Why ignorance and prejudice are a dangerous mix – Cardinal Newman and the British Constitution

“I am happy to make known its odious and shocking mysteries, known to few Britons.”

Image: John Bull, from Wiki Commons CC

Editors’ Notes

Archbishop Fulton Sheen famously said:

“There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church – which is, of course, quite a different thing.”

This idea was also expressed in the nineteenth century by John Henry Newman, in his Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England. These lectures were delivered in response to an outburst of renewed anti-Catholic feeling, which followed the restoration of the episcopal hierarchy in England and Wales by Pope Pius IX in 1850.

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In order to illustrate the way in which the Church’s enemies used misunderstood phrases and axioms from her teaching to assail her, Newman invites his listeners to draw a comparison. He invites them to take something which all agreed was noble, good and beloved – the British Constitution – and imagine the similarly grotesque way in which it could be manhandled by those who were ignorant or of bad-will.

Following the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and our publication of an article on the British monarchy, the situation is reversed.

Some of the comments about Britain and the monarchy in the online Catholic world – however well-meaning – reveal grave misunderstandings of how the British Constitution operates.


For instance, one online commentator asserted that King Charles III is certainly going to persecute true Catholicism in the UK.

But for the Monarch to assume the power to persecute anyone would represent an entire revolution in the British Constitution. It is absurd to predict this with any kind of certainty.

Others have talked about the various wicked “laws” that have been passed, as if Royal Assent means that the Monarch personally initiated such laws, and in such a way that they can be considered the Monarch’s own laws and policies.

There are very important questions to be considered relating to the nature of the Monarch’s cooperation with evil through the granting of Royal Assent to evil laws, but this idea obscures the terms of the question. The real moral issues are rarely discussed, due to over-simplification and ignorance of the constitutional realities.

Still others have insisted that the House of Windsor is illegitimate, either because they are not Catholic, or because some other royal house is considered to be legitimate.

The first explanation assumes that headship of a natural society requires that one be a member of the supernatural society of the Church – something contradicted by the Church herself, in her teaching and in her practical recognition of the British Monarchy. The second explanation substitutes romantic sentiments for Catholic political doctrine and historical reality. And both of these explanations posit that the state has been headless for centuries – from which other absurd consequences might follow, such as that all subsequent laws have been invalid, due to the requirement of Royal Assent in our constitution.

We are all aware of the various problems, and under no illusions about how the British Monarchy has been used over the centuries. But these sorts of criticisms go beyond the real problems, and lack foundation in Catholic doctrine, historical fact and political reality.

It is fine not to know how our Constitution works, especially for those who do not live in the United Kingdom. But if one wishes to put forth opinions – especially in the context of receiving real-time donations from trusting listeners – one has a duty to know the facts and represent them correctly.


As so we may paraphrase Archbishop Sheen:

“There are not over a hundred people who hate the British Constitution and Monarchy. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the British Constitution and Monarchy — which is, of course, quite a different thing.”

However, in the interests of amusement rather than the explanation of our Constitution, we present Newman’s satire of how certain Protestants treat Catholic theology.

For clarity:

  • The “John Bull” in the piece refers to a sort of satirical personification of Britain from the 18th to 19th centuries, representing English liberty and common sense. He is comparable to “Uncle Sam.”
  • Blackstone” is a classic commentary on English law.
  • “Atheism” at the time was used in a similar way to “idolatry,” and was sometimes used in reference to Catholic beliefs, due to the idea that we ascribe prerogatives to the Roman Pontiff which are proper to God alone.
  • The various legal maxims that might sound extravagant have quite prosaic explanations.

Do not expect to understand all of the satire and legal terms here. That is part of the fun.

However – for anyone reading this satire and concluding that, as a natural institution, the British Constitution is a sacrilegious monstrosity – they should realise that they have become the raw material of Cardinal Newman’s joke!

Line breaks, headings and punctuation added for clarity.

