Arthur to John, March 19, 1940

Arthur Wells
6740 Lawnton Ave
Oak Lane Philadelphia

March 19, 1940

Dear John,

Your letter is to receive a reply of startling promptness. It so happens that it arrived at a most appropriate time, to "cheer me on my bed of pain." Said bed of pain is a most uncommonly comfortable one, as I am not sick. I have been for the past week in the Lankenan Hospital taking the necessary steps to get under control a duodenal ulcer that has raised hell with me for the past three months. I got it in time, and they promise me that by the end of the week I can go home and in a few days resume my regular life, with certain diet restrictions for a while. I am quite free from the pain - the grand-daddy of all belly-aches, that chased me to the specialist and so to the Hospital. The whole thing has worked out very satifactorily and so I need no sympathy. Also I've lots of time to write letters!

Your letter went into no details as to the "philosophical group" you are interested in. The description intrigues me. What do you philosophize about? That sort of thing is somewhat "down my alley" but I should think that unless your program is very carefully planned, you may well have to wade through a lot of trees to get to the forest. Perhaps you enjoy the association with some individual who acts as a leader - if such exists, and he has something on the ball - then I say yes, you can get a lot out of it. Let me know some details.

So you are a Unitarian now! Again I am intrigued. Why? Frankly, I seem to be about the only one of my grandfather's grandsons who has his Churchmanship in a sufficiently active condition to be called real. Notice I said Churchmanship - not church membership. I mean of course Anglicanism as distinct from your Unitarianism, or Jim's Presbyterianism, or Ted's Batistism. Eleanor, Guilliam, Esther, Joe - none of them seem to pay much attention to anything of the sort - as do none of my three children, for that matter!

It would be well to admit that my own Churchmanship would possibly - nay probably - cause Grandfather Murphy to turn over in his grave. He passed from the scene before the Church had been much plagued by the Fundamentalist - Modernist controversy. Incidentally, the water has gone over the dam to such an extent that those very terms have an obsolete tinge - we don't seem to worry much about it any more. Not because we ever solved anything. Just because the lion and the lamb decided to lie down together - "peace without victory." It can bust loose again on short notice. The Church's Liberal vs Catholic elements are never in better than an armed truce. Be that as it may, when I renewed my interest in religion after a lapse of say 1915 to 1925, the Modernist revolt was very much to the fore. The Fundamentalists had disgusted me to the point of dropping the whole thing. The Modernists enabled me to come back. Since then I have succeeded in reconciling myself to a lot of things - and would probably locate myself in a Church party calling itself Modernist Catholic - if such a hybrid could be said to exist. A sort of bastard devout agnostic, eclectic in his practices, pagan in much of his theology, fascinated by the Catholic way of doing things, modern in his search for reality, profoundly convinced that the wole thing is immensely worthwhile, and that within the frame-work of the Catholic approach, reinforced by a skeptic mysticism, or a mystic skepticism, it is possible to draw nigh and lay hold on the Hem of the Garment.

If you have not read it, get hold of a book "We Northmen" by a chap named Lucien Price - Little Brown & Co 1936. It is the best thing I have read in five years. It deals a great deal with the place of Music in the scheme of things - but abounds in pungent comment on all sorts of people and things. One gem - when asked to define the democracy he was to make the world safe for, a returned member of the A. E. F. said "Over there, when you meet someone who is above you, you are supposed to bow down to him. Over here you can tell him to go to hell."

Another great part of my life in recent years is an almost passionate interest in Gilbert and Sullivan. About 8 years ago a group of about 45 of us got together and did "Pinafore." Since then we have done a Gilbert & Sullivan show each year - occasionally repeating. So far we have done "Trial by Jury", " Pinafore", "Pirates of Penzance", "Patience", Iolanthe", Yeomen of the Guard", "Mikado" and "Gondoliers". We make all our own costumes, paint all our own scenery, manufacture all our own props. I have enjoyed it more than I can say. We make the most rigorously carefree effort to have everything in "traditional" manner. All stage business is in the most authentic method we can acquire. We have accumulated a library of G. & S. lore.

Now all this, to the non initiate, may well seem "not so hot" but a sincere study of the work of these two great Englishmen convinces me that their peculiar talents give expression to much - nay, most - of all that we can show to be uniquely worth-while in our Anglo-American culture and tradition. I believe the present war is being fought to preserve the Gilbert and Sullivan attitude. If England goes down, rest assured that the wonderful spirit that allows the patriot to "kid" his beloved native land - to poke all manner of fun at its most sacred institution - will be not the least of the tragic losses. Imagine Hitler tolerating a German equivalent of Pinafore, Utopia Limited, or Iolanthe! And our humorous approach to the problems that vex us is I think one of the most precious techniques in our whole armory of weapons against the adversary of mankind's inherent brutishness.

My new hero, Lucien Price above mentioned, carries this idea still further. What do you think of this?

"The Beauty of Holiness is only one of its forms which are necessary to the full life of man. There needs also to be beauty of flesh as well as of spirit, of art as well as of nature, of science as well as of art, of action as well as of thought, and finally, of laughter, including the laughter of irreverence - laughter at the Gods themselves. For it is a sorry sort of God who cannot take a joke from man. Man has had to take plenty from God. In the interest of normal relationship and good feeling there should be more or less chaffing back and forth between God and man. We both need to be able to take a joke." Isn't that grand stuff?

I am not much of a philologist, but I am taken by the thought that the basic root HUM has linguistic ramifications that are most suggestive. Humility is presented to us as an essential Christian virtue. Is not the syllable HUM tied in with the words humility, human, and also humor? Some day I am going to study up on that thing, even to going back to the Sancrit, to see if my suspicion has any basis in fact. Even if I am "all wet" it is a kind of a cute notion.

This letter has grown to a length far beyond any original intention. Perhaps I am delirious without realizing it. At any rate this has helped me wile away a stagnant afternoon.


A. W.

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