restricted access An Anglican Platonist: The Conversion of Elmer More. An unsigned review of Pages from an Oxford Diary, by Paul Elmer More
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568 ] An Anglican Platonist: The Conversion of Elmer More An unsigned review of Pages from an Oxford Diary, by Paul Elmer More Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP; London: Oxford UP, 1937. Sections I-XXXIV, unpaginated.1 The Times Literary Supplement, 1865 (30 Oct 1937) 792 This little posthumous book is not quite what it at first appears to be. A rapid glance would give the impression that it was a series of religious meditations or pensées by a devout layman; but it is not quite that; and in these matters the “not quite” marks a difference of kind. To appreciate the nature of this book one needs to know something of the life of Paul Elmer More and of his works. Readers who have this acquaintance should possess themselves also of this book, which is the nearest approach to a personal confession that could be expected from so reserved a man as More. Others should read several of his larger works before they attempt it. More wrote a number of books of great importance; but what is of the first importance is not any particular book or books, but the witness of the whole life-work of a great and good man – a testimony of a different nature from that of his intimate friend Irving Babbitt. During the greater part of his life his name was bracketed with Babbitt’s; the two men were isolated in the American society of their time; and indeed Babbitt, in a University life which was taking, as it still takes, a direction contrary to that which he approved, seemed more isolated than More in the literary world of New York. But in later years, when Babbitt had become famous and the disciples of “Humanism” had gone out from Harvard to spread the gospel in other universities, it was More who appeared the lonelier figure. For he had turned to a still more solitary road, that of Anglican orthodoxy. More’s early education was received in the schools and University (Washington University) of St. Louis, Missouri. His religious up-bringing, from which he early rebelled, was that of an antiquated and provincial American Presbyterianism. He distinguished himself as a classical scholar, [ 569 An Anglican Platonist and for several years was Greek master in a local school. It is possible that one or two elder scholars in St. Louis gave him his first curiosity about Indian philosophy and Sanskrit literature. A little later, two graduate students at Harvard, Paul More and Irving Babbitt, were toiling over Sanskrit and Pali with equal ardour: this and other common interests – as well as common distrust of the tendencies of modern education – brought the two men together. Babbitt continued in a university career, in which he was treated for many years sometimes with hostility and usually with neglect. More, after two years of solitary reading and thought in the remote New Hampshire village of Shelburne, eventually became literary editor of the New York Nation, then in its prime: for some years the Boston Evening Transcript, the Atlantic Monthly, and the Nation provided the political and literary opinions of all cultivated New Englanders. During this period More wrote most of the articles collected in a number of volumes known as “The Shelburne Essays.” After his retirement from literary journalism he lived at Princeton, New Jersey, where, in Princeton University, he took small classes of classical men in Greek philosophy; and he became a frequent visitor to Oxford. It was during this later period that he produced his greatest work; and his gradual conversion to Christianity is to be traced through the four volumes of The Greek Tradition, two supplementary volumes, Platonism and The Catholic Faith, and three more volumes of Shelburne essays (New Shelburne Essays), in which he is preoccupied with religion rather than with literature.2 It is as a contemporary witness to Christianity and to Anglicanism that More remains of the first importance. But his eventual Anglicanism cannot be evaluated without reference to the process by which he arrived at it: the volumes mentioned above should all be read, and in order, as an account of a spiritual pilgrimage as well as for their objective value. His faith remains to the end rather personal and individualistic; and that is why we said at the beginning that the book before us cannot be taken as a manual of devotion. We would not venture to say that More’s reading of theology came late in life, but certainly his understanding of...


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