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The Present Position of Catholics in England
John Henry Newman
pp 25-41
(UK readers)

I am tempted, before concluding, to go on to try whether something of a monster indictment, similarly frightful and similarly fantastical to that which is got up against Catholicism, might not be framed against some other institution or power, of parallel greatness and excellence, in its degree and place, to the communion of Rome.

For this purpose I will take the British Constitution, which is so specially the possession, and so deservedly the glory, of our own people; and in taking it I need hardly say, I take it for the very reason that it is so rightfully the object of our wonder and veneration.

I should be but a fool for my pains, if I laboured to prove it otherwise; it is one of the greatest of human works, as admirable in its own line, to take the productions of genius in very various departments, as the Pyramids, as the wall of China, as the paintings of Raffaelle, as the Apollo Belvidere, as the plays of Shakespeare, as the Newtonian theory, and as the exploits of Napoleon. It soars, in its majesty, far above the opinions of men, and will be a marvel, almost a portent, to the end of time; but for that very reason it is more to my purpose, when I would show you how even it, the British Constitution, would fare, when submitted to the intellect of Exeter Hall, and handled by practitioners, whose highest effort at dissection is to chop and to mangle.

The scene

I will suppose, then, a speaker, and an audience too, who never saw England, never saw a member of parliament, a policeman, a queen, or a London mob; who never read the English history, nor studied any one of our philosophers, jurists, moralists, or poets; but who has dipped into Blackstone and several English writers, and has picked up facts at third or fourth hand, and has got together a crude farrago of ideas, words, and instances, a little truth, a deal of falsehood, a deal of misrepresentation, a deal of nonsense, and a deal of invention.

[Text removed: Newman explains the plan of the Russian Czar to put down British ideas in Moscow by contriving a public rally in which the “Anglo-maniacs, or John-Bullists, as they are popularly termed” will be refuted. Ten thousand men assemble, and a Count who is a distinguished war veteran takes the podium.]

The Count begins his address

The Count began by observing that the events of every day, as it came, called on his countrymen more and more importunately to choose their side, and to make a firm stand against a perfidious power, which arrogantly proclaims that there is nothing like the British Constitution in the whole world, and that no country can prosper without it; which is yearly aggrandizing itself in East, West, and South, which is engaged in one enormous conspiracy against all States, and which was even aiming at modifying the old institutions of the North, and at dressing up the army, navy, legislature, and executive of his own country in the livery of Queen Victoria.

“Insular in situation,” he exclaimed, “and at the back gate of the world, what has John Bull to do with continental matters, or with the political traditions of our holy Russia?”

And yet there were men in that very city who were so far the dupes of insidious propagandists and insolent traitors to their emperor, as to maintain that England had been a civilized country longer than Russia. On the contrary, he maintained, and he would shed the last drop of his blood in maintaining, that, as for its boasted Constitution, it was a crazy, old-fashioned piece of furniture, and an eyesore in the nineteenth century, and would not last a dozen years.

He had the best information for saying so. He could understand those who had never crossed out of their island, listening to the songs about “Rule Britannia,” and “Rosbif,” and “Poor Jack,” and the “Old English Gentleman;” he understood and he pitied them, but that Russians, that the conquerors of Napoleon, that the heirs of a paternal government, should bow the knee, and kiss the hand, and walk backwards, and perform other antics before the face of a limited monarch, this was the incomprehensible foolery which certain Russians had viewed with so much tenderness. He repeated, there were in that city educated men, who had openly professed a reverence for the atheistical tenets and fiendish maxims of John-Bullism.

Here the speaker was interrupted by one or two murmurs of dissent, and a foreigner, supposed to be a partner in a Scotch firm, was observed in the extremity of the square, making earnest attempts to obtain a hearing.

He was put down, however, amid enthusiastic cheering, and the Count proceeded with a warmth of feeling which increased the effect of the terrible invective which followed.

Usurpation of divinity

He said he had used the words “atheistical” and “fiendish” most advisedly, and he would give his reasons for doing so.

