Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 08.djvu/50

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Butler
Butler
46

for five years, and its object was to promote and attend to the affairs of the catholic body in England. Dr. (afterwards bishop) Milner, who was Butler’s constant and uncompromising antagonist, writing in 1820, says that ‘here probably begins that system of lay interference in the ecclesiastical affairs of English catholics which .... has perpetuated disorder, divisions, and irreligion among too many of them for nearly the last forty years.’ The only measure which engaged the attention of the committee was an abortive scheme for the establishment of a regular hierarchy by the appointment of bishops in ordinary instead of vicars apostolic. This first committee was succeeded by another, formed in 1787, consisting of ten lay members, to whom were added, in the year following, three ecclesiastics. In 1788 the committee resolved that Butler, their secretary, should prepare a bill for the repeal of the laws against the catholics. This was accompanied by a declaration of catholic principles, known as the ‘Protestation,’ which was transmitted to the vicars-apostolic, and eventually, but very reluctantly, signed by them. The committee soon framed an oath containing a new profession of faith, in which they adopted the extraordinary name of Protesting Catholic Dissenters. The oath was formally condemned by the unanimous decision of the four vicars-apostolic (October 1789), but in spite of this Butler wrote an ‘Appeal’ addressed to the catholics of England, in defence of the ‘protestation’ and ‘oath,’ which appeal was signed by two clerical and five lay members of the committee, who also signed a long letter to the vicars-apostolic, remonstrating against their censure. These papers form the contents of the first of the three famous ‘blue books,’ so called from their being stitched up in blue, or rather purple covers. Two of the vicars-apostolic died soon after the condemnation of the oath, and these deaths led to active intrigues on the part of the committee to procure the appointment of two successors who might favour their views. Various publications appeared, the object of which was to persuade the clergy and laity that they had a right to choose their own bishops and to procure their consecration by any bishop without reference to the pope. This scheme fell through, and two new vicars-apostolic having been appointed by the holy see, they joined with Dr. Walmesley, the vicar-apostolic of the western district, in an encyclical letter, condemning the proposed oath and disapproving the appellation of protesting catholic dissenters. Instead of submitting, however, the committee published a ‘protest,’ drawn up by Butler, against the encyclical, and pressed forward the bill containing the condemned oath. At this juncture Dr. Milner was appointed by the two new vicars-apostolic to act as their agent, and he exerted himself to the utmost to circumvent the designs of the committee. His efforts were crowned with success. Soon after the bill was introduced the ministry obliged the committee to drop their new appellation, and they resumed their proper name of Roman catholics. The condemned oath was discarded by parliament, and the Irish oath of 1778 was substituted for it, as the bishops had petitioned.
      After the passing of the bill on 7 June 1791 the services of the committee were no longer required, but the members determined to preserve its principles and spirit in another association. Accordingly the Cis-Alpine Club was established (12 April 1792), its avowed object being ‘to resist any ecclesiastical interference which may militate against the freedom of English catholics.’ Eventually a reconciliation was effected between the members of the club and the vicars-apostolic, by means of what was called at the time ‘the mediation,’ and the catholic board was founded in 1808. At a later period Butler was strongly in favour of giving the government a veto on the appointment of catholic bishops, and this led him into another fierce conflict with Milner, who again achieved a triumph. Butler was, in fact, an ultra-Gallican in regard to his religious views, while his political opinions coincided with those of his distinguished friend, Charles James Fox, and his sympathy was with the French revolution in its civil, though not in its religious, aspect. Towards the close of his life he retracted some of the opinions contained in his writings, and, to quote the words of a personal friend of his, ‘he then became a Gallican within the limits of orthodoxy.’ He died at his house in Great Ormond Street, London, on 2 June 1832, aged 82. He married Mary, daughter of John Eyston, of East Hendred, in Berkshire, and left two surviving daughters. The elder, Mary, married Lieut.-colonel Charles Stonor, and Theresia, the younger, became the wife of Andrew Lynch, of Lynch Castle, in the town of Galway. His portrait has been engraved by Sievier from a painting by Barry.
      As a lawyer he will be remembered chiefly on account of his having continued and completed Hargrave’s edition of ‘Coke upon Littleton.’ In 1785 Hargrave relinquished his part of this arduous undertaking, having annotated to folio 190, being nearly one half of the work, which consists of 393 folios.