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Bryan King and the Riots at St. George's-in-the-East

By William Crouch

London: Methuen, [1904]

Preface by George W. E. Russell

I AM honoured by Mr. Crouch's request that I would contribute a few words of introduction to this interesting memoir of his father-in-law, Mr. Bryan King.

I do as I am asked; but I feel that the task might have been more suitably performed by someone who remembers those riots at St. George's-in-the-East which form the heart and pith of Mr. Crouch's narrative. At the time when they occurred I was six years old, and my early surroundings were such that, if any account of them had ever reached me, it must have come through those who were intensely hostile to all Mr. King's works and ways. I therefore approach the consideration of those events entirely free from any prejudice in favour of Mr. King; I read them as set forth in the public records and private correspondence of the time; and I find myself driven to the conclusion that they form one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of our civil and ecclesiastical government.

It would, I believe, be a complete mistake to suppose that the riots at St. George's in 1859 had [vii/viii] their origin in any form of religious zeal, however prejudiced and ill-instructed. The passion which provoked them was not Protestantism, but Blackguardism. [See "Thomas Hughes and Septimus Hansard," by J. M. Ludlow, C.B., in the Economic Review, July, 1896.] They were organised by the alien sweaters, who perceived that the gospel of Christ, if practically applied, must tend to emancipate those slaves of Labour on whose toil they lived; and by the local brothel-keepers, who, like Demetrius the Silversmith, were alarmed for the gains of their occupation. They were fomented by rich men of evil character at the West End of London, who, at least in some notorious instances, combined an ostentatious pietism in public with systematic profligacy in private life. The rioters were the very dregs of Wapping and Ratcliffe Highway. Incited and inflamed by their social and commercial superiors, they turned the church into a bear-garden, made worship impossible, and jeopardised the lives of the clergy. The Government tacitly, but most effectively, encouraged the rioters, and Dr. Tait, then Bishop of London, a good man who hated the Catholic revival, trampled on the defenceless clergy. The whole transaction was a capital object-lesson on those untold blessings which accrue to the Church of England through her union with the State!

I need not pursue the odious narrative in further detail. One version of it can be read in this memoir [viii/ix] of Mr. King, and a curiously different one in the Life of Archbishop Tait. My only concern with the events in question is to draw out of them two practical lessons for my fellow-Catholics of the younger generation:--

1. Do not trust the Bishops to defend you against the Man in the Street. There is such a thing as the science of history, and all past experience shows that, as soon as an outcry is raised against Catholic teaching or practice, the Bishops of an Established Church will yield to the clamour. The world is too strong for them.

2. Do not, on the other hand, lose heart because you feel that you are betrayed. Never mind if the Bishop of Bungay extinguishes your incense, or the Archbishop of Doncaster talks ignorantly about Reservation. Our predecessors in the holy fight for spiritual religion--the Evangelicals in the eighteenth century, the Tractarians and the early Ritualists in the nineteenth--had a similar but sharper experience. They had to endure much greater hardships, to face Jhuch more arduous difficulties, and to fight much more formidable opponents; but by faith and patience, grit and staying power, they won the day.

"Shall their sons be less noble than they? Shall the fire which they kindled be extinguished with you?" [John Bright at Birmingham, 1858.]

Rogationtide, 1904

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