Gerard Kilroy. Edmund Campion: Memory and Transcription.
Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005. xii+261pp. ISBN 0 7546 5255 6.
University of Cambridge
Scott-Warren, Jason. "Review of Gerard Kilroy, Edmund
Campion: Memory and Transcription." Early Modern Literary Studies
12.2 (September, 2006) 13.1-6<URL:http://purl.oclc.org/emls/12-2/revmarot.htm>.
After the New Historicism, the New Catholicism. Ten years
ago, few could have foreseen this turn in early modern literary studies,
although it was something of a commonplace that New Historicist critics
neglected religion, viewing it as politics in another guise. But now,
one by one, all the great early modern authors are being outed as Catholic
or crypto-Catholic, their writings forged in the fiery crucible of religious
persecution. Shakespeare is the key scalp; his plays are either tellingly
mysterious (Richard Wilson) or transparently coded (Clare Asquith). Donne
was already in the bag, his poems (in John Carey's prescient analysis)
repeatedly deliquescing into Catholic sentiment, even where they appear
to be satirizing the Old Religion. Ben Jonson's recusancy is too well
known to warrant much discussion; more surprising is the case of Sir Philip
Sidney, whose status as a Protestant icon has been severely compromised
by the revelation (by Katherine Duncan-Jones) that he was in fact a Catholic.
It cannot be long before critics turn to reconsider Spenser and Milton,
lukewarm Protestants both. Energized by the writings of Christopher Haigh
and Eamon Duffy -- the latter's Stripping of the Altars, with its
rosy picture of late medieval piety, is the movement's Bible -- New Catholicism
looks set to take the world by storm.
And it has friends in high places. The book under review
comes with fulsome blurbs from Stephen Greenblatt and Michael Wood, Shakespearean
biographers whose own projects have been enriched by their engagements
with early modern Catholicism. The book also received an extraordinary
piece of free publicity in the pages of a British newspaper, The Guardian,
where John Sutherland praised it as a monograph written outside the academy,
with its relentless pressure to publish, by a schoolteacher for whom it
was 'a labour (an extremely laborious labour) of love'. Such an idea cannot
survive an acquaintance with the book itself. Far from being a 'labour
of love', Kilroy's Edmund Campion turns out to be an entirely partisan
work, driven by the author's personal religious convictions or by some
other very strong form of attachment to the Catholic faith.
The book is somewhat amorphously organized, but its main
focus is on texts by and about Campion and the way in which his legacy
circulated in the decades after his death. Kilroy presents a simplified
vision of a world in which Catholicism stands for everything humane and
historically rooted, while Protestantism is a superficial product imposed
on an unwilling nation by propaganda, persecution and torture. The story
of Campion's texts becomes the story of Catholicism's struggle for survival.
Under Elizabeth, 'the auncient faith of Christianitie, and onlie religion
of our forefathers in England' (p. 24) was forced to circulate in secret
manuscripts-the latter supposedly written on 'Catholic paper' that buries
its confessional identity in its watermarks. Kilroy focuses in particular
on two men -- Sir Thomas Tresham and Sir John Harington -- who 'dedicated
their lives to transcribing Campion's message' (18).
The strongest passages in the book are those that directly
concern Campion and his legacy. In particular, Kilroy offers an edition,
translation and discussion of Campion's Latin mini-epic on the tribulations
of the early church -- effectively a 'poetic apologia for the Papacy'
(51) -- and he also gives us a productive account of the circulation of
a poem about Campion, 'Why doe I use my paper ynke and pen', ascribed
to Henry Walpole of Gray's Inn. Less impressive is the book's treatment
of Tresham and of Harington. In chapter 5 it is claimed that Tresham's
decision not to tell the authorities whether or not he had harboured Campion
was 'the defining moment in Tresham's life' (123); since we are told little
else about that life, it is impossible to assess the validity of this
statement. The rest of the chapter consists of an undignified attempt
to redeem Campion from the charge that he broke down under torture (which,
even were it true, would be no charge at all), and an unrelated discussion
of the eucharistic symbolism of Tresham's celebrated buildings. Meanwhile
Harington's name surfaces so frequently, and with so much repetition of
material, that one might be fooled into thinking that his interest in
Campion was indeed defining. The evidence in fact consists of a handful
of incidents and references. None of them is insignificant, but taken
together they suggest that Harington devoted a rather small amount of
his life to the memory of Campion.
There are so many things to object to in Kilroy's dealings
with Harington that a short review cannot begin to enumerate them. Setting
aside all the small implausibilities and errors of detail, two major objections
remain. First, this account drastically over-simplifies Harington's confessional
complexion, generally ignoring the first and last parts of his self-description
as a 'protesting Catholique Puritan' and insinuating that he was 'essentially'
(like all his fellow countrymen) a Catholic. Second, it misjudges the
tone of Harington's writings, imbuing them with a self-effacing recusant
piety that they nowhere display; witness Kilroy's description of the forty
religious epigrams that he transcribes in an appendix as 'four sorrowful
mysteries' (pp. 103, 107), or his attempt to contextualize the epigram
'Of a fellow judgd to lose his Eares' (p. 101) in relation to the sentencing
of Thomas Pounde in 1604. The harsh triviality of that poem confounds
the critic's desire to excavate a compassionate subtext.
Occasionally there are moments when Kilroy lifts the
blinkers and sees beyond his biases, as for example when he observes that
'we need a more subtle nomenclature for confessional groups' in this period
(66). Literary studies have much to gain from an informed understanding
of the complex religious terrain of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
But those who explore the Catholic elements of early modern writing need
a degree of scholarship that can at least match their passion.