Essays and Reviews. the 1860 Text and Its Reading

By Morris, Jeremy | Anglican and Episcopal History, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Essays and Reviews. the 1860 Text and Its Reading


Morris, Jeremy, Anglican and Episcopal History


A Review Article: VICTOR SHEA AND WILLIAM WHITLA, EDS. Essays and Reviews. The 1860 Text and Its Reading. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 2000. Pp. xxiv + 1,057, appendices, bibliography, indices. $90.00.

The publication of Essays and Reviews in 1860 by a group of liberal Anglican churchmen has always been taken by scholars to mark a decisive point in the accommodation of Anglican orthodoxy to emergent critical movements in Biblical studies, science and history. Many years later, when the ensuing furor had died down, almost inevitably many of the arguments advanced by the volume's contributors-arguments which attracted hostility and notoriety at the time of publication-had come to seem unremarkable and uncontroversial. Whether the volume was indeed a necessary stage in the adaptation of Christian orthodoxy to movements of modern thought, or whether it was symptomatic of a crisis in Christian self-confidence, its symbolic significance-to many commentators-was unquestionable. The authors of the monumental work of scholarship under review are not inclined to challenge this basic presupposition, foregrounding Essays and Reviews in effect as the central text in the emergence of the liberal Anglican synthesis of the nineteenth century.

Essays and Reviews has already attracted its fair share of attention from modern historians, most notably Ieuan ElHs in his Seven against Christ: A Study of 'Essays and Reviews' (1980) and Josef Altholz in his Anatomy of a Controversy: The Debate over 'Essays and Reviews' (1994). Shea and Whitla do not seriously question Ellis's and Altholz's interpretation of the book and the subsequent controversy, but add an immense amount of relevant information to the annotated edition of the Essays which lies at the heart of their volume. Together, these three works ensure that the Essays are without question the most thoroughly mined text of all the controversial literature of nineteenth-century Anglicanism.

This massive volume is divided into three main parts, with the aim of providing all of the background information that an informed but non-specialist reader might require in order to understand fully the original contributions to the Essays, and to appreciate the reasons for the ensuing controversy. In the first part, entitled "An Epoch in the History of Opinion" (a quote from Frederic Harrison's famous article in the Westminster Review of October 1860), the editors provide an extended introduction, covering in outline the history of the production of the book, surveying key critical responses to it, and reviewing each of the contributions with sufficient biographical and contextual information for the reader to grasp its particular significance. There is some overlap with Ellis and with Altholz here, but that is fully justified in the interests of this volume's integrity and usefulness to students. The second part contains the original text of the Essays themselves, fully annotated with explanatory references and comment, and edited in such a way as to highlight both the few amendments in later editions and the particular passages which became the subject of legal proceedings (this applies to the contributions of Rowland Williams and Henry Wilson). Finally, in the third part, the editors have assembled a huge range of supporting documentation, including extracts from clerical charges and critical reviews in response to the volume, a documented survey of the trials of Williams and Wilson in the Court of Arches and before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and of Benjamin Jowett before the Chancellor's Court at Oxford, and further information touching on related later controversies. Nor does the usefulness of the book stop there, for amongst the appendices there is a "finding list" of letters and diaries quoted by the editors, a full bibliography of responses to the Essays, and further bibliographies and indices.

In this reviewer's judgement, Shea and Whitla have succeeded brilliantly in meeting their primary aim of supplying a critical text of the Essays with sufficient contextual information to open up its significance for the modern reader.

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