In the previous posting on this subject, we found that the Reverend Charles Kingsley, who had accused John Henry Newman in print of being a liar, actually admitted in the course of preparing his final blast at Newman that his original accusation was false. Despite that, Kingsley informed a friend of his that he was going to continue making new accusations until he had taken revenge on Newman for some undisclosed transgression Newman had allegedly committed against Kingsley twenty years before.
|Pope Leo XIII
What makes the situation even more peculiar, not to say bizarre, is the fact that James Anthony Froude, the author of the book Kingsley had reviewed when he made his gratuitous attack on Newman, was actually acquainted with Newman. Froude was far from exhibiting the kind of hostility toward Newman that Kingsley did, who had never met him.
To confuse the picture even more, to the end of his life, the anti-Catholic and anti-Irish Froude was something of an “Irish atheist” — someone who goes about praying to God wishing he could believe in God. Soon after Pope Leo XIII named Newman a cardinal, for example, Froude composed a long and very touching letter to the Duke of Norfolk asking permission to come to “the Little Oratory” to hear Newman preach. As he wrote, “Since I last heard that musical voice, my faith is all but shattered. Perhaps if I might hear him again I would at least awaken in me some echoes of those old days.” (Ibid., 315-316.) Despite this, Froude never did anything to realize the hope over which he sighed and lamented.
|James Anthony Froude
The plot thickens still further when we discover that Kingsley’s and Froude’s wives were sisters; Kingsley’s review of Froude’s book takes on the character of a favor for an in-law — a good review is, after all, money in the bank. Was the comment about Newman originally intended as nothing more than a humorous dig at a connection who, while professing a loathing for everything Catholic, still claimed to admire Newman and hold him in affection?
Were that the case, Kingsley might have been taken completely by surprise and deeply offended by Newman’s reaction to his offhand comment, for he (Kingsley) might genuinely have meant it as nothing more than a way of twitting Froude. Kingsley might have done the same sort of thing many people today attempt to dismiss as “just kidding” when they give particularly egregious offense and are themselves outraged at others’ inability to “take a joke” when they get caught at such stunts. He might initially not even have considered that anything he said was offensive in any way to Catholics in general or Newman in particular.
Kingsley was, after all, accounted a very kindly man . . . if rather thoughtless and impulsive. As Philip Hughes noted of Kingsley in his introduction to the Doubleday edition of Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua,
Friends who knew him well have left the picture of a man who “had a courteous deference to the opinions of the most insignificant person; . . never superficial . . . (in his conversation) and always ready to admit when he did not know; . . artistic and impulsive . .”, with senses “acute to an almost painful degree”. He was “restless and excitable”, a man to whom “constant movement was a relief”, and despite his intense self-control, afflicted with “a certain impatience of trifles, an inaccuracy about details, a haste in drawing conclusions . . . a forgetfulness of . . . words lightly spoken or written”. It is also said that he was a man of “impulsive and almost reckless generosity and fear of giving pain”. (Philip Hughes, “Introduction,” John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1956, 26.)
Was it literary jealousy, as some Newman scholars have suggested? It is certainly possible. Kingsley’s Hypatia, or, New Foes with an Old Face (1853) was considered one of his best novels, despite — or maybe because of — its racism, bigotry, and anti-Catholicism. Its highly fictionalized account of the murder by Christian monks of Hypatia, a Neoplatonic pagan philosopher of the late fourth and early fifth century, is told through the story of Philammon, a monk, who goes to Alexandria and becomes embroiled in the religious and political controversies of the fourth century.
|Nicolas Cardinal Wiseman
The real Hypatia was killed by a mob because she, a pagan, was accused of preventing a reconciliation between rival Christian leaders; Alexandrians were notorious in the ancient world for rioting about anything and everything, religion being just one more excuse. One particularly violent outbreak was allegedly occasioned by a quarrel over a sandal.
In any event, one of Newman’s first publications was The Arians of the Fourth Century (1833), which established him as a scholar of the first rank and an authority on early Christianity. The book’s objectivity was such that, even though Newman was anti-Catholic when he wrote it, it needed almost no revision when he republished it following his conversion to Catholicism. The removal of one or two offensive sentences sufficed.
That was bad enough to someone with Kingsley’s ego, but Newman also published two novels, the second of which, Callista: A Tale of the Third Century, was published in 1855, although it had been written several years earlier. Newman dusted it off and published it at the behest of Nicolas Cardinal Wiseman as part of a projected series of novels presenting the Catholic view of Church history.
Wiseman’s own Fabiola, or, The Church of the Catacombs, had come out in 1854, with the idea of countering such productions as those of Kingsley and Edward Bulwer-Lytton, author of The Last Days of Pompeii (1834), that enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the Early Christian Romance genre, although in many cases taking extreme liberties with the facts. Bulwer-Lytton, by the way, is best remembered today for the opening line of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
Wiseman’s novel was patently the work of a talented amateur and, despite the usual amateur’s mistakes (e.g., slipping briefly into pedantic lecturing, signaling plot twists intended as surprising revelations well in advance, changing the point of view, breaking through the “screen of print,” and so on) is competently written and has held its own down to the present day, with a number of screen adaptations being made. It did not really compete with the slick productions of Kingsley, however, whose publication of Hypatia was obviously the occasion for the Catholic literary counterattack — a project that, like many that anticipated Wiseman’s abortive vision of a Catholic renaissance in England (Newman’s prediction of a “Second Spring”), was never completed.
As might be expected, Callista, Newman’s entry into the field of Early Christian Romance, was a much more literary production, although in common with Wiseman’s Fabiola was fictionalized history instead of Froude’s and Kingsley’s fictional history. Newman’s novel was obviously better written than Kingsley’s and did not take any liberties with historical fact; strict accuracy being something Wiseman absolutely insisted on. In consequence, the opinion of some scholars today is that Kingsley was motivated by professional jealousy of Newman since Newman had entered the lists of religious novelists and beaten Kingsley on his own ground.
Even that, however, seems a weak justification for Kingsley’s reaction — and is repudiated by Kingsley’s own words that he was taking revenge for something (unspecified) that happened not a decade previously, but twenty years before. Professional jealousy might very well have contributed to Kingsley’s outrage (and probably did) but is not sufficient to explain it.
So, what might be sufficient to explain Kingsley’s odd behavior?