Travel to Rome

With a man of Patmore's poetic intensity, the background was always an important element in the picture. Because he believed more firmly than most men that the spirit was constantly present in the flesh, for good no less than for evil, every change in relationship or attitude or neighbourhood affected him deeply. He was particularly sensitive to the spirit of place. Paris and Edinburgh, Hastings and North London, all had caused reactions or sympathies in his nature, and he was to be even more influenced by country life in Sussex.

It was natural that Rome, not the least impressive of cities, should also have its effect on him, but it was hardly to be foreseen that this should lead to his conversion to the Catholic Church. There are indeed striking precedents in the other direction, for Rome had a very different effect upon Martin Luther. True conversion is seldom achieved by external beauty, however resplendent, for it occurs inside, in the depths of the spirit. Men of the Reformation tradition are more often repelled by a southern magnificence in religion. Nor are there many indications that this impressed Patmore, who was as inwardly austere as he was sometimes flamboyant on the surface. When he later came to build a church himself, his ambition was to erect "the only Catholic church in England which had no trace of bad taste." Some might well have replied that certain of the Jesuit churches already built, that at Bury St. Edmund's for instance, had


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Coventry Patmore


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