Care not for popular opinion

I grant the whole power of the Metropolis is against us, and I grant it is quite out of the question to attempt to gain it over on our side. It is true, there are various individual members of Parliament who are our co-religionists or our friends, but they are few among many; there are newspapers which act generously towards us, but they form a small minority; there are a few Protestant clergy who would be not quite carried away by the stream, if left to themselves. Granted: but still, I am forced to allow that the great metropolitan intellect cannot be reached by us, and for this simple reason, because you cannot confront it, you cannot make it know you. I said your victory was to be in forcing upon others a personal knowledge of you, by your standing before your enemies face to face. But what face has a metropolitan journal? How are you to get at it? how are you to look into it? whom are you to look at? who is to look at you? No one is known in London; it is the realm of the incognito and the anonymous; it {381} is not a place, it is a region or a state. There is no such thing as local opinion in the metropolis; mutual personal knowledge, there is none; neighbourhood, good fame, bad repute, there is none; no house knows the next door. You cannot make an impression on such an ocean of units; it has no disposition, no connexion of parts. The great instrument of propagating moral truth is personal knowledge. A man finds himself in a definite place; he grows up in it and into it; he draws persons around him; they know him, he knows them; thus it is that ideas are born which are to live, that works begin which are to last. It is this personal knowledge of each other which is true public opinion; local opinion is real public opinion; but there is not, there cannot be, such in London. How is a man to show what he is, when he is but a grain of sand out of a mass, without relations to others, without a place, without antecedents, without individuality? Crowds pour along the streets, and though each has his own character written on high, they are one and all the same to men below. And this impersonality, as it may be called, pervades the whole metropolitan system. A man, not known, writes a leading article against what?—things? no; but ideas. He writes against Catholicism: what is Catholicism? can you touch it? point at it? no; it is an idea before his mind. He clothes it with certain attributes, and forthwith it goes all over the country that a certain idea or vision, called Catholicism, has certain other ideas, bad ones, connected with it. You see, it is all a matter of ideas, and abstractions, and conceptions. Well, this leading article goes on to speak of certain individual Catholic priests; still, does it see them? point at them? no, it does but give their names; it is a matter, not of persons, but of names; and those names, sure enough, go over the whole country and empire as the names of rogues, or of liars, or of tyrants, as the case may be; while they themselves, the owners of them, in their own persons are not at all the worse for it, but eat, sleep, pray, and do their work, as freely and as easily as before. London cannot touch them, for words hurt no one; words cannot hurt us till—till when? till they are taken up, believed, in the very place where we individually dwell. Ah! this is a very different kind of public opinion; it is local opinion; I spoke of it just now, and it concerns us very nearly. . . .

Let each stand on his own ground; let each approve himself in his own neighbourhood; if each portion is defended, the whole is secured. Take care of the pence, and the pounds will take care of themselves. Let the London press alone; do not appeal to it; do not expostulate with it, do not flatter it; care not for popular opinion, cultivate local. And then if troubled times come on, and the enemy rages, and his many voices go forth from one centre all through England, threatening and reviling us, and muttering, in his cowardly way, about brickbats, bludgeons, and lighted brands, why in that case the Birmingham people will say, “Catholics are, doubtless, an infamous set, and not to be trusted, for the Times says so, and Exeter Hall, and the Prime Minister, and the Bishops of the Establishment; and such good authorities cannot be wrong; but somehow an exception must certainly be made for the Catholics of Birmingham. They are not like the rest: they are indeed a shocking set at Manchester, Preston, Blackburn, and Liverpool; but, however you account for it, they are respectable men here. Priests in general are perfect monsters; but here they are certainly unblemished in their lives, and take great pains with their people. Bishops are tyrants, and, as Maria Monk says, cut-throats, always excepting the Bishop of Birmingham, who affects no state or pomp, is simple and unassuming, and always in his work.” And in like manner, the Manchester people will say, “Oh, certainly, Popery is horrible, and must be kept down. Still, let us give the devil his due, they are a remarkably excellent body of men here, and we will take care no one does them any harm. It is very different at Birmingham; there they have a Bishop, and that makes all the difference; he is a Wolsey all over; and the priests, too, in Birmingham are at least one in twelve infidels. We do not recollect who ascertained this, but it was some {388} most respectable man, who was far too conscientious and too charitable to slander any one.” And thus, my Brothers, the charges against Catholics will become a sort of Hunt-the-slipper, everywhere and nowhere, and will end in “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Such is that defensive system, which I think is especially the duty of Catholics at this moment. You are attacked on many sides; do not look about for friends on the right hand or on the left. Trust neither Assyria nor Egypt; trust no body of men. Fall back on yourselves, and trust none but yourselves. I do not mean you must not be grateful to individuals who are generous to you, but beware of parties; all parties are your enemies; beware of alliances. You are your own best, and sure, and sufficient friends; no one can really hurt you but yourselves; no one can succour you but yourselves. Be content to have your conscience clear, and your God on your side.