Skip to main content

Male Diagnosis of the Female Pen in Late Victorian Britain: Private Assessments of Supernatural Religion

  • Alan H. Cadwallader (a1)

Anonymity is a feature of the explosion of publications in nineteenthcentury England. Its motivations were variegated just as efforts to expose an anonymous author were also driven by a variety of agendas. One of the longest retentions of anonymity attached to a work that profoundly disturbed Victorian religiosity was the threevolume book titled Supernatural Religion. The Dublin Divinity Professor, George Salmon's private correspondence with Bishop J.B. Lightfoot near the end of Lightfoot's life posited the author as a woman, Mrs Humphry Ward. An analysis of Salmon's letters is set into the context of the private and public writings of key protagonists in the debates, and reveals deep-seated attitudes about gender, learning, writing, national identity, morality and anonymity in some elite intellectual circles of the society and church of the time.

Hide All

1. Hoppen, K.T., The Mid-Victorian Generation 1846–1886 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), pp. 375–90.

2. Griffin, R.J., ‘Introduction’ in Griffin, R.J. (ed.), The Faces of Anonymity: Anonymous and Pseudonymous Publication from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), p. 1.

3. See the extensive lists in Atkinson, F. (ed.), Dictionary of Literary Pseudonyms: A Selection of Popular Modern Writers in English (London: Library Association, 4th edn, 1977), Carty, T.J., A Dictionary of Literary Pseudonyms in the English Language (London: Mansell, 2nd edn, 1999), Cushing, W., Initials and Pseudonyms: A Dictionary of Literary Disguises (Waltham, MA: Mark Press, 1963).

4. Griffin, , ‘Introduction’, p. 7.

5. A Reply to Dr Lightfoot's Essays by the Author of ‘Supernatural Religion’ (London: Longmans, 1889), p. vi.

6. See Westcott, to Macmillan, , 25 03 1858 (British Library [BL] Add. Ms 55092 f.48); for the welcome, more generally, Shattock, J., Politics and Reviewers: The Edinburgh and the Quarterly: In the Early Victorian Age (London: Leicester University Press, 1989), p. 16. Other magazines, such as the Fortnightly Review followed soon after: Griffin, , ‘Introduction’, p. 7.

7. On Ecce Homo, see Rothblatt, S., The Revolution of the Dons: Cambridge and Society in Victorian England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), Pals, D., The Victorian Lives of Jesus (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1982) and Wormell, D., Sir John Seeley and the Uses of History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980).

8. The silencing impact of the times was certainly felt by Benjamin Jowett: letter to Florence Nightingale, 31 August 1865: Ellis, I., Seven Against Christ: A Study of ‘Essays and Reviews’ (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1980), pp. 236–37.

9. Vaughan, Catherine to Stanley, Louisa, 26 02 [1866?] (Cheshire Record Office [CRO] DSA 135). Henry Sidgwick wrote to his sister, Mary, saying that ‘everyone’ was talking about it (and more favourably than Catherine Vaughan!): Cambridge University Library [CUL] Add. Ms c.99 f.61 (26 January 1866).

10. Vaughan, Catherine to Stanley, Louisa, 31 01 [1866?] CRO, DSA 135. There were further candidates: see Macmillan, G.A. (ed.), Letters of Alexander Macmillan (Glasgow: Glasgow University Press, 1908), pp. 198209.

11. On Essays and Reviews see generally Ellis, , Seven Against Christ, and Altholz, J.L., Anatomy of a Controversy: The Debate Over ‘Essays and Reviews’ (Aldershot: Scholars Press, 1994).

12. Continental scepticism and Romish influences were often paired as the Scylla and Charybdis threatening the English voyage: compare the Edinburgh Review 96 (1852), p. 274: ‘…Romanising Tractarianism or German neology’. It continued through into Matthew Arnold's refined treatment in his God and the Bible (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1875), pp. xxxxxxv, xxxixxl.

