Saturday, 8 November 2014

The Life Of Fr John Gerard S.J. (A Hunted Priest) Part 41.


Before we close this subject, we think it desirable to answer in detail two particular accusations that have been brought against Father Gerard's veracity by a modern writer. Canon Tierney says: 1 "To show how very little reliance can be placed on the asseverations of Gerard when employed in his own vindication, it is only right to observe that, referring to this transaction" [the Communion of the conspirators after their oath of secrecy] " in his manuscript narrative, he first boldly and very properly asserts, on the authority of Winter's confession, that the priest who administered the Sacrament was not privy to the designs of the conspirators; and then ignorant of Fawkes' declaration which had not been published, and supposing that his name had not transpired, as that of the clergyman who had officiated upon the occasion, he returns at once to the artifice which I have elsewhere noticed, of substituting a third person as the narrator, and solemnly protests on his salvation that he knows not the priest from whom Catesby and his associates received the Communion !"

Dr. Lingard also says simply that the Communion was received by the conspirators "from the hand of the Jesuit missionary Father Gerard," 2 apparently unconscious that he had ever denied it.

We have little doubt that the house in which the oath of secrecy was taken and holy Communion received, was really Father Gerard's house. The "house in the fields behind St. Clement's Inn," as Fawkes calls it; " behind St. Clement's," as it appears in Winter's confession, seems to be the house described by Father Gerard as that which he occupied up to the time of the Powder Plot, " nearer the principal street in London, called the Strand," 3 in which street most of his friends lived. But he was not the only priest that lived in that house. At least two other priests 4 resided habitually with him. One was Father Strange, who was in the Tower when the Autobiography was written; the other, whose name he does not give, " was thrown into Bridewell, and was afterwards banished, together with other priests." Then there was also Thomas Laithwaite, 5 a priest, who afterwards became a Jesuit, who frequented the house if he did not live there. Father Gerard says, " There I should long have remained, free from all peril or even suspicion, if some friends of mine, while I was absent from London, had not availed themselves of the house rather rashly." What meaning can this have but that Catholics were allowed, in Father Gerard's absence, to come to the house to receive the Sacraments, so freely that it became widely known that it was his house ?

Immediately after binding themselves by oath to secrecy, the minds of the conspirators must have been preoccupied with the thoughts of the tremendous undertaking to which they had just pledged themselves; and it is very unlikely that mention should be made, in subsequent conversation among them, of the name of the priest, whom they had only seen at the altar, especially as he "was not acquainted with their purpose."6 The only two conspirators who mention Father Gerard's name are Fawkes and Thomas Winter. Fawkes was a stranger, who had "spent most of his time in the wars of Flanders, which is the cause that he was less known here in England. " We have no trace of any personal intercourse between Thomas Winter and Father Gerard. What can have been more natural than that they should have been told to meet at Father Gerard's house, and that those who did not know him by sight should have concluded that it was Father Gerard's Mass that they heard ? It surely is more probable that they should have been mistaken in a name than that Father Gerard should have been guilty of perjury in contradicting, from a place of safety, that which was no accusation against him, but a harmless statement that, in ignorance of the oath taken, he had given Communion to certain Catholics.

Fawkes' confession was extorted by torture. King James had given orders, " The gentler tortours are to be first usid unto him, et sic per gradus ad ima tenditur, and so God speede your goode work." 8 Fawkes was under none of the "gentler tortures " when in a tremulous hand he wrote " Guido" on that declaration. "The prisoner is supposed to have fainted before completing" 9 the signature. Before the words exculpating Father Gerard from all knowledge of the conspirators' purpose, the word Huciisque appears in the handwriting of Sir Edward Coke, who has underlined the sentence in red. The ideas of justice of this great lawyer permitted him to publish the mention there made of Father Gerard's name, and to suppress the statement of his innocence. There is also a red line drawn beneath the following words in Thomas Winter's examination : " But Gerard knew not of the provision of the powder, to his knowledge."10

