BLTC Press Titles


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The Worm Ouroboros

E. R. Eddison


Esoteric Buddhism

A. P. Sinnett


Tao Te Ching

Lao Tzu, James Legge (trans.)


The Bhagavad Gita

Anonymous


Cardinal Newman's Dream of Gerontius

by John Henry Newman

Excerpt:

INTRODUCTION

History of the Poem. — The year 1865 found John Henry Newman, the author of The Dream of Gerontius, an old man, living with his brethren in quiet seclusion in the Oratory at Birmingham. He was now close upon his sixty-fourth birthday, and naturally, as the years advanced, began to look forward with greater frequency to his approaching end. That supreme moment in every man's life when the soul goes out to meet its Judge, had been to him at all times as if a present reality; and now that the time was very near, as he thought, when he should pass " from shadows and images to the truth," that moment became more than ever the subject of his thoughts and meditations. In January, 1865, it suddenly came into his mind to put his thoughts on death into the form of a dramatic poem; and having finished writing it — currente calamo as it seems — he laid the thing aside not quite satisfied with it.

A few months later it so happened that Newman was asked by Father Henry James Coleridge S. J., editor of The Month, for a contribution to that magazine; and having just then nothing theological to offer, he sent the editor a poem, along with the remark that he might do with it what he chose. The poem thus carelessly offered was none other than The Dream of Gerontius. It was thankfully welcomed by Father Coleridge, and shortly afterwards made its appearance in two parts in successive numbers of The Month.

After the first part appeared in the May number, Newman wrote to his friend, Thomas William Allies: " As to Gerontius, perhaps the second part will be a failure, so be cautious with your criticism." The second part appeared in the subsequent number, and was received with as much enthusiasm and praise as the first. It would seem that the author was urged to make further additions to the poem, for in another letter to Mr. Allies, written not long after, Newman says: " No, I assure you, I have nothing more to produce of Gerontius. I could no more write anything else by willing it, than I could fly." And to the Reverend John Telford he wrote: " You do me too much honor if you think I am to see in a dream everything that is to be seen in the subject dreamed about. I have said what I saw. Various spiritual writers see various aspects of it, and, under their protection and pattern, I have set down the dream as it came before the sleeper. It is not my fault if the sleeper did not dream more. Perhaps something woke him. Dreams are generally fragmentary; I have nothing more to tell."

The Dream was afterwards added to the author's earlier poems, which were published together under the title Verses on Various Occasions. Previous to this, however, a separate edition of the poet's masterpiece had been prepared and brought out, which was affectionately inscribed to a departed friend and brother Oratorian, Father John Joseph Gordon, as follows: —

Fratri Desideratissimo
Joanni Joseph Gordon
Oratorii S. P. N. Presbytero
Cujus Anima in Refrigerio.

In die Comm J. H. N.

Omn. Fid. Def. 1865.

To my very dear brother, John Joseph Gordon,

Priest of the Oratory of St Philip Neri. May his soul be in the Place of Refreshment.

John Henry Newman.

All Souls' Day, 1865.

This edition of The Dream has since gone through more than forty-five reprints. It was translated into French in 1869, and into German in 1885. Two other events have contributed to the increased knowledge and popularity of The Dream; it was made the subject of an inaugural address by the Professor of Poetry at Oxford, Sir Francis Doyle; and by Sir Edward Elgar, the celebrated composer, was worked into an oratorio which, since its first appearance in 1900, has received a wide appreciation at home and abroad at the hands of the best musical critics.


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