13. Lightfoot, J.B. to Westcott, B.F., 5 10 1861 (Auckland Castle Episcopal Records, Durham University Library, Palace Green [ACER] 3.4.12); Stanley, Arthur to Westcott, , 20 01 1861 (CUL, Ms Add. 8317 f.198); Westcott, to Macmillan, A., 14 10 1861 (BL, Add. Ms 55092 f.88).

14. See my ‘Burn this Letter’ forthcoming.

15. There appears to have been some tension in the family generated by conflicting attitudes to Essays and Reviews: see Vaughan, Catherine to Stanley, Louisa, 2 03 1863 (CRO, DSA 135).

16. Catherine Vaughan herself engaged in piecemeal pseudonymity, gleefully telling her cousin, Louisa (letter dated 8 July 1865) that the correspondence in newspapers from ‘Dogmanity’ was hers (CRO, DSA 135).

17. A dinner party, organized by Alexander Macmillan, seems to have been the formal occasion. The invitees certainly included Henry Sidgwick and may also have included J.B. Lightfoot (Trinity College Cambridge [TCC] Add. Ms c.99 f.163, Add. Ms c.95 f.64). Seeley had made sufficient capital out of the book to use it as collateral on a monetary advance to finance the requirements of his society wedding in 1869 (BL, Add. Ms 55074 f.1 Indenture dated 16 August 1869). This confirms Deborah Wormell's suggestion that there was a breach with financial implications between Seeley and his father: Sir John Seeley and the Uses of History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), p. 15; she doesn't draw this connection, though knowing of the legal document (p. 46).

18. Muir, William to Lightfoot, J.B., 18 01 1875 (Durham Dean and Chapter Library [DDC] Lightfoot Letters).

19. Supernatural Religion, 1st and 2nd editions, Vol. 2, p. 329.

20. The Author of Supernatural Religion to Westcott, , 12 11 1874 (CUL, Ms Add. 8316.184). The date is significant. Westcott's Preface had not yet been published, even separately–an additional note apologizing for the preface's delay is dated 25 November 1874. It probably already existed in proof, though whether Westcott had sent the author a copy is unknown. Lightfoot's articles in the Contemporary Review began to appear in December 1874. However, Westcott's Preface of 1 September already ‘rejoiced’ in the change to the offensive accusation in Vol. 2, p. 329f of Supernatural Religion. Either the change was deemed to have been insufficient or some further formal retraction had been required. There is nothing in the Macmillan—Longman correspondence that deals with the issue however (BL, Ms 54887).

21. Westcott, to Macmillan, , 16 06 1874 (BL, Ms 55092 f.283).

22. The Author of Supernatural Religion to Westcott, , 19 05 1874, 19 August 1879 (CUL, Ms Add. 8316 ff.184, 185). The latter letter acknowledged receipt of a new edition of Westcott's The Gospel of the Resurrection in which was included as an Appendix a reprint of an essay in the Contemporary Review (November 1877) criticizing, in the course of argument, Supernatural Religion.

23. Preface to the Fourth Edition of The History of the Canon (London: Macmillan, 1874). The Preface was printed separately as well as with the major volume. Note also the humble tone of the preface to the fourth edition (1879) of his The Gospel of the Resurrection (London: Macmillan, 1906 [1866]), pp. vvi.

24. Simcox, W.H., ‘Canon Westcott’, The Expositor III.5 (1887), pp. 2238 (27).

25. Lightfoot announced his intentions to Westcott in a letter dated 25 September 1874, that is, over three weeks after Westcott signed off his own 30-page response. Lightfoot, in this letter, seems motivated more by having received a copy of Supernatural Religion from the author and recognizing its influence among the wider public. The public avowal of friendship as motivation for the response came later: Lightfoot, J.B., Essays on the Work entitled Supernatural Religion (London: Macmillan, 1889, 2nd edn, 1893), preface, p. viii. On the relationship between Westcott and Lightfoot, see my ‘“Just Among Friends”: Establishing Networks of Influence in the Church: A Comparison of Charles John Vaughan and Brooke Foss Westcott’, forthcoming.

