February 24, 2009

More on Fr. Damien and Robert Louis Stevenson

Since at least some of you enjoyed my piece on Fr. Damien, I thought I would share two items I came across while researching it.  One is a fascinating article by an Australian priest on how Robert Louis Stevenson came to write his defense of Damien.  It contains a vignette that anyone who does any polemical writing will appreciate.  Apparently, while Stevenson was writing his defense of Damien,  “his wife reported that he locked himself in his room, muttering as he wrote.”  The article also quotes a poem Stevenson wrote for Sister Marianne Cope, a nun from Utica, New York who came to assist Damien and spent the rest of her life on Molokai.  (Cope has been beatified, and may one day be canonized, just like the man she came to help).  Stevenson’s little poem touches on issues of perennial importance:

To the Reverend Sister Marianne,
Matron of the Bishop Home, Kalaupapa.

To see the infinite pity of this place,
The mangled limb, the devastated face,
The innocent sufferers smiling at the rod,
A fool were tempted to deny his God.
He sees, and shrinks; but if he look again,
Lo, beauty springing from the breasts of pain!
He marks the sisters on the painful shores,
And even a fool is silent and adores.

The other item I wish to highlight is Stevenson’s open letter itself.  It is a masterpiece of polemical writing, which I think many readers of this site might enjoy.  One can only imagine how Rev. Hyde felt while reading it.

UPDATE:  I have heard from one of the readers of this site on Stevenson’s letter.  Pat Buchanan, who knows a good polemic when he sees one, wrote, “It is among the most passionate, brilliant, brutal, and beautiful polemics I have ever read.  Cicero did not do to Cataline, nor Burke to Warren Hastings, what R. L. Stevenson did to the Rev. Dr. Hyde.”

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