Full Online Books
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
Full Online Book HomeEssaysCardinal Newman
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
Cardinal Newman Post by :m.larsen1 Category :Essays Author :Augustine Birrell Date :November 2011 Read :2942

Click below to download : Cardinal Newman (Format : PDF)

Cardinal Newman


There are some men whose names are inseparably and exclusively associated with movements; there are others who are for ever united in human memories with places; it is the happy fortune of the distinguished man whose name is at the top of this page to be able to make good both titles to an estate in our minds and hearts; for whilst his fierce intellectual energy made him the leader of a great movement, his rare and exquisite tenderness has married his name to a lovely place. Whenever men's thoughts dwell upon the revival of Church authority in England and America during this century, they will recall the Vicar of St. Mary's, Oxford, who lived to become a Cardinal of Rome, and whenever the lover of all things that are quiet, and gentle, and true in life, and literature, visits Oxford he will find himself wondering whether snap-dragon still grows outside the windows of the rooms in Trinity, where once lived the author of the Apologia.

The Rev. John Wesley was a distinguished man, if ever there was one, and his name is associated with a movement certainly as remarkable as, and a great deal more useful than, the one connected with the name of Newman. Wesley's great missionary tours in Devon and Cornwall, and the wild, remote parts of Lancashire, lack no single element of sublimity. To this day the memories of those apostolic journeys are green and precious, and a source of strength and joy: the portrait of the eager preacher hangs up in almost every miner's cottage, whilst his name is pronounced with reverence by a hundred thousand lips. 'You seem a very temperate people here,' once observed a thirsty pedestrian (who was, indeed, none other than the present writer) to a Cornish miner, 'how did it happen?' He replied solemnly, raising his cap, 'There came a man amongst us once, and his name was John Wesley.' Wesley was an Oxford man, but he is not much in men's thoughts as they visit that city of enchantment. Why is this? It is because, great as Wesley was, he lacked charm. As we read his diaries and letters, we are interested, we are moved, but we are not pleased. Now, Oxford pleases and charms. Therefore it is, that when we allow ourselves a day in her quadrangles we find ourselves thinking of Dr. Newman, and his Trinity snap-dragon, and how the Rev. William James, 'some time in the year 1823,' taught him the doctrine of Apostolic Succession in the course of a walk round Christchurch Meadow, rather than of Wesley and his prayer-meetings at Lincoln, which were proclaimed by the authorities as savouring of sedition.

A strong personal attachment of the kind which springs up from reading an author, which is distilled through his pages, and turns his foibles, even his follies, into pleasant things we would not for the world have altered, is apt to cause the reader, who is thus affected, to exaggerate the importance of any intellectual movement with which the author happened to be associated. There are, I know, people who think this is notably so in Dr. Newman's case. Crusty men are to be met with, who rudely say they have heard enough of the Oxford movement, and that the time is over for penning ecstatic paragraphs about Dr. Newman's personal appearance in the pulpit at St. Mary's. I think these crusty people are wrong. The movement was no doubt an odd one in some of its aspects--it wore a very academic air indeed; and to be academic is to be ridiculous, in the opinion of many. Our great Northern towns lived their grimy lives amidst the whirl of their machinery, quite indifferent to the movement. Our huge Nonconformist bodies knew no more of the University of Oxford in those days, than they did of the University of Tübingen. This movement sent no missionaries to the miners, and its tracts were not of the kind that are served suddenly upon you in the streets like legal process, but were, in fact, bulky treatises stuffed full of the dead languages. London, of course, heard about the movement, and, so far as she was not tickled by the comicality of the notion of anything really important happening outside her cab-radius, was irritated by it. Mr. Henry Rogers poked heavy fun at it in the Edinburgh Review. Mr. Isaac Taylor wrote two volumes to prove that ancient Christianity was a drivelling and childish superstition, and in the opinion of some pious Churchmen succeeded in doing so. But for the most part people left the movement alone, unless they happened to be Bishops or very clerically connected. 'The bishops,' says Dr. Newman, 'began charging against us.' But bishops' charges are amongst the many seemingly important things that do not count in England. It is said to be the duty of an archdeacon to read his bishop's charge, but it is undoubted law that a mandamus will not be granted to compel him to do so.

But notwithstanding this aspect of the case, it was a genuine thought-movement in propagating which these long-coated parsons, with their dry jokes, strange smiles, and queer notions were engaged. They used to drive about the country in gigs, from one parsonage to another, and leave their tracts behind them. They were not concerned with the flocks--their message was to the shepherds. As for the Dissenters, they had nothing to say to them, except that their very presence in a parish was a plenary argument for the necessity of the movement.

