Front Page Titles (by Subject) HENRY HART MILMAN, D.D., DEAN OF ST. PAUL\'S. - Historical and Political Essays
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
HENRY HART MILMAN, D.D., DEAN OF ST. PAUL'S. - William Edward Hartpole Lecky, Historical and Political Essays 
Historical and Political Essays (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1908).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
HENRY HART MILMAN, D.D., DEAN OF ST. PAUL'S.
The great prominence which the High Church movement has assumed in the ecclesiastical history of England during the second and third quarters of the nineteenth century, and the extraordinary success with which it has permeated the Established Church by its influence, have led some writers to exaggerate not a little the place which it occupied in the general intellectual development of the time. In the universities, it is true, it long exercised an extraordinary influence, and Mr. Gladstone, who was by far the most remarkable layman whom it profoundly influenced, was accustomed to say that for at least a generation almost the whole of the best intellect of Oxford was controlled by it. It possessed in Newman a writer of most striking and undoubted genius. In an age remarkable for brilliancy of style he was one of the greatest masters of English prose. His power of drawing subtle distinctions and pursuing long trains of subtle reasoning made him one of the most skilful of controversialists, and he had a great insight into spiritual cravings and an admirable gift of interpreting and appealing to many forms of religious emotion. But though he was a man of rare, delicate, and most seductive genius, we have sometimes doubted whether any of his books are destined to take a permanent and considerable place in English literature. He was not a great scholar, or an original and independent thinker. Dealing with questions inseparably connected with historical evidence, he had neither the judicial spirit nor the firm grasp of a real historian, and he had very little skill in measuring probabilities and degrees of evidence. He had a manifest incapacity, which was quite as much moral as intellectual, for looking facts in the face and pursuing trains of thought to unwelcome conclusions. He often took refuge from them in clouds of casuistry. The scepticism which was a marked feature of his intellect allied itself closely with credulity, for it was directed against reason itself; and though he has expressed in admirable language many true and beautiful thoughts, the glamour of his style too often concealed much weakness and uncertainty of judgment and much sophistry in argument.
Many of those who co-operated with him were men of great learning and distinguished ability. No one will question the patristic knowledge of Pusey, the metaphysical acumen of Ward, the genuine vein of religious poetry in Keble and Faber, the wide accomplishments and scholarly criticism of Church. But on the whole the broad stream of English thought has gone in other directions. In politics the Oxford movement had brilliant representatives in Gladstone and Selborne, but the ideal of the relations of Church and State and the ideal of education to which the Oxford school aspired, have been absolutely discarded. The universities have been secularised. The Irish Established Church, which it was one of the first objects of the party to defend, has been abolished by Gladstone himself, and although the English Established Church retains its hold on the affections of the nation, it is defended by its most skilful supporters on very different grounds and by very different arguments from those which were put forward by the Oxford divines. Among the foremost names in lay literature during the fifty years we are considering, it is curious to observe how few were even touched by the movement. Froude is an exception, but he speedily repudiated it. The mediaeval sympathies that were sometimes shown by Ruskin sprang from a wholly different source. Macaulay, Carlyle, Hallam, Grote, Mill, Buckle, Tennyson, Browning, and the great novelists, from Dickens to George Eliot, all wrote very much as they might have written if the movement had never existed. An unusual proportion of the best intellect of England passed into the fields of physical science, and the methods of reasoning and habits of thought which they inculcated were wholly out of harmony with the school of Newman, while both geology and Darwinism have made serious incursions into long-cherished beliefs. Even in the Church itself, though the High Church movement was stronger than any other, great deductions have to be made. The school of independent Biblical criticism, which in various degrees has come to be generally accepted, certainly owed nothing to it, and several of the most illustrious Churchmen of this period were wholly alien to it. Thirlwall and Merivale were conspicuous examples, but they devoted themselves chiefly to great works of secular history. Arnold—who was one of the strongest personal influences of his age, and whose influence was both perpetuated and widened by Dean Stanley—and Whately, who was one of the most independent and original thinkers of the nineteenth century, were strongly antagonistic. In the field of ecclesiastical history it might have been expected that a school which was at once so scholarly and so wedded to tradition would have been pre-eminent, but no ecclesiastical histories which England has produced cam, on the whole, be placed on as high a level as those which were written by the great Broad Church divine whose name stands at the head of this article.
