Sunday, September 11, 2022

“Greenhouses” of British Catholicism

 From TFP:

In nineteenth-century England, frequent lunches, dinners and other social gatherings served as pretexts for discussing the hot topics of the moment. The ladies of the nobility dominated this intense social life in the salons that they maintained. They received the nation’s representative aristocrats, politicians and writers in their London homes on fixed days of the week. One outstanding example was the salon of Elizabeth Fox, Baroness Holland, whose husband was a Liberal Party leader. Lady Holland only received “Whig” politicians and those who were not their declared enemies. Her rival was Marguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington, a great lady of Irish descent, who welcomed at Gore House all those Lady Holland would not receive because of their political convictions.

The Gore House salon had a more literary tone. Eminent politicians like Lord Durham and young Disraeli frequented Lady Blessington’s salon, as did famous dandies like the Count d’Orsay and fashionable writers. A snapshot of an evening at Lady Blessington’s house gives a good idea of the atmosphere: “There were French people impatient with their little practice of the English language. One of them, however, was never impatient, understood everything, and calmly ran his keenly observant eye around the salon. He was a very unheroic-looking man, Prince Louis Bonaparte.”

In the salons, luxury and elegance came together with serious conversations. Indeed, the most serious political problems were often resolved at these meetings. Therefore, religious questions naturally arose. After his noisy election, Irish political leader Daniel O’Connell brought to the House of Commons, a brilliant group of his countrymen who provoked endless arguments concerning Ireland and the freedom of the Catholic Church. Given the interest O’Connell’s movement aroused across England, these discussions soon dominated the conversation. One of these Members of Parliament, Edward Sheill, O’Connell’s lieutenant, challenged those present to a debate on the question of Ireland after lunch at Lord Milnes’ house, during which Catholicism had already been discussed at length.

The Irish also had their salon, where they cultivated their country’s traditions. It was that of Lady Fingall [Elizabeth Mary “May” Plunkett, née Burke]. François Rio described it in a letter to his wife: “If I were in a better mood, I would give an enthusiastic account of a reception where I met many Irish people, Sheill among others. Thomas Moore sang some of his national tunes with such success and exaltation that I could not resist. I felt very emotional and went to shake his hand, declaring it was undeniably the most beautiful evening I had spent in London.” (Read more.)


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