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St. Francis in the nineteenth century.

AN English-speaking Protestant of the mid-nineteenth century, preparing to explore continental Europe for the first time, might have picked up Octavian Blewitt's 1850 guidebook to central Italy. Along with its descriptions of Rome, Florence, and Ravenna, the book noted that "Assisi is the sanctuary of early Italian art." (1) A similar book in 1905, however, declared, "Assisi is the city of St. Francis." Its author added, "The little town has itself become a Religion." (2)

For the Anglophone public today, Francis of Assisi is the most familiar of saints other than, perhaps, the Virgin Mary. He is as beloved among Protestants as among Catholics. His image is instantly recognizable and appears well beyond ecclesial confines in such venues as garden statuary and greeting cards. How did this transformation take place? How did a medieval Catholic saint become a fixture of both Protestantism and popular culture?

While the complete story is too long to trace here, I shall argue that the figure of Francis emerged into public consciousness among non-Catholics in the Anglophone world over the course of the mid- to late nineteenth century. Large-scale cultural currents, which I discuss below, and particular characteristics of Francis were factors in his acceptance and appropriation. The image that emerged during that process was not uniform, nor was it identical with the popular image of Francis today: for non-Catholics, Francis was not only a historical figure but also a subject for imaginative elaboration, personal relationship, and collective appropriation. I draw evidence from a range of texts, including learned and general-interest periodicals, travel books, popular biographies, and literary essays. (3)

The appropriation of St. Francis occurred in the context of an ambivalent Protestant encounter with Catholicism--an encounter that began as early as the late eighteenth century but gained force after 1830. As Jenny Franchot has argued, the encounter was marked by both approach and avoidance, attraction and repulsion. Franchot's analysis identifies deeper cultural tensions that I do not address here. It is clear, though, that Roman Catholicism retained its historic role in the Protestant mind as the threatening other. Anti-Catholicism was widespread and sometimes violent, as is well known. (4)

But many non-Catholics responded to the encounter with curiosity, appreciation, and selective appropriation. Travel and genteel education exposed them to the surprising attractions of pre-Reformation art and architecture. Midcentury travel literature dwelt on Catholic peasant and urban life as well. Some writers of fiction--notably the New England Unitarians Nathaniel Hawthorne and Harriet Beecher Stowe--explored such Catholic themes as confession and intercession, and a few Anglophone artists and writers formed expatriate colonies in Italy. A few prominent public conversions, and a steady stream of less visible ones, gave further evidence of the Roman church's attractions.

Ambivalence revealed itself in many dimensions. Catholic power attracted and puzzled Protestants as historians struggled to account for the church's survival "after [its] having been directed offstage nearly four centuries earlier." Saints proved similarly puzzling; Franchot argues that Protestant writers came to terms with them as heroic individuals acting in spite of, or even against, the church. (5) Catholic worship posed yet another problem. The Oxford Movement, beginning in the 1830s, generated controversy as it encouraged the revival of pre-Reformation practices among Anglicans. At about the same time, American mainline Protestants developed a "deeply mixed fascination for Roman Catholic worship." As Ryan Smith has recently observed, Gothic buildings, visual symbolism such as crosses, and liturgical practices such as processions were derided as "popery" in the 1830s, but they were common in mainstream Protestantism by the 1890s. (6)

A related phenomenon was the medievalist movement, which was well established in Britain by 1850, reached its height in the United States after the Civil War, and remained influential long after that time. Medievalism was not only an artistic movement but also a far-reaching cultural one. Against the dominant ideology of progress and the growing industrial economy, medievalism appealed to a desire for simplicity, self-reliance, and closeness to nature. Local and national identity were thought to be more deeply rooted in that context. Proponents regarded the Middle Ages as a time of almost childlike innocence, fresher and purer than the jaded nineteenth century. Gothic architecture shared in the ideal of purity because it followed forms found in nature. More significantly, it relied on human craft, in contrast to the anonymous production of the industrial model.

Both medievalism and the encounter with Catholicism contributed to a late-century phenomenon that T. J. Jackson Lears called antimodernism. Lears linked antimodernism to a larger "transformation of culture" that I do not address here. But his work captures the mental world of educated Victorians who reacted against the alienation and impersonality of modernity. For antimodernists, the Middle Ages represented authentic experience and cultural unity. Peasants, saints, and mystics embodied innocence, simplicity (both material and spiritual), faith, imagination, vitality, nature, access to sacred mystery, and "primal irrationality," together with, paradoxically, moral strength and self-control. In this reading Francis epitomized the medieval ideal for late-century antimodernists. (7)

Protestantism struggled with modernity in another dimension as well. Nineteenth-century challenges to traditional belief are well known, among them the rising authority of science, the theory of evolution, and the historical criticism of the Bible. At the same time, a popular theology of consistent, all-forgiving divine love began to displace both Calvinism and evangelical calls to conversion. One consequence of these shifts was a reconsideration of the idea of Jesus. On the one hand, historical criticism generated interest in the historical Jesus while intensifying questions about the miraculous and the supernatural. On the other hand, many liberals, "seekers," and dissenters distinguished between Jesus himself and church teachings about him, retaining a sense of personal relationship to Jesus even when they drifted away from formal ecclesial structures. (8) The result was a widespread emphasis on the human Jesus, his teachings, and his love.

A final factor was the ideology of nature. Idealization of the natural world was available in the nineteenth century as a response to disaffection with urban and industrial growth and as resistance to religious authority. It drew not only on the long romantic tradition but also on the newer transcendentalist movement and, later in the century, on nostalgia for the vanishing wilderness. (9) Francis's close association with nature was a far less prominent theme in the nineteenth century than it is in the twenty-first, but it was a persistent undercurrent. Distinctive among saints, it undoubtedly resonated with nineteenth-century sensibilities, even among those who resisted formal religious ties.

Within these contexts, I want to look more closely at the process by which Anglophone non-Catholics came to know about Francis and affirmed his legitimacy and at the images of Francis they constructed.


While a substantial number of Francis's own writings have survived, they offer only scattered biographical details. For fuller accounts of his life, nineteenth-century authors relied on the official biography written by St. Bonaventure in 1266 and on three early Franciscan narratives--Thomas of Celano's Vita Prima (1228) and Vita Secunda (1246-1247), and the Legenda Trium Sociorum, or Legend of the Three Companions (1246), attributed to Brothers Leo, Rufino, and Angelo. (10) The Fioretti, or Little Flowers (ca. 1375), was a major source of folklore and legends about Francis, which some nineteenth-century writers took as evocations of his personality, if not as historical fact. Important later sources were the Bollandist Acta Sanctorum (1643-) and the history of the order compiled by the Franciscan Luke Wadding beginning in 1625. (11) The following is the story of Francis's life as it is most often told.

Francesco Bernardone was born in Assisi in 1181 or 1182. Christened Giovanni (John), he was renamed Francis at an early age. His father was a wealthy cloth merchant, and his mother came from a prominent family. As a young man Francis was lighthearted, outgoing, and extravagant. In his early twenties he moved gradually toward religious commitment, following experiences of battle, imprisonment, and illness. He also tried to identify with the poor and sick: he was said to have exchanged clothes with a beggar in Rome for a day, and to have embraced and kissed a leper.

Francis's decisive turn toward religion, however, occurred when he heard a divine call to "rebuild my church," which he took to mean physical reconstruction of a crumbling chapel known as the Portiuncula. To fund this enterprise, he sold a quantity of his father's cloth and his own horse. Confronted by his angry father, Francis gave back all of his father's property--not only the price of the cloth, but, in a dramatic gesture, all the clothes he was wearing. Henceforth, declared Francis, his only father would be God.