Milman was, indeed, a man well deserving of commemoration on account of the works which he produced, yet it is perhaps not too much to say that to those among whom he lived the man seemed even greater than his works. For many years he was a central and most popular figure in the best English literary society, and he reckoned most of the leading intellects of his day among his friends. He was in an extraordinary degree many-sided, both in his knowledge and his sympathies. He was an admirable critic, and the eminent sanity of his judgment, as well as the eminent kindness of his nature, combined with a great charm both of manner and of conversation. Few men of his time had more friends, and were more admired, consulted, and loved.
Mr. Arthur Milman has sketched his father's life in one short volume,1 written in excellent English and with uniformly good taste. We have read it with much interest, yet in laying it down it is impossible not to be sensible how much of the personal charm which was so conspicuous in its subject has passed beyond recovery. More than thirty years have gone by since the old Dean was laid in his grave, and but few of those who knew him intimately survive. He appears to have kept no journal. He wrote nothing autobiographical, and he had a strong sense of the chasm that should separate private from public life. It was wholly contrary to his unegotistical nature to make the great public the confidant of his domestic affairs or of his inner feelings, and he was deeply sensible of the injustice which is so often done by biographers in printing unguarded, unqualified opinions and judgments, expressed in the freedom of private correspondence. He acted sternly on this view. Many of the foremost men in England were among his correspondents, but he deliberately burnt their letters. ‘I could never bear,’ we have heard him say, ‘ that what was written to me by dear friends in the most unreserved and absolute confidence should, through my fault, be one day dragged before the public’ This reticence and this strong feeling of the sanctity of friendship and private correspondence, which is now becoming very rare, was one of his most characteristic traits, but it has necessarily deprived his biography of many elements of interest.
He was the youngest son of Sir Francis Milman, the well-known physician of George III. He was born in 1791, and educated at Eton and Oxford, where he soon distinguished himself as one of the most brilliant of students. He won the Newdigate in 1812, the Chancellor's prize for Latin verse in 1813, the prize for English and Latin essays in 1816. He obtained a first class in classics, and in 1815 he was elected a Fellow of his college. He was ordained in the following year, and a year later Lord Eldon, who was then Chancellor of the university, nominated him to the vicarage of St. Mary at Reading, where he spent eighteen happy and fruitful years. Like most young and brilliant men, he first turned to verse, and for several years he poured out in rapid succession a number of dramas and poems which have been collected in three substantial volumes. The tragedy of ‘ Fazio ‘ was written when he was still at Oxford, and it was speedily followed by a long and ambitious epic poem called ‘Samor, Lord of the Bright City’; by three elaborate sacred dramas, the ‘Fall of Jerusalem,’ the ‘ Martyr of Antioch,’ and ‘ Belshazzar’; and by an historical tragedy on ‘Anne Boleyn,’ as well as by a few minor poems.
Some of these works had considerable popularity. ‘Fazio’ for many years held its place on the stage. Byron, in one of his letters to Eogers, speaks of its ‘great and deserved success’ when it was brought out at Covent Garden. Its heroine was a favourite part of Miss O'Neil and of Fanny Kemble. It was translated into Italian by Del Ongaro for Ristori, who acted it with admirable power, and there was also a French translation or adaptation in which Mademoiselle Mars took part. The ‘Fall of Jerusalem’ was never intended for the stage, but it had a great literary success. Murray, who had given only a hundred and fifty guineas for ‘Fazio,’ gave five hundred for the ‘Fall of Jerusalem,’ and he gave the same sum both for the ‘Martyr of Antioch’ and for ‘Belshazzar,’ which succeeded it. Neither of these, however, proved as popular as the ‘Fall of Jerusalem,’ but the ‘Martyr of Antioch’ contains that noble funeral ode beginning ‘Brother, thou art gone before us, and thy saintly soul is flown,’ which is familiar to numbers who are probably not aware of its authorship. It is worthy of notice that as recently as 1880 Sir Arthur Sullivan set the ‘Martyr of Antioch’ to music and brought it out at the Leeds Festival, where it achieved an immediate and brilliant success, and was frequently performed.1 On the other hand, ‘Samor’ and ‘Anne Boleyn’ were almost absolute failures, and, on the whole, the longer poems of Milman have not retained their popularity, and probably now rarely find a reader.
