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William Thomas Walsh  (1891-1949)

William was born in Waterbury, Connecticut on September 11, 1891, and through the years was given a sound Catholic education that would inspire him in later years with a fierce desire to defend it. After acquiring a B.A from Yale, he worked as a reporter at various newspapers for a few years, taught one year in a Hartford public high school, and in 1910, published his first book, The Mirage of the Many. Walsh wrote it as a warning to those who would follow Socialism. In 1914, he married Helen Gerard Sherwood. Four years later he became head of the department of English at Roxbury School, and in 1933 professor of English at Manhattanville College, New York City.

It wasn't until twenty years after his first book that Walsh finally wrote and published a second. Isabella of Spain, which was translated into Spanish (and later into French and German), was published six years before the advent of the Spanish Civil War. Philip II, a massive volume that covers anyone who was anyone from the years 1527-1598, was published one year after the initiation of the war against the Catholic Faith in Spain. The London Times regarded it as more gripping than fiction. The New York Times claimed that, "Philip II is so thoroughly documented that it must stand as a calm and realistic portrayal of a man and an era, often more exciting to the imagination than fition, while the suavity of his impeccable literary style offers constant delight."

One can get a good look at Walshs' personality through the introductions of the books he wrote. He said of the history he sought to clarify, "It is a tale so dramatic, so fascinating, that it needs no embellishing or piecing out with the wisdom - or folly - of another age. To probe the inner cosmos of men and women long dead by the light of a pseudo-science, to strip away with pitiless irony all noble or generous appearances, to pry open with an air of personal infallibility the very secret hinges of the door to that ultimate sanctuary of the human conscience which is inviolable even to father confessors - that is an office for which I have neither the taste nor the talent; and if I have fallen unawares into any such pitfalls of the devils of megalomania, I beg forgiveness in advance."

"Nearly all the biographies of Isabel in the English language, and some in French, have followed the conclusions of Prescott [William Hickling, 1796-1859], who was a careful and patient scholar, but he was incapable of understanding the spirit of fifteenth century Spain. He could never wholly forget the prejudices of an early nineteenth century Bostonian. Those who follow Prestons' conclusions, when not openly hostile, have generally approached the fifteenth century with an air of condescension - the worst possible attitude for an historian. Condescension isn't a window, but a wall."

Walshs' obsession for an accurate historical record led to publishing Characters of the Inquisition, which came out just a few years after Philip II. "No one sees Catholics today burning unbelievers, even in Ireland and Portugal, where the population is almost entirely Catholic; nor does any man of sense foresee the likelihood of a future persecution involving Catholics - except, perhaps, as victims. Yet vast numbers of persons continue to associate the word "Inquisition" with vague notions of Catholic dogma; as though the thing were essentially and peculiarly Catholic, and began and ended in the Catholic Church."

"Later investigators have been more temperate in their epithets and more cautious in their methods of approach; but too many of them have leaned, with naive credulity, upon the work of Llorente, a discredited official of the Holy Office, who proved his own bias by admitting that he had burned documents which did not serve his purpose. Dr. Lea [another popular historian] has depended somewhat upon Llorente, but has also done some good source work, though prejudice has betrayed him into taking some unscholarly liberties with his material. G.G. Coulton has flayed the Inquisition with gusto, but when we look for his authority, we find it is principally Dr. Lea. The same is true of most of the work of Professor Merriman of Harvard on this subject. One great 'authority' leans on another great 'authority,' and so on back to the end of a chain, where often the searcher finds no fact at all, or the very opposite of what has been alleged . . ."

Continuing his clean sweep of the historical era that so wrapped his attention and energy, Walshs' final major work on this historical era was a fresh look at St. Teresa of Avila.

"Years ago," Walsh wrote, "when I read an English translation of Saint Teresa's Autobiography, as it is improperly called, I wondered whether a woman in whom the divine and the human so strikingly met could really have been as banal, as priggish, as self-consciously 'literary' as she often appeared in those pages. Later, when I was able to read the Spanish text, I discovered that the irritating qualities were not hers, but her devout translator's. What a vital book to be embalmed in so much stuffy rhetoric! I would make my own translations, and as literally as possible, even at some sacrifice of euphony; not excluding the occasional slips in grammar, faulty reference and vigorous colloquialisms of one who wrote with no eye to bookish effect, but just as she spoke - rapidly, tersely, now and then quite awkwardly . . . When I came to her letters and later treatises, there were some good translations at hand, notably the excellent ones by the Benedictines of Stanbrook Abbey, England."

Walsh's Life of St. Teresa of Avila was a choice of the Catholic Book Club.

Through his research and writing, William Thomas Walsh established himself as a historian and absolute authority of 15th and 16th century Europe. He was awarded the Laetare Medale by the University of Notre Dame in 1941 (in recognition of distinguished accomplishment for Church or nation by an American Catholic), and was honored by the Spanish government in 1944 with the highest cultural honor of Spain: The Cross of Comendadore of the Civil Order of Alfonso the Wise. Walsh was the first North American writer to receive such an honor. Walsh contacted the State Department to find out if a "loyal citizen of the United States" could accept it.

Walsh received an honorary degree from Fordham University. In 1947 he retired to devote more time to writing, but he passed away in White Plains, New York, on February 22, 1949. One of his six children became a Sister of Mercy - Sister Mary Concepta - at the Sacred Heart Convent in Belmont, North Carolina.

The Mirage of the Many (1910)
Isabella of Spain (1930; Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, 1987)
Out of the Whirlwind (novel, 1935)
Philip II (1937; Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, 1987)
Shekels (blank-verse play, 1937)
Lyric Poems (1939)
Characters of the Inquisition (1940; Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, 1987)
"Gold" (short story)
Babies, not Bullets! (booklet, 1940)
Thirty Pieces of Silver (a play in verse)
Saint Teresa of Avila (1943; Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, 1987)
La actual situation de Espana (booklet, 1946)
Our Lady of Fatima (1947)
The Carmelites of Compiegne (a play in verse)
Saint Peter, the Apostle (1948)

Biographical information:
"Catholic Authors, Contemporary Biographical Sketches, 1930-1947," edited by Matthew Hoehn O.S.B., B.L.S. Copyright 1948, St. Mary's Abbey. Second printing, 1957.
Introductory remarks to Isabella of Spain, Philip II and Characters of the Inquisition, published by TAN Books and Publishers, Inc.
Compiled by Sarah Gildea.

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