26. Treloar, G., Lightfoot the Historian: The Nature and Role of History in the Life and Thought of J.B. Lightfoot (1828–1889) as Churchman and Scholar (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998), p. 341. It seems that Hort was at work as well, even if he did not launch into publication: Westcott to his wife, Mary, 15 October [1874] (Westcott House Archives [WHA] 7.86.5).

27. Westcott, , Preface, pp. xxvii, xxxi. This preface was replayed in almost identical terms in an address to the Church Congress at Brighton in October 1874. It was published in the Report of the Church Congress (pp. 334–46) and thence into wider publication in 1882: ‘Critical Scepticism’, The Expositor 1 (1882), pp. 211–37. Significantly there is no mention at all of Supernatural Religion; Westcott simply replaced it with the phrase ‘critical scepticism/sceptics’ thereby giving the book no recognition, avoiding any appearance of controversy and endeavouring to concentrate on the ideas. The phrase was probably invited by the frequent use of ‘apologetic writers’ and related sobriquets in Supernatural Religion.

28. See my ‘The Politics of Translation of the Revised Version: Evidence from the Newly Discovered Notebooks of Brooke Foss Westcott’, forthcoming, Journal of Theological Studies (NS) 58 (2007).

29. Compare for example, the letters to Westcott already noted and that to Lightfoot dated 17 November 1874 (DDC, Lightfoot Letters).

30. Jerold Savory claims that the Manchester City News removed the mask in 1895. See his ‘Matthew Arnold and “The Author of Supernatural Religion”: The Background to God and the Bible’, Studies in English Literature 16.4 (Autumn 1976), pp. 677–92 (681).

31. Cassels seems to have welcomed, almost invited the criticism. He sent Lightfoot the latest edition of the work because he ‘heard you intended to refute some parts and wanted to afford you every facility’ (Author of Supernatural Religion to Lightfoot, , 12 10 1874 (DDC, Lightfoot Letters). The various criticisms of Cassels' work did not convince everyone, and it remained a key reference for rationalist discourse on religion: see Treloar, , Lightfoot, pp. 352–56.

32. The significant refutations, in addition to those of Lightfoot and Salmon, were Arnold, God and the Bible, Habershon, M.H., Wave of Scepticism and the Rock of Truth: A Reply to ‘Supernatural Religion: An Inquiry into the Reality of Divine Revelation’ (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1875), Row, C.A., The Supernatural in the New Testament, Possible, Credible and Historical or an Examination of the Validity of Some Recent Objections against Christianity as a Divine Revelation (London: Norgate, 1875) and his Christian Evidences Viewed in Relation to Modern Thought (London: Norgate, 1877), Sadler, M.F., The Lost Gospel and its Contents; Or, The Author of ‘Supernatural Religion’ Refuted by Himself (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1876), Sanday, W., The Gospels in the Second Century. An Examination of the Critical Part of a Work Entitled ‘Supernatural Religion’ (London: Macmillan, 1876).

33. For a general indication of the impact of Supernatural Religion see Savory, , ‘Arnold’, pp. 678, 681–85, Treloar, , Lightfoot, pp. 340–42, 353–56.

34. My gratitude to the librarians is immense. Their welcome, assistance and interest were a great encouragement. Thanks are also due to the Master, Fellows and staff of University College, Durham who made my stay as Leonard Slater Fellow both pleasant and most congenial to the work of research and writing.

35. Salmon, G., A Historical Introduction to the Study of the Books of the New Testament (London: John Murray, 4th edn, 1889), p. 9n.

36. For example, Salmon, G., ‘Galatians, Epistle to the’ in Smith, W. and Fuller, J.M. (eds.) A Dictionary of the Bible (London: John Murray, 2nd edn, 1893).

37. Lightfoot, , Essays on Supernatural Religion, p. ix.

38. Lightfoot, J.B., ‘The Muratorian Fragment’, The Academy 907 (21 09 1889), pp. 186–88. Lightfoot had continued his work on the restoration of the Greek original to the careless Latin translation. I am grateful to the anonymous reviewer of this paper for identifying the allusion. The Muratorian Fragment provides one of the earliest pieces of evidence of the development of a New Testament canon list. Its use in the Supernatural Religion refutation is clear from the attention given to it by both Lightfoot, , Essays on Supernatural Religion, pp. 188–90, 205207 (dating it to 170 CE) and Arnold, , God and the Bible, pp. 207–13 (dating it to 175 CE).

