A Time to Keep Silence

FERMOR, Patrick Leigh. A Time to Keep Silence.

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FERMOR, Patrick Leigh. A Time to Keep Silence. London, John Murray, 1957.

8vo. Original crimson cloth, upper board and spine lettered in gilt, dustwrapper with design after Peter Todd Mitchell (not price-clipped); pp. 95; 4 half-tone plates with photographic illustrations recto-and-verso after M. le Curé Bretocq and Joan Eyres Monsell, and 3 section-title vignettes after John Craxton; dustwrapper with a little marginal abrasures at head and tail of spine, gift inscription; a very good copy.
First trade edition. A collection of three pieces on monasteries and monasticism: 'The Abbey of St Wandrille de Fontanelle', 'From Solesmes to La Grande Trappe', 'The Rock Monasteries of Cappadocia', followed by a 'Postscript' which considers the history of the English Benedictine Congregation and its peregrinations through Europe, and Byzantine monasticism. First published in The Cornhill in 1949 under the title 'A Monastery', the first and longest piece collected here is Patrick Leigh Fermor's account of his residence at l'Abbaye de St Wandrille de Fontanelle in north-west France, which recounts the history of the Benedictine abbey founded in 649 by St Wandrille and provides a typically erudite assessment of the role of monasticism in European intellectual life, together with his own personal reaction to the spiritual discipline and structure of monastic life under the Rule of St Benedict: 'Worship, then, and prayer are the raison d'être of the Benedictine order; and anything else, even their great achievements as scholars and architects and doctors of the church, is subsidiary. They were, however, for centuries the only guardians of literature, the classics, scholarship and the humanities in a world of which the confusion can best be compared to our own atomic era. For a long period, after the great epoch of Benedictine scholarship at Cluny, the Maurist Benedictine Abbey of St. Germain-des-Près was the most important residuary of learning and science in Europe -- only a few ivy-clad ruins remain, just visible between zazou suits and existentialist haircuts from the terrace of the Deux Magots. But in scores of abbeys all over Europe, the same liberal traditions survive and prosper. Other by-products of their life were the beautiful buildings in which I was living, and the unparalleled calm that prevailed there. At St Wandrille I was inhabiting at last a tower of solid ivory, and I, not the monks, was the escapist. For my hosts, the Abbey was a springboard into eternity; for me a retiring place to write a book and spring more effectively back into the maelstrom. Strange that the same habitat should prove favourable to ambitions so glaringly opposed' (pp. 34-35). The second and third pieces were written later and describe Trappist and Byzantine monasticism, and the three pieces were first published together in 1953 in a limited edition issued by the Queen Anne Press. The text was then revised by the author for publication in this first trade edition, issued by John Murray in May 1957.
As Artemis Cooper comments in Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure (London: 2012), 'Almost none of his subsequent writings show anything like the same level of introspection, and certain passages seem to yearn for a deeper spiritual experience, like a thirsty man in the desert gazing at at what might be an oasis or a mirage. For the monks the oasis was very real but for Paddy, in spite of his yearnings, it remained a mirage. Yet the weeks he spent in these French monasteries had made a profound impression' (p. 235).