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Memoirs and correspondence of Coventry Patmore (Volume 2) online

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corroboration of those apprehensions on which his
own religious philosophy was principally based.

Some other opinions of his on the position of his
own Church seem worthy of record. He maintained
that Catholic emancipation had been a mistake ;
meaning, no doubt, that the Roman Catholic Church
in England had been more select and better for
having to pay a temporal penalty for its spiritual
privileges ; but, now that all such penalties had been
removed, he held that ** Catholics" owed the State


a loyal patriotism, and he complained much of the
tendency which he detected in members of his Com-
munion to study the interests of the Church to the
exclusion of those of the Nation ; as in the following
letter :

" To the Editor of the St. James's Gazette.

" Sir, — I am not ' a Catholic first and an Englishman
afterwards,' neither am I first an Englishman and then
a Catholic. I am a Catholic and an Englishman : a
position which seems to me to be very simple and tenable,
though I regret to say that it does not appear to be intelli-
gible to some of my co-religionists. I cannot see that
there is any reasonable ground for conflict between the
patriotism and religion of a Catholic who has the happiness
of having been born in a country where he can profess and
practise his faith with the fewest restrictions and annoy-
ances, and out of which are fast disappearing the slight in -
conveniences which, until lately, arose from the social separa-
tion of the members of the Catholic Church from those of
other religious beliefs. A quarter of a century since, not
one Englishman in fifty had probably ever come within
speaking distance of a Catholic. We were mysteries ; and
in our regard it was ' omne ignotum pro malefico' Even
our supposed virtues were held to be strange and somehow
malefic. But now that there are comparatively few families
in England that do not count a Catholic among their mem-
bers, it has come to be generally understood that we are
not in any way very different from other Christians.

" It is a great misfortune of the Catholic Church in Eng-
land that most of its priests are Irish ; but there is one
lesson at least that we might learn from them, if we would
attend to their practice as well as their teaching : they are
nearly all patriots, even to what I and most educated
Catholics would consider an excess. They are Irish first
and Catholics afterwards. Has not their patriotism gone
so far as to hint to the Pope himself that they would throw
over him and his religion for the sake of 'justice to Ireland,'
should the two be found in conflict? An eminent and
ardent Irish Catholic has assured me that the love of


national independence and the hatred of any, even apparent,
bond of union with England are so strong in his country
that the conversion of England to the Catholic faith, should
it ever occur, would be immediately followed by that of
Ireland to Protestantism.

" We English Catholics might with advantage imitate the
patriotism of the Irish priests without carrying it quite so
far as this. We should, I think, remember that the full
political rights which have been accorded to us cannot
honourably be used for other purposes than the political
advantage of the whole country ; and that, in using them
otherwise, we should justify those who still maintain that
Catholic emancipation was a mistake. No sect, class, or
party has a moral right to a voice in national affairs if that
voice is habitually raised in its own interests only, however
high they may be — much less if that voice is so raised as
purposely to embarrass and disorder the common weal for
its particular ends.

" But, apart from the question of honour and political
principle, nothing can endanger our own particular ends
and interests so much as such political selfishness ; and this
our Irish friends should also take to heart. If once the
question were to become religious which is now only polit-
ical, the feeling of this country would make short work of an
Irish imbroglio ; and it depends very much upon the con-
duct of the English Catholics whether and how much they
would suffer at the same time. — I am, Sir, your obedient

"An English Catholic.

''March 4, 1868."

