[Letter of John James Taylor to Francis William Newman.]
November 2nd, 1848
I was preparing to reply to you when your last letter with the accompanying MS. arrived. The subject is so interesting and so important, that I wished to consider it well in all its bearings, before I gave you my thoughts upon it. I have read your preface twice with attention; and am quite prepared to give my assent to the principle which it asserts, and even to assist, so far as I am able, in carrying the principle into practice. University Hall professedly opens its doors as a domestic establishment to persons of different religious creeds. The question is—is it possible to adopt some form of devotion expressive of the common religious sentiment which it is presumed they all more or less possess, and which it is so desirable they should all strengthen and cherish. The plan is merely carrying out—in reference to the peculiar object and constitution of University Hall—a principle which must always to some extent be acted on in National Churches and in the smaller associations of particular sects. In our public formularies we never think of providing for the idiosyncracies of individuals, however to themselves interesting or even vital. All social worship involves—I will not say, compromise—for I dislike the word in reference to religion—but a consent to rest for the time on the common and the central. By joining in such prayers as you propose for University Hall—with our brethren of divers faiths—we imply, not that there may not be other views, which we individually feel to be important, and on other occasions might think it right to express, but that we do not feel them so exclusively important, as to prevent us at times from joining with all our fellow-beings in a more comprehensive spiritual communion. I believe I interpret your views correctly. If so, they have my entire sympathy. Nothing but good can result from strengthening and elevating the spiritual sympathies of men. If, as some of us think, there be something special in the origin and perpetuation of Christianity, this great truth—if such it be—must come out with increased evidence, by the abatement of prejudice and theological antipathy, and in the calm, free intercourse of pure and devout minds. If, as others think, Christianity itself is but an introductory discipline, a παιδαγωγια—to something higher and more spiritual—it is only by this free exchange of thought and feeling among good men on the highest themes, that we can make the transition happily—without a break, of spiritual deadness and irreligion—and so embrace, when we are prepared for it, the greater truth which the Universal Father may have in reserve for us. Efforts like yours are in every way most desirable; and will, I am persuaded, by increasingly attempted. I am not sanguine of immediate success; there is so much narrow dogmatism still lurking in the faith of generally liberal men. But the attempt ought to be made; and though it may fail in the first instance, it will not be without effect.—Between this and Christmas, I will send you one or two forms of morning prayer. Perhaps that will be soon enough. I find I cannot write prayers at any time or in any mood.—To turn now to another subject. We did not think you had at all treated us ill about the Prospective; but I must add, that we shall accept most gratefully any future contributions. You know we largely admit literature; and your present studies leading to so many interesting views of society, language, government, etc., must furnish you with many a topic which we should rejoice to have discussed in our pages. We often unreasonably feel most interest in that from which for the time we are ourselves excluded. Tied down by circumstances to one particular course of reading, I almost envy you your excursions in the delightful fields of ancient literature and history and comparative philology. What a new light seems destined to be thrown on the early connection and mutual influence of races by the comparison of languages! I read the other evening for the first time, Dr. Prichard's valuable communication to the British Association at Oxford on the studies of Ethnology. I am anticipating even more pleasure and instruction from another by Bunsen read on the same occasion.—Will you allow me to ask what was the precise relation to the great landed proprietors of the last days of the Republic, of the Clientes described by Horace (Carm. II. 18. 26) as driven with their wives and children from their little farms, to make room for the latifundia of their lords? Were they what we should call tenants? The same word—not used in its strict and proper sense—occurs in v. 8 of the Ode—"Trahunt honestæ purpuras clientæ." Has not Horace, in the curt and dry way of the Romans, described in this Ode the same state of things, which Goldsmith has wrought into so beautiful picture in a well-known passage of his Deserted Village—and which the Hebrew prophets evidently allude to with increasing distinctness, as the states of Israel and Judah verged towards their end? In reading history, one wants details of this sort to fill up the vague outline of general narrative.—Before I conclude, it occurs to me to ask whether you have thought of turning to the dedication prayer offered up by the present Bishop of Durham[*] on laying the foundation-stone of University College—then the University of London. There must be many records of it. If I remember right, in its abstinence from all doctrinal allusion, and in the spirit of simple theism pervading it, it would afford you precedent and authority for the course you are taking in regard to University Hall. I speak, however, from general impression, since I have never seen the prayer since the time it was uttered.
[*Edward Maltby (1770-1859).]