Those who turn to them will certainly be struck by the command of language and metre they display. It was shown both in rhyme and in blank verse. Many fine odes are scattered through them, and in the octosyllabic verse Milman always appears to us peculiarly happy. But his poetry, like most of the poetry that was written under the Byronic influence, was rather the poetry of rhetoric than of imagination, and it wanted both the intensity and the concentration of the great master. Stately, sonorous, fluent, unfailingly lucid, it was too lengthy and too artificial, and Lockhart was not wholly wrong in pronouncing that it showed ‘ fine talents, but no genius,’ and in urging that prose rather than poetry was the vehicle in which its author was destined to succeed. In addition, however, to the funeral ode to which we have referred, Milman has written many hymns, and some of these are of singular beauty. They appeared originally in the collection of that other great hymn-writer, Bishop Heber, who was one of his dearest friends, and one of the men to whose memory he looked back with the fondest affection. The Good Friday hymn, ‘Bound upon th’ accurséd tree, the Palm Sunday hymn, ‘Hide on, ride on in majesty,’ and perhaps still more that exquisitely pathetic hymn (so often misprinted in modern hymn-books) beginning
have long since taken their permanent place in devotional literature.
In another and very different field of poetry also he greatly excelled. He was an admirable example of that highly finished and fastidious classical scholarship which is, or was, the pride of our great public schools, and he took great pleasure in translations from the classics. He translated into verse the ‘Agamemnon’ of Æschylus, and the ‘Bacchanals’ of Euripides, and also a great number of small and much less known poems. He held the professorship of poetry at Oxford from 1821 to 1831, and as his lectures, according to the custom which then prevailed, were delivered in Latin, he had the happy thought of diversifying them by English metrical translations of the different poems he treated. They range over a wide field of obscure Greek poets, as well as of epitaphs, votive inscriptions, and inscriptions relating to the fine arts, and in addition to these there are translations from Sanscrit poetry—a branch of knowledge which was then very little cultivated, and to which Milman was greatly attracted. These poems the author published in 1865, but the lectures in which they were produced he committed to the flames. They had, in his opinion, lost their value through the subsequent publication of the works on the history of Greek literature by Bode, Ulrici, Otfried Miiller, and Mure.
In prose his pen was exceedingly active. In 1820 he began his long connection with the ‘ Quarterly Review,’ which continued, with occasional intervals, through more than forty years. His articles extended over a great variety of subjects, but most of them were essentially reviews and essentially critical. The fact that he was both a poet and an accomplished critic of verse caused some persons to ascribe to him the authorship of two articles which had an unhappy reputation—the criticism which was falsely supposed to have hastened the death of Keats, and the attack upon the ‘Alastor’ of Shelley, a poet for whom Milman had a special admiration. It is now well known that neither of these articles was by him, but it is characteristic of his loyalty to his colleagues that he never disclaimed the authorship. This loyalty was indeed not less conspicuous in his nature than the singular kindness of disposition with which he ever shrank from giving pain. After his death a few of his many essays in the ‘Quarterly’ were collected in one volume. Among them there is an admirable account of Erasmus, with whom in mental characteristics he had considerable affinity.
In 1829 appeared his first historical work, the ‘History of the Jews,’ a work which excited a violent storm of theological indignation. The crime of Milman was that he applied to Jewish history the usual canons of historical criticism—sifting evidence, discriminating between documents, pointing out the parallelisms between Jewish conditions and those of other Oriental nations, and attempting to separate in the sacred writings the parts which were essential and revealed from those which were merely human and fallible. In a remarkable preface to a revised and enlarged edition of this work, which was published thirty years later, he laid down very clearly the principles that had guided him. The Jewish writers, in his opinion, were ‘men of their age and country who, as they spoke the language, so they thought the thoughts of their nation and their time. … They had no special knowledge on any subject but moral and religious truth to distinguish them from other men, and were as fallible as others on all questions of science, and even of history, extraneous to their religious teaching. … Their one paramount object being instruction and enlightenment in religion, they left their hearers uninstructed and unenlightened as before in other things. … In all other respects society, civilisation, developed itself according to its usual laws. The Hebrew in the wilderness, excepting as far as the law modified his manners and habits, was an Arab of the desert. Abraham, except in his worship and intercourse with the one true God, was a nomad Sheik. … The moral and religious truth, and this alone, I apprehend, is “the word of God” contained in the sacred writings.’
It must also, he contended, be always remembered that the Semitic records are of an ‘essentially Oriental, figurative, poetical cast,’ and that it is therefore wholly erroneous to suppose that every word can be construed with the precision of an Act of Parliament or of a simple modern historical narrative.
