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John Lingard

John Lingard

English priest and historian b. at Winchester, 5 February, 1771; d. at Hornby, 17 July, 1851. He was the son of Lincolnshire yeomen, John Lingard and Elizabeth Rennell, whom poverty and persecution had driven to migrate from their native Claxby, first to London, where they met again and married, then, after a short return to their old, home, to Winchester, where he was born. He inherited from a stock winnowed and strengthened by the ceaseless oppression of two centuries the silent stubborn, almost sullen longing for the conversion of his native land, that is so intimate a characteristic of the pre-Emancipation Catholic.

The first step towards realizing this longing was taken in 1779, when the Rev. James Nolan, Milner's predecessor at Winchester, arranged with Bishop Challoner the first preliminaries for his reception at Douai. These were concluded by Milner himself three years later, and Lingard "entered the doors of Duoai on the afternoon of 30 September, 1782". His career there was remarkably brilliant: only at one examination in the whole of his course did he fail to lead his class, and at the end of his course in philososophy he was retained as professor of one of the lower humanity schools. Shortly before the final catostrophe when the French Revolution brought upon the house he escaped to England, in charge of two brothers named Oliveira and of William, afterwards Lord Stourton. For nearly a year, he took charge of the latter's education at his father's residence, till, in May, 1794 Bishop William Gibson asked him to aid in caring for a section of the Douai refugees who were assembled first at Tudhoe, then at Pontop and Crook Hall-all places within a few miles of Durham. Nominally he held the chair of philosophy; practically, besides the duties of vice-president to the Rev. Thomas Eyre, he undertook in addition those of prefect of studies, procurator, and of professor of church history. It was in this last subject that he first found the true bent of his genius. The result was his "History of the Anglo-Saxon Church", a development of conversations and informal lectures round the winter evening fire. Its success suggested two further literary schemes: a history of the Anglo-Norman Church and a school epitome of the history of England, of which the former was finally abandoned about 1814, and the latter about the same time began to expand into his life's work. It had been impossible for him to accomplish anything during the interval, except in the way of gathering materials. The labours antecedent to and consequent upon the removal to Ushaw, in 1808; the post of vice-president which he held there; and the sole charge of the house which devolved upon him on Eyre's death, in May, 1810, effectually deprived him of leisure. He found time, however, for a few controversial works, the titles of which will be found at the end of this article.

In 1811 the Rev. John Gillow was appointed President of Ushaw, and Lingard, refusing the corresponding position at Maynooth, which was offered him by Bishop Moylan, retired in September to Hornby, a country mission about eight miles from Lancaster. Various controversial publications (one of which, "A Review of Certain Anti-Catholic Publications", earned him the formal thanks of the Board of Catholics of Great Britain) were the first fruits of his leisure here. The "History", however, still in the form of an abridgement for schools, formed his principal occupation. By the end of 1815 he had "buried Henry VII and was returning to revise." But the revision proved a rewriting, and the work began to exceed the bounds of a school-book. Two years more were devoted to the examination and comparison of original authorities, for Lingard's new method of history — practically unheard of till then — insisted on tracing every statement back to its original author. He journeyed to Rome in the spring of 1817, partly to consult authorities in the Vatican archives, partly as the confidential agent of Bishop Poynter; and in this capacity he successfully concluded negotiations for the reconstitution and reopening of the English College at Rome. This was by no means the first or the last of similar delicate commissions with which he was entrusted Throughout his life he was in the confidence of the English bishops; he exhorted, he restrained, he advised, he was their authority on procedure, he drafted their letters to Rome; indeed, the most notable fact in his career, next to his power of writing history, was the part which he took in making it, in Catholic England during the first half of the nineteenth century.