Francis soon gathered a group of close companions whose intention was to be poor and to serve the poor. They supported themselves by manual work and begging, accepting only in-kind gifts, never money. In 1208 Francis sought approval from Pope Innocent III for a simple rule of life. The pope at first refused, then approved the rule and the fellowship, including their itinerant preaching. Four years later a young noblewoman, Clare, left her father's house to adopt a life of poverty similar to the brothers'; however, she and the women's order she founded were cloistered. Later Francis created a "third order" for people living in the world. As the orders grew and became more regularized, Francis gradually lost or relinquished supervision of them.

Many stories of Francis's acts and speech have survived. The "Canticle of the Sun" is generally accepted as authentic to Francis. In it, he praises God for "Brother Sun," "Sister Water," and other elements of the natural world. Of the legends, a favorite was, and is, the story of Francis preaching to the birds, which grew silent to listen to him. This tale was often retold and frequently depicted in art. Other tales described Francis's often miraculous interactions with birds and animals, his love of holy obedience, and his willingness to suffer. His narrative of "true joy," for example, imagined his brothers casting him out into the mud and cold. Francis and his followers also made several missionary journeys to Muslim lands, the most notable being a visit to the embattled Sultan of Egypt in 1219.

Toward the end of his life Francis was said to have received the stigmata--wounds in his hands, feet, and sides resembling the wounds of Christ. Signs of his identification with Christ, they were said to have been given by an angel as Francis prayed on a mountaintop. Francis died in October 1226. His death was immediately followed by controversy among Franciscans between the early vision and a more systematized order.

There is neither space nor need to describe here the subsequent history of the order or the history of Franciscan studies. Suffice it to say that the order survived, grew, and changed; that it was the subject of both praise and criticism; and that most Protestants from Martin Luther onward regarded religious orders as unnecessary at best and ungodly at worst.


But Protestant thinking about Francis and his followers began to change in the mid-nineteenth century. To begin with a chronological summary: a body of literature about Francis written by non-Catholics built up slowly from the 1840s until about 1870. Around that time--the year of the First Vatican Council and the final unification of Italy, an era of increasing prosperity and of growing antimodernism--the pace of publication increased. The seven-hundredth anniversary of Francis's birth, in 1881, produced a new spate of scholarly literature and popular works. Thus by 1888 it was possible for a book reviewer to say, "The story of Sr. Francis has been fully and frequently related." (12) This was not a uniform process--some writers in the 1880s and 1890s still had to explain who Francis was and why Protestants should be interested in him--but it was the general trajectory. (13)

One of the earliest sources of this process was Protestant historicism. As the discipline of church history emerged through the first hall of the nineteenth century, Protestants gradually, and not without controversy, came to realize that the history of the pre-Reformation church pertained also to them. Thus the earliest non-Catholic works on Francis--and many later ones as well--present themselves in the first instance as historical projects.

Perhaps the most important of these for popular appropriation was an essay by Sir James Stephen, a government official, an evangelical Anglican, and, at that time, an a vocational historian. His essay, published in 1847, was itself a review of two French biographies and made reference to an unfinished "History of the Monastic Orders" by the poet Robert Southey. The essay appeared in periodicals on both sides of the Atlantic and was reprinted in an 1849 collection. (14) Stephen first had to argue that the monastic orders were "legitimate object[s] of ecclesiastical history." He attended to the sources on Francis, noting that they were "more than usually copious and authentic," and he looked to rational and historical rather than spiritual causes for events. (15) In this context he recounted and reflected on the story of the saint's life.

Stephen was not alone in his work. At least three general histories of the church or of monasticism were published between 1855 and 1861. (16) Charles Forbes de Montalembert's Les Moines d'occident depuis saint Benoit jusqu'a saint Bernard (The Monks of the West, from St. Benedict to St. Bernard) began publication in 1860 and appeared in English translation within a year. (17) General ecclesiastical histories, such as Henry Hart Milman's, also included biographies of saints. (18) And in 1856 the German historian Karl von Hase published a life of St. Francis frequently cited by Anglophone writers. (19) Thus scholars and educated readers encountered Francis through the study of history.

Protestants found much with which to identify. Stephen, for example, argued that the Franciscan order survived its founder's death because it was a forerunner of the Reformation. (20) Franciscans, he said, restored religious purity, engaged with the world, and sided with the weak and humble. Above all, they fostered "the Mission and the Pulpit"--a Protestant trope that was repeated as late as 1886. (21) The historian C. K. Adams wrote in 1870 that Francis's purpose was "the work of a Reformation in the church" in the period when "the human intellect [sought] to rise up against the Roman yoke and throw it off." (22) Adams's Baptist colleague Samuel L. Caldwell added, "There is a lesson, too, of the power there is in preaching." (23) Later authors suggested that Franciscans were the Puritans or Methodists of their day; one source in 1884 went so far as to compare him with Dwight Moody. (24) This proto-Protestant image of Francis, then, provided both a point of connection and a sense of reassurance for Protestants ambivalent about Catholicism.

The image was not uncontested, however. For example, the Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (1870), whose editorial committee was a veritable "who's who" of evangelical American Protestant scholars, was sharply critical of most claims about Francis. The Cyclopedia cited the documentary sources on the saint, but found in them evidence of an unstable and immoral figure. Francis "imagin[ed]" he heard a call from heaven and "pretended" to perform miracles. The pope "regarded Francis as a madman" but approved the Franciscan order for his own cynical purposes. His approval also served Francis's own "ambition." As for Francis's moral character, the author comments, "Romish casuists say that [Francis's sale of his father's goods] was justified by the simplicity of his heart. It is clear that his religious training had not instructed him in the ten commandments." Nevertheless, the Cyclopaedia mentioned the stories about birds with a touch of sentimentality, even while condemning the potential for pantheism. And it made an entirely favorable judgment of Francis's emphasis on love. (25)

Among more sympathetic readers, too, the contested areas of Francis's story were those that were most distant from Protestantism. These readers struggled with official Catholicism, Francis's obedience to the pope, the meaning of the divine command to "rebuild my church," the power structures of the Franciscan order, corruption within the order, the mutilation of the human body in ascetic practice and in the stigmata, and Francis's apparent disregard for ordinary morality. Difficult as these issues were, however, non-Catholic thinkers did not ignore them; their struggles are consistent with the pattern of attraction and repulsion. In the end, most followed Stephen, consciously or not, by attempting to distinguish usable parts of the Franciscan tradition from "the sophistries or the superstitions of the ages in which they flourished." (26) Or, as a popular article forty years later put it, they admired Francis despite the fact that his teaching was "marred by certain errors of Popery." (27)


Anglophone Protestants also encountered Francis through travel. Travel on the European continent, formerly the province of the wealthy on the one hand and artistic expatriates on the other, became increasingly accessible to the middle classes during the nineteenth century, with particularly high numbers after 1870. (28) As Malcolm Bradbury has argued, tourists before about 1840 had gone abroad to explore, to discover what was to them the unknown. (29) For mid- and late-century travelers, however, the way had already been charted. Culture displaced discovery as the object of the search--"culture" being both the appropriation of intellectual and aesthetic objects and the experience of a whole way of life. (30) Travel was a ritual, a visit to cultural "shrines," the encounter with which was expected to have a transforming effect. (31)

Assisi was not among the earliest of these shrines. Often bypassed in the midcentury period as tourists explored the larger cities, it appears to have become more accessible at the same time public interest in it was increasing. (32) Thus John Murray's 1857 travel guide read, "There are no inns, properly speaking, at Assisi." (33) By 1874, though, things had changed enough that Henry James could comment, "[Baedeker] was at Assisi in force." (34)

