{1} 'It has ever been a hobby of mine, though perhaps it is a truism, not a hobby, that the true life of a man is in his letters ... Not only for the interest of a biography, but for arriving at the inside of things, the publication of letters is the true method. Biographers varnish, they assign motives, they conjecture feelings, they interpret Lord Burleigh's nods; but contemporary letters are facts.'—Dr. Newman to his Sister, Mrs. John Mozley, May 18, 1863.

THESE words, addressed to his sister by Cardinal Newman—to anticipate the title with which the reader is familiar—may explain the purpose of the present work, which is, through the medium of his letters, to place John Henry Newman before the reader as he was to his family, to his friends, to his correspondents; as he was in early youth and in manhood; in public and in private; and in his action in, and for, the English Church, while he remained in her communion. With his secession the Editor's task—as being a member of that communion—is ended. Under the total change of circumstances the work, if pursued, must be carried on by another hand. Yet because only half a life furnishes the material and matter of these volumes, the reader need not imagine that the letters of a later date may or must contain intimations of a changed character. Perhaps no man, passing through a course of change, ever remained more substantially the same through the lapse of years and revolution of circumstances and opinions.

His high estimate of letters as records and custodians of the truth of things made him from early youth a preserver of letters; though his esteem for his correspondent might be the more prominent motive. In early days a postscript often speaks of arranging letters as one of the tasks of the closing {2} year. The task, as he would perform it, would help to fill in the details of that map of the past which in its outline was so vividly marked in his memory [Note 1]. The habits of his life, as being congenial to his nature, were early formed; just as the turn of thought, the tastes, the more powerful bents of his mind, may all be traced to an early dawn.

Few persons preserve their letters; it is, indeed, a rare habit; but there was in Newman's letters to his friends, as in his character, a weight and distinctiveness, whether of subject or mode of treatment, which secured them an exemption from the common fate after perusal; and, once escaping this, their value increased with years, and, in fact, as time went on, they were felt to be history.

Thus, in the hurry of collecting material for his 'Apologia pro Vita sua,' Dr. Newman could rely on his friends having preserved his letters with method; so that, on a hasty appeal, he could be supplied with the true record of his thoughts, motives and actions, at critical periods. Eventually, as is now seen, he commits to his letters, when he shall have passed away, the task of placing himself, his course of thought and action, in their true light—as he believed it—before the world. But the facts and early circumstances of a life cannot be given through this medium. To supply a true record of these the Cardinal committed to those entrusted with his papers what he calls a Memoir, written in the third person, not to conceal the hand that penned it, but better to show the simplicity of style in which he desired that all told about himself should be composed. One motive impelling him to this effort would certainly be, to tell in his own words, without the possibility of error, his earliest history, and what he felt towards his earliest benefactors: whether his parents, so dear to him, and for whom he felt such sensitive devotion; or his {3} schoolmaster, whose boast he was; or 'the excellent man,' whose deeper teaching influenced his life; or the tutors at Trinity, who encouraged him in his prosperous start and consoled him in defeat—all, according to their several claims, held a lasting, ever-present place in his affections. To all his heart had opened with a grateful effusion which no time cooled, and which never lost its freshness.

In the private paper which precedes the account of his early years, dated June 1, 1874, he writes:

I am forced to forebode that some one or other who knows little or nothing about me, whether well or ill disposed towards me, will have something to say about my history, if my friends are silent, and in consequence, that they who have known me well and who have been in my intimate confidence, will find it their duty to meet by some sort of biographical notice vague and random ideas and accounts of me, derived from the ephemeral literature and controversy of the last forty years. This necessity, I am aware, has been in a measure obviated by myself in my 'Apologia pro Vita sua.' Nevertheless, the anticipation of it has led me to leave behind, in addition, for the inspection of my friends, portions of my private memoranda by way of assisting and supplementing their recollections of me, leaving to their affection for me and their discretion, to deal tenderly with what in the first instance is confidential and sacred.

