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1. How the Victorians Learned to Read the Bible for Types and Shadows of Christ

o understand the many important ways that typology shaped Victorian ideas, one must determine how the received authorities of the time defined and applied it, and one must also explain how such a seemingly arcane theological matter could have influenced secular thought at all. In particular, one wants to know precisely which points of doctrine and which interpretive rules encouraged so many Victorians to transfer habits of mind derived from interpreting the Bible to theories of evolution, contemporary politics, literary characterization, painterly symbolism, and other areas of thought apparently far distant from theological studies.

But even before attempting this crucial process of definition, one can explain how something so seemingly specialized as typology had such general effect by recognizing that typology formed the reading and interpretive habits of many Victorians. Anyone who has looked at much Victorian art and literary criticism knows that, with few exceptions (such as that provided by Ruskin's reading of "Lycidas" in Sesame and Lilies), one looks in vain for close readings of individual works. The difficulty therefore arises of determining how most Victorians read a book, a picture, or a building. It is not difficult, however, to determine how many Victorians read their Bibles, because sermons, tracts, commentaries, hymns, and guides to scriptural exegesis show how they did so quite clearly and in abundant detail.

All the major Protestant denominations devoted a great deal of time and effort to teaching the individual believer how to read the scriptures . Both the various parties in the Church of England and the dissenting groups outside this established church made large use of sermons in educating worshippers in the subtle points of scriptural interpretation. Two sermons were the rule each Sunday -- one in the morning and one in the afternoon -- and during the reign of Victoria, which seems to have been a golden age of preaching, people would often travel long distances to hear famous ministers. Although that rivalry between Church and Dissent which characterizes Amos Barton's Shepperton certainly existed in many areas, members of one denomination would still attend services of some other group if that other group's minister had acquired a reputation as a preacher. In the 1850s and 1860s. for instant a Londoner might attend the morning service of Henry Melvill (1798-1871), the Evangelical Anglican whom many, including Ruskin, Browning, and Gladstone, considered the greatest preacher of his day. After taking part in a service at which this Chaplain to the Queen had preached, our Londoner might either return home until it was time for the afternoon service or else head for the Metropolitan Tabernacle, where he would be one of 5,000 people assembled to hear the self-educated Baptist, Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-92), the most famous preacher of the age, who had already established his reputation in his twentieth year.

Metropolitan Tabernacle

C. H. Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle, South London.

What kind of a sermon was the average English churchgoer likely to encounter on a Sunday at mid-century? An official government religious census conducted on Sunday, 30 March 1853 showed that in England and Wales fewer than 400,000 attended Roman Catholic services, while 5,300,000 attended those of the Church of England and another 4,500,000 those of the various dissenting sects. Since one out of every fourteen parishes refused to respond to this state inquiry, one can justifiably conclude that the Church of England could claim an even greater number of adherents. Although determining the party affiliation of ministers within the Established Church is particularly difficult, contemporary estimates suggest that far more than half belonged to the Evangelical branch and that the rest were divided among the High Church, Broad Church, and old High-and-Dry groups [bibliographical note]. Since almost all dissenting groups shared the basic doctrines of Evangelical Anglicanism, more than three quarters of the congregations assembled on a Sunday in the 1850s and 1860s would have heard some form of Evangelical doctrine. Certainly, one still encountered parsons in the Church of England like George Eliot's Gilfil and Farebrother throughout the century, but in general it had become an age of doctrinal clergy and doctrinal preaching, and the Evangelicals were largely responsible for this change.

The Evangelicals within the Church, who conceived of themselves as the proper heirs of the Reformation and seventeenth-century Puritan divines, placed relatively little importance upon either ecclesiastical tradition or hierarchy. Instead, their version of Protestantism emphasized that the individual, who must strive for an emotional conversion, had to attain an emotional, imaginative experience of Christ. In practice, such an experience required that the believer recognize his own innate depravity and then both project himself imaginatively into his Saviour's agonies and feel their saving effect upon himself. As John Charles Ryle, the great Evangelical Anglican writer of tracts urged:

You may know a good deal about Christ, by a kind of head knowledge. You may know who He was, and where He was born, and what He did. You may know His miracles, His sayings, His prophecies, and His ordinances. You may know how he lived and how He suffered, and how He died. But unless you know the power of Christ's Cross by experience -- unless you know and feel within that the blood shed on that cross has washed away your own particular sins, -- unless you are willing to confess that your salvation depends entirely on the work that Christ did upon the Cross, — unless this be the case, Christ will profit you nothing.... You must know His Cross, and His Blood, or else you will die in your sins. ["The Cross" in A New Birth (Grand Rapids, 1977)]

The Evangelicals, who were convinced of man's essential depravity, practiced a strict morality and placed great importance upon rigid Sabbath observance. Although they believed that good works could not save a person from Hell, they accepted that their performance was both a Christian duty and a sign that one had been converted. Their central emphasis upon preaching the Gospel, which produced so many great Evangelical writers of sermons and tracts, also prompted their organization of missionary endeavors and Bible societies. The members of this church party often cooperated with dissenters in sponsoring such missionary activities and they were therefore often accused of being "Methodists in the Church." Since they wished to raise the moral condition and tone of England by making vice unfashionable in the upper classes, the Evangelical Anglicans often appeared to curry favor with the rich and powerful, and the practice, which was originated by the great Cambridge Evangelical Charles Simeon (1759-1836), of raising money to purchase benefices held by laymen for worthy Evangelical clergy, struck many in other portions of the Church as savoring too much of worldly practice.