The Tractarians met with the usual fortune of those who peddle new ideas. Some rectors did not want to be primitive--more did not know what it meant; but enough were found pathetically anxious to read a meaning into their services and offices, to make it plain that the Tracts really were 'for' and not 'against' the times.

The great plot, plan, or purpose, call it what you will, of the Tractarian movement was to make Churchmen believe with a personal conviction that the Church of England was not a mere National Institution, like the House of Commons or the game of cricket, but a living branch of that Catholic Church which God had from the beginning, endowed with sacramental gifts and graces, with a Priesthood apostolically descended, with a Creed, precise and specific, which it was the Church's duty to teach, and man's to believe, and with a ritual and discipline to be practised and maintained, with daily piety and entire submission.

These were new ideas in 1833. When Dr. Newman was ordained in 1824, he has told us, he did not look on ordination as a sacramental rite, nor did he ascribe to baptism any supernatural virtue.

It cannot be denied that the Tractarians had their work before them. But they had forces on their side.

It is always pleasant to rediscover the meaning of words and forms which have been dulled by long usage. This is why etymology is so fascinating. By the natural bent of our minds we are lovers of whatever things are true and real. We hanker after facts. To get a grip of reality is a pleasure so keen--most of our faith is so desperate a 'make-believe,' that it is not to be wondered at that pious folk should have been found who rejoiced to be told that what they had been saying and doing all the years of their lives really had a meaning and a history of its own. One would have to be very unsympathetic not to perceive that the time we are speaking of must have been a very happy one for many a devout soul. The dry bones lived--formal devotions were turned into joyous acts of faith and piety. The Church became a Living Witness to the Truth. She could be interrogated--she could answer. The old calendar was revived, and Saint's Day followed Saint's Day, and season season, in the sweet procession of the Christian Year. Pretty girls got up early, made the sign of the Cross, and, unscared by devils, tripped across the dewy meadows to Communion. Grave men read the Fathers, and found themselves at home in the Fourth Century.

A great writer had, so it appears, all unconsciously prepared the way for this Neo-Catholicism. Dr. Newman has never forgotten to pay tribute to Sir Walter Scott.

Sir Walter's work has proved to be of so permanent a character, his insight into all things Scotch so deep and true, and his human worth and excellence so rare and noble, that it has hardly been worth while to remember the froth and effervescence he at first occasioned; but that he did create a movement in the Oxford direction is certain. He made the old Catholic times interesting. He was not indeed, like the Tractarians, a man of 'primitive' mind; but he was romantic, and it all told. For this we have the evidence not only of Dr. Newman (a very nice observer), but also of the delightful, the bewitching, the never sufficiently-to-be-praised George Borrow--Borrow, the Friend of Man, at whose bidding lassitude and languor strike their tents and flee; and health and spirits, adventure and human comradeship, take up the reins of life, whistle to the horses, and away you go!

Borrow has indeed, in the Appendix to the Romany Rye, written of Sir Walter after a fashion for which I hope he has been forgiven. A piece of invective more terrible, more ungenerous, more savagely and exultingly cruel, is nowhere to be found. I shudder when I think of it. Had another written it, nothing he ever wrote should be in the same room with the Heart of Midlothian, Redgauntlet, and The Antiquary. I am not going to get angry with George Borrow. I say at once--I cannot afford it. But neither am I going to quote from the Appendix. God forbid! I can find elsewhere what will suit my purpose just as well. Readers of Lavengro will remember the Man in Black. It is hard to forget him, the scandalous creature, or his story of the ironmonger's daughter at Birmingham 'who screeches to the piano the Lady of the Lake's hymn to the Virgin Mary, always weeps when Mary Queen of Scots is mentioned, and fasts on the anniversary of the death of that very wise martyr, Charles I. Why, said the Man in Black, I would engage to convert such an idiot to popery in a week, were it worth my trouble. O Cavaliere Gualtereo, avete fatto molto in favore della Santa Sede.'

Another precursor was Coleridge, who (amongst other things) called attention to the writings of the earlier Anglican divines--some of whom were men of primitive tempers and Catholic aspirations. Andrews and Laud, Jackson, Bull, Hammond and Thorndyke--sound divines to a man--found the dust brushed off them. The second-hand booksellers, a wily and observant race, became alive to the fact that though Paley and Warburton, Horsley and Hoadley, were not worth the brown paper they came wrapped up in, seventeenth-century theology would bear being marked high.

