Thursday, January 5, 2017

Dr. Newman and Mr. Kingsley

Since the days of Bentley and Boyle there has not appeared so lively a controversy as that contained in the piquant “Correspondence on the Question whether Dr. Newman teaches that Truth is no Virtue?” Nor is the resemblance confined to the mere artistic power and mastership of literary swordmanship which the victor displays. There is on either side enough to make the parallel sufficient. The shrewd, sound, logical precision of him who was once the leading mind of Oxford bears about the same relation to the ponderous thrust and accurate poise with which the old Master of Trinity delivered his weighty spear, as the helter-skelter of feint of Kingsley does to the hasty and flashy sciolism of the pet of Aldrich and Atterbury. In the January number of Macmillan's Magazine, Mr. Kingsley, under the initials of C. K., and apropos of a review of Froude's History of England, delivered himself of a very brilliant passage, directed, and not at all too strongly, against the corruption in religion and morals encouraged or instigated by certain Papal dogmas current at the time of the Reformation. But, not content with a general remark on the low state of morality traceable to the doctrine of Papal infallibility, Mr. Kingsley went on to fortify his argument by a particular illustration, and said:—
‘So, again, of the virtue of truth. Truth, for its own sake, had never been a virtue with the Roman clergy. Father Newman informs us that it need not, and on the whole ought not to be; that cunning is the weapon which Heaven has given to the saints wherewith to withstand the brute male force of the wicked world which marries and is given in marriage.’
Passing over the somewhat extravagant and certainly rather sweeping allegation that truth had never — that is, for sixteen hundred years — been admitted to be a virtue by, as it seems, any of the clergy who formed during that time the majority of the Christian world, and who were the only teachers of morality in the whole of European Christendom, here was a distinct and positive assertion. “Father Newman informs us that Truth need not, and on the whole ought not to be a virtue with the Roman clergy;” or, as the phrase is capable of being read, “Father Newman informs us that truth need not, and on the whole ought not to be a virtue,” i.e. generally with anybody, with all Christians. And further, Father Newman informs us “that cunning is the weapon which Heaven has given to the saints wherewith to withstand the brute male force of the wicked world which marries and is given in marriage. Whether his notion be doctrinally correct or not, it is at least so.” And then Mr. Kingsley proceeds to give, as an historical proof, the instance—a very pertinent one—of the Forged Decretals.

Upon this, and very immediately indeed upon this, the old lion rouses himself in his den. Somebody had addressed to Dr. Newman, at the Oratory, Birmingham, as early as the 30th of December, the January number of Macmillan, the above passage being duly pencilled. And, on the very same day, Dr. Newman writes a brief, but very significant note to Messrs. Macmillan, not of complaint, nor of remonstrance, nor even requesting an answer, but simply wishing to “draw the attention of Messrs. Macmillan, as gentlemen, to a grave and gratuitous slander, with which I (Dr. Newman) feel confident you will be sorry to find associated a name so eminent as yours.” To this note Mr. Kingsley replies in a letter to Dr. Newman, avowing the article, and specifying, as “the document to which he expressly referred, the sermon entitled, ‘Wisdom and Innocence,' from Sermons on ‘Subjects of the Day,' published in 1844.” Dr. Newman's reply is not much more than a simple acknowledgment, but it concludes with a very piercing sting. The article was signed C. K., but, says Dr. Newman, “when I wrote to Mr. Macmillan, no person whatever whom I had seen or heard of occurred to me as the author of the statement in question. When I received your letter taking upon yourself the authorship, I was amazed.” Here steps in a mysterious personage, X. Y., Esq., “a gentleman who interposed between Mr. Kingsley and Dr. Newman,” as Dr. Newman informs us. Who invoked his interposition does not appear, nor when or why he interfered at all. X. Y. is, we suppose, a friend of Mr. Kingsley, for it comes out incidentally that he “confesses plainly that he had read the passage, and did not even think that I (Dr. Newman) or any of my communion would think it unjust.” X. Y., however, must have been consulted either by Mr. Kingsley or Mr. Macmillan very shortly after Dr. Newman's first letter of December 30, for X. Y. writes to Dr. Newman on January 5, and Mr. Kingsley's letter admitting the authorship is dated January 6. To Mr. Kingsley Dr. Newman replies, as we have said, curtly on the 7th, but on the 8th he delivers himself at full to X. Y. The substance of it is this:—“Who the writer was had never crossed my mind; had any one said it was Mr. Kingsley, I should have laughed in his face. The initials I saw; but I live out of the world; and if Messrs. Macmillan will not think the confession rude, I never saw the outside of their Magazine before. I seldom notice personal attacks; there is a call upon me to answer this, especially as you, an educated man, breathing English air and walking in the light of the nineteenth century, think that neither I nor any of my communion feel any difficulty in allowing that “Truth for its own sake need not, and on the whole ought not to be’ a virtue with the Roman clergy. . . . For a writer to go out of his way to have a fling at an unpopular name, living but ‘down,' and boldly to say to those who know no better, who do not know me—to say of me, “Father Newman informs us that Truth, &c., and to be thus brilliant and antithetical in the very cause of Truth, is a proceeding of so special a nature as to lead me to exclaim, ‘O Truth, how many lies are told in thy name.' . . . I ask for no explanation—that concerns the author and editor. If they set about proving their point, or, should they find that impossible, if they say so, in either case I shall call them men. But if they only propose to say that I have “complained, and that “they yield to my explanations, or ‘that they are quite ready to be convinced if will convince them,' and so on . . . . that is, if they ignore the fact that the onus probandi of a very definite accusation lies upon them —then, I say, they had better let it all alone.”

