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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

XIV. Historians

§ 11. Arthur Penrhyn Stanley

It is difficult to speak of the eminent historian whose name stands forth even on the illustrious roll of the deans of St. Paul’s without also recalling the brilliant writer and single-minded champion of religious toleration who, during the last five years of Milman’s life, held the deanery of the sister cathedral, commemorated by him, in his turn, in a monograph testifying, at least, to his desire to identify himself with the great minster committed to his charge. Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, though neither a great historian nor a profound theologian, deserves to be remembered in the annals of English literature as well as in those of English public life, primarily in its religious and educational aspects. His Life of Arnold (1844) is one of those biographies which will never lose their value; for, although it cannot claim to be one of the masterpieces of national biography, inasmuch as it fails to give anything like a complete account either of the man or of his work, it possesses that kind of unity and force which spring from an absolute projection of the author into his narrative, which glows with the noble enthusiasm of a faithful disciple. Stanley’s whole nature was pervaded by the influence of Arnold, and, though the master’s simple, and, indeed, severe, manliness never could and never can appropriately be made the object of a cult, the example of his biographer, whose geniality and tolerance were gifts of his own, proves how potent and enduring was that influence, which had been “the lodestar of his early life.” This it is which makes the book, though, apart from the letters, far less rich than many other biographies in illustrative detail, singularly attractive and does away with Stanley’s fears that he might, by exaggeration of language, have done harm to the object of his reverence.

Neither the outward circumstances of Stanley’s career, which ran smoothly, as became that of the kindliest of men, with the most favourable of family connections, nor the greater part of his extraordinary activity as a preacher, lecturer and writer, must detain us here. Marked early for preferment, he found himself a canon of Canterbury in 1851—the year in which his exertions as an academical reformer had secured to him the secretaryship of the Oxford university commission; and, in the following year, he started on his memorable tour in Egypt and Palestine, in attendance on the prince of Wales. His canonical residence bore literary fruit in his Memorials of Canterbury (1854)—four essays, in which that on the well-worn subject the murder of Becket attracted attention; and his eastern tour in his Sinai and Palestine, a historian’s book of travel, any defects in which (and it met with censure in certain very high quarters) may be forgiven in consideration of the force with which it brings home to the reader the associations, sacred and other, of the land it describes. This labour of love, generously furthered by aid not less generously acknowledged, was, like the biography with which his literary life had begun, entirely congenial to him. Its success, no doubt, helped to bring about his appointment as professor of ecclesiastical history at Oxford (1861). His first course of professorial lectures, dealing with the eastern church, attracted attention by the oriental character-portraits introduced into the account of the council of Nicaea, and by other passages. Then followed two series of lectures on the history of the Jewish church (from Abraham to Samuel, and thence to the fall of Jerusalem), of which his insight into historical character again forms a most attractive feature; for the time had passed when, as in Milman’s earlier days, worthy people “were shocked at hearing Abraham called a sheikh.” At least equally striking in these lectures was the freedom of critical enquiry which they displayed, though the remark that “what Niebuhr was to Arnold, Ewald was to Stanley” may, perhaps, err on the side of overstatement. In 1872 came out Lectures on the Church of Scotland, delivered at Edinburgh; to Memorials of Westminster Abbey (1867) reference has already been made. The book was criticised, with some severity, by Freeman, whose review was, at first, attributed to Green; on the other side may be remembered, as a notable tribute to the encouragement derived from Stanley by many students, that Green was not only impelled to historical work by Stanley’s Oxford lectures, but declared that it was from these that he first learned the principle of fairness.