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Although writers before the Reformation thoroughly understood both typology and tropology, they believed that tropology — moral allegory should play a more central role in their writings. Or, to put it differently, although post-Reformation writers were also thoroughly acquainted with tropology, to them typology was more important.... The change in balance seems to me to involve the crucial Protestant concern with hermeneutics, with the active attempt by all the faithful — lay as well as clerical — to interpret the Bible. As soon as exegesis of the Old Testament becomes an issue necessary to daily reading of Scripture, typology becomes of far greater importance than tropology. Of course Catholics as well as Protestants were exegetes, but by elevating Scripture to the Rule of Faith and by deposing Church tradition as its handmaiden, Protestants inevitably became a hermeneutically minded group.... The Protestants did something else: they stumbled into the discovery of a more modern idea of history. To them Christendom was not simply timeless, nor was it some kind of temporally vague contrast between the miserable now and blissful then which required an attitude of contempt for the world. — Earl Miner, "Afterword", Literary Uses of Typology from the Late Middle Ages to the Present (1977)

With the obvious exception of studies of the Oxford movement and the valuable work of Hoxie N. Fairchild and Robert Lee Wolff, when literary and cultural historians have considered Victorian religion, they have focused narrowly on themes of honest doubt and consequent loss of belief [bibliographical note]. This focus has been particularly unfortunate since the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century saw a great, almost astonishing, revival of biblical typology, which left its firm impress upon Victorian literature, art, and thought. Although it is a commonplace that we have lost the intimate knowledge of the Bible that characterized literate people of the last century, we have yet to perceive the full implications of our loss. In the Victorian age — to go back no farther — any person who could read, whether or not a believer, was likely to recognize scriptural allusions. Equally important, he was also likely to recognize allusions to typological interpretations of the scriptures. Typology is a Christian form of scriptural interpretation that claims to discover divinely intended anticipations of Christ and His dispensation in the laws, events, and people of the Old Testament. When we modern readers fail to recognize allusions to such typology, we deprive many Victorian works of a large part of their context. Having thus impoverished them, we then find ourselves in a situation comparable to that of the reader trying to understand a poem in a foreign language after someone has gone through his dictionary deleting important words. Ignorant of typology, we under-read and misread many works, and the danger is that the greater the work, the more our ignorance will distort and inevitably reduce it.

The writings of John Ruskin, the great Victorian critic of art and society, well exemplify major works which have thus fallen victim to modern inabilities to supply a once obvious context. Typological symbolism and the habits of mind derived from it provide a major, if little-noticed source of unity in his thought, informing both his interpretations of art and his theories of beauty, imagination, and ideal art [bibliographical note]. Drawing upon his knowledge of Evangelical typology, Ruskin explicates Giotto and Tintoretto; and, sounding like any Victorian preacher, he uses typological interpretations of the Levitical sacrifice to argue that men of the nineteenth century should lavish money upon their houses of worship. Typology, in fact, permeates Ruskin's thought, appearing in the most unexpected places, not only in his readings of individual paintings and buildings but also in his discussions of geology, history, and aesthetics. The emphasis of this form of biblical interpretation on the reality of both type and antitype — of signifier and signified — left a particularly heavy impress upon his thought. For example, such an emphasis lies at the heart of Ruskin's theory of typical beauty, which asserts that men instinctively enjoy certain visual qualities, such as proportion and balance, because they are the material embodiment of divine qualities . Ever a polemical author, he uses this conception of beauty, as he does many of his other aesthetic theories, as a means of avoiding a crude didacticism; and he can do so because he believes that typical beauty, like types of Christ, exists simultaneously on two levels or in two different contexts: the aesthetic surface of nature (or of a painting) has its own reality, but, Ruskin emphasized, this reality is completed only by reference to God. Since he believed that the perception of beauty is thus intrinsically a religious and moral act, the art which records or creates it necessarily possesses great value. This simultaneous emphasis upon two poles of meaning, or two levels of existence, appears again in Ruskin's notions of an ideal art that combines a realistic style with complex symbolic intentions as a way of reconciling fact and imagination, materialism and idealism.