 Thus warned, Mr. Kingsley falls into the meshes which had been spread round every avenue of retreat. On the 14th of January, after having seen Dr. Newman's letter of the 8th of January to X. Y., Mr. Kingsley replies: — “As the tone of your letters (even more than their language) make me feel” (if Mr. Kingsley had not written in a hurry he would probably have written grammatically and said “makes”) “that my opinion of the meaning of your words was a mistaken one, I shall send at once to Macmillan's Magazine a few lines, which I enclose.” In reply, Dr. Newman observes upon these “few lines”:--“I gravely disapprove of the letter as a whole, and the grounds of this dissatisfaction will be best understood if I place in parallel columns its paragraphs and what I conceive will be the popular reading of them:—

Mr. Kingsley's [proposed] Letter [to Macmilian's Magazine.] Unjust, but too probable, popular rendering of it.
1. Sir, – In your last number I made certain allegations against the teaching of the Rev. Dr. Newman, which were founded on a Sermon of his, entitled “Wisdom and Innocence,” preached by him as Vicar of St. Mary, and published in 1844.
2. Dr. Newman has, by letter, expressed in the strongest terms his denial of the meaning which I have put upon his words.2. I have set before Dr. Newman, as he challenged me to do, extracts from his writings, and he has affixed to them what he conceives to be their legitimate sense, to the denial of that in which I understood them.
3. No man knows the use of words better than Dr. Newman; no man therefore, has a better right to define what he does, or does not, mean by them.3. He has done this with the skill of a great master of verbal fence, who knows, was well as any man living, how to insinuate a doctrine without committing himself to it
4. It only remains, therefore, for me to express my hearty regret at having so seriously mistaken him, and my hearty pleasure at finding him on the side of truth, in this or any other matter.4. However, while I heartily regret that I have so seriously mistaken the sense which he assures me his words were meant to bear, I cannot but feel a hearty pleasure also, at having brought him, for once in a way, to confess that after all truth is a Christian virtue.