He was bitterly hostile to any abuse of priestly
authority, especially if it were exercised in favour of
disloyalty, as is shown by the following letter of his
to a newspaper :

" Bishop Bagshawe's excommunication of the members
of the Primrose League in his diocese is a rare piece of
good luck for that association. It will plant bouquets of
primroses next Primrose Day in the costumes of thousands
of Catholic ladies who would never otherwise have worn
them. The Catholics of our day, though as sound in their
religion as ever Catholics were, are no longer the passive


subjects of petty parochial or diocesan tyranny. We have
only one Pope, and do not think much of excommunica-
tions which the commonly well-educated among us know
to be invalid. We all know that the orthodox doctrine of
the Church is that no one is the worse for being deprived of
the Blessed Sacrament, if the deprivation be not for any sin
or fault on his part. The desire, in such a case, confers the
whole benefit, as any theologian will tell you. That a
Bishop who fondly cherishes the foulest Irish treason in his
diocese should have put his ban upon an innocent and loyal
association, simply, as far as we can see, because it is loyal,
is raising a storm of indignation among us. The ladies of
my family, for example, who are devoted Catholics, and do
not trouble themselves generally about either national or
ecclesiastical politics, insist upon being enrolled immediately
in the Primrose League."

He fully admitted that the division of Christendom
was in the main to be laid at the door of the rulers
of his own Church, which Church, he considered,
had profited not less than any other by the Refor-

He had a clear dogmatic belief in hell and in
eternal penance, as meaning perpetual banishment
from the " beatific vision," holding, nevertheless, that
hell might be, for many, a far happier abode than
this earth. Nor did the official condemnation of
such opinions modify Patmore's view ; for " the con-
demnation did not necessarily mean more than that
the utterance was considered inopportune or im-

Christianity he held to be still in its infancy, its
career on earth merely commencing ; nor was it pos-
sible to set any limits to the changes which, by de-
velopment, it might undergo in the future. " I be-
lieve," he said, "in Christianity as it will be ten
thousand years hence."

The views concerning his Church which I have


recorded above are those which have fixed them-
selves in my memory as most important, most
original, and most characteristic. It is impossible
for me to judge to what extent they were personal
to himself and how far they are acceptable to his
co-religionists generally. That he was constantly
desirous not to pass beyond the due limits of his
creed, I am certain ; and of the depth, clearness,
certitude, and intensity of his religious apprehen-
sions, no one who either knew or read him, still less
one who did both, could have a moment's doubt.
Things of the spirit were obviously far more real to
him than aught perceptible to the senses. They
were indeed for him the " sole realities." That his
apprehensions were based generally — almost ex-
clusively — on the fundamental idea of nuptial love
must be admitted. Nor does it seem to me to be
matter for regret that he should have limited himself
to one acre in the infinite field of spiritual sugges-
tion. As he so often said, " the power of cleaving
is conditioned by the narrowness of the edge and
by the weight behind it." It was, at all events, the
predominance of this conception which bound to-
gether his whole life's work, rendering coherent
and individualizing all which he thought, wrote, or
uttered ; and those who study Patmore without this
key are little likely to understand him.



" And thick with nests of the hoarse bird
That talks, but understands not his own word."

IHAVEalludedelsewhere(vol. i.,c. xxiii.) to Pat-
more's quarrel with the Pious Society of Missions,
which arose in connection with the building of
his church and the founding of masses in memory of
his wife Mary. This incident might well have been
allowed to drop into oblivion but for two reasons. In
the first place it has been mentioned in print, and Pat-
more has been blamed for the " inflexible arroofance "
which he displayed on the occasion ; and secondly it
served to develope and to bring into prominence one
of those paradoxical positions which was so eminently
characteristic of him. The main facts relating to
this misunderstanding were these. In the course of
his original negotiations with the Society he had un-
doubtedly obtained a promise that under no circum-
stances should a mortgage be raised upon the church.
In whatever form and by whomsoever the promise
was given, Patmore relied upon it as of the essence
of the arrangement. When the church was ready
for its opening he discovered that a considerable
sum had actually been borrowed upon the security
of the fabric, and that his object in founding it was
therefore compromised. The risk, though possibly
slight (it was almost inconceivable that so important
an instrument of Roman Catholicism should be
alienated from its intended use), was a tangible one.
If the Society failed to maintain the church and to
discharge the debt, the mortagee was entitled to


