John Henry Newman.

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THE reader who is well acquainted with the life or writings
of Cardinal Newman should skip these pages, for they con-
tain nothing new upon either head. My business is rather
with those who wish to pass from a vague knowledge of
that great man's name, to a real knowledge, however small,
of something that he has written. At present there
is danger that he may join the large company of those
who are more talked about than read a tribute, perhaps,
to the charm of his personality, but a poor compliment
indeed to the many volumes that bear his name. The
explanation of this neglect should be sought, I think,
in a natural religious prejudice against books by a
Catholic, a distaste for theology of any kind (except
in the form of fiction), and the rather dismaying
titles borne by some of his volumes. Let us consider
the attitude of an ordinary intelligent reader. Current
literature brings forward very frequently the name of
Newman, whenever mention is made of those who have
exhibited in their writings the finest capabilities of English
prose. The general reader is stimulated by such references
to explore for himself a little of this well-reported land of
literature; but he hesitates to start, for, at the first view, the
land looks grimly uninviting. How shall he proceed ? He
gets a catalogue and finds it headed " List of Theological


Books (mainly Roman Catholic)." This seems to promise
very little in the way of literary pleasure, and a closer ex-
amination gives him no encouragement. He finds the author
credited with twelve volumes of Sermons (never popular
reading, at the best), with books on St. Athanasius, Eccle-
siastical Miracles, the Arians, and the Doctrine of Justifica-
tion, to say nothing of Catholic controversy. By this time,
the interest of our supposed reader in Cardinal Newman
has sensibly diminished, for in these days we do not care
greatly for theology, not even when it is " mainly Roman
Catholic." Perhaps, however, he will notice that Newman
has written two novels, and feel inclined to start work with
these. Now this would be a pity; for Cattista and
Loss and Gain, charming as they are in many ways,
are rather to be read for the sake of the author than for
their own merits as fiction. And so the would-be reader
halts, doubting how, and if at all, he shall proceed. I
do not exaggerate. A list of Newman's forty volumes
quite bewilders one at first, and deters many from going
further. To take an example: only a Catholic with a taste
for controversy, or an incipient convert, spying out the
land from the topmost heights of Anglicanism, can be ex-
pected to feel much interest in a volume called Lectures
on the Present Position of Catholics in England ; yet I
warn all who pass it by, that they are rejecting a delicate
literary pleasure. The present volume, then, is meant
to serve as an introduction to a great man's work.
It is not a book of selections, for which, indeed, I have
no sort of fondness. The matter of it is a series of papers
first published in the Catholic University Gazette during
1854, and then issued as a volume in 1856. It is an
excellent specimen of Newman at his best, and contains,


in its description of Athens, one of the gems of English

The life of Newman cannot be written, even in a short
sketch, without some incursions into the domain of religious
controversy; and a preface like this is no place for such
high adventures. The reader who likes the present volume
will be sure to read the Apologia, if he knows it not already,
and from this he will hear the story of Newman's early
spiritual life told in his own beautiful way. In any case,
he had better remain honestly ignorant, than derive his
knowledge of such a life from the meagre notice I could
give it here, in pages which I intend to use for another
purpose. 1 I wish to select some half-a-dozen volumes and
try to arouse the reader's interest in them, knowing full
well that, if he reaches the sixth, nothing but lack of
opportunity will prevent him from going on to the fortieth.
Room, however, shall be found for three short and brilliant
sketches of his personality. The late J. A. Froude thus
writes in Good Words for 1881 :

" When I entered at Oxford, John Henry Newman was beginning
to be famous. The responsible authorities were watching him with
anxiety; clever men were looking with interest and curiosity on the
apparition among them of one of those persons of indisputable genius
who was likely to make a mark upon his time. His appearance was
striking. He was above the middle height, slight and spare. His
head was large, his face remarkably like that of Julius Caesar. The
forehead, the shape of the ears and nose, were almost the same.
The lines of the mouth were very peculiar, and I should say exactly
the same. I have often thought of the resemblance, and believed that
it extended to the temperament. . . . Greatly as his poetry had struck
me, he was himself all that the poetry was, and something far beyond.

