Jesuits In Conflict: Or Historic Facts Illustrative of the labours of the English Mission and Province Of The Society Of Jesus. In the times of Queen Elizabeth and her successors. By a member Of The Society Of Jesus.
THOMAS POUNDE, OF BELMONT, S.J. Part VI.
|Lincoln's [Inn] hall|
Indescribable was the consolation of spirit in this holy cavalier of Christ, on receiving so great a favour, for which he had for so many years sighed. But at the same time his beloved Stephens had obtained another for himself in Rome; such an one that, to speak truly, says Father Bartoli, one knows not which of these two fortunate Englishmen most to envy in the lots fallen upon them from Heaven: Pounde his thirty years of imprisonment for the confession of the faith; or Stephens his forty years' labour for the propagation of the faith. Father Thomas Stephens was the first of our English members to beg with many entreaties of Father General Mercurianus, and before applying to his Paternity, to seek from God with many tears and much penance, the favour of being sent out to the East Indies.Having completed his course of philosophy, he was sent there, and arrived at Goa, after a six months' voyage, in September, 1580. There he commenced cultivating and increasing the small Christian community of Salsette, a peninsula near Goa. He was very near fructifying it with his blood, instead of his sweat, and sharing the fate of Father Ralph Acquaviva, and four others of the Society, who, two years later on, were martyred by the barbarous idolators in divers ways, in the same place, out of mere hatred of the faith. But it pleased God, for His own ends, to change for Stephens the short death by the sword for a long and hard apostolical labour of forty years, the space of time he spent in that onerous mission. So dear was he to the inhabitants, and so content to spend all his labours for the good of their souls, that he never asked for any better condition, nor for any change of place, neither did his Superiors venture, even for ever so short a space, to deprive Salsette of so profitable a labourer. He attained so great perfection in the Canary language, in use there, that he composed and published a grammar of it He afterwards wrote another of the Hindostanee language, which is a more refined one, and in use amongst the higher classes; this was a more accomplished work. In each language he composed and printed such useful books upon faith and Christian piety, that on festivals, after Mass, they always read them to the Catholics. He died full of years and merits at Goa, in 1619, in the seventieth year of his age, mourned and wept over by hfc dear Canarians out of the love they bore him as a Father, and his indefatigable care of their souls as an Apostle.
Let us now return to the object of this notice whose wonderful life may be said to have been a continual martyrdom of thirty years, rendered all the more bitter to him, inasmuch as he more ardently desired to end it at Tyburn, to which passage, indeed, he was a hundred times within an ace of arriving; but he was not destined to reach the goal by that last and noble course. But as they used to say of him, if martyrdom was wanting to him, he was not therefore wanting to martyrdom.
After their remand from Winchester to London, Pounde and his companions were divided amongst different prisons. He wrote several times to them. The following is one of the letters.
"I am very often questioned by Mr. Young. I have twice been examined before five or six commissioners. Once I was brought out before a great assembly of persons, loaded with fetters. And because I was thought to stand up for the truth more freely before those who did not wish to hear it, I was then remanded to Newgate. The gaoler, as though I was already a condemned criminal, tore off both my hat and cloak; but what was equally a source of regret to him, as it was to myself, he left my head safe upon my shoulders. 1 As I went along with uncovered head, and heavily ironed, the mob cried out Crucifige — 'Crucify him.' They liberally bestowed upon me the alms of the i widow of Newgate' (a certain kind of instrument of torture called the 'widow's mite'). I awaited the sentence of the judges from four o'clock till the afternoon, when I was suddenly summoned. My manacles and chains were taken off, and my hat and cloak restored. I was conducted to Lincoln's [Inn] hall (where I formerly lived when studying the law) here; five commissioners here waited for me, and amongst them was Topcliffe, the prefect of the examinations.
"They had it in command from the Queen to recall me from my course of life, either by threats or by blandishments; but all was in vain. They urged upon me that, if I would prove myself faithful to the Queen and her loving subject, it was necessary that I should disclose the names of those with whom I was accustomed to consort, and the places of resort.
I replied that I was ready to make oath both of my own, and of the fidelity of all of them. As to the rest, it was not the part of a good man and a Catholic, and one of my rank and education, and having regard also to conscience, to bring innocent and friendly men into danger by disclosing their names. Finding that they could gain nothing from me by their coaxing words, they remanded me back to my prison. After two days, Topcliffe (that most unrelenting persecutor of Catholics) came to me with the governor of the prison. They endeavoured to shake my constancy by every kind of means; but they accomplished nothing; they deplore my condition; this specially grieves them—but in which I greatly glory—the faith, and my imprisonment for the faith's sake.
"After they were departed came Young again, who asked me what Topcliffe had been doing with me? The man (truly urban and affable!) feared lest Topcliffe, severe and rough as he was, should have done anything rude towards me.
"With the most winning manner of voice, he endeavoured to coax me to betray my friends, and to disclose any secret which might, perhaps, serve his wicked ends. Finding that he could gain nothing from me, he urged me to write a letter to the Lord Chancellor, asking for favour. I did so, indeed, but in such a manner that they could get no handle against me, and with such effect that from thenceforth they cared less about me, deeming me an obstinate fellow, and of all Catholics the most dangerous to the public safety of the realm—that is, the most hostile to heresy. Therefore here I am, secluded from the company of all the rest, without hope of a freer custody, unless by chance I am summoned again to the next sessions of Newgate, to answer the charge of my duty to God and defence of the Catholic faith. This I have to warn you of, O my companions in chains! that you believe not any sinister reports about me; and I would exhort you, with all my heart, to that perseverance in the faith I desire for you. Farewell!"
1 Pounde never seems to have lost his natural playfulness of humour, in spite of all his great sufferings. We shall meet with several instances of it in the course of this narrative.