John Henry Newman.

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THE life story of Cardinal Newman is a story char-
acterized by no stirring clash of events and by very
little picturesque action. The narrative is almost
wholly subjective, for it has to do preeminently with
the unfolding and growth of a religious spirit. The
theme of this soul-drama is the search for a religion
so authoritative that man's feverish struggle to com-
prehend God will be forever quieted. Although this is
undoubtedly the dominating motive of Newman's life,
it is nevertheless not his formulation of a system of re-
ligion which to-day wins him attention, but rather his
literary work which, combining in its structure a con-
sciously strict method and a singular charm of manner,
is generally thought to be quite as beautiful as any
produced in the nineteenth century. Since, however,
Newman's view of life, his personality, is inextricably
interwoven in his writing, some knowledge of the man
himself and the objects to which he gave his energies
is necessary for an appreciation of the peculiar power
of his prose.

John Henry Newman was born in London in 1801,
the eldest son of a prosperous business man. From his
letters we learn that he was brought up to take delight
in reading the Bible ; as a boy he also enjoyed such
books as Scott's novels, Pope's " Essay on Man," and
various writings on religious subjects. At the age of
sixteen we find him brooding over theological problems.


He had in him always a strong strain of mysticism.
" I used to wish," he says, " that the 'Arabian Nights '
were true. My imagination ran on unknown influ-
ences, on magical powers, and talismans. I thought life
might be a dream, or I an angel, and all the world a
deception, my fellow angels, by a playful device, con-
cealing themselves from me, and deceiving me with a
semblance of a material world." Like all imaginative
youths he early showed an ardent desire for self-ex-
pression ; in his school days he started a little paper ;
he was always composing verse ; and a favorite prose
form, even in his boyhood, was the sermon.

When Newman was sixteen years old he entered
Trinity College, Oxford. His first letters home are
much like those of the ordinary college lad. He tells
of his visit to the tailor and of his first dinner. " Fish,
flesh and fowl, beautiful salmon, haunches of mutton,
lamb, etc., fine strong beer ; served up in old pewter
plates and misshapen earthenware jugs. Tell Mamma
there were gooseberry, raspberry, and apricot pies."
He writes home also of his work and of his deter-
mination to compete for a scholarship, and of his
excitement when he was told he had won it. But the
remarkable thing about the letters of this sixteen-year-
old freshman is the deeply religious note in them.
Something of the character of the young man as he
was at this time is further seen from a portrait : the
craggy profile, with its Koman nose and massive chin,
shows a rugged determination ; there is already some-
thing in the expression which is clerical; most dis-
tinctly, however, the boyish face suggests the poet.
We do not wonder that the most brilliant college men
of the day came to the rooms of this lad, shy and awk-


ward though he was ; and that they all talked together
of the eternal mysteries of life, as is still the way of
college youths. All his days Newman tenderly loved
his college, even when in exile from it and suspected
by its highest authorities. He graduated from Trinity
without honors ; it seems that he overtrained for the
examinations, and lost his head when he was called up,
a day in advance, for the final test ; but he more than
retrieved his honor as a student when, a year later, he
won a fellowship at Oriel College. But the one dis-
tinctive quality which marked him throughout his col-
lege life, in victory and in defeat, was a deeply reli-
gious feeling evident in such sentences as that which he
wrote when anxious about the Oriel fellowship ; " O
Lord ! dispose of me as will best promote thy glory,
but give me resignation and contentment."

