CHAPTER VII: All Over the Lot by Ward
I kept writing half-baked books on all sorts of subjects, partly to keep distracted from the situation; as Hobbes said when he was translating Homer: "To distract myself from the criticisms of the clergy." Hobbes was bold and a coward, a man of unbalanced contradictions. I wrote books also because topics were clamoring to be expressed, I was a lame-duck journalist months or years behind the times. The result is that from a philosophical, literary or social-science point of view, my productions are tame.
When I had to do a dissertation at Catholic University in Washington, my good luck was to get Dr. Edward A. Pace as director. Under a fumbler's tutelage I had taken a dead-end subject for a Ph.M. Dr. Pace inquired why that topic, was it a subject all were talking about? He said to find out which subjects were hot; "to the fore" was his phrase. "Go through the philosophical journals for the last five years and make a list of the ten top subjects." I read many articles in several journals covering not merely five but fifteen years. "Well," said Dr. Pace, "what is at the head of the list? . . . 'Value'? Well, why don't you take that?"
He had much work as vice president, professor, head of philosophy and an expert mollifier in the troubles that a university faculty must have. One morning I came to his door by appointment. He merely said, "Come in." He and his secretary went round and round turning over piles of papers and letters and then turning them over again. It was awkward to stand and say nothing or to turn and go. Trying to be friendly, I said, "It seems you've lost something." "Yes," in Dr. Pace's spare speech, "and we don't want any suggestions from outsiders, either."
He was generous with time and talents and did me immeasurable good. While I taught my first year at Notre Dame I pecked away at philosophy of value. Then Dr. Pace, though worn out with the year's work, said to come and we would look the dissertation over. Each hot, D.C. morning when I went to his study he had a chapter on his lap. "This chapter, I was going over it again last night. Exactly what did you mean to say in the first two pages?" I had to speak my piece. "Now let's see if you said it. So far, but I was wondering here: Is this exactly what you mean?" He rarely pushed me to say what he wanted said. "Now this paragraph here would be stronger if it was monosyllabic at the end." We went looking for the word, in his Italian dictionary, to "see how they say it"; then, "There's a phrase in Isaias, King James Version; let's see how it goes." He said the right word would be on tap the next morning. We never did get it.
"Now what you say here -- it's in the Old Man" (Thomas Aquinas). "I was reading him the other night, and if what he says, Contra Gentiles, Three, Chapter 17 -- I never noticed it before -- if it's true, think of the social implications!" This was the "ipsemet" doctrine, and I had, prior to seeing it in Aquinas, taken what I still think the correct and also the Thomistic position.
In the long run, Dr. Pace brought these points home to me:
Eventually I did some works under the heading of "Value," and would like to do another. Values are all the good things of heaven and earth, Santayana said that Ethics is the study of all good and of how it can be accomplished, and St. Paul advised tentatively and hypothetically that if there are things true, lovely and good, it will be well to meditate on them. A couple of my limpid books are under the heading of "Ethics." But since I am neither a depth thinker nor capable of structured formalities and hate bombastic terms, my works on Values and Ethics may be dismissed.
A professor-friend pointed out that my works fall into trilogies. My next set, measuring from its first number, was on the Irish, the first volume being entitled God in an Irish Kitchen. This, variously called sociology, anthropology and poetry, is a romantic and nostalgic idealization of Erin and its people. As an unidentifiable melange, it is like all my works and also like what Christopher Robin said about half-way up and half-way down: it is not up and not down, not in the street and not downtown -- not anywhere: it must be somewhere else instead. Not only that Irish work and not only "the weight," as the Irish say, of my several published volumes, but I too am nowhere and must be somewhere else instead.
As soon as the Liverpool boat came in sight of Ireland, my heart leaped up as if at sight of a rainbow; I was like Helen Landrith, author of Dear, Dark Head, who was captured by the first words of people at an Irish port; inspired, she spent years on preparing a book about the Irish. One of her great grandmothers sailed from that port: "Kathleen O'Kelly her name was."