Appropriating culture meant, in large measure, looking at art. Developing artistic taste and judgment was an essential part of nineteenth-century cultural education; art was understood to be a manifestation of the highest and best human sensibilities. (35) Thus it is not surprising that travel guidebooks concentrated overwhelmingly on the works of art to be found in any given place. Indeed, these books could be myopic about other meanings of the sites in question. Murray, for example, advised tourists to stop for a rest at an active Franciscan monastery, but he remarked that it "has little to interest the traveller" beyond a handful of paintings. (36)

One of the earliest essays on Francis in English addressed cultural interests, even while drawing on Stephen as a source. This essay appeared in the British writer Anna Jameson's 1850 collection Legends of the Monastic Orders. (37) Originally a guide for the growing masses of Anglophone tourists, this book was a standard work in art history through the end of the century. Jameson wanted to explain "those works of Art which the churches and galleries of the Continent ... have rendered familiar to us as objects of taste while they have remained unappreciated as objects of thought." She went so far as to say that saints and other sacred figures "have, for us, a deep, a lasting, interest." (38) Thus she offered sacred art to the (generally Protestant) traveler as a vehicle, not only of culture and beauty, but also of religious meaning.


Jameson's treatment of St. Francis was balanced and extensive. (39) Monastic subjects in general were problematic for Jameson, since she accepted the then-prevalent Protestant view of monasticism as unnatural, ugly, and painfully ascetic. (40) Bur, like Stephen, she argued that monasticism was historically important. As for Franciscans, she thought their religious sensibility was overly focused on retribution instead of love, and, unlike many later writers, she acknowledged some of the more bizarre qualities of Franciscan legend. (41) Yet she saw in Francis early signs of the "tender spirit of Christianity." She admired his inclusion of animals in the divine life and the "mission of Christ." The section on Francis is illustrated with a version of Francis preaching to the birds. (42)

Jameson and many others linked Francis to Giotto (1276-1337), a hinge between the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Giotto's painting appealed to the nineteenth-century medievalist aesthetic and its valorization of simplicity, innocence, and unselfconscious passion. (43) At the same time, Giotto was also recognized as an innovator and a humanist, one who departed from the conventions of medieval drawing to depict individual faces and spontaneous gestures. Some of his most important work depicted St. Francis, notably scenes from the saint's life and death--found in the church of Santa Croce in Florence--and a cycle of twenty-eight frescoes portraying his life--located in the basilica of San Francesco at Assisi. Thus anyone looking at Giotto's work for aesthetic or historical purposes was exposed to narratives about St. Francis.

More than that, though, many commentators attributed Giotto's innovations precisely to his effort to portray St. Francis, assuming that the saint's humanness and naturalness required a new mode of expression. This idea was circulating as early as the 1850s. It was most fully articulated, however, in a later work--Henry Thode's widely cited Franz von Assisi und die Anfange der Kunst der Renaissance in Italien (Francis of Assisi and the Beginnings of Renaissance Art in Italy), published in 1885. (44) "The men whose hearts glowed with new and burning love for Christ could not rest satisfied with the stiff and hard types of the old Greek art," wrote one reviewer. And, "it is not till we come to Giotto that we realize all that art owes to Francis." (45)

Art, then, offered a legitimate approach to sainthood for ambivalent Protestants, and Giotto's work offered a legitimate channel to Catholic art. For artistic commentators Francis was a realistic, human figure, a simple and passionate soul, a model of premodern authenticity. They saw in him the unity of culture and spirit that they attributed to the Middle Ages. Yet he also represented a break with the past, recalling the Francis of reform. And he signified for them a true, "tender" Christianity that implicitly transcended institutions.


Thoughtful Victorians also encountered Francis in literature. Their first and most important source was Dante, a literary sine qua non for the nineteenth century and a locus for Protestant exploration of Catholicism. The influential American writers Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Charles Eliot Norton undertook translations of his works beginning in 1859, supplementing the standard 1814 version by Henry Francis Cary. Together with James Russell Lowell, they formed the Dante Society in 1881. (46)

Readers of the Divine Comedy (1321) encountered Francis in the Paradiso, primarily in canto 11, which reflects on his marriage to Lady Poverty. But he was also understood as a forerunner to Dante, particularly through the well-known work of Frederic Ozanam. A Catholic social critic and historian, Ozanam argued in 1852 that Francis was the first Italian vernacular poet, and as such was both the precursor of Dante and a voice of the people. (47) (Jameson made a similar point, although Ozanam was more frequently cited. (48) This argument was not universally accepted; one American magazine commented in 1865 that Francis's writing was full of "life and fervor, but little more" and described one fragment as "but a pensive, monotonous wail." (49) On the other hand, an influential essay by the poet and critic Matthew Arnold followed Ozanam in describing Francis's poetry as the "humble upper waters of a mighty stream." (50)

Arnold's essay, "Pagan and Mediaeval Religious Sentiment," summarized Francis for a generation of literary readers. First published in 1864, it remained in print until at least 1932. The essay reflected on the breadth and richness of historical Catholicism compared to dry Protestant rationality and went on to compare a late Roman "pagan" text with St. Francis's "Canticle of the Sun." Arnold thought pagan religion was reasoned, cheerful, and anchored in present reality. But St. Francis, he wrote, understood suffering, particularly as experienced by common people. Francis responded to suffering, not with his senses, but with his "heart and imagination," and the "Canticle" offered, not superficial cheerfulness, but joy. (51) This, by implication, was true Christianity, transcending suffering rather than denying it.

Arnold's argument recalled once again the simplicity and emotional fervor that outsiders attributed to medieval Catholicism. The Francis who is the source of vernacular poetry is expressive, often spontaneous, and full of imagination and feeling. But he is also poor, humble, and acquainted with suffering. He is implicitly Christ-like without the strictures of organized Christianity. And as a man of the people, speaking the language of the people, he is associated with the emergence of Italian national identity, particularly as expressed in language, folk life, and artistic traditions.

Arnold was one of many religious liberals, seekers, discontents, and utopians who contributed--alongside more conventional Protestants--to the appropriation and interpretation of Francis. We have already encountered some of these dissenters. Hase, the biographer, was an anti-Catholic polemicist of liberal orientation as well as a historian. Montalembert, the son of a Scottish convert to Catholicism, was a liberal Catholic and an advocate for medieval French art and architecture. Ozanam was a friend of Montalembert and was also the founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a religious order devoted to serving the poor. New England Unitarians were early participants in the conversation. (52) Arnold resisted the rationalist Anglicanism of his upbringing, but read widely in religious texts, including the Bible, the Imitatio Christi (Imitation of Christ) of Thomas a Kempis, the Bhagavad-Gita, and American transcendentalist writings. (53)

These seekers were instrumental in establishing another image of Francis: as imitation of Christ. In him they saw a historical figure, an ordinary human being, who had conformed almost perfectly to Jesus' example. "[Francis's] life was beatitude, an embodiment of the Sermon on the Mount," claimed a writer in a Unitarian periodical. (54) To be sure, Protestants of a more orthodox stripe cautioned against identifying Francis fully with Christ. (55) For seekers, though, Francis's human imitation of Jesus meant that other ordinary people might in turn emulate him--even, or especially, if they were alienated from the wider church. And, in the face of contemporary anxieties about biblical criticism, Francis's life reinforced arguments for Jesus' historicity.

