Ronald Knox Revival Imminent?

An article in the Catholic Herald (“Rediscovering Ronnie”) suggests that a revival of interest in the writings of Waugh’s close friend and biographical subject Ronald Knox may be imminent. This is written by the Herald’s contributing editor Serenhedd James based partly on his

…recent lockdown reading that included The Knox Brothers– Penelope Fitzgerald’s retrospective of her father and uncles–and the biography by Evelyn Waugh, and partly because of Knox’s thoughts on university chaplaincy, about which [Mr James wrote in the] Catholic Herald in April, Knox having been chaplain to Oxford in the years before the Second World War.

The article goes on to cite the wide reach of Knox’s writings, with particular reference to his limericks:

…it is challenging to engage with his literary legacy and not come away tainted by a touch of envy, plus a lingering feeling of inadequacy and a sense of life misspent. Theology, satire, history, pastoralia, broadcasts, detective novels, parodies, apologetics, pithy verses: Knox mastered them all, and then used the fluency in Latin which he had acquired in childhood to crown his life’s work with a new translation of the Vulgate Bible.

Alongside all this achievement, Knox also exercised a quasi-national chaplaincy to the great and the good. He was as comfortable at the dining table as he was at his writing desk, which allowed him to maintain a ministry far beyond the parameters of that to which he had been officially appointed.

Many of Knox’s religious works have remained in print, including his translated Bible and books such as Enthusiasm (1950). I was surprised to find, however, listings for most (perhaps all) of his mysteries that have recently been republished: The Viaduct Murders (1925), The Three Taps (1927), The Footsteps at the Lock (1928), The Body in the Silo (1933), Still Dead (1934), and Double Cross Purposes (1937). Several of these are available online in multiple formats and some in ebook or audible only.

As to his limericks, the article offers one that Knox definitely wrote and another possible attribution. The article closes with the one he wrote, as introduced in the article :

For all the millions of words, my favourite bit of Knox has always been another of his limericks, “God in the Quad”, which I first encountered as a teenager. It presents an engagement with Berkeleian ontology – about which I then knew nothing – in the form of an imagined exchange involving George Berkeley and the Almighty.

“There was a young man who said, ‘God
Must find it exceedingly odd
To think that the tree
Should continue to be
When there’s no one about in the Quad.’ 

“’Dear Sir: Your astonishment’s odd;
I am always about in the Quad.
And that’s why the tree
Will continue to be
Since observed by, Yours faithfully, God.’”

The other quoted limerick (a possible Knox attribution written as a want-ad) opens the article:

Evangelical vicar in want
Of a portable second-hand font,
Would dispose of the same
For a portrait (in frame)
Of the Bishop-Elect of Vermont.

For an explanation of that one, please see the article at this link.


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