Lecture 3. The Sources of Newman's Style

{49} THE critics whose view I deprecated in my first lecture have endeavoured to treat Newman's literary gifts as something apart from his deepest work. They have hailed the poet who wrote 'Lead, kindly Light,' and 'The Dream of Gerontius'; they record the magic touch of his 'Oxford Sermons' on the minds of their hearers. Most of all they have dwelt on his 'regal' English style as a prose writer. All this they would wish to treasure and remember. It is otherwise with what they regard as his 'controversial writing'—with his theology and his studies in ecclesiastical history. The theology is set aside by them as consisting of technical and out-of-date discussions. The history is regarded as highly ingenious special pleading for Rome. I maintain, on the contrary, that many essays which they call 'controversy' contain the impress of Newman's mind and soul, the record of an eventful personal history and experience which is the main source of all that is recognised as so beautiful in the style. If this is so the attempted separation is unreal and undiscerning. The style faithfully reflects the journey of his mind in its various stages. The austere severity of his earlier and more tentative inquiries gave place to the peculiar beauty and persuasiveness of his presentment of the vistas which gradually opened out before his mind as time went on. He found meaning, harmony, and beauty in wholes, where the several parts, looked at separately, had seemed at first discordant and unintelligible. And the style varied as the shape of his own experience changed. {50}

But again, theological controversy is never allowed in his pages to become parochial or out-of-date, for it knows its place and its relation with those deeper, universal, and eternal problems to which it ministered in his own mental history. And his historical writing, far from being special pleading in the ordinary sense, has no more prominent characteristic than its frankness and its patient recognition of all that tells against his own conclusions. Moreover, in all his writing alike, the close touch on fact, whether it be the facts of human psychology, including religious experience, or the facts of history, is a marked feature. Hence in his hands even technical investigations are human, are literature.

The fact, then, that his writing is largely a reflection of his mental and moral history leaves its deep impress on the style, and gives it its depth, its gravity, its volume. The brooding imagination so often apparent tells of deep and hard-won conviction as distinguished from mere ingenuity expended in defending this or that position. The style has qualities which a mere literary man does not possess—for whom artistic effect is the beginning and end of his aim. It conveys, in one place, his own suffering and labour; in another the sense of triumph at conviction laboriously won. The outcome of this experience possesses the whole man, gradually making his views deeper and wider; and his aim is to convey to others the solemn lesson of his own life. This imparts a deep note as of a great bell to their expression, where a mere master of phrases can, at the very best, only ring out, however skilfully, his thinner tones.

Newman himself more than once expressed his feeling that really great writing can be achieved only by something very different from the aim at diction for its own sake. Familiarity with good models—for we know that Gibbon and Cicero both affected him—is only a preparation. His artist's nature, his sense of form, was cultivated and perfected by such reading. It tuned the instrument, so to speak. But the really great style, the great performance on the instrument, is achieved (so he maintains in a paragraph I shall read directly) primarily by conviction and thought {51} stimulating the writer to their expression. It can never be gained merely by a study of the tricks of graceful diction.

A great author [he writes in one of the Dublin Lectures] is not one who merely has a copia verborum, whether in prose or verse, and can, as it were, turn on at his will any number of splendid phrases and swelling sentences; but he is one who has something to say and knows how to say it ... He is master of the two-fold Logos, the thought and the word, distinct, but inseparable from each other. He may, if so be, elaborate his compositions, or he may pour out his improvisations, but in either case he has but one aim, which he keeps steadily before him ... That aim is to give forth what he has within him; and from his very earnestness it comes to pass that, whatever be the splendour of his diction or the harmony of his periods, he has with him the charm of an incommunicable simplicity. [Note 1]

His view is put yet more forcibly in another page of the same work from which I quoted a sentence in a previous lecture:

Rather, it is the fire within the author's breast which overflows in the torrent of his burning, irresistible eloquence; it is time poetry of his inner soul, which relieves itself in the Ode or the Elegy; and his mental attitude and bearing, the beauty of his moral countenance, the force and keenness of his logic, are imaged in the tenderness, or energy, or richness of his language… And this is true of prose as well as of verse in its degree … That pomp of language, that full and tuneful diction, that felicitousness in the choice and exquisiteness 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. His language expresses not only his great thoughts, but his great self. Certainly he might use fewer words than he uses; but he fertilises his simplest ideas, and germinates into a multitude of details, and prolongs the march of his sentences, and sweeps round to the full diapason of his harmony, as if [kudei gaion], rejoicing in his own vigour and richness of resource. [Note 2] {52}