His attitude towards the miraculous was carefully defined. He observed the absolute impossibility of evading the conclusion that the Jewish writers, whether eye-witnesses or not, implicitly believed in ‘the supernaturalism, the divine or miraculous agency almost throughout the older history of the Jews,’ and that it is ‘an integral, inseparable part of the narrative.’ Sometimes it is possible ‘with more or less probability to detect the naked fact which may lie beneath the imaginative or marvellous language in which it is recorded; but even in these cases the solution can be hardly more than conjectural.’ In other cases ‘the supernatural so entirely predominates and is so of the intimate essence of the transaction that the facts and the interpretation must be accepted together or rejected together.’ In such cases it is the duty of the historian simply ‘to relate the facts as recorded, to adduce his authorities, and to abstain from all explanation for which he has no ground.’
The distinction between the providential and the strictly miraculous appears to him impossible to draw. ‘ Belief in Divine Providence, in the agency of God as the Prime Mover in the Natural world as in the mind of Man, is an inseparable part of religion. There can be no religion without it.’ But in numerous cases, to distinguish between the simply providential and the strictly miraculous implies a knowledge of the working of natural causes greater than we possess; and in certain stages of civilisation, and very eminently in the Jewish mind, there is a marked tendency to suppress secondary causes, and to attribute not only the more extraordinary but also the common events of life to direct divine agency. The possibility and the reality of the miraculous he emphatically asserts.
‘The palmary miracle of all, the Besurrection, stands entirely by itself. Every attempt to resolve it into a natural event, a delusion or hallucination in the minds of the disciples, the eye-witnesses and death-defying witnesses to its truth, or to treat it as an allegory or figure of speech, is to me a signal failure. It must be accepted as the keystone—for such it is—and seal to the great Christian doctrine of a future life, as a historical fact, or rejected as a baseless fable.’
But great numbers of what were deemed miracles may be explained by natural causes, by figurative modes of expression which were common in Oriental nations, by the tendency of the human mind to embellish or exaggerate surprising facts, or invent supernatural causes for what it is unable to explain, by the retrospective imagination which seeks to dignify the distant past with a supernatural halo. The early annals of all nations are strewn with pretended miracles which no one will now maintain, and Milman shows in a powerful passage how the idea of the miraculous has been steadily contracting and receding; how dangerous it is to base the defence of Christianity on the evidence of miracles rather than on appeals to the conscience, the moral sense, the innate religiousness, the deep spiritual cravings of human nature.
Such views, though now sufficiently commonplace, seemed very novel in England when Milman wrote. Dean Stanley described his work as ‘the first decisive inroad of German theology into England; the first palpable indication that the Bible could be studied like another book; that the characters and events of sacred history could be treated at once critically and reverently.’ But though Milman was very well acquainted with German theology, he resented the notion that he was its interpreter or representative. He contended that in restricting the province of inspiration to the direct inculcation of religious truth he was following a sound Anglican tradition. He quoted the authority of Paley and Warburton, of Tillotson and Seeker. In such principles of interpretation he said he had found ‘a safeguard during a long and not unreflective life against the difficulties arising out of the philosophical and historical researches of his time.’ They had enabled him ‘to follow out all the marvellous discoveries of science, and all those hardly less marvellous, if less certain, conclusions of historical, ethnological, linguistic criticism, in the serene confidence that they are utterly irrelevant to the truth of Christianity.’ ‘If on such subjects,’ he concluded, ‘some solid ground be not found on which highly educated, reflective, reading, reasoning men may find firm footing, I can foresee nothing but a wide, a widening—I fear, an irreparable—breach between the thought and the religion of England. A comprehensive, all-embracing, truly Catholic Christianity which knows what is essential to religion, what is temporary and extraneous to it, may defy the world.’
These words are taken from the later preface to which we have referred. In the same preface, and also in his ‘History of Christianity,’ may be found some interesting remarks on the German school of Biblical criticism, the greater portion of which has arisen since the original publication of the ‘History of the Jews.’ In many of its conclusions he had anticipated it, and he was quite as sensible as the German writers of the hopelessness of seeking scientific revelations in the Biblical narrative; of the worthlessness of most of the common schemes for reconciling science and theology; of the untrustworthy character of Jewish chronology and Jewish figures; of the grave doubts that hang over the authorship and the date of some of the books; of the necessity of making full allowance, when reading them, for human fallibility and inaccuracy. At the same time, his admiration for the German critics was by no means unqualified. While fully admitting their extraordinary learning, industry, and ingenuity, he complained that their too common infirmity was ‘a passion for making history without historical materials,’ basing the most dogmatic and positive statements upon faint indications, or upon ingenious conjectures that could not legitimately go beyond a very low degree of probability. The assurance with which these writers undertook by internal evidence to decompose ancient documents, assigning each paragraph to an independent source; the decisive weight they were accustomed to give to slight improbabilities or coincidences, and to small variations of style and phraseology; the confidence with which they put forward solutions or conjectures which, however ingenious or plausible, were based on no external evidence as if they were proved facts, appeared to him profoundly unhistorical.
