Chapter 5. Life and Labour at the Birmingham Oratory

The building of the Oratory—The Father's daily life—An interval at
Dublin—The Oratory School—Newman as a talker—The literary work
of the period—A letter of alarm—A relic from Khartoum

IN 1852 the Birmingham Oratorians left Alcester Street for Edgbaston, where they now are. The plans for the house were drawn by a cousin of one of the Fathers. During the building, some of the Littlemore stories were again in the air; and Father Newman had to explain his kitchen arrangements in a letter to The Times. The Church was merely four brick walls, requiring no design beyond that of the local builder. Later came the addition of the sanctuary, planned with much taste by John Hungerford Pollen.

It had been in the thoughts of the founder to build a worthier fane, one which would in miniature recall St. Mark's at Venice, the church he most of all admired; and M. Viollet-le-duc came to Birmingham to prepare plans. But the "libel" trial timed with the entrance of the Fathers into the new house at Edgbaston; and Newman used to say that he had not the heart to ask for aid to build a big church after the inflowing of subscriptions to defray his legal expenses. Heavy as these were, there was a surplus of money subscribed; to be re-spent partly {84} in Ireland, which had given, as usual, abundantly out of its own poverty. Years after Newman's death, the inadequacy of the old church suggested a new church as a memorial of him.

There, at Edgbaston, for thirty-eight years, he lived, laboured and loved. The little break made, early in the time, by his residence in Dublin as Rector of the Irish Catholic University, hardly destroys the continuity of that long spell of peaceful toil. He was still "the Father" in his experimental absence; an experiment that did not succeed. Nor did he in Ireland cut himself off from old friends. The men of the Oxford Movement were gathered about him, his own converts, some of them: Mr. Allies, who has told the story of his momentous Life's Decision; Aubrey de Vere, the link between Wordsworth and Tennyson—both of them his friends—and between Newman and Manning, by both of whom he was beloved—himself a sharer alike in the literary and in the religious glory; Henry Bedford, who once well compared plain Father Newman to Napoleon, wearing no star among his generals who wore—constellations; the afore-named John Hungerford Pollen, formerly a clergyman, and afterwards to fill more than one responsible post in the world of art and politics; Sir Peter Le Page Renouf, the first of scholars in Egyptology; Thomas Arnold, son of Dr. Arnold, brother of Matthew, and father of Mrs. Humphry Ward; Robert Ornsby, the biographer of Hope-Scott; Penny, who {85} had been a visitor at Littlemore after his resignation of his living and his reception, before Newman's, into the Church; and W. H. Anderdon, Anglican clergyman and nephew of Manning, who afterwards as a Jesuit Father fulfilled his apostolate. The lectures on University Education were delivered in Dublin; and the fame and name of Newman still inhabit the city from which he retired, at the end of 1859, with the conviction that he had served "a country which had tokens in her of an important future, and the promise of still greater works than she has yet achieved in the cause of the Catholic faith." That note of his desire to serve Ireland was repeated long afterwards, when he told a deputation that came from Dublin to congratulate him on his Hat: "I know well—or if that is presumptuous to say, I sincerely believe—that a desire to serve Ireland was the ruling motive of my writings and doings while I was with you. How could I have any other? What right-minded Englishman could think of his country's conduct towards you in times past without indignation, shame and remorse? How could such man but earnestly desire, should his duty take him to Ireland, to be able to offer to her some small service in expiation of the crimes which his own people in former times committed there? I cannot then deny that, diffident as I have ever been in retrospect of any outcome of my work in Ireland, it has been a great satisfaction to me, and a great consolation, to find from you {86} and others that I have a right to think that those years were not wasted, and that the Sovereign Pontiff had not sent me to Ireland for nothing."

Dublin or Oxford dwelt, for a time, in Newman's thoughts, as alternative places for an attempt to establish a college of high aims for Catholics. Dublin fell through, and the Oxford attempt was never made; for it failed, for good or for ill, to win the final approval of ecclesiastical authority, though Cardinals in Rome, bishops here also, and many fathers of sons—the people who might be supposed to count—awaited its accomplishment with hopes and blessings. The Oratory School, established at Birmingham in 1859, supplied a smaller need, and supplied it well.

"The Oratory has a more prosperous appearance than I have observed before," wrote Lord Acton from under Newman's roof in the April of that year. "The School is beginning, with great hopes indeed, but in a small way. Caswall, the poet as also the politician of the house, is full of the eloquence of Bright; but Newman talks of plumping for his friend Acland. He is just bringing out an excellent volume [Lectures and Essays on University Subjects]. In one is a comparison of the warnings of conscience with the reflected scenes in the water, in his finest style."