These words were written during the lifetime of Father St. John, who died May 24, 1875, and may be said to have been especially addressed to him; but before this date Dr. Newman had come to the conclusion that, to use his own words, 'If a memoir was to be published of me, a Protestant Editor must take the Protestant part.'

Certainly when once the question was faced no other conclusion could be arrived at. It would not have been just, either to the names with which his own is associated or to the English Church, for which the friends worked together, to leave the stirring period of their joint labours in other than Anglican hands. But the longer men live the more difficult it becomes to assign such tasks to adequate hands. The honours of biography have fallen, as is fitting, to the two leaders of the {4} movement who died in the communion of the Church of England; the life of Keble being undertaken by an early friend, distinguished both by name and office; and Dr. Pusey's being still [Note 2] in the charge of one whose own work in and for the Church is recognised as so important that his strength and energies can scarcely be spared even for the task of commemorating, as no other could, the name to whose memory he shows such sincerity of devotion.

Dr. Pusey continued a living influence in his Church to the last. But among the band of early workers or youthful sympathisers in the start of the movement, how few remain qualified at once in themselves and by circumstances for the task now proposed! From 'Who would do it best'—a question which, in Dr. Pusey's case, would find a ready answer in Dr. Liddon—it changes to, 'Who among the friends he parted from some forty years ago remains in a position to do it at all?' Each year some fit or possible chronicler passes away; some memory which lived in the Oxford movement, and recognised in its chief mover, the quickener of a life. Some who remember and shared the enthusiasm of the hour have turned away to new interests; some have elevated duties which render such a task at once neither fitting nor possible.

It must be considered that the task could not be self-chosen; it must be imposed, and the materials for its execution placed at hand. The years pass; old age—vigorous, but still old age—is reached; and in old age (such as it ought to be), carrying its youth with it, and living its whole life in retrospect, men are thrown perforce upon the ties of family, its friendships and associations. In the instance now before the reader—in Newman—such ties never lost their hold. To him, then, it seemed natural to propose the task of editing the letters of the first half of his life to one who, as he knew, was allowed free access to family records and correspondence, from earliest years down to the time when his last surviving sister—the guardian of them—passed away. His choice of an editor possessing these advantages may have been strengthened by a volume recently published, 'The Letters of the Rev. J. B. Mozley,' which answered in its form and plan to his idea of a biography. In acknowledging his copy he concludes: {5}

James would have reason to say with Queen Katharine, 'After my death I wish no other herald but such an honest chronicler as Griffith,' and that because you have let him speak for himself.

The letter continues (November 20, 1884):

This leads me to speak of myself. Many years ago, at two independent times, I came to the conclusion that if a memoir was to be published of me, a Protestant Editor must take the Protestant part ... What I thought would be done, and what only, was a sketch of my life up to 1833, which, with the 'Apologia' from 1833, would finish my Protestant years. With this view, in 1874 I wrote a brief memoir of my life up to 1833 ... I have a number of letters of my own and of my Mother's and sisters', and while I know they afford illustration of my memoir, yet in a matter so personal I cannot go by my own judgment. What I ask of you is to read the memoir.

Such a task—the task of placing one of the foremost men of his day before the world—when thus hinted at, was too strange and undreamt of to be understood. The Memoir was read and returned at once with the reader's comments. But when the proposed task was explained and thought over, it lost its more startling aspects. The work must depend absolutely on the letters and the Memoir for its interest and value; and though the letters—whether Mr. Newman's own or his correspondents'—should extend beyond the date first assigned, and treat of matters of the deepest public interest, facts and dates for the 'running notices' would be furnished by contemporary records; and there were Anglican friends of Cardinal Newman who might be consulted on questions, whether of fact or opinion, whose testimony would carry weight with all readers if their names might with propriety be given here; while the very requirement that the Editor must be a Protestant implied that no agreement with views as views was exacted on the one hand, or need be assumed on the other. One qualification essential to the task, without tacit belief in which the request could not have been made, the Editor may claim; and that is an absolute trust, under all changes of thought and circumstances, in the truth, sincerity, {6} and disinterestedness of the one subject of the work. And, recognising and bearing in mind these qualities, the Anglican reader may surely acknowledge John Henry Newman's work for the Church of England as having been blessed to her, and believe that to those zealous services she owes much of the strength of her present position, and her greater fitness to meet the trials which may lie before her.

