Kingsley on Froude’s History of England

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A scan of the entire January 1864 number of Macmillan’s Magazine, with Kingsley’s famous review of Froude’s History of England, Vols. vii. – viii. (211-224) is available from archive.org. The slander of Newman that lead to the writing of the Apologia is on page 217.

It is remarkably fitting that Kingsley’s controversy with Newman began with his review of a History of Tudor England. Oddly enough, the history in question was by J. A. Froude, the violently anti-Catholic younger brother of Newman’s friend Richard Hurrell Froude. Kingsley begins his review with fulsome praise for the newly awakened historical consciousness of his generation. He even praises the Oxford Movement for contributing to knowledge of history. (212) But the effect of the praise is short lived as the rest of the review is concerned with attacking the view of British history which the Oxford Movement – and especially converts from it to “Romanism” – had developed. He analyzes the reign of Queen Elisabeth, which he reads as the story of the shaking off of the evil influence of Catholicism. He closes with an appeal to remember that Elisabeth’s cause was “the cause of freedom and of truth, which has led these realms to glory,” and a warning against the anti-English attitude of “those who have lately joined, or are inclined to join, the Church of Rome,” and are teaching the young to prefer “the cause of tyranny and of lies,” which Elisabeth opposed. “After all,” he closes, “Victrix Causa Diis placuit. ” It was a thought dear to his heart: the successful cause is right! (224)

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Henry VII and the End of the Middle Ages

 

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In England the disintegration of the medieval order coincided with the rise of the house of Tudor. In fact, already Henry VII (1457 – 1509), the founder of the Tudor dynasty, made certain key decisions which were to erode the medieval way of life and the world view of Christendom. When he came to power in 1485 England was weakened both by the hundred years war with France (1337 – 1453) and the Wars of the Roses (1455 – 1485), a civil war which decimated the English nobility. The effects of these two wars gave Henry the opportunity to begin the remolding of England along new lines. By the peace of Etaples (1492) Henry VII gave up English claims to French territories , a key step in the development of English nationalism. Removed from the continent the English could less and less conceive of themselves as part of the higher unity of “Christendom.”

The weakening of the English nobility through the Wars of the Roses enabled Henry to strengthen the monarchy, thus ending the hierarchy of subsidiary feudal authorities, and leading English subjects to see themselves primarily as members of the English nation. At the same time it lead to the an increase in the power of the mercantile class, with which Henry allied himself. The Intercursus Magnus (given its effects, the Flemish name Malus Intercursus seems more apposite) lead to an explosion of the wool trade that was to be a driving force behind the fundamental changes represented by the agricultural and industrial revolutions. The wool trade lead to enclosure which destroyed the medieval economy (which Phillip Blond calls the “Catholic Economy”). It lead to the primacy of the kind of dehumanized contractual/mechanical economic relations that are typical of capitalism.

Kingsley on Lectures

Charles Kingsley, whose clumsy attack on Newman lead to the writing of the Apologia, was a popular lecturer. He had, however, no illusions about the usefulness of lectures:

I myself prize classes far higher than I do lectures. From my own experience, a lecture is often a very dangerous method of teaching ; it is apt to engender in the mind of men ungrounded conceit and sciolism, or the bad habit of knowing about subjects without really knowing the subject itself. A young man hears an interesting lecture, and carries away from it doubtless a great many new facts and results: but he really must not go home fancying himself a much wiser man ; and why ? Because he has only heard the lecturer’s side of the story. He has been forced to take the facts and the results on trust. He has not examined the facts for himself. He has had no share in the process by which the results were arrived at. In short, he has not gone into the real scientia, that is, the ‘ knowing’ of the matter. He has gained a certain quantity of second-hand information: but he has gained nothing in mental training, nothing in the great art of learning the art of finding out things for himself, and of discerning truth from falsehood.

The point is so obvious that it is difficult to see how the German method of teaching primarily though lectures came to be so widespread. For the Victorians lectures were a form of amusement:

Now mind—I do not say all this to make you give up attending lectures. Heaven forbid. They amuse, that is, they turn the mind off from business; they relax it, and as it were bathe and refresh it with new thoughts, after the day’s drudgery, or the day’s commonplaces; they fill it with pleasant and healthful images for afterthought. Above all, they make one feel what a fair, wide, wonderful world one lives in; how much there is to be known, and how little one knows; and to the earnest man suggest future subjects of study.

Victorian Optimism

I have been working on a chapter on “historical context” in my paper on Newman’s Apologia. Victorian England was not an easy audience for Newman. The Baconian project of domination over nature reached a high-point of confidence in the Victorians.  The tremendous technological and commercial achievements of the time had not yet been clouded by the shock to the faith in progress that WWI was to give – nor by the ideological critique of capitalism and imperialism through Marxism etc. The religion that appealed most to the Victorian Zeitgeist was the liberal Christianity of Newman’s opponent Charles Kingsley, which substituted the optimism of progress for Christian hope, to the point of practically identifying the scientific, technological and commercial success of British society with the coming of the kingdom of God. Kingsley is (no surprise) a huge fan of Bacon:

Remember that while England is, and ever will be, behindhand in metaphysical and scholastic science, she is the nation which above all others has conquered nature by obeying her; that as it pleased God that the author of that proverb, the father of inductive science, Bacon Lord Verulam, should have been an Englishman, so it has pleased Him that we, Lord Bacon’s countrymen, should improve that precious heirloom of science, inventing, producing, exporting, importing, till it seems as if the whole human race, and every land from the equator to the pole must henceforth bear the indelible impress and sign-manual of English science. And bear in mind, as I said just now, that this study of natural history is the grammar of that very physical science which has enabled England thus to replenish the earth and subdue it. Do you not see, then, that by following these studies you are walking in the very path to which England owes her wealth ; that you are training in yourself that habit of mind which God has approved as the one which He has ordained for Englishmen, and are doing what in you lies toward carrying out, in after life, the glorious work which God seems to have laid on the English race, to replenish the earth and subdue it? (“On the Study of Natural History,” available through the magic of google books)

The incredible English chauvinism that he shows here is wholly typical of his age. Ronald Knox thinking back about his Victorian childhood expresses it like this:

Only those of us, I think, who were born under Queen Victoria know what it feels like to assume, without questioning, that England is permanently top nation; that foreigners do not matter, and if the worst comes to the worst, Lord Salisbury will send a gun-boat. (Ronald Knox, God and the Atom (London: Sheed and Ward, 1945) 53-54.)

Victorian Liberal Christianity was impatient of what it saw as the irrelevant subtlety of speculative doctrine; it was a very practical religion. For Newman to make a history of the theological investigations that lead him to abandon the religion of England for the “superstitions of Rome” palatable to Victorian England was a challenge indeed.

Strachey on Newman’s Apologia

If anyone might have been expected to be dismissive of Newman it was Bloomsbury Group critic Lytton Strachey, who was not only vociferously opposed to Newman’s theology, but was also famous for pouring scorn on much of Victorian literature. And yet, this is how he writes of the Apologia:

Lytton StracheyIf Newman had died at the age of sixty, today he would have been already forgotten, save by a few ecclesiastical historians; but he lived to write his Apologia, and to reach immortality, neither as a thinker nor as a theologian, but as an artist who has embalmed the poignant history of an intensely human spirit in the magical spices of words. (Eminent Victorians)