ReviewsI 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
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
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
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
Seldom has a book moved me so deeply. What more can I write?
Reviewed by John Pitt
Reproduced with thanks.
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