Author Archives: proverbs6to10

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Interested in Byzantium and Patrick Leigh Fermor

Benaki update: Progress of Repair Works at the Leigh Fermor House

A short update in Greek and English has been issued today by the Benaki Museum. Unfortunately no photos other than the one above appear to be available at the moment.

Works at the Leigh Fermor House are progressing very well within schedule. The largest part of the repairs has been completed using as much as possible the same traditional techniques and materials employed by the Leigh Fermors. For example, roofs were tiled anew with the original handmade ceramic tiles and the internal walls were plastered with a preparation reproducing the 1960s mixture. Furthermore, the new timber doors, windows and stone lintels, are exact copies of the originals.
The House will reopen to the public in the summer of 2019 and guided tours will be offered to the public.

The repair works are carried out thanks to the major donation of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

If you have questions, I suggest that you direct them to the Benaki plfproject@benaki.gr . The Benaki Museum page dedicated to the project can be found here.

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Dear Mr Murray

David McClay is the former curator of the John Murray archive located at the National Library of Scotland which includes Paddy’s papers which were donated to the archive by Paddy in his will. This book may be of general interest to some of you.

by Rosemary Hill

First published in the London Review of Books

Some things in the relations between authors and publishers never change. Dear Mr Murray: Letters to a Gentleman Publisher, edited by David McClay, a collection of letters written to six generations of the Murray family, is full of familiar complaints. Jane Austen was ‘very much disappointed … by the delays of the printers’. Maria Rundell, author of A New System of Domestic Cookery (1805), was furious about misprints in the second edition, including an unfortunate mistake in a recipe for rice pudding. Byron objected to cuts in his work, as did David Livingstone, who also took exception to the ‘absolutely abominable’ illustrations of his Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, in particular the scene of his own encounter with a lion: ‘Everyone … will die with laughing … It’s like a dray horse.’ On the other side of the editorial desk successive John Murrays had their own difficulties. Rundell’s editor, Murray II, told his wife that ‘her conceit surpasses anything.’ Whitwell Elwin, the reader to whom Murray III sent the manuscript of On the Origin of Species, wrote back that, despite ‘the very high opinion’ he had of Darwin, he felt the book lacked substance. There was no proof of the argument. It would be better, he thought, to concentrate on one species, such as pigeons: ‘Everybody is interested in pigeons.’ Fortunately for Murray’s reputation, Whitwell was overruled.

Murray I began life as John McMurray in Edinburgh in 1737. On a friend’s advice he dropped the ‘wild Highland Mac’ when he came to London, setting up business in Fleet Street in 1768, at a time when publishers, booksellers, journalists and printers were often the same people. It was the age of Grub Street, of Boswell and Johnson, coffee houses, clay pipes and gallons of port. In 1812 Murray II moved the firm to Albemarle Street in the more respectable West End, where it remained until the seventh John Murray sold up in 2002. Here Murray’s built a list that included some of the best and most popular authors of their day, from Byron and Walter Scott to Patrick Leigh-Fermor and Freya Stark. It was Murray’s reputation for solid, conservative values that led both the geologist Charles Lyell and then Darwin to publish their potentially disruptive theories under its aegis. No. 50 Albemarle Street became famous for the great writers who passed through its door and notorious for its drawing-room fireplace in which Murray II burned Byron’s memoirs. Byron had wanted him to publish them but they were destroyed in deference to the family’s feelings about what David McClay refers to laconically as the ‘many ups and downs’ of Byron’s career.

McClay is an exasperating editor, vague about dates and details. The book is arranged thematically so that authors often feature in more than one section, but without an index it is hard to follow them. While he makes no claim to have done more than pick a few cherries from a vast archive, he seems unsure who they are for and the book is neither serious history nor stocking-filler. The reader who needs to be told that Alexander Pope was ‘an early 18th-century poet’ cannot be expected to know who ‘dear old Panizzi’ is in the same letter. His is one of many un-glossed names, some of them important. The ‘Owen’ referred to by Joseph Hooker in a letter to Murray III about Samuel Wilberforce’s hostile review of Origin of Species is Richard Owen, the palaeontologist who coined the word ‘dinosaur’, and who disagreed with Darwin about the transmutation of species. Hooker’s suggestion that Wilberforce, who is too often cast as merely a bigoted reactionary, had been ‘made a tool of’ by Owen for his rival evolutionary theory, is therefore significant. It is also interesting that the article, which sparked widespread controversy and led several months later to the famous debate on evolution between Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley at the Oxford Museum, appeared in the Quarterly Review, which was published by Murray’s. The editor was John Gibson Lockhart, but we aren’t told why he chose to commission what was guaranteed to be a savage review.