My Irish book ran quickly through four printings until the publisher got scared; discovering that the Irish in Ireland, afraid, as any persecuted minority is, that a word said about them is a word said against them, were scared of this book which praised them, Frank Sheed got scared. Mary Mannes, who Sheed said was the most disreputable woman in London, loved the book and promised to match it. I received as many as seven fan letters a day, and a non-Irish Baptist woman did in my honor some verses which ended: To me a Friend, Grander than the O'Donoghue!
When I landed in the Irish West and heard Galway and Mayo brogue, I had come home. I loved the natives round about the village from which my mother's people came: the simplicity and grandeur of their lives, in their houses and streets and boats and fields. Home more than a year from my grand tour, I found time to transcribe notes from memory as well as from my scrawlings and wrote a kind of prose poem on the Irish. I was singing as I wrote. Publisher Frank Sheed of Sheed and Ward understood Irish life: finding no colleen or cobeen in the manuscript, he was delighted. Frank O'Malley liked the work in manuscript and offered sharp criticisms. I was as Irish as the O'Malleys of Mayo and as the Australian-English Sheed and more so than Helen Landrith. That book, praised in the London Times for its love of cats and donkeys, had a sequel twenty-five years later in All Over God's Heaven, which the seasoned critic, John T. Frederick, said was as good as "The Kitchen"; Henry Rago the poet said it was better, and a Montana ranchman agreed with him.
As if I was a master in all fields, I wrote in sociology perhaps, literature perhaps, philosophy perhaps. I slid out of one into another with small loss or gain. Allowing for overlapping in matter and the time factor, my next trilogy; on the cooperative movement, was triggered by a defense mechanism. Dr. Gurian was quick to notice that I now wrote books as a wall between me and an assortment of troubles. But that was not my original reason for writing on cooperatives. Being inept on economic and political realities and a sort of penny-wise financier and yet captivated by stories of poor men's Nova Scotia cooperatives, I wanted to see the Nova Scotia phenomenon. Not an organizer or man of action, I could at least write about co-ops. I was surprised when at a co-op celebration at Bishop Sheil School in Chicago a Jesuit introduced me as one who had grown big by fighting for little men. Nova Scotians had built houses, banks and fisheries, and I hobnobed for two summers with their leaders who were farmers, coal miners, lumbermen, priests, professors and editors. Miners in a poor province were achieving ownership, lumbermen had set up a credit-union bank as protection against small-loan companies.
I wrote a book on the programs and results in Nova Scotia, and one on U.S.A. co-ops ranging from consumer co-ops among Bohemian miners in southeastern Ohio through "People's," a Chicago co-op whose entire membership was black (whatever became of my guide, Charles Estelle and of his family?), to and through Minnesota Swede and Finnish cooperators, to and through co-ops in Nebraska and Kansas where the people owned oil wells. The U.S.A. book was happily christened Ourselves, Inc. by Ordway Tead of Harpers. I edited still another book to help celebrate the centennial of the Rochdale weavers' co-op, the pioneer of all co-ops.
I took a pleasant if exhausting hike to Nova Scotia in 1939 with eighty-five pilgrims led by Henry Carpenter, a New York City clergyman; the next year I wanted Summer School off to get additional material to do a book. My bosses (I went from boss to boss) were unconvinced that I would write a book: by that time I had published only three. They said to teach summer school first, a maneuver designed to keep me at home in Indiana. To make the trip I asked for $130. "Good Lord, man! We can't give money like that for vacation!" It would do no good to point out that my venture was work. I packed lunch and supper from skimpy makings in Corby Hall snack bar; then took off for Boston in a day coach. The merciful conductor sent me forward to the only available seat in an airconditioned car where I saw my companion as an old maid teacher on vacation. Away we went day and night, one as starchy as the other, my sandwiches as good as hers. Towards Boston, two young priests boarded our coach; fresh-faced, well fed and well-groomed, they zipped their bags open, bounced black books onto the seat and the bags onto the rack and as smooth as clerics in a movie, the two were at prayer. My companion said: "They've done this before."
