Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Newman on Kingsley on Newman: Apologia pro vita sua

Photo of John Henry Newman (Public Domain), via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of John Henry Newman (Public Domain), via Wikimedia Commons

First of all, an apology. Today’s post was supposed to be a review of Ian Ker’s Newman on Vatican II. Unfortunately, life intervened, so what I can offer today is much more along the lines of a Vulpes random (and that from a Newman enthusiast, not an expert).

And now from my apology to Newman’s Apologia pro vita sua, which is a work of apologetics, but not particularly apologetic. In 1864, the theologian and Catholic convert John Henry Newman (subsequently Cardinal Newman) published a history of his religious opinions in response to Charles Kingsley (yes, that Charles Kingsley). In an age characterised by hearty and heartfelt theological debate, what had Kingsley written that would provoke Newman so profoundly? Here’s a clue:

Truth, for its own sake, 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.

Kingsley wrote this passage in a review in Macmillan’s Magazine in January 1864, which led to a heated correspondence between the two; which Newman subsequently published with a critical framework of his own (see link above). Kingsley replied to Newman’s publication with a pamphlet entitled  What, then, does Dr. Newman mean?, .in which he not only repeated the accusation of dishonesty but expanded on it at length and in depth. Just one highlight:

What Dr. Newman teaches is clear at last, and I see now how deeply I have wronged him. So far from thinking truth for its own sake to be no virtue, he considers it a virtue so lofty, as to be unattainable by man, who must therefore, in certain cases, take up with what-it-is-no-more-than-a-hyperbole-to-call lies; and who, if he should be so lucky as to get any truth into his possession, will be wise in “economizing” the same, and “dividing it,” so giving away a bit here and a bit there, lest he should waste so precious a possession.

And Newman’s reply to that, in a series of pamphlets, was his Apologia – which starts off by taking Kingsley apart thoroughly and with a certain relish. Just one highlight here, too:

I wish I could speak as favourably either of his drift or of his method of arguing, as I can of his convictions. As to his drift, I think its ultimate point is an attack upon the Catholic Religion. It is I indeed, whom he is immediately insulting,—still, he views me only as a representative, and on the whole a fair one, of a class or caste of men, to whom, conscious as I am of my own integrity, I ascribe an excellence superior to mine. He desires to impress upon the public mind the conviction that I am a crafty, scheming man, simply untrustworthy; that, in becoming a Catholic, I have just found my right place; that I do but justify and am properly interpreted by the common English notion of Roman casuists and confessors; that I was secretly a Catholic when I was openly professing to be a clergyman of the Established Church; that so far from bringing, by means of my conversion, when at length it openly took place, any strength to the Catholic cause, I am really a burden to it,—an additional evidence of the fact, that to be a pure, german, genuine Catholic, a man must be either a knave or a fool.

Kingsley’s pamphlet is now an object of interest to scholars; Newman’s Apologia has remained in print, and has rightly taken its place as one of the great works of memoir in English. And so it should, because it is lively, intelligent and frequently witty, sometimes even beautiful. And it’s engaging, whether you concur with Newman’s theology entirely, partly, or not at all.

Incidentally, in 1865, Newman published another version of the Apologia: a much more sober book, leaving out the attacks on Kingsley. I must confess that I prefer the 1864.


2 comments on “Newman on Kingsley on Newman: Apologia pro vita sua

  1. Mark Wallace
    November 13, 2014

    Tempts me to read the Apologia. I haven’t read any Newman, but anyone who disagrees with Kingsley can’t be all bad. The Water Babies is a horrible book (in the unexpurgated version).

  2. kirstyjane
    November 13, 2014

    You must read it! (I would say that, but really, give it a try). I have to admit I never got very far with The Water Babies…

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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