An "Old Boy," Mr. Arthur Hungerford Pollen, recalls: "At the Oratory we saw a good deal of the Cardinal. Nothing pleased him more than making {87} friends with the boys, and the many opportunities we had of personal contact with him made the friendship a real one. Of course, to us he was the greatest of heroes. Slight and bent with age, with head thrust forward, and a quick firm gait, the great Oratorian might often be seen going from corridor to corridor, or across the school grounds. His head was large, the pink biretta made it seem still more so, and he carried it as if the neck were not strong enough for the weight. His face changed but little; yet he would be a bold man who attempted to describe its sweetness, its firmness and its strength. It had been his special desire from the beginning that no ceremony or state should be maintained. He was always known by those in the house as "the Father"; and except in the part he took in the ceremonies of the Church, his dignity made small difference to his life. In the Latin plays which he had prepared for the boys to act he always took the keenest interest, insisting on the careful rendering of favourite passages, and himself giving hints in cases of histrionic difficulty. In the school chapel he from time to time appeared, giving a short address, and assisting at the afternoon service. It is curious that it should have been in connexion with these two widely different occupations that we should have seen most of him. It is, perhaps, characteristic of his disposition, in which playfulness and piety were so sweetly combined."

Another "Old Boy," Dr. Sparrow, also remembers some of the methods and moods of his master: {88} "The first boy to arrive was the eldest son of Serjeant Bellasis—R. G. Bellasis, who afterwards joined the Congregation of the Oratory, and is now Father Richard Bellasis, of the Birmingham Oratory. I went myself to the Oratory in 1863, and for eleven years enjoyed the privilege and blessing of the Cardinal's training. In those early days of the school we saw more of the Father (as we called him) than was possible for the students to have done in later years, owing to his age and physical weakness. Every month, in my time, each form went up to the Father's room and was examined by him vivá voce in the work done during the preceding month, a trying ordeal for those who were nervous or idle, notwithstanding the kindness and gentleness of the Father, who was one of the most considerate and sympathetic of examiners. The Father always attached great importance to the 'lesson by heart,' and insisted on perfect accuracy and readiness in its repetition. He was always most particular to urge upon the boys a higher standard of honour, and never would tolerate anything mean or shabby. At the end of each term every boy went to the Father for what we called his 'character,' that is, the Father spoke to him privately as to his progress and behaviour during the past term. When I was reading for the London University Intermediate Examination in Arts along with another, the Father took us himself in classics and English literature, and I shall never forget those lectures, especially {89} those in literature. He told us how greatly he admired Sir Walter Scott's novels; he also expressed a great liking for the Rejected Addresses, as some of the cleverest parodies he had read; and he encouraged us to read good novels."

Writing in 1862 of the Oratory School to the President of Maynooth (Dr. Russell, who had helped him with tracts when he was still at Oxford), he gives us a glimpse of his own mind about it: "I am overworked with various kinds of mental labour, and I cannot do as much as I once could. Yet it would be most ungrateful to complain, even if I were seriously incommoded, for my present overwork arises from the very success of a school which I began here shortly after I retired from the [Irish] University. When we began it was a simple experiment, and lookers-on seemed to be surprised when they found we had in half a year a dozen; but at the end of our third year we now have seventy. St. Christopher took up a little child and he proved too heavy for him; and thus we in our simplicity allowed ourselves to profess to take boys, and are seriously alarmed at the responsibilities which we have brought on ourselves. As all other schools are increasing in number, it is a pleasant proof of the extension of Catholic education."

This was a triumph which he took as it came, not absorbed or greatly elated by the local personal success, but relating it gratefully to the general growth. {90}

The great literary vogue of the Apologia two years later than this left him equally unmoved, though he welcomed every one of the multitude of evidences that the book had made its serious impression upon contemporary opinion. If he took triumphs calmly, so he took disappointments, of which he had more than enough, and failures, even when due to no weakness of his, but to the perversity of others, with singular submission. Writing in 1865, two decades after his conversion, to a great friend among the Jesuits, he said: "It is a constant source of sadness to me that I have done so little for Him during a long twenty years, but then I think, and with some comfort, that I have ever tried to act as others told me, and if I have not done more, it has been because I have not been put to do more or have been stopped when I attempted more. The Cardinal [Wiseman] brought me from Littlemore to Oscott, he sent me to Rome, he stationed and left me in Birmingham. When the Holy Father wished me to begin the Dublin Catholic University, I did so at once. When the Synod of Oscott gave me to do the new translation of Scripture, I began it without a word. When the Cardinal asked me to interfere in the matter of the Rambler, I took on myself to my sore disgust, a great trouble and trial. Lastly, when my bishop, proprio motu, asked me to undertake the mission of Oxford, I at once committed myself to a very expensive purchase of land, and began, as he wished me, to collect {91} money for a church. In all these matters I think, in spite of incidental mistakes, I should on the whole have done a work, had I been allowed or aided to go on with them, but it has been our GOD'S blessed will that I should have been stopped. If I could get out of my mind the notion that I could do something and am not doing it, nothing could be happier, more peaceful or more to my taste than the life I lead."

