Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Temptations and weaknesses

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Henry Edward Manning, one of the most influential Roman Catholic figures in England during the second half of the 19th century. Manning was also a diarist, and, after his death, his diaries - which are full of unguarded introspection - caused some controversy among biographers.

Manning was born on 15 July 1808 at Totteridge, Hertfordshire. His father was a Tory MP, and a governor of the Bank of England. After studying at Harrow and Balliol College, Oxford (which now holds his archives), Manning went on to be ordained in 1832. He was appointed to the curacy and then to the living at Lavington-with-Graffham in Sussex, and, in 1840, to the archdeaconry at Chichester. He married in 1833, but his wife died four years later. In 1842, Manning, who had become a member of the Oxford Movement, published The Unity of the Church, and, in 1844, Sermons Preached before the University of Oxford, espousing his high church beliefs.

Subsequently, in 1851, after much soul-searching, he switched to the Roman Catholic Church, was re-ordained, and went to study in Rome, where he met the pope. Back in England, he rose rapidly in the church to become Archbishop of Westminster, in 1865. Ten years later, he was elevated to cardinal. He is remembered today for his work in founding orphanages and schools, and for his successful intervention in the 1889 London dock strike.

According to Arthur Ponsonby, author of English Diaries, the publication of a large number of extracts from Manning’s diaries in a 1896 biography written by E S Purcell, caused ‘some controversy on the ethics of biography’. Purcell stated that Manning had given him the diaries, but Shane Leslie, in his later biography (Henry Edward Manning - His Life and Labours), reveals that, in fact, Manning never did entrust the diaries to Purcell, and that Purcell was also guilty of many inaccuracies.

A 1921 review of Leslie’s book, by The New York Times (which has usefully digitised many of its archives), includes this introspective quotation from Manning’s diaries (probably dating from the 1840s):

‘- Self-complacency, high aims and professions in the spiritual life. (Give me to see myself).
- Sins of the tongue, as in London that morning, and also in repeating a Spanish blasphemy. (Set a bridle on my tongue.)
- Ostentation of learning and mean concealment of ignorance (Show me Thy light and in it my darkness.)
- Envy, especially in spiritual offices and state.
- Vainglory and self-flattery. Picturing and talking to myself. (Real love of Christ’s name.)
- Censuring others with an aim. (Charity and simplicity.)
- Anger, especially with J L Anderdon. (Patience.)
- To this I must add fearful want of love toward God; fearful want of repentance; fearful absence of mind in prayer. Dead, sluggish, obstinate, unwillingness to pray. It is a feeling like nightmare when one cannot move.’

Ponsonby has a high opinion of Manning as a diarist. We find, Ponsonby says, ‘in Manning a genuine diarist who confided at the very moment to the private pages of his journal his passing thoughts and impressions and his changing views and who did not hesitate to expose himself to charges of inconsistency and to accuse himself of faults and failings which could not be to his credit, all with an apparent disregard for the verdict of prosperity. Here was a man seemingly bent on the attainment of power and position, who appeared to lay great store on public regard and fame. He might have written himself up in his diary, or at any rate he might have destroyed any papers that would expose him in an unfavourable light. He did not do either . . .’

Ponsonby gives a few extracts from Manning’s diaries, including some that foretell his conversion: ‘The Church of England after 300 years has failed 1) in the unity of doctrine 2) in the enforcement of discipline 3) in the training of the higher life’; and, ‘I am conscious that I am further from the Church of England and nearer Rome than ever I was’. There is, though, very little about his actual conversion, or - surprisingly - his interviews with the pope.

Here’s another extract about diary writing itself, from 1851: ‘Since I lost my journals I have no heart to begin again. Also keeping a journal 1) led to self contemplation and tenderness 2) kept alive the susceptibilities of human sorrow. Yet it was of use to me in remembering and comparing sessions and in recording marked events.’

Ponsonby concludes that, in Manning’s diaries, ‘the dignified, stern, ascetic almost saintly Cardinal is shown to be an ordinary human being, struggling sometimes successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully with the temptations and weaknesses which all flesh is heir to.’

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