Mozley's Reminiscences

THE history of Christianity is the history of a Person, and the history of any religious movement under it is very largely the history of persons. Indeed, we may assert that the profounder the movement, the more positively will it be the expression of personality. It is not thought alone, but thought transfixed by will, which works religious revolutions and changes. There have been two great movements in English religious life during the last century which illustrate this, the Wesleyan and — but the second fails to answer to the name of any one leader. There was a time when the nickname of Puseyite was given to it, but no one hears that name now. Newman did not give it a name, nor did Keble, nor Ward, and yet all these and others were distinctly leaders. Mr. Mozley, in his Reminiscences,1 speaks of it as the Oxford Movement, and that is perhaps as comprehensive an historical title as the facts warrant. Oxford was the visible birthplace of the Movement, and Oriel College was the innermost nest; but it is in the idea of a college as a society, not as an educational centre, that the name gets its fitness.

Mr. Mozley leaves to more philosophical minds the task of methodizing the Movement and accounting for its origin and force. His pleasure is to recall the figures of the persons who were engaged in it, and to give them a new vitality in the printed page. He is a gossip who has an apprehension of the greatness of the period of which he writes, but who was himself on too familiar terms with the persons of the period to overestimate their consequence. We say apprehension; it is open to doubt if Mr. Mozley comprehended the scope of the Oxford Movement ; he frankly admits his own shiftiness of mind, and one unacquainted with the great change which has taken place in the English church would hardly surmise it from Mr. Mozley’s pages. Yet this low tone in which he paints the figures of the actors has its advantage : it gives one a view of a hero midway between that of the hero’s valet and the hero’s worshiper.

We confess to having been singularly affected by the view of Mr. Mozley which Mr. Mozley gives. He does not despise himself, nor does he think more highly of himself than he ought to think. There is something whimsical in the half-puzzled and quite commiserating way in which he contemplates Mr. Mozley’s critical condition, when he had been pushed by circumstances and doubts and Mr. Newman to the edge of the precipice. He watches him with some concern, as he sees him crawl away on all fours, and he worries himself to find reasons for a decision which was no more a conscious and deliberate act than were the successive steps by which he had reached dangerous ground. We like his frankness, as where, when Newman bade him take two years to think over his final resolution, he says, with pathetic self-justification, —

“ Two years are not too long for a consideration affecting one’s eternal happiness, and the present and future happiness of many. But I had always found it not easy to concentrate my attention on a serious matter for even ten minutes. There was sure to be some irrelevant idea shooting right athwart the range of my speculations. It is so invariably the case that, sometimes in charity to my poor self, I have tried to account for it physically. Was it a peculiar working in the organ of vision ? Had I a bee in my bonnet ? I know the Provost, who himself could work his mental apparatus with perfect regularity, thought sometimes I was light-headed. I can, however, return to a point again and again.”

This is a most ingenious account of Mr. Mozley’s mind, and it serves to explain the general drift of his Reminiscences, whether they regard himself or his associates. He was a lively, goodhearted busybody, very much interested in everything that went on about him ; and, swept into the current of the Oxford Movement, he was carried forward both by a loyalty to his friends and by a repulsion from the spirit of the opposition. When he came to that point where the roads divided, it was not so much indecision which kept him from going to Rome as weakness of conviction. He could explain away objectionable features of Romish theology and practice, but he could not invest the Romish system in its entirety with sufficient force to draw him irresistibly. Newman believed profoundly in a superior act of volition overruling and containing his own. Mozley, and thousands of Englishmen like him, believed lightly in the same act, and never feeling its force upon his nature remained where he was. He acted upon the common rule : in case of doubt, do nothing.

