The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian network founded in 1973


I am Sure
by the Rev. Basil Viney (The Lindsey Press, 1975)

Reviewed in the former British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection journal, AV Times, August 1975 edition:

Looking Back Lovingly Over Eighty Years

By simple definition, any kind of review of any kind of end result of any other person's labours is basically a record of whatsoever impression that work - be it a play, book, painting or photograph - leaves with the reviewer.

And, nine times at least out of ten, a reviewer who himself places his own work on view for others to judge quite quickly develops what can best be called a two-way sensitivity, a do-as-you-would-be-done-by, almost self-protective attitude to what strictly should be a purely objective literary exercise.

This applies most specifically when the reviewer finds that the object of his attention is something less than good as art or literature.

People who write identify with others who write, and so on.

And, as a result, reviews frequently inform the reader more about the reviewer and his compassion or lack of it than the impression he seeks to convey to back his opinion.

None of the above considerations apply as far as I am concerned when it comes to the delightful task of reviewing the Rev Basil Viney's autobiographical I Am Sure.

A double distinction

For what very little it may matter to Basil Viney, he has - though until now I doubt whether he knows it - the double distinction of having managed without knowing aught of his success to keep me awake through at least two out of two most reasoned and thought-provoking sermons, and having more recently kept me awake well into the wee hours with his current affirmation of certainty.

Few other biographers have had this albeit doubtful distinction: no other clergyman has - in some 40 years of admittedly extremely rare personal exposure to sermonising - been known to hold my attention for longer than it has taken me to make myself as reasonably comfortable as interior church decor permits and this even includes those generally lay preachers who rely upon decibel strength rather than that of persuasive scholarly argument.

Basil Viney is now 80 years old and, judging by the way he has written, he has not wasted much of that time in doubt or introspection. Until he realised that the Church was his true vocation, I think that he may have thought that he had been wasting his time.

But the quality of reasoning - emotional and intellectual - that led him into that pathway proves yet again that times of indecision and certainty tend, in the longer run, to forge all the harder resultant ideas and ideologies.

Humanity and honesty

I puzzled while I - an erstwhile fulminating agnostic - read this book (sub-titled incidentally The Autobiography of a Theistic Parson) how I could so much enjoy his style of writing and yet share so few of his deep loves - for instance what he calls the "neglected" composers of his particular choice; his passion for the country, as distinct from towns and, most of all, his dare I call it militant brand of pacifism.

And the answer to how I so greatly enjoyed this book is on account of Basil Viney's transparent humanity and honesty - literary as well as intellectual, and his utter lack of artifice or cant.

His book - to use a word I don't think I have ever applied before in something like 20 years of book-reviewing - is pure. And it comes from the heart and mind of a simple but anything but uncomplicated man.

The author's theology is his own business, and I am in no way qualified to comment upon it, other than perhaps to say that I have wished for well over thirty years to have read a quarter of as much sincere common sense applied to the process.

Similarly, the Author's predilection for composers of what in my general ignorance of that kind of music appear to be so rarefied as to be well-nigh incomprehensible without the aid of LSD or at least opium (but doubtless thousands do share his delight) and judging again from his own revelations, it would appear that he himself has done much to popularise what to a mere Philistine in such matters as myself, appear only to be to borrow a literary term - obscurantism.

No; what I like - and enjoy all the way through - is Basil Viney and, since this is a newspaper dedicated to the welfare of animals, (and not to my likes and dislikes), here I shall most happily quote from Chapter 10: Animals We Have Known where, after some delightful narrative about his and his wife's goldfish, terrapins, cat Snooks, Scotch terrier Scruffs and other mention of later animals, he says:

"Now what happens to animals, at least to the higher animals we have tamed, when they die? Something is certainly in the live cat or dog, or monkey, or thrush or canary, that is not in the corpse - and that something is the animal itself.

It is much to glib to say that the mind of the animal is merely there to serve its body, whereas the mind of the human is served by the body.

"The distinction may hold as between man and the lower animals, all or almost all compounded of instinct: but hardly where the higher animals are concerned, with their individual traits, for they are their bodies' masters, as we are of ours.

"Then what happens to them? Why are they here? Who are they, anyway? They are surely little minds, souls if you will, and not mere steps in the evolution of humanity. If that were so why do they continue to appear now humanity has arrived? And what of those not in the direct line of human ascent - the birds, the cats and dogs?

Must death be end?

"And if they exist in their own right dare we say that death must be the end of them? May they not continue in realms beyond? Heaven will lack something precious to some of us if there are no animals there."

I am not altogether quite sure where precisely I stand with regard to an Afterlife. Without wishing for a moment to mis-quote him, I find myself sharing with the late Hannen Swaffer the wish that I could consider it impossible but, on the other hand, wishing most earnestly that it be possible - if only to convey my love more convincingly than during life to a limited number of kindred souls (which number in their ranks several deeply-missed animals and maybe only a handful of my fellow-humans) and to reaffirm to them much they have contributed to my happiness through our common relationship - and to lessen a heartbreaking realisation of how little in return they may have received from myself.

Finally, I defy any reader to make his way completely dry-eyed through Basil Viney's Epilogue, which contains in my opinion one of the sweetest tributes to a wife that any man could write.

Few of us are, I regret to say, likely to be so moved to conclude after a lifetime together:

"Came the doctor with the prescription. But five minutes after he left came the fatal stroke. She tried to get up and collapsed. Two days in hospital, and she had gone. A bolt from the blue for both of us.

"We had taken for granted two or three more years on earth together. But she had gone first, as she had wished. And grateful I am for that holiday, for the brevity of her illness, and for faith in survival and reunion."

Seldom has a book moved me so deeply. What more can I write?

Reviewed by John Pitt

Reproduced with thanks.

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