In this strangely impassive recital it is the allusion to the Rambler that he makes with most perturbation; and elsewhere he said (in unwonted haste) that it was a thankless task to study history, because, unless you doctored it, you were branded a bad Catholic. Lord Acton, in whose interests that statement was made, did undoubtedly suffer the darts of an outrageous fortune, but never in all his early Letters [Note 1] does he allow himself a word of petulance; and, in persisting as he did in his line of historical criticism, and in his assertion of the chastity of Knowledge, he offered a living confutation of the too inclusive indictment uttered on his behalf. It was Newman's own article "On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine" that set the wildest storms raging round the Rambler; but the essay has survived and been embodied in one of his permanent works. It is a sorry thought that nearly every book that Newman wrote, from The Development {92} to the Grammar of Assent, offered the occasion for some suspicion of his good faith in the double sense of the term; yet such, in the nature of the case, must ever be, and in all ages has been, the fate of those who think or are in advance of the general stupidity, the common torpor.

Anxious as Newman was to give no offence, he knew how to stiffen his back when need was. For example, in this same decade of the 'sixties he wrote to a friendly critic: "In a day like this in which such serious efforts are made to narrow that liberty of thought and speech which are open to a Catholic, I am indisposed to suppress my own judgement in order to satisfy objectors." In 1874, still under the Pontificate of Pius IX, he spoke with an added emphasis. "For the benefit of some Catholics I would observe that, while I acknowledge one Pope, jure divino, I acknowledge no other; and that I think it a usurpation too wicked to be comfortably dwelt upon, when individuals use their own private judgement in the discussion of religious questions for the purpose of anathematizing the private judgement of others. I say there is only one Oracle of GOD, the Holy Catholic Church, and the Pope as her head. To her teaching I have ever desired all my thoughts, all my words, to be conformed; to her judgment I submit what I have now written, what I have ever written, not only as regards its truth, but as to its prudence, its suitableness and its expedience."

The life of the Fathers of the Oratory differs little from that of any group of secular priests living in community. A visitor to Edgbaston in the early 'eighties, Mr. C. Kegan Paul, gives the following account of the domestic routine: "Each father has his own room [Note 2], library and bedroom in one, the bed within a screen, the crucifix above, and the prized personal little fittings on the walls. The library is full of valuable books, many of them once the private property of Dr. Newman, now forming the nucleus of a stately collection for the use of the Community. Perhaps it is the dinner hour, and the silent figures pass along the galleries to the refectory, a lofty room with many small tables, and a pulpit at one end opposite the tables. At one of these sits the Superior alone, clad like the rest save the red lines of his biretta, which mark his Cardinal's rank. At a table near him may, perhaps, be a guest, and at others the members of the Community, two and two. The meal is served by two of the Fathers, who take this office in turn. During the meal a novice reads from the pulpit a chapter of the Bible, then a short passage from the life of St. Philip Neri, and then from some book, religious or secular, of general interest. Towards the end, one of the Fathers proposes two questions for discussion, or rather for utterance of opinion. On one day there was a point of Biblical criticism proposed, and one of ecclesiastical etiquette (if the word may be allowed). After this short religious {94} exercise, the company passed into another room for a frugal dessert and glass of wine, since the day chanced to be a Feast; and there was much to remind an Oxford man of an Oxford Common-room, the excellent talk sometimes to be heard there and the dignified unbending for awhile from serious thought." Such a dinner seems hardly in accord with that counsel of digestion that the blood be not diverted to the head. Yet the Fathers of the Oratory have lived proverbially long. Newman was not exempt, until age brought infirmity, from compliance with the ordinary rules.

Sir Rowland Blennerhassett says: "Up to a very advanced period of his life he rose at five o'clock. At seven he said his Mass; at eight he breakfasted; at nine he invariably returned to his study, where he remained till two or three o'clock. He always kept on his table the edition of Gibbon with the notes of Guizot and Milman, Döllinger's Heidenthum und Judenthum, almost always the copy of Athanasius which had belonged to Bossuet, and which contained in the margin notes in the handwriting of the great Bishop, the 'last of the Fathers,' as Newman delighted to call him. Newman had also always near at hand some Greek poet or philosopher."

Newman used to say that he owed little or nothing intellectually to any Latin writer with one exception, and that exception was not St. Augustine but Cicero. After lunch Newman took a walk or went to see people with whom he had business: {95}

"He dined," adds Sir Rowland, "at six o'clock, retired to his room soon after seven, and went to bed about ten. Occasionally he used to go out for two or three days to a small country-house some miles out of Birmingham, which he had purchased. He loved that little place in the Worcestershire hills, and he was buried in its grounds. After he became a Cardinal, he made no change in his habits … He wished people to treat him as much as possible as they did before his elevation to the Sacred College, and he disliked intensely genuflexions being made to him, or being the object of any of those artificial or extravagant deferences which Catholics in England sometimes pay to ecclesiastics of high position." At Littlemore he had told his young men to drop the Mister. "Call me Newman," he said. But on this point they were not bold to obey. "The Vicar" was a good way out of the difficulty then, as "The Father" was at the Oratory, where he called the others by their Christian names.

