England is fallen but is nonetheless made in God’s image, insofar as the manifestations of her historical faith are a reflection of her love for Christ and of Christ’s love for her, and insofar as the beauty of her landscape is “charged with the grandeur of God”…
Editor’s Note: Imaginative Conservative Senior Contributor Joseph Pearce was interviewed by writer Francis Phillips about his book, Merrie England.
Francis Phillips: What was the reason for writing the book? Was it just an exercise in nostalgia?
Joseph Pearce: The chapters in Merrie England were originally written as articles for a series of the same name published in the St. Austin Review, the Catholic cultural journal of which I am the editor, shortly after the StAR was launched in 2001. They were written and published between 2001 and 2003, immediately after my move to the United States so it would be fair to say that there’s an element of nostalgia or what might be termed the musings of an exiled expatriate about them. I would say, however, that they are much more a representation of a philosophical musing on the timelessness of all that is good, true and beautiful about England, what Gerard Manley Hopkins would have called the “inscape” of England’s history, culture and landscape.
Was there ever an English “Golden Age” in your view?
I am always at pains to point out that it is folly to seek an idyllic “Golden Age” in either the past, as is the tendency of so-called conservatives, or in the future, as is the tendency of so-called progressives. In Merrie England I have chosen to accentuate the “golden” aspects of England’s past but I have not denied that there was much that was rotten in all periods of English history.
Which is your favourite English cathedral and why?
If forced to choose between so many of these wonderfully edifying edifices, I would probably select Ely. I love its slightly quirky architecture, its poignantly mutilated Lady Chapel and the fact that it is situated so quixotically in the midst of what is not much more than a village in the midst of a romantically desolate landscape.
Who is your favourite English saint and why?
My favourite English saint is St. Robert Southwell. I have a great devotion to the English Martyrs and a profound admiration for the price they paid for their adherence to the Faith of their Fathers. I like Southwell especially because he was a poet and writer whom I have embraced as my personal patron. My closeness to him is further accentuated by his closeness to Shakespeare and his undoubted influence on some of the Bard’s finest lines, as well as by the fact that he is a native of Norfolk, akin in my heart’s eye to Tolkien’s idyllic Shire, in which I finally found a rooted “home.”
Given the (godless) state of post-Reformation, post-Industrial Revolution modern England, what makes you state at the end of the book that “The land through which the pilgrim has wended is forever Our Lady’s dowry?”
Alluding to what I said earlier, a thing that is good, true and beautiful does not cease to be because of the presence of evil in the cosmos. We are fallen but we are still made in God’s image. England is also fallen but is nonetheless also made in God’s image, insofar as the manifestations of her historical faith are a reflection of her love for Christ and of Christ’s love for her, and insofar as the beauty of her landscape is “charged with the grandeur of God.” The title of Our Lady’s Dowry is a sign of this covenant between God and the nation of England, a title that is very dear to me personally because I lived for many years within walking distance of Our Lady’s shrine at Walsingham.
Books by Joseph Pearce may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. This interview was originally published in the Catholic Herald (UK) (October 2016) and is republished here with gracious permission of the author.