Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Critical Introduction by W. Macneile Dixon
Henry Hart Milman (17911868)
[Henry Hart Milman, son of Sir Francis Milman, physician to George III., was born in London, 1791. He was educated at Eton and Brasenose College, Oxford, won the Newdigate in 1812 with a poem on The Apollo Belvedere, and became a Fellow of his college. He was afterwards Professor of Poetry in the University (1827) and Bampton Lecturer. Milman had taken orders in 1816, and after various preferments was appointed to the Deanery of St. Pauls in 1849. Besides poems and dramas written in the earlier part of his lifeFazio, a Tragedy; Samor, Lord of the Bright City (an Epic); The Fall of Jerusalem; The Martyr of Antioch; Belshazzar; Anne BoleynMilman made translations from Æschylus and Euripides, and from the Sanskrit. Several of his sacred lyrics have taken their place in the English hymnology. His prose works wereThe History of the Jews (1829), History of Christianity to the abolition of Paganism in the Roman Empire (1840), and The History of Latin Christianity to the Pontificate of Nicholas V. (185456). In 1868 was published posthumously The Annals of St. Pauls Cathedral (1868), and a volumeSavonarola, Erasmus, and other Essays (1870). Milman died in 1868, and was buried in his Cathedral.]
THAT literary eminence and theological scholarship, authority in matters ecclesiastical and authority in matters of taste have within her borders gone hand in hand, has been at once the strength and the crowning glory of the English Church. It has been her fortune to be represented in almost every epoch of intellectual enlargement by men whom the whole nation might rightly hold in reverence, by men to whom, though dwellers in the serene light of revealed religion, the wisdom and the culture of the children of this world were as familiar as the sacred writings themselves. With Milman the religious sense neither cramped nor overpowered his mental development; there met in him the reverence for Christian tradition that we look for in the pastor, the shepherd of his people, with the wide vision, the full freedom of conscience, and the intense passion for truth, that distinguish the philosopher. He belongs to the long line of illustrious churchmen who have been the true pillars of the faith, because boldly resolute, in Platos phrase, to follow whithersoever the argument leads. Among the churchmen of his day, who, in the face of the hostile forces of the new methods of critical enquiry, had a sense of grave personal responsibility, and who felt themselves the guardians of the national traditions no less than of the national conscience, among those who were resolved to see to it, that there should be, to use Milmans own words, no breach between the thought and the religion of England, he was himself the boldest, the strongest, and the best-equipped thinker. The History of the Jews was, as Stanley said, the first decisive inroad of German theology into England, the first palpable indication that the Bible could be studied like another book, that the characters and events of the sacred history could be treated at once critically and reverently. For a time, as was inevitable, Milmans determined attitude in that work, his unflinching application of the principles of scientific criticism was a stumbling block and a stone of offence to many. The march of the quiet years in whose van is revolution, unheralded, but resistless, made good his cause without controversy, upon which he did not care to enter; and in the evening of life he was invited to fill the University pulpit, from which in middle age he had been denounced as a traitor to his Church and his religion.
Milman has, however, claims to be remembered other than that he was a pioneer of a long-ago victorious critical movement. Without question one of the most accomplished men of letters of the present century, a distinguished editor and translator from the classics and from the Sanskrit, a poet of considerable imaginative range and lyrical sweetness, a far-sighted critic, an historian of ample learning and power, he seems to have his place on that border line where rare and brilliant talent melts into genius. Test him by some searching touchstone of genius, and he may indeed fall short; measure him by any rule of talent, and he satisfies but transcends it with much to spare.
The History of Latin Christianity is a work of epic proportions, and, save in its style, approaches epic dignity. A subject hardly less majestic than that of Gibbon, it was less susceptible of historic treatment in the grand style because it lacked an inherent unity. Without Gibbons marked distinction of manner, Milman possesses many of the virtues of a good writer, and sustains with fluent ease the weight of his great narrative. A notable man, one may say of him, in the best company, the company in which the highest names are those of Hooker, of Taylor, and of Berkeley; at his best comparable, if not superior, to any English historian after Gibbon, and one who in every page of his writing stands revealed as above all else a Christian, a scholar, and a gentleman.