As a talker in the old days Newman has been described by Mr. J. A. Froude: "Newman's mind was world-wide. He was interested in everything which was going on in science, in politics, in literature. Nothing was too large for him, nothing too trivial if it threw light upon the central question, what man really was and what was his destiny. His natural temperament was bright and light; his senses, even the commonest, were exceptionally delicate. He could admire enthusiastically any greatness of {96} action and character, however remote the sphere of it from his own. Gurwood's Dispatches of the Duke of Wellington came out just then. Newman had been reading the book, and a friend asked him what he thought of it. 'Think?' he said; 'it makes one burn to have been a soldier!' He seemed always to be better informed on common topics of conversation than anyone else who was present. He was never condescending with us (undergraduates), never didactic or authoritative; but what he said carried conviction along with it. Perhaps his supreme merit as a talker was that he never tried to be witty or to say striking things. Ironical he could be, but not ill-natured. Not a malicious anecdote was ever heard from him. Prosy he could not be. He was lightness itself—the lightness of elastic strength—and he was interesting because he never talked for talking's sake, but because he had something real to say."

Newman never lacked tact as a talker. The late Father Bertrand Wilberforce, O.P., wrote to me: "A characteristic story used to be told by my dearest father [Note 3]: When Newman was Fellow of Oriel, during the Hampden controversy, an American professor visited Oxford and dined at the high table. As the Fellows took different views in the controversy, it was never mentioned at dinner. The American, not understanding this, suddenly cried {97} out: Well, Mr. Newman, what about this Hampden controversy? Newman at once seized a spoon, and taking up a dish, offered a hot potato." The symbolism was apparent, and the subject dropped.

Another time, when a naval chaplain was embarrassed by being asked whether his service on board ship was "High" or "Low," Newman interposed: "Surely that depends upon the tide." His own peculiar method of turning off questions which were not timely is well known. "Serious complications in Rome, Father," said Lord Edward Howard, a member of Parliament anxious to get at Newman's mind during a crisis of the Roman question. "Yes," said the Father, quickly adding: "And in China." And there was something in his manner, we suppose, which prevented his questioners on such occasions from feeling that they were being trifled with. When he knew words would be wasted, he would not spend them. One of those about him having resolved to leave him, under circumstances likely to raise exclamations and to invite remonstrance, told him his determination. "By what train?" was all he said in acceptance of the inevitable. His offer to the Protestant champion who challenged him to a discussion, that he would play him on the violin, was another instance of his economy of words.

Many were the visitors from afar who sought out the Father at the Oratory: strangers and wayfarers, generally in anxiety about themselves; old {98} friends, too, some of whom, like Lord Emly and Aubrey de Vere, made a point of paying him a yearly visit.

Lord Acton has left us a record of such visits paid by him at a time when the Rambler was being treated in certain quarters as if it were scandalous, if not in its views, at least in its sentiments. Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves is a formula which has a defensible fascination for authority; and the pennies have often been shielded at the expense of the pounds among people. This was what was happening in England when the Rambler was resented. "I had a three hours' talk with the venerable Newman," Acton reports to Simpson in 1858, "who came out at last with his real sentiments to an extent which startled me with respect both to things and persons, as Ward, Dalgairns, etc.; natural inclination of men in power to tyrannize; ignorance and presumption of would-be theologians. I did not think he would ever cast aside his diplomacy and buttonment so entirely, and was quite surprised at the intense interest he betrayed in the Rambler. He was quite miserable when I told him the news of Wiseman's hostility, and moaned for a long time, rocking himself backwards and forwards over the fire like an old woman with a toothache. He thinks the move provoked both by the hope of breaking down the Rambler and by jealousy of Döllinger. He asked whether we suspected anyone, and at last inclined {99} to the notion that the source is in Brompton." Two years later, when the same trouble recurred, Acton again saw Newman about it, and told Simpson: "I have never heard him speak openly on affairs as in the bitterness of his spirit he spoke during the half-hour I was with him, and his language was—more vehement, indeed—but in substance the same that I have been hearing and imbibing any time these nine years from Döllinger."

At the Oratory, too, when both were bowed with age, met the two great Cardinals—the divided friends, counterparts and contrasts, during sixty years. In the 'eighties they had half an hour together in Birmingham, saying not much, but looking each at each, with what reflections one dimly wonders. When the news of death came from Birmingham, the Prince of the Church at Westminster—though eight years younger—bowed his head and said he felt he had his own notice to quit. Some went to the Oratory, as it were by night. Other business brought them to the Midlands: politics, for example. The last time his old friend Gladstone visited the house, the invalid could not see him; but the politician, hearing that the Cardinal's arrangements for reading when reclining were defective, thoughtfully supplied a remedy. On a former occasion Mr. Gladstone called in company with Mr. Chamberlain. And there were some who were not even as Nicodemus; who were drawn to the Oratory, but never went even by night. "I envy you {100} your opportunity of seeing and hearing Newman," wrote George Eliot to Miss Hennell; "and I should like to make an expedition to Birmingham with that sole end."

