The poems of the author of " Lead, Kindly Light" need no recommendation to the public. Wherever the English language is spoken, that hymn is a favorite; it lias given expression and assuagement to thousands groping in the darkness of spiritual conflict or of bereavement, who will like to see what else of the kind the author has produced. And though there may be nothing with the same familiar sound and sweet associations, there is much to repay study, and not a littie that is worthy to be counted among a hymn-lover's treasures for evermore.
John Henry Newman is almost coeval with the century, in the religious history of which his name will occupy so prominent a place. The outward facts of his life are few and quickly told : of his intellectual career only a brief outline can here be given. He was born in London, February 2ist, 1801; he entered Trinity College, Oxford, 1816 ; was elected Fellow of Oriel College, 1822 ; received orders in the English Church, 1824 ; was VicePrincipal of Alban Hall, under Dr. Whately, 1825-26; tutor of Oriel, 1826-32; Vicar of St. Mary's, Oxford and Littlemore, 1828-43; editor of the "British Critic," 1838-41. But he is best known as the chief-mover in that great religious upheaval of our age, the final effects of which none of us will live to trace, variously known as the "Oxford," the "High Church'' and the "Tractarian Movement," —the last and most characteristic of these names being derived from the celebrated series of "Tracts for the Times," to which he \vas much the largest contributor. The closing one was the famous '' No. XC." an attempt to reconcile the "XXXIX. Articles" with the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent, v/hich roused so much alarm and indignation as to compel his diocesan to request the discontinuance of the series. Newman obeyed, but under protest; and his tendencies became more and more pronounced, until, by a logical necessity, in September, 1845, ms las' words as an Anglican clergyman were spoken to a small gathering of friends and pupils in his home-chapel at Littlemore, and in the following October, he was received into the communion of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1846, he visited Rome, was admitted to the priesthood, joined the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, founded a branch thereof in Enggland on his return thither, in 184*8, and has spent most of his life since as the Head of the Birmingham House,—albeit, in 1852, he founded the Roman Catholic University at Dublin, and acted as its Rector until 1858. He was made Cardinal, May I2th, 1879.
In 1864, he published his "Apologia pro Vita Sua/' which gives a history of the development of his religious opinions from his youth up, and furnishes much incidental evidence that his mental and spiritual constitution was of the sort which seems almost predestined to find its final home in the Roman fold. He says of his school-days: "My imagination ran on unknown influences, on magical powers and talismans. . . . I thought life might be a dream, or I an angel, and all this world a deception ; my fellow-angels by a playful device concealing themselves from me, and deceiving me with the semblance of a material world." And again: "I was very superstitious . . . and used constantly to cross myself when going into the dark ;'' yet he could "make no sort of conjecture" whence this practice was derived. He also mentions a '' deep imagination," that he was called to a celibate life, which took possession of him in 1816, and strengthened his " feeling of separation from a visible world." During his thirtysix years of residence at Oxford, he was brought into more or less intimate relations with Whately, Keble, Pusey, Mozley, the Froudes, the Wilberforces, etc. He was counted austere and reserved by some, kindly and genial by others, —the truth seeming to be that he was reserved by nature, and especially so with strangers and antipathetic persons, but knew how to unbend and be companionable and delightful to his friends. It is plain that he exerted a powerful influence upon those admitted to his intimacy ; he had always a devoted circle of adherents, many of whom preceded or followed him into the Church of Rome, notably Faber and Caswall.
His life has been an industrious one; the list of his published works numbers over thirty volumes,—theological, historical, polemical, —among them two works of fiction. They have a twofold interest, as treating the subject in hand with great power and brilliancy both of thought and style, and as milestones marking the stages by which a mind of no common order passed from the Anglican to the Roman faith. In the latter aspect, they may afford some comfort to all who are alarmed at the widening flood of materialistic unbelief, as tending to show the presence and power of the supernatural element in and over man, and that there will always be intellects, neither ignorant nor feeble, who can find no rest nor satisfaction save in a definite, dogmatic faith.
Comparatively few of Newman's poems were written after his secession, yet several of those dated years before show how far he had slidden, consciously or not, from his ostensible standpoint, before he planted himself squarely on the true one. Both of these classes—not more than a dozen in all—are necessarily cancelled in a volume intended chiefly for the protestant world;—with all respect for the faith and taste of others, we must needs exercise the right of selection for ourselves; it is possible to be not less reverent in rejection than in acceptance. Among the latter productions, the " Dream ofGcrontius " stands so pre-eminent in felicity of language and beauty of thought anJ imagery, that it is retained almost entire, notwithstanding its length. A large latitude is allowable in a work so purely imaginative ; nor does the doctrine of purgalory appear in a form that need greatly offend whomsoever believes in any intermediate state between the death of the body and the soul's final entrance upon the perfect bliss of heaven. The poem's excellence as a whole may easily atone for some doubtful flights of fancy. Finally, to show somewhat of the softer and so to speak, more human side of the poet's character, a large part of the earlier, more secular and personal poems, which could not be classed under the general title of " Hymns," are given in an Appendix.
The preparation of the volume for the press, begun with no enthusiam for tli2 task, has become so truly a labor of love as to justify the expression of the belief that all who bring a much smaller measure of the same careful study to these poems, will be rewarded by the same ultimate delight in their beauty of thought and construction. They are instinct with that spiritual grace and life which are the heritage and hope of "all who profess and call themselves Christians."
W. M. L. J. New York, 1885.