Catonic Pleasure in the Defeated Cause

Figure representing "The South" atop the Confederate Monument at Arlington National Cemetery.
Figure representing “The South” atop the Confederate Monument at Arlington National Cemetery.

On the other hand, Catholicism as a factor in history was very real and very abominable to me. Protestantism has, I suppose, been instilled into English people of education not so much by those infant catechisms in which an earlier generation delighted, nor even by the solidly one-sided picture which is still given of the Reformation in all early histories, as by a single book—Westward Ho! Nothing else binds up quite so successfully the cause of England’s greatness with her loss of the Catholic Faith. I never read this book till much later, but I read many containing the same moral, and I came to assume, as all normal non-Catholic boys assume, that because the Reformation was successful it was therefore right,

Treason doth never prosper. What’s the reason? For, if it prosper, none dare call it treason—

There was never a more piercing analysis of English historical methods. The losing side is wrong, because it lost; William of Normandy was a patriot, Philip of Spain a tyrant. The Reformation may be cherished by its devotees because the fires of Smithfield failed; it is recommended to the hearts of Englishmen because the hangings at Tyburn succeeded. For, as a race, we pay our principal homage to the fait accompli.

I should say, then, that my historical views were as much coloured on this subject as those of most English boys—not more so, in spite of family traditions. But there is one exception, not indeed in the elementary histories, but in the novels of adventure, to this rule that the losing cause is wrong. A referendum in almost any collection of small boys would produce a vote in favour of, not against, the Stuart dynasty. Chiefly, I suppose, owing to Scott and Stevenson, this saving glimpse of the gloriousness of failure has been left to keep us all from pure materialism. In my own family, the “Cavalier” and “Roundhead” parties were equally divided at first; I had embraced the latter cause chiefly, I think, because my hair hung straight, and I envied my brother’s curls. At a sensational moment, for what reason I cannot remember, I played traitor to the standards of Dunbar and threw in my lot with the monarchy.

This fin de siècle loyalty never quite left me. Not, indeed, that I was ever in a serious sense a political Jacobite; when I argued at the Oxford Union that the Stuarts were the pioneers of Socialism I was conscious of paradox, and no one was more surprised than myself when, in commenting kindly on my conversion, the Daily News, my own breakfast organ, described me as “a Tory of the Tories,” and the Westminster Gazette speculated whether I was anxious to put Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria on the throne. But I did naturally join, at Oxford, the ranks of those Anglicans who look upon the White King as a martyr for episcopal religion; and of the effect of this atmosphere I shall have more to say later. But the thing went deeper than that: my sympathy for the lost cause of the Stuarts, combined with the sympathy I learned at Eton for “the sorrowful King” whose name closes the Lancastrian dynasty, did predispose me to an attitude of mind which is for reversing the judgments of history: I have always taken a Catonic pleasure in the defeated cause, and set my head against the stream. I am not here priding myself on the chivalry of such an instinct; I am only suggesting that it is open for anybody to find here the cause, or the first symptom, of that readiness to defend the indefensible with which critics have frequently credited me.

— Ronald Knox, A Spiritual Aeneid, London, 1918.

Let It Be Told

Great Seal of the Confederate States of America, lithograph by Andrew B. Graham, Washington, 1911.
Great Seal of the Confederate States of America, lithograph by Andrew B. Graham, Washington, 1911.

When the South declared in consequence of all these things they would leave the Union unless something was done to assure their protection and justice within it, the whole air resounded with the taunts of Northern members of Congress and the Northern press, taunting them for their weakness and impotence, and threatening to overwhelm them by their superior power, until State after State fell from them in utter despair. Let it be told how a Confederacy was thus formed, small in point of numbers, consisting of eight millions of whites, and about four millions of slaves, without commerce, without manufactures, and almost without accumulated capital, and without allies — which Confederacy staked its all upon an issue of arms with a union of more than twenty millions of men homogeneous in character and pursuits, and which, abounding in all those things of which the others were so much in want, and although nominally without professed allies was yet substantially assisted by the whole world, which, although professing to be impartial, respected a paper blockade, which of itself was almost fatal to a people without ships of war, and to which they had not quietly submitted heretofore. Nor could they have done so then but for the idea that they were indirectly assisting in a war against slavery. What was to be the effect of all this, foreigners did not then understand, or their course might have been different; nor did the North foresee the terrible nature of the contest in which they were about to embark, or they might have paused before entering into it. But let the whole story be told, that the world and the country may behold the entire consequences of such a strife before they provoke another like it. Let us hear the history of that famous day at Bull Run, when Northern men and Northern women, as if upon some review or gala occasion, followed their army out from Washington to see it overwhelm the poor, despised South, whose sons were recklessly assembled together, as they supposed, to be routed and ruined by the superior forces which they stood up to encounter. Let all mankind hear how bloody was the reception which they met, until they broke and fled in wild despair, even more surprised than frightened, if possible, to find the men in gray capable of such stern resistance. Let the course of these heroic men be followed after they fell into the master-hands of Lee, for more than four years over the soil of Virginia, as they trod in triumph with feet red with the blood of their enemies, and as they hurled back the invading forces, sometimes four, sometimes three, and never less than two to one, reeking with their own blood and red with carnage; now driving McClellan into the James River and clear away from Richmond; now hurling Burnside across the Rappahannock river in bloody repulse from the good town of Fredericksburg. Let it be told how these same men in gray flanked the superior hosts of the North under Hooker, and drove them away in wild and bewildering flight, having lost their confidence in numbers, and believing it impossible to make themselves superior in strength so long as there was a Lee to plan, or a Jackson to lead these brave men in the charge, whose wild cheer always betokened courage and victory so long as they had food and clothing, and maintained heart and hope; or still following them in their bloody march, let us pause with them at Cold Harbor, where they repulsed Grant’s assault and piled so high the Federal dead that, as the rumor runs, the authorities at Washington despaired of success, and resolved to abandon the contest and agree to a division of the Union, a determination which they only revoked upon the receipt of encouraging news from the Southwest. But we must not leave the story there; we must follow it to the last sad results, until the tapestry is quite reversed. We must follow it to its final close, when without food, without clothes, and an unsufficient supply of arms, Lee surrendered his hardy and battered regiments with eight thousand muskets in their hands, whilst the rolls bore twenty-two thousand upon their face. And thus when it was impossible to maintain any further contest upon even plausible terms, the army was surrendered and the cause was lost.

— Hon. R. M. T. Hunter in an address to the Southern Historical Society (as reorganised), at the Capitol, Richmond, 27 October 1874.