It was the Apologia, written at Edgbaston in 1864, that did much more than confute Kingsley—it "breathed new life into me," said George Eliot, who, so speaking, spoke too for others. "Pray mark," she writes, "that beautiful passage in which he thanks his friend, Ambrose St. John. I know hardly anything that delights me more than such evidence of sweet brotherly love being a reality in the world." The allusion and its own bearing on the life led at Birmingham gives the opportunity of quoting that passage here:

"I have closed this history of myself with St. Philip's name upon St. Philip's feast-day; and, having done so, to whom can I more suitably offer it, as a memorial of affection and gratitude, than to St. Philip's sons, my dearest brothers of this house, the priests of the Birmingham Oratory, Ambrose St. John, Henry Austin Mills, Henry Bittleston, Edward Caswall, William Paine Neville and Henry Ignatius Dudley Ryder, who have been so faithful to me; who have been so sensitive of my needs; who have been so indulgent to my failings; who have carried me through so many trials; who have grudged no sacrifice, if I have asked for it; who have been so cheerful under discouragements of my causing; who have done so many good works, and let me have the {101} credit of them; with whom I have lived so long, with whom I hope to die. And to you especially, dear Ambrose St. John, whom GOD gave me, when He took every one else away; who are the link between my old life and my new; who have now for twenty-one years been so devoted to me, so patient, so zealous, so tender; who have let me lean so hard upon you; who have watched me so narrowly; who have never thought of yourself, if I was in question. And in you I gather up and bear in memory those familiar affectionate companions and counsellors, who in Oxford were given to me, one after another, to be my daily solace and relief; and all those others, of great name and high example, who were my thorough friends, and showed me true attachment in times long past; and also those many younger men, whether I know them or not, who have never been disloyal to me by word or by deed; and of all these, thus various in their relations to me, those more especially who have since joined the Catholic Church. And I earnestly pray for this whole company, with a hope against hope, that all of us, who once were so united, and so happy in our union, may even now be brought at length, by the power of the divine will, into one fold and under one Shepherd."

In 1866 Newman wrote at Birmingham his answer to Pusey's Eirenicon. "There was one of old time who wreathed his sword in myrtle; excuse me, {102} you discharge your olive-branch as if from a catapult." In this letter he lamented that the friend he never ceased to love should have gone aside from his own true devotion to rake together passages from foreign authors, often the obscurest, in which the Blessed Virgin was spoken of with an adoration that outdoes dogma, and in language against which may be urged what he had once hinted in quite another sense against Moore's poetry—that the ornament outstrips the sense. His own feeling Newman thus defines: "Certainly in many instances in which theologian differs from theologian, and country from country, I have a definite judgement of my own; I can say so without offence to anyone, for the very reason that from the nature of the case, it is impossible to agree with all of them. I prefer English habits of belief and devotion to foreign, from the same causes and by the same right which justify foreigners in preferring their own."

Newman adds that when he became a Catholic the Vicar-Apostolic of the London district, Dr. Griffiths, "warned me against books of devotion of the Italian school, which were just at that time, 1845, coming into England"; and he goes on to say, "I took him to caution me against a character and tone of religion, excellent in its place, not suited to England." Of popular superstitions abroad which Pusey brought into the controversy Newman has this practical thing to say:

"What has power to stir holy and refined souls {103} is potent also with the multitude; and the religion of the multitude is ever vulgar and abnormal; it ever will be tinctured with fanaticism and superstition while men are what they are. A people's religion is ever a corrupt religion, in spite of the provisions of holy Church. You may beat religion out of men, if you will, and then their excesses will take a different direction; but if you make use of religion to improve them, they will make use of religion to corrupt it. And then you will have effected that compromise of which our countrymen report so unfavourably from abroad—a high, grand, faith and worship which compel their admiration, and puerile absurdities among the people which excite their contempt … That in times and places the cultus of the Blessed Virgin has fallen into abuse, and that it has even become a superstition, I do not care to deny; for the same process which brings to maturity carries on to decay."

Of Pusey's quotations from Catholic writers, he says, "Some of your authors, I know, are saints. All, I suppose, are spiritual writers and holy men; but the majority are of no great celebrity. The greatest name is St. Alfonso Liguori; but it never surprises me to read anything extraordinary in the devotions of a saint. Such men are on a level very different from our own, and we cannot understand them. I hold this to be an important canon in the lives of the saints, according to the words of the Apostle, 'The spiritual man judges all things, and {104} he himself is judged of no one.' But we may refrain from judging without proceeding to imitate. I hope it is not disrespectful to so great a servant of GOD to say that I never have read his Glories of Mary. As to his practical directions, St. Alfonso wrote them for Neapolitans, whom he knew and we do not know. Other writers whom you quote, as De Salazar, are too ruthlessly logical to be safe or pleasant guides in the delicate matters of devotion. As to De Montfort and Oswald, I never even met with their names till I saw them in your book [Note 4]. One thing is clear about all these writers—that not one of them is an Englishman"; and, as to Father Faber, he, as a convert, "cannot be considered a representative of English Catholic devotion." Only England itself; he reminds Dr. Pusey, is concerned:

"For though doctrine is one and the same everywhere, devotions are matters of the particular time and the particular country. I suppose we owe it to the national good sense that English Catholics have been protected from the extravagances which are elsewhere to be found. And we owe it also to the wisdom and moderation of the Holy See, which, in giving us the pattern for our devotion, as well as the rule of our faith, has never indulged in those {105} curiosities of thought which are both so attractive to undisciplined imaginations, and so dangerous to grovelling hearts. In the case of our own common people, I think such a forced style of devotion would be simply unintelligible; as to the educated, I doubt whether it can have more than an occasional or temporary influence. If the Catholic faith spreads in England, these peculiarities will not spread with it. There is a healthy devotion to the Blessed Mary, and there is an artificial; it is possible to love her as a Mother, to honour her as a Virgin, to seek her as a Patron, to exalt her as a Queen, without any injury to solid piety and Christian good sense: I cannot help calling this the English style."

