Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Newman Fisks it Here

I've been reading John Henry Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua for a book club. The Apologia is Newman's account of the development of his religious beliefs, culminating with his conversion to Catholicism, written in response to a charge of mendacity by the hot-headed Charles Kingsley. I've only been able to get as far, so far, as the Newman/Kingsley correspondence, and while reading it I was thinking of what someone in my club had mentioned: how like a blog exchange this is. Kingsley's ill-considered, intemperate rant is exactly the sort of thing one might read online (minus the elevated language and complex grammatical structure), and Newman demolishes him in the comments box. But what caused me to laugh out loud, and made several other mothers waiting outside dance class glance at me oddly, was Newman's fine fisk of Kingsley's "apology", in which Newman gives a side-by-side comparison of what Kingsley says, and what the British reading public will take him to mean. I suddenly imagined a Fr. Z-style fisking, with the emphases in black and the comments in red.

The Rev. Charles Kingsley to Dr. Newman
Reverend Sir, Eversley Rectory, January 14, 1864.
I have the honour to acknowledge your answer to my letter. I have also seen your letter to Mr. X. Y. On neither of them shall I make any comment, save to say, that, if you fancy that I have attacked you because you were, as you please to term it, " down," you do me a great injustice; and also, that the suspicion expressed in the latter part of your letter to Mr. X.Y., is needless.
The course, which you demand of me, is the only course fit for a gentleman; and, as the tone of your letters (even more than their language) make me feel, to my very deep pleasure, that my opinion of the meaning of your words was a mistaken one, I shall send at once to Macmillan's Magazine the few lines which I inclose.
You say, that you will consider my letters as public. You have every right to do so.
I remain, Reverend Sir,
yours faithfully, (Signed) Charles KINGSLEY
[This will appear in the next number]
To the Editor of Macmillan's Magazine
In your last number I made certain allegations against the teaching of the Rev. Dr. Newman, which were founded on a sermon of his, entitled "Wisdom and Innocence," (the sermon will be fully described, as to1 ... )
[ I Here follows a word or half-word which neither I nor any one else to whom I have shown the MS, can decipher.
I have at p. 23 filled in for Mr. Kingsley what I understood him to mean by " fully.", -J.H.N. ]
Dr. Newman has, by letter, expressed in the strongest terms, his denial of the meaning which I have put upon his words. No man knows the use of words better than Dr. Newman; no man, therefore, has a better right to define what he does, or does not, mean by them.
It only remains, therefore, for me to express my hearty regret at having so seriously mistaken him; and my hearty pleasure at finding him on the side of Truth, in this, or any other, matter.
Dr. Newman to the Rev. Charles Kingsley
The Oratory, January 17, 1864.
Reverend Sir,
Since you do no more than announce to me your intention of inserting in Macmillan ' s Magazine the letter, a copy of which you are so good as to transcribe for me, perhaps I am taking a liberty in making any remarks to you upon it. But then, the very fact of your showing it to me seems to invite criticism; and so sincerely do I wish to bring this painful matter to an immediate settlement, that, at the risk of being officious, I avail myself of your courtesy to express the judgment which I have carefully formed upon it.
I believe it to be your wish to do me such justice as is compatible with your duty of upholding the consistency and quasi-infallibility which is necessary for a periodical publication; and I am far from expecting any thing from you which would be unfair to Messrs. Macmillan and Co. Moreover, I am quite aware, that the reading public, to whom your letter is virtually addressed, cares little for the wording of an explanation, provided it be made aware of the fact that an explanation has been given.
Nevertheless, after giving your letter the benefit of both these considerations, I am sorry to say I feel it my duty to withhold from it the approbation which I fain would bestow.
Its main fault is, that, quite contrary to your intention, it will be understood by the general reader to intimate, that I have been confronted with definite extracts from my works, and have laid before you my own interpretations of them. Such a proceeding I have indeed challenged, but have not been so fortunate as to bring about.
But besides, I gravely disapprove of the letter as a whole.
The grounds of this satisfaction will be best understood by you, if I place in parallel columns its paragraphs, one by one, and what I conceive will be the popular reading of them.
This I proceed to do.
I have the honour to be,
Reverend Sir,
Your obedient Servant,
(Signed) JOHN H. Newman

Mr. Kingsley's Letter Unjust, but too probable, popular rendering of it

Mr. Kingsley's Letter
I. Sir,-In your last number I made certain allegations against the teaching of the Rev. Dr. Newman, which were founded on a Sermon of his, entitled " Wisdom and Innocence," preached by him as Vicar of St. Mary's, and published in 1844.
2. Dr. Newman has, by letter, expressed in the strongest terms his denial of the meaning which I have put upon his words.