Students of the External Link Pre-Raphaelites have long realized that Ruskin had a major influence upon the program of these painters and poets. Few have realized, however, that William Holman Hunt and his associates read, not the first volume of Modern Painters , which emphasized truth to nature, but the second volume, which contained Ruskin's theories of beauty and imagination [bibliographical note]. As Hunt several times points out in Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1905), he gained inspiration from the critic's description of the way Tintoretto used typology to [reconcile the demands of realistic technique with the need for spiritual truths. The painter obviously believed that the search to create a suitable Victorian equivalent to such earlier forms of symbolic realism unified the diverse members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Hunt, who always resented claims that Dante Gabriel Rossetti or Ford Madox Brown founded the movement, convinced Millais of the artistic value of such Ruskinian high art based on typology. Certainly, Hunt's interpretation of early Pre-Raphaelitism, which places Millais and him at the center, is supported by the large number of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and poems that employ this form of symbolism: Millais's Christ in the House of His Parents (1850) and The Blind Girl (1856), Rossetti's paintings of the Virgin Mary and the poems that accompany them, his Passover in the Holy Family (1856) and its companion poem, the Llandaff triptych (1864); Hunt's own The Scapegoat (1854-56), The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple (1854-60), The Shadow of Death (1873), The Triumph of the Innocents (1873, 1884), and May Morning on Magdalen Tower (1888-91); Collins's The Pedlar (1850) and poems by Collinson and Christina Rossetti. Recognizing the essential validity of Hunt's claims about the origin and nature of early Pre-Raphaelitism has the unexpected effect of resolving various disagreements about the movement. Most important Rossetti, who clearly provided the inspiration for so-called External Link   Aesthetic Pre-Raphaelitism, remains a seminal figure in the art and literature of the period, but his role in the actual Brotherhood becomes more understandable. Thus, it appears that Hunt and Millais, who were the more advanced students at the time the Brotherhood formed first led the way in Pre-Raphaelite attempts to create a fully integrated symbolic realism. Rossetti, whose interests lay elsewhere continued to employ elaborate scriptural typology for religious commissions, but he soon began to develop his own experimental art that concentrated on extremely personal symbolism and often moved beyond subject painting.

Although External LinkDante Gabriel Rossetti was fully aware of typology's capacity to create a richly symbolic painterly realism in the manner of Van Eyck and Memling, he was chiefly attracted to this symbolic mode because it provided an order and significance to human time. Typology connects two times, the second of which is said to "complete" or "fulfill" the first, and therefore it provides a meaningful structure to human history. Rossetti, who frequently concerns himself in his poetry with the problems of time and loss, tried to solve them by creating secular equivalents to christological typology. Typology, in fact, had several important influences upon the work of this non-believer. First, it furnished his early painting and poetry with imagery; second, typology permitted him, like the other Pre-Raphaelites, to experiment with a form of symbolic realism; third, it allowed him to make poetry and painting into sister arts; and, fourth, it shaped the tone, structure and ideas of his major poetry [See Ch. 4 and 6 for Rossetti's various uses of this symbolic mode]. Sounding strikingly like Hunt and Ruskin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning founds a theory of the arts upon typology. In the eighth book of External Link Aurora Leigh (1856), her heroine thus asserts that one must emphasize both

natural things
And spiritual, — who separates those two
In art, in morals, or the social drift,
Tears up the bond of nature and brings death,
Paints futile pictures, writes unreal verse.

