The Memorial Service for the Duke of Edinburgh in the fourth week of Lent was moving and notable for an excellent address by the Dean of Windsor which portrayed the whole man and one that was rooted in faith. He took as his text words from Prince Philip’s coat of arms in his stall in St George’s Chapel ‘God is my help’. Faith and leaving a world better than he found it was at the heart of his being and the context for an occasional sharp or abrupt comment. The service saw State Anglicanism at its best. The Lenten array behind the altar was complimented by the glittering gold of the frontal. That matched the golden copes of the Chapter and the resounding alleluias of one of the hymns. Huw Edwards, that BBC ‘safe pair of hands’ referred to the address by the Duke of Windsor (hastily corrected) and seemed somewhat adrift with the Margraves and Landburghers of the Prince’s family. He missed entirely a bevy of crowned heads, and made, in the circumstances, an unnecessary comment on Prince Andrew’s financial settlement.
About to read a review of a new biography, I thought that I recognised the name of the subject, Stephen Crane, but could not place him. It became obvious in the first paragraph that he was, of course, the author of The Red Badge of Courage. I had read it in my teens as part of my burgeoning interest in the American Civil War, ante and post bellum. I enjoyed it, although failed to appreciate its psychological depth. It seems to have fallen from favour; the reviewer noted, its absence from current reading lists ‘depriving…students of an important literary experience… relegating Crane to the shadows’. It was published, in various recensions, some 30 years after the War, when it was still fresh in the memory of many who had fought and lived through it. The last survivor of the War, a Unionist, was Albert Henry Woolson (1850-1956). The last Confederate survivor rejoiced in the name Pleasant Riggs Crump (1847-1951). The novel’s principal character is Henry Fleming, a private in the Union Army. In his first taste of action, he flees the battlefield. Ashamed of his cowardice, made worse by victory won by his comrades, he longs to be wounded to wear with pride the red badge of blood that would signify his courage. He finds redemption in a battle in which his regimental officers expect to be defeated. As the standard-bearer is shot, Fleming takes up the regimental colours, rallies his comrades, and the day is won. It was memorably filmed by John Houston in 1951 and starred Audie Murphy, a veteran of Word War II and a hero. He was awarded the USA’s highest honour for bravery in action, the Medal of Honour, equivalent of our Victorian Cross.
Stephen Crane was born in 1871. He was a journalist and led a bohemian, wayward life, (briefly and surprisingly in Surrey), in which he crossed Theodore Roosevelt, then Police Commissioner of New York, later President of the USA. Although his last few years were less dissolute and hectic, he died at the age of 28. As a journalist, he covered conflict in Cuba, where his bravery matched that of Henry Fleming and gained the admiration of professional officers. His biography by Paul Auster, The Life and Work of Stephen Crane is published by Faber & Faber. £25.00.
Television dramas and films are notorious for the woefully inadequate representation of Catholic ceremonial and vesture. The recent series of Father Brown (G. K. Chesterton’s priest detective) had one of the most egregious examples. At a Requiem Mass, Fr Brown (Mark Williams) wore a cassock and cotta under a black Latin chasuble; the stole was worn over the chasuble but was so short if looked like a scarf and may well have been a maniple in an earlier life. The sartorial mélange was topped by a biretta incorrectly worn (no surprise there). He processed with entwined fingers and hands tucked under his generous stomach. Remarkably, the coffin was sprinkled and censed but he moved around it in the wrong direction. The cosy crime series is set in the picturesque fictional Kembleford. Fictional indeed: every villager seems to be Catholic, lapsed in several cases, and the church is medieval and irredeemably Anglican. Surely with BBC resources you might reasonably expect the production team to draw on expertise. But, to my amazement, the credits revealed that there was an advisor and he was a priest. I then discovered he is a Jesuit. No further comment seems necessary.
Once, having given advice for the adaptation of a P. D. James novel set in an Anglican theological college, I was telephoned a few weeks later by one of the production team to be told that he had discovered a ‘life-size statue of the Sacred Heart’ and asked whether such a statue would be found in a theological college. ‘Only in an ordinand’s room at St Stephen’s House,’ I replied. Although he was obviously disappointed at being thwarted, I thought it prudent not to suggest a statue of the Infant of Prague as an alternative, whose statue would have been found there in a public space, at least then. Is it still there?