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
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
"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
"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,
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)
"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
Compiled by Sarah Gildea.