Newmanianism/VI. Mr Ward's "Hopes"

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§ VI.Mr. Ward's "Hopes"

The reader will have perceived that Mr. Ward, in his letter, hopes "to have an opportunity of pointing out" my "misstatements at some length". He will not easily believe how much pleasure these words, at first, gave me; but I will try to make him understand that it was so, and why it was so.

He calls me "this scrupulous advocate of accuracy", which I am. But he evidently thinks that I take credit to myself for being a model of accuracy; which I do not. On the contrary, I have always avowed myself to be, by nature, one of the most inaccurate of mankind; and, although I have set myself, from my youth upward, to conquer this defect, I know it is far from eradicated.

Conscious of this grave fault, and knowing that, however careful I might be, I must perforce give a good deal of pain to some Newman's too blind admirers, I submitted the proofs of Philomythus to several competent judges (whose kind help I should have acknowleged in my Preface to the First Edition but for the odium which, I knew, would attach to the result); and I gave special weight to those who were most in simpathy with Newman. Unfortunately, one devote admirer of Newman, a member of the Church of Rome, from whose censorship I had hoped most of all, felt precluded, on religious grounds, from helping me to make my book more accurate, and therefore more efficient. When therefore I read Mr. Ward's expression of his "hope" at the beginning of his letter, I felt at first a thrill of the most genuine delight: "Here", said I, "is the very man I want, a real bona fide advocate of Newman". Alas! my delight soon turned to bitter disappointment. The further I read, the lower my hopes fell. I was not surprised or disappointed at his being angry. "Ludicrous", "unmannerly", "violent", "abuse", "falsely represents" -of course Mr. Ward meant to supply, and I did supply, mentally, for him, the word "unintentionally" -all these things did not much move me. In a sense they almost pleased me. For, at least, they clearly showed that he was in earnest, and that he would do his best for the great Cardinal. And, since I could not have the Cardinal himself, this was what I wanted -a genuine champion. But my dejection arose from other causes. It was gradually borne in upon me that Mr. Ward gave at present few or no signs of being an adequate scholar; and, as to evidence, his sole faculty seemed to be that of misappreciating and deranging it in such a way as to mistify and confuse both himself and his readers.

Besides, of course, there was that other charge of "electing" to insert a word of my own in a quotation from Newman, which, I must honestly confess, did make me angry. And it annoyed me, too, by suggesting the inference that, although Mr. Ward would, no doubt, frankly express his regret for this unintentional slip, yet still, if he was going to repeat such slips as these when he pointed out my misstatements "at some length", I should be compelled by self-respect to decline controversy with him; and so I should lose the very useful stimulus and friction of mind with mind, and should be obliged to leave Mr. Ward master of the field in the eyes of a certain portion of the public who could not see through his honest fallacies and bewildering (though unintentional) misrepresentations.

This being the case, it has occurred to me that I may do something to prevent him from making slips of that kind for the future. As therefore Mr. Ward has communicated to the public his "hope", so I will venture to communicate to them, and to him, my intention.

If he indicates real and serious errors either of fact or logic, and steers clear of non-literary personalities, I will answer him; taking my time to weigh whatever may deserve time; acknowledging, and (so far as I can, in the larger works which I am preparing) rectifying whatever may be wrong; and vindicating what is right. But if he repeats his previous language, I shall be forced to take it as a proof that he does not understand English; or that he has not received an English education; or at all events that he is disqualified by some cause, known or unknown, from being an antagonist with whom I can hold a literary discussion.

The reader (and perhaps Mr. Ward himself) will now perceive that Mr. Ward's "hopes" are my hopes. I earnestly trust that he may find the opportunity he desires. And, in order that he may be as useful to me as he can, I wish to prepare him for his task by giving him some advice.

I want him to gird himself up for a great task. Let him remember that it is not enough to detect me in a false reference here, or a word wrongly inserted there; to point out a trifling misstatement on one page or an exxageration on another; or to take a bitter phrase or pungent saying out of its context, and put it before the public-omitting, say, some adverb or some modifying phrase, or qualifying statement, and crying, "See, what unmannerly abuse!" All this is, comparatively speaking, nothing. At all events it will not be worthy of my notice. Let him take Newman's first "principle" and maintain that; or let him take Newman's inquiry into miracle of, say, the blind man in Milan and justify that; then I shall own him to be an opponent worthy of an answer. I think he will find the task as much beyond his powers as to uproot Ossa and pile it upon Pelion; but if he tries it, the assault will be at all events worthy of a serious attempt to repel it. If he does not try it, but confines hismelf to small details only worthy to be acknowledged in my Corrigenda, he must not be surprised if I meet him with silence.

Since the printing of what has preceded, Mr. Ward's reply has appeared in the Spectator.

Misquoting a passage of mine, and putting into my mouth language which I had carefully avoided because it would have accused Newman of simple knavery, Mr. Ward finds it "almost amusing" that I, who (as he thinks) impute knavery to Newman, should construe so seriously the charge of "electing" to interpolate a word of my own in a quotation from an opponent. "However", he continues, "if the expression conveys so much to him, I am happy to withdraw it".

I take note of the withdrawal. But I cannot think the omen favourable for a continuance of literary controversy between us. It ought to be needless to assure any man of letters that such a charge as this does "convey much", and, very much, meaning. Nor do I quite understand how a faithful disciple on Newman's, while retaining the belief that I accuse his Master of knavery, can feel "happy" to acquit me of a similar charge.