1 Since this was written, I have prefixed a short account of Newman's
life to Select Essays in the " Scott Library."


I had then never seen so impressive a person. I met him now and
then in private ; I attended his church and heard him preach Sunday
after Sunday; he is supposed to have been insidious, to have led his
disciples on to conclusions to which he designed to bring them, while
his purpose was carefully veiled. He was, on the contrary, the most
transparent of men. He told us what he believed to be true. He did
not know where it would carry him."

I take my next bit of description from Principal Shairp's
Studies in Poetry and Philosophy :

"The influence he had gained without apparently setting himself to
seek it, was something altogether unlike anything else in our time. A
mysterious veneration had by degrees gathered round him, till now it
was almost as if some Ambrose or Augustine of older ages had re-
appeared. ... In Oriel Lane, light-hearted undergraduates would
drop their voices and whisper, 'There's Newman!' when, head thrust
forward, and gaze fixed as though on some vision seen only by himself,
with swift, noiseless step, he glided by awe fell on them for a moment,
almost as if it had been some apparition that had passed. For his inner
circle of friends, many of them younger men, he was said to have a
quite romantic affection, which they returned with the most ardent
devotion and the intensest faith in him. But to the outer world he
was a mystery."

And lastly, let us take a few lines from Matthew Arnold :

"Who could resist the charm of that spiritual apparition, gliding in
the dim afternoon light through the aisles of St. Mary's, rising into the
pulpit, and then, in the most entrancing of voices, breaking the silence
with words and thoughts wh'ch were a religious music subtle, sweet,
mournful? Happy the man who in that susceptible season of youth
hears such voices! They are a possession to him for ever."

Newman, as we wish to think of him here, the man of
letters, that is, rather than the theologian, has more in-
terest for us after his conversion than in his earlier life.
In the works of his Protestant period, one feels that
the writer's instinct to make literature has been unduly


repressed; that his appeal, being chiefly made to members
of his own order, or to those deeply conc:rned in the
high matters of religion, is in the main theological, and only
literary by the unconscious exercise of that gift of style
which he had received in such abundance. After he
became a Catholic, his pen seemed to move with less
restraint; he spoke out more freely, and to a larger auditory.
No matter whom he might directly address, he spoke
through them to the great world beyond. In former days
he had endeavoured to invigorate and sustain such as were
inclined to agree with him; now he tries to make friends
among avowed enemies. This distinction must not be
pressed too far, but generally, I think, it holds good. For
instance: though the sermons of his Anglican days are
delightful at all times and to all ears, this can hardly
be said for the "Via Media," which belongs to the same
period; yet, on the other hand, the Catholic addresses
given to the Oratorians in 1851 and to the survivors of the
Oxford Movement in 1850, have a general interest, wider,
almost, than anything else that he produced. Speaking
then, as we have said, to this larger auditory, Newman felt
that literature was an invaluable ally, and he pressed it
more con ciously into his service. His conversion seemed
almost to call up fresh powers of mind. The peace
that he found in his new faith not only soothed a
supersensilive soul, that had suffered a martyrdom of
doubt and grief; it re-acted all through his faculties,
and broadened as well as brightened his outlook. Any
person who makes a deeply-considered change of religion,
must necessarily be made of stuff that will show every
influence of the new belief; and this is especially true
of Newman. The secret of his development lies in the