The next few years were years of steady growth in
power and influence. Newman took orders for the
church, was appointed tutor in Oriel, and became
Vicar of St. Mary's, preaching there his " Parochial
Sermons" and others which the undergraduates
flocked to hear. The year 1832 marked a turning
point in Newman's career. He went on a journey to
Italy and various other southern countries. After
wandering in many places for many months, he finally
returned to Sicily alone and fell ill there with a fever.
Recovering at length from this sickness which had
been so severe that his life was despaired of, he was pos-
sessed with the one idea that he must go back to Eng-
land immediately ; for it had come to him in his fever,
like a vision from heaven, that he had a great work to
do there. While waiting for a ship to carry him home
and while still very weak, he would say over and over,


" I have a work to do." To this strong prepossession
may be traced the beginning of a great movement,
which, according to Professor Saintsbury, changed the
intellectual as well as the ecclesiastical face of Eng-
land. After many delays Newman secured passage on
a ship bound for France, but, as if to try his patience
still further, he was becalmed for some days in the
Mediterranean. In profound homesickness for Eng-
land, for the faces of his friends, and in an emotional
ferment to undertake his work, the nature of which
was yet hidden from him, he wrote " Lead, Kindly
Light," a hymn which has become a Pilgrim hymn
for men of every faith.

Arrived in England he was soon associated with a
group of young men that had for its object no less a
task than the reformation of the Church of England.
To understand the purpose of these men some know-
ledge of the conditions of that time is essential ; but
it must be remembered that the situation is capable
of many interpretations, and that necessarily only a
few aspects of the movement can be given here. In
the eighteenth century, as everyone knows, society,
politics, literature had frozen into hard conventions ,
and with these religion also had congealed into set and
meaningless forms. The clergy were machines, but
were alive enough for fox-hunting, tea, and cards ;
good full-length portraits of them as they were may
be found in the works of Jane Austen. The church
preserved the symbols, but these had lost signifi-
cance ; and its stately ceremonies were without mean-
ing. But already at the beginning of the nineteenth
century governments were being liberalized; liter-
ature was throbbing with a life renewed and quick-


ened by the study of a fresher and earlier time ; and
it was natural that the church also should feel this
animating spirit abroad everywhere. Theological stu-
dents began to study the history of primitive Christian
times ; and they found that the church in those early
days abounded in energy, buoyancy, and faith. There
was in it a gladness, a light which had lightened every
man. To bring this back again to the church was the
purpose of that group of Oxford men who dreamed of
a new order in the days of 1833.

Obviously men of different minds would adopt
different means to restore vitality to religion ; and
already there were various groups of persons holding
opposing theories. A closer study of the Bible as an
authority a study of the lives of Christ and the
apostles with the purpose of understanding the secret
of their power this was the way of the Evangelicals.
To give up all dogma, the holding of which, it was
argued, threw the emphasis on systems rather than on
spiritual living ; to abandon the idea that the church
is endowed with supernatural powers ; to let each man
read the Bible for himself and exercise his private
judgment in its interpretation this was the way of
the Liberals. But this was not Newman's way. He
had no sympathy with or understanding of that serene
faith which is able to rise above scepticism, which
faces freely any new truth however startling, which
needs and cares for no creeds, knowing that they but
change and fail, a faith which connects itself purely
with the Divine and is not afraid. Newman and his
Oxford adherents needed a system. They felt that all
reading and meditation should be done with the sole
purpose of determining what is authoritative ; per-


sonal interpretation of religious dogma is simply in-
subordination. The church, in their belief, is the re-
presentative of Christ on earth, endowed by him with
supernatural powers, possessed of the whole truth,
authoritative, infallible, one and indivisible. To believe
this is all that is needful to restore to mankind the
divine power which was theirs in the early church.
" The early times of purity and truth have not passed
away ! they are present still ! We are not solitary,
though we seem so," exclaims Newman. Such a po-
sition as this having been accepted, it became impera-
tive to show that the Church of England is literally
a descendant of the Primitive Church, and is there-
fore possessed of the pure Catholic faith. To establish
this premise the young Oxford men went searchingly
to early church history ; and by argument and per-
suasion attempted to prove a vital connection between
the Roman and Anglican churches. Along these lines
the Church of England was to be reformed and the
hearts of men reclaimed.

