Chapter 6. The Cardinalate, Rome, Home, &
the Last Resting-place

The Red Hat—Leo XIII's "my Cardinal"—Pusey's and
Döllinger's views—At Rednal: The Eternal YearsDeath—
The last resting-place—The judgment of some contemporaries

THE news of his impending elevation to the Cardinalate reached Newman at the Oratory early in 1879 by rumour; and in March a letter from Cardinal Manning, giving an all but official message to that effect from the Pope, put an end to the "suspense" he said he felt while the news seemed to be known to everybody, but to him had never been formally announced. His was not the attitude of St. Bonaventura, who looked up from washing dishes in the kitchen to tell the Pope's messengers to hang up the hat in the passage. It was no bauble to Newman, whose respect for authority was the mainspring of his Anglican as of his Catholic life, and gave a value, in his eyes, to a recognition from the Father of Christendom. It was a seal set upon his fidelity by Leo XIII, who was wont to refer to him affectionately as "my Cardinal." It closed controversies which, while they lasted, had been sometimes hot and always disturbing; vexed questions about an Oratorian establishment at Oxford; about the opportuneness of the Vatican Council's definition; about the dogmatism of Dr. Ward and the {119} Dublin Review; about Newman's general sympathy with Lord Acton and those other truth-loving writers in the suspected Rambler, to whom Abbot Gasquet has since rendered the justice that was their due. Moreover, it was a pledge of good will from a quarter which, by rewarding him so highly, practically imposed silence on the old opponents. "They are all on my side now," said the aged Cardinal with a smile: a smile which had no poor human triumphing in it, but an added indulgent sweetness.

Pusey, like other Anglican friends, did not quite understand how much the Hat meant, when he wrote to Newman to congratulate him on his having the offer and on his alleged refusal of it. Writing later, Pusey said: "His still life in the Oratory at Birmingham had been an ideal to me. However, dear Newman thought that it would have been ungrateful in him towards those who had been at the pains to obtain this honour for him, and he accepted it, though he himself preferred obscurity ... Nothing has or can come between my deep love for John Henry Newman." In truth the old, "still life in the Oratory" was not broken, when once the new Cardinal had been in Rome and received his hat, choosing Cor ad cor loquitur as his motto and St. George in Velabro as his titular church. It was the same still life, and the old retiring John Henry Newman; but it was the life crowned with the only glory he sought, the approbation of the living {120} Church: a glory which, like the "harrowing praise" in one of Coventry Patmore's heavenly Odes, humbles even while it exalts.

It remained for Dr. Döllinger to say that Newman's elevation showed that "his real views are not known at Rome," adding that "several of his works, had he written in French, Italian or Latin, would have found a place on the ‘Index.'" This opinion was printed and shown to Newman, who wrote: "It has pained me very much as manifesting a soreness and want of kindness for me which I did not at all suppose he felt. It makes one smile to suppose that Romans, of all men in the world, are wanting in acuteness, or that there are not quite enough men in the world who would be ready to convict me of heterodoxy if they could."

Back to Birmingham he came, after weariness in Rome, in July, 1879. "To come home again!" he said to the flock who gathered to meet him. "In that word ‘home' how much is included! I know well that there is a more heroic life than a home-life. We know St. Paul's touching words in which he says he is an outcast. We know, too, that our Blessed LORD had not where to lay His head. But the idea of home is consecrated to us by St. Philip, who made it the very essence of his religious institute. Therefore I do indeed feel pleasure in coming home again." A few visits of a few days' duration through the ten remaining and declining years were the only {121} absences from Edgbaston, except the stays at Rednal, the country-house of the Oratorians.

The end came at last quickly. There had been little illnesses; and the failure of strength was so apparent that it seemed as if a breath or a movement would extinguish the faint spark. On one of these days he asked some of the Fathers to come in and play or sing to him Father Faber's hymn of The Eternal Years. When they had done so once, he made them repeat it, and this several times. " Many people," he said, "speak well of my Lead, kindly Light, but this is far more beautiful. Mine is of a soul in darkness—this of the eternal light." Into that light he wakened up on Monday evening, August 11, 1890, in the ninetieth year of his age.

It was impossible on the day of the funeral—a day also of fruition—not to think of that other day at Littlemore, when he entered the fold on earth which is one with the fold in heaven. Above and between the solemn chants, I was haunted by the words which the dear voice of "A Young Convert" has said, and which older converts say in measure, on their day of reception into the Church:

Who knows what days I answer for today?
Giving the bud, I give the flower. I bow
This yet unfaded and a faded brow.
Bending these knees, and feeble knees, I pray.
Thoughts yet unripe in me I turn one way;
Give one repose to pain I know not now;
One leaven to joy that comes I guess not how.
I dedicate my fields when spring is grey.

O rash (I smile) to pledge my hidden wheat!
I fold today, at altars far apart,
Hands trembling with what toils? In their retreat
I sign my love to come, my folded art.
I light the tapers at my head and feet,
And lay the crucifix on this silent heart.

Well had John Henry Newman's forty-five years of Catholic life answered to the great act of the eighth of October, 1845. To the Catholic Church indeed he came, not in the bud, but in full flower of his maturity. At its altars how faithfully knelt the knees, at first firm, but at last feeble with the weight of ninety years! Nor was he once disappointed, during all those forty-five years, of the "repose" he had invoked at Littlemore for coming pain. At "altars far apart"—in London, in Rome, in Dublin, above all, at Birmingham—he had folded "hands trembling with what toils"; and in that safe shelter he had been surrounded by his dearest friends, and had practised the art of the penman in full perfection. And now, at last, were lighted those tapers at his head and feet; and now was that crucifix laid upon his silent heart. His life was one of an unbroken continuity of piety. The forty-five years since he first faced that final scene seemed now but a moment in the wonderful dream. The seal had been set on that October day for ever and ever, and no man could break it. By that day, eternity itself was tinged.