The passage of the Cardinal's, in his Apologia, upon this question of fitness in the words used about the Blessed Virgin comes to mind: "The writings of St. Alfonso, as I knew them by the extracts commonly made from them, prejudiced me as much against the Roman Church as anything else, on account of what was called their 'Mariolatry.' Such devotional manifestations in honour of our Lady had been my great crux as regards Catholicism; I say frankly, I do not fully enter into them now. I trust I do not love her the less, because I cannot enter into them. They may be fully explained and defended: but sentiment and taste do not run with logic; they are suitable for Italy, but they are not suitable for England. But over and above England, my own case was special; from a boy I had been led {106} to consider that my Maker and I, His creature, were the two beings, certainly such in rerum natura. I will not here speculate, however, about my own feelings. Only this I know full well now, and did not know then, that the Catholic Church allows no image of any sort, material or immaterial, no dogmatic symbol, no rite, no sacrament, no saint, not even the Blessed Virgin herself, to come between the soul and its Creator. It is face to face, solus cum solo, in all matters between man and his GOD. He alone creates; He alone has redeemed; before His awful eyes we go in death; in the vision of Him is our eternal beatitude."

In 1870 the Grammar of Assent was published; and five years later the Letter to the Duke of Norfolk on Mr. Gladstone's Expostulations: Newman taking this very welcome opportunity for linking his name with that of one of the Old Boys of the Oratory School who was very dear to him.

In this case as in earlier publications the interest, on both sides, was of the hour: a hostile vote of Catholic members unnerved Gladstone's arm; he hit out with it, but with uncertain aim. It was perhaps a battle of feelings rather than of facts; but one is as important for the moment as the other, and the Letter of Newman, a man so full of affectionate appreciation of others, was sure of easy victory in such a contest. His great fairness towards Gladstone was confirmed by another letter, one he privately wrote to Dr. Russell, when his public task was done. It offers the rare instance of a man's case being better {107} stated by an opponent than it could have been by himself. "As to Gladstone, if he writes, I think he will say that he has been quite misunderstood; that he did not speak of the great mass of English, nor again of Irish, Catholics—indeed, that he had expressly excepted them from the subjects of his animadversion in various passages of his pamphlet, that he was glad to find that he had elicited from them the patriotic spirit of which he was already so sure, but his words held good still against those at whom they were originally aimed, that I myself had pointed out who they were, that I had spoken of them as extravagant and tyrannous, and as having set the house on fire, [that] those are the objects of his attack, that the Pope is at their head, therefore he calls them Vaticanists, that nothing has been made good by me or anyone else to dislodge him from this position, which is the position he originally took up, that what is witnessed in England is witnessed all over Europe, that the tomes of theologians are not the appropriate dépôts of evidence or loci for appeal in this matter, but the Ultramontane newspapers, that it has been all along notorious that Rome was cautious, logical, unassailable in doctrine, but the present question was as to the political use or rather abuse of her doctrine, etc., etc."

The assertion of the rights of conscience as the very foundations of the Church's claim on the obedience of the world was enforced by Newman in passages that will always be quoted: {108}

"Did the Pope speak against conscience, in the true sense of the word, he would commit a suicidal act. On the law of conscience and its sacredness are in fact founded both his authority in theory and his power. Whether this or that particular Pope in this bad world always kept this great truth in view in all that he did, it is for history to tell. It is by the universal sense of right and wrong, the consciousness of transgression, the pangs of guilt and the dread of retribution, as first principles deeply wedged in the hearts of men, it is thus and only thus that he has gained his footing and achieved his success. If, under the plea of his revealed prerogatives, he neglected his mission of preaching truth, justice, mercy and peace, much more if he trampled on the consciences of his subjects—if he had done so all along, as Protestants say, then he could not have lasted all these many centuries till now. For a while the Papal chair was held by men who gave themselves up to luxury, security and a pagan kind of Christianity; and we all know what a moral earthquake was the consequence, and how the Church lost thereby, and has lost to this day, one half of Europe. The Popes could not have recovered from so terrible a catastrophe, as they have done, had they not returned to their first and better ways, and the grave lesson of the past is itself a guarantee of the future."