In the winter after his return from Rome he was ready to think of publication, and the first three volumes extending to the death of Henry VII, were finally purchased by Mawman of London for 1000 guineas. These were published in May, 1819, and met with speedy and surprising success not only among English Catholics, but among scholars of every nationality and belief. A fourth volume was called for as soon as it could be prepared, and a second edition of all four was found necessary before three years were out. A growing enthusiasm greeted each successive volume till the work was brought to what proved its ultimate conclusion — the revolution of 1688 — by the eighth volume, which appeared in 1830. Meanwhile, a third edition had appeared in England; two translations had been published in France (one with a continuation to the nineteenth century, revised and corrected by Lingard himself); another had appeared in German, and yet another, in Italian, was printed by the Propaganda Press. Honours from every part of Europe confirmed the general appreciation of the "History". Lingard's triple doctorate from Pius VII in 1821, his associate-ship of the Royal Society of Literature, and many other similar honours were finally crowned, in 1839, by a grant from the Privy Purse of £300 and his election as a corresponding member of the French Academy. It had also been generally, if not universally, believed — till Cardinal Wiseman first traversed the tradition nearly forty years later, in his "Last Four Popes" — that Leo XII, in a consistory of 2 October, 1826 had created Lingard cardinal in petto, deferring the promulgation of the honour till the completion of the "History" should leave him free to come to Rome. A somewhat heated controversy between Tierney and Wiseman followed the publication of the "Last Four Popes", and for a matter in which certainty is now as then, almost impossible, Tierney seems to have had the better of the argument. Perhaps Lingard's own opinion is more likely to be right than any other, and, though he affected to despise the rumour in the autumn of 1826, we find him before the end of the year asking and receiving advice on the advisability of allowing the offer to be made. Towards the end of his life he seems to have had no hesitation at all about the question. "He made me cardinal", is his unqualified assertion to a friend in a letter of 22 August, 1850.

Of course the "History" was criticized, but the very sources of the criticism showed how successfully Lingard had attained his ideal of unbiased accuracy. Milner attacked the tone of the work in "The Orthodox Journal", but the disagreement was rather one of method than of anything else; Milner would have converted England by the heavy bombardment of hard-hitting controversy; Lingard realized that his only chance of reaching the audience he desired lay in a sober, unimpassioned statement of incontrovertible fact. Dr. John Allen, then Master of Dulwich School, reached the other pole of criticism, and accused him of prejudiced distortion and suppression of facts in his account of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. It was the only attack of which Lingard ever took formal notice, and the publication of Salviani's secret dispatches a few years later scarcely added anything to the weight of his triumphant "Vindication". Indeed his essential accuracy on any leading point has seldom, if ever, been called in question; and the mass of historical material that has flooded our libraries since his death has left unshaken not only his statements of facts, but even their conjectural restorations, which at times, prophetwise, he allowed himself to make. Hence his work has lost little of its value, and, sixty years after its author's last revision still holds its place as the standard authority on many of the periods of which it treats. The twenty years of life that still remained to him, he spent in revision of his two principal works: "The Anglo-Saxon Church", which was practically rewritten in 1846, and the "History", of which every succeeding edition (five were published in his lifetime) bore evidence of his unfailing zeal for impartial accuracy; in the composition of many smaller works and essays, some of which, like his "New Translation of the Four Gospels", have scarcely met with the recognition that their scholarship and literary merits deserve; and in untiring vigilance for the interests of the Church in England. His researches at home and abroad had brought him into touch with friends in every part of Western Europe, and only his extraordinary energy and vitality could have coped with the ensuing correspondence, which would have crushed most other men. He suffered too from a complication of maladies that forbade him to travel more than a few miles from home, yet, even in his isolation at Hornby, he was to the end a centre of spiritual and intellectual activity, a living force which still employed its every energy for the one ambition it had always held — the advancement of Catholic, the conversion of Protestant, England. In 1849 he said farewell to his books and to their readers in his pathetic preface to the fifth edition of the "History", and two years later he died. He had always preserved an active interest in the college at Ushaw, in whose beginnings he had played so prominent a part. His solid prudence was always at its service; the profits of his writings were devoted to aiding its resources; he even once found himself, by the death of his co-trustees, its sole owner. In its cemetery cloister, therefore, by his own wish, he was buried, by the side of its bishops and presidents, and Ushaw still remains the shrine of his body and of his memory.

