Page 7, 2nd March 1984

2nd March 1984
Page 7
Page 7, 2nd March 1984 — Strong advocate of Irish Catholicism

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Locations: Oxford


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Strong advocate of Irish Catholicism

Dr Russell of Maynooth by Ambrose Macauley (Darton, Longman and Todd, £21).

THIS BOOK is likely to remain' a standard work on a remarkable man who has been strangely neglected by historians.

Its appearance. at almost the same time as two other important works Priest. Politics and Society in Post-famine Ireland and Towards a National University: William Delany Si 11834-19251. indicates a fresh and welcome interest in Irish and British ecclesiastical history in its social. cultural and political contexts.

Dr Russell (18124880) was not a man of action and decisiveness.

He made no obvious impact on Irish ecclesiastical or political history; yet he was one of the most highly regarded clergymen in Britain and Ireland during the third quarter of the nineteenth century and numbered among his friends and correspondents many of the leading churchmen. scholars and statesmen of the day.

By all he was highly regarded for his scholarship. courtesy. and the qualities of a Christian gentleman so much respected in the Victorian age.

Russell's career was associated with Maynooth for most of his life. first as professor of Humanity, then of Ecclesiastical History. and finally as president from 1858 to his death in MO.

Five times his name was put forward for bishoprics, but each time by dint of argument and influence he avoided the honour and burden.

In this way he evaded probable appointment as Vicar Apostolic of Ceylon. Bishop of Ciogher. Coadjutor Bishop of Dromore. Coadjutor Bishop of Down and Connor. and Archbishop of Armagh.

Wisely. it seems. given his personality and temperament, he devoted his life to scholarship and writing and through these exercised his extensive influence.

At the age of 24 he wrote his first article for the Dublin Review. He became its most prolific contributor and the most industrious worker on its behalf.

He developed a close friendship with Dr Nicholas Wiseman. a co-founder of the Review, and also by means of it made John Henry Nevanan's acquaintance.

Newman was later to write of Russell that 'he had. perhaps. more to do with my conversion than anyone else'.

Roman and German scholars, including Dollinger. as well as their counterparts in Britain and Ireland, became h is acquaintances or friends. His main interests were historical, though he also wrote on literary matters and on foreign travel.

He travelled widely throughout Europe, and even visited Russia, in his s examination of archives and libraries.

Apart from the Dublin Review, he contributed articles to the prestigious, though frequently anti-Catholic, Edinburgh Review. wrote for the North British Review, and was responsible for upwards of five hundred entries in Chambers Encyclopaedia — covering virtually all topics of Catholic interest and many topics relating to Ireland.

He wrote for numerous other publications, but his acceptance as contributor to the foregoing was a tribute. in the climate of the time, to the esteem in which he was held as a scholar and person.

Tracking down reliable witnesses from various parts of the world. and sifting material with unwearying diligence. Russell concluded that Mezzofanti spoke correctly and idiomatically and could write in some 30 languages. that he spoke less perfectly in nine more. and could converse in eleven others.

The book was well received and Russell presented copies to the Pope. to a number of national libraries, to certain prominent Catholics. and to political leaders such as Gladstone.

Thereafter, he and the Liberal leader became correspondents. His reputation as a historian led to his being invited. together with John P Prendergast. to select for transcription official papers from the Carte Collection in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

Reputation on its own, however, was not sufficient. There was required a strong demand from Lord Emly that one of those chosen be a Catholic scholar.

As a result of their exact and scholarly work. Russell and Prendergast were commissioned in 1869 to calendar all the state papers of James I relating to Ireland.

Russell was later closely involved in the successful negotiations to have documents relating to Great Britain and Ireland in the Vatican secret archives collected and collated.

Not surprisingly, when the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts was established in 1869 he was selected as one of the nine members.

Again and again during his career, Russell availed of his scholarship and reading to correct historical misrepresentation by established British historians.

As the author notes, he eagerly entered the fray against Froude, Macauley and Carlyle, pointing out the inconsistencies of their judgements. the selectivity of their distribution of praise and blame. and the religious prejudice invariably distorting their attitudes to the Catholic Church.

One of Russell's admirers was Sir John Acton, whose election as parliamentary representative for Carlow, 1859. had been assisted by him.

They maintained a regular correspondence until the late 1860s. Acton's admiration for Russell's work and personality, however, did not deter him from trenchant criticism of the Dublin Review. Catholics had everything to gain, he asserted, by tackling fearlessly any question in the history of the Church. and by facing up to the new intellectual problems posed by the age of science and industrialism.

Dr Macauley is to be congratulated on a difficult task excellently executed. He has knit together with a deceptive ease a vast amount of information. The result is a book which merits a warm welcome from all who are interested in Irish and British history from 1830 to 1880.

Thomas .1 Morrissey, SJ

The Exaltation of the Cross decorating these page heads comes from Christian Symbols by Heather Child and Dorothy Col/es (Bell and Hyman. £11.95).

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