The Quarterly was founded by Murray II in 1809 when publishers’ operations in the last Georgian decades, if they were not as multifarious as in the first John Murray’s day, still extended beyond books. Archibald Constable, Walter Scott’s Scottish publisher, was also the publisher of the Whig Edinburgh Review, edited by Francis Jeffrey with the frequent assistance of Sydney Smith. The Quarterly was intended as a Tory rival and enjoyed Scott’s close co-operation. After an erratic start, its middlebrow conservatism built a large and loyal readership. The correspondence suggests, however, that as with books, a lot of time was spent on complaints: a subscriber cancelling because the titles chosen for review were so ‘utterly destitute of interest’, or a furious James Hogg in Edinburgh alleging Anglocentric bias in a review of Scott’s second novel, Guy Mannering: ‘How I do despise your London critics.’ Murray II sent a reply that was even-handedly disparaging of reviewer, author and complainant: ‘Our article is not good, & our praise is by no means adequate, but I suspect that you very greatly overrate the novel.’

In the days of anonymous reviewing editorial standards of impartiality were often compromised. Scott’s authorship of the Waverley novels was an open secret in the literary world but in 1816 Murray co-published his collected Tales of My Landlord, which carried no claim to be ‘by the author of Waverley’. Murray was sure it was ‘either by Walter Scott or the devil’, but Scott assured him it wasn’t and ingeniously suggested he should prove the point by reviewing it himself. He did and found he didn’t like it much: ‘unusually artificial; neither hero nor heroine excites interest of any sort.’ The piece concluded with a hefty hint that the author was his brother, Thomas Scott. The subterfuge worked and Murray was convinced, ‘to within an inch of [his] life’, that it was true.

The 19th century was Murray’s heyday, culminating in a selection of The Letters of Queen Victoria, which appeared in 1907, after the many exasperating delays and alterations attendant on all royal publications. As the editor A.C. Benson wrote to Murray in the course of a letter threatening to resign, ‘Royalty have no conception how much trouble they give.’ With the new century the correspondence changed in various ways. Telegrams began to appear, film rights became a consideration and so did commercial sponsorship. NBC paid $1000 for a radio adaptation of Beau Geste to be broadcast in the Campbell Soup Hour and Murray VI got his Oxford friend John Betjeman’s poems published by promising his uncle, who was then at the helm, that he would underwrite them with his own shares in Bovril. ‘I do appreciate the charity,’ Betjeman wrote when the book appeared, ‘for I can only call it that.’ In fact it was an instance of the benign self-interest that makes a far-sighted publisher succeed. As poet laureate Betjeman was worth his weight in Bovril.

Over its long life John Murray produced not only new books, but whole new genres. The famous red Murray’s handbooks were the original foreign guidebooks, a model for Baedeker. Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help of 1859 has had many successors. But this somewhat haphazard collection, intended as a tribute, has more the air of an obituary, and a lacklustre one at that.

Buy Dear Mr Murray: Letters to a Gentleman Publisher

Edit 19 Nov – it has been brought to my attention that David McClay is the former curator of the John Murray Archive. More positive reviews of Dear Mr Murray may be found in the Scottish Review of Books and a 5 star review in the Telegraph.

https://www.scottishreviewofbooks.org/2018/11/correspondence-course/

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/darwins-pigeons-inventing-self-help-book-john-murray-letters/

Billy Moss at the wheel of the Crusader, part way to Rarotonga, 1959

William “Billy” Stanley Moss, at the wheel of the Crusader, part way to Rarotonga, 1959

One of the great pleasures of running this blog is that I often receive contacts from people in all corners of the world on topics related to Paddy and his friends. Sometimes this can lead to putting people in touch who have lost contact, or being able to upload some interesting content for you all to enjoy.