But one quality was more marked in him than in many great writers, namely, his close touch on the minds of those whom he is directly addressing. 'My own motive for writing,' he says in a letter to W.G. Ward, 'has been the sight of a truth and the desire to show it to others.' And what he wrote had so to be written that those others could see it. ‘Cor ad cor loquitur'—the motto he chose as a Cardinal—conveys this quality which communicates itself to his style. His style, therefore, differs considerably according to the particular audience he is addressing. It differs not only according to the particular stage in his history which it represents, but according to the readers or hearers he has in view. Refinement and self-restraint are apparent at Oxford. This restraint is sometimes due to a certain tentativeness in his thought. But it also arises from the milieu in which he speaks. His audience belonged mainly to the cultivated classes, and included persons of considerable intellectual refinement. The Birmingham Sermons are of a more popular character—more pictorial, less analytical. And he paints in broader colours and introduces more scenic effects for an audience drawn from a commercial town which is presumably less fastidious and less sensitive to delicate lights and shades. These sermons sometimes set forth, with insistence and vividness of illustration, ideas which had been touched on with far greater reserve at Oxford. It is noteworthy that he nearly always had a special audience in view when he wrote. He said of Tract 90 that the attack on it arose from an essay written for one set of people being read and misunderstood by another set. The lectures of 1849 on 'Anglican Difficulties' were avowedly limited in their appeal to the adherents of the Oxford Movement of 1833, who had stopped short of Rome. When he went to Ireland to found the Catholic University in Dublin, he feared at first, as he writes in a letter to a friend, that he would simply break down from not knowing the character of his audience—so necessary for his inspiration was the method of direct address to minds which he knew how to touch. In the event, after he had resided for some time in Dublin, we {53} find his Irish manner developing, and though he addressed a cultivated audience, the style is distinctly more rhetorical, even occasionally to the point of verboseness, than the style of the memorable Oxford Lectures in Adam de Brome's chapel on the Prophetic Office of the Church. In one of his Irish lectures he avowed this sense of his audience which determined his manner, and appealed to the sanction of Aristotle.

Aristotle [he wrote], in his celebrated treatise on Rhetoric, makes the very essence of the art lie in the precise recognition of a hearer. It is a relative art, and in that respect differs from Logic, which simply teaches the right use of reason, whereas Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, which implies a person who is to be persuaded. [Note 3]

But another point has to be observed. The artist in him ever touched and retouched what he had written. Yet he was careful to explain that even this process was due to no mere love of literary form for its own sake, but was inspired by the wish that the idea present to his own mind should be quite truly expressed and imparted to others by his words. 'The mere dealer in words,' he writes, 'cares little or nothing for the subject which he is embellishing, but can paint or gild anything whatever to order.' His own method, on the contrary, was that of the true artist who, as he expresses it, 'has his great or rich visions before him, and [whose] only aim is to bring out what he thinks or what he feels.' [Note 4] Thus, not only his initial eloquence but the very refinement of the art wherewith he retouched and perfected his first sketch was inspired by the pictures which his mind was led to form by its laborious thought and study.

The following letter of 1869, in which he speaks directly of his own style, remarkably confirms the account I have just given:

I may truly say, [he writes to Mr. Hayes] that I never have been in the practice since I was a boy of attempting to write well, or to form an elegant style. I think I never have written for {54} writing's sake; but my one and single desire and aim 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 rewritings. When I have read over a passage which I had written a few days before, I have found it so obscure to myself that I have either put it altogether aside or fiercely corrected it; but I don't get any better for practice. I am as much obliged to correct and rewrite as I was thirty years ago. [Note 5]

As quite a curious contrast to this confession of one master of style, let me read the words of another—Robert Louis Stevenson—sent to me by a friend who had seen the quotation I have just read:

Whenever I read a book or a passage that particularly pleased me, in which a thing was said or an effect rendered with propriety, in which there was either some conspicuous force or some happy distinction in the style, I must sit down at once and set myself to ape that quality ... I have thus played the sedulous ape to Hazlitt, to Lamb, to Wordsworth, to Sir Thomas Browne, to Defoe, to Hawthorne, to Montaigne, to Baudelaire and to Obermann. [Note 6]

Stevenson, then, seems to have adopted a system of imitation in curious contrast to the spontaneity of the Oxford leader.

Let us now consider a few of Newman's actual works in illustration of the remarks I have made. We may note that his first considerable book was undertaken in personal conditions which contained none of the sources of the beauty of his later style. The 'History of the Arians' was not addressed to any special audience, and thus lacked the inspiration that Newman's style ever drew from the effort to touch and move those whom he personally addressed. And it preceded the momentous issues of the Oxford Movement which gave Newman the inspiration of a Mission. It was originally written to order as one of a series of historical manuals. To write it was mainly an opportunity for clearing its author's own mind on the significance of early Christian history. {55}

These circumstances reflect themselves in the style—one might almost say the absence of style. 'Homely,' is the epithet applied to its form by Hutton. The results of highly laborious research are somewhat dryly set forth, and the important philosophical generalisations gradually reached are enforced with earnestness indeed, but without enthusiasm. Even the dignity which ordinarily attends on the impartial statement of the results of an historical survey—which marks such a work as Harnack's 'History of Dogma'—is to some extent impaired by a somewhat hortatory style which, while it never stirs the reader by reaching the pitch of eloquence, yet gives the book, in the eyes of the scientific critic, a slight taint of religiosity.