3. No man knows the use of words better than Dr. Newman; no man, therefore, has a better right to define what he does, or does not, mean by them.
4. It only remains, therefore, for me to express my hearty regret at having so

2. I have set before Dr. Newman, as he challenged me to do, extracts from his writings, and he has affixed to them what he conceives to be their legitimate sense, to the denial of that in which I understood them.
3. He has done this with the skill of a great master of verbal fence, who knows, as well as any man living, how to insinuate a doctrine without committing himself to it.
4. However, while I heartily regret that I have so seriously mistaken the sense

On the more serious side, I was reflecting that many people wail that public discourse has become more debased over the years, yet Kingsley's shrill Know-Nothing-ism rather proves that the haters will always be with us. His expanded set of accusations, What, Then, Does Dr. Newman Mean? don't serve to vindicate him. As I was reading his quotations from Newman's sermon, I found myself nodding in agreement with Newman's interpretations of scripture verses on how to speak the truth.

On Kingsley's accusation of Catholics all being loose with the truth, and the throwing around of the term "Jesuitical" -- I remembered something that a professor of mine had spoken of when we were reading MacBeth. He had some interpretation of the porter's speech that proved that Shakespeare was a closet Catholic which was based around the porter's references to equivocation:
Knock, knock! Who's there, in th’ other devil's name?
Faith, here's an equivocator that could swear in both the
scales against either scale, who committed treason enough
for God's sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven. O,(10)
come in, equivocator.
This was supposed to be a reference to those Catholics who were ambiguous or "equivocal" about their Catholicism when questioned so as to keep undercover during the horrible persecutions of the sixteenth century (the standard execution for a priest was being drawn and quartered, after God knows what other tortures). The Jesuits were especially noted for encouraging this kind of nicety with language, and heck, they still retain that "equivocator" image to this day.


Enbrethiliel said...


I was just thinking about "Jesuitry" and all the equivocation it has become associated with! =)

I also remember reading that very passage in Macbeth several years ago! We might have a sympathetic, even admiring view of the Jesuit missionaries and the recusant Catholic families of England, but it's understandable that a contemporary Catholic would find the whole shady business frustrating.

Brandon said...

It's this dispute that gives us the expression "poisoning the wells", since that's Newman's diagnosis of what Kingsley is trying to do.

And, as you say, well-poisoners are always with us.

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

My favorite part of the Kingsley/Newman exchange is Newman's 'summing up' at the end:

Mr. Kingsley begins then by exclaiming,—"O the chicanery, the wholesale fraud, the vile hypocrisy, the conscience-killing tyranny of Rome! We have not far to seek for an evidence of it. There's Father Newman to wit: one living specimen is worth a hundred dead ones. He, a Priest writing of Priests, tells us that lying is never any harm."

I interpose: "You are taking a most extraordinary liberty with my name. If I have said this, tell me when and where."

Mr. Kingsley replies: "You said it, Reverend Sir, in a Sermon which you preached, when a Protestant, as Vicar of St. Mary's, and published in 1844; and I could read you a very salutary lecture on the effects which that Sermon had at the time on my own opinion of you."

I make answer: "Oh ... Not, it seems, as a Priest speaking of Priests;—but let us have the passage."

Mr. Kingsley relaxes: "Do you know, I like your tone. From your tone I rejoice, greatly rejoice, to be able to believe that you did not mean what you said."

I rejoin: "Mean it! I maintain I never said it, whether as a Protestant or as a Catholic."

Mr. Kingsley replies: "I waive that point."

I object: "Is it possible! What? waive the main question! I either said it or I didn't. You have made a monstrous charge against me; direct, distinct, public. You are bound to prove it as directly, as distinctly, as publicly;—or to own you can't."

Well," says Mr. Kingsley, "if you are quite sure you did not say it, I'll take your word for it; I really will."

My word! I am dumb. Somehow I thought that it was my word that happened to be on trial. The word of a Professor of lying, that he does not lie!

But Mr. Kingsley re-assures me: "We are both gentlemen," he says: "I have done as much as one English gentleman can expect from another."

I begin to see: He thought me a gentleman at the very time that he said I taught lying on system. After all, it is not I, but it is Mr. Kingsley who did not mean what he said. "Habemus confitentem reum."

Christine said...

The term "Jesuitical" (as is the term "Jesuit") was originally a term of abuse directed at the most powerful and committed network of underground priests in England, whose martyrdoms under Henry and Elizabeth numbered in the hundreds, and whose spilt blood laid the groundwork for the English springtime of mass conversions two centuries later. The only "casuistry" of which the Jesuits could be accused was their habit of visiting homes in disguise in order to say secret Masses there.

The Jesuits then proudly called themselves "The Pope's Men." The modern order is as different a speciman from its original counterpart as chalk is to cheese.