In early October I was boarding a plane to Spain to walk a short leg of the Camino Frances from Leon to Santiago de Compostela, when I received an email from John Ewing. We have never met but he was trying to reach Billy Moss’ daughter, Gabriella Bullock, to pass on some items from a trans-Pacific journey completed by Billy in 1959. They have never met, and Gabriella was unaware that this information existed.

Hi Tom,
My name is John Ewing, I sailed with Billy Moss across the South Pacific in 1959. I have quite a lot of information and some photographs of the trip and Bill, which I would like to share with his family. It is likely that your society would have contact details for his very proud daughter Gabriella, I would appreciate your forwarding this email to her so that we may communicate by email.

I was able to put them in touch and I am grateful to John for sharing this photograph of Billy at the wheel of the yacht Crusader, on the way to Rarotonga, the most populous island of the Cook Islands. How wonderful is this?!

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have something to share with the blog community of over 1,000 readers. See About and Contact for details.

Danube Institute video Noble Encounters

Many of you will have had a lot of enjoyment reading Michael O’Sullivan’s excellent book Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania which was published in the summer.

Michael gave an excellent presentation at the Transylvanian Book Festival back in September. In anticipation of the London launch next week of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania, you may wish to dip in and out of this video by the Danube Institute featuring Michael and Dr. Tamas Barcsay (great-nephew of Miklos Banffy) talking about Paddy’s time in Hungary and the people he met there.

Find out more about the book and its background here.

You can purchase the book by clicking this link Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania.

When our King went forth on pilgrimage

King George V address at Terlincthun

“It was our King’s wish that he should go as a private pilgrim, with no trappings of state nor pomp of ceremony, … to visit the tombs … of his comrades who gave up their lives in the Great War,” so began my Great Grandfather, the Australian War Correspondent, Sir Frank Fox, in the opening lines of his endearing 1922 book, The King’s Pilgrimage, about a simple three day journey by train to the War Cemeteries of France and Belgium in May 1922 by George V, the King Emperor; a man of great humility, modesty and wisdom.

by Dr Charles Goodson-Wickes DL

About ten million combatants lost their lives in the First War, but it is the concentrated nature of the ‘14-‘18 conflict combined with the horrors of trench warfare, losses on a scale never experienced before and its wide reporting through the novel media of film that mean its effects are still felt to this day.

Despite the fact that nearly double this dreadful figure were to be killed in the Second World War twenty years later, a far larger war conducted on many more fronts, it was as a result of the First War and remains to this day, commanders primary concern to minimize losses because of the negative and damning consequence such news and figures would have on morale at home and hence political will to see an operation through to its rightful end.

There is no one alive in this country today from that generation who so readily gave their lives in the Great War for our freedom today. It was a marker that would set the precedents for the Second World War and the principles of liberty by which we stand today. But, we cannot possibly comprehend the enormous sense of grief that cast its shadow across Europe for a lifetime. It was in recognition of this great collective sorrow that the King undertook his humble pilgrimage, following his State Visit to Belgium in 1922. It may seem strange that it took nearly four years to make a journey of such importance, but the numbers of dead were on such a scale that it took time to agree the manner and locations in which they were to be honoured; again the first time that the nature and manner of burial was to play a significant role in war, largely due to the work of Sir Fabian Ware, one time editor of The Morning Post which latterly became The Daily Telegraph, whose lobbying led to the establishment by royal charter of the Imperial War Graves Commission, now the Commonwealth War Graves Comission. By 1922, construction of the War Cemeteries was advanced enough to enable the King to pay his respects and see progress for himself.

