Essays And Reviews

Essays and Reviews is a collection of seven articles that appeared in 1860, sparking a Victorian culture war that lasted for at least a decade. With pieces written by such prominent Oxford and Cambridge intellectuals as Benjamin Jowett, Mark Pattison, Baden Powell, and Frederick Temple (later archbishop of Canterbury), the volume engaged the relations between religious faith and current topics of the day in education, the classics, theology, science, history, literature, biblical studies, hermeneutics, philology, politics, and philosophy. Upon publication, the church, the university, the press, the government, and the courts, both ecclesiastical and secular, joined in an intense dispute. The book signaled an intellectual and religious crisis, raised influential issues of free speech, and questioned the authority and control of the Anglican Church in Victorian society. The collection became a best-seller and led to three sensational heresy trials.

Although many historians and literary critics have identified Essays and Reviews as a pivotal text of high Victorianism, until now it has been almost inaccessible to modern readers. This first critical edition, edited by Victor Shea and William Whitla, provides extensive annotation to map the various positions on the controversies that the book provoked. The editors place the volume in its complex social context and supply commentary, background materials, composition and publishing history, textual notes, and a broad range of new supporting documents, including material from the trials, manifestos, satires, and contemporary illustrations.

Not only does such an annotated critical edition of Essays and Reviews indicate the impact that the volume had on Victorian society; it also sheds light on our own contemporary cultural institutions and controversies.


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Essays and Reviews, published in 1860, is a collection of seven essays on religion, covering such topics as the Biblical researches of the German critics, the evidences of Christianity, religious thought in England, and the cosmology of Genesis. Today they seem innocuous enough; we are surprised to learn that the book was considered shocking and that the essayists were called "The Seven Against Christ." The book was important solely because of its date and its authors, seven liberal Anglican churchmen. Appearing and one year after Darwin's Origin of Species, it summed up a three-quarter-century-long challenge to Biblical history by the Higher Critics and to Biblical prehistory by scientists working in the new fields of geology and biology.

The heart of the book is Benjamin Jowett's piece "On the Interpretation of Scripture." Jowett, later master of Balliol College, Oxford, argued that the Bible ought to be read like any other book--in other words, our aim ought to be to recover the authors' original meaning within their own context and not to expect that Genesis will accord with Newtonian astronomy. His suggestion that New Testament writers had changed the meaning of passages from the Psalms that appear in the Epistles radically implied that divine inspiration had nothing to do with their creative process. He added that Christians ought no longer to ignore the work of the nineteenth-century critics, but to welcome it. The "higher" critics, mostly Germans, had sought to confirm the events narrated in the Bible from independent sources--which implies, obviously, that the Bible's accuracy can be doubted. All this had been said before, by those outside the Church; but these essayists were making the same arguments from inside the Church.

Related Materials

  • A Review of the Shea and Whitla edition of Essays and Reviews (2000)


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Last modified 1988; "Related Materials" added 8 July 2004

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