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In the summer of 1847, nine years after a notable visit by Gladstone,(1) three less exalted British travellers called on Manzoni during a brief tour of northern Italy. They were carrying a letter of introduction from Manzoni's Parisian friend Marcellin De Fresne,(2) but were also perhaps recommended by James Hope, who had visited Manzoni in 1840 and 1844 and who owed his introduction to Gladstone.(3) As the representative of contemporary Italian literature in European eyes, the celebrated author of I promessi sposi had by then become one of Milan's twin tourist attractions:
Un tempio, un uomo:
Manzoni e il Duomo.(4) But for a certain category of English visitor he also held a special interest as Italy's most distinguished Catholic layman, and manifestly a Catholic of a new breed. Like Gladstone and Hope, the 1847 party -- J. H. Wynne, J. H. Pollen and T. W. Allies -- were High Churchmen in search of their religious identity, preoccupied with their Catholic credentials. July 1847, moreover, was in some sense the high summer of Pius IX's short-lived career as a reforming pope, the popular cult of Pius and Charles Albert of Savoy was at its height, and change was in the air. It was a time when the Church of Rome might seem poised to reform its relations with other Churches as well as governments. For his part, however, though a political liberal opposed to the temporal power (and in 1847, as we shall see, stirred up at the prospect of revolution), Manzoni always maintained an uncompromising stance on questions of church unity and the pope's spiritual supremacy: Gladstone, who deeply impressed him, was disappointed by his intransigence. Yet not only did he show an ongoing interest in England's Catholic revival: he is even reported to have envisaged a nationwide conversion of the English as an event which by force of example might lead to a renaissance of Catholicism in Italy.(5)
In so far as it affords further evidence of Manzoni's relevance to the English Catholic revival, this article may be described as a footnote to the work of Carlo Dionisotti in the field, and it is in this connection that J. H. Newman's one and only missive to Manzoni, a letter of introduction overlooked by the editors of Newman's correspondence, can be appropriately included.(6) My purpose, however, is to document the 1847 encounter less as an episode of historical significance in its own right than as the source of new information for Manzoni's biography. In particular, Manzoni's account of his own religious conversion, reported in the letter by J. H. Wynne brought to light here, is testimony of such potential importance, and so much at odds with established opinion, that its reliability calls for careful assessment in relation to the circumstances in which it is said to have been given and to the character of the witness, as well as to such independent sources of corroboration as may exist.
The 1847 visitors, like James Hope, were fervent admirers of J. H. Newman but, unlike him, were also in Anglican orders, as Newman had been until recently. Their whole lives, indeed, had come to be shaped and unsettled by the personalities and events of the Oxford Movement, and they were soon to follow Newman's example in 'seceding' to Rome. In 1847 that was not yet their conscious destination, nor does their planned itinerary appear to have included an actual visit to Rome, where the newly reordained Newman was then living. Besides, the tour had to be curtailed at Venice by the one member of the party personally acquainted with Newman at that time.(7) Yet it is clear that, under the guise of investigating the reality of contemporary Catholicism, they were deliberately 'Romanising' while travelling -- opting for 'the large Catholic churches' in preference to Anglican services(8) -- and, whatever their intentions, were effectively (in the current metaphor) tendentes in Latium.(9)
John Henry Wynne Griffith-Wynne (1819--93, since 1841 a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford) belonged to the North Wales gentry and was related to the earls of Aylesford.(10) His father and eldest brother (married to a sister of J. H. Pollen) both in their day represented Welsh constituencies in parliament. In 1822 an aunt had married the Sardinian envoy to London, Count Ambrogio San Martino d'Aglie,(11) only to die in giving him an heir, Carlo Ludovico (1822--99), who was to fight for Charles Albert in 1848 and serve as a deputy in the Subalpine Parliament.(12) Though said to be 'the shyest and least demonstrative of men',(13) Wynne was in fact the most at home in Italy of the three travellers. In 1843 and 1844--5 he had spent many months in Rome, where he is said to have kept company with Edward Lear.(14) In 1849, on the eve of his 'secession', he was to seek an introduction to the Turin Oratorians from Newman who, perhaps understandably, preferred not to respond.(15) His family connection with the Sardinian Court made him, for political reasons as we shall see, a visitor of particular interest to Manzoni.