The 'Parochial and Plain Sermons,' which extend from the 'twenties to the late 'thirties, and many of which were therefore written while he was preparing his work on the Arians, are extremely simple in style—self-restrained, even austere. They were addressed at first to his parishioners at St. Mary's, but were more and more numerously attended by undergraduates and the younger University dons as the Movement came to attract young Oxford. There is considerable literary skill and imagination shown in his frequent use of the Old Testament, which he knew almost by heart, and the lessons of which he applied with great felicity and reality, and with an invariable avoidance of unreality. In one famous sermon of the Oxford period preached at Littlemore—on 'The Parting of Friends'—this power is exercised with pathos and eloquence of a very high order, inspired by the circumstances of the moment—for it was the last he preached before the great change which separated him from Oxford. But 'The Parting of Friends' is an exception, and the word 'eloquence' can hardly be used of any of the Parochial Sermons of St. Mary's. Their sure touch on the minds and motives of men, their frank facing of the facts of life, impart to them a peculiar delicacy and persuasiveness. They often bring the convincing surprise we experience when our thoughts are read truly. They have the beauty of simplicity, restraint, and refinement in the expression of beautiful {56} thoughts and the beauty of a deep spirituality. Their powerful effect was mainly due to the wonderful insight whereby he revealed the thoughts of many hearts, and thereby often changed the lives of his hearers. But they evince none of the richness or imaginative power, none of the rhetorical élan of his later literary style. The magic of the preacher was not at the time traced to oratorical eloquence. One of his finest critics—Dean Church—points out their contrast in this respect to the sermons of the great French preachers, Massillon and Bourdaloue. This contrast could not be maintained in respect of the most eloquent of the Birmingham Discourses.

There is nothing in the earlier sermons in the least parallel to the splendid rhetoric with which he describes Mary Magdalen in the Birmingham discourse on 'Purity and Love,' nothing parallel to the triumphant march of the 'Second Spring.' The characteristic developments of the later manner are at their highest point in these two sermons. But the contrast may perhaps be sufficiently illustrated by quotations from two others—one of the earlier, the other of the later period,—in which the same theme is treated.

'The World our Enemy' belongs to the early Oxford time; 'God's Will the End of Life' to the Birmingham time. The theme of both is the necessity of detachment from the world. In both he regards the world first as God's creation, a curious and interesting phenomenon, not evil, but good in its own way, yet a distraction which makes us forgetful of the realities which lie beyond this visible scene and which matter most for us. Next, he regards it as tainted by original sin, spoken of in Scripture as in maligno positus, as our enemy constantly infecting us with evil maxims. And finally in both sermons he preaches 'woe' to the sinner who is fatally tainted by the world's poison. But the manner of the two is wholly distinct. At Oxford he is reserved, very simple, analytical, reflective. At Birmingham he is rhetorical, he is hortatory; there are the purple patches which mark the orator. In the two sermons taken as a whole the contrast is unmistakable; but I can indicate {57} it sufficiently by reading from each the concluding words. Here is the conclusion of the Oxford sermon—just a few words of solemn and tender warning, not to be called a peroration:

Look not about for the world as some vast and gigantic evil far off—its temptations are close to you, apt and ready, suddenly offered and subtle in their address. Try to bring down the words of Scripture to common life, and to recognise the evil in which this world lies, in your own hearts.

When our Saviour comes, He will destroy this world, even his own work, and much more the lusts of the world, which are of the Evil One; then at length we must lose the world even if we cannot bring ourselves to part with it now. And we shall perish with the world, if on that day its lusts are found within us. 'The world passeth away, and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.' [Note 7]

That is his manner at St. Mary's, Oxford—simple, suggestive, restrained, austere. Now let me read the words of solemn warning contained in the peroration to his Oratorian Sermon:

The world goes on from age to age, but the holy Angels and blessed Saints are always crying alas! alas! and woe! woe! over the loss of vocations, and the disappointment of hopes, and the scorn of God's love, and the ruin of souls ... Times come and go, and men will not believe, that that is to be which is not yet, or that what is now, only continues for a season, and is not eternity. The end is the trial; the world passes; it is but a pageant and a scene; the lofty palace crumbles, the busy city is mute, the ships of Tarshish have sped away. On heart and flesh death is coming; the veil is breaking. Departing soul, how hast thou used thy talents, thy opportunities, the light poured around thee, the warnings given thee, the grace inspired into thee? [Note 8]

Such is the contrast between the earlier Anglican manner of Oxford and the Oratorian manner in Birmingham—a contrast which will be found by those who read the sermons as wholes to be yet more striking than in the extracts I {58} have given. It is certainly untrue to say of the latter what Dean Church said of the former—that it does not show the gifts of the orator. Some may prefer the earlier, but for rhetorical and imaginative power there is no question that the palm must be given to the latter.

