History of The Tablet 3

Some egregious errors were caused by The Tablet's eagerness for joining debates. On 14 March 1870 the Standard claimed that John Henry Newman had described the promoters of infallibility as "an insolent and aggressive faction". The Weekly Register denied Newman had said anything of the sort and Newman denied it himself in a letter to the Standard. Vaughan supported Newman, writing that he could never have used the words attributed to him. Unfortunately he had, because the Standard was able to produce the letter from which the words were taken, and Newman was forced to admit to them in a letter, which the Standard printed alongside an unflattering comment on The Tablet.

Once Vaughan became Bishop of Salford he could not play so direct a role in the paper's management and it was passed over to his assistant George Elliott Ranken, a long-standing friend and a convert. A lawyer who had forfeited his fortune on his reception into the Church in 1849, he had worked in the War Office and then settled in Rome where he became a Privy Chamberlain to Pius IX. He returned to England in 1871 to work on The Tablet, first as assistant to Vaughan and then in full charge. The policies remained those of the proprietor. He was possibly the most devout of The Tablet's editors, and the most unassuming.

In July 1880 Cardinal Manning wrote to Vaughan that the owner of the Weekly Register was ready to part with it for £2,000. Vaughan told him that £2,000 was too much and Manning eventually paid £300 to prevent the Weekly Register either collapsing or falling into the hands of the Jesuits. He had in mind an amalgamation with The Tablet but eventually decided to keep them separate to discourage any new journals, whose quality he could not predict. Manning made over the editorship of the Weekly Register to Wilfrid Meynell.

Vaughan was put out by the gift to Meynell, because he viewed the Weekly Register as a direct competitor. But the Cardinal was concerned as The Tablet, under Wallis, had been a divisive force in English Catholicism. Manning wanted Vaughan to stay out of the Home Rule controversy since four-fifths of English Catholics were Irish. Vaughan defended The Tablet's independence and did differ with Manning on a number of issues, but they remained close. Manning died on 14 January 1892. Vaughan succeeded him, as Archbishop of Westminster and Cardinal.

In 1884 the editor of The Tablet became John G. Snead-Cox, born in 1855 and a relative of the Vaughan family through his mother. Called to the Bar, he had swiftly moved to journalism. He had briefly assisted George Elliot Ranken before the latter's ill-health forced him to retire. Snead-Cox held the post to 1920, his 36 years in office the longest in the paper's history.

J.J. Dwyer wrote of Snead-Cox's editorship that it "consolidated the position of The Tablet and raised it to the rank of a first-class periodical…. Characterised by lucidity, courtesy and dignity. … Snead-Cox, by origin an English country gentleman, was naturally and by conviction a Conservative. The controversies of the period found many Catholics, especially those of Irish origin... in sharp opposition to his views. Thus it came to pass that the legend... that The Tablet is 'anti-Irish', was confirmed and strengthened…".

Others, mostly ladies, complained of Snead-Cox's stiff opposition to the Women's Suffrage Movement. These things, however, did little or nothing to offset the solid merits of the paper … there was very little criticism from those who actually purchased and read the paper".

Snead-Cox conducted Vaughan's (ultimately abortive) campaign to unite the seminaries of southern England in one major seminary at Oscott through The Tablet, and followed Vaughan's line on several issues such as the campaign against the recognition of Anglican orders and the duty of Catholics to convert Anglicans. Vaughan sometimes used The Tablet as a notice-board: he announced, for example, on 25 April 1893 that Catholics were to be allowed to go to Oxford and Cambridge.

The biologist and Catholic convert St George Mivart was excommunicated by Vaughan for trying to reconcile Catholic doctrine and the theory of evolution after his views were attacked in a Tablet leader. Following a letter of complaint to Vaughan (as the paper's owner), and a subsequent request by Vaughan to sign a profession faith, he was excommunicated.

In June 1881 Vaughan wrote to Lady Herbert of Lea that "I must do all I can to increase its [i.e. The Tablet's] efficiency and to get fresh subscribers". He wished to leave The Tablet equally to the Archiepiscopal See of Westminster and to his foundation at Mill Hill. Vaughan's final instruction gave legal possession of The Tablet to Mgr Dunn, Fr Henry and Joseph Weld respectively his secretary and later Bishop of Nottingham; the rector of Mill Hill; and the leading member of the legal firm, now called Witham Weld, still the Westminster diocesan solicitors.

Snead-Cox continued to edit the paper under Archbishop Bourne. In 1910 Snead-Cox suggested that Burns & Oates, a Catholic publishing company of which he was a major shareholder, take over the management. Under the direction of Wilfred Meynell, Burns & Oates changed the title-piece to a Caslon face, with the full point at last disappearing at its end. The editions of 1914 looked particularly fine. The Tablet stayed with Burns & Oates until 30 June 1918.

A decade after Vaughan's death there was alarm about a decline in subscriptions. A meeting of the Tablet trustees in June 1914 admitted that the improved Universe in England and the recently founded Jesuit weekly America, in the United States were providing increased competition.

Snead-Cox had made the paper eminently respectable and had attracted eminent Catholic writers, especially historians. After his decision to retire in 1920, his assistant James Milburn, a few months short of 60, became editor. Born in York and educated at Ushaw and then London University, he had taught at Ushaw and St Bede's, Manchester. Vaughan came to know him at St Bede's and had invited him to become sub-editor of The Tablet in 1895. Despite the economical way the paper was run, his editorship saw a plunge into financial crisis, the cause of which was an increase in expenses, and not a fall in sales. Staff salaries and pensions were cut.

The paper was managed by a Mr Magnani and during Milburn's illness run by his assistant G. Elliot Anstruther. But the editorship of the paper passed to Ernest Oldmeadow, who offered his salary of £500 to help pay for assistance in running the paper. Oldmeadow had been a Nonconformist, a minister at Halifax in Nova Scotia. Born in 1867, he became a Catholic at aged 30. At the age of 42 he founded a highly successful wine business after writing a handful of novels. J.J. Dwyer described him as "a genial, humorous man of the world with wide interest, a bon vivant, too".


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