In the question of selection of letters Mr. Newman happens to have given his own rule quite apart from the point as a personal one. Writing to a friend (1836) on the letters in Hurrell Froude's 'Remains,' he says, 'I am conscious that even those who know me will say, What could he mean putting this in? What is the use of that? What in the world if so and so? How injudicious! But, on the whole, I trust it will present, as far as it goes, the picture of a mind. And that being gained as the scope, the details may be left to take their chance.'

By this rule, 'to give the picture of a mind,' the Editor, while using the letters as records of a busy life, has desired to be guided; and for this purpose it is necessary to show the subject of it in every relation that furnishes examples—thus, in his domestic and private character as a son, as a brother, as a pupil, as a friend, as a teacher, as a pastor; in his inner religious life, as far as can be done without outraging privacy; in his energy and devotion to his work, in his political capacity, in his temperament, his subtilty and candour, his sweetness and severity, his impetuosity and tenderness; in all that constitutes his distinct and marked individuality.

In the execution of such a task the Editor cannot be bound by any formal pre-arranged plan, nor go by any strict rules. Nor was any rule imposed. What may be assumed as Cardinal Newman's motive for giving his letters publicity, was to give his share to the private history of the movement, and to show the line of his thought in it; and, above all, to show himself sincere and honest in the course of it. And thus to defend himself—that is, his name—from the charges that had been levelled in the heat of conflict or under strong personal feeling; though, in truth, he has long outlived them.

The reader will have gathered that the first suggestion, {7} that of illustrating the Memoir by family letters up to 1833, when the 'Apologia' continues the history, grew necessarily into a more comprehensive plan. To carry it out the Editor has been allowed to select material from the body of correspondence between Mr. Newman and his intimate friends, and others, whose letters illustrate the first stir and awakening of the movement. For this purpose, as interesting in themselves and as contributing to the history, whether of the leader or of the movement, many letters from correspondents are given; some most material, in fact as coming from a joint leader of high name and distinction, forming a very important contribution; while others are given for the sake of some name still dear to living memories, and which they would not willingly let die.

Mr. Newman's correspondence with his intimates, whether selected by himself or gathered from private sources, bears out what he has said of himself in the 'Apologia' and of the title of leader as applied to him.

For myself, I was not a person to take the lead of a party. I had lived for ten years among my personal friends: at no time have I acted on others without their acting upon me. I had lived with my private, nay, with some of my public, pupils, and with the junior Fellows of my college, without form or distance, on a footing of equality. I had a lounging, free-and-easy way of carrying things on [Note 3].

The correspondence which has been placed before the Editor, and now before the reader, is in marked confirmation of this picture of past intimacies as they would appear to the writer in looking back. Nothing can be more free and confiding than the tone or more entirely opposed to donnishness.

But, busy as Mr. Newman's life was, and, as it were, public, his home and family letters are at least as essential to the proper fulfilment of the task—to give the picture of a mind. We do not know 'Newman' as a letter-writer without being admitted to his home intimacies, his frank expressions of feelings and emotions which belong only to that inner circle.