Combining scriptural allusion, Platonism, and standard Augustinian explanations of symbolism, she argues that without the spiritual,

The natural's impossible, — no form,
No motion: without sensuous, spiritual
Is inappreciable, — no beauty or power:
And in this twofold sphere the twofold man
(For still the artist is intensely a man)
Holds firmly by the natural, to reach
The spiritual beyond it, — fixes still
The type with mortal vision, to pierce through,
With eyes immortal, to the antetype

Some call the ideal, better called the real,
And certainly to be called so presently
When things shall have their names. [My emphasis; compare this passage to one from Kingsley's The Saint's Tragedy]

As one might expect from a poet who advances such an artistic program, Mrs. Browning makes use of typological symbolism m her own works, and she is also drawn to its connection of two times, the second of which fulfills the first. Thus, in "The Lost Bower", one of many Victorian paradises lost, the speaker's inability to rediscover an idyllic forest retreat prefigures all the losses that come about with adulthood and immersion in everyday existence. In contrast, "Italy and the World" borrows the notion of prefiguration for an overtly political poem, as, like Swinburne, she presents the Risorgimento in typological and religious terms. [For the application of typology to contemporary politics by Mrs. Browning and Swinburne, see Ch. 5, below.]

The poetry of External Link Gerard Manley Hopkins, which frequently makes use of typological allusion, has intentions strangely similar to those of whh/replete, Ruskin, and Mrs. Browning. The persistent inability of critics to perceive how deeply Hopkins is rooted in his Victorian environment appears nowhere more clearly than in their failure to perceive the genesis of his most characteristic poems in typology. Like Ruskin and Browning — here almost certainly major influences — the poet continually seeks a means of combining a rich, aesthetic surface with a carefully articulated symbolism. Furthermore, as Jerome Bump has demonstrated in "Hopkins' Imagery and Medievalist Poetics," the poet also draws upon both mediaeval and Tractarian conceptions of typology that extend this kind of symbolism to include natural objects, such as the sun and seasons (Victorian Poetry , l2 (1977): 99-119.). It is not so much that Hopkins's The Windhover" and similar poems exemplify Ruskin's aesthetic theories which derive from typology, though of course they do, but rather that his entire conception of inscape and its relation to the structure of a poem seems to develop from a mind accustomed to seeking types and figures of Christ. A poem such as "The Windhover" elaborately presents the sensuous, visible details of a really existing thing — here the hawk — and then makes us realize the elaborate Christian significance of each detail, as (like a type) the image of the bird is "completed" only by reference to Christ. Hopkins prompts the reader to carry out such an interpretive procedure by employing both commonplace types and subtle echoes of them. "Barnfloor and Winepress" and "New Readings", for instance, make explicit reference to biblical types in the same way that do poems by Tennyson, Browning, and Christina Rossetti. "The Windhover" "God's Grandeur", and other later works by Hopkins instead employ characteristically distant echoes of commonplace typological Images. For example, the basic or generating conceit of "The Windhover" is that higher beauty and higher victory come forth only when something — say, a hawk, an ember, or clump of soil — is subjected to great pressure and crushed or bruised. This conceit is in fact an extension of the standard typological interpretation of that passage in Genesis where God tells the serpent: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (3:15). According to the conventional typological reading of this passage, Christ was the seed Who would bruise the serpent's head, and He in turn would be bruised — crucified — in thus conquering evil. As preachers often emphasized, one chief truth contained in this type is that Christ achieves His highest victory by submitting Himself to be bruised or crushed. In this manner, He permits His true power and beauty to shine forth.

A rather different, if equally important influence of biblical typology appears in Tennyson's External Link In Memoriam. Here it is typology's linking of times and events, rather than its equal emphasis upon signifier and signified, that is important. Organizing his poem in terms of plays upon the word "type", the poet closes the elegy with the now calm assurance that Hallam

was a noble type
Appearing ere the times were ripe,
That friend of mine who lives in God,

That God, which ever lives and loves,
One God, one law, one element,
And one far-off divine event,
To which the whole creation moves.