It was still a long and hungry way to Antigonish, by boat from Boston and slow train along the Coast from Halifax. On tour in Nova Scotia, a Jewish couple, teachers in a Virginia college for blacks, attended my Masses, and all of us freezing, she wouldn't let me choose a red sweater: "For a priest!" Soon she was directing a quartet from among our nine blacks; and one of those men, big and tall, with a great eagle spread of his arms, some fingers missing, asked God to bless our food.
The school year, Summer School and during two summers visiting over forty co-op centers -- this was rugged. Paul Greer, a co-op devotee and author, said in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that only a newsman would appreciate the range of the coverage. I travelled by bus, hitchhiking, freight train and freight boat, this last a delightful trip from Mulgrave to Canso, a fishing village famous for co-ops; I sat in the sun all the way catching up on my notes.
Back home again in Indiana the day before school started, I had a full teaching schedule, but with no hope of time off to write and afraid the edge of Nova Scotia co-ops would dull, I bet that the book would be written in six weeks; and it was, with thirty-six hours to spare. I was glad to have done it even if on bread and water.
My writing on education got started in part because this angry young man had to let off steam. The principal reason I wrote on education, however, was that it seemed high time that, with nominally Catholic universities all over the lot, we would try to find out what we ideally should be doing. My opinions are expressed in Blueprint for a Catholic University and New Life in Catholic Schools.
On my native community in Iowa, two books appeared of a nostalgic nature and more or less related to the Irish books; I hope a third is in the hopper. The two were Holding Up the Hills and Concerning Mary Ann, the former sub-titled "Biography of a Neighborhood"; the latter is a biography of the same community told through one woman's biography. Reviewing some of my work, John T. Frederick, Literary critic and historian, said in the Chicago Sun-Times: ". . . rich in real people and places and happenings. Full of humor and of meaning -- and written in deceptively simple, unpretentious style that is as strong and right as any to be found in modern American literature."
Among other books one was pre-Johnannine on parish renewal, a description of the new life in parishes scattered over eight or nine states. Later parish and diocesan renewal demands new books on significant parishes. Earlier, I had edited a work attempting coverage of developments in American Catholic life in the thirties and forties, its best chapters being by Aaron Abell on the background (1880-1920), Godfrey Diekmann on promises of liturgical awakening, and Julian Pleasants on Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker. This book was followed in 1959 by a summary and assessment of a dozen such matters.
A weakness of my work, notably in philosophy and in quasi theological sociology, was that it fell between stools. Before the American Catholic Philosophical Association I read a simple paper on the concept of "value," and a pre-priest said that my concept escaped him: he was unfamiliar with an inquiry approach; then, too, my writing in philosophy proper and in philosophy of education read like literature -- a fatal fault. A nun said my works on education were the only "education books" she had ever enjoyed; and another nun said my books were the only "Catholic books" her non-Catholic students could understand. On the other hand, American philosophers paid little attention to anything I said on "value," the late Professor Gabbert of Pittsburgh University being an exception who honored my Values and Reality with a thorough criticism. My quasi sociological work is not scientific and yet is a little too serious to be good journalism.
Readings were needed to cover Jacques Maritain's social and political philosophy, putting his best work in those areas into one volume. One day coming from class under the Golden Dome, I met a colleague, Dr. Joseph W. Evans, and on the spot, pedestrians coming and going, in three minutes Joe and I were agreed that the project should be undertaken. Another colleague, Dr. Frank Keegan, wide-ranging student of Maritain, suggested a Maritain Center, and he and I and Joseph Evans, the most punctilious student of Maritain, became a committee for the Center. Dr. Keegan soon went with the Ford Foundation in Mexico City and then to be president of Salem State College, and I am merely an occasional consultant of Dr. Evans, and he and I, he doing most of the work, edited Challenges and Renewals, a follow-up volume of Maritain readings. Maritain was always deeply concerned not only for the existence of the Center, but for how it proceeded. The Center is a high-academic way for Notre Dame to honor itself and its faculty. The University was fortunate in having on its faculty an expert on the century's number one Aristotelian-Thomist philosopher.
