Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Book Review: Newman and His Contemporaries

I mentioned this book before as being on my reading list. According to the publisher, Continuum:

No one in nineteenth-century England had a more varied circle of friends and contacts than John Henry Newman (1801–1890), the priest, theologian, educator, philosopher, poet and writer, who began his career as an Anglican, converted to Catholicism and ended his days a Cardinal. That he was also a leading member of the Oxford Movement, brought the Oratory to England, founded the Catholic University in Dublin and corresponded with men and women from all backgrounds from around the world made him a figure of enormous interest to his contemporaries. In this study of Newman's personal influence, Edward Short looks closely at some of Newman's relations with his contemporaries to show how this prophetic thinker drew on his personal relationships to develop his many insights into faith and life. Some of the contemporaries covered include Keble, Pusey, Gladstone, Matthew Arnold, Richard Holt Hutton, Lady Georgiana Fullerton, and Thackeray. Based on a careful reading of Newman's correspondence, the book offers a fresh look at an extraordinary figure whose work continues to influence our own contemporaries.

Table of Contents:Preface \ Introduction \ Chapter 1: John Keble and the Crisis of Tractarianism \ Chapter 2: Staying Put: John Keble After 1845 \ Chapter 3: The Anglican Difficulties of Edward Pusey \ Chapter 4: The Certainty of Vocation: Newman and the Froudes \ Chapter 5: A Better Country: Newman and Public Life \ Chapter 6: Newman and the Female Faithful \ Chapter 7: Newman and Gladstone \ Chapter 8: Newman, Thackeray and Vanity Fair \ Chapter 9: Newman and the Americans \ Chapter 10: On the Track of Truth: Newman and Richard Holt Hutton \ Chapter 11: Culture and Hollowness: Newman and Matthew Arnold \ Chapter 12: Newman and Arthur Hugh Clough \ Chapter 13: Newman on Newman \ Biographical Index \ Bibliographical Note \ Index

As someone who has read about Newman and read the works of Newman for years, I really appreciated Edward Short's overall technique in writing this book. Newman's letters are such a great source of information about events in his life and his character, and Short references them throughout the text. Each chapter also contains excellent sketches of each contemporary which include details about his or her family life, emotional struggles, and achievements. The main distinction of the book for me, however, was the shift in context when Short describes the great events of Newman's life, like the Oxford Movement, his conversion to Catholicism, his troubles as a Catholic, etc and his most important works, like the Apologia pro Vita Sua, The Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, The Grammar of Assent, The Idea of a University, etc. Instead of a straightforward survey of these works, Short places them in the context of Newman's relationships with his contemporaries. Thereby, while discussing William Gladstone's High Church Anglican sympathies with the Oxford Movement, Short explores reaction to Newman's Catholic conversion in 1845. In that same chapter, Gladstone's violent response to the declaration of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility at the First Vatican Council in 1870 sets up Newman's great public reply and his private reactions.

Among the most poignant of the chapters are the first three, which review Newman's great friendships with Keble and Pusey, who stayed in the Church of England after his "defection" and struggled to maintain the purpose and goals of the Tractarian Movement. The chapters on his contacts with Richard Holt Hutton, Matthew Arnold, and Arthur Hugh Clough are each fascinating, as all three men fell under Newman's influence in some way, but responded so differently to it. Joyce Sugg's Ever Yours Affly set me up very well for Short's chapter on "Newman and the Female Faithful" and he cites her book in his bibliographical note. Like him, Sugg (whom I met in the 1990s at then Kansas Newman College when she spoke during the annual Cardinal Newman Week festivities) uses Newman's correspondence most effectively.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Blessed John Henry Newman, especially if they have general knowledge of Newman's life and works. I look forward with great anticipation to Mr. Short's next book on Newman and His Family!

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