27 FEBRUARY 1886, Page 18

A DOMINICAN FRIAR.* Is these two ample volumes are collected

the materials at least of a singularly interesting life. With minute care, Mr. Fitz- patrick has gleaned a mass of facts and a few legends that belong to the career of this mediaeval preaching friar, who stands out in bold relief from the splendid chaos of the nineteenth century in the white habit of Dominic, and yet in enthusiastic sympathy with all that is distinctively human in our struggle of evolution. Straitest of believers, saturated with the philo- sophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, whose Samma he knew by heart, his pulse beat with the pulse of our hurrying time. He loved his Tennyson, he revered his Shakespeare, he delighted in physical research and in the triumph of human inventions. It were hard to say whether he were more enthusiastically patriotic or more ascetically Christian ; but his reputation among men will rest on his oratory. He was master of the arts that sway modern audiences in New York as in Rome, in London as in the poorest chapels of Connemara.

Some of the many who loved him will think that Mr. Fitzpatrick has related too many traits of Father Burke's over- flowing wit. To realise the effect of his tone and gesture, and the adaptiveness of the man to his environment, by reading his jokes in print, is as impossible as to judge of a living by a wax- work hero. Yet the biography would be imperfect if it failed to suggest his play of humour, abundant, and sometimes grotesque as the sculptures of a Gothic cathedral. In society meetings, which he treated as purely recreative rather than as serious occasions, his outbreaks of wit, his wealth of familiar illustrations, were like the foliage of a mediasval church from which peeped squirrel or fox. Gargoyle and caricature were not wanting round its porch, to the frequent amaze- ment of polite puritans, who did not recognise the shrine within, where a perpetual flame burned before a divine Presence. Those who were best acquainted with Father Burke's life, know that the superabundant anecdotes of his mimetic power and versatile wit are so many proofs that humour is struck out by the jar of suffering and joy, of human sadness and of intense faith in its dimly perceived compensations. His broad use of all save unclean material for his sometimes ex- travagant jokes, reveals, indeed, the travail of his soul, keenly sensitive to the enigmas of life. He insisted on merriment among his novices as a balance to their ascetic ardour. He played Yorick with a deeper purpose than many of his amused

hearers guessed ; while his genius—his soul—remained calm in its absolute devotion to the service of God. In this he was a

living commentary on the strange contrasts of which mediwval

history supplies so many examples, and his life is a key to much that is perplexing in Irish extremes. He was Irish to his slender

finger-tips, Irish in his nervous temperament and in his marked and mobile features, with a hint of Spanish blood in his dark eyes and hair. Especially was he Irish in his command of what Mr. Arnold calls the "grand style," in his instant sympathy and quicksilver versatility. As is, however, the case for probably every modern Irishman, he came of mixed parent- age. He was born in 1830, of the marriage of Walter Burke, a respected tradesman of the town of Galway, and Catherine MacDonough, a Gael of the Gael. A boyhood of the wildest, though harmless escapades ; a rapid absorption of all learning that came in his way, from the "Penny Catechism" and the &mom, to Shakespeare and Gibbon; an early resolve to spare no pains in acquiring the art of preaching, and of popularising theology while exalting it as the science of sciences, are described by his biographer with a detail that somewhat hides the intense

• The Life of Father Burke, O.P. By W. J. Fitzpatrick, dr2. London : Regan Peal and Co. 1825.

spirituality of the man. When he was seventeen, he entered the Dominican Novitiate at Perugia, after a visit to Rome, where he witnessed some revolutionary violences that left indelible traces on his mind. The tall Irish lad soon gained the notice and high regard of Father Jandel, the general of his order, who had been the friend and contemporary of Lacordaire. The vivid earnestness with which the boy entered into the studies of his novitiate is

expressed in an anecdote of that tins e. He surprised his master one day by saying that when reading the Summa "one's faith

was gone," the mysteries of which St. Thomas wrote ceased to exist, so vividly did he paint the heavenly realities. Patriot as he was, the student delighted to know that the "angel of the schools" had had an Irishman for his teacher in philosophy. In 1851 it was resolved by Father Jandel to re-establish the English "province," and, young as he was, the Sub-Deacon Thomas Burke was appointed to be master of the English novices at Woodchester. What the youth's ideal of his office was, we know from a passage in one of his later sermons ; and here we may express our satisfaction with Mr. Fitzpatrick's use of Father Burke's occasional allusions to his own history in his lectures. Describing the youth of another saintly person, he said :— " They knew what was demanded of the monk and the consecrated priest ; they knew by the experience of years how complete the sacrifice of the heart mast be. But the presence of the youth among them, as he came forth in his monastic habit, with his eyes cast to the ground and his face radiating with the love of God, came like rays from the bright- ness of heaven. They saw in that youth, kneeling hour after hour before the presence of God upon the altar ; they heard in that voice, ringing clear and high in the tones of praise above the chorus of voices of those who praised the Lord, as if an angel were in them striving to uplift his spirit totally upon the wings of song." The vow of poverty had been with strenuous fidelity embraced by him, and it was practically tested when, notwithstanding rigid economy, he arrived from Italy in London, short of money, at Paddington terminus. Sitting there dis- consolately, a porter thrust a hunch of bread with a bit of herring under his nose, saying, "Here, poor devil ! eat

