Rhythmic Numinousness: Sydney Dobell and "The Church"

By Mason, Emma | Victorian Poetry, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Rhythmic Numinousness: Sydney Dobell and "The Church"


Mason, Emma, Victorian Poetry


   Wanted a tutor to the rising age; he must be a creedless Christian
   full of faith, but full of charity--wise in head and large in
   heart--poet and a priest an "eternal child," as well as a thoroughly
   furnished man. (1)

WHEN GEORGE GILFILLAN CALLED FOR "A TUTOR TO THE RISING AGE," HE had in mind several 'young, ardent and gifted spirits" who wrote poetry to inspire religious feeling in their readers. Philip Bailey seemed a likely candidate, but lacked forcefulness; Alexander Smith was regarded as a poet in possession of a profound mode of expression but failed to direct it into religious contemplation. Only Sydney Dobell, a poet who had employed to great effect the current trend for spasmodic feeling in poetics, appeared to lay true claim to Gilfillan's "vacant laurel." (2) That this feeling was inherently religious in tone was Gilfillan's view, but modern criticism remains unclear regarding the question of Dobell's religion and how, if at all, it inflects his poetry. This essay aims to clarify the issue first by unravelling the details of his faith, and second by using such detail to work through his religious lyrics. Religious or otherwise, all of his poetry is inflected by a fitful rhythmic pace that reflects his frantic and perhaps conflicted desire to both reach God and implement what he perceived to be the true Christian message in society. Like the "snow-muffled, dim and sweet" snow-drop, Dobell wrote in "The Snow-drop in the Snow" (1851), the "Poet" produces a music often misunderstood, being himself lost amidst "drifting snows" and blooming only in "loneliness" (11. 45-47, 59). (3) Yet as a figure "Full of faith," in Dobell's poem, the poet must tread, albeit precariously, a path between the winter of mortality and "Heaven / The dome of a great palace all of ice" (11.1-2). Dutiful behavior on earth to his "fellow men" was certainly as significant to Dobell as his longing for paradise, a tension that sent a shudder through both his verse and his allegiance to a specific form of Christianity known simply as "the Church."

The first part of this discussion turns to "the Church," a religious community based on the Christian Church of the first century and headed by Samuel Thompson. Thompson, Dobell's grandfather, carefully outlined the philosophy of his "Church" in Evidences of Revealed Religion (1814), which he published under the name Christophilus as a series of letters that are everywhere echoed in Dobell's own correspondence and verse. The influence of Evidences also extended to the Birmingham politician-preacher and social reformer George Dawson, who forwarded a radicalized version of Thompson's "Church" philosophy in numerous sermons. As one of Dobell's more intimate friends, Dawson seems to have touched the poet's concept of religion almost as much as Thompson, all three men intent on putting individuals back in touch with their feelings in order to create a national community founded on religious sensibility. Part two thus opens with Dobell's own prose explication of religion and "the Church" in Thoughts on Art, Philosophy and Religion (1876), a text usually cited to support Dobell's broad church position. "Broad Church," however, is a rather generalized and inadequate label to describe Dobell's position in light of Thompson's Evidences and Dawson's sermons. We might instead wish to regard the poet's religious identity as one characterized by its struggle to articulate the value of religious feeling over religious doctrine. While critics like W. David Shaw have attributed such feeling to a Hegelian model of spirit, it is also worth rendering this feeling as affective, spasmodically issuing from the believer entranced by God. (4) Dobell remains Christian even as he rethinks this tradition through Thompson and Dawson, and the most recognizably religious of his lyrics reinforce his emotive belief, as part two will illustrate by reading "The Harps of Heaven" (c. 1851), "To a Cathedral Tower" (1850) and "In War-Time: A Psalm of the Heart" (c.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Rhythmic Numinousness: Sydney Dobell and "The Church"
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.