take possession, and to convert it to any use that
might be profitable; so that the costly monument to
his late wife might be changed into assembly rooms
or a music-hall, when the masses founded for his
" intention " would necessarily cease to be celebrated
in the building he had prepared for them. That a
risk of this nature, incurred through what he always
maintained to be an absolute breach of faith, should
have made him exceedingly angry was no more
than natural. Nor was it his way to moderate his
anger or to be guarded in the expression of it. On
the other hand, he was in some respects less implac-
able than might have been expected. When the
fact of the mortgage was first made known to him,
he had already made arrangements for receiving at
his house a number of distinguished members of his
Church who were to take part in the ceremony ; but
nevertheless he determined to absent himself, and
actually went up to London the day before. One
of the leading members of the Pious Society went
after him, and with much difficulty persuaded him to
return. On the occasion of the opening he showed
no sign of resentment, nor betrayed any want of
geniality to his guests. Nevertheless the incident
undoubtedly destroyed his pleasure in the accom-
plishment of his scheme, went far towards detaching
him from the neighbourhood, and served to remove
any remaining reticence in that free criticism of
priests to which he had before been somewhat prone.
It seems to me that the only blame that can attach
to him in the matter is this. He undoubtedly showed
a want of prudence in accepting a mere verbal assur-
ance on so essential a point, and his characteristically
sanguine view probably led him to under-estimate
the financial burden which the Society would be
called on to bear.

In justice to the priests of the Mission I may,

■x: g


partly by actual knowledge, partly by conjecture,
plead as follows. The Pious Society of Missions
does not appear to have, in the preliminary negotia-
tions, treated with him in any definitely corporate
capacity. The arrangement seems to have been
discussed and formulated by individuals who may not
have been duly commissioned to pledge the Society.
The temptation to accept so considerable a gift
without duly counting the cost must have been strong,
and the negotiator may have been too ready to give,
as Patmore was too ready to accept, assurances
which were defective both in foresight and in validity.
The Society was by no means rich, and the strain
upon it, in executing its portion of the undertaking,
had proved severe. At the last moment it had
practically no alternative but to raise money on
mortgage ; and possibly there was little evidence of
the previous understanding, or it may have been
considered that a promise made without formal au-
thority was not binding upon the community. How-
ever this may be, there could be no doubt that the
incident is but one more proof of the need to observe
the strictest routine in all business transactions ; for,
the higher the object in view, the greater will be the
scandal caused by any misunderstanding.

So far as I have been able to investigate this
somewhat complex matter (and circumstances neces-
sarily gave me exceptional opportunities of know-
ledge) this is the essential truth ; and the share of
blame may be apportioned by the reader, who will, I
think, scarcely incline to find in the incident any
proof of misconduct on Patmore's part. As to the
truth and justice of the constant depreciation of the
moral character of the priesthood in which these
unfortunate circumstances led him subsequently
to indulge, I can offer no opinion ; and my only ob-
ject in dealing with the subject at all is to tell the



actual truth, and to pourtray, by a most conspicuous
example, that paradoxical tendency which was so
characteristic of him.

The relation between morality and functional
efficiency in the priesthood must be a question as
old as priesthood itself. Few who believe in sacra-
mental doctrine are likely to maintain that ethical
defect in the priest can generally be held to invali-
date the priestly powers. Such a supposition would
be obviously unfair to the recipient, who cannot be
presumed to have the needful precautionary know-
ledge. On the other hand, most people, guided by
ordinary common-sense, must anticipate that the
special agents of grace will usually present a higher
standard of conduct than those whose functions are
merely secular ; and they will probably incline to
prefer the ministrations of those whose lives are
as truly above reproach as their orders. Patmore
however always appeared to me not only to exalt
the priesthood in the one category in exact pro-
portion to his depreciation of it in the other, but to
take an actual pleasure in the at all events apparent
incongruity. The Church was the Church not the
less but the more for the lapses of its functionaries ;
and that it lived and prevailed in spite of — one might
almost conceive him saying, by means of — the moral
imperfection of the priesthood, seemed to him to be
a special proof of its divine vocation. I remember
once, when the conversation turned on such topics,
telling him Boccaccio's story of the conversion of the
Jew by the Christian, and that his appreciation of it,
as tallying with one of his fundamental ideas, was
enthusiastic and keen. Lest, however, I should have
induced an exaggerated opinion of his reflections upon
the priesthood, it is no more than fair to record some
compensatory considerations. In the first place his
depreciation was confined almost exclusively to the