39. Lightfoot, J.B., ‘Supernatural Religion’, Contemporary Review 25 (1874), pp. 122; The Author of Supernatural Religion, ‘A Reply to Professor Lightfoot's Article on Supernatural Religion’, Fortnightly Review 23 (01 1875), pp. 126.

40. Westcott, to Hort, F.J.A, 9 01 1889 (Westcott, A., Life and Letters of Brooke Foss Westcott [London: Macmillan, 1903], II, pp. 6061).

41. Acton, Lord to Gladstone, W.R., 1895 (Figgis, J.A. and Laurence, R.V. (eds.), Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton (London: Longmans Green, 1917), I, p. 172.

42. F.D. Maurice had written privately that the anonymous author of Ecce Homo was ‘thoroughly in earnest, an accomplished scholar … of much courage, without being ever irreverent or inclined to hurt the feelings of ordinary Christians’, all crucial ingredients to stall any disapprobation of anonymity: letter to Miss Williams Wynn, 20 December 1865 (Maurice, F., The Life of F.D. Maurice, Chiefly Told in His Own Letters [London: Macmillan, 4th edn, 1885], II, pp. 511–12).

43. Salmon, , Historical Introduction, p. 9n.

44. There is no record of such an item in the manuscripts of the library of Trinity College, Dublin, nor in other deposits of George Salmon's correspondence. Even though terminally ill, Lightfoot continued to write letters at least till the end of October (see, for example, Londonderry, Lord to Lightfoot, , 24 10 1889 acknowledging the Bishop's note: DDC, Lightfoot Letters), so a reply might be presumed which may have taken up Salmon's identification. Lightfoot, like Westcott, had apparently heard of at least one other name mentioned as the author, that of Bishop Thirlwall, and was careful to negate that possibility from the beginning: Essays on Supernatural Religion, p. 1.

45. She published a pamphlet, Unbelief and Sin: A Protest, in swift reaction to one of John Wordsworth's Bampton Lectures in 1881.

46. See Peterson, W.S., Victorian Heretic: Mrs Humphry Ward's Robert Elsmere (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1976).

47. The Athenaeum quoted from Cruse, Amy, After the Victorians (London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1938), p. 31.

48. ‘In England, at all events, every man will accent his Greek properly who wishes to stand well with the world.’ So wrote Chandler, H.W., A Practical Introduction to Greek Accentuation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1881), p. xxiii.

49. Jenkyns, R., The Victorians and Ancient Greece (Oxford: Blackwell, 1980), p. x; see also Turner, F.M., The Greek Heritage in Victorian Britain (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981). The argument received an embryonic treatment in Livingstone, R.W., Greek Ideals and Modern Life (London: Oxford Univesity Press, 1935).

50. Westcott, B.F., Essays in the History of Religious Thought in the West (London: Macmillan, 1891).

51. The Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (ed. Nettleship, H. and Sandys, E.; London: Sohnenschein, 1899) caught the conflict in typical Victorian terms, speaking in the Sappho entry of a ‘woman of pure and strict life yet later scandal unwarrantably put an immoral interpretation on [her] society’ (p. 557).

52. See, among many references, Plutarch Letter to Apollonius, Moral Essays, 113D.

53. Ethnocentricity is one of the key elements of Matthew Arnold's critique of Supernatural Religion. Its author is constantly aligned with ‘the vigour and rigour’ of German mechanical speculations and occasionally with the ‘revolutionary deism’ of French critics: see God and the Bible, pp. xiiixv, 12, 112, 211, 239242, 283. A similar, nationalistic position was also curried by Westcott and Lightfoot: see below.