Leaving generalizations that could hardly be regarded as more than plausible by the outsider, Newman then applied himself to details. "I observe {109} that, conscience being a practical dictate, a collision is possible between it and the Pope's authority only when the Pope legislates or gives particular orders, and the like. But a Pope is not infallible in his laws, nor in his commands, nor in his acts of state, nor in his administration, nor in his public policy. Let it be observed that the Vatican Council has left him just as it found him here. Mr. Gladstone's language on this point is to me quite unintelligible. What have excommunication and interdict to do with infallibility? Was St. Peter infallible on that occasion at Antioch when St. Paul withstood him? Was St. Victor infallible when he separated from his communion the Asiatic Churches, or Liberius when in like manner he excommunicated Athanasius? And, to come to later times, was Gregory XIII when he had a medal struck in honour of the Bartholomew massacre? or Paul IV in his conduct towards Elizabeth? or Sixtus V when he blessed the Armada? or Urban VIII when he persecuted Galileo? No Catholic ever pretends that these Popes were infallible in these acts."

And then, after saying that it must be the true conscience, and no counterfeit, that opposes the supreme though not infallible authority of the Pope, a conscience following upon thought and prayer, he gives out of hand two instances to illustrate his point: "Thus, if the Pope told the English bishops"—many will hope that it is not the most unlikely of "ifs"—"to order their priests to stir themselves {110} energetically in favour of teetotalism, and a particular priest was persuaded that abstinence from wine was practically a Gnostic error, and therefore felt he could not so exert himself without sin; or suppose there was a Papal order to hold lotteries in each mission for some religious object, and a priest could say in GOD'S sight that he believed lotteries to be morally wrong, that priest, in either of these cases, would commit a sin hic et nunc if he obeyed the Pope, if he was right or wrong in his opinion, and, if wrong, although he had not taken proper pains to get at the truth of the matter."

That is for Catholics. As for Protestants, Newman quotes with implied approval the Jesuit Busenbaum as declaring: "A heretic, as long as he judges his sect to be more or equally deserving of belief has no obligation to believe [in the Church]. When men who have been brought up in heresy are persuaded from boyhood that we impugn and attack the Word of GOD, that we are idolaters, pestilent deceivers, and therefore to be shunned as pests, they cannot, while this persuasion lasts, with a safe conscience hear us." And for himself he says: "Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts (which indeed does not seem quite the thing), I shall drink—to the Pope, if you please—still to conscience first and to the Pope afterwards."

On a higher plane he penned the familiar panegyric of that "still small voice" which Manning {111} identified with the Dćmon of Socrates: "Conscience is not a long-sighted selfishness, not a desire to be consistent with oneself; but it is a messenger from Him who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by His representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of CHRIST, a prophet in its informations, a monarch in its peremptoriness, a priest in its blessings and anathemas, and even though the eternal priesthood throughout the Church should cease to be, in it the sacerdotal principle would remain and would have a sway."

Perhaps the life of the Man of Letters at Edgbaston was a more even one than it had ever been elsewhere: bringing with it no great discoveries, or fears, or surprises. He did not again "see a ghost,"—such as he had encountered in 1839, when the history of the fifth century revealed to him that the old Monophysite heresy was a type of Anglicanism; and such as reappeared to him in 1842 while translating Athanasius. He did not laugh to himself any longer as he had laughed at Maryvale over his composition of Loss and Gain [Note 5], with its peculiar convert clerical irony, abhorred by Manning, whose own sacred and happy union forbade him ever to mock a married clergy. {112} He did not feel again the thrill of pleasure which ran through him as he took down the volumes of the Fathers from the shelves at Littlemore, after he had been received into the Church, and said, "You are mine now, you are mine now"; a near approach to almost marital joy of possession at last after long desiring.

In truth, the most disturbing event of the Edgbaston period was the unexpected publication in the Standard of the letter of alarm he sent during the sittings of the Vatican Council, to his Bishop (Ullathorne), between whom and himself the relations were always affectionate. The alarm was due solely to the extravagances of the supporters of a Definition still under discussion, not to doubt of Newman's about its validity; and the reader of today, unversed in the distresses occasioned to those who, believing the dogma, yet doubted—one might say, in Newman's case, despaired—of its being usefully proclaimed, may well marvel at the paragraphs that he penned:

"Rome ought to be a name to lighten the heart at all times, and a Council's proper office is, when some great heresy or other evil impends, to inspire hope and confidence in the Faithful; but now we have the greatest meeting which ever has been seen, and that at Rome, infusing into us by the accredited organs of Rome and of its partisans (such as the Civiltŕ, the Armonia, the Univers and the Tablet) little else than fear and dismay. When we are all at {113} rest, and have no doubts, and—at least practically, not to say doctrinally—hold the Holy Father to be infallible, suddenly there is thunder in the clear sky, and we are told to prepare for something, we know not what, to try our faith, we know not how. No impending danger is to be averted, but a great difficulty is to be created. Is this the proper work of an Œcumenical Council?

"As to myself; personally, please GOD, I do not expect any trial at all; but I cannot help suffering with the many souls who are suffering, and I look with anxiety at the prospect of having to defend decisions which may not be difficult to my private judgment, but may be most difficult to maintain logically in the face of historical facts.

"What have we done to be treated as the Faithful never were treated before? When has a definition de fide been a luxury of devotion and not a stern, painful necessity? Why should an aggressive, insolent faction be allowed 'to make the heart of the just sad, whom the LORD hath not made sorrowful'? Why cannot we be let alone, when we have pursued peace and thought no evil?

