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

XII. The Oxford Movement

§ 8. Pusey

It passed away from Oxford. Part of its influence went Romewards with Newman. Part remained, with the two stalwarts among its first leaders, to leaven the life of the whole church of England. Keble died in 1866, having written nothing which achieved the popularity of The Christian Year; but, till the last there remained much of the grace and sober sweetness of his early manner in all that he wrote. Pusey lived till 16 September, 1882, when he had survived all his first associates, except Newman, and most of their first disciples. Year by year, he produced books of massive learning and unbending orthodoxy. Lord chancellor Selborne said of him that “he was a power in the Church of England greater than Archbishop or Bishop for more than half a century.” Theological literature which issued from the press under his name as author or editor or with his imprimatur found a ready market. So long as he lived there was still something of a theological public, as there had been in the days of the Caroline divines. And, in the Roman obedience, and created a cardinal in 1879, Newman lingered on till 1890, having almost ceased to write. When he died, the literary influence he had represented was at its last gasp.

It is difficult, while the controversies in which the Oxford writers were protagonists are still scarce cold, to estimate the position which the movement will occupy in English literature. In manner, expression, tone, the twentieth century presents a piquant contrast to the severity of sixty years ago. If theologians still think seriously, they are wont to write flippantly. To the tractarians, the manner reflected the solemnity of the matter with which they were concerned. Pusey, whose learning and stability far surpassed that of any of his contemporaries in the arena, cared nothing for grace of expression, achieved lucidity not without an effort, but was the heir of the dignity of the ancient divines. He was a master of serried argument, repeating his blows as with a hammer, cogent, cumulative, compelling, if not convincing, to assent, rarely epigrammatic, never concise. He was mainly a preacher, a commentator, a minister to individual souls, surpassingly sincere, profoundly erudite, piercingly appellant. Nor was the range of his survey limited. He could pass easily from Semitic scholarship to constitutional history, from French pietism to social reforms: on each subject, he was an expert. His style, like his mind, was eminently traditional and conservative. He denounced the doctrine that the original of government was with the people, and “the so-called social compact,” with as much determination as he defended the symbol of Chalcedon or the rights and claims of the poor. And the language in which he expressed all this was the language of an Elizabethan without its elasticity or a Caroline without its quaintness. He was no pedant for pure English, still less for the vocabulary of a pedagogue reared upon the classical tongues. There seems no art in his sentences, and yet it is not true that there is none. But, what art there is is only that of taking pains—not, like Newman, to say a thing in the best as well as the clearest way in which it can be said, but only to say it so that it is certain to be understood. So, he is found sometimes writing sentences as short and trenchant as Macaulay’s; yet, far more often, you will come across one in which, without hesitation, he has extended his meaning to nearly four hundred words. His style, eminently, was one that had its best effect when read aloud. Often a phrase is pungent and arresting: rarely does a sentence linger in the memory. But the power and weight that belong to his greatest efforts is indubitable. For sheer solemnity, pathos and grandeur, there was nothing in the century in which he lived that surpassed the two sermons preached, the one in 1843, before, and the cause of, his suspension, and the other in 1846, on the resumption of “this my office among you,” of which he had been deprived. The sentences at the beginning of the second are characteristic:

  • It will be in the memory of some that when, nearly three years past, Almighty God (for “secret faults” which He knoweth, and from which, I trust, He willed thereby the rather to “cleanse” me) allowed me to be deprived for a time of this my office among you, I was endeavouring to mitigate the stern doctrine of the heavy character of a Christian’s sins, by pointing out the mercies of God which might reassure the penitent, the means of his restoration, the earnests of his pardon. And in so doing, it seemed best, first to dwell upon the unfathomable mercies of God in Christ, the exhaustless abyss of mercy in the Infinite Fountain of Mercy;—when it is not finally shut out, Infinite as Himself, as being poured out from His Infinity; and then, more directly, on all those untold and ineffable mercies contained in the intercession of our Lord, at the Right Hand of God, for us. For so, I hoped, would the hearts of penitents be the more fixed upon Him, the Source of all mercies, and their faith be strengthened, and they the more hope that no depth of past sin could utterly sever them from the love of Christ; nay, could sever them from no degree of fulness of His unspeakable love.
  • Primarily, what he wrote bears the impress of his deep devotion. Whether he wrote about religion or not, what he wrote was religious. But, secondarily, all his writings bore the mark of his indomitable and tenacious spirit. And all that he wrote was balanced, proportionate, sensitive to distinctions, receptive of truths new and old. The very character of all the tractarians was sincerity, and most conspicuously of all did this belong to Pusey. When others left their old moorings he remained firmly anchored to the past of the church. He foresaw the dark future, but he stayed himself on the things of old. When others looked only on England, his view extended beyond, to the country whence he espied a coming danger. He foresaw that what he had seen in Germany would come to his own land. “This will all come upon us in England, and how utterly unprepared we are!” But then, as he said, he was in the English church by the providence of God; and there he found all that he needed, though not all, perhaps, that he could desire. And thus, to him, the Oxford movement was only a call upon the succours of the past. As he wrote more than forty years after the first tract—
  • When we were awakened; the Revival was wholly from within. We did not open a Roman book. We did not think of them. Rome was quiet at that time in itself. It was only, for political ends, assimilating itself as much as it could to us. “We must own,” Cardinal Wiseman said, “that we have been a little ashamed of our special doctrines.” However, we had all which we wanted within our Church. We had the whole range of Christian doctrine, and did not look beyond, except to the Fathers, to whom our Church sent us. One, of whom I thought far more than myself, said, “We have range enough in those before us, to whatever the pigmies may grow.”
  • It was Keble, no doubt, whom Pusey thus quoted. And Keble, like Pusey, and far more than Newman, had his roots in the past.