The transition from one style to the other is visible in the later Oxford writings which record the change in his outlook and the approach to that clearer and more coherent view of difficult problems which had so much to do with the tone of confidence and the passion visible in the later style. We see the process of transition in the course of his 'Oxford University Sermons' and in the 'Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.'

The University Sermons ranged from 1826 to 1843. In the last few of them we begin to see signs of the later style. The first instances of his real eloquence are apparent in the last two of the series. They are, as we have already seen, mainly a sustained effort to think out the true rationale of Christian belief as against the growing attitude of religious negation. They therefore illustrate far more than the Parochial Sermons the anxious labour of Newman's own mind and soul, and his actual achievement in solving difficulties in religious thought which long oppressed him. And this fact is faithfully reflected in their style as they advance. In the last of the series we have evidence of a great mental effort accomplished at high pressure. He gradually saw in the positive development of theology the natural alternative to the negation of the initial affirmations of Christian teaching. This development represented the human mind struggling to hold on to and express, however imperfectly, truths which are beyond it, in place of rejecting what it could so insufficiently grasp and analyse. This position was essential to the teaching of the Tractarians. He gradually interprets the elaborations of dogmatic theology which may appear, prima facie, to be meticulous hair-splitting, defacing the beauty of Christ's simple teaching—an assertion so freely made by Evangelicals and Latitudinarians—as being in reality a great economical system representing under inadequate human symbols the transcendent realities of another {59} world. This was to develop much more fully in the field of philosophical thought the origin of dogmatic formulæ which as a matter of history he had traced in outline in the 'Arians,' and accordingly it involved a great effort both of philosophical thought and of historical imagination. That effort issues in one of the earliest passages in his prose writings, which is famous for its literary beauty, in which he suggests that musical sounds and combinations may be in truth, like dogma itself, earthly symbols representing divine realities. This passage has often been isolated for quotation. But its value as an illustration of the creation of his style by the very process of his thought can only be appreciated by those who read the pages which precede it. They are too long for quotation in this place. But I will read enough to give an idea of the gradual crescendo whereby the mental effort of thinking out a profound and suggestive idea issued in a typical specimen of the beauty of his style. He is speaking of the human figures of speech and definitions employed in teaching the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation. And he maintains that, far from being due to intellectual hair-splitting unworthy of simple and great spiritual truths, they have arisen from attempts to express by human ideas the impression of divine truth formed by Christ's teaching on the mind of a Christian; that they convey a symbolic idea of the truths He taught, which, though no doubt wholly inadequate to the reality is nevertheless that best adapted to human limitations. Touch and hearing (he says) convey a true, but very imperfect idea to a blind man of the external objects known so much better by sight. Yet that idea suffices for his more immediate needs in locomotion and communication with his fellows. And a limitation similar in kind though less in degree attaches to all our sensible knowledge. It conveys an idea of the real world, true enough for our human needs, yet the reality as known to God indefinitely transcends the picture we form of it in terms of our poor five senses. This starts the question of the relativity of knowledge and the imparting of knowledge by economies and figures suited to the limitations of the recipient. And the subject {60} gradually develops in his mind, and he illustrates it by a variety of instances from which I will select a few:

Children, who are made our pattern in Scripture [he writes], are taught, by an accommodation, on the part of their teachers, to their immature faculties and their scanty vocabulary. To answer their questions in the language which we should use towards grown men, would be simply to mislead them, if they could construe it at all ... To speak to a blind man of light and colours, in terms proper to those phenomena, would be to mock him; we must use other media of information accommodated to his circumstances, according to the well-known instance in which his own account of scarlet was to liken it to the sound of a trumpet. And so again, as regards savages, or the ignorant, or weak, or narrow-minded, our representations and arguments must take a certain form, if they are to gain admission into their minds at all, and to reach them. Again, what impediments do the diversities of language place in the way of communicating ideas! [Note 9]

He gives further instances, and the idea grows on him and becomes more inspiring as it becomes more fertile.

Even between man and man, then [he argues], constituted, as they are, alike, various distinct instruments, keys, or calculi of thought obtain, on which their ideas and arguments shape themselves respectively, and which we must use, if we would reach them. The cogitative method, as it may be called, of one man is notoriously very different from that of another; of the lawyer from that of the soldier, of the rich from that of the poor. The territory of thought is portioned out in a hundred different ways. Abstractions, generalisations, definitions, propositions, all are framed on distinct standards; and if this is found in matters of this world between man and man, surely much more must it exist between the ideas of men, and the thoughts, ways, and works of God. [Note 10]

Then he advances to our human methods of expressing immutable and eternal truths by mathematical science, in a sense the borderland of theology which treats of the eternal God. He points out that the differential and integral calculus and the calculus of variations use different {61} symbols to explore the same territory of eternal and immutable principles.