54. A Miss March Phillipps writes to Fenton J.A. Hort of ‘the amount and noxiousness of adverse male opinion’ as she sends a paper ‘On the Education of Women’ to Westcott via Hort: Hort to Phillipps, 28 October 1871 (Hort, A., Life and Letters of Fenton John Arthur Hort [London: Macmillan, 1896], II, p. 149).

55. Lightfoot, to Westcott, , n.d. [1867?] (ACER, 3.5.15).

56. Lightfoot, to Purbrick, , 11 08 1847 (DDC, Lightfoot Letters).

57. de la Barca, Madame Calderon, Life in Mexico during a Residence of Two Years in that Country (London: [sn] 1843).

58. Scott, E.A. to Lightfoot, , 11 11 1852 (DDC, Lightfoot Letters).

59. Westcott, to Macmillan, , 23 12 1867 (BL, Add. Ms 55092 f.205).

60. Westcott, , Gospel of the Resurrection, p. 254, quoting Supernatural Religion, p. 519.

61. Foulkes, R., Church and Stage in Victorian England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 155.

62. Gourlay, A.B., A History of the Sherborne School (Winchester: Warren & Son, 1951), p. 175 n. 2.

63. Westcott, to Lightfoot, , 18 11 1867 (DDC, Lightfoot Letters).

64. See Life and Letters, II, pp. 7190. Westcott would occasionally write prefaces for books written by women, such as Welby, 's A Book of Comfort Being Selections from the Psalms, Prayer Book Version (London: Duckworth, 1900), and MrsMorgan, G.S., Homely Talks with Young Men on the Young Men of the Bible (London: Hatchards, 1885). The function of men penning prefaces for women authors in the nineteenth century needs exploration beyond what is possible here.

65. Westcott, to Beale, Dorothea, 28 09 1896 (Cheltenham Ladies College [CLC] 23).

66. Life and Letters, I, p. 413. Arthur Westcott revealingly combines two of Westcott's oppositions to proposed university reforms – the granting of degrees to women and the abolition of compulsory Greek. The one is a corollary of the other.

67. Westcott to Beale, Lady Day 1893, 18 January 1893, 4 October 1893 (CLC, 17, 18, 20); Lightfoot, J.B., ‘Woman and the Gospel’ (preached 19 June 1884) in Sermons (The Contemporary Pulpit Library; London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 2nd edn, 1892), pp. 116–28. Susan R. Holman achieves a slight exoneration of Lightfoot's sermon in a comparison of the two known published versions (both edited and subject to the hands of others) along with other of his writings; nevertheless, Lightfoot remains at the conservative end of the spectrum of Victorian attitudes: see ‘Lightfoot's “Woman”: Scribal Transmission and the Victorian Reporter’, Anglican Theological Review 84.2 (2002), pp. 251–68.

68. Lightfoot, J., Saint Paul's Epistle to the Philippians (London: Macmillan, 1898 [1868]), p. 57. Lightfoot goes on to argue that the church grew from such paterfamilial houses, giving as examples Philemon, Nymphas and Aquila-and-Priscilla. This requires, however, that the second name be taken as a masculine. This is precisely what Lightfoot argued in his Colossians commentary: St Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon (London: Macmillan, 1912 [1875]), pp. 240–41. He had similarly transgendered Junia in Rom. 16.7 into Junias and promoted the reading among his young clergy: Ordination Addresses and Counsels to Clergy (London: Macmillan, 1891), p. 201. It provides an interesting example of how prior theological/ideological commitment (the father as head of the house in Victorian England) directs not only the portrayal of the history of the early church but also the (somewhat contortionist) interpretation of grammar and lexicography. It may also explain why Lightfoot's last example is given in the order of Aquila and Priscilla, against the predominance of New Testament instances of the naming of the couple.

69. Gadesden, F., ‘Secondary Education of Girls and the Development of Girls' High Schools’ in Roberts, R.D. (ed.), Education in the Nineteenth Century: Lectures Delivered in the Education Section of the Cambridge University Extension Summer Meeting in August 1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1901), pp. 82105 (87). The attitude holding to women's biologically determined weakness to deal with the rigours of higher learning (such as mathematics) appears to have been widespread: (Archbishop) E.W. Benson's Diary, 12 August 1890 (Cornwall Record Office [CornRO] TCM 147).