The French philosopher and historian Ernest Renan (1823-92) developed this idea most fully. In 1866, when be published his essay, "Saint Francois d'Assise" (St. Francis of Assisi), he was already well-known as a religious liberal and author of the Vie de Jesus (Life of Jesus) (1863)--roundly criticized by historian Philip Scharf. (56) The essay on Francis was widely cited from the French, reissued in 1884, and published in English translation in 1891. (57)

Renan's essay was a meditation on Hase's biography. He began with the question of historical authenticity, which he thought was well established by both Hase and Hase's French translator, Charles Berthoud. Yet, said Renan, the historical record presented a figure of legendary proportions. He argued against too narrow an interpretation of the record, maintaining instead that the legends pointed to genuine qualities of Francis's character.

Renan presented Francis as a perfect image of Jesus--the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels and the Sermon on the Mount. The life of Francis, he said, is indirect evidence of the truth of the gospels; it showed that Jesus' way of living was possible. Francis sought only "primitive Christian perfection," and his followers were simple people "with very little theology." (58) He possessed such purity that he soared above dogma and church. He did not even acknowledge the existence of evil. Yet he was not unearthly: he saw meaning in all of nature, and he was a man of feeling. Here Renan echoed Matthew Arnold, but where Arnold contrasted Francis's compassion with late Roman religion, Renan contrasted it with Buddhism. At the same time, his language echoed the long-standing Protestant tropes of primitivism and direct response to the gospel.

Renan also contrasted Francis with the nineteenth century--its materialism, its cynicism, its mediocrity. He argued that Francis's central idea was that "to possess is wrong." Christian poverty was not deprivation, however, but freedom, immersed in nature and dependent on God. Renan argued that Francis's liberated poverty eventually had a profound effect, not only on religious freedom, as might be expected, but also on art, which calls for lofty ideals and a communal sensibility. "I cannot conceive what a society founded on the selfishness of individual possession can produce that is great." Thus by embracing the gospel of poverty, Francis made a lasting impact "which our great men of action and our capitalists will never be capable of." (59) This anti-capitalist version of Francis reappeared with great force in the 1890s, as we shall see.

In 1870, literature and spiritual seeking converged in the first book-length treatment of Francis's life written in English. Its author, Margaret Oliphant, combined a historical reading with imaginative and spiritual interpretation. Oliphant had been Montalembert's Edinburgh translator. She was also a novelist who asked searching religious questions in response to her own unconventional life. (60)

Oliphant's Francis appeared in a series directed at a pious but serious Protestant readership--the Macmillan Company's "Sunday Library for Household Reading." Published from 1868 through 1873, this series looked at missionaries, English saints, classical wisdom, hermits, mystics, French Jansenists, English poetry, and German hymnody. Thus it drew on the history of Catholic Europe as well as of Protestant Britain--but very carefully, looking more at rebels, humanists, and individualists than at Roman theologians or churchmen. (61)

Oliphant herself was sensitive to historical practice and was careful to distinguish history from legend. Her book, which drew on the Franciscan sources, Hase, and Ozanam, was in many ways a straightforward account of what was then known about Francis. Yet, like Renan, she also drew on the legends, using them to enhance her narrative. She also used the narrative as occasion for spiritual reflections. For instance, as she describes Francis's loss of interest in lighthearted pursuits, she argues that his distraction was not caused by the prospect of embracing poverty. Rather, it was "that startled sense of incongruity which strikes the finer-toned and more sensitive mind" when faced with the contrast between "heaven above so calm and distant, and the aching, moaning earth below." (62)

Like her contemporaries, Oliphant simultaneously affirmed Protestant values and showed sympathy for Catholic faith and practice. She argued, for instance, that the extension of papal power was founded in a liberating idea of universal priesthood, however corrupted, and she alluded to Catholic texts such as the Imitatio Christi. Yet she stated unequivocally that Francis's life was "wholly evangelical." Both he and St. Dominic, she wrote, "literally [made], as near as they could in the simplicity of their age, a material copy of [Jesus'] life and work." (63)

A few years later John Ruskin--the medievalist, art critic, prophet of the Arts and Crafts Movement, professor, prolific writer, and social reformer--entered into a kind of personal communion with Francis. (64) Ruskin had long since rejected the evangelical Protestantism of his youth, but he was then returning to Christian language, though not to Christian institutions, and trying to integrate that language with his aesthetic, moral, and political principles. Among his many projects was the Guild of St. George, a proposed spiritual community that would incorporate art, study, and labor on communally owned land. (65) In 1874--the year that Henry James complained about tourism--Ruskin went to Assisi to study and write about Giotto's paintings. He lived in the sacristan's cell in the old Franciscan monastery and kept a piece of St. Francis's cloak. He wrote that Francis had appeared to him in a dream and made him a member of the Third Order, a membership he considered valid. And his copy of an early portrait of Francis by Cimabue, a forerunner of Giotto, resembled Ruskin himself as much as it did the original. (66)

So Renan, Oliphant, and Ruskin, in different ways, reached beyond the proto-Protestant Francis of mission and pulpit to claim that Francis represented a true Christianity in a broader way--a way that was less doctrinal, more personal, and more expressive, bur at the same time more sensitive to the needs of the poor and outcast. To be sure, it was a severe and difficult way, but it was also childlike in its simplicity and filled with joy. This Francis offered an alternative to the alienation that sometimes accompanied Victorian wealth and comfort.

And so did the Francis of nature. This image, so widely prevalent in our own time, was only a minor point in the nineteenth century. However, nearly every source at least mentions the poetic "Canticle of the Sun," or the miracle stories about animals, or the story of Francis preaching to the birds--a scene famously portrayed by Giotto. Non-Catholic writers recognized these stories as legends, but again, argued that they conveyed a truth about Francis's character. (67) In any case they seemed unable to resist repeating them. In addition, Francis's poverty and mendicancy meant of course that he lived much of his life outdoors. Thus Francis offered a way to affirm the goodness of nature both in an industrialized society that was beginning to long for its lost wilderness and in religious communions that had tended to fear or ignore the natural world.

As noted earlier, the septencentenary of Francis's birth occurred in 1881, and by the late 1880s he was a widely familiar figure. (68) Accessible to middle-class and educated Protestant audiences, Francis's story also pointed toward social criticism. It spoke to longings for simplicity of soul and undivided spiritual passion. It embraced the paradoxes of premodern economics and aesthetic refinement, humanness and myth, and nature and the supernatural.


In 1893 Paul Sabatier's Vie de Saint Francois d'Assise was a publishing sensation. (69) Sabatier (1858-1928) was a French Protestant and a Communist. (70) Born in Strasbourg, he served as a pastor until the early 1890s, when he turned his full attention to Franciscan studies. At the same time, he lived on the land as a peasant. (71) His book was published in French in 1893, in English in 1894, went into 20 editions (that is, printings) by 1898, and continued in print until the 1930s. (72) The Vatican placed it on its "Index" of forbidden books in 1894. (73) Travel guides and reference works added it to their lists of recommended reading about Francis and Assisi. (74) Tolstoy praised it and was said to have had it translated into Russian. (75) It remained a reference point for serious Protestant study until the mid-twentieth century and has recently been issued yet again. (76)

Scholars have been more skeptical than this response might suggest. The 1910 Encyclopaedia Britannica commented that Sabatier's Francis was an anachronism, "a modern pietistic French Protestant of the most liberal type." (77) John Moorman's History of the Franciscan Order cites Sabatier's distinguished work on textual sources but rejects his interpretations. (78) On the other hand, the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church said that Sabatier's Life "inaugurated modern Franciscan studies," and, indeed, it uses scholarly apparatus as Mrs. Oliphant, for example, did not. (79) Moorman observed that it "opened the floodgates," which is undoubtedly true. (80)

In any case, few scholars have noted that Sabatier's work represented a culmination as much as a beginning. His thought was very much a product of the later nineteenth century. He began with historical questions and sought to recover the human Francis from the accretions of legend and of ecclesiastical politics. At the same time, he had an undisguised emotional appreciation of Francis. He was in some measure a Christian believer but questioned received interpretations and institutional inertia. He associated Francis with common people, national identity, and the possibility of radical social reform. Whether or not he consciously drew on existing studies, then, it is certain that the ground was prepared for him.

