Out with the old, in with the new!

I have said before that if you are interested in law and religion, you must read Anthony Trollope. I can’t think of many authors who are more intimately concerned with the quotidian working out of church-state arrangements. As Hawthorne once put it, “Trollope’s novels are solid, substantial, written on the strength of beef and through the inspiration of ale and just as real as if some giant had hewn a great lump out of the earth and put it under a glass case, with all its inhabitants going about their daily business and not suspecting they were being made a show of.”

Trollope’s Barsetshire Novels in particular are concerned with political and cultural change, or “evolution,” within the Anglican Church in English nineteenth century life. Here is a wonderful passage from “Barchester Towers” in which a “new man” representative of the progressively liberalizing episcopacy (Mr. Slope) informs an “old man” (Mr. Harding) about the changes coming to the Church and to English life more broadly:

“You must be aware, Mr. Harding, that things are a good deal changed in Barchester,” said Mr. Slope.

Mr. Harding said that he was aware of it. “And not only in Barchester, Mr. Harding, but in the world at large. It is not only in Barchester that a new man is carrying out new measures and casting away the useless rubbish of past centuries. The same thing is going on throughout the country. Work is now required from every man who receives wages; and they that have to superintend the doing of work, and the paying of wages, are bound to see that this rule is carried out. New men, Mr. Harding, are now needed, and are now forthcoming in the church, as in other professions.”

All this was wormwood to our old friend [Mr. Harding]. He had never rated very high his own abilities or activity; but all the feelings of his heart were with the old clergy, and any antipathies of which his heart was susceptible, were directed against those new, busy, uncharitable, self-lauding men, of which Mr. Slope was so good an example….

Mr. Harding was not a happy man as he walked down the palace pathway, and stepped out into the close. His preferment and pleasant house were a second time gone from him; but that he could put up with. He had been schooled and insulted by a man young enough to be his son; but that he could put up with. He could even draw from the very injuries, which had been inflicted on him, some of that consolation, which we may believe martyrs often receive from the injustice of their own sufferings, and which is generally proportioned in its strength to the extent of cruelty with which martyrs are treated….But the venom of [Mr. Slope’s] harangue had worked into his blood.

“New men are carrying out new measures, and are carting away the useless rubbish of past centuries!” What cruel words these had been; and how often are they now used with the heartless cruelty of a Slope! A man is sufficiently condemned if it can only be shown that either in politics or religion he does not belong to some new school established within the last score of years. He may then regard himself as rubbish and expect to be carted away. A man is nothing now unless he has within himself a full appreciation of the new era; an era in which it would seem that neither honesty nor truth is very desirable, but in which success is the only touchstone of merit. We must laugh at every thing that is established. Let the joke be ever so bad, ever so untrue to the real principles of joking; nevertheless we must laugh–or else beware the cart. We must talk, think, and live up to the spirit of the times, and write up to it too, if that cacoethes be upon us, or else we are naught. New men and new measures, long credit and few scruples, great success or wonderful ruin, such are now the tastes of Englishmen who know how to live.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: