Terry Eagleton writes: Newman was aware that he was regarded in some circles as a saint, but thought he was quite unworthy of the honour. This is just the kind of humility one needs to be canonised, though that is not why he said it. To be canonised, one has among other things to perform a posthumous miracle, and the geographical distribution of miracles (they are less common in the unbelieving north of the globe) tends to work against Anglo-Saxon candidates. One, however, has been reported in the US. One reason Newman doubted he would be canonised was that he thought ‘literary men’ like himself were not the stuff of sainthood. In this splendidly readable biography, which seems to get everything right except the first name of Archbishop McHale of Tuam, Cornwell recognises, as so many others have not, that Newman was first and foremost a writer – that his genius lay in ‘creating new ways of imagining and writing about religion’. It is a rather more illuminating approach to the cardinal than wondering whether he ever got into bed with Ambrose St John.
Reviewed by the LRB