Thus was the long Polar Winter that had befallen Anglican theology broken up, and the icebergs began moving about after a haphazard and even dangerous fashion--but motion is always something.

What has come to the Movement? It is hard to say. Its great leader has written a book of fascinating interest to prove that it was not a genuine Anglican movement at all; that it was foreign to the National Church, and that neither was its life derived from, nor was its course in the direction of, the National Church. But this was after he himself had joined the Church of Rome. Nobody, however, ventured to contradict him, nor is this surprising when we remember the profusion of argument and imagery with which he supported his case.

A point was reached, and then things were allowed to drop. The Church of Rome received some distinguished converts with her usual well-bred composure, and gave them little things to do in their new places. The Tracts for the Times, neatly bound, repose on many shelves. Tract No. 90, that fierce bomb-shell which once scattered confusion through clerical circles, is perhaps the only bit of Dr. Newman's writing one does not, on thinking of, wish to sit down at once to re-read. The fact is that the movement, as a movement with a terminus ad quem, was fairly beaten by a power fit to be matched with Rome herself--John Bullism. John Bull could not be got to assume a Catholic demeanour. When his judges denied that the grace of Baptism was a dogma of his faith, Bull, instead of behaving as did the people of Milan when Ambrose was persecuted by an Arian Government, was hugely pleased, clapped his thigh, and exclaimed, through the mouth of Lord John Russell, that the ruling was 'sure to give general satisfaction,' as indeed it did.

The work of the movement can still be seen in the new spirit that has descended upon the Church of England and in the general heightening of Church principles; but the movement itself is no longer to be seen, or much of the temper or modes of thought of the Tractarians. The High Church clergyman of to-day is no Theologian--he is an Opportunist. The Tractarian took his stand upon Antiquity--he laboured his points, he was always ready to prove his Rule of Faith and to define his position. His successor, though he has appropriated the results of the struggle, does not trouble to go on waging it. He is as a rule no great reader--you may often search his scanty library in vain for the works of Bishop Jackson. Were you to ask for them, it is quite possible he would not know to what bishop of that name you were referring. He is as hazy about the Hypostatic Union as are many laymen about the Pragmatic Sanction. He is all for the People and for filling his Church. The devouring claims of the Church of Rome do not disturb his peace of mind. He thinks it very rude of her to dispute the validity of his orders--but, then, foreigners are rude! And so he goes on his hard-working way, with his high doctrines and his early services, and has neither time nor inclination for those studies that lend support to his priestly pretensions.

This temper of mind has given us peace in our time, and has undoubtedly promoted the cause of Temperance and other good works; but some day or another the old questions will have to be gone into again, and the Anglican claim to be a Church, Visible, Continuous, Catholic, and Gifted, investigated--probably for the last time.

Cynics may declare that it will be but a storm in a teacup--a dispute in which none but 'women, priests, and peers' will be called upon to take part--but it is not an obviously wise policy to be totally indifferent to what other people are thinking about--simply because your own thoughts are running in other directions.

But all this is really no concern of mine. My object is to call attention to Dr. Newman's writings from a purely literary point of view.

The charm of Dr. Newman's style necessarily baffles description: as well might one seek to analyse the fragrance of a flower, or to expound in words the jumping of one's heart when a beloved friend unexpectedly enters the room. It is hard to describe charm. Mr. Matthew Arnold, who is a poet, gets near it:

'And what but gentleness untired,
And what but noble feeling warm,
Wherever seen, howe'er inspired,
Is grace, is charm?'

One can of course heap on words. Dr. Newman's style is pellucid, it is animated, it is varied; at times icy cold, it oftener glows with a fervent heat; it employs as its obedient and well-trained servant, a vast vocabulary, and it does so always with the ease of the educated gentleman, who by a sure instinct ever avoids alike the ugly pedantry of the book-worm, the forbidding accents of the lawyer, and the stiff conceit of the man of scientific theory. Dr. Newman's sentences sometimes fall upon the ear like well-considered and final judgments, each word being weighed and counted out with dignity and precision; but at other times the demeanour and language of the judge are hastily abandoned, and, substituted for them, we encounter the impetuous torrent--the captivating rhetoric, the brilliant imagery, the frequent examples, the repetition of the same idea in different words, of the eager and accomplished advocate addressing men of like passions with himself.

