It is not everyday that I get to publish previously unknown writing by Frederick Rolfe Baron Corvo but I am delighted to say that a lady called Sue, a researcher who has often worked with Callum James Books, recently noticed that the National Library of Wales has digitised a large quantity of Welsh newspapers and in the North Wales Times of 26 March, 1898 in column 1 of page 8, she found the letter that follows from Frederick Rolfe (signed as F. Austin, a name he used a lot at this time)
A little context is necessary. Rolfe spent a number of years in Holywell on the North Wales coast, and during his time there he attached himself to the shrine of St Winefride which was a Catholic shrine administered by a Jesuit priest, Fr Beauclerk. Rolfe and Beauclerk were both big personalities and when they fell out, as Rolfe did eventually with most of those he came into contact with, the scale of their encounter was something quite epic, even for Rolfe. Much has been written about it in all of Rolfe's three biographies and Rolfe's letters to Beauclerk have been published in part at least. This was one of the real low points of Rolfe's life and if you detect a level of instability in the letter below I don't think you would be far wrong.
When I came to write an introduction to the Callum James Books edition of the The Attack on St Winefride's Well, an uber-rare pamphlet by Rolfe of which only one complete copy is known to exist, I realised that there was an incident in Holywell that was hardly touched upon by his biographers: a local entrepreneur attempted to get permission to bottle the spring water that fed the shrine's waters. This brought Fr Beauclerk into conflict with the town and Rolfe wasn't shy to wade in to those muddied waters himself of course if he could use it to trounce Fr Beauclerk in public. At the time of writing that introduction I discovered a couple of letters to the press about the controversy from Rolfe that hadn't been noticed before. This letter is another.
To the Editor of “The North Wales Times”
I yearn for enlightenment. I cannot reconcile the public utterances of the Reverend Father Beauclerk, of the Society of Jesus. They bewilder me, and confuse my mind.
In 1896, he preached, scornfully sneering at “frivolous Wales”.
In 1897, on some-one’s flouting him in High Street, he incontinently cursed the town of Holywell, praying that all industries might be stopped, all work people thrown out of work, and grass grow in the streets.
In 1898, our Urban Council has licensed a financier named Atherton to bottle water from St Winefride’s Well. Fr. Beauclerk (S.J.) has (1) protested against this license; (2) canvassed and town to oppose Mr. Atherton; (3) contradicted himself by telling the Urban Council that he favoured Mr. Atherton’s scheme; (4) contradicted himself again by preaching against the license; (5) denounced the ‘sordid hypocrisy of this little town’; (6) complained of the ‘unfairness of the local papers’ as neglecting to print his news and ‘only fit for the cesspool’; (7) preached to London Catholics breathing threats of litigation against interferers with his will.
Now the jade Rumour calls Father Beauclerk (S.J.) the Benefactor of Bankrupt Holywell, and he himself asseverates that all his acts are philanthropic, and that he only strives for the public welfare.
If this indeed be so, why does the Reverend Gentleman jeer at ‘frivolous Wales,’ or ‘this sordid little town?’. Why did he curse the place last May? Why is he not consistently glad to see his curse verified and the ruin of Holywell (for which he prayed) progress? Or, in a parenthesis, has that curse come home to roost in the shape of Mr. Atherton’s license to bottle, injuring Father Beauclerk’s Church’s bottling business? Why does he inflame himself and furiously rage against the Will of the People og Holywell, as manifested in the acts of their Urban Council? And why does he say to the town at this juncture, ‘don’t be sorry for me, be sorry for yourselves?’
I want to know whether this is Real Philanthropy, so that I may know it again. Sometimes a Philanthropist acts for love of notoriety; and makes the cynic and worldly minded man chuckle and chortle with an open joy.
Time was when Father Beauclerk boasted that he held Holywell in the hollow of his hand.
Then perhaps these utterances are due to that wounded amour propre of an irresponsible cleric which is akin to spretoe injuria formoe of ‘a woman scorned.’
I merely ask for information. What IS the Reverend Father’s Beauclerk’s object?
I am sir,
Your obedient servant
3, Bank Place, Holywell.