The Cathedral

by Hugh Walpole. New York: George H. Doran Co. 1922. 12mo. xii+459) pp. $2.00.
IF you turn from The Cathedral because scene and problem are those of the English Church, you will miss the ripest work of Mr. Walpole’s hand. True, the Cathedral dominates the book — its mass, its height, its crowding beauties, no less than its great tradition. Under its shadows we watch the sins and the conquests of the men and Women who are its servants. They esteem themselves a divinely favored group; but over them, as over humbler folk, bends the sky. At noontide, at sunset, by starlight it plays its part, in the scene. Exquisite use is made of it as background for human struggle, in the chapter where ‘the green cloud’ floats at sunset over three separate pairs of lovers, as if listening to the words of each, and carrying them aloft to some recording angel. Mr. Walpole knows his Coleridge, and knows how potent is the call to human feeling of ‘that green light that lingers in the west. The green cloud deserves to take iLs place among such Nature-friends as the ‘flower in the crannied wall’ and ‘the moan of doves in immemorial elms.’
Archdeacon Brandon is the central figure of the book. Handsome, dominant, self-satisfied, regarding himself as a favorite of God, and the special guardian of the Cathedral, ambitious for power, he yet has a spark of the mystic spiritual flame within him. As the book progresses, the whole structure of his life crumbles about him. His pride destroys him. Deserted by son and wife, his popularity turned to derision, his influence in Church and town wholly gone, health ruined, ambition rebuked, heart broken, one yet feels him to be in some sort a victor, since his last cry is not for himself but for his deepest faith. ‘God is love, though: you betray Him again and again, but He comes back!' That is the word of a man who, like Cardinal Wolsey and many another arrogant spirit, has learned a wholesome lesson in this world’s hard school.
The book is not named The Cathedral simply because the great Church frames the scene. It is a study of the unseen forces working through roof and walls and pillars. The temple is shown as come to the ignoble use of concealing the God, instead of revealing Him. It captivates men by its beauty, but, forgetting in whose name it stands, it breeds in them pride, jealousy, even malice. But Mr. Walpole shows us, as born in these later days, in the very heart of the Church itself, a passionate desire to tear away all that prevents men from seeing clearly the figure of the Christ.
Some may deplore Mr. Walpole’s showingforth of the faults of the Church; but those who read between the lines will know that one who so glorilies the Church’s Master will not destroy His dwelling-place, as he drives out those who defile it. Hugh Walpole writes as the true artist — that he may catch and fix aspects of human life upon the printed page. He is no vendor of drugs to better conditions. But it will be a dull reader who does not gather from these pages cheering prophecy of a good day, when the religion of the spirit shall have a new birth, and shall find ways to use all the art, the rites, the men and women of the Church just to further the search for Christ.