Dr. Newman always aims at effect, and never misses it. He writes as an orator speaks, straight at you. His object is to convince, and to convince by engaging your attention, exciting your interest, enlivening your fancy. It is not his general practice to address the pure reason. He knows (he well may) how little reason has to do with men's convictions. 'I do not want,' he says, 'to be converted by a smart syllogism.' In another place he observes: 'The heart is commonly reached not through the reason--but through the imagination by means of direct impressions, by the testimony of facts and events, by history and by description. Persons influence us, voices melt us, books subdue us, deeds inflame us.' I have elsewhere ventured upon a comparison between Burke and Newman. Both men, despite their subtlety and learning and super-refinement, their love of fine points and their splendid capacity for stating them in language so apt as to make one's admiration breathless, took very broad, common-sense, matter-of-fact views of humanity, and ever had the ordinary man and woman in mind as they spoke and wrote. Politics and Religion existed in their opinion, for the benefit of plain folk, for Richard and for Jane, or, in other words, for living bundles of hopes and fears, doubts and certainties, prejudices and passions. Anarchy and Atheism are in their opinion the two great enemies of the Human Race. How are they to be frustrated and confounded, men and women being what they are? Dr. Newman, recluse though he is, has always got the world stretched out before him; its unceasing roar sounds in his ear as does the murmur of ocean in the far inland shell. In one of his Catholic Sermons, the sixth of his Discourses to Mixed Congregations, there is a gorgeous piece of rhetoric in which he describes the people looking in at the shop-windows and reading advertisements in the newspapers. Many of his pages positively glow with light and heat and colour. One is at times reminded of Fielding. And all this comparing, and distinguishing, and illustrating, and appealing, and describing, is done with the practised hand of a consummate writer and orator. He is as subtle as Gladstone, and as moving as Erskine; but whereas Gladstone is occasionally clumsy and Erskine is frequently crude, Newman is never clumsy, Newman is never crude, but always graceful, always mellowed.

Humour he possesses in a marked degree. A quiet humour, of course, as befits his sober profession and the gravity of the subjects on which he loves to discourse. It is not the humour that is founded on a lively sense of the incongruous. This kind, though the most delightful of all, is apt, save in the hands of the great masters, the men whom you can count upon your fingers, to wear a slightly professional aspect. It happens unexpectedly, but all the same we expect it to happen, and we have got our laughter ready. Newman's quiet humour always takes us unawares, and is accepted gratefully, partly on account of its intrinsic excellence, and partly because we are glad to find that the

'Pilgrim pale with Paul's sad girdle bound'

has room for mirth in his heart.

In sarcasm Dr. Newman is pre-eminent. Here his extraordinary powers of compression, which are little short of marvellous in one who has also such a talent for expansion, come to his aid and enable him to squeeze into a couple of sentences, pleadings, argument, judgment, and execution. Had he led the secular life, and adopted a Parliamentary career, he would have been simply terrific, for his weapons of offence are both numerous and deadly. His sentences stab--his invective destroys. The pompous high-placed imbecile mouthing his platitudes, the wordy sophister with his oven full of half-baked thoughts, the ill-bred rhetorician with his tawdry aphorisms, the heartless hate-producing satirist, would have gone down before his sword and spear. But God was merciful to these sinners: Newman became a Priest and they Privy Councillors.

And lastly, all these striking qualities and gifts float about in a pleasant atmosphere. As there are some days even in England when merely to go out and breathe the common air is joy, and when, in consequence, that grim tyrant, our bosom's lord

'Sits lightly in his throne,'

so, to take up almost any one of Dr. Newman's books, and they are happily numerous--between twenty and thirty volumes--is to be led away from 'evil tongues,' and the 'sneers of selfish men,' from the mud and the mire, the shoving and pushing that gather and grow round the pig-troughs of life, into a diviner ether, a purer air, and is to spend your time in the company of one who, though he may sometimes astonish, yet never fails to make you feel (to use Carlyle's words about a very different author), 'that you have passed your evening well and nobly, as in a temple of wisdom, not ill and disgracefully as in brawling tavern supper-rooms with fools and noisy persons.'

The tendency to be egotistical noticeable in some persons who are free from the faintest taint of egotism is a tendency hard to account for--but delightful to watch.

'Anything,' says glorious John Dryden, 'though ever so little, which a man speaks of himself--in my opinion, is still too much.' A sound opinion most surely, and yet how interesting are the personal touches we find scattered up and down Dryden's noble prefaces. So with Newman--his dignity, his self-restraint, his taste, are all the greatest stickler for a stiff upper lip and the consumption of your own smoke could desire, and yet the personal note is frequently sounded. He is never afraid to strike it when the perfect harmony that exists between his character and his style demands its sound, and so it has come about that we love what he has written because he wrote it, and we love him who wrote it because of what he has written.