What was to be said to any political power which claimed the attribute of Divinity? Was any term too strong for such a usurpation?

Now, no one would deny Antichrist would be such a power; an Antichrist was contemplated, was predicted in Scripture, it was to come in the last times, it was to grow slowly, it was to manifest itself warily and craftily, and then to have a mouth speaking great things against the Divinity and against His attributes. This prediction was most literally and exactly fulfilled in the British Constitution.

Antichrist was not only to usurp, but to profess to usurp the arms of heaven – he was to arrogate its titles. This was the special mark of the beast, and where was it fulfilled but in John-Bullism?


“I hold in my hand,” continued the speaker, “a book which I have obtained under very remarkable circumstances. It is not known to the British people, it is circulated only among the lawyers, merchants, and aristocracy, and its restrictive use is secured only by the most solemn oaths, the most fearful penalties, and the utmost vigilance of the police. I procured it after many years of anxious search by the activity of an agent, and the co-operation of an English bookseller, and it cost me an enormous sum to make it my own.

“It is called ‘Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England,’ and I am happy to make known to the universe its odious and shocking mysteries, known to few Britons, and certainly not known to the deluded persons whose vagaries have been the occasion of this meeting.

“I am sanguine in thinking that when they come to know the real tenets of John Bull, they will at once disown his doctrines with horror, and break off all connexion with his adherents.

“Now, I should say, gentlemen, that this book, while it is confined to certain classes, is of those classes, on the other hand, of judges, and lawyers, and privy councillors, and justices of the peace, and police magistrates, and clergy, and country gentlemen, the guide, and I may say, the gospel.”

Monstrous royal claims

“I open the book, gentlemen, and what are the first words which meet my eyes? ‘The King can do no wrong.’

“I beg you to attend, gentlemen, to this most significant assertion; one was accustomed to think that no child of man had the gift of impeccability; one had imagined that, simply speaking, impeccability was a divine attribute; but this British Bible, as I may call it, distinctly ascribes an absolute sinlessness to the King of Great Britain and Ireland. Observe, I am using no words of my own, I am still but quoting what meets my eyes in this remarkable document.

“The words run thus: ‘It is an axiom of the law of the land that the King himself can do no wrong.’ Was I wrong, then, in speaking of the atheistical maxims of John Bullism?

“But this is far from all: the writer goes on actually to ascribe to the Sovereign (I tremble while I pronounce the words) absolute perfection; for he speaks thus: ‘The law ascribes to the King in his political capacity ABSOLUTE PERFECTION; the King can do no wrong!’”

(Groans [of dismay from the listeners])

“One had thought that no human power could thus be described; but the British legislature, judicature, and jurisprudence, have had the unspeakable effrontery to impute to their crowned and sceptred idol, to their doll,”

(Here cries of “shame, shame,” from the same individual who had distinguished himself in an earlier part of the speech)

“… to this doll, this puppet whom they have dressed up with a lion and a unicorn, the attribute of ABSOLUTE PERFECTION!”

Unrest in the crowd

Here the individual who had several times interrupted the speaker sprung up, in spite of the efforts of persons about him to keep him down, and cried out, as far as his words could be collected –

“You cowardly liar, our dear good little Queen –”

– when he was immediately saluted with a cry of “Turn him out,” and soon made his exit from the meeting.

More monstrous royal claims

Order being restored, the Count continued:

“Gentlemen, I could wish you would have suffered this emissary of a foreign potentate –”

(Immense cheering)

“ – who is insidiously aiming at forming a political party among us, to have heard to the end that black catalogue of charges against his Sovereign, which as yet I have barely commenced.

“Gentlemen, I was saying that the Queen of England challenges the divine attribute of ABSOLUTE PERFECTION! but, as if this were not enough this Blackstone continues, ‘The King, moreover, is not only incapable of doing wrong, but even of thinking wrong!! he can never do an improper thing; in him is no FOLLY or WEAKNESS!!!'”

