Tablet, The

views updated


A Catholic weekly, founded in London in May 1840 by Frederick lucas, who two years earlier had converted from Quakerism. It was, at the start, a liberal paper: in a letter in the first issue the Irish politician Daniel o'connell saw it as "an organ to communicate to the public facts of importance to the religious liberty of all classes." Lucas's early moderation quickly turned to a zeal to combat all bigotry, as he saw it, against Catholicism. He also espoused the cause of Irish Home Rule, and moved, with his publication, to Dublin. After his death in 1855 the paper was purchased by John Wallis, again a convert, but, unlike Lucas, a Tory. He brought it back to London and changed the editorial stance to one more in sympathy with the Catholic establishment. Wallis sold the paper, then in financial difficulties, to Fr. Herbert Vaughan, an aristocratic cleric who had, on a visit to the United States, become persuaded of the importance of religious journalism. In 1872 Vaughan became bishop of Salford, and in 1892 archbishop of Westminster. He retained ownership, but handed over the editorship to a relative, John Snead-Cox. The editorial policy remained conservative, both theologically and politically; it also showed a great concern for education, an especial concern of Vaughan's. On his death he bequeathed The Tablet to the diocese of Westminster. Profits were to be divided between the upkeep of the cathedral and the foreign missionary society (the Mill Hill Fathers) Vaughan had founded. Snead-Cox retired in 1920, and was replaced briefly by his assistant James Milburn, who died in office in 1923. Cardinal Bourne's choice for editor, Ernest Oldmeadow, had been a Nonconformist minister in Canada, a wine merchant, and a novelist. He was a pugnacious convert, with a particular detestation of Anglicanism (and specifically of Lord Halifax and the Malines Conversations), in which he claimed to have been encouraged by the cardinal. Bourne's successor, Arthur Hinsley, was less aggressive. He also discovered that The Tablet, between the earlier division of profits and the fact that many of its potential readers had been alienated by its editor, was desperately short of funds. He sold it to a group of laymen led by Thomas Ferrier Burns, an editor with a wide circle of Catholic acquaintances. Among them was Douglas Woodruff, a leader-writer on The Times, who in April 1936 became The Tablet 's editor. The style immediately became much more political and international. It became, it was claimed, required reading in embassies around the world. It shared the right-wing attitudes of the greater part of the British establishment in the 1930s, in particular a sympathy with Franco. Woodruff was, on the other hand, unsympathetic to the Irish Free State. He attended the Second Vatican Council, and expressed himself as happy with the reforms. He achieved something of a coup when he received a letter for publication, defending Pius XII against the picture presented in Hochuth's play The Representative. It was written by Cardinal Montini when he was still archbishop, but reached the paper shortly after he had become pope. Tom Burns replaced Woodruff in 1967, and was immediately faced with the controversy over Humanae vitae, starting with the Majority Report of the commission on birth control, which he published. Burns remained a liberal Catholic, though conservative in politics. This particular stance, particularly his stand in favor of contraception, lost him many readers, and the paper came close to folding. Burns retired in 1982, at the end of the papal visit to Britain, and was replaced by John Wilkins, who had been an assistant on the paper from 1967 to 1972. Under Wilkins The Tablet retained a liberal outlook on things Catholic, but also, and for the first time since the death of Frederick Lucas, on politics likewise. The circulation has grown until it has far outstripped the sales of any period in its history.

Bibliography: m. j. walsh, The Tablet, 18401990, A Commemorative History (London 1990).

[m. j. walsh]