I now approach by far the pleasantest part of my task, namely, the selection of two or three passages from Dr. Newman's books by way of illustrating what I have taken the liberty to say are notable characteristics of his style.

Let me begin with a chance specimen of the precision of his language. The passage is from the prefatory notice the Cardinal prefixed to the Rev. William Palmer's Notes of a Visit to the Russian Church in the Years 1840, 1841. It is dated 1882, and is consequently the writing of a man over eighty years of age: 'William Palmer was one of those earnest-minded and devout men, forty years since, who, deeply convinced of the great truth that our Lord had instituted, and still acknowledges and protects, a Visible Church--one, individual, and integral; Catholic, as spread over the earth, Apostolic, as coeval with the Apostles of Christ, and Holy, as being the dispenser of His Word and Sacraments--considered it at present to exist in three main branches, or rather in a triple presence, the Latin, the Greek, and the Anglican, these three being one and the same Church distinguishable from each other by secondary, fortuitous, and local, though important characteristics. And whereas the whole Church in its fulness was, as they believed, at once and severally Anglican, Greek, and Latin, so in turn each one of those three was the whole Church; whence it followed that, whenever any one of the three was present, the other two, by the nature of the case, was absent, and therefore the three could not have direct relations with each other, as if they were three substantive bodies, there being no real difference between them except the external accident of place. Moreover, since, as has been said, on a given territory there could not be more than one of the three, it followed that Christians generally, wherever they were, were bound to recognise, and had a claim to be recognised by that one; ceasing to belong to the Anglican Church, as Anglican, when they were at Rome, and ignoring Rome, as Rome, when they found themselves at Moscow. Lastly, not to acknowledge this inevitable outcome of the initial idea of the Church, viz., that it was both everywhere and one, was bad logic, and to act in opposition to it was nothing short of setting up altar against altar, that is, the hideous sin of schism, and a sacrilege. This I conceive to be the formal teaching of Anglicanism.'

The most carefully considered judgments of Lord Westbury or Lord Cairns may be searched in vain for finer examples of stern accuracy and beautiful aptness of language.

For examples of what may be called Newman's oratorical rush, one has not far to look--though when torn from their context and deprived of their conclusion they are robbed of three-fourths of their power. Here is a passage from his second lecture addressed to the Anglican Party of 1833. It is on the Life of the National Church of England.

'Doubtless the National religion is alive. It is a great power in the midst of us, it wields an enormous influence; it represses a hundred foes; it conducts a hundred undertakings; it attracts men to it, uses them, rewards them; it has thousands of beautiful homes up and down the country where quiet men may do its work and benefit its people; it collects vast sums in the shape of voluntary offerings, and with them it builds Churches, prints and distributes innumerable Bibles, books, and tracts, and sustains missionaries in all parts of the earth. In all parts of the earth it opposes the Catholic Church, denounces her as anti-christian, bribes the world against her, obstructs her influence, apes her authority, and confuses her evidence. In all parts of the world it is the religion of gentlemen, of scholars, of men of substance, and men of no personal faith at all. If this be life, if it be life to impart a tone to the Court and Houses of Parliament, to Ministers of State, to law and literature, to universities and schools, and to society, if it be life to be a principle of order in the population, and an organ of benevolence and almsgiving towards the poor, if it be life to make men decent, respectable, and sensible, to embellish and reform the family circle, to deprive vice of its grossness and to shed a glow over avarice and ambition; if, indeed, it is the life of religion to be the first jewel in the Queen's crown, and the highest step of her throne, then doubtless the National Church is replete, it overflows with life; but the question has still to be answered: life of what kind?'

For a delightful example of Dr. Newman's humour, which is largely, if not entirely, a playful humour, I will remind the reader of the celebrated imaginary speech against the British Constitution attributed to 'a member of the junior branch of the Potemkin family,' and supposed to have been delivered at Moscow in the year 1850. It is too long for quotation, but will be found in the first of the Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England. The whole book is one of the best humoured books in the English language.

Of his sarcasm, the following example, well-known as it is, must be given. It occurs in the Essay on the Prospects of the Anglican Church, which is reprinted from the British Critic in the first volume of the Essays Critical and Historical.

