Historical Perspectives and Out-of-Perspectives


In my opinion, arriving at a consensus about what the Anglican patrimony is and is not will most likely succeed if we take the long view: looking at characteristics that appear and re-appear over time.  It will also mean being as informed, honest, and respectful as possible.  Here are a few excerpts from Thomas Hughes’s 1861 novel, Tom Brown at Oxford, though, that give us an interesting and humorous mid-Victorian perspective on High Churchmanship and how not to have a conversation about the Anglican patrimony.

I can’t go to the “waspish” extreme of these High Churchmen, by the way, about St. Paul’s Cathedral.  But I have to admit that it did take a while for even that English and somewhat restrained expression of the grandiose Baroque to grow on me.  I wonder how many current and former Anglo-Catholics in our day—especially those of the Anglo-Papalist variety—would take Tom Brown’s side on the issue of St. Paul’s Cathedral rather than that of the mid-Victorian High Churchmen in the novel.

From Chapter IX—“A Brown Bait”

“What’s the matter? Where have you been to-night? You look fierce enough to sit for a portrait of Sanguinoso Volcanoni, the bandit.”

“Been!” said Tom, sitting down on the spare Windsor chair, which he usually occupied, so hard as to make it crack again; “been! I’ve been to a wine party at Hendon’s. … I never was amongst such a set of waspish, dogmatical, over-bearing fellows in my life. … There was a piano in one corner, and muslin curtains—I give you my word, muslin curtains, besides the stuff ones.”

“You don’t say so,” said Hardy; “put up, no doubt, to insult you. No wonder you looked so furious when you came in. Anything else?”

“Let me see—yes—I counted three sorts of scents on the mantel-piece, besides Eau-de-Cologne. But I could have stood it well enough if it hadn’t been for their talk. From one thing to another they got to cathedrals, and one of them called St. Paul’s ‘a disgrace to a Christian city;’ I couldn’t stand that, you know. I was always bred to respect St. Paul’s; weren’t you?”

“My education in that line was neglected,” said Hardy, gravely. “And so you took up the cudgels for St. Paul’s?”

“Yes, I plumped out that St. Paul’s was the finest cathedral in England. You’d have thought I had said that lying was one of the cardinal virtues—one or two just treated me to a sort of pitying sneer, but my neighbors were down upon me with a vengeance. I stuck to my text though, and they drove me into saying I liked the Ratcliffe more than any building in Oxford; which I don’t believe I do, now I come to think of it. So when they couldn’t get me to budge for their talk, they took to telling me that every body that knew anything about church architecture was against me—of course meaning that I knew nothing about it—for the matter of that, I don’t mean to say that I do”—Tom paused; it had suddenly occurred to him that there might be some reason in the rough handling he had got.

“But what did you say to the authorities?” said Hardy, who was greatly amused.

“Said I didn’t care a straw for them” said Tom, “there was no right or wrong in the matter, and I had as good a right to my opinion as Pugin—or whatever his name is—and the rest.”

“What heresy!” said Hardy, laughing; “you caught it for that, I suppose?”

“Didn’t I! They made such a noise over it, that the men at the other end of the table stopped talking (they were all freshmen at our end), and when they found what was up, one of the older ones took me in hand, and I got a lecture about the middle ages, and the monks. I said I thought England was well rid of the monks; and then we got on to Protestantism, and fasting, and apostolic succession, and passive obedience, and I don’t know what all! I only know I was tired enough of it before the coffee came; but I couldn’t go, you know, with all of them on me at once, could I?”

“Of course not; you were like the 6,000 unconquerable British infantry at Albuera. You held your position by sheer fighting, suffering fearful loss.”

“Well,” said Tom, laughing, for he had talked himself into good humor again. “I dare say I talked a deal of nonsense; and, when I come to think it over, a good deal of what some of them said had something in it. I should like to hear it again quietly; but there were others sneering and giving themselves airs, and that puts a fellow’s back up.”

“Yes,” said Hardy, “a good many of the weakest and vainest men who come up take to this sort of thing now. They can do nothing themselves, and get a sort of platform by going in on the High Church business from which to look down on their neighbors.”

“That’s just what I thought,” said Tom, “they tried to push mother Church, mother Church, down my throat at every turn; I’m as fond of the Church as any of them, but I don’t want to be jumping up on her back every minute, like a sickly chicken getting on the old hen’s back to warm its feet whenever the ground is cold, and fancying himself taller than all the rest of the brood.”

“You were unlucky,” said Hardy.

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