The twentieth-century reader of Victorian novels who has encountered <Mr. Stiggins of Pickwick Papers and the odious Mr. Slope of Barchester Towers might well wonder how Evangelicals within and without the Church of England ever attracted such a large number of devoted adherents. Certainly, after reading the novels of Dickens, Trollope, Kingsley, and many lesser figures, we would be tempted to assume that all Evangelical clergymen had oily, florid complexions, damp handshakes, and portly stomachs waiting to be filled with tea-cakes. Furthermore, these unappealing creatures, who seem to have made their way through this life by preying upon emotional females, expended most of their energies upon the rigors of Sabbath observance. [Follow for Trollope's version of this stereotype.] When they did bestir themselves on the behalf of others, their benevolence (if we can believe the novelists) always took the form of sending flannel waistcoats to the inhabitants of tropical Africa and Bibles to the starving victims of flood and famine.

The often self-righteous Evangelicals, who advocated zeal an earnestness in promoting the Gospel, were easy to mock, and, in fact, they welcomed such mockery as a sign that infidels persecuted them for serving Christ. Furthermore, since the stricter Evangelicals looked upon novels as the devil's invention, practitioners of this literary form had yet another reason for directing their satire at these heirs of the Puritan tradition. None the less, Evangelicals dominated British religion from the last decade of the eighteenth century through the 1860s and beyond; for even though the Tractarian-led High Church revival of the 1830s and 1840s and the later Broad Church movement gradually rivaled this party in the Church, most English men and women, as well as those in Scotland and Wales, remained Evangelicals. The Evangelical Anglicans and related groups, such as the Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, first gained and then long kept their leading position in British life because they brought vital heartfelt religion to the nation. Although the severity and puritanic zeal of the Evangelicals were easy to mock, many who came to jeer at Wesley, Whitefield, Newton, Simeon, and other great preachers found themselves deeply moved.

At a time when the Established Church had seemingly lost all sense of its mission, the late eighteenth-century Evangelical revival brought spiritual sustenance to people high and low. The Evangelical emphasis upon an imaginative and emotional experience of Christ, which made this form of Protestantism a religious equivalent (and stimulus) of English romanticism, made belief a living factor in men's lives. Although we are used to considering Evangelical Puritanism a dour, inhumanely restrictive force on English life, the fact is, rather, that it provided an emotional, imaginative form of belief that endowed its adherents with a sense of their own identities.

In contrast, High Anglicanism — which is also known as Puseyism, Newmanism, and Tractarianism — opposed Evangelical emotional religion and its emphasis upon the experiences of the Individual lay believer with an emphasis upon reserve, and it derived this notion of reserve from what its adherents took to be a central principle of God's dealings with man. As Isaac Williams argued on the opening page of Tract 80, On Reserve in Communicating Religious Knowledge

There appears in God's manifestations of Himself to mankind, in conjunction with an exceeding desire to communicate that knowledge, a tendency to conceal, and throw a veil over it, as if it were mysterious to us, unless we were of a certain disposition to receive it. [Complete text]

Similarly, looking at the early Church's practice of concealing points of doctrine from the uninitiate so that they would not sully them, Williams and the other Tractarians found ample precedent for emphasizing the higher spiritual status of the ordained clergy. In opposition to the Evangelicals, who placed comparatively little Importance on sacraments or ecclesiastical hierarchy, the High Church found the essence of Christianity to lie in an ordained priesthood that descended in an unbroken succession from the Apostles to the present. Their emphasis upon Church tradition also prompted them to revive both ritual and elaborate ecclesiastical decoration. Whereas the Evangelicals, who often worshipped in relatively bare, unadorned churches, provided the believer with emotional and aesthetic satisfaction in the form of preaching and hymns, the High Anglicans, who rejected hymns and emotional sermons, provided their congregations with the aesthetic pleasures of ritual and rich surroundings. Without too much exaggeration one might claim that the Evangelicals sought the pleasures of the ear and the High Anglicans those of the eye [Art, music, and the various denominations].

Although High and Low Churchmen disagreed about major points of doctrine, we must be careful not to exaggerate their differences. Both parties handled the Bible in very similar ways, and, indeed, when an individual preacher is not specifically concerning himself to advocate a particular doctrine, such as a need for conversion or the Apostolic succession, he usually sounds like proponents of the other side [evidence from Trollope]. The elaborate typological interpretations of Newman and Keble, for instance, strongly resemble those of Melvill. Of course, one reason why Tractarians had much in common with the Evangelical wing of the Church (and with dissenters outside of it) is that many High Churchmen had at one time been Evangelicals. Once they became adherents of the High Church party, they rarely abandoned all their former attitudes and habits of mind. (See Thomas Vargish, Newman: The Contemplation of Mind (Cambridge, 1970) demonstrates, for instance, that Newman's conceptions of the human mind were formed during his Evangelical phase and remained essentially unchanged during his movement from Tractarianism to the Roman Church.)

