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  You are in: Home > Biography > The Watkin Path  

The Watkin Path
An Approach to Belief
The Life of E. I. Watkin

Magdalen Goffin

  Author text to follow


The Watkin Path: An Approach to Belief is a panorama of twentieth-century social and political history seen through the life of E. I. Watkin (1888–1981). The interplay of love, friction, war, politics and money, together with a relentless search for religious truth, makes this book read more like a novel than a biography.
… Watkin was the only child of Emmeline Paxton Ingram, a daughter of Herbert Ingram, the founder of the Illustrated London News. His father was the nephew of Sir Edward Watkin, the Liberal MP and railway magnate, who started to build the first Channel Tunnel and later a tower to rival Eiffel’s where Wembley Stadium now stands. At birth Watkin was handed over to his Ingram grandmother, an old lady who lived alone in a mansion by the river at Walton-on-Thames. He met few other children, and his strange childhood may account for some of his eccentricities.
… Watkin became a Roman Catholic when he was at Oxford. His experience as one of the inner circle of Catholic writers is revealing: He was allowed to publish his books on philosophy, history or literature, but when it came to the interpretation of the Catholic faith he was persistently harassed by the censors. Although Watkin was one of the foremost English precursors of the Second Vatican Council, he deeply deplored some of its consequences.
… His extraordinary life experiences were many and varied: from sitting on Mrs Gladstone’s lap at the ceremonial opening of the Watkin Path up Snowdon, to falling instantly in love with Helena Shepheard at a party in 1912, at which point he stopped his diary writing. The story of that marriage, and the Watkin family’s engagement with politicians and theologians about the political and social issues of the time, make for a truly fascinating biography of a most extraordinary man.

List of Illustrations
Simplified Family Tree

1. Making Money
2. Spending It
3. A Public Scandal
4. The Watkin Path
5. A Coffin the Size of a Child
6. The City of Bells
7. Prophesying Doom
8. Joy
9. “I am the Master of my Own Life”
10. Dulce et Decorum Est
11. A Season of Good Will
12. Thirteen Vicarage Gate
13. The Blue House
14. Making Waves
15. Kicking Into Touch
16. The Mark of the Beast
17. Bordering on Genius
18. There Are No Rules
19. Only Connect
20. To Reckon in Centuries and Plan for Eternity
21. Our Armies are Broken, the Saints are Dead
22. Taking Advice
23. The Little Boy
24. Opening the Windows
25. Making a Clean Break
26. The Twilight Catholics
27. Exactly What Happened
28. Full Circle

Appendix to Chapter Fifteen

“This is a fine and much needed biography of a remarkable man whose life and work has been almost forgotten among Catholics today… This book would be fascinating just for the vivid account of the vicissitudes of a remarkable family but it is Watkin’s intellectual achievements and the integrity and courage with which he fought for his beliefs that make it outstanding. As his daughter writes, “a passionate reverence for God and things of the spirit existed side by side with a streak of scepticism and sharp, analytical intelligence.” The Newman – The Journal of the Newman Association

“A fascinating story.” Catholic Herald

“In the era before the Vatican Council E.I. Watkin was, like Lambert Beaudouin, Henri de Lubac and John Courtney Murray, a voice crying in the wilderness. He pleaded that the Church witness in a more living and general way to a number of values latent in her more deep-seated and venerable tradition and desperately needed by the contemporary world, but which had been swept to the margins by the working imperatives of a more circumscribed vision of the Christian vocation which temporarily enjoyed the ascendancy. This he came to call ‘ecclesiastical materialism’. The three great causes for which Watkin contended in order that Catholicism might attain its fullness were a more general practice of contemplative prayer, a more widespread participation in the Liturgy and a bolder stand, particularly by the bishops, in the cause of peace. He was convinced that his own vocation was not to be a priest or an organizer, but to give himself entirely to writing. Without setting out to court trouble, he nevertheless found himself having brushes with the ecclesiastical censors. Although the issues involved were not serious, it pained him to have received the attentions of the church’s thought-police whose very existence spread doubts in the general public about the intellectual integrity of catholic writers.

It is good that a man of so many insights and contacts has received the memorial he deserves. The charm of Mrs Goffin’s candid biography is that it is written from within the family and invites the reader to join in with the family. It would be all too easy to present E.I. Watkin as a lonely eminence, but in fact his life was thickly populated with relatives and friends, each of whom treads on the stage here to tell his own story. Mrs Goffin has also explained with crystalline clarity all the issues with which her father became involved and the constantly shifting historical and social context of each of them. She has indeed written a work of pietas, but pietas in the Watkin fashion.” Downside Review

“In 1947, his last foray into dogmatic theology was refused an imprimatur, and left unpublished. This Goffin attributes to ‘the paranoia of a priestly caste’. She makes no serious attempt to understand why orthodox Catholics might object to Watkin’s odd mixture of shrill pacifism, agnosticism about central Christian doctrines such as the incarnation, and ardent belief in the value of contemplative prayer hermetically isolated from any impact on one’s behaviour. He subsequently confined himself to writing anonymously for an Anglican publication.” TLS

Magdalen Goffin was granted a right of reply to the TLS review of May 2007:

“The reviewer states that in 1947, after one of Watkin’s books had been refused the imprimatur, he ‘subsequently confined himself to writing anonymously for an Anglican publication’. Untrue. The reviewer refers to ‘Watkin’s odd mixture of shrill pacifism, agnosticism about central Christian doctrines such as the Incarnation and ardent belief in the value of prayer hermetically isolated from any impact on one’s behaviour’. In 1916, Pope Benedict XV endorsed Watkin’s plea for an end of hostilities and a negotiated peace in language even more vehement than his. Nor was he agnostic about central Christian doctrines. In The Catholic Centre (granted the imprimatur), he explains that his book ‘was a personal meditation on the truths of the Catholic religion and a humble attempt to elucidate some of its mysteries’. That is not agnosticism. Finally, if your reviewer means that Watkin imagined that contemplative prayer absolves us from the consequences of our actions, he is wrong.”


Publication Details

Hardback ISBN:
Page Extent / Format:
229 x 152 mm / 340 pp.
Release Date:
May 2006
  Illustrated:   32-page plate section
Hardback Price:
£37.50 / $69.50

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