Saturday, June 11, 2011

1928 book review of "Life of Matt Talbot"

[The person most responsible for making Matt Talbot well
known in Dublin and all of Ireland shortly after Matt’s death
in 1925 was Sir Joseph A. Glynn. Background information 
about how Sir Glynn came to write the first bibliography of 
Matt Talbot and its subsequentsuccess can be found at, which also includes a link to reading the 1942 edition of his book online.]


LIFE OF MATT TALBOT. By Sir Joseph A. Glynn. Dublin:
Catholic Truth Society of Ireland. 1928.
Book Review by: John Howley.
Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 17, No. 66 (Jun., 1928), pp. 317-319.

When Matt Talbot died in 1925 his name was known to very few:
a few friends, a few comrades knew and esteemed him as an
excellent Christian and a model worker, a good man in every
sense of the word. Still fewer knew of his life of ceaseless prayer,
his heroic penances, his magnanimity, his poverty joined to
magnificent generosity, his life as a modern Cali De. Now,
three years after his death, this Dublin worker is known to the
pamphlet written for the Irish Catholic Truth Society by Sir Joseph
A. Glynn.' Should the present volume prove as good "a best
seller " as his pamphlet, and in my opinion it will deserve to,
Sir Joseph will have well merited . of his native land. Her true
glory lies in heroic souls like Matt Talbot: the man of God and
not the man of blood should be the theme for the Irish bard, the
perdurable glory of the land that was known as the Insula

This is quite a small volume, barely 116 pages, but full of
meat. A live man looks out at us from its pages. Sir Joseph
has fashioned no plaster image daubed and gilded with pietose
rhetoric; he has steered his course safely between the Scylla of
"swaddle " and the Charybdis of humanism, we see the super
natural in a vivid and objective presentation of the natural. The
author keeps himself in the background, he narrates facts but
he suggests rather than expresses comments. He gives his reader
a chance to make his own reflections, he does not furnish him
with a ready-made meditation. As Matt Talbot lived a singularly
hidden life, uneventful and undramatic from a worldly point
of view, the temptation to embroider and pad out the slender
narrative with edifying considerations must have been very
severe. By the narrative of fact, rather than by comment,
the author drives in on the reader's mind that sense of awe
which flows from any real apprehension of holiness in a fellow

Sanctity is the shadow of .God on earth, the participation of
His creature in the most ineffable and terrible of His attributes.
Sanctum et terribile nomen ejus. When we dimly realise what the
word " holy" means and feel in our hearts that it is a silly abuse
of language to say "a very holy man " when we only mean "a
good pious Christian," we are then capable of that sense of awe
and reverence which this sacred epithet should inspire when we
see or suspect its appropriateness in the lives of God's servants.
Holy Church alone can infallibly declare the holiness of any
servant of God, but we are not forbidden to suspect its appro-
priateness in the case of Matt Talbot and to look forward with
hope to the judgment of the Holy See.

Chapter IV of this little book is a remarkable piece of work,
a fine Judicial and judicious, account of the labour troubles
between 1911 and 1914. It is interesting to note that while
Matt Talbot in that crisis was fully on the Labour side, he took
no part in the later politics of the " troubled times." Sir Joseph
Glynn tells us that he "made enquiries from Matt Talbot's most
intimate friends, including two sisters, a brother-in-law, and
fellow-workers, all of whom agreed that Matt Talbot took no
interest whatever in politics; that he was never known to vote
at an election ; and never discussed political events......
During the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-1921 he never was drawn
into discussions on the subject. If anyone asked him had he
heard of such and such a matter, he replied that he had not, as
he did not read newspapers nor look at the placards.
During the later troubles, when, alas, our own people fought one
another, he was equally reticent, and carefully avoided expressing
any opinion on the merits of the dispute which occasioned the
fighting. His friends were most emphatic in their denial of his
having ever done more than express his sorrow at seeing Irishmen
fighting amongst themselves." These passages are very illumi-
nating as revealing Matt Talbot's outward reaction to public
events of a political character. Was he as inwardly indifferent
as he seemed to his comrades Talk or action on his part was
useless and he knew it and was silent before men. But was he
silent before God How came it about that the English Government
gave way when the insurgents were all but crushed Events
govern nations, but the saints pull the strings that govern events.

Matt Talbot did "not read newspapers nor look at the
placards." This is a little touch of Sir Joseph's which enables us
to reconstruct the man. To pass through Dublin in those
troubled times and not glance at the posters! For an Irishman
to reject news! And such news It seems to me that such
voluntary indifference to what at that moment was most humanly
interesting marks the mystic union with God even more than the
traits scattered all over Chapters V and VI which deal expressly
with Matt Talbot's prayers and inner life. These two Chapters
show us the man of prayer and the man of penance. The author's
industry in collecting all possible information as to the details
of Matt Talbot's prayers and pious practices is beyond all praise.
Directly we know very little of Matt Talbot's interior life, but
his various outward practices, his fondness for the cross-vigil,
for motionless erect kneeling, etc., all point to an intense
concentration in prayer, often prolonged for hours. We have all
the outward signs of a sublime mystical union.

Matt Talbot was first and foremost a man of prayer. His
penances are the features that will most attract public attention
in this self-indulgent age, but it would be a grave error to look
on him as a mere ascetic. Leuba and Co. will regard him as an
Irish fakir, a mere degenerate; but we know he was healthy in
mind and body, the healthier because he brought body into
subjection to mind, that both .might be in subjection to God.
He helps us to understand the old Irish Saints and their constant
prayers and penance, for he reproduced their life in these days
when no one will bear the least avoidable pain or suffer the
smallest discomfort.

To write the life of a servant of God is a difficult thing to do
well, but Sir Joseph Glynn has succeeded in this. Let us hope
that before long it will bulk large in the Postulator's dossier.