Yet they are, [he writes] one and all, analyses, more or less perfect, of those same necessary truths, for which we have not a name, of which we have no idea, except in the terms of such economical representations. They are all developments of one and the same range of ideas; they are all instruments of discovery as to those ideas. They stand for real things, and we can reason with them, though they be but symbols, as if they were the things themselves for which they stand. Yet none of them carries out the lines of truth to their limits; first, one stops in the analysis, then another; like some calculating tables which answer for a thousand times, and miss in the thousand and first. While they answer, we can use them just as if they were the realities which they represent, and without thinking of those realities; but at length our instrument of discovery issues in some great impossibility or contradiction, or what we call in religion, a mystery. It has run its length; and by its failure shows that all along it has been but an expedient for practical purposes, not a true analysis or adequate image of those recondite laws which are investigated by means of it. It has never fathomed their depth, because it now fails to measure their course. At the same time, no one, because it cannot do everything, would refuse to use it within the range in which it will act; no one would say that it was a system of empty symbols though it be but a shadow of the unseen. Though we use it with caution, still we use it, as being the nearest approximation to the truth which our condition admits.

Then comes the famous passage:

Let us take another instance, of an outward and earthly form, or economy, under which great wonders unknown seem to be typified; I mean musical sounds, as they are exhibited most perfectly in instrumental harmony. There are seven notes in the scale; make them fourteen; yet what a slender outfit for so vast an enterprise! What science brings so much out of so little? Out of what poor elements does some great master in it create his new world! Shall we say that all this exuberant inventiveness is a mere ingenuity or trick of art, like some game or fashion of the day, without reality, without meaning? We may do so; and then, perhaps, we shall also account the science {62} of theology to be a matter of words; yet, as there is a divinity in the theology of the Church, which those who feel cannot communicate, so is there also in the wonderful creation of sublimity and beauty of which I am speaking. To many men the very names which the science employs are utterly incomprehensible. To speak of an idea or a subject seems to be fanciful or trifling, to speak of the views which it opens upon us to be childish extravagance; yet is it possible that that inexhaustible evolution and disposition of notes, so rich yet so simple, so intricate yet so regulated, so various yet so majestic, should be a mere sound, which is gone and perishes? Can it be that those mysterious stirrings of heart, and keen emotions, and strange yearnings after we know not what, and awful impressions from we know not whence, should be wrought in us by what is unsubstantial, and comes and goes, and begins and ends in itself? It is not so; it cannot be. No; they have escaped from some higher sphere; they are the outpourings of eternal harmony in the medium of created sound; they are echoes from our home; they are the voice of Angels, or the Magnificat of Saints, or the living laws of Divine Governance, or the Divine Attributes; something are they besides themselves, which we cannot compass, which we cannot utter,—though mortal man, and he perhaps not otherwise distinguished above his fellows, has the gift of eliciting them. [Note 11]

I think it is apparent to anyone who reads in its context this well-known passage that the great idea which gives it its beauty dawned on his imagination, as his intellect explored at high pressure this fruitful theme of the economy in the communication between mind and mind, and rose to the thought of the Infinite Mind in communication with the finite.

The 'Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine,' like the later University Sermons, also belongs to the period of transition between the old style and the new. It is the first of his works which at all shows the full extent of his literary power. He first finds approximately the full reach of his instrument of style in its pages. This is indeed apparent only here and there. There is not in this essay the sustained beauty and uniformly high level which are {63} visible in the 'Apologia,' or even in the 'Lectures on Anglican Difficulties,' in spite of their controversial character. But its finest pages show Newman at his very best. In imaginative sweep, in eloquence, in richness of language, in the pathos of the concluding paragraph, we find a combination which opens a new chapter in Newman's history as a writer. In no other of his writings is the white heat of eloquence more manifest. As that eloquence is all directed towards a particular conclusion, the charge of special pleading is an inevitable consequence, and no charge is more fatal to a reputation for historical thoroughness. Yet those who make the charge have missed the essential character of the work. The eloquence, the beauty of style, is largely a direct result of the writer's very candour. It speaks of triumph over difficulties directly faced and explicitly stated, which the uncandid special pleader would ignore, of a rough road traversed. But the journey had been accomplished when he wrote the book, and in the actual writing the triumphant note of arrival is apparent. The obstacles are recorded, but the pain and anxiety they once caused are lost in present happiness. We know from his letters and diaries that the time of waiting—during which it was written—was a period of heartache, of impending separation from dearest associations at Oxford and in the Church of England. The stress of his fateful inquiry left an ineffaceable mark. The vision of Rome beckoned him in the distance; the Church of his birth, lifelong friendships, the clinging hold of early and sacred memories, held him back. In the 'Apologia' he compared the struggle to that of the death agony. It changed even his habitual expression of face—hitherto (as he tells us in his diary) characterised by a smile with parted lips—to the sad look, the drawn features, with which his later photographs make us familiar. Yet we know also that he emerged from a sadness which left ineffaceable scars into a repose and peace of conviction which never left him. Both aspects of his story are visible in the style of this famous essay. A trail of glory is visible in many of its pages—thrown in retrospect on a rugged path which has led to a scene to him {64} so inspiring. Hence the peculiar character of the style. Let the anti-Roman theological critic of the work say what he may against its argument, if he has any sense of the deep pathos of the drama of a soul he cannot read without emotion those pages in which the intensity and rich colouring of the drama become apparent.