In contrast to the other two factions in the Established Church, the liberal one known as the Broad Church movement willingly trusted to reason in matters of faith. These followers of Coleridge included Thomas Arnold, Henry Hart Milman, F. W. Robertson, F. D. Maurice, and Charles Kingsley. The members of this comparatively small and loosely organized section of the Church of England emphasized the humanity of Jesus, and, unlike the other Church and dissenting groups, they accepted that the Bible was divinely inspired only in some rather free and figurative manner. In fact, if any one procedure characterizes these progressive theologians it is the reinterpretation of traditional Christianity, its doctrines, and terminology in very personal ways. In essence, they tried to preserve Christianity against the increasing onslaught of modern ideas, particularly those from the continent, by abandoning points of belief easily disproved on rational grounds and replacing them with mythic or symbolic interpretations of the Bible. Although Broad Church attitudes towards the scriptures inevitably undercut typological exegesis, which is based on the axiom that the Bible is literally true, many Broad Churchmen still continued to use extended versions of typology because both they and their audiences had become accustomed to it.

This section of the Established Church has justifiably received a considerable amount of attention from literary scholars, both because it prefigured important developments in English Christianity and because many of its adherents were literary figures. None the less, these progressive theologians and preachers, who were relatively few in number, had very little influence on the average English believer at mid-century and for long afterwards.

To answer our first question, then, the average worshiper would be most likely to attend some sort of an Evangelical service, and the reputation of a particular minister as a preacher might well guide him or her to choose which service to attend. If one was ill, attended another service, lived too far from London or other large cities, or was temporarily away from home, one could read the sermons of famous preachers in the pages of The Homilist, The Pulpit, and The Penny Pulpit — weekly periodicals that published sermons of renowned preachers all thereby extended their influence not only throughout all England but throughout the English-speaking world. [Ruskin and Eliot refer to The Pulpit.]

J. D. Watson's Scene in a Scottish Cottage

Family bible reading in Scotland: J. D. Watson's "Scene in a Scottish Cottage," an illustration to Robert Burns's poem by that name in English Sacred Poetry of the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Centuries, ed. Robert Aris Willmott (London: Routledge, Warne, and Routledge, 1863), 213. This illustration did not appear in the print edition of Victorian Types.

Upon returning home, our devout Victorian would be likely to read selections from a wide choice of religious writings. Members of strict Evangelical households, in which all light reading and secular entertainment was forbidden on Sunday, might devote themselves to studying the Bible, published sermons, religious periodicals, and well-established devotional works of former times, such as Bunyan's Pilgrim 's Progress and Milton's Paradise Lost. Picking up the family Bible, our Victorian religionist, if an Evangelical, would very likely encounter the detailed annotation of famed Evangelical scriptural commentator Thomas Scott (1747-1821), whose commentaries first appeared in weekly parts in the 1790s, after which they were gathered in volume form and later printed with the scriptures themselves. The individual might read the Bible and relevant commentary aloud to the entire family, meditate upon them himself, or even take extensive notes upon them, as Ruskin's Evangelical mother required him to do from the age of nine.

Others who wished to go beyond these substantial commentaries in their search for Christ in the Old Testament might turn to one of many commentaries on individual books, such as Revelation or Psalms. If one sympathized with the Hutchinsonians -- followers of John Hutchinson (1674-1737) who characterized themselves by elaborate often wildly far-fetched typological and allegorical readings of the Bible -- the believer might pick up Samuel Eyles Pierce's The Book of Psalms, an Epitome of the Old Testament Scripture Opened. In which the Plan of Each Psalm is Given, the Subject-Matter Expressly Stated, and the Whole Set Forth as Prophetic of Christ, and His Church (1817) . The more orthodox, on the other hand, might turn to the Anglican John Morison's three-volume guide, whose title makes clear that it was directed at the layman: An Exposition of the Book of Psalms, Explanatory, Critical, and Devotional. Intended Chiefly to Aid Private Christians in the Enlightened Perusal of Compositions, in which the National History of the Jews, and the Personal Experience of David, are often blended with the Spirit of Prophecy (1832). Later in the century those of any denomination might have consulted the Baptist Charles Haddon Spurgeon's The Treasury of David (1870), whose three volumes contain an anthology of several hundred years' comments on individual psalms.

In many dissenting, Evangelical, and High Church families, fathers would often read a printed sermon and a Bible passage to the assembled family and servants, both on Sundays and on weekdays before the household retired for the evening. Throughout the week many English men and women also read devotional poetry, which could range in quality from Tennyson's In Memoriam (1850), the Evangelical Edward Henry Bickersteth's visionary epic, Yesterday, To-day, and For Ever ( 1866), and the Tractarian Keble's The Christian Year (1827) to efforts of Frances Ridley Havergall and Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna. Many such poems made heavy use of biblical types, paraphrase, and allusion, thus providing yet another means of inculcating habits of Bible reading.


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Print version published 1980; web version 1998; links last added April 2000