The means adopted' was the instruction of the clergy
through Tracts, called " Tracts for the Times." They
were written with wonderful directness and earnest-
ness, and very soon succeeded in thoroughly arousing
the clergy who, quietly dozing by their firesides or
riding cross country to hounds, had become quite in-
different to their task of saving souls. The move-
ment, called sometimes the Tractarian Movement and
sometimes the Oxford Movement, spread rapidly; it
had a strongly idealistic aspect and appealed to the
awakened romantic sense of the time. Loyal souls who
had gone to church, only dimly perceiving why, were
suddenly thrilled to find that the signs and ceremonies


had a meaning ; that God was literally among his peo-
ple ; that they might, if they would, see visions, as did
the holy men of old. Angels might be met with by the
way, and, even if not visible, attended them daily in
their tasks ; an innumerable company of saints hov-
ered near them to hearten them in their discourage-
ments. " Life is but a parable, angels the real cause
of motion, light, and heat," Newman teaches ; " Every
breath of air and ray of heat, every beautiful prospect,
is, as it were, the skirts of their garments, the waving
of the robes of those whose faces see God in Heaven."
The earnestness of the leaders of the movement, their
sincere faith, their recognized intellectual power won
confidence for their doctrine, captured the minds and
hearts of men and women ever so pathetically eager
to believe heaven a reality.

Together with the publication of the Tracts, there
were Newman's four o'clock sermons at St. Mary's.
These were pure, lucid, free for the most part from
dogma, and permeated with a spirit of divine things.
To understand the power of these discourses it is
necessary to study carefully such sermons as " The In-
visible World," "The Power of the Will," and The
Religious Use of Excited Feelings," the last of which
is in some points so like Mr. William James's lecture
on " Habit." One who frequently heard Newman in
these days thus describes the effect of the sermons :
" As he spoke, how the old truth became new ! how it
came home with a meaning never felt before ! . . . After
the hearing of these sermons you might come away
still not believing the tenets peculiar to the High
Church system ; but you would be harder than most
men, if you did not feel more than ever ashamed of


coarseness, selfishness, worldliness, if you did not feel
the things of faith brought closer to the sool."

Thus the Tracts and the preaching went on ; and
the leaders of the Movement, becoming clearer in their
own minds, and emboldened by success, urged more
and more the essential oneness of the English and
Romish churches. But against the movement there was
also a growing opposition on the part of the Ortho-
dox party, and, to some extent, on the part of the
Evangelicals and Liberals ; little by little the English
ingrained suspicion of Romanism was aroused, grew
in volume, and finally broke in a storm of wrath with
the appearance of Tract No. 90. In this Tract New-
man tried to show that even in the Thirty-nine Arti-
cles drawn up against Romanism, there is much of the
pure Catholic doctrine. Over this statement the Bish-
ops began to buzz angrily ; the clergy, sometimes with-
out reading Newman's carefully chosen words, con-
demned his position. Finally, after much agitation,
Newman was persuaded to stop the Tracts altogether.
His next step, one which stirred both friends and en-
emies, was to retract all he had ever said against the
Roman Catholic Church. In 1843 he resigned the
Vicarage of St. Mary's and retired to Littlemore.
After many doubts and misgivings, he took, in 1845,
the climactic step of his life ; in that year he was re-
ceived into the Roman Catholic Church. It was, he
tells us in his " Apologia Pro Vita Sua," like coming
into port after stormy seas.

The remainder of Newman's life was spent quietly
in work and in writing for his church. There were
still many disappointments in store for him ; and for
years the officials of the Catholic Church were inclined


to distrust him. Many of his most cherished projects
were thwarted. In later life, however, his honesty of
purpose and remarkable gifts were recognized. He was
appointed Cardinal ; and furthermore, by his account
of himself in the " Apologia," he created among his
countrymen a more tender feeling toward himself.
Englishmen, little by little, acquitted him of dark and
underhand designs. They read sympathetically his
beautiful prose ; and however sincerely they might
question the soundness of his conclusions in religious
matters, they came to feel that Newman belonged to
the great mid-century group of men whose quest was
Truth. After a life which extended over nearly a cen-
tury, Newman died among his brethren in the Ora-
tory at Birmingham in 1891. " Ex umbris et imagi-
nibus in veritam" are the words which he chose to
mark his grave.