Mr. Kingsley, upon receipt of this letter, withdrew two of the paragraphs, and published his explanation in the following terms (Macmillan’s Magazine, February 1864):--
‘To the Editor of Macmillan’s Magazine.
SIR. – In your last number I made certain allegations against the teaching of Dr. John Henry Newman, which I thought were justified by a sermon of his, entitled “Wisdom and Innocence” (Sermon 20 of “Sermons bearing on Subjects of the Day”).  Dr. Newman has by letter expressed, in the strongest terms, his denial of the meaning which I have put upon his words.  It only remains, therefore, for me to express my hearty regret at having so seriously mistaken him.
Yours Faithfully,
(signed) Charles Kingsley.’
Dr. Newman, however, was not satisfied.  He writes to Messers. Macmillan:--
‘Mr. Kingsley did not remove that portion of his letter to which lay my main objection. My objection to the sentence—
“Dr. Newman has, by letter, expressed in the strongest terms his denial of the meaning which I have put upon his words”—
I thus explained:—
“Its main fault is, that, quite contrary to your intention, it will be understood by the general reader to intimate, that I have been confronted with definite extracts from my works, and have laid before you my own interpretation of them. Such a proceeding I have indeed challenged, and have not been so fortunate as to bring about.”
In answer to this representation, Mr. Kingsley wrote to me as follows:--
“It seems to me, that, by referring publicly to the sermon, on which my allegations are founded, I have given, not only you, but every one an opportunity of judging of their injustice. Having done this, and having frankly accepted your assertion that I was mistaken, I have done as much as one English gentleman can expect from another.”
 . . . I bring the matter before you, without requiring from you any reply.’
The conclusion of the whole matter is contained in Dr. Newman's reflections on the above, which, as a mere piece of effective writing, is too good to be abridged:—
Reflections on the above.
I shall attempt a brief analysis, of the foregoing correspondence; and I trust that the wording which shall adopt will not offend against the gravity due both to myself and to the occasion. It is impossible to do justice to the course of thought evolved in it without some familiarity of expression. Mr. Kingsley begins then by exclaiming—“O the chicanery, the wholesale fraud, the vile hypocrisy, the conscience-killing tyranny of Rome! We have not far to seek for an evidence of it. There's Father Newman to wit; one living specimen is worth a hundred dead ones. He, a Priest writing of Priests, tells us that lying is never any harm.”
I interpose: “You are taking a most extraordinary liberty with my name. If I have said this, tell me when and where.”
Mr. Kingsley replies: “You said it, Reverend Sir, in a Sermon which you preached, when a Protestant, as Vicar of St. Mary's, and published in 1844; and I could read you a very salutary lecture on the effects which that Sermon had at the time on my own opinion of you.”
I make answer: “Oh . . . Not, it seems, as a Priest speaking of Priests; —but let us have the passage.”
Mr. Kingsley relaxes: “Do you know I like your tone. From your tone I rejoice, greatly rejoice, to be able to believe that you did not mean what you said.”
I rejoin: “Mean it! I maintain I never said it, whether as a Protestant or as a Catholic.”
Mr. Kingsley replies: “I waive that point.”
I object: “Is it possible! What? waive the main question l I either said it or I didn't. You have made a monstrous charge against me; direct, distinct, public. You are bound to prove it as directly, as distinctly, as publicly;--or to own you can’t.”
“Well,” says Mr. Kingsley, “if you are quite sure you did not say it, I'll take your word for it; I really will.”
My word! I am dumb. Somehow I thought that it was my word that happened to be on trial. The word of a Professor of lying, that he does not lie
But Mr. Kingsley re-assures me: “We are both gentlemen,” he says; “I have done as much as one English gentleman can expect from another.
I begin to see: he thought me a gentleman at the very time that he said I taught lying on system. After all, it is not I, but it is Mr. Kingsley who did not mean what he said. “Habemus contitentem reum.”
So we have confessedly come round to this, preaching without practising; the common theme of satirists from Juvenal to Walter Scott! “I left Baby Charles and Steenie laying his duty before him,” says King James of the reprobate Dalgarno: “O Geordie, jingling Geordie, it was grand to hear Baby Charles laying down the guilt of dissimulation, and Steenie lecturing on the turpitude of incontinence.”
While I feel then that Mr. Kingsley's February explanation is miserably insufficient in itself for his January enormity, still I feel also that the Correspondence, which lies between these two acts of his, constitutes a real satisfaction to those principles of historical and literary justice to which he has given so rude a shock.
Accordingly, I have put it into print, and make no further criticism on Mr. Kingsley.
J. H. N.’