As John D. Rosenberg has commented of these lines in "The Two Kingdoms in 'In Memoriam,'" "Hallam is at once the noble type of evolution's crowning race and forerunner of "the Christ that is to be." . . . With the "one far-off divine event" we confront Tennyson's final effort at uniting evolutionary science and Christian faith. For that event holds out the promise both of the Kingdom of Heaven, when all shall "live in God," and the Kingdom of Earth, when all shall have evolved into gods" (Journal of English and Germanic Philology 58 (1959): 240). Rephrasing Professor Rosenberg's point, we can observe that Tennyson has resolved the crisis of faith precipitated by Hallam's death by assuming that his friend is doubly a type, one which foreshadows both the second appearance of Christ and also that of the higher race of men. In making this characteristically Victorian — that is, characteristically idiosyncratic — use of typology, Tennyson "solves" the problem raised earlier in the poem by his other uses of the word "type" where it means "biological species". The central sections 54 through 5h, which dramatize his groping for consolation, show how the poet's doubts raised increasingly appalling specters. He thus begins section 54 with trust that when God's plan is understood, all will see that not one life is "cast as rubbish to the void", but even as he tries to assert this hopeful view, his doubts wear away his confidence. Retreating, he tries in the next section to find consolation in the fact that while nature may be careless of the individual life, she is none the less "careful of the type". In response to this last desperate hope that nature preserves the species if not the individual, section 56 immediately replies:

"So careful of the type?" but no.
From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries, "A thousand types are gone: I care for nothing, all shall go."

Thus, his friend's death, which first made the poet experience the emotional reality of loss, soon forced him to realize the possibility that not only man-the-individual but also man-the-species could die out. But, as the final lines of the poem make clear, Tennyson can accept this once terrifying possibility — that man the "type" may disappear from the earth — precisely because he believes that Hallam, the original cause of this investigation, is a dual type. In other words, Tennyson can accept the possibility that man will become extinct because he believes that such extinction would occur only when God was ready to replace man with a higher, more spiritual descendant. At the close of the poem, then, theological type replaces biological type, or rather encompasses it, because faith reveals that God's eternal plan includes purposeful biological development.

External Link Robert Browning, one may point out, makes a surprisingly similar use of typology in The Ring and the Book, where Pompilia is also seen as a type both of Christ and the highest in human nature. Wondering at the ignorant girl's magnificence of spirit, the Pope observes how she could

rise from law to law,
The old to the new, promoted at one cry
O' the trump of God to the new service, not
To longer bear, but henceforth fight, be found
Sublime in new impatience with the foe!
Endure man and obey God: plant firm foot
On neck of man, tread man into the hell
Meet for him, and obey God all the more! (1050-7)

In the Pope's description of Pompilia's nature, Browning alludes to Genesis 3:15, and the poet thus shows that his heroine both rose to a higher form of the human, acting fully as a Christian, and served as a type of Christ Who will finally tread Satan into Hell.

The chief difference in terms of typological imagery between Tennyson's presentation of Hallam and Browning's presentation of Pompilia is that the author of The Ring and the Book does not so confidently assume his heroine is necessarily a type of a coming higher humanity. This use of typology to describe a higher form of the human race does, however, appear earlier in Browning's poetry. Paracelsus, for example, proclaims:

All tended to mankind,
And, man produced, all has its end thus far:
But in completed man begins anew
A tendency to God. Prognostics told
Man's near approach; so in man's self arise
August anticipations, symbols, types
Of a dim splendor ever on before
In that eternal circle life pursues. (5, 77(}7)

Both Browning and Tennyson, in other words, find typological symbolism capable of describing — and sacralizing — their conceptions of human evolution.