(Shudders and cheers from the vast assemblage, which lasted alternately some minutes.)

At the same time a respectably dressed gentleman below the platform begged permission to look at the book; it was immediately handed to him; after looking at the passages, he was observed to inspect carefully the title-page and binding; he then returned it without a word.

The Count, in resuming his speech, observed that he courted and challenged investigation, he should be happy to answer any question, and he hoped soon to publish, by subscription, a translation of the work, from which he had been quoting.

Then, resuming the subject where he had left it, he made some most forcible and impressive reflections on the miserable state of those multitudes, who, in spite of their skill in the mechanical arts, and their political energy, were in the leading-strings of so foul a superstition.

The passage he had quoted was the first and mildest of a series of blasphemies so prodigious, that he really feared to proceed, not only from disgust at the necessity of uttering them, but lest he should be taxing the faith of his hearers beyond what appeared reasonable limits.

Next, then, he drew attention to the point that the English Sovereign distinctly claimed, according to the same infamous work, to be the “fount of justice;” and, that there might be no mistake in the matter, the author declared, “that she is never bound in justice to do anything.”

What, then, is her method of acting?

Continues below.

Royal claims of divinity

Unwilling as he was to defile his lips with so profane a statement, he must tell them that this abominable writer coolly declared that the Queen, a woman, only did acts of reparation and restitution as a matter of grace!

He was not a theologian, he had spent his life in the field, but he knew enough of his religion to be able to say that grace was a word especially proper to the appointment and decrees of Divine Sovereignty. All hearers knew perfectly well that nature was one thing, grace another; and yet here was a poor child of clay claiming to be the fount, not only of justice, but of grace. She was making herself a first cause of not merely natural, but spiritual excellence, and doing nothing more or less than simply emancipating herself from her Maker.

The Queen, it seemed, never obeyed the law on compulsion, according to Blackstone; that is, her Maker could not compel her. This was no mere deduction of his own, as directly would be seen.

Parliamentary claims of divinity

Let it be observed, the Apostle called the predicted Antichrist “the wicked one,” or as it might be more correctly translated, “the lawless,” because he was to be the proud despiser of law; now, wonderful to say, this was the very assumption of the British Parliament. “The Power of Parliament,” said Sir Edward Coke, “is so transcendent and absolute, that it cannot be confined within any bounds!! It has sovereign and uncontrollable authority!!”

Moreover, the Judges had declared that “it is so high and mighty in its nature, that it may make law, and THAT WHICH IS LAW IT MAY MAKE NO LAW!” Here verily was the mouth speaking great things; but there was more behind, which, but for the atrocious sentiments he had already admitted into his mouth, he really should not have the courage, the endurance to utter.

It was sickening to the soul, and intellect, and feelings of a Russ, to form the words on his tongue, and the ideas in his imagination. He would say what must be said as quickly as he could, and without comment. The gallant speaker then delivered the following passage from Blackstone’s volume, in a very distinct and articulate whisper:

“Some have not scrupled to call its power – the OMNIPOTENCE of Parliament!”

No one can conceive the thrilling effect of these words; they were heard all over the immense assemblage; every man turned pale; a dead silence followed; one might have heard a pin drop. A pause of some minutes followed.

The speaker continued, evidently labouring under intense emotion:

“Have you not heard enough, my dear compatriots, of this hideous system of John-Bullism? was I wrong in using the words fiendish and atheistical when I entered upon this subject? and need I proceed further with blasphemous details, which cannot really add to the monstrous bearing of the passages I have already read to you?

“If the Queen ‘cannot do wrong,’ if she ‘cannot even think wrong,’ if she is ‘absolute perfection,’ if she has ‘no folly, no weakness,’ if she is the ‘fount of justice,’ if she is ‘the fount of grace,’ if she is simply ‘above law,’ if she is ‘omnipotent,’ what wonder that the lawyers of John-Bullism should also call her ‘sacred!’ what wonder that they should speak of her as ‘majesty!’ what wonder that they should speak of her as a ‘superior being!’