secular clergy, and he had the highest opinion of the
large-mindedness, spirituality, and intellectual endow-
ments of the regular orders with which he was most
conversant, while he was on terms of the closest
friendship and respect with many of the seculars
with whom he was thrown — notably with Father
O'Connell, the priest in Lymington, with whom his
relations were always intimate and cordial. More-
over his most severe attacks upon the priests were
as often as not prompted by a rather mischievous
humour which led him to delig^ht in shockinor those
who adopted the benighted view that priests should
be generally regarded as immaculate. Such ideas
were to him derogatory to the due appreciation of
their sacramental powers, which, as we have seen,
were in his view, quite uncompromised by moral
defect. And further allowance has also to be made
for the habit of over-statement with a humorous
intention, elsewhere alluded to, which could only be
detected by those who knew him well, not always
perhaps even by them. As an amusing example of
this vein I may record a conversation which took
place at my house, I think the very last time that he
was staying with me. A friend, a member of his
own Communion, who, as he thought, held the "im-
maculate" view in unaccountable though blissful
ignorance, called on him. After a few preliminaries
the visitor remarked :

V. Weren't you surprised, Mr. Patmore, to hear

of Church being burnt ? I can't imagine how

it could have happened.

P. I know very well how it happened.

V. Oh, I do so wish you'd tell me how.

P. The priests burnt it.

V. Why, what on earth should they have done
that for ?


P. To get the insurance money.

After this a dead pause, then :

V. Weren't you sorry to hear that Father

was dead ?

P. No, I was very glad.

The visitor, a much younger man, naturally took
refuge in silence.

This was one of several occasions on which, in
similar company, Patmore gave the reins to an abuse
which was partly inspired by mischievous humour,
partly by the more serious purpose of indicating that
he must indeed be a weak-kneed " Catholic " who
could not endure to hear the truth — whose faith in
the efficacy of the priesthood was not confirmed
rather than weakened by a knowledge of its tendency
to ethical defect.

In a similar vein he, accepting loyally the doctrine
of Papal infallibility, though by no means in the
sense of its most Ultramontane exponents, felt it
quite unnecessary to attach any special importance
to the casual utterances of the Supreme Pontiff,
which, as he once said to me, were " merely personal
opinions of an amiable old gentleman, by which I
am in no degree bound."

Of Cardinal Manning he had formed a very un-
favourable opinion both as to intellect and character,
and this he used to express in no measured terms. ^
He considered him to be " as ignorant as a child in
matters of philosophy, although his attitude on such

^ After the Cardinal's death, he writes to Woolner, "Poor
Cardinal ! It is wonderful how he imposed on mankind by the
third century look of him and his infinite muddle-headedness,
which passed for mystery. I knew him well, and am convinced
that he was the very minutest soul that ever buzzed in so high a
place. He was a good man according to his capacity ; but he
hated all whom he suspected of being able to take his measure ;
and latterly I was not at all in his good books."


questions was always arrogantly dogmatic." He de-
tested his policy in ecclesiastical affairs, maintaining
that he had, by his narrow and jealous opposition
to Cardinal Newman's schemes and by his attitude
generally, " put back Catholicism in England a hun-
dred years." He believed him to be constantly on
the watch for any development of strength and
originality on the part of the clergy, with a view
to suppressing it, and to employ for the purpose a
whole army of spies who were to co-operate with
him in this endeavour. He hated the teetotal and
anti-tobacco crusade on which the Cardinal em-
barked, and was no less opposed to the socialistic
tendencies which he developed in later life. Equally
did he condemn the methods of proselytism which
he believed Manning to pursue and encourage.
These he held to be unscrupulous and little cal-
culated to add "real Catholics" to the Church. If
I mentioned to him any proselytizing argument
which I had heard used by others, and which seemed
to be exceptionally futile and absurd, he would
usually remark, "Do you know, I have heard
Manning employ that very argument." It was
abundantly clear that, on all questions of philosophy,
religion, and Church policy, the two were in as com-
pletely opposite camps as was possible within the
limits of the same Church.

