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Henry, Cardinal Manning, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster from 1865 to 1892, is remembered today--if at all--as the subject of a sniggering essay in Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians. A cold, cantankerous convert from Evangelical Anglicanism, toadying to superiors, condescending to those he felt inferiors, Manning personified to Strachey the hypocrisy of""proper"" 19th-century British society. Gray's biography, the first in 60 years, seeks to soften and shade the caricature Strachey sketched of one of England's most controversial and yet best-loved prelates. Fortunately, Gray has not essayed the role of hagiographer, His portrait of the ecclesiastic/crypto-politician is replete with warts and wrinkles. While admitting Manning's faults--and there were many--Gray balances the scales with well-documented investigations of the cleric's active social concern for transported criminals, exploited workers and urban slumdwellers, and his involvement with the Irish Home Rule issue. It was his religious extremism that led Manning not only into supporting the doctrine of Papal infallibility on one hand, but into espousing the cause of dock workers, temperance advocates and child prostitutes on the other. It was Manning, too, who was instrumental in integrating his fellow Catholics into the mainstream of English life. In this regard, Gray's delineation of the tensions between Manning (a favorite of the Irish Catholic ""masses"") and his contemporary, Cardinal Newman (admired by the ""old Catholic"" families), makes intriguing reading in light of Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. Although he deals with a series of weighty topics, Gray writes in a felicitous, smooth-flowing style, leavened from time to time with a gentle cynicism. Commenting on Manning's belief in the innate goodness of the human species, for example, Gray dryly observes it is ""a theory perhaps only maintainable by those who, whether through celibacy, science or the Foundling Hospital, spare themselves the joys of parenthood."" In this secular age, Cardinal Manning is not likely to restore its subject to his former ""best-loved"" status, but it does succeed in transforming Strachey's Tartuffean grotesque into a man, doubtlessly flawed, but worthy of respect.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1985
Publisher: St. Martin's