that ! " The sensitive exhausted boy burst into tears ; but he was grateful, and years afterwards he searched the station with a crown-piece in his hand for the man who had be-

friended him. Dressed in second-hand lay clothes for the journey, he looked, on his arrival at Woodehester, not unlike Smike in Nicholas Nickleby. But his genius and strength soon asserted themselves, and before long he made his first essays in preaching. He took great pains to polish his style, and to attain command of pure and, as far as might be, Saxon English, "hammering away" at the manuscript of his sermons until he could satisfy the fathers whose criticism he invited. Those who saw the shy lad speaking by heart, with eyes shut and features quivering from nervousness, were unprepared for his success a few years later, when he thus impressed a competent judge, who describes how- " The fitting moment for the sermon had arrived, when a tall figure rose from its kneeling posture before the altar, and strode with

quiet majesty to its appointed place on the platform. The figure was draped in the white and black of the Dominican habit. The sanctuary was filled with a dim religious light, which just revealed a tonsured head, fringed by a ring of thick black locks that surmounted a dark and san-stained face, with features that were eloquent of strength and power, and with eyes that kindled into flame as their gaze seemed to centre upon the glories of an unseen world. The preacher spoke. The subject of his discourse was the religious life. The chapel was small, and his voice never rose above a whisper, but every whisper thrilled the nerves of his hearers. All were fascinated. He spoke of the beauty and purity and perfection of the religious life ; he showed how it tended to raise man, even in the life below, almost to a level with the angels ; he expounded with marvellous lucidity the meaning of the vows religions take, and explained their bearing on the holy state ; and with a fervid peroration that carried his hearers away from earthly things, left them in earnest contemplation of a glorious future. It was no mere effort of polished rhetoric we heard on that occasion ; no skilful weaving of brilliant phrases into rounded sentences such as may gratify the ear without ever reaching the heart. It was the full flow of an apostolic soul that came down on the congregation then assembled, and swept everything away on its irresistible tide. There were worldly men present, but the worldliest among them went along in silence, pondering upon the nothingness of his own pursuits. It was a sermon to make a scoffer stand self-condemned. It was a discourse that, being hoard, must be embedded in the memory for a lifetime."

When Father Burke was but thirty-four, he was made Prior of San Clemente at Rome. He had perfectly learned Italian, and he could even joke in the patois of the Campagna as freely as in Gaelic. The critical and cosmopolitan audiences of a Roman winter crowded to hear him. Of a sermon at that time, Sir C. Gavan Daffy writes :—

"1 bad heard all the contemporary preachers of note, in the Catholic Church at least, and all the Parliamentary orators of the day, but I was moved and impressed by that sermon beyond any human utterance to which I had ever listened. You were gradually drawn to adopt the preacher's views as the only ones compatible with truth and good sense. Ile marched straight to a fixed end, and all the road he passed seemed like a track of intellectual light. His accent was Irish, bat his discourse bore no other resemblance to any Irish utter- ance with which I was familiar. We have the school of Grattan and the school of O'Connell, the artificial and the spontaneous, into which most Irish oratory may be distributed ; but it belonged to one as little as to the other. The lucid narrative, which, without arguing, was the beet of arguments ; the apt illustration, which summed up his case in a happy phrase, might have recalled Phinket ; bat, in truth, like most original men, he resembled no one but himself.'L

The power of Father Burke's oratory in support of the Christian religion is a notable fact in an age when, with some brilliant exceptions,—

" The holders of the Truth in verity

Are people of a harsh and stammering tongue."