70. Westcott, to Sidgwick, Henry, 19 12 1895 (TCC, Add. Ms c.95.193); Westcott to G.K. Browne, Epiphany 1896 in Browne, G.F., The Recollections of a Bishop (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 2nd edn, 1915), p. 219.

71. Ellis, , Seven Against Christ, p. 27.

72. Arnold, , God and the Bible, p. 224 cf. pp. 42, 171. Savory identifies Arnold's target as Lightfoot (p. 684) though here Lightfoot is not named. Arnold mentions Lightfoot but once in his own critique of Supernatural Religion (God and the Bible, p. 280); Lightfoot returns the spare compliment (Essays on Supernatural Religion, p. 190 n. 1 cf. p. 24). Here may lie the rivalry between Cambridge and Oxford, that is, between grammatical exactitude and poetic evocation. Arnold's connection of the author of Supernatural Religion with some of the detractors with respect to methodis illustrative of the range of uses to which the touchstone of Supernatural Religion was tied.

73. Westcott, to Westcott, Mary (his wife) 1 04 [1855] (WHA, 7.85.21); Life and Letters, I, p. 112 (Letter to Wickenden, 1849).

74. Lightfoot, to Westcott, , 15 08 1861 (ACER, 3.4.11). See generally, Turner, J.M., Conflict and Reconciliation: Studies in Methodism and Ecumenism in England 1740–1982 (London: Epworth, 1985), pp. 169–70.

75. Westcott, to Macmillan, , 17 03 1865, 18 March 1865 (BL, Add. Ms 55092 ff. 143, 144).

76. Lightfoot, to Westcott, , 3 11 [1865] (ACER, 3.3.2).

77. Elliott-Binns, L.E., English Thought 1860–1900: The Theological Aspect (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1956), p. 26 n. 2. Earlier, E.B. Pusey was reputed to have claimed that in 1823 he could find only two men in Oxford who knew German: Prickett, S., Romanticism and Religion: The Tradition of Coleridge and Wordsworth in the Victorian Church (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), p. 185.

78. J.E.B. Mayor congratulated Lightfoot (28 May 1875) on the publication of his commentary on the New Testament letter to the Colossians: ‘It ought to teach the Germans some respect for English scholarship’ (DDC, Lightfoot Letters). William Sanday later dared to ponder whether the attitude to German scholarship was ‘rather too much on the defensive’: ‘Bishop Lightfoot as an Historian’, The English Historical Review 5.18 (04 1890), pp. 209–20 (212).

79. Preface to the Fourth Edition of the History of the Canon, pp. xxxviiixxxix; similarly, Lightfoot, , Essays on Supernatural Religion, pp. 2425, 141.

80. Eliot, G. (trans.), The Life of Jesus Critically Examined (3 vols; London: 1846).

81. Lightfoot, to Westcott, , 7 06 1875 (ACER, 3.10.3).

82. Among many, see Aristophanes, Lysistrata 368–369, Sophocles, Elektra 622, Juvenal 9.324, Ps-Martial, Epigrams 20, Alexis fr. 302, Eubolos fr. 117.8–15.

83. Lightfoot, , Essays on Supernatural Religion, p. 1. He was not alone; see the Athenaeum No. 2436 (4/7/1874), p. 15.

84. Purbrick, to Lightfoot, , 28 10 1847 (DDC, Lightfoot Letters).

85. See MacDonald, D.R., ‘Intertextuality in Simon's “Redemption” of Helen the Whore: Homer, Heresiologists and the Acts of Andrew’, Society of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers (1990), pp. 336–43; Hoffman, D.L., The Status of Women and Gnosticism in Irenaeus and Tertullian (Studies in Women and Religion, 36; Lewiston: Edwin Mellen, 1995).

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Anglican Studies
  • ISSN: 1740-3553
  • EISSN: 1745-5278
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-anglican-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 18 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 90 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 22nd March 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.