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History in Focus

the guide to historical resources • Issue 14: Welfare •


Book cover: Tractarians and the 'Condition of England': The Social and Political Thought of the Oxford Movement

Author's response


Tractarians and the 'Condition of England': The Social and Political Thought of the Oxford Movement

S. A. Skinner
Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2004
ISBN-13: 978-0-19-927323-2; x + 330 pages, price £68.00

Frank Turner

Yale University

I would like to thank Frank Turner for such a full, careful and generous appraisal of my book, Tractarians and the 'Condition of England'. His reflections on the character of much Tractarian scholarship are cautionary; he is right to upbraid historians for their neglect of sources (such as the British Critic, and the corpus of Tractarian fiction) which are widely available, and for their preoccupation with the movement's troika at the expense of illuminating secondary figures such as Thomas Mozley. I will pause to add that, as many readers will be aware, in crediting my work on Tractarianism (and that of Colin Barr) with stepping into a 'vacuum of serious historical analysis', Professor Turner was being too self-effacing. His own work, John Henry Newman: The Challenge to Evangelical Religion, of 2002 was a tour de force acclaimed by all except those more animated by its subject's prospects for canonisation than by reputable historical inquiry.

It follows that I am also grateful to Reviews in History for having the discernment to send my own book to someone so well-equipped to recognise its (dual) argumentative pitch. For if its immediate object was to nuance our understanding of the Tractarian movement by reinstating a commentary which keepers of the theological flame had discarded, its wider ambition was to nourish a literature which has sought to integrate the often discretely rendered politics and religion of 19th-century Britain. This has entailed an equal re-examination of its political narratives (secular, party-centred and teleological), and of its conventional religious histories (denominational and partisan). Conferences in which anglo-catholic students of anglo-catholicism purr over Tractarianism's spiritual and ecclesiological legacy will go on being held, but one dares to hope that hagiography is yielding to a historiography that considers such phenomena as Tractarianism laterally - that is, in terms of their cultural milieu - rather than in terms of their notional 'relevance' today. 'The study of the past with one eye, so to speak, upon the present is the source of all sins and sophistries in history': Herbert Butterfield, 1931.

February 2008

Original review

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