"I assure you, my Lord, some of the truest minds are driven one way and another, and do not know where to rest their feet—one day determining 'to give up all theology as a bad job,' and recklessly to believe henceforth almost that the Pope is impeccable; at another, tempted to 'believe all the worst which a book like Janus says'; others 'doubting {114} about the capacity possessed by bishops drawn from all corners of the earth to judge what is fitting for European society,' and then, again, angry with the Holy See for listening to the 'flattery of a clique of Jesuits, Redemptorists and converts.'

"Then, again, think of the store of Pontifical scandals in the history of eighteen centuries which have partly been poured forth and partly are still to come. What Murphy inflicted upon us in one way M. Veuillot is indirectly bringing on us in another. And then, again, the blight which is following upon the multitude of Anglican Ritualists, etc., who themselves, perhaps—at least their leaders—may never become Catholics, but who are leavening the various English denominations and parties (far beyond their own range) with principles and sentiments tending towards their ultimate absorption into the Catholic Church.

"With these thoughts ever before me, I am continually asking myself whether I ought not to make my feelings public, but all I do is to pray those early doctors of the Church whose intercession would decide the matter—Augustine, Ambrose and Jerome, Athanasius, Chrysostom and Basil—to avert the great calamity. If it is GOD'S will that the Pope's infallibility is defined, then is it GOD'S will to throw back 'the times and moments' of that triumph which He has destined for His kingdom, and I shall feel I have but to bow my head to His adorable, inscrutable Providence." {115}

This was not one of the many occasions on which Newman could be astonished at his own moderation; indeed, when the "insolent and aggressive faction" was quoted against him as a detached phrase, he straightway denied it—a lapse of memory which looks as though he had written his letter in haste in all senses of the term. The lapse of time, as Abbot Gasquet has pointed out in his Lord Acton and his Circle, has given a just proportion to those raging controversies; and, though the fears of Newman's letter have long ago been lulled by the official "Peace, be still," it remains in evidence of his unbounded solicitude for the interests of harassed or perplexed friends. He shouted louder to save others from a blow than he had ever done to save himself.

"It took away his breath," in a more agreeable fashion, to find, on a morning in 1885, among his letters one from Frank Power's sister, to say that she possessed a relic from Khartoum—a copy of The Dream of Gerontius, given to her brother by Gordon, and scored by Gordon with incisive pencil marks at such passages as "Now that the hour is come, my fear is fled," and "Pray for me, O my friends." This poem, in which penetrating sincerity of feeling on a great subject finds, in some passages, the most poetical expression Newman ever attained, was sent by him, in the first instance, to a periodical, the editor of which asked him for something: "I have routed this out of a drawer." {116}

From Birmingham he had now and again to make a profession of faith: "I have not had one moment's wavering of trust in the Catholic Church ever since I was received into her fold. I hold, and ever have held, a supreme satisfaction in her worship, discipline and teaching; and an eager longing, and a hope against hope, that the many dear friends whom I have left in Protestantism may be partakers in my happiness. And I do hereby profess that Protestantism is the dreariest of all possible religions; that the thought of the Anglican service makes me shiver, and the thought of the Thirty-nine Articles makes me shudder. Return to the Church of England! No! 'The net is broken, and we are delivered.' I should be a consummate fool (to use a mild term) if, in my old age, I left 'the land flowing with milk and honey' for the city of confusion and the house of bondage."

He was only sixty-one and had still a third of his life to run when he was writing thus of "old age." A letter he wrote early in 1874, now before me, ends: "Don't forget in your prayers that I am very old now, and need every help I can get from friends." For twenty years there were such closing passages and postscripts to letters addressed alike to friend and casual correspondent. By 1887 it had got to "Excuse a short letter—but I do not write without pain"; and the signature became as much as he could easily attempt at the end of the text indited in a hand rather freer than his own, but closely {117} formed upon it, by his faithful friend and devoted other-self, Father William Neville [Note 6].

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1. Lord Acton and his Circle. Edited by Abbot Gasquet. Burns and Oates.
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2. The Father, however, had two rooms.
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3. The Henry William Wilberforce already named, the most charming and human figure in all the group of Newman's Oxford contemporaries.
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4. Newman, in the Oratory at Birmingham, first heard De Montfort's name in 1865 from Dr. Pusey. Yet Pusey's quotations from this treatise of De Montfort's were from the very translation of it published by Father Faber from the London Oratory itself. The incident illustrates the spirit of detachment ultimately maintained between the two Houses.
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5. The Loss of Works, by renowned Anglican authors, and the Gain of Faith had been illustrated by the conversion of the well-known Anglican publisher, Mr. Burns, for whom Newman is said to have written Loss and Gain under some sense of making compensation to him for the great sacrifices thus endured.
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6. One of the six Anglican clergymen connected with St. Saviour's, Leeds, received into the Church together by Father Newman in 1851. He was the executor of Newman, whom he outlived by some fourteen years.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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