Sabatier's Francis was in every way the accessible, authentic model of the serious individualistic Christian. In Sabatier's presentation, Francis was a flesh-and-blood human being, the "genius" of the Italian soul, and the embodiment of religious democracy. He offered a religion of action, the imitation of Jesus as the expression of love. Sabatier was anti-ecclesial, anti-doctrinal, and almost anti-intellectual, but he tentatively acknowledged the supernatural in the form of experiential spirituality. He disposed of Protestant moral concerns with relative ease, arguing for Francis's purity in every respect. (81)

Sabatier maintained that Francis became a man of the people by actively rejecting the identity to which he was born--wealthy and perhaps noble--and identifying with the poor and outcast. Francis claimed for himself and his followers the identity and social rank of minori, or lesser citizens. Identity with common people implied national identity, which for Sabatier was not only linguistic and poetic but also political. It also implied religious democracy. In Sabatier's view, the Franciscan movement had been co-opted and repressed beyond recognition by Rome and cooperating power-hungry Franciscans. Had this not happened, the movement would have issued in an entirely laicized Christianity. (82)

True Christianity, in Sabatier's view, was a religion of love and action, one that should be engaged with the world. Doctrine, ritual, institutions, and any but the simplest worship were generally corrupt. Faith was something to be lived. Sabatier did not rule out inner or spiritual experience; indeed he described Francis as a mystic. But he carefully distinguished this mysticism from cloistered contemplation: for Francis, it was a direct experience of Jesus and led directly into action. Sabatier differed from many of his spiritually-minded contemporaries by disparaging Thomas a Kempis's Imitatio: it was, he thought, too mysterious and too focused on the cloistered life.

Nature signified purity for Sabatier. He argued that Francis saw it for what it was, unlike his contemporaries, who tended to over-interpret it. This freshness and simplicity were reflected in artistic representations of Francis, which opened the way to Renaissance realism. Sabatier treated the nature stories as especially clear representations of who St. Francis was. Like Oliphant and others, he distinguished them flora historical truth, regarding them instead as iconic images.

And the sermon to the birds was the linchpin of his argument. "The sermon to the birds," he wrote, "closed the reign of Byzantine art and of the thought of which it was the image. It is the end of dogmatism and authority; it is the coming in of individualism and inspiration; ... marking a date in the history of the human conscience." (83)

By 1893, then, St. Francis was a fixture of the Protestant landscape. At this point interpretations burgeoned. An oratorio--written by a Catholic but performed for general audiences in London, New York, and other cities--depicted evening falling over Assisi accompanied by "arpeggios by the strings" and included a Ballad of Poverty with "the chorus joining in the refrain." Francis's call came not in illness or through scripture but direct from Heaven ("women's chorus"). (84) In 1895 Staff-Captain Eileen Douglas of the Salvation Army presented St. Francis as a role model for that organization. (85) A year later Canon Knox Little of Worcester Cathedral offered his flock and his readership a Francis for the Anglican via media. Though this Francis was sensitive and impulsive, he was endowed with a "balanced mind," "frankness," and "common sense." His devotion to the Cross issued in "practical, sustained, self-sacrificing effort," not mere idle contemplation. (86)

But a more serious coda to the nineteenth century, and a culmination of a different kind, is found in the work of Henry Adams. Adams represents, in one reading, the end of Unitarian dominance in New England, and in another, the fullest development of antimodern religious expression. (87) His Mont-St.-Michel and Chartres--privately printed in 1905, published in 1913--is an extended meditation on the Middle Ages as a dialectic between the masculine and the feminine, scholasticism and mysticism, intellect and primal energy. Like many others, Adams associated St. Francis with the aesthetic and emotional unity of the early thirteenth century--a unity he himself seems to have longed for but could not participate in. (88) Of the many saints he considers, Francis alone approaches the status of Adams's ideal, the Virgin--the feminine religious principle that is non-rational, close to nature, and full of love.

To understand Francis, says Adams, "one must wander about Assisi with the 'Floretum' or 'Fioretti' in one's hand;--the legends which are the gospel of Francis as the evangels are the gospel of Christ, who was reincarnated in Assisi." (89) He suggests, in other words, that one cannot approach Francis through historicism. Instead he evokes the old argument that the historically questionable legends give a true account of Francis's character, and he reminds the historically informed reader that the Gospels are also distant in time from the life of Jesus. Above all, the encounter with Francis, and by extension with Jesus, is for him intertwined with the sense of place. The little town has indeed become a religion.


In the Anglophone Protestant world, the figure of Sr. Francis of Assisi entered public consciousness through history, travel, art, and literature. In the context of nineteenth-century ambivalence about Catholicism, Francis's historicity made him an acceptable object of study and enabled Protestants to find points of identity with him. His life could be understood in the familiar language of reform, of gospel freedom, and of the individual who follows Jesus without intermediaries. At the same time, travelers on the European continent encountered stories and images of Francis, a sense of place associated with him, and a sense of peoplehood in which he was a key figure. As they found unexpected beauty and vitality in the Catholic Church, the medievalist movement reinforced and shaped their perceptions. Art and literature introduced narratives of Francis and opened up new interpretive possibilities.

The midcentury Protestantism of missions, morals, and liberty never disappeared entirely, but it was gradually supplanted by the late-century piety of individuality, personality, nature worship, and unmediated spiritual experience. Antimodernism became more prominent: Francis's rejection of money and commerce and his "primitive" life close to nature resonated with that movement's idea of authentic living. (90) His story spoke to nineteenth-century longings for freedom from materialism, for communion with nature, and for authentic religion. Above all, Francis signified the imitation of Christ--the possibility that any person, not just a specially gifted one, could say "no" to wealth and security and live in entire dependence on God. Studies of Francis opened up, among other things, the possibility of radical witness against industrial or consumer capitalism.

In the end, though, not many modern admirers of Francis really did give it all up and take to the highways, nor do they today, when ambivalence and irony are the hallmarks of the age. Like Arnold and Adams, many would-be believers hold back from total commitment. They place a statue in the garden and wish they could do better. But the holy figure remains a saint in a very real sense--a person specially gifted and set apart whom ordinary folk admire bur cannot emulate. In that sense, the Protestant St. Francis is after all very Catholic.

doi: 10.1017/S0009640709990527

(1) Octavio Blewitt, A Hand-book for Travellers in Central Italy (London: Murray, 1850), 265.

(2) Edward Hutton, Cities of Umbria (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1905), 23. Cf. Guide to Italy and Sicily, 6th ed. (London: Macmillan, 1911): "The town ... owes its celebrity and interest entirely to St. Francis" (55).

(3) The history of visual imagery is too extensive to incorporate here and will constitute another phase of this research.

(4) Jenny Franchot, Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism (Berkeley: University of California, 1994). Peter Williams described a similar ambivalence in his "A Mirror for Unitarians: Catholicism and Culture in Nineteenth Century New England Literature" (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1970). Walter L. Arnstein, Protestant Versus Catholic in Mid-Victorian England (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1982), provides useful background.