It must have been somewhat irritating to one who clung so closely to University life, and who had been justly regarded as one of the most brilliant of Oxford scholars, to find that his own University was prominent in the condemnation of the ‘History of the Jews.’ Only two years before he had preached with general approbation the Bampton Lectures in defence of Christianity. His new work was again and again condemned from the University pulpits, and among others by the Margaret Professor of Divinity and by the Hulsean lecturer for 1832. The clamour was naturally taken up in many other quarters, and especially by the religious newspapers. It was noticed that ‘Milman's History’ appeared in the window of Carlisle, the infidel bookseller.
‘I only wish,’ wrote Milman, when the fact was brought to his notice, ‘all Carlisle's customers’ would read it. A noble lord once wrote to the bishop of a certain diocese to complain that a baronet who lived in the same parish brought his mistress to church, which sorely shocked his regular family. The bishop gravely assured him that he was very glad to hear that Sir—brought his naughty lady to church, and hoped that she would profit by what she heard there and amend her ways. So say I of Carlisle's customers.’1
The opinions expressed in this, as in his later works, no doubt in some degree obstructed the promotion of Milman in the Church, but he had no reason to regret it. Of all men, he once said, he thought he owed most to Bishop Blomfield, for there was once a question of offering him a bishopric, and it was a remonstrance of the Bishop of London that prevented it. ‘I am afraid,’ he said, ‘that if it had been offered me I should have accepted it, and I should then never have written my “Latin Christianity.”’ But, though he escaped the fate which has cut short the best work of more than one distinguished historian, his conspicuous position among the scholars and writers in the Church was widely recognised, and he was soon transferred from a provincial town to a central position in the Metropolis. In 1835 Sir Robert Peel made him Rector of St. Margaret's, Westminster, and Prebendary in the Abbey. Though continuing without intermission his historical work, he appears to have discharged with exemplary vigour the duties of a large and poor parish until 1849, when Lord John Russell appointed him Dean of St. Paul's. The position was exactly suited to him. It was one of much dignity, but also of much leisure, and it gave him ample opportunities of pursuing the studies which were the true work of his life.
The great subject of the history of Christianity was, indeed, continually before him. Among other things, he studied minutely both the text and the authorities of Gibbon, for whom he had a deep and growing admiration. An excellent edition of Gibbon was one of the first results. Milman's notes have been included in Smith's later edition, and, though a large proportion of them were naturally somewhat controversial, being devoted to refuting some of the conclusions of the fifteenth and sixteenth chapters, it is impossible to read them without recognising the candour as well as the learning and the acumen of the critic. Few things that Milman has written are finer than the preface in which, in ten or twelve masterly pages, he sums up his estimate of his great predecessor.
The three volumes of the ‘History of Christianity,’ dealing with its early history up to the period of the abolition of Paganism in the Roman Empire, appeared in 1840, and they were followed by the six large volumes of the ‘History of Latin Christianity,’ carrying the history of the Western Church to the end of the Pontificate of Nicholas V. in 1455. This great work was published in two instalments—the first three volumes in 1854, and the remaining three in the following year—and it gave its author indisputably the first place among the ecclesiastical historians of England and a high place among the historians of the nineteenth century. He possessed, indeed, in an eminent degree some of the qualities that are most rare, and at the same time most valuable, in ecclesiastical history. A large proportion of the most learned ecclesiastical historians have been men who have devoted their whole lives to this single department of knowledge, who derived from it all their measures of probability and canons of criticism, and who, treating it as an isolated and mainly supernatural thing, have taken very little account of the intellectual and political secular influences that have largely shaped its course. Most of them also have been men who undertook their task with convictions and habits of thought that were absolutely incompatible with real independence and impartiality of judgment in estimating either the events or the characters they described. Milman was wholly free from these defects. His wide knowledge, his cool, critical, admirably trained judgment, were never better shown than in the many pages in which he has pointed out the analogies or resemblances between Jewish and other Oriental beliefs; the manner in which national characteristics or secular intellectual tendencies affected theological types; the countless modifications in belief or practice which grew up, as the Church accommodated itself to the conditions of successive ages and entered into alliance or conflict with different political systems; the many indirect, subtle, far-reaching ways in which the world and the Church interacted upon each other in all the great departments of speculation, art, industry, social and political life. A certain aloofness and coldness of judgment in dealing with sacred subjects was the reproach which was most frequently brought against him. As he himself said, he wrote rather as an historian than a religious instructor, and he dealt with his subject chiefly in its temporal, social, and political aspects. Justice and impartiality of judgment to friend and foe he deemed one of the first moral duties of an historian, and Dean Church was not wrong in ascribing to him a quite ‘unusual combination of the strongest feeling about right and wrong with the largest equity.’ ‘What a delightful book, so tolerant of the intolerant!’ was his characteristic eulogy of the work of another writer, and it truly reflects the turn of his own mind. Provost Hawtrey, who was no mean judge of men, said, after an intimacy of nearly fifty years, that he had never known a man who possessed in a greater degree than Milman the virtue of Christian charity in its highest and rarest form. It was a gift which stood him in good stead in dealing with the very blended characters, the tangled politics, the often misguided enthusiasms of ecclesiastical history. While he was constitutionally extremely averse to the moral casuistry which confuses the boundaries of right and wrong, he had too sound a grasp of the evolution of history to fall into the common error of judging the acts of one age by the moral standards of another. His history was eminently a history of large lines and broad tendencies. The growth, influence, and decline of the Papacy—the distinctive characteristics of Latin and Teutonic Christianity; the effect of Christianity on jurisprudence; the monastic system in its various phases; the rise and conquests of Mohammedanism; the severance of Greek from Latin Christianity; Charlemagne, Hildebrand, the Crusades, the Templars, the Great Councils; the decay of Latin and the rise of modern languages; the influence of the Church on literature, painting, sculpture, and architecture—are but a few of the great subjects he has treated, always with knowledge and intelligence, often with conspicuous brilliancy.
In so vast a field there were, no doubt, many subjects which have been treated with a greater fulness and completeness by other writers. There are some in which subsequent research has gone far to supersede what Milman has written, and inaccuracies of detail not un-frequently crept into his work; but in the truthfulness of its broad lines, in the sagacity of its estimates both of men and events, it holds a high place among the histories of the world. Very few historians have combined in a larger measure the three great requisites of knowledge, soundness of judgment, and inexorable love of truth. The growth and modifications of doctrines and the minutiae of religious controversies were, however, subjects in which he took little interest, and though they could not be excluded from an ecclesiastical history, they are dealt with only in a slight and cursory manner. Those who desire to study in detail this side of ecclesiastical history will find other histories much more useful. It has been said that his work is imperfect as a book of reference, for while the great events and personages are discussed with a fulness that leaves little to be desired, many of the more insignificant transactions or more obscure periods are passed over or barely noticed. Critics of different religious schools have also complained that his mind was essentially secular; that he had a low sense of the certainty and the importance of dogma; that there were some classes of ecclesiastical writers who have been deeply revered in the Church with whom he had no real sympathy; that the spirit of criticism was stronger in his book than the spirit of reverence; that he did not do full justice to the spiritual and inner side of the religion he described. He looked upon it, they said, too externally. He valued it as a moral revolution, the introduction of new principles of virtue and new rules for individual and social happiness. Much of this criticism would probably have been accepted with but little qualification by Milman himself. He would have said that what these writers complained of was in the main inseparable from an historical as distinguished from a devotional treatment of his subject. He would have added that no form of human history reveals so clearly as ecclesiastical history the fallibility, the credulity, the intolerance of the human mind, or requires more imperatively the constant exercise of independent judgment and of fearless and unsparing criticism, and that, if the history of the Church is ever to be written with profit, it must be written in such a spirit. Of his own deeper convictions he seldom spoke; but in the concluding page of his ‘Latin Christianity’ there is a passage of profound interest. Leaving it, as he says, to the future historian of religion to say what part of the ancient dogmatic system may be allowed to fall silently into disuse, and what transformations the interpretation of the Sacred Writings may still undergo, he adds these significant words:
‘As it is my own confident belief that the words of Christ, and his words alone (the primal indefeasible truths of Christianity), shall not pass away, so I cannot presume to say that men may not attain to a clearer, at the same time more full, comprehensive, and balanced sense of those words, than has as yet been generally received in the Christian world. As all else is transient and mutable, these only eternal and universal, assuredly whatever light may be thrown on the mental constitution of man, even on the constitution of nature and the laws which govern the world, will be concentered so as to give a more penetrating vision of those undying truths. … Christianity may yet have to exercise a far wider, even if more silent and untraceable influence, through its primary, all-pervading principles, on the civilisation of mankind.’
