[Second half of a deleted section from Book Two, analyzing an Irish Protestant response to Catholic Emancipation in 1829. Originally, this section was part of a larger examination of "interchangeability" in nineteenth-century pro- and anti-tolerationist rhetoric. See the post below for Part One.]
As Montgomery/Mortimer dryly notes, he cannot dine with the Catholic priest because his “real sentiments” would produce a sensation most “unpleasing” (42); convivial politeness cannot survive Protestant truths, which the local community will later denounce as “rancor and bigotry” (44). By the end of the story’s first part, the Protestant critique of anti-Catholic prejudice emerges as a form of silencing: in this act of framing avant la lettre, the Protestants render anti-Catholic language unspeakable by describing it as “bigotry,” and create a public sphere indifferent to religion by systematically negating all attempts to bring the Bible to bear on any denomination. In the story’s second half, Egerton’s wife comments that “Protestant writers” (126) bear the responsibility for negative views of Catholics in the nineteenth century, an assertion of bias that the rest of the narrative promptly disallows: the Protestant narrative of the past is the right narrative, from which pro-tolerationists deviate at their peril. From a devout Protestant point of view, the response to Montgomery’s/Mortimer’s sermon, which “did not allow that all religions were alike, or that, in point of fact, no religion was really requisite” (45), reveals the fault line in the logic of interchangeability, for while the curate disallows that religions are interchangeable, the populace demonstrates that an indifferentist attitude to religion is interchangeable with total secularism. In this context, any attempt to delineate a positive truth seems not only rude, but violently disruptive, “tending to set man against man” (44)—a pointedly ironic contrast to the imagery of martyrdom and warfare preserved in Egerton’s library. What the Protestants have done, then, is confuse perceived rhetorical violence with actual physical violence, while suppressing the historical and Biblical narratives that properly differentiate between the two. As we have seen in Egerton’s case, toleration for Catholicism requires Protestants to be bad readers or non-readers, resisting the very texts that would declare pro-Catholic attitudes out of bounds.
The second half of the story devotes itself to restoring the sense of difference between Protestantism and Catholicism. Mr. Egerton receives a series of shocks, all of which reinforce the story’s main point: Catholics believe that the two religions are incommensurable. First, a Catholic servant is refused last rites because he will not allow his Protestant daughter to attend the local Catholic school; Egerton, understandably troubled by the priest’s behavior, nevertheless insists that “We must not, however, judge of churches by individuals: and I shall continue to respect the religion of the Church of Rome, though I cannot but feel shocked at the inhumanity of one of her ordained ministers” (128). Egerton’s resistance to reading the priest symptomatically, however, soon runs into further difficulties. A new priest arrives who undermines the Egertons’ attempts to maintain a Protestant school in the town. Even worse, Egerton, accustomed to regard Moneyrogue as a safe seat, discovers that the Catholics have decided to oppose him. When a loyal Catholic servant of Egerton’s continues to work on his behalf, he is brutally murdered, his “head literally pounded to pieces” (132). Although the perpetrators are caught and executed, Egerton—who loses his parliamentary seat after all—must hear the priest “[speak] to them and of them, as if they had been martyrs” (132). Catholics, who have benefited from Protestant toleration, reassert their difference from Protestants through both physical violence and alternative narratives; if Protestants refuse to identify themselves with their own history of martyrdom, the Catholics are only too happy to represent justice for murder as martyrdom in the cause of truth. The Catholics win the war of rhetorical framing because Protestants falsely associate Scriptural truths with deadly violence. At the same time, the story insists that Catholic rhetoric ultimately produces violence in a way that Scriptural truths do not. Protestants are right to believe that some religious discourse exemplifies “rancor and bigotry,” but they just happen to be wrong about which religion will have this effect. The story’s ending, with the Protestant turfed out of his parliamentary seat and replaced by a Catholic tool, the alternative school reduced to “silence,” and the countryside glowing with vaguely apocalyptic “bonfires” and the “distant thunder” of Catholic celebrations (133), lays out the ultimate effect of toleration: not egalitarian relations in a polite public sphere, but the brutal removal or suppression of Protestant influence from the nation’s culture. Protestants who keep silent, in other words, will be silenced.