The brief Epilogue to the 'Essay on Development' is quite as famous as the passage on music in the last of the 'University Sermons.' 'It will be remembered as long as the English language endures,' is the comment on it of a great critic not himself a Catholic—Mr. Richard Hutton. Like the passage on music, it is the outcome of protracted mental tension issuing in a great and momentous conclusion.

Such were the thoughts concerning the 'Blessed Vision of Peace,' of one whose long-continued petition had been that the Most Merciful would not despise the work of His own Hands, nor leave him to himself;—while yet his eyes were dim, and his breast laden, and he could but employ Reason, in the things of Faith. And now, dear reader, time is short, eternity is long. Put not from you what you have here found; regard it not as mere matter of present controversy; set not out resolved to refute it, and looking about for the best way of doing so; seduce not yourself with the imagination that it comes of disappointment, or disgust, or restlessness, or wounded feeling, or undue sensibility, or other weakness. Wrap not yourself round in the associations of years past, nor determine that to be truth which you wish to be so, nor make an idol of cherished anticipations. Time is short, eternity is long.

Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine,
Secundum verbum tuum in pace,
Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare T

We have, then, to face the fact that the 'regal English' which the critics have glorified, including indeed many of the passages they have singled out for admiration, was directly inspired by the theology—the controversy—so many of them have despised. The two can no more be separated than the beauty of the human expression of a Saint can be separated from the soul that speaks through it. But I desire to enforce no paradox. It was not the {65} dry bones of theology as such that inspired his style; it was the great thoughts which emerged in the course of discussions which might include issues in themselves technical or even merely logical or trivial, and which remained trivial in the hands of the dry-as-dusts or of those who could not see the wood for the trees. And his emergence from the restlessness of tentative experiments and laborious doubts into the peace of deep conviction—the 'blessed vision of peace'—imparted to his style a new and deeper tone. There is little doubt that both the depth and the repose of his conviction had much to do with the vital force which gave the elasticity and the variety to Newman's later style. Where the mind ceases from mental struggle and is free to concentrate on conveying to others thoughts that already possess itself, literary effect comes far more easily. This is, indeed, of the alphabet of the art of writing. Where a subject is difficult, it is again and again necessary to write twice: first, in order to find out clearly what we want to say; secondly, in order to say it effectively and convincingly. Thus his own achievement of a clear view after protracted labour left him free in later life to concentrate his efforts on finding the best manner of successfully conveying it to others.

It was not indeed till after he became a Roman Catholic [writes Hutton] that Dr. Newman's literary genius showed itself adequately in his prose writings ... in irony, in humour, in eloquence, in imaginative force the writings of the later … portion of his career far surpass the writings of his theological apprenticeship. [Note 12]

The mental process which I have described as the source of the beauty of Newman's later style added greatly to his persuasiveness as a writer. There are two opposite ways of being persuasive in writing. You may persuade by intensity though it be narrow, or by breadth of sympathy. You may impress people by the passionate strength of your own conviction even though it be one-sided. Or, on the other hand, you may persuade by breadth of view and {66} keen sympathy with the objections which readers may see to the view you hold, thereby winning their trust. In Newman, however, the two sources of persuasion were closely combined. His conviction was intense, yet it had been gained by one who had keenly felt and only gradually found the answer to the reasons against it. He sweeps into the triumphant current of his argument—triumphant because of the depth of his present conviction—just those facts which hostile critics have used against Christianity and against all religion.

