Dear Maxine, We wanted to write and say a heartfelt thank you to you for all you did for our wedding at Brooklands on Friday 7th October.
Catherine of Siena, have become an Italian classic; yet perhaps the first thing in them to strike a reader is their unliterary character.
He only will value them who cares to overhear the impetuous outpourings of the heart and mind of an unlettered daughter of the people, who was also, as it happened, a genius and a saint.
Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, the other great writers of the Trecento, are all in one way or another intent on choice expression; Catherine is intent solely on driving home what she has to say. Her letters were talked rather than written.
She learned to write only three years before her death, and even after this time was in the habit of dictating her correspondence, sometimes two or three letters at a time, to the noble youths who served her as secretaries. The modern listener to this eager talk may perhaps at first feel wearied.
Suffocated by words, repelled by frequent crudity and confusion of metaphor, he may even be inclined to call the thought childish and the tone overwrought. But let him persevere. Let him read these letters as chapters in an autobiography, noting purpose and circumstance, and reading between the lines, as he may easily do, the experience of the writer.
Before long the very accents of a living woman will reach his ears. He will hear her voice, now eagerly pleading with friend or wrong-doer, now brooding tender as a mother-bird over some fledgling soul, now broken with sobs as she mourns over the sins of Church and world, and again chanting high prophecy of restoration and renewal, or telling in awestruck undertone sacred mysteries of the interior life.
Dante's Angel of Purity welcomes wayfarers upon the Pilgrim Mount "in voce assai piu che la nostra, viva. These letters are charged with a vitality so intense that across the centuries it draws us into the author's presence.
Imagination is inclined to see the canonized saints as a row of solemn figures, standing in dull monotony of worshipful gesture, like Virgins and Confessors in an early mosaic. Yet, as a matter of fact, people who have been canonized were to their contemporaries the most striking personalities among men and women striving for righteousness.
They were all, to be sure, very good; but goodness, despite a curious prejudice to the contrary, admits more variety in type than wickedness, and produces more interesting characters.
Catherine Benincasa was probably the most remarkable woman of the fourteenth century, and her letters are the precious personal record of her inner as of her outer life. With all their transparent simplicity and mediaeval quaintness, with all the occasional plebeian crudity of their phrasing, they reveal a nature at once so many- sided and so exalted that the sensitive reader can but echo the judgment of her countrymen, who see in the dyer's daughter of Siena one of the most significant authors of a great age.
II As is the case with many great letter-writers, though not with all, Catherine reveals herself largely through her relations with others. Some of her letters, indeed, are elaborate religious or political treatises, and seem at first sight to have little personal colouring; yet even these yield their full content of spiritual beauty and wisdom only when one knows the circumstances that called them forth and the persons to whom they were addressed.
A mere glance at the index to her correspondence shows how widely she was in touch with her time. She was a woman of personal charm and of sympathies passionately wide, and she gathered around her friends and disciples from every social group in Italy, not to speak of many connections formed with people in other lands.
She wrote to prisoners and outcasts; to great nobles and plain business men; to physicians, lawyers, soldiers of fortune; to kings and queens and cardinals and popes; to recluses pursuing the Beatific Vision, and to men and women of the world plunged in the lusts of the flesh and governed by the pride of life.
The society of the fourteenth century passes in review as we turn the pages. Catherine wrote to all these people in the same simple spirit. With one and all she was at home, for all were to her, by no merely formal phrase, "dearest brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.
She could handle with plain directness the crudest sins of her age; she could also treat with subtle insight the most elusive phases of spiritual experience. No greater distance can be imagined than that which separates the young Dominican with her eyes full of visions from a man like Sir John Hawkwood, reckless free-lance, selling his sword with light-hearted zeal to the highest bidder, and battening on the disorder of the times.Readers' Letter Dear Sixtyplusurfers.
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