'In the present day mistiness is the mother of wisdom. A man who can set down half a dozen general propositions, which escape from destroying one another only by being diluted into truisms, who can hold the balance between opposites so skilfully as to do without fulcrum or beam, who never enunciates a truth without guarding himself from being supposed to exclude the contradictory, who holds that Scripture is the only authority--yet that the Church is to be deferred to, that faith only justifies, yet that it does not justify without works, that grace does not depend on the sacraments, yet is not given without them, that bishops are a divine ordinance--yet those who have them not are in the same religious condition as those who have--this is your safe man and the hope of the Church; this is what the Church is said to want, not party men, but sensible, temperate, sober, well-judging persons to guide it through the channel of No-meaning, between the Scylla and Charybdis of Aye and No. But, alas! reading sets men thinking. They will not keep standing in that very attitude, which you please to call sound Church-of-Englandism or orthodox Protestantism. It tires them, it is so very awkward, and for the life of them--they cannot continue in it long together, where there is neither article nor canon to lean against--they cannot go on for ever standing on one leg, or sitting without a chair, or walking with their legs tied, or grazing like Tityrus's stags on the air. Promises imply conclusions--germs lead to developments; principles have issues; doctrines lead to action.'

Of the personal note to which I have made reference--no examples need or should be given. Such things must not be transplanted from their own homes.

'The delicate shells lay on the shore;
The bubbles of the latest wave
Fresh pearl to their enamel gave;
And the bellowing of the savage sea
Greeted their safe escape to me.
I wiped away the weeds and foam
And brought my sea-born treasures home:
But the poor, unsightly noisome things
Had left their beauty on the shore,
With the sun and the sand and the wild uproar.'

If I may suppose this paper read by someone who is not yet acquainted with Newman's writings I would advise him, unless he is bent on theology, to begin not with the Sermons, not even with the Apologia, but with the Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England. Then let him take up the Lectures on the Idea of an University, and on University Subjects. These may be followed by Discussions and Arguments, after which he will be well disposed to read the Lectures on the Difficulties felt by Anglicans. If after he has despatched these volumes he is not infected with what one of those charging Bishops called 'Newmania,' he is possessed of a devil of obtuseness no wit of man can expel.

Of the strength of Dr. Newman's philosophical position, which he has explained in his Grammar of Assent, it would ill become me to speak. He there strikes the shield of John Locke. Non nostrum est tantas componere lites. But it is difficult for the most ignorant of us not to have shy notions and lurking suspicions even about such big subjects and great men. Locke maintained that a man's belief in a proposition really depended upon and bore a relation to the weight of evidence forthcoming in its favour. Dr. Newman asserts that certainty is a quality of propositions, and he has discovered in man 'an illative sense' whereby conclusions are converted into dogmas and a measured concurrence into an unlimited and absolute assurance. This illative sense is hardly a thing (if I may use an expression for ever associated with Lord Macaulay) to be cocksure about. Wedges, said the mediæval mechanic to his pupils, split wood by virtue of a wood-splitting quality in wedges--but now we are indisposed to endow wedges with qualities, and if not wedges, why propositions? But the Grammar of Assent is a beautiful book, and with a quotation from it I will close my quotations: 'Thus it is that Christianity is the fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham and of the Mosaic revelations; this is how it has been able from the first to occupy the world, and gain a hold on every class of human society to which its preachers reached; this is why the Roman power and the multitude of religions which it embraced could not stand against it; this is the secret of its sustained energy, and its never-flagging martyrdoms; this is how at present it is so mysteriously potent, in spite of the new and fearful adversaries which beset its path. It has with it that gift of stanching and healing the one deep wound of human nature, which avails more for its success than a full encyclopædia of scientific knowledge and a whole library of controversy, and therefore it must last while human nature lasts.'

It is fitting that our last quotation should be one which leaves the Cardinal face to face with his faith.

Dr. Newman's poetry cannot be passed over without a word, though I am ill-fitted to do it justice. Lead, Kindly Light has forced its way into every hymn-book and heart. Those who go, and those who do not go to church, the fervent believer and the tired-out sceptic here meet on common ground. The language of the verses in their intense sincerity seems to reduce all human feelings, whether fed on dogmas and holy rites or on man's own sad heart, to a common denominator.

'The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on.'

The believer can often say no more. The unbeliever will never willingly say less.

Amongst Dr. Newman's Verses on Various Occasions--though in some cases the earlier versions to be met with in the Lyra Apostolica are to be preferred to the later--poems will be found by those who seek, conveying sure and certain evidence of the possession by the poet of the true lyrical gift--though almost cruelly controlled by the course of the poet's thoughts and the nature of his subjects. One is sometimes constrained to cry, 'Oh, if he could only get out into the wild blowing airs, how his pinions would sweep the skies!' but such thoughts are unlicensed and unseemly. That we have two such religious poets as Cardinal Newman and Miss Christina Rossetti is or ought to be matter for sincere rejoicing.