The Antichrist

“Here again I am using the words of the book I hold in my hand. ‘The people’ (my blood runs cold while I repeat them) ‘are led to consider their sovereign in the light of a SUPERIOR BEING.’ ‘Every one is under him,’ says Bracton, ‘and he is under no one.’ Accordingly, the law books call him ‘Vicarius Dei in terrâ,’ ‘the Vicar of God on earth;’ a most astonishing fulfilment, you observe, of the prophecy, for Antichrist is a Greek word, which means ‘Vicar of Christ.’

“What wonder under these circumstances, that Queen Elizabeth [I], assuming the attribute of the Creator, once said to one of her Bishops: ‘Proud Prelate, I made you, and I can unmake you!’

“What wonder that James the First had the brazen assurance to say, that ‘As it is atheism and blasphemy in a creature to dispute the Deity, so it is presumption and sedition in a subject to dispute a King in the height of his power!’

“Moreover, his subjects called him the ‘breath of their nostrils;’ and my Lord Clarendon, the present Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, in his celebrated History of the Rebellion, declares that the same haughty monarch actually on one occasion called himself ‘a god;’ and in his great legal digest, commonly called the ‘Constitutions of Clarendon,’ he gives us the whole account of the King’s banishing the Archbishop, St. Thomas of Canterbury, for refusing to do him homage.

“Lord Bacon, too, went nearly as far when he called him ‘Deaster quidam,’ ‘some sort of little god.’ Alexander Pope, too, calls Queen Anne a goddess: and Addison, with a servility only equalled by his profaneness, cries out, ‘Thee goddess, thee Britannia’s isle adores.’

“Nay, even at this very time, when public attention has been drawn to the subject, Queen Victoria causes herself to be represented on her coins as the goddess of the seas, with a pagan trident in her hand.

“Gentlemen, can it surprise you to be told, after such an exposition of the blasphemies of England, that, astonishing to say, Queen Victoria is distinctly pointed out in the Book of Revelation as having the number of the beast! You may recollect that number is 666; now, she came to the throne in the year thirty-seven, at which date she was eighteen years old. Multiply then 37 by 18, and you have the very number 666, which is the mystical emblem of the lawless King!!!

The wickedness of British Monarchs

“No wonder then, with such monstrous pretensions, and such awful auguries, that John-Bullism is, in act and deed, as savage and profligate, as in profession it is saintly and innocent. Its annals are marked with blood and corruption.

“The historian Hallam, though one of the ultra-bullist party, in his Constitutional History, admits that the English tribunals are ‘disgraced by the brutal manners and iniquitous partiality of the bench.’ ‘The general behaviour of the bench,’ he says elsewhere, ‘has covered it with infamy.’ Soon after, he tells us that the dominant faction inflicted on the High Church Clergy ‘the disgrace and remorse of perjury.’

“The English Kings have been the curse and shame of human nature. Richard the First boasted that the evil spirit was the father of his family; of Henry the Second St. Bernard said, ‘From the devil he came, and to the devil he will go;’ William the Second was killed by the enemy of man, to whom he had sold himself, while hunting in one of his forests; Henry the First died of eating lampreys; John died of eating peaches; Clarence, a king’s brother, was drowned in a butt of malmsey wine; Richard the Third put to death his Sovereign, his Sovereign’s son, his two brothers, his wife, two nephews, and half-a-dozen friends. Henry the Eighth successively married and murdered no less than six hundred women.”

The tyranny of British Kings and the wickedness of the British people

“I quote the words of the ‘Edinburgh Review,’ that, according to Hollinshed, no less than 70,000 persons died under the hand of the executioner in his reign.

Sir John Fortescue tells us that in his day there were more persons executed for robbery in England in one year, than in France in seven.

“Four hundred persons a year were executed in the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

“Even so late as the last century, in spite of the continued protests of foreign nations, in the course of seven years there were 428 capital convictions in London alone.