peculiar energy of belief that possessed him at all times.
With him faith was no sentiment, no mere aspiration; it was
a force that drove him stormily through many waters, till he
reached at last the haven in which he could ride at rest.
It would be strange indeed if such a man left his course
untraced in his books: stranger still if what he wrote after
he had found peace gave us no sense of his content. From
Newman we get all this and something more: we get an
increased mastery of the art of letters, a wider cast out into
the thoughts and feelings of the world, and a tone of security
and increased authority. To the books of his Roman
years, then, I shall chiefly direct the reader, and first of all
to the volume called The Idea of a University. This is
really two books in one; but both are composed of lectures
delivered by the author in his capacity as Rector of the
Catholic University in Dublin. The first and better of
the two was called " Discourses on the Scope and Nature
of University Education" (1852); while the second had for
its title "Lectures and Addresses on University Subjects"
(1859). Together, they form a volume the value of which it
would be hard to match amongst the prose of its time, both
for sterling matter of thought, and wonderfully varied skill
in presentment. The Discourses deal with the aims and
principles of education, what should be taught at a Uni-
versity and the gain to be expected from such teaching.
"Knowledge is its own end and reward" forms his text,
and rarely has that cardinal truth of education been set
forth so eloquently, so convincingly. In these days, when
technical and commercial instruction is exalted to the
highest place, when every minute of school and college life
is expected to return an equivalent cash value, a book like
this ought to be held dear by all who dissent from such


dangerous doctrine, by all who believe that education is the
development of humanity in us, and not the diversion of
every faculty into the narrow channel of wage-earning.
Where all is good it is difficult to quote; but here is a
passage that illustrates the thought of the book, and exhibits
the clear delicate grace, and the perfection of exactness,
which are notable qualities of Newman's prose :

"You see, then, here are two methods of Education; the end of
the one is to be philosophical, of the other to be mechanical ; the
one rises towards general ideas, the other is exhausted upon what is
particular and external. Let me not be thought to deny the necessity,
or to decry the benefit, of such attention to what is parlicu-lar and
practical, as belongs to the useful or mechanical arts; life could not
go on without them ; we owe our daily welfare to them ; their
exercise is the duty of the many, and we owe to the many a debt
of gratitude for fulfilling that duty. I only say that Knowledge, in
proportion as it tends more and more to be particular, ceases to
be Knowledge. It is a question whether Knowledge in any proper
semse can be predicated of the brute creation ; without pretending to
metaphysical exactness of phraseology, which would be unsuitable to
an occasion like this, I say, it seems to me improper to call that
passive sensation, or perception of things, which brutes seem to
possess, by the name of Knowledge. When I speak of Knowledge,
I mean something intellectual, something which grasps what it
perceives through the senses ; something which takes a view of
things ; which sees more than the senses convey ; which reasons
upon what it sees, and while it sees ; which invests it with an idea.
It expresses itself, not in a mere enunciation but in an enthy-
meme ; it is of the nature of science from the first, and in this
consists its dignity. The principal of real dignity in Knowledge, its
worth, its desirableness, considered irrespectively of its results, is this
germ within it of a scientific or a philosophical process. This is how it
comes to be an end in itself; this is why it admits of being called
Liberal. Not to know the relative disposition of things is the state of
slaves or children ; to have mapped out the Universe is the boast, or at
least the ambition of Philosophy. Moreover, such knowledge is not


a mere extrinsic or accidental advantage, which is ours to-day and
another's to-morrow, which may be got up from a book, and easily
forgotten again, which we can command or communicate at our
pleasure, which we can borrow for the occasion, carry about in
our hand, and take into the market ; it is an acquired illumination, it
is a habit, a personal possession, and an inward endowment."

In confirmation of his main contention, it is instructive
to recall the opinions of men that differ so much from him,
and, in spite of many resemblances, from each other, as
Peacock and Hazlitt All lovers of the unique novels of
the first (and who that hath ears to hear is not ?) will recall
many a pungent reference to those instructors who seem to
hold the fine flavour of life as a thing of small account.
He, it is true, had a poor opinion of Universities, chiefly
because they seemed to him too formal and not liberal
enough in their teaching; certainly not because he had any
fondness for "useful knowledge," which was, indeed, the
constant object of his satire. What Hazlitt says can be
given in his own words :