Of course there is a ludicrous side to this little passage of arms, if fight that can be called ubi tu pulsas, ego vapulo tantum. The notion of a conflict between Dr. Newman and Mr. Charles Kingsley is only funny. But it illustrates the two men. Mr. Kingsley's habit of mind is a very unfortunate one for a serious investigator of truth. He is only deficient in the accomplishments of accuracy and gravity. To weigh his words is not so important as to calculate their force. Lively, impetuous, vigorous, hasty, too quick, in forming judgments, and too vehement in expressing them, he is a brilliant partisan but a very unsafe teacher. It is not that he would intentionally disregard truth, but he is so anxious to get at a conclusion, and so very heedless in impressing his conclusions strongly upon others, that he is apt to be careless in investigating the grounds of what ought to be his judgments, but which are his prejudices. He is the most sensational writer of history, who ever disdained the labour of reading. We think that, substantially, what he really meant to say about the Roman Church was right, and that even what he meant to say about a certain aspect of Dr. Newman's teaching in a particular sermon had some justification; but then what he meant to say was what he did not say. What he did say about Dr. Newman is entirely unjustifiable, inaccurate, and indeed untrue; and he had much better have said so. Dr. Newman simply pins him to definite words, confines him to the record, holds him in a hard, biting, grammatical and logical vice. And there is an end of what Mr. Kingsley did say. A Professor of History, criticising a work of history, is bound to speak strictly or to hold his tongue. Mr. Kingsley uttered very nearly as many inaccuracies, and indeed positive misstatements—Dr. Newman gives them a plainer name — as words in his now famous sentence, “Truth for its own sake had never been a virtue with the Roman clergy. Father Newman informs us that it need not, and on the whole ought not to be; that cunning is the weapon which Heaven has given to the saints wherewith to withstand the brute male force of the wicked world which marries and is given in marriage.” In fact, Father Newman never wrote the sermon on Wisdom and Innocence at all. It was not Father Newman, but Mr. Newman, an Anglican vicar, who preached and published it. Next, the word Truth only occurs once in the sermon at all, and quite in another connexion, when the preacher observes that “the truth has in itself the gift of spreading without instruments.” Neither does the sermon contain one single word about the moral obligations of the clergy, whether Roman, Greek, or Anglican. Neither of the words “Roman” or “Clergy” occur in the whole sermon. Nor is there any discussion whatever about truth or its claims, general or partial, seeing that truth is not named in the sermon. Nor again does Dr. Newman inform us that “cunning is the weapon given to the saints,” seeing that he says “Christians were allowed the arms—that is, the arts—of the defenceless. Even the inferior animals will teach us how the Creator has compensated to the weak their want of strength by giving them other qualities which may avail with the strong. They have the gift of fleetness . . . or some natural cunning which enables them to elude their enemies. . . . Brute force is countervailed by flight, brute passion by prudence and artifice.” And then he goes on to argue from this illustration, as his text suggested:—“The servants of Christ are forbidden to defend themselves by violence, but they are not forbidden other means. For instance, foresight. . . avoidance. . . . prudence and skill, as in the text, ‘Be ye wise as serpents.’” And, lastly, as to the somewhat offensive language attributed to Dr. Newman—“cunning is given to the saints wherewith to withstand the brute male force of the wicked world which marries and is given in marriage '- there is not one single word in the sermon, from end to end, about males or marriage or giving in marriage. The explanation of the whole matter is this:–-Mr. Kingsley had some vague and indistinct recollections of a sermon of Mr. Newman's which, when he read it, made a great impression upon him—an impression so deep that it “shook off the strong influence which Dr. Newman's writings had excited in him,” and which sermon seemed to Mr. Kingsley's mind to convey a sort of apology for unmanliness and unstraightforwardness, and to suggest a theory and Christian philosophy of slyness and artifice and insincerity. If Mr. Kingsley had said this, he would have been perfectly justified in saying it; but what he was not justified morally in doing was deliberately to assign to Dr. Newman express language and plain words which Dr. Newman never used, without any reference or quotation. And what he was not justified merely as a literary man in doing was to imagine for a moment that Dr. Newman—of all men in the world, so consummate a master of language, so subtle, so indirect and suggestive, so pregnant with qualifications, so refined, and so judicious, not to say so crafty, in statement—should ever deliver himself of such a coarse, vulgar, stupid saying as, “Truth need not, and on the whole ought not, to be a virtue,” and “cunning is the virtue which Heaven has given to the saints to withstand the brute male force of the wicked world.”