(5) Franchot, Roads to Rome, 5, 202-3, 256.

(6) Ryan K. Smith, Gothic Arches, Latin Crosses: Anti-Catholicism and American Church Designs in the Nineteenth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 8, 15, 123.

(7) T. J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920 (New York: Pantheon, 1981), xiii, 142-44, 151-54, 161.

(8) See, for example, Richard Wightman Fox, Jesus in America: Personal Savior, Cultural Hero, National Obsession (San Francisco: Harper, 2005), 283. On "seekers," see Leigh Eric Schmidt, Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality from Emerson to Oprah (San Francisco: Harper, 2005).

(9) For detailed historical and theoretical discussion, see Catherine Albanese, Nature Religion in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), and her Reconsidering Nature Religion (Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 2002).

(10) None of these was in any sense unbiased, of course; in particular, all reflected political agendas for the future of the Franciscan Order and authority within it. For a more complete bibliography see John Moorman, A History of the Franciscan Order from its Origins to the Year 1517 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968), 593-613; Regis J. Armstrong and Ignatius C. Brady, eds., Francis and Clare: The Complete Works (New York: Paulist, 1982), 6-10, 245-46.

(11) Luke Wadding, Annales Ordinis Minorum, 8 vols., 1625-1654, and his Scriptores Ordinis Minorum, 1650.

(12) "Francis of Assisi," New York Times, Jan. 8, 1888, 11 (review of Abby Langdon Alger, ed., The Little Flowers of Saint Francis of Assisi, Translated with a Brief Account of the Life of St. Francis, [Boston: Roberts Bros., 1887]).

(13) See, for example, "Saint Francis of Assisi," Lend a Hand 1:5 (May 1886, 277-83), 277; William John Knox Little, St. Francis of Assisi: His Times, Life, and Work (London: Isbister, 1897), 1-3.

(14) James Stephen, "St. Francis of Assisi," Edinburgh Review, or Critical Journal 86 (1847): 1-42; [Stephen], "[Life of St. Francis]," Littell's Living Age 14 (1847): 348-64; [Stephen], "St. Francis of Assisi," Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature and Art 12 (1847), 83-105; Stephen, "Saint Francis of Assisi," in Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography (London: Longman, Green, Brown, and Longmans, 1849), 89-153. The biographies he cited were Emile Chavin de Malan, Histoire de Saint Francois d'Assise (Paris: Sagnier et Bray, 1845); and E. J. Delecluse, St. Francois d'Assise (Paris, 1844), (i.e. E.-J. Delecluze, Gregoire VII, saint Francois d'Assise, saint Thomas d'Aquin [Paris: J. Labitte, 1844]). Stephen was later Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge and was the grandfather of Virginia Woolf (L. S. [Leslie Stephen], "Stephen, Sir James," Dictionary of National Biography [London: Smith, Elder, 1898], 54:163-64; Lyndall Gordon, "Woolf [nee Stephen], (Adeline) Virginia," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004], 60:257-66).

(15) Stephen, "St. Francis'" (1847), 1-2.

(16) Karl von Hase, A History of the Christian Church, trans, from the 7th German edition by Charles E. Blumenthal and Conway P. Wing (New York: Appleton, 1855); and the works by Montalembert and Milman discussed below.

(17) Charles Forbes de Montalembert, Les moines d'Occident depuis saint Benoit jusqu a saint Bernard, 7 vols. (Paris: Lecoffre, 1860-77); Montalembert, The Monks of the West, from St. Benedict to St. Bernard, Authorised translation (Edinburgh: W. Blackwood, 1861-79); Montalembert, The Monks of the West, from St. Benedict to St. Bernard, vol. 1 (Boston: Marlier, [18607]).

(18) Henry Hart Milman, History of Latin Christianity, Including that of the Popes to the Pontificate of Nicolas V, 8 vols. (New York: Sheldon, 1860-62). Some later magazines use almost direct quotes from this; it was probably a source. The section on Francis was not changed for the revised edition of 1903 (Milman, History of Latin Christianity, Including that of the Popes to the Pontificate of Nicolas V., 8 v. in 4 [New York: Armstrong, 1903]). Abbe Migne's magisterial Theological Encyclopedia was also in progress; Arnold and Sabatier referred to it (sec discussion below), bur few others did.

(19) Karl von Hase, Franz von Assis: Ein Heiligenbild (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Hartel, 1856). One American source mentions a Histoire de Sr. Francois d'Assise (Paris, 1861) by "E. Daurignac" (possibly J. M. S. Daurignac, a pseudonym of J. M. S. Orliac); sec [M. G. Gage], "Saint Francis of Assisi," Christian Examiner 78 (January 1865, 47-64): 47, 50. Candide Chalippe's Vie de Saint Francois d'Assise (Paris, 1728) was translated in 1853 (cited in Moorman, A History of the Franciscan Order, 598). It seems to have occasioned little popular notice.

(20) Stephen, "St. Francis" (1847), 40-42.

(21) Stephen, "St. Francis" (1847), 41; "Saint Francis of Assisi," Lenda Hand, 283; sec also [C.K. Adams], "St. Francis and His Time," The New Englander 29 (July 1870, 371-99), 399.

(22) [Adams], "St. Francis," 382, 371; see also Samuel L. Caldwell, "The Mendicant Orders [St. Francis of Assisi and the Franciscans]," Baptist Quarterly 11:2 (April 1877, 233-56), 255-56; "St. Francis of Assisi," Littell's Living Age 173:2240 (May 28, 1887, 515-25): 515-17, 520-21. This article claims to be a reprint from the London Quarterly Review.

(23) Caldwell, "Mendicant Orders," 256; see also "St. Francis and the Franciscans," American Journal of Education, National Series, 8:30 (June 15, 1873, 393-400), 400, and "Saint Francis of Assisi," Lenda Hand, 280.

(24) "St. Francis of Assisi," Littell's, 522; "[St. Francis of Assisi]," Quarterly Review 189:377 (1899, 1-31), 10-11, 22; Richard Heath, "The Crown of Thorns that Budded," Contemporary Review 46 (1884: 838-55), 843. Heath also, however, associated Francis with "Soul" and the sacredness of the universe (838, 847). Philip Schaff's standard-setting encyclopedia in 1882 devoted one sober page to Francis, but gave twice as much space to Sr. Patrick, emphasizing his role as a missionary (J. G. V. Engelhardt, "Francis of Assisi, St.," vol. 1, p. 830; Albrecht Vogel, "Benedict of Nursia," vol. 1, pp. 240-41; Robert W. Hall, "Patrick, St.,'" vol. 3, pp. 1763-65, in Philip Scharf, ed., A Religious Encyclopedia, or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology, 3 vols. [New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1882]).

(25) "Francis of Assisi," in Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, ed. John McClintock and James Strong (New York: Harper, 1870), 648-49.

(26) Stephen, "St. Francis," 1,

(27) "St. Francis of Assisi," Littell's, 515-25.

(28) In 1865 some 40,000 Americans traveled to Europe (Piers Brendon, Thomas Cook: 150 Years of Popular Tourism [London: Secker & Warburg, 1991], 105), while in 1891, 90,000 Americans returned from abroad through New York alone (Malcolm Bradbury, Dangerous Pilgrimages: Transatlantic Mythologies and the Novel [New York: Viking, 1996], 180).

(29) Bradbury, Dangerous Pilgrimages, 7, 145-47; Paul R. Baker, The Fortunate Pilgrims: Americans in Italy, 1800-1860 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964), 3-4. For American tourists, travel also shaped a sense of national identity. Social inequality, monarchy, and state churches contrasted with democracy; poverty and religious "superstition" with respectable Protestantism (Baker, 202-24).

