David Russell Mosley
22 February 2017
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire
Over the last few days I have been reading Joseph Pearce’s new book, Merrie England: A Journey through the Shire. For those unfamiliar with Pearce, some background might be useful. Pearce was born in England in 1961. When he was 15 Pearce joined the National Front. Due to his participation in, and writing for, this facist, white-supremacist group he was twice imprisoned. Just before and during that time he became interested in the writings of G.K. Chesterton, especially Chesterton’s political writings. By 1989 Pearce converted from a nominal protestantism to Catholicism. He has since repudiated all of his views, with perhaps exception for a preference for the political writings of Chesterton, he held during his National Front days and is now a respected author and teacher.
Merrie England is something of a spiritual travelogue through Catholic England, which Pearce denotes with the title, Merrie. This is actually quite similar to Lewis’ distinction between Britain and Logres. Pearce takes us through sites both natural and manmade that, to his mind, exemplify Catholic England; places such as Ely Cathedral, Sherwood Forest (what’s left of it, anyway), Lindisfarne, and more. Many of Pearce’s reflections bemoan certain aspects of secular England’s reality. This is not only understandable, but appropriate. Pearce’s whole point is that more real than the England we might be able to see with un-enchanted eyes is Merrie England, and that the modern state of affairs seeks to obfuscate that. But there is another polemic Pearce often takes up in this book.
Pearce has a rather harsh approach to the Church of England. Admittedly not all of this is unwarranted. After all, the wars that took place during the English reformation caused the deaths of many Catholics for being Catholic. This is an atrocity that cannot be ignored. By the same token, however, we cannot forget the protestants killed by Catholics (when the Catholics were in charge) for the sake of being protestant. Pearce at one point mentions Chesterton moving “beyond the inconsistencies of Anglo-Catholicism,” (119) yet references to Lewis––an Anglican at least if not also an Anglo-Catholic––throughout this book go unremarked. In fact, Pearce mentions Jane Austen favorably as well and yet never mentions the fact that she was an Anglican. Now it is quite possible that since I did my PhD work under Anglicans primarily (as well as a lay Orthodox scholar) and since I began the process of ordination in the Church of England I take all this a bit too personally. Still, I think some readers might take issue with Pearce’s occasionally abrasive time as regards the Church of England in particular.
That said, Pearce’s book is nevertheless excellent (if a bit over-priced for a book of 144 pages; though I don’t blame him or even his publisher for that, such is the way of publishing). Pearce’s book is a reminder that there was a time, however brief, between pagan Britain and the English Reformation where this small, but mighty, island was largely unified by the Catholic faith. More importantly, this witty little book reminds us that the true England, the England whose heart belongs to Christ still exists, that it can still be accessed and seen. I would say that it can be seen in many Anglican parishes as well as Catholic, but the key is that it is still there.
I recommend this book particularly to Catholic anglophiles. In its pages you will find wonderful descriptions of key Catholic sites. You will also be reminded that this world is not as it should be, but we can still find vestiges of it, we can still uncover it, if only we look hard enough.