Frank Fox, an experienced and tenacious journalist, had been reporting from battle fronts since the Boer War where he wrote of the controversy that created the Australian folk hero, Harry “Breaker” Morant; much of his work was for The Morning Post and it was his friendship with Ware that secured the invitation to accompany the monarch on this unique visit to the former Western Front. Fox was well qualified for this most sensitive of assignments, having been involved in many aspects of the Great War from its very outset when he was attached to the Belgian Army as The Morning Post’s War Correspondent when the Germans invaded Belgium in August 1914. For three months he reported the gallant Belgian resistance that culminated in the vital defensive action fought at the Battle of the Yser, which prevented the Channel Ports being overrun. On return, shocked by the atrocities meted out to the civilian population by German soldiers, he sought a Commission – at a relatively advanced age – and was sent to France as an officer in the Royal Field Artillery. In 1916, Fox was blown up in the quagmire of the Somme, taking him a year to recover from appalling wounds that left him almost totally deaf, with a shattered left arm and stump of a right foot. After convalescence, during which he worked for MI7 (Military Propaganda), he wangled his way back to France to serve on Field Marshal Haig’s staff in his GHQ at Montreuil-sur-Mer, where he assisted in the planning of the final offensive against the Germans.

It was in this nonchalant manner that my Great Grandfather, the Australian war correspondent, Sir Frank Fox, described in his diary, the appalling wounds he received in the quagmire of the Somme in 1916. It has yet to be explained what a 42-year old Artillery Officer was doing at the very apex of the Front Line.

“I was blown up in front of Le Sars by a salvo of shells. I refused to die on the battlefield. The gallant stretcher bearers got me in. I spent the next year in hospital.”

It was the King’s express wish that the nature of the Pilgrimage be low key, with the minimum of fuss, entourage or the usual pomp and ceremony that were the natural accompaniment to an official visit by the Sovereign; further the journey was undertaken in the workman like order of khaki service dress, then the equivalent of combat clothing worn by soldiers in the field today; the King keen to be seen and identified in the uniform that his soldiers had fought and died in. It was very much a working visit, void of the formality, scarlet and gold of the previous few days in Belgium.

On 11th May, the King left Brussels on board a special train that would be his home and transport for the three day journey, accompanied by a small party of five that included Field Marshal the Earl Haig, Sir Fabian Ware, Sir Frederick Ponsonby (Keeper of the Privy Purse), Colonel Clive Wigram (Equerry) and Major Seymour (Assistant Equerry). Later, he would be joined by Queen Mary and Admiral the Earl Beatty and at various points by representatives from countries of the Empire who played a vital role in the victory, Rudyard Kipling who was literary advisor to the Imperial War Graves Commission and had lost his only son, Jack, in 1917, while serving with the Irish Guards.

The port of Zeebrugge, was the first stop, where His Majesty was briefed on the daring raid to block the harbour by the Royal Navy in early 1918. After, it was to the Cemetery at Tyne Cot on the Passchendaele marshes, a name synonymous with appalling casualties and the largest British Military Cemetery in the world, at that time the place was a building site, home to gangs of veterans preparing the ground, masons, architects and all manner of site labourers and gardeners drawn from the local populace. Yet, wherever the King went, despite his wishes to the contrary, crowds of well-wishers gathered, singing the National Anthem, children bearing posies of flowers, gifts of thanks and messages of condolence. It was the spontaneity of incidents such as this that make this pilgrimage such a unique royal journey, like no other, and for George V, it must have been a most moving, touching and humbling experience.

At each cemetery, welcomed by local dignitaries, the King would dutifully inspect graves and a wreath would be laid before moving on. At Menin Gate, Ypres, he examined plans for the memorial to those who have no known grave; Vlamertinghe, Hop Store, Brandhoek followed until Lijssenthoek, the last cemetery in Belgian.

Arriving on French soil, the King was met with considerable ceremony at Notre Dame de Lorette – guards of honour, colour parties and much of the French General Staff, led by the grand old Marshal Foch.

‘“I have come”, said the King as he took Marshal Foch by the hand, “to lay a wreath in homage on the tombs of the French heroes who have fallen for their country,”’ Fox wrote and, after the two minute silence, noted how the King, and those around him was deeply moved at the sight of ‘row after row” of French gravestones and the loss of “a complete generation … in defence of their country.” Later, the King, turned to Foch, in animated conversation with his old friend, Haig who he had endured so much with and asked, “Always good friends, yes?” The old Marshal grasped Haig’s hand in response and replied fervently, “Toujours, toujours” (Always, always). At which point, the King too joined in placing his hand over theirs.