I have also done a co-editing job with Daniel D. Mccarry, professor of history at St. Louis University. We found men concerned for and competent on problems of educational freedom. Our joint product called Educational Freedom (1966) has a remarkable chapter by Edwin H. Palmer, then Dean of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, on "Freedom and Equity in Dutch Education." Palmer went to Holland convinced that the Dutch system of allowing and supporting pluralistic freedom in education was inferior to our Church-State legal formalism, but became a protagonist of the Dutch system. Somewhat teamed with that volume is my own work, Federal Aid for Private Schools (1964).
Any fourth-rate author (as rated by scholars and the public) has desks full of unpublishable manuscripts. At a Father Tomkins dinner in Nova Scotia, I was introduced as one who had some books published, and responded: "Think of how many more he has unpublished!" I also said I liked the Gospel according to Jimmie Tomkins, inspirer of co-ops and people. Book-length manuscripts of mine are always floating around the country: it is easier to write a book than to get it published. I never had two book-length manuscripts refused in one day. But the uninitiated scarcely realize that a publisher may dally along for months before saying at last: "Thank you for presenting your work to us. We are sorry to say, etc."
When the mail drops at my door with a thud, it may be proofs for a book, but more likely a returned manuscript. When I recover, the whole is revised and sent to another publisher. A titbit will please a minor author. In the late 1960's I took to writing verse, and an editor of World was kind enough to reply, long-hand: "Sorry, we don't publish poetry. Please try some other place though." My poem "Walking on the Moon" won the Laus Tibi Deo award in 1971, the Catholic Press Association made a poem of mine their prize winner for 1972, and my one-act play in blank verse, "A Package Deal" (Way April 1972) is the best pro-life, anti-abortion fiction piece available. I did have one book published on September 30th and another the next day.
Once a publisher accepted a work and signed the contract, then delayed beyond the time assigned for the proofs. Then he summarily said, "No," and back came the manuscript. Then some harrassing correspondence until a friend said to ask about the contract. So the blunt man went to work editing. Then back again came the manuscript: "After all . . . How about five hundred dollars for breaking contract?" This publishing house was tooted in England, the time was when we were pouring dollars into England, and an English-aligned house had no thought of an American accepting the money. The man has remained edgy toward me.
At any moment a publisher has manuscripts from which to choose. Should not an author have a like privilege? As poor as Job's turkey, should not he be free to send a manuscript concurrently to several houses? Once I sent two copies to two New York houses since there was little chance that either would bite. But when the two did, I wrote saying what I had done. One said my action was unethical and illegal and he would sue; so far as I know, he still holds the copy as damages. The other only said my method was "exceptional."
Among my unpublished classics are two novels. Just home from Europe in 1936, I was struck in New York, Indiana and Iowa by the vigor and living quality of people's speech, in contrast to British speech where letters have to be written to the Times before a new word may be used. I was bursting with enthusiasm to do something, almost anything; did not Santayana note that children's play is "an excess of animal spirits"? I was told to live in a seminary and had to find some way of expression. Some nearly good things were said about that earlier classic novel. A fine critic said it was written as a novel should be, the people being the book, but it went from literature to sociology and back again. Edward J. O'Brien, of "Best Short Stories" fame, hopped like a rabbit through its pages and said: "Why are you ashamed of it? It's no classic, but much better than most of the stuff we call Catholic novels. If it doesn't go, tell me and I'll make it go." An agency tried to place it, my correspondent saying it was only a question of how well she would place it. "You're interested in too many people, but it's full of good things. No, you can't re-write it. Go home and write a novel with one strong central character, preferably a man." The second novel has also shopped around, an agent saying he would try to find a home for it.
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