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CHAPTER XVII

FERNANDO'S FAVOURITE SCHOOL-FELLOW

DURING that, his first visit to Ireland, Fernando, as has been said, came into no real personal contact with Catholics. And perhaps there may be hundreds of thousands of Protestants that have lived all their lives in Ireland who have had as little, though they may have been meeting Catholics, and exchanging talk with them, weekly and almost daily.

The Boyne river divides, not two counties but two religions, and there is scarce a bridge.

But Fernando peeped wistfully at the Catholic Church in being from outside, and it was there that he slowly began to re-learn the bleak lesson that he was outside.

From outside Fernando had meagre and rare peeps at Catholicity in Ireland. At Kingstown there was a Convent, with wrought iron gates at which he often waited half an hour together, in hopes of catching glimpses of the nuns: I am sure if those good Sisters had known of the little queer Protestant boy, with patient eagerness, watching for a sight of them, they would have passed slowly from their high-walled garden to their house, and perhaps have spared a short prayer for him.

There was at Kingstown an Institution called the Birds' Nest, and that Fernando was perfectly free to visit : but he did not want to. No doubt it was very good in its way, but it was the Protestant way, and it had no attraction at all for him. No puzzled policeman ever saw him loitering there, and flattening his young nose against its gate.

Well, he came back to England, and soon left home for school : a school founded by the very un-Catholic Edward VI in a Cathedral town of the English Midlands. Dr. Johnson, “The Great Lexicographer,” had been there before Fernando, and the boy held him in loving veneration. The great heart in that unwieldy, uncouth body, was not only tender and charitable, but it was half-Catholic. No man ever belittled the old religion to the awful Doctor without a sharp bringing to book. He was a Protestant by accident—the grim accident of the Reformation and inheritance : by sympathy he was, generations before Pusey, more really Catholic than Pusey ever became. His friendship for broken, even fallen, creatures was most Catholic in quality : and he would always make protest against misstatements or misconceptions of Catholic doctrine. When Boswell asked him what he thought of Purgatory, he said, “Why, Sir, it is a very harmless doctrine. They (the Catholics) are of opinion that the generality of mankind are neither so obstinately wicked as to deserve eternal punishment, nor so good as to merit being admitted into the society of blessed spirits : and therefore God is graciously pleased to allow of a middle state, where they may be purified by certain degrees of suffering. You see, Sir, there is nothing unreasonable in this."

Boswell : But then, Sir, their Masses for the dead?”

Johnson : Why, Sir, if it be once established that there are souls in Purgatory, it is as proper to pray for them, as for our brethren of mankind who are yet in this life.”

Boswell : “The idolatry of the Mass ? "

Johnson : "Sir, there is no idolatry in the Mass. They believe GOD to be there, and they adore Him."

Boswell : The worship of Saints ? " Johnson : “Sir, they do not worship the their prayers

saints; they invoke them: they only ask

(Here he went on to blame what he supposed to be certain abuses of these doctrines in practice, then)

Boswell : “ Confession ?

Johnson : Why, I don't know but that it is a good thing. The Scripture says 'Confess your faults one to another' and the priests confess as well as the laity. Then it must be considered that their absolution is only upon repentance, and often upon penance also.

Johnson also delivered to Sir William Scott, the following dictum: “A man who is converted from Protestantism to Popery may be sincere : he parts with nothing : he is only super-adding to what he already had. But a convert from Popery to Protestantism gives up so much of what he has held as sacred as anything that he retains : there is so much laceration of mind in such a conversion that it can hardly be sincere and lasting.” When Dr. Leland's History of Ireland was mentioned, Johnson said (" bursting forth with a generous indignation”): “The Irish are in a most unnatural state; for we see there the minority prevailing over the majority. There is no instance, even in the ten persecutions, of such severity as that which the Protestants of Ireland have exercised against the Catholics. Did we tell them we have conquered them, it would be above board : to punish them by confiscation and other penalties, as rebels, was monstrous injustice. King William was not their lawful sovereign : he had not been acknowledged by the Parliament of Ireland, when they appeared in arms against him.”

Fernando spent more time in thought with his “old schoolfellow," the Doctor, than he spent in games with the boys who were actually his schoolfellows then; and many prayers did he offer up for the soul of that loved and venerated friend. The Cathedral at Lichfield is very lovely; not one of the largest, but one of the most perfect in form and in situation. Behind the gardens of the houses at one side of the Close is a broad pool, in which the three exquisite spires of the minster ever lie, in inverse picture, as though hanging down into the fathomless sky beneath.

Around the warm red-brown Cathedral are smooth lawns of greenest velvet, and the front of the fane itself is covered with statues of saints in canopied niches; over the porch is that of St. Chad, its founder, in the vest

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