Mr. Hutton has singled out as one of the charms of Newman's style the manner in which it thus includes the cross currents which tell against his main drift. And at times, as he [Note 13] notes, this combination of a definite onward current with qualifying clauses forestalling objections is apparent in individual sentences. But often the combination is more apparent in long paragraphs. He states at times the sceptic's riddle as Ecclesiastes does, with the most vivid and unmistakable feeling of its force. Yet the reader never for a moment forgets the central avowal of his own undoubting religious belief. A signal instance of this is to be found in a well-known passage in the 'Apologia':

If I looked into a mirror [he writes], and did not see my face, I should have the sort of feeling which actually comes upon me, when I look into this living busy world, and see no reflection of Its Creator. {67}

To consider the world in its length and breadth, its various history, the many races of man, their starts, their fortunes, their mutual alienation, their conflicts; and then their ways, habits, governments, forms of worship; their enterprises, their aimless courses, their random achievements and acquirements, the impotent conclusion of long-standing facts, the tokens so faint and broken, of a superintending design, the blind evolution of what turn out to be great powers or truths, the progress of things, as if from unreasoning elements, not towards final causes, the greatness and littleness of man, his far-reaching aims, his short duration, the curtain hung over his futurity, the disappointments of life, the defeat of good, the success of evil, physical pain, mental anguish, the prevalence and intensity of sin, the pervading idolatries, the corruptions, the dreary, hopeless irreligion, that condition of the whole race, so fearfully yet exactly described in the Apostle's words, 'having no hope and without God in the world,'—all this is a vision to dizzy and appal; and inflicts upon the mind the sense of a profound mystery, which is absolutely beyond human solution. [Note 14]

He thus presents the case for agnosticism with an imaginative sympathy with the agnostic view which is found in few Christian writers. Yet the man who thus sees and states the case against the being of God is the same who has told us that from his earliest years he rested in the thought of two luminously self-evident beings—himself and his Creator.

It is the same with the famous apologetic for the incidental failures of Roman Catholicism (in the Development Essay), in which their force as arguments against its claims is broken by the record of the parallel failures of the Christian Church in the fifth and sixth centuries. These are depicted as vividly as the apparent absence of God from His own creation is recognised in the passage just quoted. After a minute and unsparingly frank summary of the straits to which the Church was reduced about the year 500 by victorious assailants and internal corruptions, he thus sums up:

If then there is now a form of Christianity such, that it extends through the world, though with varying measures of prominence {68} or prosperity in separate places;—that it lies under the power of sovereigns and magistrates, in various ways alien to its faith;—that flourishing nations and great empires, professing or tolerating the Christian name, lie over against it as antagonists;—that schools of philosophy and learning are supporting theories, and following out conclusions, hostile to it, and establishing an exegetical system subversive of its Scriptures;—that it has lost whole Churches by schism, and is now opposed by powerful communions once part of itself;—that it has been altogether or almost driven from some countries;—that in others its line of teachers is overlaid, its flocks oppressed, its Churches occupied, its property held by what may be called a duplicate succession;—that in others its members are degenerate and corrupt, and are surpassed in conscientiousness and in virtue, as in gifts of intellect, by the very heretics whom it condemns;—that heresies are rife and bishops negligent within its own pale;—and that amid its disorders and its fears there is but one Voice for whose decisions the peoples wait with trust, one Name and one See to which they look with hope, and that name Peter, and that see Rome;—such a religion is not unlike the Christianity of the fifth and sixth centuries. [Note 15]

In both of these eloquent passages Newman's persuasiveness is due largely to the fact that the very objections which to the hostile critic had seemed final against the claim of the Catholic Church are set forth fully and even with sympathy, and are included in the onward march of his own mind to the acceptance of that claim. He pleads in the first passage, not on behalf of a Theism as luminous as the sun in the heavens, but of a 'hidden God' invisible to many, yet visible to the pure of heart. He pleads in the second not for a Church which realises all its ideals, but for a Church which has worked amid a world of sin and received from time to time wounds, the scars of which in the eyes of some disfigure its divine character almost beyond recognition.

One cannot but feel in reading the last passage I have quoted the profound justice of M. Loisy's protest against Auguste Sabatier's assertion that Newman was driven to make 'concessions' to history. 'He never attempted to {69} shut his eyes to a single truth,' writes M. Loisy. 'He had no thought of a "concession," but simply of explaining the facts of history in outlining his theory of Christian development.'

Now it will certainly be said that in some of these remarks I am doing a disservice to Newman's memory. People were ready to forget or to put in the background the fact that he was so poor a thing as an ecclesiastical controversialist, and to treat him as an English classic; to forget what Stanley calls the parochial side of him, and dwell on something world-wide—on literature as literature, style as style. Yet I am (it will be objected) doing all I can to prevent this, and trying to set the sectarian stamp on his best work, and on the style itself as part of its essence. I am depicting him as not merely a Christian controversialist (a role, even this, which indicates one who is heated and one-sided, and not among the truly great), but a Popish pamphleteer whose Popery is often of the very essence of his writing. The sting in this objection arises largely from the peculiar state of public opinion on religion in which we live, in which Roman Catholicism is identified with the limitations of its narrower exponents, and is regarded as inevitably 'sectarian' in the invidious sense of the term. Certainly, if the thoughts of Newman which so deeply marked his style were what may be truly called 'sectarian' arguments, his place among the immortals would be very insecure. But definite conviction is one thing. Its attainment by a sectarian path or its maintenance in a sectarian form is another. It is not the attaining to a definite conclusion, but the being insufficiently alive to the universe of facts as seen by others that is fatal to the highest claims as a thinker, and as a writer in cases where the writing and thought are in some sense inseparable. Those who fail to understand Newman are more open to this charge than Newman himself, who so clearly masters the negative position which he rejects. The author of the sermon on 'Wisdom as contrasted with Faith and Bigotry' can hardly be charged with narrowness of outlook, or with not being alive to the intellectual poverty involved {70} in 'bigotry,' however gifted the bigot may be. Pascal, like Newman, was a Christian and a Catholic thinker. His conviction was in later years absorbing; yet there was nothing sectarian in his thought. I make a similar claim for Newman. He dealt in controversies often disfigured by sectarianism, but never himself lost sight of a wider horizon.

