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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 34

VII. On the Home Policy of the Future

VII. On the Home Policy of the Future.

I could not, however, conclude these observations without anticipating and answering an inquiry they suggest. "Are they, then," it will be asked, "a recantation and a regret; and what are they meant to recommend as the policy of the future?" My reply shall be succinct and plain. Of what the Liberal party has accomplished, by word or deed, in establishing the full civil equality of Roman Catholics, I regret nothing, and I recant nothing.

It is certainly a political misfortune that, during the last thirty years, a Church so tainted in its views of civil obedience, and so unduly capable of changing its front and language after Emancipation from what it had been before, like an actor who has to perform several characters in one piece, should have acquired an extension of its hold upon the highest classes of this country. The conquests have been chiefly, as might have been expected, among women; but the number of male converts, or captives (as I might prefer to call them), has not been inconsiderable. There is no doubt, that every one of these secessions is in the nature of a considerable moral and social severance. The breadth of this gap varies, according to varieties of individual character. But it is too commonly a wide one. Too commonly, the spirit of the neophyte is expressed by the words which have become notorious: "a Catholic first, an Englishman afterwards." Words which properly convey no more than a truism; for every Christian must seek to place his religion even before his country in his inner heart. But very far from a truism in the sense in which we have been led to construe them. We take them to mean that the "convert" intends, in case of any conflict between the Queen and the Pope, to follow the Pope, and let the Queen shift for herself; which, happily, she can well do.

Usually, in this country, a movement in the highest class would raise a presumption of a similar movement in the mass. It is not so here. Humours have gone about that the proportion of members of the Papal Church to the population has increased, especially in England. But these rumours would seem to be confuted by authentic figures. The Roman Catholic Marriages, which supply a competent test, and which were 4.89 per cent, of the whole in 1854, and 4.62 per cent, in 1859, were 4 09 per cent, in 1869, and 4.02 per cent, in 1871.

There is something at the least abnormal in such a partial growth, taking effect as it does among the wealthy and noble, while the people cannot be charmed, by any incantation, into the Roman camp. The original Gospel was supposed to be meant especially for the poor; but the gospel of the nineteenth century from Rome courts another and less page 29 modest destination. If the Pope does not control more souls among us, he certainly controls more acres.

The severance, however, of a certain number of lords of the soil from those who till it, can be borne. And so I trust will in like manner be endured the new and very real "aggression" of the principles promulgated by Papal authority, whether they are or are not loyally disclaimed. In this matter each man is his own judge and his own guide: I can speak for myself. I am no longer able to say, as I would have said before 1870, "There is nothing in the necessary belief of the Roman Catholic which can appear to impeach his full civil title; for, whatsoever be the follies of ecclesiastical power in his Church, his Church itself has not required of him, with binding authority, to assent to any principles inconsistent with his civil duty." That ground is now, for the present at least, cut from under my feet. What then is to be our course of policy hereafter? First let me say that as regards the great Imperial settlement, achieved by slow degrees, which has admitted men of all creeds subsisting among us to Parliament, that I conceive to be so determined beyond all doubt or question, as to have become one of the deep foundation-stones of the existing Constitution. But inasmuch as, short of this great charter of public liberty, and independently of all that has been done, there are pending matters of comparatively minor moment which have been, or may be, subjects of discussion, not without interest attaching to them, I can suppose a question to arise in the minds of some. My own views and intentions in the future are of the smallest significance. But, if the arguments I have here offered make it my duty to declare them, I say at once the future will be exactly as the past: in the little that depends on me, I shall be guided hereafter, as heretofore, by the rule of maintaining equal civil rights irrespectively of religious differences; and shall resist all attempts to exclude the members of the Roman Church from the benefit of that rule. Indeed I may say that I have already given conclusive indications of this view, by supporting in Parliament, as a Minister, since 1870, the repeal of the Ecclesiastical Titles Act, for what I think ample reasons. Not only because the time has not yet come when we can assume the consequences of the revolutionary measures of 1870 to have been thoroughly weighed and digested by all capable men in the Roman Communion. Not only because so great a numerical proportion are, as I have before observed, necessarily incapable of mastering, and forming their personal judgment upon, the case. Quite irrespectively even of these considerations, I hold that our onward even course should not be changed by follies, the consequences of which, if the worst come to the worst, this country will have alike the power and, in case of need, the will to control. The State will, I trust, be ever careful to leave the domain of religious conscience free, and yet to keep it to its own domain; and to allow neither private caprice nor, above all, foreign arrogance to dictate to it in the discharge of its proper office. "England expects every man to do his duty;" and none can be so well prepared under all circumstances to exact its performance as that Liberal party, which has done the work of justice alike for Nonconformists and for Papal page 30 dissidents, and whose members have so often, for the sake of that work, hazarded their credit with the markedly Protestant constituencies of the country. Strong the State of the United Kingdom has always been in material strength; and its moral panoply is now, we may hope, pretty complete.

It is not then for the dignity of the Crown and people of the United Kingdom to be diverted from a path which they have deliberately chosen, and which it does not rest with all the myrmidons of the Apostolic Chamber either openly to obstruct, or secretly to undermine. It is rightfully to be expected, it is greatly to be desired, that the Roman Catholics of this country should do in the Nineteenth century what their forefathers of England, except a handful of emissaries, did in the Sixteenth, when they were marshalled in resistance to the Armada, and in the Seventeenth when, in despite of the Papal Chair, they sat in the House of Lords under the Oath of Allegiance. That which we are entitled to desire, we are entitled also to expect; indeed, to say we did not expect it, would, in my judgment, be the true way of conveying an "insult" to those concerned. In this expectation we may be partially disappointed. Should those to whom I appeal, thus unhappily come to bear witness in their own persons to the decay of sound, manly, true life in their Church, it will be their loss more than ours. The inhabitants of these Islands, as a whole, are stable, though sometimes credulous and excitable; resolute, though sometimes boastful: and a strongheaded and soundhearted race will not be hindered, either by latent or by avowed dissents, due to the foreign influence of a caste, from the accomplishment of its mission in the world.