The second accusation brought by the same writer, 11 is couched as follows: " Relying upon the fidelity of Gerard, who declares upon his conscience, that he has ' set down Father Garnet's words truly and sincerely as they lie in his letter.' Dr. Lingard has printed what is given by that writer, and from it has argued, with Greenway, that Garnet on the 4th of October, the date assigned to it both by Gerard and Greenway, was still ignorant of the nature of the Plot. The truth, however, is, that although the letter was written on the fourth, the postscript was not added until the twenty-first of October; that from this postscript the two Jesuit writers have selected a sentence, which they have transferred to the body of the letter; and then, concealing both the existence of the postscript and the date of the 21st, have represented the whole as written and dispatched on the 4th. The motive for this proceeding, especially on the part of Greenway, is obvious. That writer's argument is, that the Parliament had been summoned to meet on the 3rd of October, that Garnet had not heard of the intention to prorogue it to the following month (this, to say the least, is very improbable); that, for anything he could have known to the contrary, the great blow had already been struck, at the very time when he was writing ; and, consequently, that, had he been acquainted with the intention of Catesby and his confederates, he would never, at such a moment, have thought of proceeding, as he says he was about to proceed, towards London, and thus exposing himself to the almost inevitable danger of falling into the hands of his enemies. ^ . . Now the whole of this reasoning is founded on the assumption that the letter bore only the single date of the 4th. On the 21 st, the supposed danger of a journey to London no longer existed. At that period, too, Garnet, instead of proceeding towards the metropolis, had not only removed in the opposite direction, from Goathurst, in Buckinghamshire, to Harrowden, the seat of Lord Vaux, in Northamptonshire, but was also preparing to withdraw himself still further from the capital, and by the end of the month, was actually at Coughton, in the neighbourhood of Alcester. In fact, what was written on the 4th, he had practically contradicted on the 21st, and to have allowed any part of the letter, therefore, to carry this later date, would have been to supply the refutation of the very argument which it was intended to support. Hence the expedient to which this writer has had recourse. The postscript and its date are carefully suppressed; and we are told that, looking at the contents of the letter, Garnet, when he wrote it, could have known nothing of the designs of the conspirators: 'Quando scrisse questa lettera, che fu alii quattro d'Ottobre, non sapeva niente del disegno di questi gentilhuomini, altro che il sospetto che prima havea havuto." 12 Without stopping to notice the falsehood contained in the concluding words of this sentence, and without intending to offer an opinion here, as to the principal question of Garnet's conduct, I may still remark that even the friends of that Jesuit universally admit him to have received the details of the plot from Greenway about the 21st; and that this fact alone may be regarded as supplying another and a sufficient motive both to the latter and to Gerard, for the suppression of that date."

This note by Canon Tierney produced its effect on Dr. Lingard, and that historian, in the edition of his work published in 1849, remarks upon the matter as follows. 13 "The object for which this letter was made up in the shape which it thus assumes in Gerard's MS., is plain from the reasoning which both he and Greenway found upon it. They contend that, if Garnet had been privy to the conspiracy, he must have believed on the 4th that the explosion had already taken place on the 3rd, the day on which the Parliament had been summoned to meet; though no reason is assigned why he might not, as well as others, have been aware of the prorogation to the 5th of November, and they add that, under such belief, he would never have resolved to encounter the dangers of making, as he proposed to do, a journey to London, though in fact he made no such journey, but changed his route, and was actually, at the time in which he wrote, on his way to the meeting appointed at Dunchurch. Hence it became necessary to suppress the postscript, because it was irreconcileable with such statements. There was, moreover, this benefit in the suppression, that it kept the reader in ignorance (1) of the real date of the letter, the 21st of October, the very time when it is admitted that Greenway made to Garnet a full disclosure of the Plot; and (2) that Garnet took that opportunity of blotting out a most important passage in the letter written on the 4th, with a promise to forward the same passage later in an epistle apart; two facts which would furnish strong presumptions against the alleged innocence of the Provincial."

One word in passing, in reply to the " two facts which would furnish strong presumptions against" Father Garnet's innocence. 1. Dr. Lingard has forgotten that " the full disclosure of the Plot" was made in confession, and that Father Garnet could make no use of it in any way, until the conjuncture arose when the penitent gave him leave. 2. It is true that a passage, written to Father Persons on the 4th of October, was erased by Father Garnet on the 21st; but what presumption does this furnish? The "promise to forward the same passage later in an epistle apart," could not mean that he would write him word of the Powder Plot when it was safe to do so. Is it likely that a conspirator would have written to his friend, with all the chances of a letter being intercepted, that they were proposing to blow up the Houses of Parliament ? What would he have gained even had he but risked a phrase as oracular as that of the letter to Lord Mounteagle? Such a supposition assumes that Father Garnet was not only guilty of the Plot, but that he had lost all common sense and ordinary caution ; and that he was indebted to the accidental return of his letter to his hands, seventeen days after he had written it, for an opportunity of destroying proof under his own hand that he was guilty.

If this consideration is not conclusive, we have but to refer to the context, as given from the original by Mr. Tierney himself, 14 and our sense of the ridiculous must settle the question. Father Garnet must have been the most erratic of letter-writers, if he could insert a reference to the Gunpowder Treason, or to any other treason, between two such subjects as the choice of Lay-brothers and his own want of money. The letter ends as follows.

"'I pray you send word how many Coadjutors [Jesuit Lay-brothers] you will have. I have one, a citizen of London, of very good experience, which may benefit us, in buying and selling without taxes. But he is fifty years old : and I think it not amiss to have, at the first, some ancient men for such. Send your will herein. '

"A short but separate paragraph of three lines is here carefully obliterated,

" ' I. am in wonderful distress, for want of the ordinary allowance from Joseph [Creswell, the Superior in Spain]. I pray you write for all the arrearages, which, if it may all be gotten, I can spare you some. Thus, with humble remembrance to Claud [Aquaviva, the General], Fabio, Perez, Duras, and the rest, I cease, 4° Octobris.'"