But indeed we can never escape from the truth of Buffon's often quoted aphorism, 'Le style c'est l'homme même.' And 'the man' is what his own particular experience makes him. Newman's experience was in the field of religious inquiry, of the philosophy of theology. To attempt to find the complete man, the counterpart of the style, if we cut this field off, is intrinsically absurd. To take a noteworthy instance. What was in his own eyes the great discovery of his life—the functions of a world-wide Church in preserving Christianity from first to last—was recorded by the 'Essay on Development.' And the gaining of it fired his imagination and added richness and intensity to his style. We cannot divorce the style of the man from the nature of the experience he records in this work and which made him what he was. The richness and imagination visible in some pages of the 'Essay on Development' never afterwards left his writing. He had seen a vision. If to others it seems an illusion, to himself it was real. And it came with something of the keen sense of reward with which a glorious view bursts upon us suddenly at the summit of a mountain after a long and difficult ascent. Had it not been then for his personal history, his sufferings, his joys, his doubts, his faith, his laborious thought and its issue in 'the blessed vision of peace,' we should never have had some of his greatest writing. As with all mystics, the emergence from the Slough of Despond, from the struggle of indecision, gave an intensity of reality to his subsequent happiness; and this left an unmistakable impress on the style which no mere artistry could have effected. He was indeed contemptuous of the mere literary man who studied artistic effects instead of speaking out what was in his heart. A literary man, he once said, can say strong things because {71} no one believes he means them. The eloquence of the 'Apologia,' like that of the 'Development,' was the outcome of heartache and many tears. It records his experience in the field in which his life was lived, his participation in current controversies, his view of their relation to the deepest problems of human life.

And this brings me back to my original point of departure. His style is no mere ornament to be admired by literary connoisseurs. It was for him the medium by which, to use his chosen motto, 'heart speaketh unto heart.' It may be admired by the literary artists, but it was elaborated with no thought of them. It arose, as true eloquence ever arises, from his simple and earnest desire to communicate to others the experience of his own life, which moved him to deep feeling. And the record found expression in such shape as was natural to an exceptionally refined nature and cultivated mind with the artist's sense of form—just as charm of manner often follows spontaneously from sweetness and refinement. If the mere artist would praise Newman's style, let him; but his craft can no more fathom its deeper sources than one who draws a true picture of a great battlefield can therefore feel or depict all the sufferings of the wounded, all the exaltation of the conquerors.


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1. Idea of a University, pp. 291-2.
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2. Ibid., pp. 279-280.
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3. Idea of a University, p. 415.
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4. Ibid., p. 285.
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5. Letters and Correspondence of J. H. Newman, edited by Anne Mozley, vol. ii. p. 477.
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6. Memories and Portraits, by R. L. Stevenson (1887). p. 59.
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7. Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. vii. p. 40.
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8. Discourses to Mixed Congregations, pp. 122-3.
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9. Oxford University Sermons, pp. 340-1.
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10. Ibid., pp. 343-4.
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11. Oxford University Sermons, pp. 345-7.
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12. English Leaders of Religion: Cardinal Newman, pp. 11, 190.
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13. 'It is a style, as I have said, that more nearly represents a clear atmosphere than any other which I know in English literature. It flows round you, it presses gently on every side of you, and yet like a steady current carries you in one direction too. On every facet of your mind and heart you feel the light touch of his purpose, and yet you cannot escape the general drift of his movement more than the ship can escape the drift of the tide. He never said anything more characteristic than when he expressed his conviction that, though there are a hundred difficulties in faith, into all of which he could enter, the hundred difficulties are not equivalent to a single doubt. That saying is most characteristic even of his style, which seems to be sensitive in the highest degree to a multitude of hostile influences which are at once appreciated and resisted, while one predominant and overruling power moves steadily on.'—Modern Guides of English Thought in Matters of Faith: Cardinal Newman, by R. H. Hutton, p. 59.
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14. Apologia (Oxford University Press, 1913), pp. 334-5.
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15. Essay on Development of Christian Doctrine, pp. 321-2.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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