Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Patrick Bronte, RIP--and Catholic Emancipation

Outliving his wife by 40 years and his last surviving child, Charlotte, by six, Patrick Bronte died on June 7, 1861. He is often described, based on Elizabeth Gaskall's biography of Charlotte, as the tyrant of the Haworth Parsonage household. A modern biography of Patrick Bronte, published in 2008, uses his letters and other writings to present a more balanced view:

Patrick Brontë (1777–1861) was the father of the famous Brontë sisters, Anne, Charlotte, and Emily, three of Victorian England's greatest novelists, but he was a fascinating man in his own right and not nearly such an unsympathetic character as Elizabeth Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Brontë would have us believe. Born into poverty in Ireland, he won a scholarship to St. John's College, Cambridge, and was ordained into the Church of England. He was perpetual curate of Haworth in Yorkshire for 41 years, bringing up four children, founding a school, and campaigning for a proper water supply. Although often portrayed as a somewhat fobidding figure, he was an opponent of capital punishment and the Poor Law Amendment Act, a supporter of limited Catholic emancipation, and a writer of poetry. This is the first serious biography of Patrick Brontë for more than 40 years.

It was of course that line, "a supporter of limited Catholic emancipation" that caught my attention. Bronte lived to see Catholics emancipated in England and the Catholic hierarchy restored. As these passages in the book by Dudley Green demonstrate (based upon letters written in 1828 to The Leeds Intelligencer), Bronte did not believe that there was any reason to discriminate against Catholics anymore, even though he thoroughly disagreed with Catholic teaching and discipline and feared its supposed tyranny. He also wanted to be assured that Britain would remain a Protestant nation and that the Church of England would be protected and honored as the State Church.

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