“Tun’d to Hymns of Perfect Love”: The Anglican Liturgy as Romantic Object in John Keble’s The Christian Year

Part of the Nineteenth-Century Major Lives and Letters book series (19CMLL)


John Keble’s The Christian Tear (1827, 3rd edition, with six additional poems, 1828) was the best-selling book of poetry in nineteenth-century England. Keble’s poetic accompaniment to the Anglican liturgical calendar, with a poem for every Sunday, feast day, and special service, went through ninety-five separate editions during Keble’s lifetime, and had sold “half a million copies […] by 1877” (Goodwin475;Nockles 197). According to Kristie Blair, the most perceptive recent critic of Keble, “Almost every literate Victorian household would have possessed at least one copy” (129). The Christian Tear reconfigured Romanticism in terms of orthodox Anglicanism, and in so doing influenced both English poetry and worship for the rest of the century (cf. Tennyson 10–11; Francis 118; Nockles 197; Fraser 5). Keble’s poetry has, however, been largely ignored by literary critics1 and he is remembered more often as an influence on other Anglo-Catholic writers than as a writer in his own regard. I contend that the project of The Christian Tear is, as its title would suggest, nothing short of a socialization of time and nature, a reconstruction of Romanticism on a collective,2 textualist basis.


Emphasis Mine English Poetry Creator Spiritus Prayer Book Poetic Imagination 
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  1. 1.
    On the neglect of Keble in literary criticism, see Kristie Blair, “John Keble and the Rhythm of Faith,” Essays in Criticism 53 (2003): 130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 3.
    Keble consistently considers empiricism a theological heresy. Historically, he criticizes Gnosticism as a “low-minded empirical system”; philosophically, he condemns John Locke as “an Arian” (“Primitive Tradition Recognised in Holy Scripture,” 1836, Sermons, Academical and Occasional, 2nd ed. [Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1848], 215Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Keble’s ideas about typology here seem analogous to Coleridge’s ideas about poetry; for Coleridge, as M. H. Abrams notes, in The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953)Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Keble, along with other Anglo-Catholic poets, revived and popularized the patristic typological reading of nature. In “Tract 89: On the Mysticism Attributed to the Early Fathers of the Church,” Keble forcibly argues against evangelical Protestants (who would restrict typological references to Christ or the Church) that the idea of a “type” can be legitimately “transfer[red]” from Scripture out onto “the works of nature” (Keble, “Tract 89”; cf. George P. Landow, Victorian Types, Victor tan Shadows: Biblical Typology in Victorian Literature, Art, and Religion [Boston, MA: Routledge and Regan Paul, 1980], 46Google Scholar
  5. Jerome Bump, “The Victorian Radicals: Time, Typology, and Ontology in Hopkins, Pusey, and Muller,” Victorian Religious Discourse: New Directions in Criticism, ed. Jude Nixon [New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004], 33).Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    In “Tract 13: Sunday Lessons. The Principle of Selection,” Keble argues, in language that directly echoes the overriding thesis of his earlier work on typology, that “the arrangers [of The Book of Common Prayer] chose their “selection of scriptural readings in order “to exhibit God’s former dealings with His chosen people collectively [...] in such manner as best illustrates His dealing with each individual chosen now to be in His Church” (2, emphasis Keble’s). In his biography of Keble, J. T. Coleridge notes that “Tract 13” is essentially “an application” of Keble’s typological theory (225). No critic has noted the typological content of “Tract 13,” perhaps because it can be recognized as typological only according to Keble’s own definitions of “Type and Antitype,” which, as Edgecombe notes, “tak[e] considerable license” with traditional conceptions of typology; Keble himself grants that he uses the terms “in a wider sense” than most other authorities on the subject (Rodney Edgecombe, Two Poets of the Oxford Movement: John Keble und John Henry Newman [Madison, WI: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996], 117Google Scholar
  7. John Keble, “The Jewish Nation and God’s Dealings with Them, Paralleled with Individual Christians, and God’s Dealings with Them,” Occasional Papers and Reviews by John Keble, ed. E. B. Pusey [Oxford and London: James Parker and Co., 1877], 475).Google Scholar
  8. 19.
    Nockles relates that Keble’s political use of King Charles I’s death was not uncommon in High Church circles at the time. “Even as late as the 1820s, High Churchmen could invoke the cult of the Royal Martyr as a political weapon in defense of Orthodoxy and to discredit Protestant Dissenters who were branded as heirs of the regicides” (Peter Benedict Nockles, The Oxford Movement in Context: Anglican High Cburcbmnnsbip, 1760–1857 [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004], 52).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Larry H. Peer 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Longwood University (Virginia)USA

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