(30) James Buzard, The Beaten Track: European Tourism, Literature. and the Ways to Culture, 1800-1918 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), 7; Bradbury, Dangerous Pilgrimages, 155-57. Buzard's idea of "anti-tourism"--the search for authenticity in the out-of-the-way places, often associated with poverty, peasantry, and pre-modernity--has suggestive implications for travelers' attraction to St. Francis, bur is too complex to document in the present paper.

(31) William W. Stowe, Going Abroad: European Travel in Nineteenth-Century American Culture (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994), 19 and passim; Bradbury, Dangerous Pilgrimages, 188.

(32) Baker, Fortunate Pilgrims, 60; Buzard, Beaten Track, 47-49.

(33) John Murray, A Handbook for Travellers in Central Italy. Part 1: Southern Tuscany and Papal States (London: John Murray, 1857), 255.

(34) Henry James, Transatlantic Sketches (Boston: James R. Osgood, 1875), 332, originally published as "A Chain of Italian Cities," Atlantic Monthly, Feb. 1874. "Baedeker'" is a reference to a popular series of travel guides.

(35) On the evolving role of clergy and religion in art appreciation, see David Morgan, Protestants and Pictures: Religion, Visual Culture, and the Age of American Mass Production (New York: Oxford, 1999), 290, 317-19.

(36) Murray, Handbook for Travellers, 257. Nathaniel Hawthorne took a similar view in 1858 (Nathaniel Hawthorne, Passages from Hawthorne's Note-Books in France and Italy, vol. 1, Nathaniel Hawthorne's Works, 19 vols. [Boston: James R. Osgood, 1872], 257-61).

(37) Mrs. (Anna Brownell Murphy) Jameson, Legends of the Monastic Orders, as Represented in the Fine Arts, Sacred and Legendary Art, 2nd series (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1850); Jameson, Legends, 2nd ed. (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1852; Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, n.d.). Jameson referred to Stephen on pages XV and 235. Like Margaret Oliphant (below), Jameson supported herself and a number of family members by writing. She lived independently, apart from a brief unsuccessful marriage. She produced significant work in travel writing and women's rights as well as in art history, her primary field (Claire Barwell, "Jameson, Anna Brownell," in The Europa Biographical Dictionary of British Women, ed. Anne Crawford, Tony Hayter, and Ann Hughes [Detroit: Gale, 1983], 221; Judith Johnston, "Jameson [nee Murphy], Anna Brownell," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004], 29:752-54; H. Neville Maugham, The Book of Italian Travel [New York: E. P. Dutton, 1903], 95).

(38) Jameson, Legends (1852), xvii.

(39) Ibid., 227-38, 239-69, and introduction.

(40) See, for example, G. H. Calvert, Scenes and Thoughts in Europe, 2 vols. (Boston: Little, 1863): "The fictions of the Catholic Church are mostly unsuitable to the Arts; nor can martyrs or emaciated anchorites be subjected to the laws of Beauty" (172). Jameson urged the reader not to be led astray by the vogue for medieval art: "Ugliness is ugliness; the quaint is not the graceful" (Jameson, Legends, 1852, xviii).

(41) Jameson, Legends (1852), xxii, 269.

(42) Ibid., 261-62; see also xxii xxiii, 263-69.

(43) Nineteenth-century critics associated these qualities with the religious and political movements of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and, increasingly, with St. Francis himself; see, for example, H. Taine, Italy: Florence and Venice, trans. J. Durand (New York: Leopoldt & Holt, 1869), 21.

(44) Henry Thode, Franz von Assisi und die Anfange der Kunst der Renaissance in Italien (Berlin: Grote, 1885). See also Jameson, Legends (1852), xxii; Joseph Archer Crowe and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle, A History of Painting in Italy from the Second to the Fourteenth Century (London: J. Murray, 1864).

(45) "Francis of Assisi and the Renaissance," Church Quarterly Review 26 (July 1888: 340-61), 350, 361. See also H. Taine, Italy; Caldwell, "Mendicant Orders," 252-53; Heath, "Crown of Thorns," 848; T. H. Darlow, "M. Sabatier's Life of St. Francis," Expositor 9 (March 1894): 222-31.

(46) Williams, "Mirror for Unitarians," 79, 224.

(47) Antoine Frederic Ozanam, Les poetes franciscains en Italie au treizieme siecle (Paris: Lecoffre, 1852).

(48) Jameson, Legends (1852), xii, 228-29.

(49) Gage, "St. Francis," 62-63.

(50) Matthew Arnold, "Pagan and Christian Religious Sentiment," Cornhill 9 (April 1864): 422-- 35; Arnold, Essays in Criticism (London: Macmillan, 1865); Arnold, Essays in Criticism, First Series (London: Macmillan, 1932); Arnold, "Pagan and Mediaeval Religious Sentiment," in Matthew Arnold: Lectures and Essays in Criticism, ed. R. H. Super (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1962), 212-31. The quote is found on page 224 of the Sueer edition.

(51) Arnold, "Pagan and Mediaeval Religious Sentiment," 227.

(52) In addition to Longfellow and Norton, see Gage, "St. Francis"; C. Farrington, "St. Francis of Assisi," Old and New 2:2 (August 1870), 159-64.

(53) Ruth ap Roberts, Arnold and God (Berkeley: University of California, 1983), 77-79, 104-9.

(54) Farrington, "'St. Francis," 164; cf. Gage, "Saint Francis," 50.

(55) Milman, History of Latin Christianity, 5:269-70; [Adams], "St. Francis," 395.

(56) Philip Scharf, History of the Christian Church, rev. ed. (New York, 1890), 1:853-60, 862-63, in Klaus Penzel, ed., Philip Scharf" Historian and Ambassador of the Universal Church: Selected Writings (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1991); Penzel, Scharf, 188-89. The enduring value to liberals of Renan's book is suggested by the Modern Library edition of 1927, reprinted in 1955, with an introduction by John Haynes Holmes, a prominent Unitarian minister, editor, and pacifist.

(57) Ernest Renan, "Saint Francois d'Assise, etude historique d'apres le Dr. Karl Hase," Journal des Debats 20-21 Aout 1866, repr. in Nouvelles etudes d'histoire religieuse, 1 ere ed. (Paris: Calmann Levy, 1884), 323-51. The references that follow are to the English translation ("Francis d'Assisi and the Franciscans, a.d. 1182," in Renan, Leaders of Christian and Anti-Christian Thought, London: Mathieson, 1891, 108-27).

(58) Renan, "Francis," 116, 122.

(59) Ibid., 116, 117, 118, 122. Heath made a similar argument about deprivation and freedom, "Crown of Thorns," 855.

(60) Margaret Oliphant, Francis of Assisi, Sunday Library (London: Macmillan, 1870). Raised as a Scottish Nonconformist, Oliphant ultimately found orthodox theology inadequate. Her husband, an artist, never had a large income, and he died while their three surviving children were young. She supported not only the children (none of whom survived her), but also, at various times, her mother, a distant cousin, two brothers, and several nieces and nephews (Merryn Williams, Margaret Oliphant: A Critical Biography, [New York: St. Martin's, 1986], 89, 91-97, 139-40). Recent assessments of her work have been more sympathetic than contemporaneous ones; see, for example, Elisabeth Jay, Mrs Oliphant, "A Fiction to Herself": A Literary Life (Oxford: Clarendon, 1995). Oliphant's most successful series of novels considered problems of power, idealism, and human frailty in small-town churches. Her unfinished autobiography and her letters revealed profound struggles with questions of faith and meaning in the face of personal loss.