Many of the tenets which Newman held as neces-
sary to the production of effective prose may be found
in his lecture on " University Preaching." One of his
teachings is to keep the object definite ; all frills and
trimmings are to be avoided as tending to blur the
thought. Hence, in Newman's prose there is in general
no color, no word-flower to set in motion an "alien
brave wave." Scarcely ever is there even an allusion
to nature indeed, when Newman was a young man
he vowed to renounce the seductive graces of nature.
In the second volume of letters one comes upon the
mention of the snapdragons which grew on the walls
of Trinity College with the same surprise and joy as
one would, when walking over the brown fields of
autumn, stumble upon a half -hidden blue gentian.
There are no garden fancies, no whiff of sweet odors,


no singing birds in this " religious retreat," which is as
unadorned as a Quaker meeting-house. The reason
for the use of simple language Newman very definitely
gives : " What he feels himself, and feels deeply, he
has to make others feel deeply ; and in proportion as
he comprehends this, he will rise above the temptation
of introducing collateral matters, and will have no
taste, no heart, for going aside after flowers of oratory,
fine figures, tuneful periods, which are worth nothing,
unless they come to him spontaneously, and are spoken
' out of the abundance of the heart.' " The mind of
the reader which is to be led away from the things
which are seen to those which are unseen must not be
distracted ; the language must be purely transparent
and refined sevenfold to carry in its heart the divine

Figurative language, then, Newman uses sparingly ;
in other respects, also, he is careful to keep the expres-
sion clear and calm. He never uses striking words,
words which violently explode, as do Carlyle's ; nor
does he use words which move exclusively in learned
circles. On the contrary his diction so often savors of
the workaday world that his style has been called
colloquial ; yet the language is breathed upon by a
spirit so lofty in character that all earthy association
disappears, and it creates for the reader only a sense
of the reality of the thing described, whether it be the
description of a familiar scene or the explanation of
the presence of angels among us. Take, for example,
this paragraph from " The Individuality of the Soul."

" Or again, survey some populous town : crowds are
pouring through the streets; some on foot, some in
carriages ; while the shops are full, and the houses


too, could we see into them. Every part of it is full
of life. Hence we gain a general idea of splendor,
magnificence, opulence, and energy. But what is the
truth ? why, that every being in that great concourse
is his own centre, and all things about him are but
shades, but a 'vain shadow,' in which he 'walketh
and disquieteth himself in vain.' He has his own
hopes and fears, desires, judgments, and aims ; he is
everything to himself, and no one else is really any-
thing. No one outside of him can really touch him,
can touch his soul, his immortality ; he must live
with himself for ever. He has a depth within him un-
fathomable, an infinite abyss of existence; and the
scene in which he bears his part for the moment is
but like a gleam of sunshine upon the surface."

In the use of words there is furthermore a scrupu-
lous economy. This plain rhetorical requirement New-
man has versified in a little poem called " Deeds, not
Words " in which he advocates the pruning of words,
meaning simply the controlling of thoughts. There is
never in his prose a " soft, luxurious flow " of lan-
guage ; but, on the contrary, it is limited according
to classical restrictions and is disciplined by the high
truth which it is consecrated to convey.

