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Friday, August 18, 2017
Date Posted:

The Origins Of The Tablet And The Irish Connection

The Enslavement of a Nation: the Romanising of Ireland
Dr Clive Gillis

In 1950 Cardinal Griffin, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, wrote a preface to a collection of essays on “the growth of the Catholic Church in England and Wales during the last hundred years”. The publication marked the centenary of the re‑establishment of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England in 1850. This involved the setting up of wholly illegal Roman Catholic parishes, dioceses and Archdioceses ‑ an act known as the ‘Papal Aggression’.

Griffin said, “so many sided are the activities of the Catholic Church is this country it was essential that each aspect should be trusted to a writer well versed in that particular sphere”.  The essays cover the whole gamut of Rome's tactics. One of these was the setting up of a dedicated RC press. The chapter headed The Catholic Press describes the origins of the Dublin Review whose foundation is generally attributed to (Cardinal) Wiseman and Daniel O’Connell”

Cardinal Wiseman

We must be clear that the Dublin Review was Cardinal Wiseman’s “pet child”. Despite its name and green cover Wiseman established the Dublin Review as a distinctly English journal”. It was to rival the Protestant Edinburgh Review. Wiseman saw it was necessary to rein in O’Connell and the Irish faction and, “from the first ... stipulated that there were to be no extremes in politics”. Wiseman sought therefore to bring in as much material as possible from Rome via the English College there. This left an unfulfilled need amongst RC activists.

As a result, the Dublin Review soon had a rival, The Tablet. The first issue appeared on May 16th 1840 and ranked “next in seniority” to the Dublin Review. Frederick Lucas was the founder of The Tablet which was destined for a colourful existence only terminated by Lucas' premature death.

Frederick Lucas detested

Frederick Lucas was born in 1812 of a Quaker family. He attended the newly opened University of London to train as a barrister. “Even at that early age ... when he began to speak he at once commanded attention ... and had learned to express original views in fluent and forcible language.” He attracted Rome’s attention during the political ferment associated with the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829 and the Great Reform Bill of 1832.

Jesuit Lythgoe

Jesuit Fr. Lythgoe was operating behind the scenes when Thomas Anstey, a new RC convert and member of the Middle Temple, was working on Lucas. After two years Anstey was to see Lucas receive by Rome as a convert in December 1838. Lucas then converted his fiancě in a week and issued a persuasive to other Quakers on the reasonableness of his conversion. The Jesuit sowed in Lucas mind the idea of launching a new journal, arguing that the Dublin Review was only a quarterly and the day demanded a weekly.

Lucas wrote the majority of the articles. Messrs. Keasley, rich Roman Catholic leather merchants, put up the money. The “masthead” text was a quote from the Irish political theorist Edmund Burke: “My errors if any are my own. I have no man’s proxy.”

The Irish question

Riethmuller points out that, “While he [Lucas] was inferior to none in his zeal for his new faith; his acquaintance with Protestant feelings and modes of thought would of course be an advantage when dealing with questions of the day”.  And Ireland was one such question.  The front page article of Lucas’ first issue fired the warning shot: “On the subject of Irish politics it is difficult to speak with moderation . .. the demand for repeal [is] most natural for a people governed so unwisely and unjustly”.  The sole letter in the correspondence section was from O’Connell.  He wrote, “I am rejoiced to find the Catholics of Great Britain and Ireland have at length in London an organ to communicate to the public facts of importance .. . I intend to avail myself of this channel of communication.”

At six pence, The Tablet was too expensive for Irish immigrants and its content repelled “old Catholics”.  Hence The Tablet was aimed at new converts.  Lucas took to sniping at the “old Catholics” as “a corrupt heap of religious indifference”.  But the list of subscribers grew nevertheless.  Encouraged, Lucas allied himself more closely with O’Connell. Suddenly the Keasley leather business failed and they pulled out. The Tablet was soon in financial trouble “which almost caused its death”.  Cox bought out Messrs Keasley and secured Lucas with a share of the profits.  But Lucas proved impossible to work with and the early growth in subscriptions faltered. Lucas fell out with Cox and sacked him! Cox naturally regarded himself legally the proprietor.