Queen Mary would join the entourage outside Boulogne at the final cemetery, Terlincthun, overlooking the English Channel, where 4,378 Commonwealth War Dead, including service personnel from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, New Foundland, the West Indies and South Africa are laid to rest. The Royal Party was greeted by a large delegation of French military and civil officialdom, whom the King officially thanked for their donation of land as burial grounds, support in construction of the cemeteries and sympathy for the great sacrifice made for French liberty.

In his moving speech before leaving on board ship with an escort of French destroyers to cross the English Channel, the King described the War Cemeteries as “potent advocates of peace upon earth” that would in time he prayed “serve to draw all peoples together in sanity and self-control”. In the words of Field Marshal the Lord Bramall, The King’s Pilgrimage marks the full stop to the Great War and its message of hope, succinctly summed up in George V’s closing words will ensure that as long as the graves stand, not one life lost in that war will have been in vain. (1509)

The Event

Dr Charles Goodson-Wickes invites you to the re-launch of this book at Sarum College, 19 The Close, Salisbury SP1 2EE on Monday 5th November 2018. His his Great Grandfather, Sir Frank Fox OBE, British War Correspondent was attached to the Royal Party and wrote this account of the events.

RSVP flora@medarc-limited.co.uk

Drinks 6.30 – 8.30pm
7pm In conversation with Harry Bucknall
NOTE: FOR SECURITY REASONS, PLEASE REPLY BY 30th OCTOBER – I am sure this can be waived a little, but please RVSP asp.

Purchasing the Book

If you can’t make the event you can still purchase the book at Amazon: The King’s Pilgrimage: An Account of King George V’s Visit to the War Graves in Belgium and France

Notes

“The King’s Pilgrimage” by Sir Frank Fox, OBE, first written in 1922, is republished with the blessing of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to mark the Centenary of the 1918 Armistice by his Great Grandson, Literary Executor and Wiltshire resident, Dr. Charles Goodson- Wickes.

Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes, served in The Life Guards in British Army of the Rhine, Northern Ireland and Cyprus. In 1991, while Member of Parliament for Wimbledon, he re-enlisted in the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel to participate in Gulf War 1 for the Liberation of Kuwait. Dr Goodson-Wickes, who lives in Bulford, was a driving force behind the reintroduction of the bustard to Wiltshire, is a Deputy Lieutenant for Greater London and the last sitting Member of Parliament to have seen active service.

At 6.30pm on Monday 5th November, Dr. Goodson-Wickes will talk about The King’s Pilgrimage, at Sarum College, The Close, Salisbury. To attend please email flora@medarc-limited.co.uk

The King’s Pilgrimage is available from amazon.co.uk & sirfrankfox.com

 

The King’s Pilgrimage and event in Salisbury 5 November

King George V at Etaples Cemetery

King George V at Etaples Cemetery

Whilst I have been away for the last few weeks on my own pilgrimage (again!!) to Santiago de Compostela, my good friend Harry Bucknall sent me some information about the republication of a book about a personal pilgrimage of King George V in 1922. It is now almost lost to the sands of time that our King, George V, went on pilgrimage to pay homage at the graves of the million or so war dead who not only gave their lives for our freedom but whose loss would scar a generation with grief.

This humble journey, recorded by the great war journalist, Sir Frank Fox, was written up in a little known but touching, moving and delightful book, The King’s Pilgrimage, which has been beautifully and faithfully reproduced by Fox’s Great Grandson, Charles Goodson-Wickes especially to mark the centenary of the Armistice in 1918.

“In the course of my pilgrimage, I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace … than the massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war.” King George V, France 1922

This is a special book, and one as a former soldiers, Harry and I believe, every household should own … lest we forget.

The Event

Dr Charles Goodson-Wickes invites you to the re-launch of this book at Sarum College, 19 The Close, Salisbury SP1 2EE on Monday 5th November 2018. His his Great Grandfather, Sir Frank Fox OBE, British War Correspondent was attached to the Royal Party and wrote this account of the events.

