Newmanianism/II.The Criticism of the Spectator

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§ II. The Criticism of the "Spectator"

Hitherto, howewer, among many criticisms from the press, the Editor of the Spectator has been unique in accusing me of "unfairness"; and I trust -having regard to the good fame of British journalism- that he will remain unique in having accused me of insincerity. The latter accusation has indeed been withdrawn, but in so grudging a spirit as to make the recantation almost worse than the original offense: "We suppose we had no right to say" -here, as elsewhere, the italics are mine, -"that we did not believe him to be quite sincere in denying that Newman was guilty of conscious insincerity, and we withdraw the statement". (Spectator, 25th April, 1891).

The accusation of "unfairness" are not withdrawn. But their insignificance may be estimated from a single specimen. The Editor accused me of ignoring the fact that "at the time these Essays were published" (meaning Newman's two Essays on miracles) there was not "any of the ground" wich exists now for attributing cures to "faith-healing". In my reply I showed first, that in the expression italicized above he had confused together (and this, not once, but trice) two quite distinct Essays, of wich one was published by Newman as a Protestant, and the other about sixteen or seventeen years afterwards when he was on the verge of Romanism: I then showed that, even in the earlier Essay, Newman definitely recognized some so-called miraculous cures "as possible effects of an excited imagination;" I added that a fortiori, with the growth of science, sixteen or seventeen years afterwards, there would be still more of that "ground" of which the very existence had been denied by my censor, and I invited him to reconsider his charge of "unfairness". But it remains unwithdrawn. That being the case, it seems well to place upon record this instance of the degree to which a critic of some repute may be biassed by what he has himself described as "five-and-twenty years' study of Newman".

I could not sincerely call Newman dishonest or deliberately insincere. It would appear, to me at all events, a gross psychological blunder-intellectually , as well as morally, offensive[1]. That subtlety and tortuosity of mind which induced James Mozley to call Laud "great but twisty", is still more decidedly and justly to be distinguished from conscious insincerity in a nature like Newman's, which in many departments of thought evinced a singular simplicity and a hatred of things hollow and conventional. But still, the instincts of a theological rhetorician, striving for the truths which he supposes necessary for eternal salvation, do occasionally lead him to omit, pervert, distort, suppress, in a manner so extraordinary that any geologist, or astronomer, or philologist, or commentator (upon anything except the Bible) guilty of such desecrations of truth would receive the severest reprobation. Hence it is not always easy, while execrating the system, to speak mildly about an eminent man who is but one of many victims to it. One or two softening modifications I have already inserted in the "Corrigenda" of this edition, and, if an opportunity should present itself, I would gladly incorporate them hereafter in the text, together with any other corrections that may be shown to be demanded by justice.

  1. On the same grounds on which the Spectator charged me with insincerity, they might impute to Coleridge, who, in his lectures on Shakespeare, maintains that Hamlet is deceiving himself, and unconsciously saying what is not true when he protests that his only reason for delaying to kill his uncle at his prayers is the fear lest thereby he should send the man to heaven.
    I go with Coleridge, and think those who differ from Coleridge to be (from a Shakespearian point of view) fools; but I do not either call or think them knaves; and I should except them neither to call nor to think me a knave.
    So, in this Newmanian question, I ask for the same treatment that I would extend to others. After a most careful study of Newman based upon the Tractarian literature generally -and especially upon Newman's own letters, of which, till recently, the world has known very little- I have deliberately come to conclusion that Newman says many things which in an ordinary man would argue insincerity, but do not argue insincerity in him. I say he is, like Hamlet, not a deceiver of others except so far as he is a pre-eminent deceiver of himself. I may be wrong: but it is monstrous, first to call me "not quite sincere" and then to withdraw nothing but the "right" to "say" so (clearly reserving the "right" still to think so) -simply because I have come to certain intellectual conclusions differing from those of the Editor of the Spectator.
    Is it not just whithin the limits of possibility that, for once, a human being should be right, and the Editor of the Spectator wrong?