At Rednal he was laid to rest by loving hands. His grave he shares with Ambrose St. John, who {123} died in 1875, and in whose memory Newman planted the now spreading bed of St. John's wort down one side of the small enclosure. They loved each other in life; in death they are not divided. On either side is a grave—that of Father Edward Caswall, and that of Father J. Gordon. Two other graves were there: that of Robert Boland, who died while a novice; and that of a son of Father Pope—an Oratorian after the death of his wife. Thus, as is fitting in presence of the ashes of that human heart, do tender relationships cling like flowers to the grave of Newman.

Even the dust of a woman lies in that last resting-place of celibacy: Frances Wootten, widow of the Oxford doctor who attended the inmates of the monastery at Littlemore; she who had followed Newman, first into the Church, and then to Birmingham to be the Matron, the Vice-Mother, at the Oratory School. And other words shall leave him in association with women. He, who gave himself to none, belonged to all, becoming the tender father and helper to many of that sex which intimately entered into the life of a St. Paul by Damaris, of a St. Francis de Sales by Madame de Chantal. Among the flowers sent to Rednal were two wreaths, one of which bore the name of a woman who offered it "to the most dear memory of Cardinal Newman, who has been benefactor, guide and counsellor through life." Another garland came from the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, as "a tribute of respect {124} to a great Englishman, whose beauty of life shed its light of purity over his own century, but belongs to all ages."

To the dulled ears of some of his contemporaries the voice of Newman conveyed no message, his prose no music. Carlyle said his brain was that "of a medium-sized rabbit." To one Prime Minister he was an enigma, to another a blunderer, to a third a great soul astray. Lord John Russell spoke with the commonly accepted word in 1851 when he alluded in Parliament to "a person of great eminence, of great learning, of great talents, whom we all have to deplore as having left the Protestant Church—I mean Mr. Newman." Lord Beaconsfield lamented Newman's secession for the sake of the Young England Movement, which had much in common with the Oxford Movement, and which transformed political, as the other transformed religious, conventions. He spoke of it as a "blunder" and as dealing a blow under which, a quarter of a century later, the Anglican Church still reeled. Gladstone, alike by what Newman called his "deeply religious" mind and by his personal love for Oxford and personal association with Newman, spoke more understandingly. "Of this most remarkable man I must pause to speak a word. In my opinion his secession from the Church of England has never yet [1875] been estimated among us at anything like the full amount {125} of its calamitous importance. It has been said that the world does not know its greatest men; neither, I will add, is it aware of the power and weight carried by the words and by the acts of those among its greatest men, whom it does not know. The ecclesiastical historian will perhaps hereafter judge that this secession was a much greater event than even the partial secession of John Wesley, the only case of personal loss suffered by the Church of England since the Reformation that can be at all compared with it in magnitude."

Gladstone goes on to express a fear as to the influence which this exodus of Newman's from the Establishment may exert upon "the state of positive belief and the attitude and capacities of the religious mind of England. Of this, thirty years ago he had the leadership; an office of power from which none but himself could eject him. It has been his extraordinary, perhaps unexampled case, at a critical period first to give to the religious thought of his time and country the most powerful impulse which for a long time it had received from any individual; and then to be the main, though without doubt involuntary, cause of disorganizing it in a manner as remarkable, and breaking up its pieces into a multitude of not only severed but conflicting bands." History will offer no confirmation of this view. Newman will stand as a restorer, not a destroyer, of paths, even for those who did not follow him all along the road to Rome. Every year since he wrote it has left unfulfilled, has {126} even falsified, the prediction that was part perhaps of Mr. Gladstone's idiosyncrasy. It was his habit of mind to believe that those who parted from him were opening the floodgates. I heard him, in a conversation at the time of the Home Rule split, declare with energetic menace that Mr. Chamberlain's secession rendered powerless the hand—even Gladstone's own—which alone had kept in check the hordes of anarchy—he paused in his house at Buckingham Gate as though listening for the sound of their ominous approaching tread.

Another Prime Minister knelt in secrecy and silence by the coffin of Cardinal Newman in Birmingham; for that influence, so prevailing while he lived, extended in strength and in range after his death. And it has been the same with his writings. To them, among all the literature of the nineteenth century, John Morley, man of Letters and also minister of State, who approaches with no sympathy of convictions the theme treated, has assigned a priority for excellence of style. Despite petty faults of grammar or of collocation and sometimes a vagueness in the realization of imagery—little lapses to catch but not really distract the attention of the ever captious reviewer—the prose of Newman, by the common consent of fastidious critics, is one of the greater literary glories of the Victorian era. It will endure for ever; and Mr. Gladstone was a man of little faith in literature—of little faith in a Providence that overrules—if he did not feel in it the {127} power to carry its own majestic message long after the clash of current controversy dies down—"I want to make you anxious about your souls."

But it is with the name of a poet, the only one of the Victorian converts to the Church with a vision in literature transcending his own, that I shall end my list of the lovers of Newman—even as in a procession the greatest figure is the last:

Sweetly the light
Shines from the solitary peak at Edgbaston,

sang Coventry Patmore, who understood that even the polemical disputant had "peace in heart" if "wrath in hand," and that in his most trenchant moods he but displayed "the gold blazonries of love irate," never "the black flag of hate."

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