To the inveterate truth-hunter there has been much of melancholy in the very numerous estimates, hasty estimates no doubt, but all manifestly sincere, which the death of Cardinal Newman has occasioned.

The nobility of the pursuit after truth wherever the pursuit may lead has been abundantly recognised. Nobody has been base enough or cynical enough to venture upon a sneer. It has been marvellous to notice what a hold an unpopular thinker, dwelling very far apart from the trodden paths of English life and thought, had obtained upon men's imaginations. The 'man in the street' was to be heard declaring that the dead Cardinal was a fine fellow. The newspaper-makers were astonished at the interest displayed by their readers. How many of these honest mourners, asked the Globe, have read a page of Newman's writings? It is a vain inquiry. Newman's books have long had a large and increasing sale. They stand on all sorts of shelves, and wherever they go a still, small voice accompanies them. They are speaking books; an air breathes from their pages.

'Again I saw and I confess'd
Thy speech was rare and high,
And yet it vex'd my burden'd breast,
And scared I knew not why.'

It is a strange criticism that recently declared Newman's style to lack individuality. Oddity it lacked, and mannerisms, but not, so it seems to me, individuality.

But this wide recognition of Newman's charm both of character and style cannot conceal from the anxious truth-hunter that there has been an almost equally wide recognition of the futility of Newman's method and position.

Method and position? These were sacred words with the Cardinal. But a few days ago he seemed securely posed before the world. It cannot surely have been his unrivalled dialectics only that made men keep civil tongues in their heads or hesitate to try conclusions with him. It was rather, we presume, that there was no especial occasion to speak of him otherwise than with the respect and affection due to honoured age. But when he is dead--it is different. It is necessary then to gauge his method and to estimate his influence, not as a living man, but as a dead one.

And what has that estimate been? The saintly life, the mysterious presence, are admitted, and well-nigh nothing else. All sorts of reasons are named, some plausible, all cunningly contrived, to account for Newman's quarrel with the Church of his baptism. A writer in the Guardian suggests one, a writer in the Times another, a writer in the Saturday Review a third, and so on.

However much these reasons may differ one from another, they all agree in this, that of necessity they have ceased to operate. They were personal reasons, and perished with the man whose faith and actions they controlled. Nobody else, it has been throughout assumed, will become a Romanist for the same reasons as John Henry Newman. If he had not been brought up an Evangelical, if he had learnt German, if he had married, if he had been made an archdeacon, all would have been different.

There is something positively terrible in this natural history of opinion. All the passion and the pleading of a life, the thought, and the labour, the sustained argument, the library of books, reduced to what?--a series of accidents!

Newman himself well knew this aspect of affairs. No one's plummet since Pascal's had taken deeper soundings of the infirmity--the oceanic infirmity--of the intellect. What actuary, he asks contemptuously, can appraise the value of a man's opinions? In how many a superb passage does he exhibit the absurd, the haphazard fashion in which men and women collect the odds and ends, the bits and scraps they are pleased to place in the museum of their minds, and label, in all good faith, their convictions! Newman almost revels in such subjects. The solemn pomposity which so frequently dignifies with the name of research or inquiry feeble scratchings amongst heaps of verbosity had no more determined foe than the Cardinal.

But now the same measure is being meted out to him, and we are told of a thinker's life--it is nought.

He thought he had constructed a way of escape from the City of Destruction for himself and his followers across the bridge of that illative sense which turns conclusions into assents, and opinions into faiths--but the bridge seems no longer standing.

The writer in the Guardian, who attributes Newman's restlessness in the English Church to the smug and comfortable life of many of its clergy rather than to any especial craving after authority, no doubt wrote with knowledge.

A married clergy seemed always to annoy Newman. Readers of Loss and Gain are not likely to forget the famous 'pork chop' passage, which describes a young parson and his bride bustling into a stationer's shop to buy hymnals and tracts. What was once only annoyance at some of the ways of John Bull on his knees, soon ripened into something not very unlike hatred. Never was any invention less ben trovato than that which used to describe Newman as pining after the 'incomparable liturgy' or the 'cultured society' of the Church of England. He hated ex animo all those aspects of Anglicanism which best recommend it to Erastian minds. A church of which sanctity is not a note is sure to have many friends.

