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Memoir of Francis Hodgson
Herman Merivale to John Herman Merivale, 7 May 1820

Vol. 1 Contents
Chapter I.
Chapter II. 1794-1807.
Chapter III. 1807-1808.
Chapter IV. 1808.
Chapter V. 1808-1809.
Chapter VI. 1810.
Chapter VII. 1811.
Chapter VIII. 1811.
Chapter IX. 1811.
Chapter X. 1811-12.
Chapter XI. 1812.
Chapter XII. 1812-13.
Chapter XIII. 1813-14.
Vol. 2 Contents
Chapter XIV. 1815-16.
Chapter XV. 1816-18.
Chapter XVI. 1815-22.
Chapter XVII. 1820.
Chapter XVIII. 1824-27.
Chapter XIX. 1827-1830
Chapter XX. 1830-36.
Chapter XXI. 1837-40.
Chapter XXII. 1840-47.
Chapter XXIII. 1840-52.
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Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH
May 7, 1820.

I have not lost anything by staying out, for there were three holidays last week, and almost every exercise otherwise excused, and I have made amends by reading hard all the time I have stayed out. I have just finished the fourth volume of Gibbon, and

1 Herman Merivale, C.B., afterwards fellow of Balliol, 1827; Professor of Political Economy at Oxford, 1837; Permanent Undersecretary for the Colonies, 1848, for India, 1859. Brother to the present Dean of Ely.

drawn up my remarks on it on paper, which I shall show you when I see you next. I never was more amused by any book in my life; and I must think that whatever is said of the duty of impartiality in an historian, a controversial spirit, such as appears in his chapters, is much more entertaining; for it exercises the mind in endeavouring to find replies to his assertions, and keeps one’s attention alive, in a manner which a dry recital of facts cannot do. I have been able perfectly to satisfy myself in looking for answers to the charges he brings against Christianity, for, as I get further in the book, his intention continually appears more plain, although I could not perceive it at first. His notes are entertaining, and, as
Uncle Harry 1 possesses the greater part of his books of reference, I can easily satisfy myself on that head. The thing that struck me as most unjust is, that he passes over the apostasy of his favourite Julian without offering a single word either in its support or its condemnation. Yet in other instances he is sufficiently severe against any disposition to turn with the tide of fortune. If I always find as much pleasure as now in the relation of historical facts, I do not

1 Harry Drury’s sister married Merivale. Their son was in his uncle’s house at Harrow.

think I shall ever be disposed to turn to fiction for amusement.

By far the most interesting fact to me, of the history, is that of the Arian controversy. For the review of the different sects and heresies written by a sceptic is necessarily impartial, although he employs the bitterness of his satire against all together. Before I read this I used to think that the Arian system had some affinity to the Unitarian of the present day; and indeed I do not trust thoroughly in Gibbon in his description of it. He speaks of it as the belief that the Son was a part of the Triune Deity, but that the Son and the Holy Ghost were reckoned as subservient to the Father. As I do not thoroughly trust in this explanation of what I never thoroughly understood, the creed of the Arian sect, I think I shall look into Mosheim’sEcclesiastical History’ for it. I should like to be directed to a good and impartial history of the various heresies that vary from the Catholic belief; it would be one of my most pleasing studies to me. Gibbon touches but lightly on the Manichees and philosophical sects. The extravagances of their belief appear to have chiefly consisted in speculative creeds, and originated in the uniting the Platonic system with the Christian faith.


Gibbon is exceedingly severe on the animosity between the supporters of the όμοούσιον of the Nicene Creed and orthodox party, and the partisans of the Semi-Arian όμοούσιον; and this difference of a letter does certainly appear at first very ridiculous. But surely there can be nothing more different than the ideas of consubstantiality and similarity, which are the import of the two words, though I wish they could have invented names which would seem to imply greater difference at first. The name of όμοούσιον probably originated in the compliance of a part of the Arian sect, and their wish to smooth the difficulties which separated them from the Catholics; although the upshot was very different. In one place he asserts that the Arians in adversity did not probably display as much fortitude as the Homoousians, when the latter were in subjection to their adversaries, because the Arians, who degraded the Son of God, had not the same zeal and expectation of favour from Him as the Catholics, who raised Him to equal dignity with the Father. But as this rests on mere probability, none of the writings of Arians having been suffered to exist, I should be disposed to reject the inference, particularly on recollecting that the Dominicans of the fifteenth century, who rejected the Immaculate
Conception of the Virgin Mary, showed at least as much zeal in their own cause as the Franciscans, who asserted it. In your next letter, if you have leisure, I wish you would write to me your thoughts on the subject of the divisions of the Church under Constantine, or direct me to some book which you think might assist me in the investigation. I have only one more thing to say on this subject; that Gibbon appears particularly cautious on the subject of miracles, which many zealous Protestant writers appear to have impugned without any imputation of scepticism. I mean the miracles performed by the professors of Christianity. Of course, as to myself, I have very little doubt that the power of performing miracles was granted to several of its first professors, after the age of the apostles, in order that the infant Church might be propagated quicker, and I attribute its increase in great measure to this power; but I certainly do not suppose that a power so dangerous was any longer to be granted, when corruptions had begun to creep into the system of the believers. Gibbon passes them over pretty fairly in silence, until he comes to an age in which he can with safety attack them; merely saying that it is dangerous either fully to receive or fully to reject the accounts.
The artful manner in which the history of some of the chief fathers of Christianity in the age of
Constantine and his successors is treated, is truly wonderful. He begins by praising them as bulwarks of the Catholic faith, etc., continues to praise them, but, as he descends into minutiae, carefully bringing forward their most reprovable acts, while all the time he appears either to defend them, or to impute them to the frailties of human nature. When he finds nothing particular to find fault with, he generally characterises them, though in a very covert manner, as artful, ambitious, and turbulent men, disposed, in their writings, to give up always the truth and impartiality of history to the interests of the Catholic Church.

I do not know whether you like to have the long letters I write to you filled with this sort of observations on what I read, but I was encouraged to write this letter, as when I first learnt Italian you desired me to do the same, and were pleased with the long letters I used to write on that subject. However, I shall not stay out any longer, and consequently shall not read so much as I hitherto have, particularly as the fine weather seems to be beginning again, and I shall be out a great deal; but I shall not give up reading altogether, and shall be
much obliged to you if you will direct me, as I said before, to some book concerning those sects. Tell me if I can be of any service to you in finding out tracts respecting Devonshire antiquities. I have sent you all I could find in the ‘
Archæologia;’ anywhere else I will look, if you will tell me of any books Uncle Harry has where I could find them. As I wrote to you last Thursday I have not much else to say; but I think it will be better for you as well as myself, if instead of sending you the exuberance of my fancy twice a week in the shape of doubled half-sheet, I should wait till they collect sufficiently to fill a whole one. The affairs of the war will go on rather slower, but it will not be the worse for that.

I remain your affectionate son,
J. H. M.