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

XII. The Oxford Movement

§ 14. Dean Church; Trench

If one were to look for men of letters who were as clearly such, and would have been in any age, as they were men of religion, one would light instantly on the names of Richard William Church and Richard Chenevix Trench. The former, a fellow of Oriel with Newman, one of the proctors who vetoed the new test proposed when Ward was condemned, died as dean of St. Paul’s. Church lived to be the historian of the movement itself, and perhaps that was his finest work. But his deep thought and profound wisdom, which had remarkable weight with the eminent statesmen of his day, were seen at their best in his interpretation of past history as well as in lectures and sermons which are models of clear writing and clear thought. Something of the severity and unworldliness of Dante, of whom he was a devoted student, seemed to have descended upon him, with, also, the great Florentine’s knowledge of the ways and thoughts of common men. But, most clearly, he was, in literature, the disciple of Newman, in the simplicity, directness and absence of ornament which made his style powerful in its effect on the writing of his generation. Church was a preacher, a moralist, a historian; but, especially, he was a student of human nature, who judged men equally yet with sympathy, who weighed motives in scales which were never deflected by prejudice or passion, and knew to a nicety the springs of human action. He was a master of sympathetic literary criticism, too, as his volume on Spenser proves. His historical sketches, such as that of the early middle age, and his criticisms in literature, such as those of Cassiodorus and Pascal, show a characteristic simplicity which cannot veil the abundance of knowledge. Occasionally, something is revealed of the fire within him, which breaks out now and again in his classic memorial of the Oxford movement and the men who began and led it, a record, as he wrote to Lord Acton,

  • that one who lived with them, and lived long beyond most of them, believed in the reality of their goodness and height of character, and still looks back with deepest reverence to those forgotten men as the companions to whose teaching and example he owes an infinite debt, and not he only but religious society in England of all kinds.
  • Pre-eminently, Church was a man of letters; and this was as obviously true of Richard Chenevix Trench. Church noted “the peculiar combination in him of the poet, the theologian and the champion of primitive and catholic doctrine.” Some of his lyrics belong to the highest flight of English poetry. His religious writings had a peculiar distinction and charm. Just as Church owed inspiration to Greece, modern as well as ancient, and its struggle for liberty, so Trench had nourished himself on the great literature of Spain and was in harmony with the aspirations of her liberal revival. He passed, in 1863, from the deanery of Westminster to the archbishopric of Dublin, where he was primate at the disestablishment and fought hard for the ancient symbols of the Irish church under its new constitution. Like the dean of St. Paul’s, he was not a militant tractarian, but he spoke of Hugh James Rose as “my master,” and wrote, on the death of Pusey, that “a prince in our Israel has indeed passed away.” The names of Church and Trench, which, even apart from their theological writings, and at any time in our history, would have been prominent in English letters, are examples of the influence which the serious ideas of the Oxford movement exercised upon literature.