Been letting the blog slide quite a bit this summer, in the wake of some other big and time-consuming commitments. One is writing a chapter on Mark Pattison. It’s a bit outside my field of eighteenth-century studies, but I’ve read several good books or chapters on Pattison in the last several years. I became interested in him after finding and reading John Sparrow’s Mark Pattison and the Idea of a University (1967), which led me to read Pattison’s Memoirs (1885) last summer before my conference in Oxford. Since then I’ve read A. D. Nuttall’s excellent Dead from the Waist Down: Scholars and Scholarship in Literature and the Popular Imagination (2003), Vivian Green’s Oxford Common Room: A Study of Lincoln College and Mark Pattison (1957), H. Stuart Jones’s Intellect and Character in Victorian England: Mark Pattison and the Invention of the Don (2007), and Anthony Grafton’s chapter on Pattison and Isaac Casaubon in Worlds Made By Words: Scholarship and Community in the Modern West (2009). And now a bunch of other stuff, obviously, on Tractarianism and Oxford reform in the 1850s and Pattison’s connections to continental and German scholarship. Things like that. And I’ve used some of Pattison’s own studies of classical scholarship in my own work, so in a way, writing on Pattison brings me back full-circle to my “main” concentrations.

Anyway, in lieu of my own rambling and intellectual biography, here’s a great quote from Pattison’s essay “Present State of Theology in Germany,” which first appeared in the Westminster Review (1857):

The movement now so rapidly propagating itself in Germany, but chiefly in Prussia, under the colour of orthodoxy, is really destitute of any religious or theological character whatever. It is simply a political movement, taking an ecclesiastical colouring. Its animating principle is the principle of absolute authority. This principle or sentiment is just now undoubtedly gaining a hold on the European mind. Power rests less than ever on bayonets; it is becoming respectable. It is raising itself into a right. Might is not merely submitted to it, it is recognized. Absolutism is emerging from a fact into an opinion. In the same proportion all reliance on the results of thought, all the elasticity of the individual will, is failing. The rights of conscience, and the necessity for freedom of expression, are less and less keenly felt. The independent and manly sentiments in human nature are, for the time, giving way to the equally natural impulses to timidity–to crouch, to fawn, to flatter. This doctrine of Power, and the corresponding sentiments of submission, are the doctrine and sentiments which are really active and popular. Their alliance with ‘Orthodoxy’ is purely accidental. That is to say, a political conservative party seizes, for political purposes, on the creed which lay nearest to its hand. Any creed would answer equally well; for in putting forward the doctrines of the Confession of Augsberg, this party does not do so because those doctrines are true, but because they are the doctrines of ‘the Church.’ The old Confession is no longer now the expression of a subjective conviction, but one objectively imposed to overrule conviction. It came in the sixteenth century from the conscience, and is now used against the conscience. It was in its origin a positive thought, it is now a negation of thought. The present ‘Orthodoxy’ came into the world as a protest against orthodoxy; for, as Milton says, ‘A man may be a heretic in the truth. If he believe things only because his pastor says so, or the Assembly so determines, without knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds becomes his heresy.’ This modern Orthodoxy is no legitimate attempt to bring into currency a true theological system in the place of false systems. It is a denial of Theology as a science altogether; a usurpation of force, to crush thought and supersede conviction.

I’m surprised to read criticism of Pattison that denigrates his style, which seems to me, at least in passages like this one, lucid and succinct. It’s also surprising to see how little would have to be changed in the above quote to shed some insight on current political and theological configurations. History, not to mention my writing, moves very slowly.

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