LONG-STANDING READERS here will know that the work of Dom Hubert van Zeller of Downside has appeared in these pages, under the nom-de-plume Brother Choleric. His cartoons—charming caricatures really—offered a glimpse into the life and dynamics of the cloister, principally that of Downside itself. The Cracks series began in 1954 but Br Choleric did not finish publishing until the 1970s.
The very first volume, Cracks in the Cloister, was published under a separate copyright in the USA, and that copyright has expired. So, a cartoon and comics devotee, Nat Gertler, has reissued the volume in America. It is a simple, softcover edition but it plays no games with the originals, even down to including the colouring added by van Zeller to some panels. It is available at Barnes & Noble, and also at Amazon USA where a Kindle edition will also be available.
Nat asked if he could edit a previous post here to provide a short introduction for the reissue, which I was happy to agree to as a micro-homage to a monk who has given me much delight, both as Br Choleric and as a serious spiritual author. At the end of this post I append the text of my introduction, not least because of its quotation in full of a letter van Zeller wrote to The Tablet in March 1970 which provides some insight into the change in mood of the Cracks series through the 60s and into the 70s, as well as being relevant to the golden jubilee of Missale Romanum and its new Mass.
At present I am putting together the next edition of the monastery’s annual magazine. For this I needed to scan some images from the bound volume containing past magazines from 1924. In my skim-search for the images two little articles came into my ken.
The monks of Douai sit rather loose to the traditional appellation of Benedictine monks, Dom. Some of our current monks are quite passionately against this title, to which an English Benedictine (EBC) monk is entitled (literally) from first profession. The animus is partly for particular personal reasons in some cases. In the main, however, it probably reflects the consistent commitment of the monks of St Edmund’s to the English mission dating from penal times, and which has developed today into our parochial apostolate. On a parish, priests are called Father, not Dom. So when Downside stirred the EBC pot from the latter part of the 19th century, with its zeal for the cloister and more primitive observance and its consequent partial retreat from the missions, the old houses were confronted with the question of identity. Were we monks or missioners first? The sons of St Edmund at Douai inclined to the missionary identity, in contrast to the Downside inclination to the cloister.
To the best of my knowledge there is no monastic blogger (mogger?*) at Downside Abbey. [*I guess a clerical blogger is a clogger.] Which is a pity. For there is so much about Downside that is worthy of sharing with a wider audience on social media.
Today is the anniversary of the death of Dom Hubert van Zeller (†1984), a far-from-boring monk of Downside, whose prodigious talents have given joy to many a monk, though perhaps some heartburn to an abbot or two. He was very gifted sculptor, with a clean and distinctive style that breathes the air of Ditchling. He was a popular spiritual writer whose works are still in print. Yet for some of us who were not his immediate brethren at Downside, he is most memorable for his books of caricatures published under the pseudonym Br Choleric. Continue reading “Br Choleric – RIP”→