The Frenchman Vanquished

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXIII (2) start of chapter

It was strange that, although Bishop England's speaking voice was rich and tuneful, equal to the expression of every emotion, he had no faculty whatever for vocal harmony, and lacked the power of turning the simplest air, or singing the least difficult bar of music. His efforts at singing High Mass were pitiable; and, were it not for the solemnity of the occasion, his performance would be more calculated to excite merriment than to inspire devotion. When first appointed to the parish of Bandon, an attempt was made by an excellent and pious man to try and 'hammer' as much music into the new Parish Priest as would enable him to get through his functions as High Priest with some approach to decency; but, though Father England's Bandon instructor was animated by a profound reverence for the dignity of Catholic worship, he failed—miserably failed—in the hopeless attempt. But what all the pious enthusiasm of the honest Bandonian could not accomplish for the ungifted Parish Priest, the vanity of a Frenchman made him believe he could succeed in achieving for the great Bishop of Charleston. The Frenchman felt confident he could make the Bishop sing; the Bishop was certain, and with better reason, that he could not be made to sing. The Professor was positive in his belief and demanded the opportunity of testing his powers, which opportunity was freely afforded to him by the Bishop; and to work they went, the Professor elated with the anticipation of his glorious triumph, the Bishop thoroughly reconciled to his vocal incapacity. They commenced, the teacher ail zeal, the pupil all docility. 'Bravi, bravi!' cried the Professor, as the first note or two rewarded a long and laborious lesson. The world would hear of this splendid achievement; all America would do homage to science in the person of the Professor. The lessons and the practice proceeded; but as they did, so did the Professor's confidence abate. Had the task been simply impossible, it was his duty, as a Frenchman, to accomplish it; but this was something more than impossible. Still the gallant son of Gaul bravely struggled on, hoping against hope—rather, hoping against despair. At length, even the courage of his nation gave way; and thus the crestfallen Professor addressed his doomed but smiling pupil—'Ah, monseigneur! vous prêchez comme un ange, et vous écrivez comme un ange; mais vous chantez diablement!' There is a capital story told of the Bishop doing duty for a Protestant pastor; and it is so characteristic of the liberal side of American Christianity that it may be given in the words of Dr. England's enthusiastic admirer, Mr. Read:—

During one of his visitations he had been obliged with the loan of a Protestant church, for the purpose of delivering a course of lectures on the Catholic religion. On Saturday evening the regular pastor came to him to 'ask a favour.' 'I am sure,' said the Bishop, 'you would not ask what I would not gladly grant.' 'Occupy my pulpit, then, to-morrow! I have been so much engrossed by your lectures through the week, that I have utterly forgotten my own pastoral charge, and am unprepared with a sermon.' 'I should be most happy to oblige you, but are you aware that we can have no partnerships?' 'I have thought of all that—regulate everything as you think proper.' 'At least,' said the Bishop, 'I can promise you that nothing shall be said or done which you or any of your congregation will disapprove.'

On the morrow the novel spectacle was seen of a Catholic Bishop, arrayed in his ordinary episcopal vesture, advancing to the pulpit of this Protestant congregation. He invited them to sing some hymns he had previously selected from those they were accustomed to; read to them from the Douay translation of the Bible; recited appropriate prayers, such as all could freely join in, from a hook of Catholic devotion; preached them a sound practical discourse, and dismissed them with a blessing, wondering if such could be the doctrine and the worship they had so often heard denounced as 'the doctrine of devils.'

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

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