But, after all, the interesting and important question remains— What was it that Mr. John Henry Newman really did teach in his sermon, “Wisdom, and Innocence”? Does it contain anything which would iustify Mr. Kingsley or anybody else in drawing from it, as the fair and natural or even probable sense, something like his interpretation of its purpose if meaning? What is the general drift of this very remarkable sermon—or, in other words, what is, on this point, the broad scope of Mr. Newman's ethical teaching? To discuss these questions in this place would be impossible were it proper, but a line or two of thought may be indicated.

There are two classes of minds which never can be brought to understand each other, and Dr. Newman and Mr. Kingsley represent to some extent either type. The one is the impetuous, thoughtless, unscientific man, whose conclusions are often right, but who is singularly unpractical, impatient, honest, but useless. He gets hold of a great broad moral truth, and, careless of distinctions, limitations, and qualifications, tries or thinks that he tries to hold to it, come what may of consequences. He is the consistent man—the man who always says what he thinks, and thinks it a duty never to hold his tongue—who tells you Fiat justitia ruat calum—who, if he sees truth, right, duty, and honesty, follows truth, right, duty, and honesty, as he says, at all costs. He does not believe that prudence is a virtue at all; he scorns the very notion of management; he cannot believe it to be right ever to furl all sails and lie to till the tyranny be over-past. This character is a high ideal; its only defect is that it generally ends in disastrous failure. The other character is that of wisdom, prudence, and farsightedness, of skill and management, and what looks very like intrigue. It accepts the world, and tries to make the best of it. It affects compromises, weighs consequences, calculates chances, makes the best of a bad bargain, trims, thinks that a retreat has its value, and that nothing is worse than a crushing defeat. In morals, such a man believes in the duty of balancing conflicting motives, giving up one apparent good in favour of another apparent good which has a slight, and perhaps only an apparent, preponderance. The one is said to be the political mind, the other the moral mind—a foolish distinction, since politics is only the highest form of ethics. The two minds cannot do justice to each other. The politician thinks the moralist to be generally a fool; the moralist retorts by his conviction that the politician must be a knave. If it is a matter of regret that the idealist in practice seldom reaches his own lofty standard, it must be admitted that the practical man of the world generally acts in advance of his looser code of moral obligations.

Now, Dr. Newman's is eminently the political mind; or at least he recognises it, and tries to do it justice. He wants to see whether there is in the Gospel morality that eternal opposition between plain sailing and tacking which is said to exist— whether eternal morality is compatible with prudence, discretion, and the political mind. Undoubtedly the question is worth raising, for it is one of the most serious things to settle whether, for example, the economical and commercial, and practical virtues of modern times are totally irreconcilable with Christian ethics. If they are irreconcilable— and the language of most preachers, when they discuss what they would call “the world,” would tend to this conclusion—then it is quite plain that the whole framework and most of the motives of society are absolutely anti-Christian. This, less expanded of course, is the problem to which Dr. Newman addresses himself. He sees, or thinks he sees, in the Bible indications of the obligation of such a duty as prudence, and that it is distinctly recognised as a Christian virtue, and that somehow or other it is indicated by the combination of the wisdom of the serpent and the innocence of the dove. How far Dr. Newman succeeds in his argument is not the present question. Whether some of his illustrations are not unfortunate, whether in the sermon he introduces sufficient safeguards in a very subtle discussion, or whether he may not be justly chargeable with at least an apparent apology for all the ecclesiastical chicane and fraud and double-dealing of which he admits the existence, we shall not pronounce. It is quite enough to believe that the very discussion of such a subject would be repulsive to an impetuous character, like Mr. Kingsley's. From his cast of thought, and habitual precipitancy and looseness of judgment, he is disqualified from doing justice to a question of this nature. The very thought of it sweeps away such little calmness as he possesses. We repeat, there is no wonder that two such minds fail to understand each other. And, by way of illustration, there is at the present moment a case in the ecclesiastical world which is much to the point. The promoters of the prosecution against Essays and Reviews could have no sympathy with that serpentine wisdom which would have counselled inaction; and, on the other hand, the event has proved that bringing an old house about your ears can be managed by the most dove-like innocence and dove-like weakness of judgment. So again, in the present political crisis, the honest people who cry out for an immediate and active interference on behalf of little Denmark have not a word to say for politicians and statesmen except that the whole thing is sheer cowardice and immorality.

Let us add a word on the main question as to the wise and artificial temper which Mr. Newman finds inculcated in the Bible. That the combination is possible, Dr. Newman himself presents at least an approximating proof. Perhaps the actual compatibility of the serpent with the dove, is not a matter of choice in his own case. But, unconsciously it may be, he somehow does seem to illustrate the great original he draws. Were it necessary to show what prudent simplicity really, is, and to point to the serpentine and columbine natures united in actual life, one might fancy them impersonated in some grave recluse, brooding turtle-like for the most part in serene solitude and peaceful nest, apart from the world, uninterested in its petty wrangles, careless—perhaps, as he humbly suggests, careless “from indolence”—of attacks on himself and on his own coreligionists, especially if they were such as it were inconvenient to meet, but springing out now and then with the lithe and supple crash of the serpent, erect, defiant, and pitiless, and hissing with scorn, when the hour of vengeance arrived and a helpless victim were within reach of his cruel fangs.

Saturday Review, February 27, 1864.

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