"By an obvious transposition of ideas, some persons have con-
founded a knowledge of useful things with useful knowledge.
Knowledge is only useful in itself, as it exercises or gives pleasure
to the mind : the only knowledge that is of use in the practical sense, is
professional knowledge. But knowledge considered as a branch of
general education, can be of use only to the mind of the person acquiring
it. If the knowledge of language produces pedants, the other kind of
knowledge (which is proposed to be substituted for it) can only produce

Room must be found for yet another quotation from these
" Discourses," to show how clearly Newman recognised
the limits of religious interference in studies. From such a
man, such words have double force :


" If then a University is a direct preparation for this world, let it be
what it professes. It is not a Convent, it is not a Seminary; it is a
place to fit men of the world for the world. We cannot possibly keep
them from plunging into the world, with all its ways and principles and
maxims, when their time comes ; but we can prepare them against what
is inevitable; and it is not the way to learn to swim troubled waters,
never to have gone into them. Proscribe (I do not merely say particular
authors, particular works, particular passages) but Secular Literature as
such ; cut out from your class books all broad manifestations of the
natural man; and those manifestations are waiting for your pupil's
benefit at the very doors of your lecture-room in living and breathing
substance. They will meet him there in all the charm of novelty, and
all the fascination of genius or of amiableness. To-day a pupil, to-
morrow a member of the great world : to-day confined to the Lives of
the Saints, to-morrow thrown upon Babel; thrown on Babel, without
the honest indulgence of wit and humour and imagination having ever
been permitted to him, without any fastidiousness of taste wrought into
him, without any rule given him for discriminating ' the precious from
the vile, 1 beauty from sin, the truth from the sophistry of nature, what
is innocent from what is poison. You have refused him the masters of
human thought, who would in some sense have educated him, because
of their incidental corruption ; you have shut up from him those whose
thoughts strike home to our hearts, whose words are proverbs, whose
names are indigenous to all the world, who are the standard of their mother
tongue, and the pride and boast of their countrymen, Homer, Ariosto,
Cervantes, Shakespeare, because the old Adam smelt rank in them;
and for what have you reserved him? You have given him a liberty
unto the multitudinous blasphemy of his clay ; you have made him free
of its newspapers, its reviews, its magazines, its novels, its controversial
pamphlets, of its Parliamentary debates, its law proceedings, its plat-
form speeches, its songs, its drama, its theatre, of its enveloping, stilling
atmosphere of death. You have succeeded but in this in making the
world his University."

The " Lectures and Addresses," forming the second
part of the volume, are somewhat lighter than the "Dis-
courses." He gives us here an example of his skill in
irony, a quality that cannot be predicated in its finer


essence of many English writers. Who can forget the
address entitled "Elementary Studies," with its dialogues
and correspondence between the Messrs. Black, White, and
Brown, its hints on Latin composition a most interesting
piece of autobiography, this, its perfectly preposterous
Essay and equally preposterous Poem? The whole of
the book is admirable; but quite the best thing in it is the
paper called "Literature," which has more good sense to
the line than almost any other critical essay in English. The
present generation has heard more cant about "style" than
is good for it; and it falls to applauding any painful avoid-
ance of the obvious, any laboured endeavour towards the
fantastic. It has discovered that Thackeray has no "style,"
that Steele, Addison, and Swift are commonplace, that the
real "stylist" the word itself is sufficient condemnation of
the thing is to be found in some one who spangles his
pages with verbal contradictions and violences, who rigs out
his commonplaces in rags and tatters torn away from the
work of better men. I should be sorry indeed to discourage
any one from the attempt to enjoy in a writer the nice
conduct of a sentence, or a sensitive tact in the employment
of words. These qualities are now as ever the essential
elements of good writing, and now, more than ever should
be welcomed, when the reader is assailed on the one
hand by slovenliness, and on the other by inflation and
mannerism which he is bidden to acknowledge as real
"style." A good writer does not produce a naked thought
and proceed to dress it up with "style." Style in literature
is the way of saying something, and the "way" cannot be
divided from the "something." Of one who seems to
acknowledge such a division, Newman writes thus, in the
essay named above :


