too, led him to Boethius, to whose De Consolatione Philosophiae he gave the last years of his life...

"He was, too, a keen scholar of the Roman liturgy. He wrote on the Mass and wished for nothing better than to devote some time to a study of the Breviary. Indeed the offices of the Church, their history and significance, exerted a strange fascination over his mind. He loved their virtue of magnificence, their wistfulness and their splendour. His book on ceremonies, on the other hand, was written not to express any abiding interest but to secure a much needed hundred pounds. He certainly loved his little illustrations in The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite more than all the lengthy accounts and necessarily cumbrous descriptions of ceremonies which in actuality sometimes go as smoothly as the waters of Shiloah. He was too a devoted student of hymnody, metre and of the ancient Latin hymns of the Church which he edited for the use of his congregation at St. Hugh a very attractive volume. He loved and knew all the better Church music of earlier days, as one may see from many glorious scrolls of music written superbly. In the same notable collection of music one may find some very beautiful and restrained compositions of his own. They are instinct with that austere beauty which Adrian required by his nature for the service of God.

"It seems as if this catalogue were never-ending; yet we have left to the close something in which he excelled. He designed beautifully and was particularly happy in designs of architecture. Beautiful coloured drawings of Beauvais and Chartres, for instance, show with what fineness of vision, with what sympathy of understanding of form, sketched with great ease and painted delightfully as many note-books of travel show... He was perhaps at his best in heraldic drawings, as many a coat and many a delightful book-plate testify...

"Art, literature, poetry, history, the convictions of men, the march of civilisation, the infancy, growth, vicissitudes, liturgy, Mass of the Catholic Church -- these were his abiding interests. There was a fine, broad, inclusive range in Adrian's genius."


-- From Adrian Fortescue: A Memoir, by John G. Vance and J.W. Fortescue, p. 19-22