The Saturday Review struck up a fine national tune:

'An intense but narrow conception of personal holiness, and personal satisfaction with dogma, ate him (Newman) up--the natural legacy of the Evangelical school in which he had been nursed, the great tradition of Tory churchmanship, of pride in the Church of England, as such, of determination to stand shoulder to shoulder in resisting the foreigner, whether he came from Rome or from Geneva, from Tübingen, or from Saint Sulpice, of the union of all social and intellectual culture with theological learning--the idea which, alone of all such ideas, has made education patriotic, and orthodoxy generous, made insufficient appeal to him, and for want of it he himself made shipwreck.'

Here is John Bullism, bold and erect. If the Ark of Peter won't hoist the Union Jack, John Bull must have an Ark of his own, with patriotic clergy of his own manufacture tugging at the oar, and with nothing foreign in the hold save some sound old port. 'It will always be remembered to Newman's credit,' says this same reviewer, 'that he knew good wine if he did not drink much.' Mark the 'If'; there is much virtue in it.

We are now provided with two causes of Newman's discomfort in the Church of England--its too comfortable clergy, and its too frequent introduction of the lion and the unicorn amongst the symbols of religion--both effective causes, as may be proved by many passages; but to say that either or both availed to drive him out, and compelled him to seek shelter at the hands of one whom he had long regarded as a foe, is to go very far indeed.

It should not be overlooked that these minimisers of Newman's influence are all firmly attached for different reasons to the institution Newman left. Their judgments therefore cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged. What Disraeli meant when he said that Newman's secession had dealt the Church of England a blow under which it still reeled, was that by this act Newman expressed before the whole world his profound conviction that our so-called National Church was not a branch of the Church Catholic. And this really is the point of weakness upon which Newman hurled himself. This is the damage he did to the Church of this island. Throughout all his writings, in a hundred places, in jests and sarcasms as well as in papers and arguments, there crops up this settled conviction that England is not a Catholic country, and that John Bull is not a member of the Catholic Church.

This may not matter much to the British electorate; but to those who care about such things, who rely upon the validity of orders and the efficacy of sacraments, who need a pedigree for their faith, who do not agree with Emerson that if a man would be great he must be a Nonconformist--over these people it would be rash to assume that Newman's influence is spent. The general effect of his writings, the demands they awaken, the spirit they breathe, are all hostile to Anglicanism. They create a profound dissatisfaction with, a distaste for, the Church of England as by law established. Those who are affected by this spirit will no longer be able comfortably to enjoy the maimed rites and practices of their Church. They will feel their place is elsewhere, and sooner or later they will pack up and go. It is far too early in the day to leave Newman out of sight.

But to end where we began. There has been scant recognition in the Cardinal's case of the usefulness of devoting life to anxious inquiries after truth. It is very noble to do so, and when you come to die, the newspapers, from the Times to the Sporting Life, will first point out, after their superior fashion, how much better was this pure-minded and unworldly thinker than the soiled politician, full of opportunism and inconsistency, trying hard to drown the echoes of his past with his loud vociferations, and then proceed in a few short sentences to establish how out of date is this Thinker's thought, how false his reasoning, how impossible his conclusions, and lastly, how dead his influence.

It is very puzzling and difficult, and drives some men to collect butterflies and beetles. Thinkers are not, however, to be disposed of by scratches of the pen. A Cardinal of the Roman Church is not, to say the least of it, more obviously a shipwreck than a dean or even a bishop of the English establishment. Character, too, counts for something. Of Newman it may be said:

'Fate gave what chance shall not control,
His sad lucidity of soul.'

But the truth-hunter is still unsatisfied.

(The end)
Augustine Birrell's essay: Cardinal Newman

If you like this book please share to your friends :

Matthew Arnold Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold
I The news of Mr. Arnold's sudden death at Liverpool struck a chill into many hearts, for although a somewhat constrained writer (despite his playfulness) and certainly the least boisterous of men, he was yet most distinctly on the side of human enjoyment. He conspired and contrived to make things pleasant. Pedantry he abhorred. He was a man of this life and this world. A severe critic of the world he indeed was, but finding himself in it and not precisely knowing what is beyond it, like a brave and true-hearted man he set himself to make the best of it.

George Borrow George Borrow

George Borrow
Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson, in his delightful Memories and Portraits, takes occasion to tell us, amongst a good many other things of the sort, that he has a great fancy for The Bible in Spain, by Mr. George Borrow. He has not, indeed, read it quite so often as he has Mr. George Meredith's Egoist, but still he is very fond of it. It is interesting to know this, interesting, that is, to the great Clan Stevenson who owe suit and service to their liege lord; but so far as Borrow is concerned, it does not matter, to speak frankly, two