Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 81

The ecclesiastical incident mentioned at the dinner described in our last chapter, produced a considerable effect in what is called society. Nigel Penruddock had obtained great celebrity as a preacher, while his extreme doctrines and practices had alike amazed, fascinated, and alarmed a large portion of the public. For some time he had withdrawn from the popular gaze, but his individuality was too strong to be easily forgotten, even if occasional paragraphs as to his views and conduct, published, contradicted, and reiterated, were not sufficient to sustain, and even stimulate, curiosity. That he was about to return to his native land, as the Legate of His Holiness, was an event which made many men look grave, and some female hearts flutter.

The memory of Lady Roehampton could not escape from the past, and she could not recall it and all the scenes at Hurstley without emotion; and Lady Montfort remembered with some pride and excitement, that the Legate of the Pope had been one of her heroes. It was evident that he had no wish to avoid his old acquaintances, for shortly after his arrival, and after he had assembled his suffragans, and instructed the clergy of his district, for dioceses did not then exist, Archbishop Penruddock, for so the Metropolitan of Tyre simply styled himself, called upon both these ladies.

His first visit was to Myra, and notwithstanding her disciplined self-control, her intense pride, and the deep and daring spirit which always secretly sustained her, she was nervous and agitated, but only in her boudoir. When she entered the saloon to welcome him, she seemed as calm as if she were going to an evening assembly.

Nigel was changed. Instead of that anxious and moody look which formerly marred the refined beauty of his countenance, his glance was calm and yet radiant. He was thinner, it might almost be said emaciated, which seemed to add height to his tall figure.

Lady Roehampton need not have been nervous about the interview, and the pain of its inevitable associations. Except one allusion at the end of his visit, when his Grace mentioned some petty grievance, of which he wished to relieve his clergy, and said, “I think I will consult your brother; being in the opposition, he will be less embarrassed than some of my friends in the government, or their supporters,” he never referred to the past. All he spoke of was the magnitude of his task, the immense but inspiring labours which awaited him, and his deep sense of his responsibility. Nothing but the Divine principle of the Church could sustain him. He was at one time hopeful that His Holiness might have thought the time ripe for the restoration of the national hierarchy, but it was decreed otherwise. Had it been accorded, no doubt it would have assisted him. A prelate in partibus is, in a certain sense, a stranger, whatever his duties, and the world is more willing when it is appealed to by one who has “a local habitation and a name;” he is identified with the people among whom he lives. There was much to do. The state of the Catholic poor in his own district was heartrending. He never could have conceived such misery, and that too under the shadow of the Abbey. The few schools which existed were wretched, and his first attention must be given to this capital deficiency. He trusted much to female aid. He meant to invite the great Catholic ladies to unite with him in a common labour of love. In this great centre of civilisation, and wealth, and power, there was need of the spirit of a St. Ursula.

No one seemed more pleased by the return of Archbishop Penruddock than Lord Montfort. He appeared to be so deeply interested in his Grace’s mission, sought his society so often, treated him with such profound respect, almost ceremony, asked so many questions about what was happening at Rome, and what was going to be done here — that Nigel might have been pardoned if he did not despair of ultimately inducing Lord Montfort to return to the faith of his illustrious ancestors. And yet, all this time, Lord Montfort was only amusing himself; a new character was to him a new toy, and when he could not find one, he would dip into the “Memoirs of St. Simon.”

Instead of avoiding society, as was his wont in the old days, the Archbishop sought it. And there was nothing exclusive in his social habits; all classes and all creeds, all conditions and orders of men, were alike interesting to him; they were part of the mighty community, with all whose pursuits, and passions, and interests, and occupations he seemed to sympathise, but respecting which he had only one object — to bring them back once more to that imperial fold from which, in an hour of darkness and distraction, they had miserably wandered. The conversion of England was deeply engraven on the heart of Penruddock; it was his constant purpose, and his daily and nightly prayer.

So the Archbishop was seen everywhere, even at fashionable assemblies. He was a frequent guest at banquets which he never tasted, for he was a smiling ascetic, and though he seemed to be preaching or celebrating high mass in every part of the metropolis, organising schools, establishing convents, and building cathedrals, he could find time to move philanthropic resolutions at middle-class meetings, attend learned associations, and even occasionally send a paper to the Royal Society.

The person who fell most under the influence of the archbishop was Waldershare. He was fairly captivated by him. Nothing would satisfy Waldershare till he had brought the archbishop and Prince Florestan together. “You are a Roman Catholic prince, sir,” he would say. “It is absolute folly to forego such a source of influence and power as the Roman Catholic Church. Here is your man; a man made for the occasion, a man who may be pope. Come to an understanding with him, and I believe you will regain your throne in a year.”

“But, my dear Waldershare, it is very true I am a Roman Catholic, but I am also the head of the Liberal party in my country, and perhaps also on the continent of Europe, and they are not particularly affected to archbishops and popes.”

“Old-fashioned twaddle of the Liberal party,” exclaimed Waldershare. “There is more true democracy in the Roman Catholic Church than in all the secret societies of Europe.”

“There is something in that,” said the prince musingly, “and my friends are Roman Catholics, nominally Roman Catholics. If I were quite sure your man and the priests generally were nominally Roman Catholics, something might be done.”

“As for that,” said Waldershare, “sensible men are all of the same religion.”

“And pray what is that?” inquired the prince.

“Sensible men never tell.”

Perhaps there was no family which suited him more, and where the archbishop became more intimate, than the Neuchatels. He very much valued a visit to Hainault, and the miscellaneous and influential circles he met there — merchant princes, and great powers of Lombard Street and the Stock Exchange. The Governor of the Bank happened to be a high churchman, and listened to the archbishop with evident relish. Mrs. Neuchatel also acknowledged the spell of his society, and he quite agreed with her that people should be neither so poor nor so rich. She had long mused over plans of social amelioration, and her new ally was to teach her how to carry them into practice. As for Mr. Neuchatel, he was pleased that his wife was amused, and liked the archbishop as he liked all clever men. “You know,” he would say, “I am in favour of all churches, provided, my lord archbishop, they do not do anything very foolish. Eh? So I shall subscribe to your schools with great pleasure. We cannot have too many schools, even if they only keep young people from doing mischief.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19