A humorous episode

A humorous episode ensued when Cox broke into Lucas’ room on the first floor of the paper’s premises at 2 am, accompanied by his solicitor, using a ladder and burglar’s implements.   The aim was to take charge of the list of subscribers.  The list was not in Lucas’ room which was locked, necessitating more breaking and entering throughout the building until the list was located.  “When Lucas arrived in the morning ... he was extremely angry.  In order to defend his own papers and property he obtained the services of several stalwart Irishmen” who had no difficulty in deterring Cox from further entry. The outcome was that Lucas produced The True Tablet from this address and Cox The Tablet ‑ dubbed by Lucas the “Protestant Tablet” ‑ from another premises.  But the two journals could not both flourish. O’Connell backed Lucas.  Financial gifts poured in from pro‑Irish sympathisers at home and abroad.  Ultimately Lucas and his paper prevailed and Cox withdrew.  This was despite the backing of Wiseman and the “old Catholics” who now detested Lucas.

Lucas’ pro‑Irishness became an obsession. He began visiting Ireland leaving Anstey in charge. He took Wiseman and the RC hierarchy to task in print, making them bitter opponents.  He then fell out with Anstey, by now in Parliament, over not sufficiently pushing Rome’s interests in the Charitable Trusts Act.  Lucas impulsively removed himself and The Tablet to Ireland.  Not a man to “do things by halves,” he underwent a “second conversion” and “became more Irish than the Irish themselves”.  On his departure, he warned his English opponents, “Those who think that my departure leaves an opening for some cowardly, truckling, time serving hack,” to, “betray the (RC) Church,” such, “are respectfully informed ... if I can make good my footing in Dublin I will undertake to keep the field as clear of those peddlers and their packs as ever I have been able to do in London”.  He did make good The Tablet’s footing in Dublin..  Subscriptions rose to a new high and it became a barometer of Irish unrest now quoted by the respectable English press.  It was this Irish move rather than the bust up with Cox which ensured The Tablet’s future survival.

Inciting the priesthood

Lucas not only used The Tablet to attack the British government but also to incite the Irish priesthood to political activity.  Protected by the Irish sea, he drove a wedge between Irish and English RC hierarchies.  The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was goaded into describing The Tablet as “one of the most offensive and virulent newspapers in Europe”.  The Irish priesthood, having been courted by Lucas, were instrumental in seeing him become MP for Meath in 1852. Regular readers will recall that Pius IX’s a hand‑picked romaniser, Archbishop Cullen. arrived in 1850, and yes, their paths crossed.  Cullen was dedicated to suppressing priestly political activity knowing that it would only promote Irish Republicanism, whereas he was determined to introduce the rule of Rome.

Lucas falls out with Cullen and the Pope

Cullen and Lucas actually started as allies but were soon engaged in a battle royal over priests in politics and kindred issues.  This only increased the influence of The Tablet.  An expert writes, “to Cullen the purpose of independent politics was to remedy Catholic grievances ... most immediate in education,” but, “to Lucas the critical issues were religious equality and tenant right.  Cullen’s politics were religious and Catholic ... Lucas’ were ... national .. . Cullen’s appreciation and understanding of the mind of Rome was his greatest asset in that struggle”.  When the difference over priests in politics between Cullen and Lucas became outrageously acute, Lucas, “not doing things by halves”, set off to Rome, breathless and with dropsy, to lobby Plus IX personally, unaware that the pope and Cutler were hand in glove.  His case for Irish priests involvement in politics occupies two third of volume II in his brother’s biography of Lucas, but Pius IX was unmoved.

Tablet becomes English

Lucas came away to die with the Pope’s admonition ringing in his ears “I am afraid the editor of The Tablet sometimes exceeds the bounds of patience and escapes from the kingdom of moderation into that of impatience”.  Lucas’ heart failure lead to his untimely death, “attended by Jesuits”, during a visit to England in 1855.  Following his death, another RC convert and lawyer, this time from the oxford movement, travelled to Dublin to purchase The Tablet.  For John Wallis The Tablet was now an institution and a safe investment.  Wallis took it back to London.  Promising to change nothing, he “soon changed everything”.  Walks purged the publication of all traces of Lucas’ pro‑Irish radicalism and made it acceptable to the English RC hierarchy.  Its Irish beginnings were soon forgotten.

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