Typology thus provided these poets with a means of talking about the future of man in a particularly reassuring manner. Tennyson and Browning, however, did not make any very original synthesis of biblical exegetics and evolutionary biology when they advanced their similar conceptions of developing species, for such had already been suggested by typologists. Students of Victorian culture have been so accustomed to considering Evangelicalism and evolutionary theory as inevitably conflicting with each other that it may come as a shock to discover Patrick Fairbairn, the great Victorian expert on scriptural typology, claiming that the Book of the Earth, like the Bible, was arranged by God according to the principles of progressive revelation:

It has been found by a wide and satisfactory induction, that the human is here the pattern-form — the archetype of the vertebrate division of animated being. In the structure of all other animal forms there are observable striking resemblances to that of man and resemblances of a kind that seemed designed to assimilate the lower, as near circumstances would admit, to the higher .... For, as geology has now learned to read with sufficient accuracy the stony records of the past, to be able to tell of successive creations of vertebrate animals, from fish, the first and lowest, up to man, the last and highest; so here we also have a kind of typical history — the less perfect animal productions of nature having throughout those earlier geological periods borne a prospective reference to man, as the complete and ultimate form of animal existence. In the language of theology, they were the types, and he is the antitype, in the mundane system.... In this view of the matter, what a striking analogy does the history of God's operations in nature furnish to His plan in providence, as exhibited in the history of redemption! Here, in like manner, there is found in the person and kingdom of Christ a grand archetypal idea, towards which, for successive ages, the divine plan was continually working. " [Follow for a similar passage from J. H. Newman]

External Link Broad Churchmen and other liberal thinkers habitually thought in terms of various kinds of spiritualized human development, but, as the Evangelical Fairbairn makes clear, even more conservative believers long saw no conflict between biology and the Bible. Since typology is essentially a system of progressive revelation, any attempt to apply it to the natural world inevitably leads to some sort of theory of evolution. Typologically based theories of biological evolution, which are intrinsically teleological, of course have no room for Darwin's principle of natural selection. But however unpalatable later evolutionary theory became to many Victorian believers — particularly after the appearance of The Descent of Man in 71 — conceptions of biological development were originally supported by basic Victorian attitudes towards the scriptures. Typology, which thus provided a means of formulating a history of man the species, also offered Victorian autobiographers a means of presenting the histories of individual people. One of the most basic ways of ordering the experiences of that problematic, elusive entity the autobiographer seeks is to choose a metaphor of the self and then expand it into a narrative (or what Avrom Fleishman terms "a personal myth"). Typology, as Linda H. Peterson has shown, provided Victorian autobiographers with an important source of such personal myths. Furthermore, as one might expect, it also influenced fiction that purports to be the self-history of the narrator. Such autobiographical application of typological symbolism thus appears in straightforward autobiography (Ruskin's Praeterita), autobiographical fiction (Carlyle's Sartor Resartus), and novels taking the form of fictionalized autobiographies (Brontë's External LinkJane Eyre and External LinkKingsley's Alton Locke).

In order to explain how biblical typology had such pervasive influence upon Victorian culture, Chapter One will first look at the ways in which the average believer learned to read his Bible in terms of types and shadows of Christ, after which it will examine in detail received Victorian opinion about typology's nature, use, and implications. Chapter Two focuses upon the literary uses of a single type, that of the smitten rock, in order to set forth the various ways Victorian poetry and hymnody used such imagery. Chapter Three extends the investigation of the literary effects of typological symbolism by observing its use in narrative poetry, prose fiction, dramatic monologue, and non-fiction; and Chapter Four examines typology's appearance in the visual arts of the period and attempts to explain some of its different uses in painting, stained glass, sculpture, mosaic, and ecclesiastical metalwork. Chapter Five, which surveys applications of types to politics at home and abroad, shows its orthodox, extended, and secularized forms. Chapter Six uses the example of Rossetti and Hopkins to demonstrate the way in which two major Victorian poets employed structures based upon typology in their work, while the concluding chapter, which examines the Pisgah Sight, investigates a particularly complex combination of typological image and structure. Here again the attempt is to reveal the influence upon Victorian culture of a wide range of uses of a single passage from the Bible.

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Print version published 1980; web version 1998