RSVP flora@medarc-limited.co.uk

Drinks 6.30 – 8.30pm
7pm In conversation with Harry Bucknall
NOTE: FOR SECURITY REASONS, PLEASE REPLY BY 30th OCTOBER – I am sure this can be waived a little, but please RVSP asp.

About the Author

Sir Frank Fox (1874-1960) was an Australian born Journalist, Soldier, Author and Campaigner who lived in Britain from 1909 and wrote over 33 books.

Having warned on public platform and in the press of an impending war, he was appointed to the Morning Post and sent as their war correspondent to the Balkans. He was then attached to the Belgian Army and recorded the German invasion of 1914 in The Agony of Belgium. After being wounded, Fox served on Haig’s staff, which he wrote revealingly about in GHQ – both books recently republished.

Motivated by the atrocities he witnessed in Belgium, Fox was commissioned into the British Army at the age of 41. Appointed an O.B.E. (Military) and Mentioned in Dispatches, he was knighted by King George V in 1926.

Purchasing the Book

If you can’t make the event you can still purchase the book at Amazon: The King’s Pilgrimage: An Account of King George V’s Visit to the War Graves in Belgium and France

“Marks the full stop to the Great War. It is a very special book”
Field Marshal the Lord Bramall

“No better way to commemorate the Centenary of the Armistice than this account of King George V’s homage to the Fallen”
The Rt Hon the Lord Astor, Former Defence Minister
and grandson of Field Marshal Earl Haig

Patrick Leigh Fermor and the monks of the west

An excellent article from the Catholic Herald by Michael Duggan; “religious references” in his work (and life). I hope that you enjoy this.

Seventy years ago, in September 1948, the English author Patrick Leigh Fermor decamped from the nightspots of Paris to the Benedictine monastery ‎of Saint Wandrille de Fontanelle near Rouen. His purpose was to work on a draft of what would become The Traveller’s Tree, an account of his voyages in the Caribbean. A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, the books recounting part of an epic pre-war walk across Europe as an eighteen-year-old that would secure Leigh Fermor’s lasting fame, were still decades away.

As his letters published last year show, ‘Paddy’ had a penchant for high living, forever drawn to the “soft hiss of the soda syphon”. His ingenious, entirely euphemistic descriptions of sex are a bawdy hoot. He once provoked a massive punch-up at the Kildare Hunt Ball and was only rescued from a true pounding by Ricki Huston, a beautiful Italian-American dancer, John Huston’s fourth wife and, not long after the near-riot in Ireland, Paddy’s lover.

His publisher, Jock Murray, once half-jokingly suggested a boarding house in Aberdeen as the ideal place for Paddy to knuckle down and finish a much-delayed volume. Even so, a monastery steeped in the ascetic rigour of the Western tradition seems like an extreme measure for a man who had just been staying at the Hotel Louisiane, around the corner from the Café Flore and the Deux Magots. Moreover, Leigh Fermor wasn’t a Catholic (though it is somewhat more complicated than that, as we shall see).

After his death in 2011, the First Things website published a touching, fulsome appreciation of Patrick Leigh Fermor written by the Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart: touching because the news of the passing of a very elderly man whom he did not know seemed to have left Hart discombobulated and bereft; and fulsome because Hart believes (as do I) that here was a writer whose prose “has few credible rivals in modern English letters”.

Toward the middle of this article, Hart makes a brief reference to the place of religion in the life of Patrick Leigh Fermor. He mentions the twentieth birthday spent at the Russian monastery of St Panteleimon on Mount Athos and praises Leigh Fermor’s book Roumeli for “some of the most illuminating writing on Orthodox monasticism in English”. But he also notes that even close friends seemed uncertain whether Paddy actually had any particular religious convictions at all.

As it happens, the matter of Patrick Leigh Fermor and religion need not rest where David Bentley Hart leaves it. Artemis Cooper’s fine 2012 biography contains an intriguing clue to her subject’s religious feelings. Though he never actually converted from the Anglicanism of his childhood, it appears that Paddy identified himself as “R.C.” on official forms right up to the end of the Second World War, when he was thirty years old. After that, his religious feelings, which at times during his childhood took the form of what Paddy called a religious mania, seemed to subside.