Nor was Patmore's opinion of Manning's char-
acter any more favourable. He utterly refused to
give him credit for candour and integrity. One
example of such defect, which I have heard him
over and over again relate, and in the presence of
all sorts of people, was as follows. Mary Patmore,
his second wife, had been for many years before and
after her marriage in constant correspondence with
Manning. After her death, thinking that the Cardinal
might like to possess some few of his letters to her


as a memorial, Patmore sent him (as he believed) the
whole packet of them, asking him to select a few for
himself, and return the rest ; adding at the same time
that he had not read them. The Cardinal replied
that he kept them all, as they had been written in
religious confidence, and were all, as it were, covered
by the seal of confession. " Now," said Patmore,
" I had said with perfect truth that I had not read
them. But my wife had been used to read extracts
to me in the evenings, and I knew therefore that
the bulk of them were concerned with all sorts of
secular matters, and that, in the main, they had
nothing to do with religion directly or indirectly."^

In his characteristic attitude of a "good hater" he
revelled in stories at Manning's expense, of which I
recall the following. Some priest, who objected to
the Cardinal's policy, had said, " The greatest ca-
lamity that ever befell the diocese of Westminster
was Mrs. Manning's death," meaning that, had she
lived, Manning's career in the Church would have
been rendered impossible. This was reported to
the Cardinal, who sent for the priest, and said, " I

hear Father that you said you were sorry my

wife died." " And weren't you ? " was the answer.^

* That the general character of these letters was such as Patmore
described does not rest on his mere statement. In sending what
he believed to be the complete series, he omitted a packet which
had been mislaid. This was discovered more than two years after
his death. The letters are obviously fair samples, showing no
sign of selection as to date or subject. They are the letters of an
intimate friend who shares his correspondent's interests in many
matters secular and religious. Very few justify retention on any
ground, or give validity to Cardinal Manning's pretext. One or
two letters written to Mary Patmore after her marriage give advice
on purely mundane matters, which, as addressed to his wife, Pat-
more might justly have considered officious.

^ The same story is told in a somewhat different form in Purcell's
" Life of Manning," (p. 310, footnote) :

" One of the base coins which passed into currency was this :


Patmore did not read Mr. Purcell's " Life of
Manning," saying, when asked if he had done so,
that he had no need to, — that he had known the
subject of the memoir for thirty years, and that his
opinion of him had never wavered.

It may be noted that in this, as in other instances,
Patmore's opinions as given verbally were uncompro-
mising and trenchant. In conversation he habitually
expressed himself in words which exceeded rather
than fell short of his actual sentiments. When he
came to write, he usually made a conscientious effort
to arrive at a more judicial view of his subject, and
occasionally leant even too far towards the aspect of
of the case which was opposed to his spontaneous
sentiments. Nor would it be fair to ig-nore certain
personal circumstances which may have conduced to
the harsh judgment which he pronounced on the
Cardinal. There is no doubt that he had resented
the proselytistic raids which had been made on him
and his first wife. He would have been exception-
ally recalcitrant against such enterprises, and have
regarded them as impertinence. There may too
have been other circumstances of a personal kind
which tended equally towards prejudice. But how-
ever much his expressions need discounting on such
grounds as these, it is certain that he was strenuously
opposed to Manning, not merely on questions which
were to him of vital import, but also in temperament
and character.

' Newman's conversion is the greatest calamity which has befallen
the Catholic Church in our day.' In reply came the famous retort,
attributed at the time to Canon MacmuUen, 'No; the greatest
calamity to the Church in our day -was the death of a woman ' (Mrs.

Online LibraryBasil ChampneysMemoirs and correspondence of Coventry Patmore (Volume 2) → online text (page 3 of 36)