By Fr. Donald Proudman, O.P. IT'S a dangerous business at Speakers' Corner. Here in Hyde Park, London is one of the few places where one may indulge in that delightfully British institution called Free Speech.
This means that anyone can say anything he likes as long as he can get anyone to listen to him. It allows any man, of any nation (or none), whether he be of sound mind (or none) to mount a soap box and let fly on any subject (or none).
Incipient politicians, clergy in cassocks, earnest ideologists, bearded beatnik anti-bomb types and inflammatory crackpots, to say nothing of the odd anarchist or two —you may take your -pick. They seem to be, but they are not bound to be, in deadly earnest.
If you mount a soap box, you join their ranks. You may be
taken for a crackpot. You will certainly be taken for an Aunt Sally.
IT'S dangerous because — well, anybody knows if yougo in for a fight, even if it is the Good Fight, you are likely to get hurt. But then so is the other fellow. And the hurt you are likely to give him is one he's going to thank you for profusely, except that you will probably never See him again. That's the way it is with the Catholic Evidence Guild.
It's dangerous because it is, I suppose, the most famous duelling ground in the Whole world. None of your pistols for two and coffee for one, but just simply words and ideas. You go there because you want others to know the Word. The Word is more than good sense, and the Word can never be proved wrong. But you call.
IT'S dangerous because even a very ordinary heckler might spend weeks studying some abtruse point; he puts his question 14 deceptive simplicity, and before you know where you are. you are wading in a welter of technicality.
it's dangerous because it might be one of those fellows who has read a couple of pages of yesterday's modern philosophy. He is a man who thinks he isn't there. How on ea-rib are you going to argue with a man who isn't there? Just how does one get hold of him? It's like fighting a lump of candy floss. He says How do you know that Pink is Pink . . it might be blue. You know you could show him if only you had the candy floss. But the candy floss is like him: it isn't there.
IT'S dangerous because that arch/ fiend, the foe who pretends to be a friend, may be lurking in the crowd; he will discuss calmly sonic point of doctrine; and then, from the outskirts of the crowd. someone calls his name encouragingly—and von realise with panic two things: (a) that your adversary is a well known militant anti-catholic and lb) there are two of him. That's where you peel off the gloves and tear in, two to one.
It's dangerous because Mr. dark mass in front of you. The lights of Park Lane and Oxford Street and the Marble Arch turn are right in your eyes. You can't see a thing. You can't see who's there and who's not, and you must depend upon voice tones to detect friend and foe.
When it's like that, and it's a good half of the year, why, you might find yourself patientlyexplaining the doctrine of the Sacraments to a gentleman who turns out to he the Cardinal Archbishop. It would be no use thinking afterwards how familiar his voice was.
on the bus. sit hack and hope like mad for a little of the joy that comes from work done.
Does it? That's where a little voice inside you says; "Look how you spoke to that woman! d'you think she'll ever be a Catholic after that? You're sup-posed to he one of Peter's Fishermen, not a Billingsgate barrow boy."
And so it goes on. When you're half way up Baker Street on the way home the answers always come — answers that should have been thought of half an hour ago.
Sidenman the super heckler may be there. With the utmost friendliness and a smile as big as the Marble Arch he will land you with one that will keep you going for a couple of weeks and more. And when you've done, he won't accept the answer. That of course is the hallmark of the real heckler. But make no mistake, he's a great friend of ours.
IT'S dangerous in the winter. when the crowd is just a vague What would you do then? You'd probably want the earth to open and swallow you up. Not that he would take his licence from you. He would say, so kindly, that he was glad to see that the Gospel was being preached. And you'd be cheered up because you were the only one to kneel in the mud and kiss his ring.
-11UT after that, you'd slink away 1.1 hoping not to be seen. Jump the really good ansv.ers, the obvious answers.
FOR all that, day in and day out, week in and week out. lay speakers mount the platform and face the music: young girls with three or tour permits to their names—confession, visible church, prayer and purgatory—young men, old gentlemen, ladies not so young. Up they get and pound out the
Message. They have a fantastic courage. Nearly all of them would admit to quaking mightily in their shoes,
Does it do any good? I always have a little laugh to myself when I hear that question. !t brings to mind the gentleman in holiday clothes (Panama hat and blue linen suit) who hovered round the platform for hours one day. When he spoke to me, his face was strong and his eyes attractively serene. There was authority there: a successful lawyer ar head of a big company?
I wasn't ready for it at all. He introduced himself in this order. Surname; country (it wasn't England); town; and personal title.
THE Personal title? MONSIGNOR. My heels clicked automatically, without my knowing. He was interested in the Guild. he said, and wanted to see how it worked; didn't want to embarrass the speakers. His first question: What good does it do?
On the other fifty-one Sundays in the year be would have had to be content with stories; -but just now, and still in sight, a young man in a brown suit was on his way to Spanish Place to put himself uncle] instruction. The Monsignor was impressed. What, hooked right under his nose, in the middle of all that rough and tumble?
BUT the sweetest story of the tot also happened under the nose of the disguised spy Monsignor.
A work-tired chap, getting on in years, said: "I heard you say that the marriages of Catholics in Register Offices are not valid".
That's right, 1 said.
"Well, me and my wife (she's a Catholic) were married in the Register Office".
Says 1 to myself, here we go. Continued on page 13