But let us address ourselves to the grave accusation made against Fathers Gerard and Greenway. That Dr. Lingard should have made such a statement at all is owing, first, to the fact that at the time when he was preparing the new edition of his History, he had no longer access to the manuscript of Father Gerard, of which he had had the use 15 when originally compiling his work. The reader of Father Gerard's Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot, which appeared in print in 1871, can speedily convince himself of this fact. And, secondly, to a misunderstanding of Canon Tierney's note, for which that writer's expressions are to blame. If it had been true, as Dr. Lingard understood Mr. Tierney to say, that Gerard and Greenway drew the same argument from the date of Father Garnet's letter, their conduct would have been entirely indefensible, and they would have deserved the blame brought against them.

The truth however is, and in this lies an ample defence for both the Jesuit Fathers, that this is not so. Father Gerard quotes Father Garnet's letter only and solely to illustrate the state of the Catholics in England. For this purpose, the date of the letter he was quoting was entirely unimportant. Indeed, he originally quoted the letter without any date; and then he interlined the date of Oct. 4th, but laying no more stress upon it than he had laid on the dates of the other letters of July 24th and August 28th. For the same reason it would not occur to him to note that the passage respecting Ireland was taken from a postscript. It was enough for him that he gave Father Garnet's very words, as he declared " upon his conscience " that he did; and that he had Father Garnet's authority for the account that he was giving of the condition and state of feeling of Catholics. When he turned to the letter for a date, it was natural enough that he should take that which was endorsed upon it by Father Persons, who, having erased the date of the 21st which he had originally written upon it, had substituted the 4th, and " in another corner of the paper also, where it appears most likely to catch the eye, inscribed the same date thus, '4°8 bris .'" 16 As there is no ground for blaming Father Persons for thus endorsing a single date on a letter which continued to bear two, so neither is it reasonable to blame Father Gerard for quoting the letter under one date only. It is clear, therefore, that there is no accusation whatever against Father Gerard, and if Father Greenway had not drawn from the date of the letter the argument regarding Father Garnet, none would ever have been made. It is gravely to be regretted that Mr. Tierney should have said that there was "a sufficient motive both to the latter and to Gerard for the suppression of that date." This expression evidently misled Dr. Lingard, and led him erroneously to speak of "the reasoning which both he [Gerard] and Greenway found upon it." Had Dr. Lingard not trusted to Mr. Tierney, but referred to Gerard's Narrative, he would have said of the whole charge that which he has said 17 of the alterations of names in the first part of the letter. Of this his expression is, " Had his object been only to present the public with an account of the persecution to which the English Catholics were at that moment subjected, there would not have been great cause to complain." This was his only object, 18 and therefore there was, in Dr. Lingard's judgment, no great cause to complain.

Father Greenway derived his information of the letter from Father Gerard's Narrative, of which he was translator. Whether the argument he has founded on the date of the letter has any and what force is not here under discussion, but it is evident that he propounded it in good faith. The original letter was in existence to confute him. If he had seen it or noticed the postscript and its date, he would never have exposed himself to such a confutation. He was misled, innocently enough, but seriously, by the manner in which the letter appeared in Father Gerard's pages which he was translating.

In a word, the accusation is this. Gerard and Greenway found an argument on the fact that a letter of Garnet's was dated the 4th of October, when they knew that it was in his hands on the 21st. And the answer is this. Gerard may have known, but had no need to notice, the fact of the double date, as he founded no argument whatever upon it: Greenway, who did found an argument on it, had no reason for suspecting the existence of a later date on the letter.

1 Dodd's Church History, ed. Tierney, vol. iv. p. 44, note.

2 History of England, ed. 1849, vol. vii. p. 44.

3 Supra, p. 360.

4 Supra p. 382.

Supra p. 386.

Fawkes' confession, T.R.O., Gunpowder Plot Book, n. 54.

Condition of Catholics, " Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot," p. 59.

8 In the King's own hand. P.R.O., Gunpowder Plot Book, n. 17.

9 Calendar 0f State Papers, by M. E. Green. James I. 1603—10, p. 247.

10 P.R.O., Gunpowder Plot Book, n. 164.

11 Dodd's Church History, by Tierney, vol. iv. p. cii.

12 Greenway's MS., 51 B.

13 Vol. viii. p. 543.

14 Tierney's Dodd, vol. iv. p. cv. The original letter is now in the archives of the See of Westminster.

15 Vol. iii. p. 37, note.

16 Tierney's Dodd, vol. iv. p. cvi.

17 Vol. vii. p. 542.

18 See Condition of Catholics, " Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot," p. 79.