As for style, it is always his own; the subject dictates the {8} choice of words best for the purpose. It may be observed that his letters are instinct with the consciousness of the person he addresses. There is a distinct tone to each of his familiar correspondents. Intimate as his letters are, there is a separate tone of intimacy, as there would be in conversing with friends. Where something unexpected occurs, and he feels to have miscalculated, it is a new experience. For example, writing on a hot July day from his college rooms, he says to the correspondent he is engaged with, that to such an one (a mutual friend), 'good fellow as he is,' it does not do to write with perfect unrestraint. 'Now, don't you see that for his good and comfort one must put on one's company coat before him; he cannot bear one's shirt sleeves.' He had been made conscious of a mistake in character or temper; but, as a rule, every circumstance of person and surrounding is present with him—all the traits that distinguish one from another. To all he is open, candid, confiding; but there is distinction in his confidences. Thus to his Mother he writes what it would not occur to him to say to anyone else: experiences, sensations, and odd encounters, dreams, fancies, passing speculations; while to Hurrell Froude, on another field altogether, there is the same absolute trust and unlocking of the heart.

The entire trust that he felt in his correspondent infused into his style a tone of simplicity. A correspondent of his sister's, on returning a letter of her brother's, written by him with a full heart on the death of a friend, applies this word 'simplicity' to his directness of tone.

It is a relief to see your brother so absolutely himself in his power of writing. This is quite an example of his nature and his gift of what is called simplicity—that power of saying exactly what he means, and going straight at his subject, putting a state of things directly before one, feelings as well as facts. I hope it all shows that he has the natural relief that the expression of natural feeling always brings.

His letters on business, whether of a public nature or on his literary work, show another side of character in their aim at thoroughness, in their keeping close to their subject and showing fixed principles and aims, in the management alike {9} of time and of his personal gifts. The point of some letters is rather to show the amount and variety of his labours, than the effect these labours had on the course of events or public opinion. One does not seem to know Mr. Newman without the opportunity they furnish for realising the extent and variety of his occupations—his work of mind and pen.

Here and there a letter is given that might be considered to have done its work when read by the person addressed; but it has either seemed to help towards a picture or history of the time in some way or on some slight point as characteristic of the writer. Mr. Newman's character comes out by indirect touches. Not that he had the thought how he would show to any reader beyond the person addressed; but it is clear he felt pleasure in saying what he had to say, in his own way and with some touch which would bring reader and writer together, beyond the slight matter in question.

Now and then a note or seemingly insignificant sentence is given as showing how constant his thoughts were, to persons and things far removed from the busy world, whether of thought or action, in which he lived and acted with such intense activity of mind and pen. The present, with all its interests and responsibilities, did not put out of sight the absent and the past, and the workers and interests of that past.

It is not the Editor's part to make comments on views and principles found in the letters. They. speak for themselves, and are given to the reader for his judgment. Of course the Anglican reader must keep his judgment in exercise. A looker-on sees things (and such a looker-on the reader may feel himself at certain periods) of which the actor is not conscious. Mr. Newman, on looking back on his past career, sometimes shows himself alive to this. 'He knew me better than I knew myself.'

Now and then, where circumstances have given the Editor especial opportunities, an opinion is expressed, but generally the reader is left to his unassisted judgment, having fully as much opportunity as the Editor to arrive at a right conclusion. It is the Editor's part to put facts before the reader—such may be called the historical letters contained in the {10} correspondence—but in no sense to assume the historical tone.

The task was finally, on February 19, 1885, committed to the Editor in these words: 'I wish you to keep steadily in mind, and when you publish to make it known, that I am cognisant of no part of your work.' A rule which has been steadily adhered to. And again on March 13 of the same year Cardinal Newman quotes the Editor's own words as accepting them: 'Your own letters to be brought into use with every document you send me, all to be as true and simple as I can make it.'

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1. In a note to the present writer, received shortly after the death of his sister, Mrs. Mozley, Cardinal Newman writes: 'I miss, and shall miss, in Jemima this—she alone, with me, had a memory of dates. I knew quite well, as anniversaries of all kinds came round, she was recollecting them as well as I—e.g. my getting into Oriel. Now I am the only one in the world who know a hundred things most interesting to me. Yesterday was the anniversary of Mary's death—my mind turned at once to Jemima, but she was away.'
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2. Written in 1886.
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3. Apologia, p. 58.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright 2004 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.