However, while the mania may have lapsed, the historical allure of Christendom never seemed to fade for him. The famous trilogy about his trek across Europe (the final instalment, The Broken Road, was published posthumously in 2014) is studded with episodes and incidents redolent of the continent’s historic Christian culture. Disembarking in Rotterdam in the dead of night in December 1933, at the beginning of his epic adventure, the first person Leigh Fermor saw was Erasmus, in the form of a snow-covered statue outside the fifteenth-century Laurenskerk. Not long after, he spent a night discussing, among other things, the correct pronunciation of Erasmic Latin with a couple of German students in the house of the widow of a Classics professor in Cologne. His account of arriving in Hungary on Holy Saturday 1934, crossing the bridge at Esztergom just in time to be swept up into the ceremony at the great cathedral, is unforgettable.

Leigh Fermor’s literary heroes included the French Catholic novelist, J-K Huysmans, who sparked his interest in monasticism, and St Basil of Caesarea in whom Paddy seemed to find something he craved: a fusion of Christian and classical humanism, such that “the polished Greek sentences are sprinkled with classical allusions one would expect more readily in the writings of a fifteenth-century humanist than in those of a Doctor of the Church living in the reign of Julian”. In Basil’s letters, there was “a mood of humanity and simplicity, (…) an absence of bigotry that seems to blow like a soft wind from those groves of olive and tamarind and lentisk; gently ruffling the surface of the mind and then leaving it quiet and still.”

Religion was also, of course, an indissoluble part of the Greece he loved and celebrated. According to Artemis Cooper, Paddy liked to think that he could still detect a sort of eternal, cultural Europe, untouched behind the cities and factories, where life was dictated by the rounds of the seasons and the feasts of the Church. He liked to claim descent from Counts of the Holy Roman Empire who had originally journeyed to Austria from Ireland; and he lamented the desolation caused by the Reformation, seeing the ruined abbeys of England as “the peaks of a vanished Atlantis drowned four centuries deep.”

Leigh Fermor did write one book on an overtly religious theme: a slim volume entitled A Time to Keep Silence, which records his sojourns in Saint Wandrille and two other French monasteries – Solesmes and La Grande Trappe – along with a trip to see the enigmatic, abandoned rock monasteries of Cappadocia.

Perhaps the most memorable feature of this book, first published in 1957, is the depiction of an outsider, a self-proclaimed homme moyen sensuel, adapting to the austerity of life in a western monastery. The monks Leigh Fermor had known previously, in wartime Crete where he served as a British army intelligence officer fighting alongside the resistance, were holy men who were nonetheless prone to “pouring out raki, cracking walnuts, singing mountain songs, stripping and assembling pistols, cross-questioning me interminably about Churchill, and snoring under olive trees while the sun’s beams fell perpendicularly on the Libyan Sea”.

And he did also have some brief encounters with the monks of western Europe when walking his way across Europe. As recounted in A Time of Gifts, when he made his way to the workhouse in Düsseldorf in search of a place to stay, a bearded Franciscan in clogs led him to the dormitory. There he had a night disturbed by the snores, groans, sighs and shouts of the other inmates. (“Lying in wait in the rafters all the nightmares of the Rhineland descended on the sleepers.”) The next day, the monks on duty supplied him and his companions, who were set to work on cutting logs, with axes and saws, coffee and black bread.

Later, at the great abbey of Melk in Austria, a young, learned, amusing Benedictine, speaking beautiful French, showed him around, proving to be the “ideal cicerone” for the splendours beyond the gatehouse. Further up the Danube, at the Abbey of Göttweig, he is introduced to an Irish monk “of immense age and great charm”, who “could have sat for a picture of St Jerome”.

Come 1948, his encounter with monasticism was defined, at first, by an initial descent into “unspeakable ‎loneliness”, “overwhelming gloom and acidie”, a sensation of “circumabient and impending death”. But then comes his re-emergence, still within the monastic walls, into a life of “light, dreamless and perfect sleep”, lasting five hours and coming to an end “with no harder shock than that of a boat’s keel grounding on a lake shore”; of awakenings “full of energy and limpid freshness”; and of days of “absolute vitality and god-like freedom”. (Later on, leaving the monastery, and returning to the kind of world announced by Cinzano advertisements seen from a train window, would induce a painful process of adaptation in reverse.)