“Burning of children, too, is a favourite punishment with John Bull, as may be seen in this same Blackstone, who notices the burning of a girl of thirteen given by Sir Matthew Hale. The valets always assassinate their masters; lovers uniformly strangle their sweethearts; the farmers and the farmers’ wives universally beat their apprentices to death; and their lawyers in the inns of court strip and starve their servants, as has appeared from remarkable investigations in the law courts during the last year. Husbands sell their wives by public auction with a rope round their necks.

“An intelligent Frenchman, M. Pellet, who visited London in 1815, deposes that he saw a number of skulls on each side of the river Thames, and he was told they were found especially thick at the landing-places among the watermen.

“But why multiply instances, when the names of those two-legged tigers, Rush, Thistlewood, Thurtell, the Mannings, Colonel Kirk, Claverhouse, Simon de Monteforte, Strafford, the Duke of Cumberland, Warren Hastings, and Judge Jeffreys, are household words all over the earth?”

“John-Bullism, through a space of 800 years, is semper idem, unchangeable in evil. One hundred and sixty offences are punishable with death. It is death to live with gipsies for a month; and Lord Hale mentions thirteen persons as having, in his day, suffered death thereon at one assize. It is death to steal a sheep, death to rob a warren, death to steal a letter, death to steal a handkerchief, death to cut down a cherry-tree.

“And, after all, the excesses of John-Bullism at home are mere child’s play to the oceans of blood it has shed abroad. It has been the origin of all the wars which have desolated Europe; it has fomented national jealousy, and the antipathy of castes in every part of the world; it has plunged flourishing states into the abyss of revolution. The Crusades, the Sicilian Vespers, the wars of the Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War, the War of Succession, the Seven Years’ War, the American War, the French Revolution, all are simply owing to John-Bull ideas; and, to take one definite instance, in the course of the last war, the deaths of two millions of the human race lie at his door; for the Whigs themselves, from first to last, and down to this day, admit and proclaim, without any hesitation or limitation, that that war was simply and entirely the work of John-Bullism, and needed not, and would not have been, but for its influence, and its alone.

“Such is that ‘absolute perfection, without folly and without weakness,’ which, revelling in the blood of man, is still seeking out her victims, and scenting blood all over the earth. It is that woman Jezebel, who fulfils the prophetic vision, and incurs the prophetic denunciation.

“And, strange to say, a prophet of her own has not scrupled to apply to her that very appellation. Dead to good and evil, the children of Jezebel glory in the name; and ten years have not passed since, by a sort of infatuation, one of the very highest Tories in the land, a minister, too, of the established religion, hailed the blood-stained Monarchy under the very title of the mystical sorceress.

“Jezebel surely is her name, and Jezebel is her nature; for drunk with the spiritual wine-cup of wrath, and given over to believe a lie, at length she has ascended to heights which savour rather of madness than of pride; she babbles absurdities, and she thirsts for impossibilities.”

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More royal claims of divinity

“Gentlemen, I am speaking the words of sober seriousness; I can prove what I say to the letter; the extravagance is not in me but in the object of my denunciation.

“Once more I appeal to the awful volume I hold in my hands. I appeal to it, I open it, I cast it from me. Listen, then, once again; it is a fact; Jezebel has declared her own omnipresence. ‘A consequence of the royal prerogatives,’ says the antichristian author, ‘is the legal UBIQUITY of the King!’ ‘His Majesty is always present in all his courts: his judges are the mirror by which the King’s image is reflected;’ and further, ‘From this ubiquity‘ (you see he is far from shrinking from the word), ‘from this ubiquity it follows that the Sovereign can never be NONSUIT!!’

“Gentlemen, the sun would set before I told you one hundredth part of the enormity of this child of Moloch and Belial. Inebriated with the cup of insanity, and flung upon the stream of recklessness, she dashes down the cataract of nonsense, and whirls amid the pools of confusion. Like the Roman emperor, she actually has declared herself immortal! she has declared her eternity!