He reminded us that the echoes of true words, spoken with absolute conviction of their importance for life and death, are illimitable. As Sainte Beuve said of Lacordaire, his brother Dominican, Father Burke " was of the race of men born for certitude and for faith, or at least for the gift of arriving at conclusions. He was one of those firm and resolute souls who are bent on attaining results." Not for a moment did he lose sight of the true end of his orations. To rouse the individual enthusiasm of his hearers for ideal life, to warm in their chilled or dormant natures the ill-exercised faculty of love by showing them in his word-pictures the Christ of Nazareth and of the Via Dolorosa, was his passionate endeavour. His oratorical genius was spent with singleness of purpose to secure, if it might be, one lover for his Lord. Success had no other meaning for him, and so in his moments of proudest triumph, his humility was most absolute. He feared, indeed, the spiritual danger of his immense popularity ; he steadily refused offers of the mitre. He knew his true mission, and did not swerve from it. We imagine that such continuous oratory as his is unexampled. There is no means of counting the souls he touched ; but the amount of money he gained for churches and charities is hardly credible. At the dedication of the Cathedral of Armagh, the offertory was eight thousand pounds. In America, where he was sent in 1871 as visitor of the Dominican houses, his success surpassed all he had yet achieved. During eighteen months, he delivered four hundred lectures, besides sermons, and about eighty thousand pounas was the sum collected, by which many churches were freed from debt, and orphanages and hospitals were endowed. In after years, he did not review his speeches on lay subjects during this period of overstrain and intense excitement with absolute satis- faction. His faith in the piety and moral virtue of his country- men was then unclouded. He believed that they would remain obedient to the teaching of their pastors ; he could not foresee that that teaching should be a source of poison to them. Some of his apophthegms," writes Mr. Fitzpatrick, "remained standing mottoes at the heads of journals in America. Thus the Boston Pilot displayed,' Let Ireland in America be faithful, be Catholic, be temperate, be industrious, be obedient to the law.'—Rev. T. N. Burke, 0.P." After a year and a half of such labour, the internal disease which never left him quite unconscious of its painful development, began seriously to cripple him; yet even in his worst pain preaching was a relief to him, for as he spoke he forgot himself, and those who heard him were the stronger for his strength of spirit in a half-unconscious realisation of his "passion." His influence as a confessor was never so great as when he was himself in visible sight of death. From five hundred to a thousand sermons a year was his amazing record of work from his forty-fifth to his fiftieth year ; for besides four addresses a day in the incessant " retreats " over which he presided, he was called on to help in every good work. His popularity culminated in 1882 ; villages where he was expected were whitewashed and dressed as if for royalty. The marks of ill-health had somewhat disfigured his face, but the aureole of patient pain gave to him compensating dignity. An acute critic ranked him in that year as superior in " sim- plicity, majesty, and finish to every living master of speech." "Burke is never in a hurry ; gracefully does he roll forth his splendid sentences, then pauses easily, and resumes at leisure his oration, which seems to need this regal calmness to do justice to its nobility of conception and expression." One cause of his

remarkable persuasiveness was his sympathy with his epoch. He feared no scientific progress ; he was proud of the advance of humanity. His faith readily perceived the evolution of Christianity, and he breasted all threatening waves serenely ; but the change in Irish morality struck him with mortal pain. He faced the loss of popularity for which so many of his fellow clergy seemed ready to abandon the traditions of their Church. He dared to comment on the murders of the Phcenix Park ; he preached to "every honest man to rise in defence of religion, law, peace, and justice, until the united protest and prayer of a nation lift from our island the black cloud fraught with vengeance that blood ever brings from an avenging God." We do not shrink from mentioning, though Mr. Fitzpatrick has not done so, that after a sermon against murder he received a threatening letter. "On Holy Thursday," he repeated to a friend, as if mournfully speaking to himself, "Father Tom Burke received a threatening letter!" Then, with a touch of his old humour, he added,—" I answered that letter in my sermon the same night, for one must be punctual with correspondence ; and didn't I give it to them !" And so it happened that when he wished, during the last year of his life, to collect funds to build a church for his own Priory of Tallaght, but little money was forthcoming. He had denounced Jacobin revolution. Speaking of the Parnell tribute announced in the churches, he had dared to say,—" They desecrate the very altars." With sad conviction, he more than once assured the present writer that when the revolution he foresaw had wreaked its passion on the owners of property, the priesthood would be its next prey. The noble anguish of a Christian patriot was added to his physical pain, and he was almost in the grasp of death when he came to preach at the opening of the Dominican Church at Haverstock Hill. Never was his oratory more im- pressive, and as he thought of his congregation then, he said,— " As England is recovering the faith, Ireland is losing it." His doctor in London, amazed by his endurance without a complaint of what medical writers describe as well-nigh unendurable pain, was ready to talk of his preaching power as "miraculous ;" but only once again was he to use it. It was a summer of sore dis- tress on the West Coast of Ireland, and, as he said, "there seems nothing to give to the starving children after we have paid our immense debt to Parnell,— the enormous debt we owe him for having made us Atheists and mur- derers." He received on his dying bed an appeal to preach for those starving children, for whom a system of relief had been organised if funds were forthcoming. Three times he tobk his pen to refuse, but each time it fell from his hand, and a voice rang in his ear,—" What is one life compared to that of five thousand little ones?" In a sinking state be delivered his divine message ; faltering, be seemed to clutch at the rail of the pulpit,—but he spoke. The last generous struggle was made, and he was taken back to his cell to die, after a few more days of agony. "An eagle shot while soaring to the sun," for he was but fifty-three. Truly, he has left behind him a trail of light, from the Galway home to his final sacrifice. Can we despair of Irish nature, as we read this record of Father Burke's life ? But then, he curbed the excesses of his tempera- ment; he was loyal to the Decalogue ; he was a Christian patriot, and not a demagogue in priestly vestments.