For years now, I have been singing the praises of the historian Christopher Dawson. It is with shame that I admit to walking across a stage in 1978 and picking up a college degree with a major in history and NO knowledge of Dawson. Rather than a phase of education ending, it was just beginning. I would expect, require, demand that any history major, especially anyone focusing on European history, be well aware of and deeply read in the books and essays of Dawson.
Back at that time, there were few, if any, Dawson books in print. Access to used books was very limited. So, I might be granted a pardon for my ignorance. The first time I heard of Dawson was on an Easy Chair Talk with R. J. Rushdoony. He and Otto Scott, both widely read, ventured off into a brief discussion of Dawson. My ears perked up, and for the 200th time, I began searching for a particular author and particular books simply because Rushdoony mentioned them.
Through the years, I have acquired more than a dozen of Dawson books. I have quite a few of the more recent paperback editions, but have also focused on acquiring the older hardback Sheed and Ward editions. Along with that, I have two biographies of Dawson. One was written by his daughter, while the other, a more scholarly work, was written just a few years back by Bradley Birzer. I included a chapter on Dawson in my own book, and have quoted, read, and taught from him on many occasions.
Dawson was a contemporary with and acquaintance of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. He lived a very sheltered and withdrawn life. Most of his life and labors were spent in close proximity to heavy-laden bookshelves. He once said, “It is an old and hackneyed idea to have a library in one’s house; it is a new and rewarding idea to have a house in one’s library.” I like his sense of adventure.
For a historian seeking how to integrate the Christian faith and vision with historical research, Dawson is an unsurpassed model. His insight into the problems of his age and ours remains pertinent to modern discourse.
Anyone wanting to peruse a bit more about him, can look over these past posts from my old blog, found here.