Newman's prose shows also a scholarly restraint in
the use of obvious, all H.ftralJn^j^(m&iice, ancUUune-
fuLpeodods'l; has nevertheless, when the author
is lifted beyond himself, a sweeping grandeur of tone,
and a highly poetic rhythm and cadence. Words,
phrases, clauses are piled up into a climactic wave,
which breaks with tfye feeling of the writer, and ebbs
away in lyric music. The exalted tone is often secured
by a wording tuned to the lofty phraseology of Bibli-


cal literature ; there are Iong,.soiioraus-pejiads 4 _rhyth-
mic balance, and simplicity of sound due to homely
idiom. The tone, as a result, is singularly cool, quiet,
and appealing. Examples are difficult to give, since
passages as a whole must be read to perceive this
quality ; but it is found concentrated in some of the
poems, such as " Rest of Saints Departed."

They are at rest :

We may not stir the heaven of their repose
By rude invoking voice, or prayer addrest

In waywardness, to those
Who in the mountain grots of Eden lie,
And hear the fourfold river as it murmurs by.

This prose, simple and ine^taWe^j^Jl^eemSjJsjJt;
must be remembered, the product of a conscious artist
trained from his youth up in the technique of expres-
sion. Speaking of himself as a young writer he says,
" I seldom wrote without an eye to style, and since my
taste was bad my style was bad." Toward the end of
his life he wrote, " It is simply the fact that I have
been obliged to take great pains with everything I
have written, and I often write chapters over and
over again, besides innumerable corrections and inter-
linear additions. I am not stating this as a merit, only
that some persons write their best first, and I very
seldom do. ... I think I never have written for
writing's sake : but my one and single desire and ami
has been to do what is so difficult viz. to express
clearly and exactly my meaning; this has been the
motive principle of all my corrections and re-writ-
ings." How careful he was and intelligent in compo-
sition is further seen by a study of the logical structure
of all his sermons and discourses, a logic which is,


however, never austere or crudely evident. The expo-
sition is seemingly unconcerned and easy-going ; yet
the plan is never lost sight of, however far Newman
may appear to wander from the point. He himself
advises the preacher who hopes to make a definite
impression " to place a distinct categorical proposition
before him, such as he can write down in the form of
words, and to guide and limit his preparation by it,
and to aim in all he says to bring it out, and nothing

The conscious artist is further seen in that Newman
never loses sight of his hearers, of how their minds
may be working ; he voices for them their objections,
enters sympathetically into their view of a question,
overcomes their difficulties, and builds up for them
the^ position he wishes them to hold. "The precise
recognition of a hearer," he says, "is an important
part of the art of speaking." It was this power which
gave Newman a strong hold on those to whom he wrote
or spoke, and which made him a skillful controversialist.
In presenting any question he remembered, too, that
men are more often moved through their feelings than
through their minds ; he therefore appeals to their
imaginations, and, divining their needs, he draws for
them, in definite and warm tones, the objects toward
which they aspire.

The qualities which distinguish Newman as a writer
are essentially those which distinguish him as a man.
His graciousness gives to his work a sweetness of tone
and an old-time courtesy of manner suggestive of the
ways of gentlefolk. His scholarly mind is seen in the
logical ordering and mental vigor of such discourses
as the " Idea of a University " a book characterized


by Pater as " the perfect handling of a theory." And
the religious fervor of his nature, his exalted view of
life, enkindling his words, imparts to his writings a
power to move the reader, as the men were moved
who hearing him preach saw the old truths in a new



IF I were asked to describe as briefly and popu-
larly as I could, what a University was, I should draw
my answer from its ancient designation of a Studium
Generale, or " School of University Learning." This
description implies the assemblage of strangers from
all parts in one spot ; from all parts ; else, how will
you find professors and students for every department
of knowledge ? and in one spot ; else, how can there
be any school at all ? Accordingly, in its simple and
rudimental form, it is a school of knowledge of every
kind, consisting of teachers and learners from every
quarter. Many things are requisite to complete and
satisfy the idea embodied in this description ; but such
as this a University seems to be in its essence, a place
for the communication and circulation of thought, by
means of personal intercourse, through a wide extent

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Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanUniversity subjects → online text (page 1 of 7)