Macaulay, speaking of the ‘History of Latin Christianity’ in his Journal, says, ‘I was more impressed than ever by the contrast between the substance and the style: the substance is excellent; the style very much otherwise.’ Looking at it from a purely literary point of view it had undoubtedly great merits. Milman had an admirable sense of proportion—a rare quality in history. He was invariably lucid, and it is easy to cull from his history many characters excellently drawn, many pages of vivid narrative, or terse and weighty criticism. Still, on the whole his historic style is on a lower level than that of Macaulay, Buckle, and Froude, though it will compare, I think, not unfavourably with that of Hallam and Grote. The points of controversy are usually relegated to his notes, which contain a great mass of curious learning and excellent criticism. The reader who turns to them from works of the German school will be struck by his strong English common-sense and grasp of facts, and his dislike of subtle far-fetched ingenuities of explanation. He has the crowning merit of being always readable, and his strong sane moral sense never left him. He was probably at his best in the later volumes, when he could treat his subject like secular history and was free from the embarrassing theological difficulties of the earlier portion, and he is especially admirable in those chapters which give scope to his wide literary and artistic sympathies. He was an excellent Italian scholar and keenly sensible of the beauties of Italian literature, and his love of the ancient classics never left him. There was something at once characteristic and amusing in the delight which he again and again expressed, after the termination of his History, at being able to return to them after spending so many years in reading bad Latin and Greek. In taste and character he was indeed pre-eminently a man of letters, and as such he ranks in the first line among his contemporaries.
The outburst of indignation that in some quarters had greeted the first appearance of the ‘History of the Jews’ was not repeated when that work was republished in an enlarged form. Nor does it appear to have arisen on the appearance of the two later histories. Newman reviewed the ‘History of Early Christianity’ at great length, speaking with much personal respect of the writer, though he was naturally extremely hostile to its spirit. The difference between the High Church sentiment and the mind of Milman was indeed organic. Milman's own type of thought was formed before the Tractarian movement had begun; the sacerdotal spirit was thoroughly alien to him, and his profound study of ecclesiastical history had certainly not tended to attract him to it. He fully recognised both the abilities and the piety of Newman, and he described his secession as perhaps the greatest loss the Church of England had experienced since the Reformation; but he disliked his opinions, he profoundly distrusted the whole character of his mind and reasonings, and he early foresaw that he could never find a permanent resting-place in the English Church. In the posthumous volume of Essays there will be found a full and most searching examination of Newman's ‘Essay on Development,’ in which these points of difference are clearly shown. For Keble, Milman entertained warmer feelings. They were contemporaries, and at one time most intimate friends. In the field of sacred poetry they had been fellow-labourers. Keble had succeeded Milman as professor of poetry, and Milman had been one of the few persons who had read the ‘Christian Year’ in manuscript. When, after Keble's death, a committee was appointed to erect a memorial to his memory, Milman was much hurt at finding that it was determined to give it a distinctly Tractarian character, and that his own name was deliberately excluded. In Milman's last years the Oxford movement had begun to assume its ritualistic form, and questions of vestments and ceremonies and candles came to the forefront. With all this Milman had no sympathy. ‘After the drama,’ he said of it, ‘the melodrama !’
It was a remarkable coincidence that for some years the two deaneries of London were both held by brilliant men of letters and by men with the strongest theological sympathy. A feeling of warm personal affection united Milman and Stanley, and there was something peculiarly touching in the almost filial attitude which Stanley assumed towards his older colleague. In one point, however, they differed greatly. Stanley was a keen fighter. He threw himself into the forefront of ecclesiastical controversies, and was never seen to greater advantage than when leading a small minority, defying inveterate prejudice, defending an unpopular cause. Milman could seldom be tempted to follow his example. He pleaded old age and declining strength, but, in truth, though he never flinched from the avowal of his own opinions, he had a deep and increasing distaste for religious controversies and Church politics. He was rarely seen in Convocation, and he always regarded its revival as a misfortune. He proposed, however, in it a petition for the discontinuance of the use of the State services commemorating the martyrdom of Charles I., the restoration of Charles II., the discovery of the gunpowder plot, and the Eevolution of 1688; and Parliament soon after adopted his view. He also sat on the Royal Commission in 1884 for considering the subject of clerical subscription. He took on this occasion a characteristic line, advocating a complete abolition of the subscription of the Articles, and desiring that the sole test of membership of the Church should be the acceptance of the Liturgy and the Creeds. In 1865 he received an invitation, which greatly gratified him, to preach before the University of Oxford the annual sermon on Hebrew prophecy. The sermon was delivered in the pulpit of St. Mary's, where many years before he had been so vehemently condemned for views on the same subject, no one of which, as he truly said, he had either recanted or modified. His sermon was afterwards printed, and would form a worthy chapter of his ‘History of the Jews.’ In the Colenso controversy he had no great sympathy with either side. Many of Bishop Colenso's arguments appeared to him crude or exaggerated, and he dissented from many of his conclusions, but he considered that he had been treated with gross injustice and intolerance, and he accordingly subscribed to his defence fund. For the rest, he confined his ecclesiastical life as much as possible to his own cathedral, where he presided over the State funeral of the Duke of Wellington, and where he introduced the custom of throwing open the nave to evening services. His last and unfinished work was his ‘Annals of St. Paul's,’ investigating its history and portraying with his old learning and with much of his old felicity the lives of his predecessors.
