Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

R. H. Hutton's Rift with James Martineau: A Case Study in Victorian Conversion

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

R. H. Hutton's Rift with James Martineau: A Case Study in Victorian Conversion

Article excerpt

"Every party, every interest, political or religious, in this country, was pushing its claims to universal acceptance, with the single exception of the Church of England, which was folding its robes to die with what dignity it could."1 While graphic, Thomas Mozley's recollection of die Victorian religious landscape overlooks some impressive theologians and some compelling spiritual journeys. Among these are Richard Holt Hutton and his journey, not from Anglicanism to Unitarianism, but from Unitarianism to broad church and finally high church Anglicanism. Sheridan Gilley claims that because of Hutton's wide interests and his long tenure as editor of the influential weekly Spectator, he "became for a large part of the Victorian reading public the leading critic of nineteenth-century literature."2 The value of this influence has been much disputed. As a hostile obituary notice accounted for it, "a large body of readers, faithfullest of the flock, . . . accepted the views of die Spectator as tiiey accepted the routine of die Church. . . . [While t]hey were terrified at die Huxleys and Arnolds, . . . [t]he Invisible David of the Spectator would overthrow the mighty."3 But in 1908 Wilfred Ward, a Catholic apologist and Hutton protege, remembered with awe how "Catholics, Anglicans, and enquiring Agnostics [would] repair[] to an editor's desk in the Strand with feelings somewhat akin to those with which the Savoyard went to St. Francis de Sales for advice in perplexity or a stimulus to do his duty."4 Yet both these assessments of the elderly public Hutton belie his own restiess spiritual pilgrimage.

In 1900 the Scottish theologian P. T. Forsyth ranked James Martineau, Frederick Denison Maurice, and John Henry Newman as the three great dieologians of the nineteenth century.5 Even discounting the nationalism of Forsyth's claim, it gives significance to Hutton 's own career in that he moved successively through all their circles of influence. Because Martineau, Maurice, and Newman all held their dieologies with visionary intensity, Hutton's transit from one to the other constitutes as much an emotional as an intellectual narrative-awakening grief, loss, and suspicion in all parties. This essay will focus on his early immersion in Martineau's Romantic but still-Christian Unitarianism and his painfully slow conversion to a creative (re) vision of broad church theology. Although Martineau saw Hutton as succumbing to the influence of Maurice, Hutton negotiated his passage among these powerful figures rather like a NASA spacecraft uses the gravitational pull of several planets to enable its own convoluted trajectory. To do so, he relied on an ability learned as a reviewer to carry on simultaneous dialogues with a number of authors on a number of different issues. Thus his pilgrimage can best be studied by focusing on each of these dialogues individually and on its own terms. Although, or better because, the shifting relationship between Hutton and Martineau remained the most personal of the three, it epitomized the diverse ways that liberal Victorian theology grappled with a secular culture increasingly entangled within its own technologically constructed universe.

By 1850 the forty-five-year-old Martineau had almost singlehandedly led English Unitarians out of Joseph Priestley's eighteenth-century necessitarianism and had successfully incorporated both Romanticism and biblical criticism into his own eclectic theology.7 Because he saw himself as grounded in God's ethical imperatives and in step with a providentially directed civilization, he could engage the most influential thinkers of the period, and his evaluations of them were consistently fair, comprehensive, and penetrating.8 Among Hutton's other mentors Maurice, leaving Unitarianism for broad church Anglicanism, has left his mark on liberal Protestantism; Newman leaving via-media Anglicanism for Roman Catholicism, has left his mark on both denominations; Martineau, however, instead of leaving his denomination was in effect left by it. …

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