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This article is taken from PN Review 39, Volume 11 Number 1, July - August 1984.

Polity and Religion in Charles Sisson David Martin

It is a dangerous thing to infer religious belief from a man's writing; it is less dangerous to infer his political beliefs. Political beliefs are often more outward and open to exposition; religious beliefs are often more inward and may concern matters that are almost untraceable in discursive prose. At least, I think that would be the conventional wisdom. Certainly the conventional wisdom would suppose there was a distinction between the examination of political beliefs and the examination of religious beliefs.

The problem for anyone who reads Charles Sisson's prose and poetry is that the distinction between religion and politics is very unclear. You cannot look for the markings of religion in an inward sphere: rather they only emerge clearly in the public realm. When Charles Sisson writes about the public realm, he is a marked man religiously and you know where you are. The tone is strong, often full of conviction and his affections are clearly engaged. 'I am an Anglican,' he says, and that is a statement about an institution to which he is committed. The commitment is an act of historic alignment.

The heart of the matter is evident enough as it concerns the public realm and the place occupied in it by a particular historical institution, the Church of England. Read him on William Barnes or Henry Vaughan and you find a piety which links itself to buildings, places, rites and successions. Sisson stands by and with the public devotions of ...


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