His published works include: "Antiquities of the Anglo-Saxon Church" (Newcastle, 1806 and 1810; London, 1846); "Letters on Catholic Loyalty" (Newcastle, 1807); "Remarks on a Charge . . . by Shute, Bishop of Durham" (London, 1807); "Vindication of the 'Remarks'" (Newcastle, 1807); "General Vindication of the 'Remarks': Replies to Le Mesurier, and Faber; and Observations on . . . Method of interpreting the Apocalypse" (Newcastle, 1808; Dublin, 1808); "Remarks on . . the Grounds on which the Church of England separated from Rome, reconsidered by Shute, Bishop of Durham" (London, 1809) (these last four tracts have been collected and republished several times); "Introduction to Talbot's Protestant Apology for the Catholic Church" (Dublin, 1809); "Preface to Ward's Errata to the Protestant Bible" (Dublin, 1810, 1841); "Documents to ascertain Sentiments of British Catholics in former Ages, respecting the Power of the Popes" (London, 1812); "Review of Certain Anti-Catholic Publications" (London, 1813); "Examination of Certain Opinions advanced by Dr. Burgess, Bishop of St. David's" (Manchester, 1813); "Strictures on Dr. Marsh's Comparative View of the Churches of England and Rome" (London, 1815); "Observations on the Laws in Foreign States relative to their Roman Catholic Subjects" (London, 1817, 1851); "History of England to the Accession of William and Mary" (London, 1819-30; 2nd ed., 1823-30; 3rd ed., 1825-30; 4th ed., 1837-39; 5th ed., 1849-51; 6th ed., 1854-55; 7th ed. 1883); "Charters granted . . to the Burgesses of Preston" (Preston, 1821); "Supplementum ad Breviarium et Missale Romanum, adjectis officiis Sanctorum Angliæ" (London, 1823); "Vindication of certain Passages in the Fourth and Fifth Volumes of the History of England" (London, 1826, 4 editions 1827); "Collection of Tracts" (London, 1826); "Remarks on the 'St. Cuthbert' of the Rev. James Raine" (Newcastle, 1828); "Manual of Prayers for Sundays and Holidays" (Lancaster, 1833); "New Version of the Four Gospels" (London, 1836, 1846, 1851); "The Widow Woolfrey versus the Vicar of Carisbrooke". (London, 1839); "Is the Bible the only Rule?" (Lancaster, 1839, 1887); "Catechetical Instructions". (London, 1840); "Did the Church of England Reform Herself?" (Dublin Review, VIII, 1840); "The Ancient Church of England and the Liturgy of the Anglican Church" (Dub. Rev., XI, 1841); "Journal on a Tour to Rome and Naples in 1817" (Ushaw Magazine XVII, 1907).

GILLOW, Bibl. Dct. Eng. Cath., s. v.; TIERNEY, Memoir (London, 1855); Reply to Wiseman (London, 1858); WISEMAN, Recollections of the Last Four Popes (London, 1855); IDEM, Reply to Tierney (London, 1858); BONNEY, The Making of Lingard's History (Ushaw Mag., XIX, 1909); BRADY, Annals of the English Hierarchy, III (Rome, 1877); BUTLER, Records and Recollections of Ushaw (Preston, 1889); C. BUTLER, Historical Memoirs, IV (London, 1822); HUGHES, John Lingard (Lancaster, 1907);HUSENBETH, Life of Milner (Dublin 1862); LAING, Ushaw Centenary Memorial (Newcastle, 1895); Dublin Review, XII, 295; Orthodox Journal, VII, 228, 266, 302, etc.; Tablet, XII, 466, 473, 484; Ushaw Mag., XI, 196; XVI, 1-29; Historical Collections, MSS. and Correspondence preserved at Ushaw College.


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