Leigh Fermor was full of admiration and respect for the role that the monks of the West had played in history, for the centuries in which they were the only guardians of things he loved: literature, the classics, scholarship and the humanities. He also found that the company of the small number of living monks‎ he was permitted to speak with was like the company of any civilised, well-educated Frenchmen “with all the balance, erudition and wit that one expected, the only difference being a gentleness, a lack of haste, and a calmness which is common to the whole community”.

More profoundly, he also came to appreciate the role of monasteries in what is sometimes called the economy of salvation. It was their belief in the necessity and efficacy of prayer – “a principle so utterly remote from every tendency of modern secular thought” – that explains the sacrifices these men made. Vows embracing poverty, chastity and obedience were destined to smite “all fetters that chained them to the world, to free them for action, for the worship of God and the practice of prayer; for the pursuit, in short, of sanctity.”

Leigh Fermor smiled at the fact that the monastic habitat should prove “favourable to ambitions so glaringly opposed”: his ambition, on the one hand, to get a book finished and his publisher off his back, and, on the other hand, the ambitions of the monks. These men, he found, could still embark on those “hazardous mystical journeys of the soul” which culminate in “blinding moments of union with the Godhead”, the very inkling of which, “since Donne, Quarley, Herbert, Vaughan and Traherne wrote their poems, has drained away from life in England”.

In the Introduction to A Time to Keep Silence, Paddy grappled briefly with the question of what his experiences inside the monastery walls might ultimately signify. He wrote that he was profoundly affected by the places he described. Though unsure about what his feelings amounted to, he was convinced that they were “deeper than mere interest and curiosity, and more important than the pleasure an historian or an aesthete finds in ancient buildings and liturgy”. In monasteries, he found “a state of peace that is unthought of in the ordinary world”. Describing himself as no stranger to “recalcitrance or scepticism or plain incapacity for belief”, he implies nevertheless that he had been the beneficiary of a “supernatural windfall”.

In the end, Paddy never fully cashed in this windfall. A Time to Keep Silence was published in 1957, but there were to be no more books on an exclusively religious theme. His life (a quite extraordinary one, in ways I have barely touched on here) was filled with many different interests, pleasures and friendships, some of which would have thrown up serious obstacles to any burgeoning Catholicism.

He had an open relationship with his wife, Joan Rayner, who was also a committed atheist. While he stayed on in Rome to witness (and “swoon” at) the coronation of Pope John XXIII in 1958, his primary reason for being in the Eternal City in the first place was to conduct an affair with a young divorcee. Three pages of A Time to Keep Silence are devoted to the conflicts and mysteries of chastity.

I am speculating, of course, but perhaps Leigh Fermor’s temperament – that old, latent religious mania – sometimes led him back towards the threshold of belief, only for his appetites to lead him away again, down the path of least resistance, garlanded with pleasures, adored by friends and lovers, and adoring them in return.

Many of us know some version of this dilemma. We need a strong motive to turn our backs on the worldly delights which converged on Patrick Leigh Fermor like iron filings on a magnet, in favour of the less certain rewards that emanate from spiritual dread and spiritual joy. As Artemis Cooper has pointed out to me, Paddy (unlike, say, Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene) “could live without answers to the big questions: what am I doing here, why is there evil in the world, what has God got to do with it. These big themes didn’t preoccupy him much.”

To those who’ve read the books and letters, this observation has the ring of truth. But could it be that Patrick Leigh Fermor was able to live a life seemingly unpreoccupied by God because of the knowledge that he had acquired at first-hand in places like Saint Wandrille and La Grande Trappe?

This was the knowledge that, all the while, in those monasteries scattered across the West, which he called “silent factories of prayer”, there were other civilized, well-educated gentlemen just like him who had succeeded in abandoning everything. And that they had done so in order to help their fellow-men, and themselves, to meet something he had intuited himself during those brief pockets of time spent in monastic cells, woods and cloisters, something which he and most of us push to the back of our minds for most of the time, and to which he gave a name: “the terrifying problem of eternity”.