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Edward Bellasis

English convert (1800-1873)

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.


Bellasis, EDWARD, Serjeant-at-Law, b. October 14, 1800; d. January 24, 1873; was one of the most able and respected of that little band of English converts who in the later years of the Tractarian movement joined the Catholic Church from the ranks of the legal profession. The distinguished advocate, J. R. Hope-Scott, who married Sir Walter Scott's granddaughter, and the conveyancer, Edward Badeley, to whom Cardinal (then Doctor) Newman in 1867 dedicated his volume of "Verses on Various Occasions", were the Serjeant's lifelong friends, and all three became Catholics about the same time. Edward Bellasis was the son of the Rev. George Bellasis, D.D., a scion of a younger branch of the Belasyse family (see John Belasyse), and of his second wife, Leah Cooper Viall, the daughter and heiress of Emery Viall of Walsingham, Norfolk. His uncle, General John Bellasis, and his half-brothers, Joseph and George, won high military honors in India towards the close of the eighteenth century. Edward was educated at Christ's Hospital, and after making his legal studies at the Inner Temple he contrived at a relatively early age to form an excellent practice at the Chancery bar. It was, however, the period of great railway developments in the United Kingdom, and Bellasis, turning his attention to the Parliamentary Committees, was constantly retained as counsel for the various companies in the proceedings to which the opening up of the new lines gave rise. In 1844 he received the coif of Serjeant-at-Law, a dignity now abolished, and amongst other causes celebres took part in the famous libel action, Achilli v. Newman, in 1852, and in the litigation connected with the title and estates of the last Catholic Earl of Shrewsbury. In this, as in all his legal work, Bellasis set an example of great disinterestedness. He •retired from the profession in 1867, leaving behind him the reputation of an excellent lawyer and a careful and finished speaker.

Although brought up amid rather evangelical surroundings, Serjeant Bellasis had followed with great interest the developments of the Oxford movement. His Catholic tendencies were stimulated partly by the narrowness of anti-Roman prejudice which he recognized in the attitude of his fellow-religionists, and partly by his intercourse with Catholics whom he met on his travels abroad. His approach towards the Church was slow and characteristically prudent, but the friendships he formed with many advanced Anglicans like Oakley, W. G. Ward, and J. B. Morris, who before long passed over to the Roman side, could not fail to produce an effect. Eventually he was received into the Church by Father Brownbill, S.J., December 27, 1850. His wife and children followed soon after. From that time until his death Serjeant Bellasis was amongst the most devoted and edifying of Catholic laymen. His interest in all Catholic projects was keen, his social and intellectual position was such as commanded respect, and his charity was inexhaustible. From the founding of the new school of the Oratorians under the direction of Dr. Newman, at Edgbaston, to the providing of scientific apparatus for the Observatory at Stonyhurst; from the collection of relics for churches to the encouragement of the Nazareth House Sisters who tended the aged poor, the Serjeant was foremost in every good work. His personal holiness, fostered by constant private retreats, and his kindliness towards all won him universal respect and lent additional effectiveness to the conciliatory pamphlets which he occasionally published in explanation of Catholic truth. His first wife had died as early as 1832. By his second marriage, in 1835, with Miss Eliza Garnett, he left ten children, of whom two sons, the eldest and the youngest, are priests, and three daughters became nuns. In nothing is the beauty of the Serjeant's character more plainly seen than in those fragments of his intercourse with his children which have been reproduced by his biographer. After his death on the 24th of January, 1873, Cardinal Newman wrote: "He was one of the best men I ever knew". Newman's "Grammar of Assent", published in 1870, bears a dedication to Bellasis. Of the Serjeant's own publications the best remembered is a volume of short dialogues collected under the title "Philotheus and Eugenia".

HERBERT THURSTON


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