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

XII. The Oxford Movement

§ 20. F. E. Paget

In humbler literature, “tractarianism” may be thought to have created an epoch by inaugurating the dreary succession of religious novels. But they were not dreary in their beginnings. J. M. Neale was a great writer of romance. Newman himself put some very good polemical work into Loss and Gain (with an immortal description of an Oxford tutor’s breakfast) and Callista. Wiseman’s Fabiola was an effort of the same kind. Francis Edward Paget, student of Christ Church and then rector of Elford, published a series of most interesting tales, containing quite delicious descriptions of country life and character which no novelist of his time surpassed. But most prominent of all was the long line of stories, exquisite in domestic portraiture, strong in moral power, keen in understanding of character and touched with a gracious humour, which issued from the parish of Hursley—where Keble was to the authoress a true guide, philosopher and friend—and were the work of Charlotte M. Yonge. The Heir of Redclyffe and The Little Duke have their place in English literature. They have had many imitators and successors but few rivals, unless John Inglesant may claim to be of their company.

A movement which had so many means of making itself felt throughout the country had, naturally, an influence in many phases of literature. It was primarily religious, with a religion, said one of its lay disciples, an eminent public official, “which was fervent and reforming in essentials with a due reverence for existing authorities and habits and traditions”; but it was not narrow or cloistered, it was “a religion which did not reject, but aspired to embody in itself, any form of art and literature, poetry, philosophy, and even science which could be pressed into the service of Christianity.”

But its permanent effects may be seen most clearly in the fields of history and dogma. During the eighteenth century, the constant study of the Fathers of the early church which had been the basis of the theological writings of the reformers and the Caroline divines had passed into desuetude. In the seventeenth century, no one would have dared to write theology with out quoting long passages of crabbed Latin and obscure Greek. In the eighteenth century, the habit had gone entirely out of fashion, and Wesley, scholar though he was, was the last man in the world to wish for its revival. But, while the tractarians were in their cradles, Routh of Magdalen had recalled to the church of England the thought of the rock whence it was digged, by the publication of the first part of his Reliquiae Sacrae (1814), in which he collected the fragments of early Christian writings up to the first Nicene council and edited them with a remarkable combination of affection, erudition and sagacity. He set the tone for the Oxford writers. Theology and history were inseparable. Accuracy was all important. “Verify your quotations” was the first duty of a scholar. The real teaching of Christianity would be found, in balanced emphasis, if you went back far enough for it. And that was the motto of the tractarians. Christian dogma was inseparable from true history. That was a far-reaching principle, fruitful long after the tractarians had ceased to work.