Below is a letter from Fr. Adrian Fortescue dated November 24, 1919 to Stanley Morison (the formatting was retained). It details that although we become experts on certain topics or subjects, those same subjects may not be our passion! The humor is not lost that we now look to Fr. Fortescue as one of the great rubrical masters of his time.
“I cannot possibly give up another day, or part of one, to looking over Gurney’s wretched pictures of people in Italian vestments, to judge whether the thurifer is standing at the right place and whether the deacon ought to have his hands joined. There is something more about this. I wish you would tell everybody who wants to bother me on the subject. I DO NOT KNOW ANYTHING AT ALL ABOUT MODERN CEREMONIES. I hate, loathe and utterly despise the trivial details of ceremonies. I do not think it matters one little straw where the acolytes stand during Pontifical vespers at the throne, and I simply do not know the correct answer to the endless stream of questions of this kind that people are always sending me. I suppose I knew something about these things while I was writing that book of Ceremonies, but now I thank my Maker that, if I did, I have forgotten it all. My writing that book was a colossal mistake really. I had written a book about the history of the Mass. Then B. & O., understanding nothing about such things, invited me to revise Dale-Baldeschi. If they had understood anything, they would have known a man who wrote a history of a rite is absolutely the very last man to write the rules of modern ceremonies. The two things are utterly different, and appeal to utterly different types of mind. I know people, like Wallis and Hall, who have that queer taste for the silly details of ceremonies. They never known nor care about the history of such things. To them it is not the history nor the development of rites that matter a bit, it is the latest decision of the Congregation of Rites. These decisions are always made by a crowd of dirty little Monsignori at Rome in utter ignorance of the meaning or reason of anything. To the historian their decisions are simply disgusting nonsense, that people of my kind want to simply ignore. It is a queer type of mind that actually is interested in knowing whether the deacon should stand at the right or the left of someone else at some moment. I do not think there is any possible subject of inquiry that seems to me more entirely trivial, futile, silly and uninteresting. I have some slight interest in the history of the Roman Rite (though even in this I have now gone a long way in other directions. At present, I am much more interested in what Plato thought about ideas, and the relation of Proclus to Christianity, how far Neoplatonism is Platonism at all). I never cared a tinker’s cuss what the Congregation may have decided about the order in which the acolyte should put out the candles after Vespers. B & O understand nothing; so of course they did not understand the differences between the man interested in the history of rites and the man who makes a stupid hobby book of knowing what is the footling rule for each case now. They ought to have offered the work to Wallis or Hall, or that little man at St. Edmund’s who found several hundred mistakes in my book, after Bergh and Hall had passed it as perfect. I took on the job solely for filthy lucre’s sake. It was in the middle of the war, nearly all chance of a market for literary works ended, Britten had just written to say that C.T.S. could not think of printing my book on the Uniate Churches till times had changed. I wanted money, and I thought it would not take long to revise Dale. I had not the ghost of an idea when I took on the job what an appalling business it was going to be. Having begun, I thought I ought to go on. Dale soon proved to be impossible. For one ghastly year (I think the most dismal, hateful, useless year of my life), I swotted away at stuff for which I could hardly conceal my contempt and disgust while I was doing it. Day after day I took up the hateful burden of verifying in Merati, Martinucci, Le Vasseur, Van Der Stappen, what each person does in the course of these interminable ceremonies. It was as far removed from any intellectual interest as anything could be. Absolutely any fool could write such a book of ceremonies. It is only a matter of looking up what about 10 stupid Italians say. Generally they all say the same thing. When they disagree, you say so, and give the view of each. It was about as interesting as drawing up a railway guide by combining the hours of trains from the time-tables of ten different companies.