“Again, I am obliged to say it, these are no words of mine; the tremendous sentiment confronts me in black and crimson characters in this diabolical book. ‘In the law,’ says Blackstone, ‘the Sovereign is said never to die!’ Again, with still more hideous expressiveness, ‘The law ascribes to the Sovereign an ABSOLUTE IMMORTALITY. THE KING NEVER DIES.’

“And now, gentlemen, your destiny is in your own hands.”

The choice before you

“If you are willing to succumb to a power which has never been contented with what she was, but has been for centuries extending her conquests in both hemispheres, then the humble individual who has addressed you will submit to the necessary consequence; will resume his military dress, and return to the Caucasus –

“But if, on the other hand, as I believe, you are resolved to resist unflinchingly this flood of satanical imposture and foul ambition, and force it back into the ocean; if, not from hatred to the English – far from it – from love to them (for a distinction must ever be drawn between the nation and its dominant John-Bullism); if, I say, from love to them as brothers, from a generous determination to fight their battles, from an intimate consciousness that they are in their secret hearts Russians, that they are champing the bit of their iron lot, and are longing for you as their deliverers; if, from these lofty notions as well as from a burning patriotism, you will form the high resolve to annihilate this dishonour of humanity –

“If you loathe its sophisms, ‘De minimis non curat lex,’ and ‘Malitia supplet ætatem,’ and ‘Tres faciunt collegium,’ and ‘Impotentia excusat legem,’ and ‘Possession is nine parts of the law,’ and ‘The greater the truth, the greater the libel’ – principles which sap the very foundations of morals; if you wage war to the knife with its blighting superstitions of primogeniture, gavelkind, mortmain, and contingent remainders –

“If you detest, abhor, and abjure the tortuous maxims and perfidious provisions of its habeas corpusquare impedit, and qui tam –

(“Hear, hear!”)

“If you scorn the mummeries of its wigs, and bands, and coifs, and ermine –

(Vehement cheering)

“If you trample and spit upon its accursed fee simple and fee tail, villanage, and free soccage, fiefs, heriots, seizins, feuds –

(A burst of cheers, the whole meeting in commotion)

“Its shares, its premiums, its post-obits, its percentages, its tariffs, its broad and narrow gauge –”

Here the cheers became frantic, and drowned the speaker’s voice, and a most extraordinary scene of enthusiasm followed.

One half of the meeting was seen embracing the other half; till, as if by the force of a sudden resolution, they all poured out of the square, and proceeded to break the windows of all the British residents.

They then formed into procession, and directing their course to the great square before the Kremlin, they dragged through the mud, and then solemnly burnt, an effigy of John Bull which had been provided beforehand by the managing committee, a lion and unicorn, and a Queen Victoria.

These being fully consumed, they dispersed quietly; and by ten o’clock at night the streets were profoundly still, and the silver moon looked down in untroubled lustre on the city of the Czars.

Newman’s conclusion

Now, my Brothers of the Oratory, I protest to you my full conviction that I have not caricatured this parallel at all.

Were I, indeed, skilled in legal matters, I could have made it far more natural, plausible, and complete; but, as for its extravagance, I say deliberately, and have means of knowing what I say, having once been a Protestant, and being now a Catholic – knowing what is said and thought of Catholics, on the one hand, and, on the other, knowing what they really are – I deliberately assert that no absurdities contained in the above sketch can equal – nay, that no conceivable absurdities can surpass – the absurdities which are firmly believed of by sensible, kind-hearted, well-intentioned Protestants.

Such is the consequence of having looked at things all on one side, and shutting the eyes to the other.

Further Reading

John Henry Cardinal Newman – Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England (and for UK readers)

The WM Review – Why we are mourning Queen Elizabeth II’s death

Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (and for UK readers)

Sir John Fortescue’s On the Laws and Governance of England (and for UK readers), written in the fourteenth century, interprets the English Constiution in light of of the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas.


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