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

XII. The Oxford Movement

§ 4. Newman at St. Mary’s

In a few words, the history of the movement of which the tracts were the chief literary output may be told. A great impetus was given by the preaching of Newman at St. Mary’s, of which an immortal description exists by John Campbell Shairp, who became principal of the United college at St. Andrews and professor of poetry at Oxford. The English church had produced many great preachers since the reformation. Men had hung on the words of Donne, had crowded to hear Stilling-fleet and Tillotson; but no man had ever moved others so deeply by such simple means as Newman. All was quiet, restrained, subdued; the voice soft, almost monotonous, the eyes hardly ever lifted from the paper; but old truths were touched into life, when he spoke of “Unreal Words,” of the “Individuality of the Soul,” of the “Invisible World,” and again of “warfare the condition of victory,” “the Cross of Christ the measure of the world,” or “the Christian Church a home for the lonely.” The sermons gave to every cause which Newman supported a following of enthusiastic supporters. In 1836, the strength of the party was shown in the attack on Hampden when he was made regius professor of divinity. Efforts of Roman catholics in England under a new leader (Wiseman) were also met by Newman in lectures on Romanism and popular protestantism; in tract 71, he condemned the Roman form of various Christian doctrines; and the witness of the ancient church was collected in a series, begun in 1836 and lasting some forty years, of translations entitled Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, anterior to the Division of East and West. Yet, other influences were already at work. An important addition to the company of friends proved eventually to be an impulse towards Rome. With Frederick Oakeley and Frederick Faber, came a man of much greater power, William George Ward, fellow of Balliol, a dialectician of extraordinary skill, an ebullient humourist and, as a friend, full of devotion and charm. But the book which had attracted him was the first severe blow the movement received. It was the first two volumes of Literary Remains of Richard Hurrell Froude (1838), and its unsparing condemnation of the reformers and the reformation alienated many supporters, alarmed those ignorant of history and turned the mass of the public into bitter opponents. Already, the school of liberalism in theology had attacked the tracts, Arnold using as violent language against “the Oxford malignants” as was ever used against Wesley, and declaring that their work was to change sense into silliness and holiness into formality and hypocrisy. Still, recruits crowded to the banner of the tractarians. Newman succeeded to the editorship of the famous British Critic, a literary magazine whose importance dated from the days of the younger Pitt. It seemed as if the friends stood firmly in conservative ways. Behind them was the figure of that wonderful old scholar, theologian and tory, Martin Joseph Routh (1755–1854), president of Magdalen, reserved, as Newman wrote in 1838, “to report to a forgetful generation what was the theology of their fathers.” But, already the new accessions had cut into the original movement at an angle, fallen across its line of thought and then set about turning that line in its own direction. Tract 87, by Isaac Williams, On reserve in communicating religious knowledge, more by its title, probably—for all who did not read it, and some who did, entirely misunderstood it—than by its contents, alarmed many, and the author was easily defeated when he stood for the Oxford professorship of poetry. It was war now, and war within the field of English letters.