It is pardonable to linger at the person of Mr. Mozley, because it is by getting some notion of his temperament that we are able to determine how far his reminiscences of other men have a value, especially when those men, as in the case of Newman, are ardent and visionary spirits, restless and unsatisfied until they have found the key to the problems which perplex them. As might be expected, we get but glimpses of the real life of the persons associated in the Movement. Yet, if we know the men through fuller and deeper revelation, there are shrewd side-lights thrown upon them here, which help to enlarge, or at any rate to adjust, our knowledge. Of this character is the chapter on Keble, and this anecdote, in which something of Mozley’s own nature appears : —

“ Keble was a latitudinarian, if not a utilitarian, in architecture. He could see a soul in everything, if he could only be allowed to enjoy the illusion. Traveling with me on the top of a coach, he came in sight of the west front of Lichfield Cathedral, and fell into raptures, ‘ They do nothing like that in these days.’ I let him go on for some time, and then had the wickedness to tell him that only a year before I had seen the entire front chopped and chiseled away, sheets of copper laid on the rough wall, big nails driven in, tarred cords stretched from nail to nail, and all the niches, saints, and angels of the old work reproduced in Roman cement upon this artificial backing. I received a very sharp rebuke indeed for not letting him remain under an illusion, which had been honestly intended, and which had contributed to his happiness. ‘ What good could it do to him to know how the thing was done ? ’ ”

The figure of Newman flits across the page throughout the two volumes, but he receives less substantial notice than some of the subordinate characters. This may be due in part to the personal relations subsisting between them, for Mozley married Newman’s sister ; but the natural separation of the two men may sufficiently account for it. The external characteristics of the great leader offered few points of description, the incidents in his career were uneventful, and the movement of his mind lay outside the range of Mozley’s power of analysis. Yet the affection which he had for his great friend has made him set down many little incidents which are of value in constructing his personality. Such is his account of Newman’s love of nature : —

“ One striking peculiarity in Newman’s character must have been often noticed by his walking companions. It was his admiration of the beauties of earth and sky, his quickness to observe the changes overhead, and the meaning he put into them, sometimes taxing the patience of a dull observer. Flowers, especially certain flowers, he was as fond of as a child could be. He could seldom see a flower without it reviving some memory. Old English forest trees he delighted in. . . . The walk from Oxford to Littlemore, especially if taken every other day, might be thought monotonous, but it never palled on Newman. The heavens changed if the earth did not, and when they changed they made the earth new. His eye quickly caught any sudden glory or radiance above; every prismatic hue or silver lining ; every rift, every patch of blue ; every strange conformation, every threat of ill or promise of a brighter hour. He carried his scenery with him, and on that account had not the craving for change of residence, for mountains and lakes, that most educated people have. Unless his voyage with Froude to the Mediterranean in 1832 be excepted, he never made a tour for pleasure sake, for health sake, or for change sake. He did move about a good deal, but it was to the country parsonages to which so many of his friends were early relegated. He had much to say; he had to advise, to direct; and he had occasionally a note to make. He looked for progress of some sort or other. These visits sometimes took him into districts singularly wanting in the features constituting ‘ scenery ’ and ‘ landscapes.’ But even in Salisbury Plain, where there are no trees, no hedges, no water, no flowers, no banks, no lanes, and now not even turf, and seldom even a village or a church in sight, he would walk or run with a friend as cheerfully as the prophet ran before the king from Carmel to announce the opened gates of heaven to Jezreel.”

To the reader who is not over-anxious to be instructed, but likes an association with scholars and gentlemen, these two volumes afford abundant opportunity. It is in the picking off of small game that Mr. Mozley excels, and although the reader unfamiliar with the Oxford Movement will find many names here of men utterly unknown to him, who yet appear to have had some degree of notoriety, he will assuredly find few for whom he will not thank Mr. Mozley for an introduction. A more entertaining company of gentlemen it would be hard to discover within the same compass, and Mr. Mozley’s good-breeding guards him against any idle tale-bearing. He has known many persons who were deeply interested in a great religious and semipolitical movement. His memory is tenacious of little things, and he spins and spins his yarns to what must surely be a delighted audience. One person, named once or twice, we miss from the book, but it is to Mr. Mozley’s credit that he has not shown us more of his singularly able brother, J. B. Mozley. What a contrast there is between the two men ! What searching analysis Canon Mozley could have given, if he had undertaken to draw the portraits of this company of Oxford gentlemen ! Yet, with all the limitations of this book, we repeat that it has, besides its own worth as a delightful picture of society, an important place as a contribution to history. It will always remain to humanize and correct a too exclusively theological or polemical consideration of that great movement in the English church, which has lifted the church to a higher plane of spiritual activity.

  1. 2Reminiscences, chiefly of Oriel College and the Oxford Movement, By the REV. T. MOZLEY, M. A. In two volumes. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1882.