Appeared in Winter 1993, Vol. XIX, No. 4
In the fly-leaf of Newman’s personal copy of nine discourses delivered to the Catholics of Dublin (which was later incorporated into The idea of a University), there is a note in Newman’s handwriting, which reads:
The author has to apologize for the unsystematic character of this composition – but it is the necessary consequence or characteristic of the first approaches to a new subject. One is too diffident to define – too distrustful of the argument to profess to prove.1
Newman did not always hold to this view, for he once disagreed with a reviewer who described The Idea of a University as unsystematic.2
Yet in his celebrated portrait of the intellectual gentleman at the end of the eighth Discourse (“Knowledge Viewed in Relation to Religion”), Newman shows himself “too diffident to define.” I shall argue that in this portrait Newman follows his own advice to the university preacher addressing himself to “some special danger” or “probable deficiency” or “need” of his hearers: that is, Newman addresses his reader “covertly,” not “showing on the surface of his discourse what he is aiming at.”3
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