Thursday, 19 February 2009

Seán Manchester on Montague Summers

Extract from Stray Ghosts by Seán Manchester:

“Without some would - be Parsifal … could there be any re-discovery of the Holy Grail? And what about Christ’s own preference for the company of publicans and sinners? Oh there were a lot of riddles like bats or broomsticks flying around at night!"

~ Nicholas Mosley (Efforts at Truth, 1994)

Alphonsus Joseph-Mary Augustus Montague Summers, in whose memory I would dedicate my most popular work in print, entered the Old Catholic priesthood, having been diaconated in 1908 in the Church of England, and later becoming ordained in the diaconate of the Roman Catholic Church a year later. He was episcopally consecrated for the Order of Corporate Reunion on 21 June 1927 by Dominic Albert Godwin, and was later consecrated sub conditione on 21 March 1946 by Roger Stephen Matthews and appointed Nuncio for Great Britain. His biographer is the late Roman Catholic Carmelite Father Brocard Sewell who, like this author, knew Sir Oswald Mosley. This acquaintance, in my own case, came about due to me being a professional photographer. I also met Lady Diana Mosley, Sir Oswald's wife.

Interest in Mosley as a subject stemmed from certain parallels between the fascist leader and Byron. Both were of noble lineage; they were each drawn to the classical worlds of antiquity; each supported despots whom they eventually turned against (Mussolini influencing Mosley ― not Hitler as often imputed ― while Napoleon gained Byron’s admiration); each felt a romantic impulse to lead ultra-nationalistic causes (Mosley’s “Greater Britain” prior to his internment in 1940 and “Europe a Nation” after the Second World War; Byron’s a miserable death at Missolonghi for the cause of Greece). Both limped due to a lame right foot that required a specially made shoe. Last but not least, they were each serial womanisers, and both shared a penchant for the company of the lower echelons, joining them for a drink and a chat. This contrasted with those at the other end of the political spectrum, whose leading lights were invariably middle class and out of touch with the ordinary people.

I met and came to know Mosley at the turn of the 1960s. Much later, I came into contact with Fenner Brockway (who personally supported my campaigns around the time of Sir Oswald's death at the age of eighty-four in 1980) and Tony Benn whom I would meet at various rallies and during the making of a television programme for Channel Four. The former was Lord Brockway, and the latter had been Viscount Stansgate before renouncing the title. These, and others on the far left, I would discover, unlike Sir Oswald Mosley, frequently lacked the common touch. Anomalies such as this were curious, but noneless true.

It has been assumed that Father Brocard Sewell and I were well acquainted. This is not the case, however; though a robust correspondence between us was occasionally entered upon; one might even say erupted. The topic of Montague Summers and, indeed, vampires was never too distant.

My colleague and good friend Peter Underwood knew Montague Summers well enough to have been presented with a protection medallion by him. Summers’ fame as an expert on the occult began in 1926 with the publication of his History of Demonology and Witchcraft followed by other studies of witches, vampires and werewolves; notably The Vampire: His Kith and Kin (1928) and The Vampire in Europe (1929). He also introduced to the public, as an editor, along with many other works, a reprint of The Discovery of Witches by the infamous Matthew Hopkins, and the first English translation of the classic fifteenth century treatise on witchcraft, Malleus Maleficarum. In later life he also wrote influential studies of the Gothic novel, another lifelong enthusiasm; notably The Gothic Quest: a History of the Gothic Novel (1938), and A Gothic Bibliography (1940). Much of Summers’ life remains in obscurity, many of his personal papers have been lost; yet he left an autobiography, The Galanty Show, that was published over thirty years after his death.

Montague Summers died of a heart attack in 1948. When Sandy Robertson launched The Summers Project in 1986 to raise money for a tombstone to be laid on Summers’ unmarked grave in Richmond Cemetery, then known only as plot 10818, he turned to me for support. The simple stone, bearing the legend “Tell me strange things,” was erected on 26 November 1988. Summers invariably opened his conversation with those words when people visited him. He yearned to hear strange things. In 1950, two years after his death, Summers’ longstanding friend, Hector Stuart-Forbes, joined him in the then unmarked plot at Richmond Cemetery. This Old Catholic bishop’s work in the filed of demonolatry, not least the specific area of vampirology, is unparalleled in the twentieth century. It was when I studied this spectrum of the supernatural in my early teenage years that I first came across the works of Montague Summers. They were to prove invaluable.

My appreciation of Summers’ work is a matter of public record. Yet I have no knowledge of his private life, or his degree of involvement in esotericism about which rumours abound. I do not question his ordinations, as have some commentators, but I am not qualified to access him beyond his published works. I have grown more than accustomed to misrepresentation and cheap jibes against anyone vaguely knowledgeable of vampirism and demonaltry. The only other information I have been privy to regrading Summers relates entirely to his ordinations and episcopal consecration within autocephalous jurisdictions of the Old Catholic Church.
Stray Ghosts copyright © Seán Manchester, 2003

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