Castle and Cathedral

If you wish for a sharp test to divide the true romantic from the false (a useful thing when considering the claims of a poet,  a son-in-law, or a professor of modern history), about the best I can think of is this: that the false romantic likes castles as much as cathedrals.  If the poet or the lover admires the ruins of a feudal fortress as much as the ruins of a religious house, then what he admires is ruins; and he is a ruin himself. He likes medievalism because it is now dead, not because it was once alive; and his pleasure in the poetic past is as frivolous as a fancy-dress ball. For castles only bear witness to ambitions, to ambitions that are dead; dead by being frustrated or dead by being fulfilled. But the cathedrals bear witness not to ambitions but to ideals; and to ideals that are still alive. They are more than alive, indeed they are immortal because they are ideals that no man has ever been able to frustrate or to fulfill.

— Lunacy and Letters (posth.; 1958).

Published in: on December 29, 2010 at 9:10 am  Leave a Comment