The old man and the cats…

Hunting the Snark: The Case of the Clerical Cracksman

The Reverend Montague Summers: Occultist, Scholar, Man of Mystery

To call the Reverend Montague Summers “a clerical cracksman” is not exactly accurate. At a minimum, were know that he was ordained as a deacon in the Church of England in 1908. For the rest of his life, he held himself out as “the Reverend Montague Summers,” a style which his C of E diaconal orders entitled him to, but he also assumed the style of a priest, in his dress, and in making a personal oratory (chapel) for prayer.

Summers’s ordination as a priest is open to doubt, as the rupture of his career as a deacon was rather severe. (No, I’m not spilling the tea here; I’m working on a book about Monty.)

Researching him has been a treasure hunt, with Summers as my Snark, and legends as the Boojums that could defeat the quest to sketch a truthful picture of the man.

I confess, I’ve become very fond of Summers; there’s a deep love of learning, and of the power of words in his writing, and his glee in boosting then-forgotten authors (his love for Aphra Benn shines through in his introduction to her works) and his sometimes waspish wit charm me.

But what a paper chase it’s been, hunting down so many books written by Summers, many now out of copyright and thus only reliable in older editions. Two of mine are presentation copies, not signed, but written in with a hand that strongly resembles his script.

I’ve had to purchase some of the works he consulted for his own scholarship–Sabine Baring-Gould, Dom Augustin Calmet, and those who have explored his life and works, Joseph Jerome, Frederick S. Frank, the late Robertson Davies, and the brilliant, witty Timothy D’Arch Smith.

I’m not writing a biography, you see, but a critical study. Yet many of the facts are…uncertain. I’m not even sure a proper biography of Summers can be written, because of all the mysteries he left behind.

For now, the paper chase is over, and it’s time for me to digest all the goodies I’ve obtained, and build a portrait that I hope will be both sympathetic to my subject and accurate.

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