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Maria Poggi Johnson New Foes and Old Faces Fiction, Interpretation, and Integrity in Newman and Kingsley1 In i 864 the anglican clergyman and novelist Charles Kingsley , reviewing Froude's History ofEngland for Macmillan's Magazine, described in strong terms the disastrous effects of the Roman Catholic system on public and private morality in English history. In the process he directed a personaljab at John Henry Newman, erstwhile leader of the Anglican High Church Oxford movement, and England's most famous convert to Rome. "Truth, for its own sake," Kingsley wrote, "had never been a virtue with the Roman clergy." Father Newman informs us that it need not, and on the whole ought not to be; that cunning is the weapon which Heaven has given to the saints wherewith to withstand the brute male force of the wicked world which marries and is given in marriage . Whether his notion be doctrinally correct or not, it is at least historically so. The insult lead to an exchange ofletters between the two men, icily polite at first, and growing increasingly testy until Newman published the entire correspondence with a satirical commentary, and logos 2:3 summer 1999 LOGOS Kingsley retorted with a ferocious pamphlet, "What does Mr. Newman then mean?" in which he elaborated the grounds of his accusation . He claimed first that Newman had on a number of occasions as good as said that dissimulation and craft were the least ofall sins, or no sins at all, when committed with the intention of defending or promoting the interests of the Church. Newman's practice, moreover , had consistently borne out his fheory by twisting historical documents and facts to suit his argumentative purpose. Kingsley cited Newman's notorious Tract 90 as an example, but saved most of his venom for the Lives ofthe English Saints that Newman had overseen during his final years at Oxford. "He might have made those 'Lives of Saints' what they ought to have been," Kingsley writes, books to turn the hearts of the children to the Fathers, and to make the present generation acknowledge and respect the true sanctity which there was, in spite ofall mistakes, in those great men of old—a sanctity founded on true virtue and true piety, which required no tawdry super-structure of lying and ridiculous wonders. Instead Newman not only tolerated, but also gave explicit sanction to, the most extravagant and fanciful accounts ofmiracles which tradition ascribes to the saints. Kingsley accuses Newman at once of cynical cunning unworthy of a Christian, and of naive credulity unworthy of aVictorian. This would have been no more than an amusing minor chapter in literary history, had Kingsley's attack not prompted Newman to respond at an altogether different level, producing in six weeks a defense ofhis own integrity that has become a classic not only ofreligious autobiography, but also ofthe English language. The history of Newman's "religious opinions" is now indelibly part of the intellectual and religious history of the nineteenth century, and correspondingly the debate that provoked it has assumed greater significance than that of a private squabble between two men. FICTION IN NEWMAN AND KINGSLEY But die squabble between Kingsley and Newman about the interpretation of church history has a history of its own, in an earlier chapter of which Newman had been considerably worsted. In the i8^os both men wrote novels set in the Church's first centuries. Kingsley's Hypatia, or New Foes with an Old Face was published in 1 8£ ? , and Newman's Callista in 1 8j6. The eponymous character of each is a beautiful, idealistic young pagan woman who converts to Christianity shortly before meeting a violent death. Each novel also features a well-intentioned but weak and naive young Christian man, who loves the heroine, matures, and lives to a wise and holy old age. Each includes cameo appearances by prominent historical characters : Cyril of Alexandria and Augustine in Hypatia, Cyprian of Carthage in Callista. These novels cast a fresh light on the more venomous exchange of the 1 860s.4 Kingsley's novel invents the background to an historical incident —the murder ofthe mathematician and philosopher Hypatia by a Christian mob in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-791X
Print ISSN
1091-6687
Pages
pp. 117-135
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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