The Cornhill Magazine
Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman (1802-1865) from Harper's Weekly 25 March 1865
I cannot leave this subject without recalling an anecdote Wilkie Collins
once told me. At the time when the
excitement against the Papal aggression was at its height, a Catholic friend
offered to take him to one of Cardinal Wiseman’s receptions.
Wilkie Collins accepted eagerly, and
a few days later found himself ascending the stairs of the Cardinal’s modest
house in York Place. He soon noticed that the men in front of him, as they
arrived near their host, bent their knee and kissed his episcopal ring.
As a good Protestant Wilkie Collins
could not do likewise; ‘so it ended in our shaking hands and having a most
pleasant talk after the crowd had passed.’ The remark which most struck him
was when the Cardinal said that the best thing which could happen for his
cause would be some fanatical attack upon himself.
‘If any one were to fire a shot at
me, I know the innate justice of the English character too well not to feel
certain that there would be so great a revulsion of feeling that all this
agitation would cease, and my cause would be won.’
On 30 September 1850 Wiseman was appointed Cardinal and sent to England as the first Archbishop of Westminster when the Roman Catholic hierarchy was re-established in England. He arrived on 11 November. There were demonstrations, newspaper editorials and political action against what many Protestants saw as ‘Papal aggression’ – an attempt to re-establish the Catholic Church in England as the main religion. The Papal Aggression was at its height in 1850/51.
In the 1851 Census (30 March 1851) and in the
1851/52 Electoral Roll Wiseman is recorded as living at 35 Golden Square
(HO107/1485/336/14). By 7 April 1861 (Census RG9/73/3/4) he was at 8 York
It is not clear when the anecdote was told to M.H. though it seems to have
been some years later when Collins was famous. Her identity remains unknown
but the context of the story indicates she was herself a Catholic.
Wilkie saw the Pope in 1853 on a trip to Rome and showed similar politeness without deference. He wrote to his brother Charles
“As I was walking along the street which leads from the Ponte S. Angelo to
St Peter’s, two dragoons dashed past me, clearing the road at full gallop,
two carriages came after, with cardinals inside -- and next came a state
coach with the Pope himself. Every
creature near me fell on his or
her knees. I
stood up, of course, but pulled off my hat. The
Pope (I suppose, seeing me the only erect figure out of a group of 30 or 40
people), looked straight at me as he passed -- and bowed as he saw me with
my hat in my hand.”
go back to biographies list