It was however in secular literary society that he was most fitted to shine, and there he passed many of his happiest hours. The usual honours of a distinguished man of letters clustered thickly around him. He was a trustee of the British Museum; an honorary member of the Royal Academy; a correspondent of the French Institute. He was also a member of ‘The Club’—the small dining-club which was founded in 1764 by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Dr. Johnson, and which since then has included in its fortnightly dinners the great majority of those Englishmen who in many walks of life have been most distinguished by their genius or their accomplishments. He was elected to it in 1836, three years before Macaulay, and he became one of its most constant attendants. In 1841 ‘The Club’ made him its treasurer, and he held that position for twenty-three years, and presided over the centenary dinner in 1864. He was also an original member of the Philobiblion Society, which has brought together many curious and hitherto unknown documents, and he wrote for it a short paper on Michael Scott the Wizard, who, as he showed, had been once offered the Archbishopric of Cashel. He was never a keen politician, but he was intimate with a long succession of leading statesmen, and he contributed to Sir Cornewall Lewis's ‘ Administrations of Great Britain’ a full and valuable letter on the relations of Pitt and Addington, which was largely based on his own recollections of the latter statesman.
London society in the middle of the nineteenth century was much smaller and less mixed than at present, and there was then a distinctively literary or at least intellectual society which can now hardly be said to exist. The most eminent men of letters came more frequently together. Criticism was in fewer and perhaps stronger hands, and was to a larger extent representative of the opinions expressed in such social gatherings. In this kind of society Milman was long a foremost figure. He had all the gifts that fit men for it—not only brilliancy, knowledge, and versatility, but also unfailing tact, a rare charm of courtesy, a singularly wide tolerance. He was quick and generous in recognising rising talent, and he had that sympathetic touch which seldom failed to elicit what was best in those with whom he came in contact. Few men possessed more eminently the genius of friendship—the power of attaching others—the power of attaching himself to others. In the long list of his intimate friends Macaulay, Sir Charles Lyell, and Sir George Cornewall Lewis were conspicuous. Like most men of this type, he found the multiplying gaps around him the chief trial of old age. Not long before he died there was an exhibition of contemporary portraits, but though Milman went to it he could not go through it. ‘When I found myself,’ he said, ‘surrounded by the likenesses—often the miserable likenesses—of so many I had known and loved, it was more than I could bear.’
An admirable portrait by Watts which is now in the National Portrait Gallery will recall to those who knew him his appearance in old age—his strong masculine features beaming with intelligence, his grand shaggy brows, his bright and penetrating eyes. An illness affecting the spme had bowed him nearly double, and there are still those who will remember how his bent figure seemed projected, almost like a bird in its flight, across the dinner-table, while his eager brilliant talk delighted and fascinated his hearers. In his last years increasing deafness obliged him to narrow the circle of his social life, but he retained to the end all the vividness of his mind and sympathies, and when at length death came in his seventy-eighth year, it found him in the midst of unfinished work. His life was not of a kind to win wide popularity and to give him a conspicuous place among the great masses of his nation, but few English clergymen of his generation made so deep an impression on those who came in contact with them or have left works of such enduring value behind them.
Henry Hart Milman, D.D., Dean of St. Paul's. A Biographical Sketch by his son, Arthur Milman, M.A, LL D.
Laurence's Life of Sir A Sullivan, p 310.
Smiles’ Memoirs of John Murray, ii. p. 300.