"Critics should consider this view of the subject before they lay
down such canons of taste as the writer whose pages I have quoted.
Such men as he is consider fine writing to be an addition from without
to the matter treated of, a sort of ornament superinduced, or a luxury
indulged in, by those who have time and inclination for such vanities.
They speak as if one man could do the thought, and another the style.
We read in Persian travels of the way in which young gentlemen go
to work in the East, when they would engage in correspondence with
those who inspire them with hope or fear. They cannot write one
sentence themselves ; so they betake themselves to the professional
letter-writer. They confide to him the object they have in view.
They ha>ve a point to gain from a superior, a favour to ask, an evil
to deprecate ; they have to approach a man in power, or to pay court
to some beautiful lady. The professional man manufactures words
for them, as they are wanted, as a stationer sells them paper, or a
schoolmaster might cut their pens. Thought and word are, in their
conception, two things, and thus there is a division of labour. The
man of thought comes to the man of words; and the man of words,
duly instructed in the thought, dips the pen of desire into the ink of
devoted-ness, and proceeds to spread it over the page of desolation.
Then the nightingale of affection is heard to warble to the rose of love-
liness, while the breeze of anxiety plays round the brow of expectation.
This is what the Easterns are said to consider fine writing; and it
seems pretty much the idea of the school of critics to whom I have
been referring."

Here is another fine passage :

" ' Poeta nascitur, non fit,' says the proverb; and this is in numerous
instances true of his poems, as well as of himself. They are born,
not framed; they are a strain rather than a composition; and their
perfection is the monument, not so much of his skill as of his power.
And this is true of prose as well as of verse in its degree: who will not
recognise in the vision of Mirza a delicacy of beauty and style which is
very difficult to describe, but which is felt to be in exact correspondence
to the ideas of which it is the expression ?

" And, since the thoughts and reasonings of an author have, as
I have said, a personal character, no wonder that his style is not only
the image of his subject but of his mind. That pomp of language,


that full and tuneful diction, that felicitousness in the choice and ex-
quisiteness in the collocation of words, which to prosaic writers seem
artificial, is nothing else but the mere habit and way of a lofty intellect.
Aristotle, in his sketch of the magnanimous man, tells us that his voice
is deep, his motions slow, and his stature commanding. In like manner,
the elocution of a great intellect is great."

I have dwelt at some length on this volume, The Idea of
a University, because it is, I think, the most truly valuable
volume that Newman has left us, a book of the rare kind
that never becomes stale by long keeping, nor unprofitable
by much using. After this, the reader might turn to the
Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in Enghind
he must not be frightened by the title. The book is not
long, and it is an excellent specimen of Newman's masterly
variety. Here we find irony, contempt, scorn, sarcasm,
pathos, indignation, dispassionate argument and personal
persuasion all used with really wonderful effect. Read
the first Lecture, and you will laugh at the capital farce of
a Russian nobleman lashing an audience into fury at the
blasphemies of the British Constitution as set forth in
Blackstone; then turn to Lecture V., and mark how the
bursts of scorn and indignation culminate in a recital,
most terrible in its unadorned simplicity, of some of the
tortures suffered by English Catholics in the days of
Protestant persecution. Newman's power of holding his
auditors has become a sort of legend ; yet, orator in the
ordinary sense, he was not. His Lectures and Sermons
are essentially Literature; and their wonderful effect on
the hearers was the triumph, not of Oratory, but of Person-
ality. The spirit of pure eloquence works potently on an
audience, but is apt to evaporate in print. Its effect is
for the moment, and must be utilised at the moment, lest


the coldness of reaction should defeat the end desired.
This defect of the spoken word never appears in Newman's
pages. The hearer may have been enthralled, but he could
afterwards turn to the printed page with the certainty of
finding reason and argument, not the beautiful delusion

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Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanUniversity sketches → online text (page 1 of 23)