William George Read

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXI (4) start of chapter

A brief memoir, or biographical sketch, is given in the first volume of 'The Works of the Right Rev. John England, First Bishop of Charleston,' published by Murphy and Co., of Baltimore. The memoir, too brief for the illustrious subject, is evidently written by one who loved the man, revered the prelate, and thoroughly appreciated his power of intellect, his energy of character, and his boundless zeal. To an apparently trivial incident was that tribute eventually due. How the Bishop became known to his future biographer happened in this way:

A lady of rank and refinement came to Baltimore with the view of consulting a dentist of repute; whom she accordingly visited shortly after her arrival in that city. The case, though important to the lady, was not of that acute nature which required immediate attention; and the dentist having satisfied himself on this point, asked his visitor to excuse him that day, as he had made an engagement which he was very anxious to keep. 'In fact, madam, Bishop England, the most celebrated preacher in our country, is now in this city, and I had determined to hear him.' 'By all means, sir,' replied the lady, 'do carry out your intention—I can call as conveniently to-morrow.' The lady withdrew: but not well knowing how to dispose of her time, which hung rather heavily on her hands, she thought she could not do better, in order to occupy an hour or so, than go and hear the famous preacher. She went; and so strong was the impression produced on her mind by the Bishop, then in the full vigour of his intellect, that she became half a Catholic on the spot. On her return she confided to her brother—a man of considerable eminence as a scholar, and a gentleman of the highest personal character—the change wrought in her opinions respecting the Catholic Church. The brother received the startling intelligence with feelings of alarm and indignation. But how check the evil?—how draw her back from the fatal goal to which, with all the ardour and impulsiveness of a woman, she was so rapidly hurrying? He should himself undertake the fraternal duty of solving her doubts, and confuting her new-born errors; and the more surely to convince her of her folly, he commenced an earnest course of reading and enquiry—and in order to foil the Bishop with his own weapons, he resolved to hear him preach. He did go; and such was the power of the preacher, and the honest candour of the listener, that the alarmed and indignant brother was actually received into the Church before the sister, who was only on the road to it! And from the date of his conversion, the Catholic Church in America had not a bolder or abler champion than William George Read, the author of the 'Memoir of Bishop England.'

The clenching force of the Bishop's manner of reasoning may be illustrated by the following reply given by an Irishman, who was one of the warmest admirers of his distinguished countryman:—

'Well, Pat,' said a lady to the Irishman, 'what do you think of your bishop?'

'Think of him, ma'am! faith, ma'am, I think a deal of him, and why not? Isn't he grand, ma'am, when he crosses his two arms on his breast, and looks round at them all, after one of his regular smashers, as much as to say—

"Answer me that, and be d——d to you!" '

'Oh Pat!' remonstrated the lady, who, whatever she thought of the criticism, was somewhat startled at the manner in which it was expressed.

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:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America