John Hungerford Pollen (1820--1902, since 1842 fellow of Merton College, Oxford) was a younger brother of the future third Baronet Pollen of Rodbourne, Wilts, a descendant of Samuel Pepys through his mother and a nephew of the noted architect C. R. Cockerell, who had fostered his artistic talents.(16) It was thanks to Cockerell and his friendship with De Fresne that the visitors had obtained the Frenchman's introduction to Manzoni.(17) The third member of the party, Thomas William Allies (1813--1903), was the son of a country parson and since banishment by the bishop of London from the post of examining chaplain in 1842 had himself been the restive rector of Launton near Bicester.(18) Allies had early (1839) fallen under the spell of Newman, whom he first met in 1842 and who for a time became his confessor at Littlemore. But since Newman's 'secession' he had turned to Pusey, clinging to the Puseyite conception of the Church of England as a branch of the Catholic Church unhappily separated from Rome: his essay The Church of England cleared of the charge of schism (1846), acknowledging the pope's patriarchal primacy but rejecting the claim to supreme jurisdiction, was approved by H. E. Manning and found 'remarkable' by Gladstone,(19) and was brought out again in 1848 in greatly expanded form.
Not long after the Italian tour, in February 1849, Allies published his Journal in France in 1845 and 1848, with letters from Italy in 1847 of things and persons concerning the Church and education. Primarily a first-hand account of the French Church's zeal and dedication in its holy war against an aggressively secular state, it was presented as a contribution towards ending separation by dispelling Anglican ignorance but was also interspersed with disparaging references to the Church of England. Allies would have liked to inscribe the volume to Manning, with whom he and his 1847 travelling companions were discussing their religious problems,(20) but since 1841 Manning had prudently distanced himself from the Tractarians and, while approving its publication in revised form, declined the dedication.(21)
The Letters from Italy in 1847 included missives from each of the three travellers. Those by Wynne and Pollen, written from Trent on I August, mention the visit to Manzoni in passing (pp. 144, 151) but chiefly dilate upon the three travellers' strenuous expedition into the Trentino to observe the allegedly miraculous condition of two young women recently described in print by the earl of Shrewsbury.(22) Allies, on the other hand, had penned an immediate report from Milan, in a letter of 23 July almost equally divided between the 'temple' and the 'man'. The passage describing the visit to Manzoni (pp. 122--4) corroborates some of Wynne's assertions in his much later account and is therefore reproduced together with it in the appendix to this article. Among other things it confirms that the tourists were invited back by Manzoni for at least one further visit, during which the conversation might well have taken the more personal turn reported by Wynne.
The Journal caused a stir in the press, was censured by Allies's bishop, Samuel Wilberforce of Oxford, Manning's brother-in-law, and brought its author close to expulsion by prosecution after his refusal to retract statements in it said to be at odds with certain of the Thirty-Nine Articles.(23) From then on he moved inexorably towards a rejection of High Church doctrine. With the Gorham decision of 1850 his mind was finally made up: on 11 September of that year he left his rectory for Birmingham, to 'put himself in the hands of Newman'.(24) Manning and Hope, as is well known, 'seceded' some seven months later, the future cardinal's Romeward course having been decisively influenced by Allies's writings.(25) At Gaeta in the summer of 1849, Allies and Wynne had managed to obtain an audience with Pius IX(26) (Manning had been received in 1848), Wynne subsequently joining J. L. Patterson, curate of St Thomas's, Oxford, in a pilgrimage to the Near East that culminated in their reception into the Roman Church at Jerusalem in Easter Week of 1850.(27) Pollen's 'secession' came later, in October 1852, after he had served (1847--50) on the staff of Pusey's controversial Anglo-Catholic church of St Saviour, Leeds,(28) and as senior proctor at Oxford (1851--2). After marriage in 1855 he embarked on a successful career as a designer; later he served as private secretary to the marquis of Ripon, governor-general of India from 1880 to 1884. Allies, as a married clergyman, was likewise destined to remain a layman after conversion, and he eventually found his niche as secretary to the Catholic Poor School Committee, doing much in that capacity to promote Catholic primary education.
Wynne, on the other hand, studied in Rome (1852--7) and became a Jesuit,(29) working chiefly in London, Edinburgh, Great Yarmouth, Bournemouth and North Wales, where St Mary's church, Rhyl, was built at his expense, to designs by Pollen. In the early 1880s, when his health began to fail, he withdrew for a time to St Beuno's College, and it was while there that, prompted by an enquiry from the noted Dante scholar Edward Moore, he set down his reminiscences of the 1847 visits to Manzoni, in the letter of 9 December 1882 published here for the first time. Though liberally interspersed with facts and anecdotes by then already in the public domain, it touches upon two points still of major interest for Manzoni's biography.