(61) Contributing authors included the Christian socialist Charles Kingsley, the medievalist George Macdonald, the Anglo-Catholic Charlotte Yonge, and Catherine Winkworth, a well-known translator of German hymns.

(62) Oliphant, Francis of Assisi, 14-15.

(63) Ibid., xi-xii, 304, xv.

(64) The following discussion draws on Tim Hilton, John Ruskin, 2 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000); Michael Wheeler, Ruskin's God (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); and Alexander Bradley, Ruskin and Italy (Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1987).

(65) Both Ruskin and Margaret Oliphant took an interest in Laurence Oliphant (distantly related to the latter), who promoted an American utopian community called the Brotherhood of the New Life, founded by Thomas Lake Harris (Hilton, John Ruskin, 2:145; Williams, Margaret Oliphant, 90, 96).

(66) Van Akin Burd, introduction to Christmas Story: John Ruskin's Venetian Letters of 1876-- 1877, ed. Van Akin Burd (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1990), 102, 105; Hilton, John Ruskin, 2:279-80.

(67) [Adams], "St. Francis," 394; John Tulloch, "St. Francis, Patt II," Good Words 18 (1877, 449-52), 449; C. A. L. Richards, "A Sunbeam from the 13th Century," Dial 17 (Sept. 16, 1894, 150-52), 151. Tulloch was a friend of Margaret Oliphant and disapproved of Matthew Arnold's theology (Tulloch, "Amateur Theology," Blackwood's Magazine 113, June 1873): 678-92.

(68) In addition to works I have cited, two important books of this period were Pere Arsene de Chatel, ed., Saint Francois d'Assise (Paris: Plon, Nourrit, 1885), and Ruggiero Bonghi, Francesco d'Assisi: Studio (Citta del Castello: S. Lapi, 1884). The second edition of Bonghi's book included an introduction by Paul Sabatier, whom I discuss below (Bonghi, Francesco d'Assisi: Studio, 2. ed. [Citta del Castello: S. Lapi, 1909]). Henry Wadsworth Longfellow also weighed in with "'The Sermon of St. Francis," in Robert Haven Schauffler, ed., Through Italy with the Poets (New York: Moffat, Yard, 1908). The poem was first published in 1875 (Samuel Longfellow, ed., Final Memorials of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow [Boston: Ticknor, 1887], 434) and appeared in a collection in 1877 (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed., Poems of Places, [vol. 11], Italy [Boston: James R. Osgood, 1877], 71).

(69) Paul Sabatier, Vie de S. Francois d'Assise (Paris: Fischbacher, 1893); Sabatier, Life of Sr. Francis of Assisi, trans. Louise Seymour Houghton (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1894); Sabatier, Life of St. Francis of Assisi, trans. Louise Seymour Houghton (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1894).

(70) The introduction to the Life refers to "'89," the founding year of the Second International. Sabatier compares it to the emergent "European consciousness" of the High Middle Ages, and suggests that "the mendicant orders were.... a true International." Sabatier, Life, xii, xvii.

(71) R. Brown, "Sabatier, Paul," in New Catholic Encyclopedia (Detroit: Gale, in cooperation with the Catholic University of America, 2002), 453; H. D. Rawnsley, "With Paul Sabatier at Assisi," Contemporary Review 74 (1898): 505-18.

(72) Sabatier, Vie de S. Francois d'Assise (Paris: Fischbacher, 1893, 1931 printing), Sabatier, Life of St. Francis of Assisi, trans. Louise Seymour Houghton (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1894, 1938 printing).

(73) Brown, "Sabatier," 453.

(74) Karl Baedeker, Italy: A Handbook for Travelers. Second Part: Central Italy and Rome, 14th rev. ed. (Leipzig: Karl Baedeker, 1904), 71; Edwin Howland Blashfield and Evangeline Wilbour Blashfield, Italian Cities (New York: Scribner, 1900), 87.

(75) Robert Steele, "Sabatier's Life of St. Francis," Academy 46, no. 1162 (Aug. 11, 1894, 96-97), 96; Benjamin B. Warfield, "M. Paul Sabatier's Life of St. Francis of Assisi," Presbyterian and Reformed Review 6 (1895, 158-61), 159.

(76) Paul Sabatier, The Road to Assisi: The Essential Biography of St. Francis, ed. Jon M. Sweeney (Orleans, Mass.: Paraclete, 2003).

(77) Edward Cuthbert Butler, "Francis of Assisi, St.," in Encyclopaedia Britannica (New York: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910, 937-39), 939.

(78) Moorman History of the Franciscan Order 596, 598. Sabatier's most distinctive argument was that the Mirror of Perfection, which he reconstructed from fragments in other sources, was an earlier biography than any other. That argument is now generally discounted.

(79) "Francis of Assisi, St.," in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed., ed. F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983, 530-31), 531. Hase and Oliphant are still mentioned as important early biographers" similarly in the 3rd edition (1997).

(80) Moorman, History of the Franciscan Order 598.

(81) The stumbling-blocks that troubled earlier Protestant writers were red herrings, Sabatier thought. The cloth that Francis sold was his own, not his father's. Clare was an agent in her own decisions, not merely a victim of abduction. Relations between the brothers and sisters, he said, were spiritually intimate bur entirely pure. He also made a somewhat strained case that the sisters were as active as the brothers except where they were limited by being cloistered (Sabatier, Life, 57-58, 62, 147-67).

(82) Sabatier, Life, xiii. Cf. Oliphant, above.

(83) Ibid., 181.

(84) Edgar Tinel, Franciscus, Libretto by Lodewijk de Koninck, Opus 36, Oratorio; Edgar Tinel, St. Francis of Assisi, trans. John Fenton (New York: Breitkopf & Hartel, 1890); "'St. Francis of Assisi' to be Presented by Oratorio Society," New York Times, March 12, 1893, 13. A review notes that the work was first performed in 1888 ("A New Oratorio by Edgar Tinel Produced for the First Time in America," New York Times, March 19, 1893, 13). See also George Bernard Shaw, "Poor Old Philharmonic," in Shaw's Music: The Complete Musical Criticism in Three Volumes, ed. Dan H. Laurence, The Bodley Head Bernard Shaw (London: Bodley Head, 1981).

(85) Eileen Douglas, Brother Francis, or, Less than the Least, Red-hot Library (London: International Headquarters, 1895). Douglas was also the author of George Fox, the Red-hot Quaker (London: International Headquarters, 1895). See also A. P. Doyle, "Sr. Francis in Salvation Army Uniform," Catholic World 65 (Sept. 1897), 760-65, who mentions "the twice- told tale of St. Francis" (760).

(86) Little, St. Francis of Assisi; see also his "The Last Days of St. Francis of Assisi," Sunday Magazine 26, November 1897:754-62.

(87) Williams, "Mirror for Unitarians," 239, 257-58; Lears, No Place of Grace, 262-63.

(88) Henry Adams, Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1959, originally published by American Institute of Architects, 1913); Ernest Samuels, Henry Adams (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989), 355-68; Lears, No Place of Grace, 262-63, 279-86; Williams, "Mirror for Unitarians," 256, 258-59.

(89) Adams, Mont-Saint-Michel, 375.

(90) If Jackson Lears is correct that antimodernism also involved psychological rejection of the materialistic father, then Francis's story surely struck that chord as well (Lears, No Place of Grace, 225-40).

Patricia Appelbaum is Adjunct Professor of Religion at Springfield College.
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Author:Appelbaum, Patricia
Publication:Church History
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Geographic Code:4E
Date:Dec 1, 2009
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