During that hateful year I acquired two overwhelming impressions. First, that whatever beauty interest or historic value, or dignity, the Roman rite ever had has been utterly destroyed by the uneducated little cads who run that filthy congregation at Rome; secondly that it would be beyond the power of man to invent a form of literature more entirely uninteresting, or more finally disgusting than the works of Messrs. Martinucci, Le Vasseur, Baldeschi, and the rest. The one only pleasure I got in doing the book was writing the preface where I say, as plainly as I dare, what contemptible nonsense the whole thing is. I ended thanking God that it was done. But it was not. The little man at St. Edmund’s sent men an interminable list of errors. Once more I had to take up the loathsome burden and revise the book. But then I had done. I have sold all the books on the subject I acquired while writing it, thank God I have forgotten every little bit of what I learned writing it. I have never looked at my own book ever again. I want never to hear another word about ceremonies for as long as I live. I would rather discuss the symptoms of cancer. There is no subject in the world for which I have so intense a disgust.
But see and learn from my sad case. That putrid book is the curse of my life. Day after day I am inundated with letters from people of whom I have never heard, with strings of questions about ceremonies; Catholic priests, still more High Anglicans, from all over the country think they have the right to dollop on me several hours’ work doing research for them about some silly detail of a subject of which I know nothing. This is what amazes me, the incredible imprudence of these people. Because I have written a book it does not follow that I have turned myself into a society for giving free advice, and doing free research work for every unknown fool who may choose to write me and ask for it. I could of course spend my few hours at the Museum by having out again Martinucci and his peers, verifying points, comparing authorities. I could ask for the whole collection of the Decrees of the Stinking Congregation of Rites, and pass through hours or so hunting for the date of a decree. But why cannot these imprudent scoundrels do their own dirty work? Their cheek takes away my breath. I do not fire off a letter to some doctor in Harley Street whom I do not know, asking him, with a lot of compliments, kindly to write out for me a treatise on the cause, prevention, treatment and cure of arthritis. It would never occur to me to find the address of some lawyer and jump on him eight questions about real and personal property. People do this to me. Every week I get six or seven letters, often with ten questions in each. Any of these questions would take me a couple of hours of research to answer, some letters would need six or seven folio pages to answer properly, and two or three days of arduous and hateful work. Why am I to be pestered without ceasing, by any fool in Cornwall, Scotland, Isle of Man? What makes me most furious is when they enclose a stamp for the answer. It is not the value of their beastly penny half-penny, it is the hours, sometimes days, of work that they have the infernal imprudence to expect me to put at their service.
Final conclusion: Every letter of this kind goes straight into the waste paper basket. If the man sends me a stamp I lick it off and keep it; if he smears his request with complements I simply confound his infernal impertinence. I am not going ever to answer any letters with questions about ceremonies. If people want to know these things, let them get a book and find out for themselves. My only request is that it would take too much trouble to do as I would like, namely to write back the most offensive insults I can think of. It is really extraordinary that almost every letter I get (except yours) and some bills, contains a string of questions on various subjects, representing about £3 or £4 worth of research work. If I answered all these as the people who write them expect, I should have a full life’s work with this alone. The brazen cheek of people, who would not write you to ask you to send a cheque for £10 as a present by return of post, but have no sort of scruple in asking calmly for pounds’ worth of free work to be done for them astounds me.
Do please tell anyone who threatens to fire off strings of questions at me that I am exceedingly busy, that I am not a society kept out of the rates of answering anyone’s queries, that I have no time to write letters, that I wish for goodness’ sake that they would leave me alone, so that I may have a little time to do my own work.
Example: Today a parcel came from herder. I do know nothing of Herder except that I have sometimes abought a book there. His manager sends a big German book on the use of the tabernacle. Will I kindly read it, then advise him whether, in my option, there would be sufficient demand to justify him publishing an English translation of this book? Enclosed please find four stamps, to pay for return of the book. I know nothing about the book. I do not want to read it. I do not know anything about the demand for such works in English. I know nothing about the subject. I am not Herder’s literary advisor. I want to be let alone to finish twenty pressing jobs, and above all, to get back to Boethius. Now I have this infernal nuisance of writing to his man, doing up his beastly book, taking it to the post, hanging about there while they weigh it and all the rest of the filthy bother. He thinks it is adequate return of all this loathsome nuisance that he encloses the stamps. You will think that since I am so pressed I need not fire off all of this wrath on you. No I suppose I need not. I did not mean to when I began. It arose out of Gurney. Then my feelings have carried me away, and you will now have the benefit of months of pent-up fury at the endless nuisance of all these swinish fools who peter me all the week."