Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Arhur C. Benson on Christina Rossetti and Newman


Arthur Christopher Benson will always take the opportunity to depreciate Newman. Christina Rossetti a favourite poet of his he places above even the divine ardour of Newman, whose technical dogmatism and paucity of human experience limited his range. The unspoken charge of tergiversation lies at the core of the ‘national church’ language also used by Matthew Arnold as though the marital difficulties of Henry VIII was a fons et origo of inspiration and the recovery of primitive Christianity.

Then was the crisis: would the wounded life creep on on a broken wing, or would the spiritual vitality suffice to fill the intolerable void? It did suffice; and the strength of the character that thus found repose was attested by the rational and temperate form of faith that ministered to the failing soul.
At such a moment the sensuous spirit is apt to slide into the luxurious self-surrender that Roman Catholicism permits. To me, indeed, it is a matter of profound surprise that Miss Rossetti did not fall into this temptation; but just as she had, with instinctive moderation, chosen the cool and temperate landscape of her adopted country, so the National Church of England, with its decorous moderation, its liberal generosity, its refined ardour, was the chosen home of this austere spirit. The other danger to be feared was that of a bitter renunciation of old delights, a sojourn in the wilderness of some arid and fantastic pietism. An elder sister of Miss Rossetti's indeed sought the elaborate seclusion of a religious house; and had D. G. Rossetti—to use the uncouth Puritan phrase—"found religion," there is no doubt that he too would have reverted to the Church of his fathers. But Miss Rossetti became, as Mr. Edmund Gosse has, in a penetrating criticism in the Century MagazineJune 1893 pointed out, the poetess, not of Protestantism, but of Anglicanism.
(from Christina Rossetti in Essays by A.C. Benson 1896)

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