Tractarians and the condition of England: The Social and Political Thought of the Oxford Movement

Tractarians and the 'Condition of England' challenges the conventional view of tractarianism as an episode in church history, and the assumption that tractarians had little interest in the 'social condition of England'. It argues that, by a natural application of their theory of the church's primacy over the state, first-generation tractarians in fact directed a vigorous commentary against the iniquities of commercialism, of political economy and the new poor law, and of the condition of the labouring poor. This conclusion is derived in part from conventional sources for tractarian thought, such as manuscript, homiletic, and pamphlet material. However, the book also makes systematic use of two neglected though rich polemical sources: the British Critic, a quarterly periodical for whose editorial control J. H. Newman successfully manoeuvred in the late 1830s, and the canon of social novels issued by some of tractarianism's prolific yet forgotten commentators, in particular William Gresley and F. E. Paget. The author, Simon Skinner, complements recent scholarship which has refined understanding of the political and intellectual culture of nineteenth-century Britain by recovering religious and theological dimensions.