Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"I cannot pretend to judge of their 'piety'": Professor Clement C. Moore, speaking of his students in reply to inquisitors

Image Credit; Daytonian in Manhattan
This sidelight on the honorable character of Clement C. Moore seems right and good to have while we're waiting around--as mentioned in the previous post--for MacDonald P. Jackson's forthcoming book on the authorship of "The Night Before Christmas." Which poem, Herman Melville must have known.

As Seth Kaller shows in his excellent article on the authorship of The Night Before Christmas, and as Stephen Nissenbaum expertly confirms in his January 2001 essay at Common Place, Don Foster woefully misrepresented the character and abilities of Clement C. Moore. Foster's mudslinging in Author Unknown carried plenty of argumentative weight, or tried to: it's easier for readers to deprive Moore of due credit for authorship of the classic Christmas poem when he's made to resemble a nasty combination of Scrooge and Grinch.

One of several false charges in the Christmas chapter of Foster's Author Unknown is that on Christmas Eve 1844, Moore turned "theological inquisitor" and very likely ruined the life of a poor seminary student named Wattson. If Foster and this WorldCat entry are right, Moore miscalled the student Joshua (possibly confusing Wattson with another student then under scrutiny) but his name was Joseph Newton Wattson. Here as elsewhere, Foster ignores vital context. Moore's General Theological Seminary was just then the focal point of conflict in the Episcopal Church following a controversial ordination (in 1843, of Arthur Carey) and sensational accusations against Bishop Onderdonk. Evangelical or "low church" opponents of Onderdonk suspected undue influence of the Oxford Movement among professors and students. The great fear of Charles P. McIlvaine and like-minded evangelicals was encroaching Romanism. Clarence Augustus Walworth, a classmate of Wattson's who eventually dropped out, converted to Catholicism and became a priest, retold the story in his memoir--significantly titled The Oxford Movement in America. As Walworth tells it another man acted the part of inquisitor, Professor of Ecclesiastical History John D. Ogilby:
He [Professor Ogilby] took it into his head that there was an organized party both in the seminary and outside, including clergy, whose object was to Romanize the Episcopalian Church. 
One day near the close of December, 1844, Professor Ogilby sent for one of the students named Wattson, of the middle class, and accused him and several other students of being engaged in this conspiracy. The manner in which this suspicion arose I never knew until lately. The particulars have been furnished me by Wattson's own son, the Rev. Lewis Wattson, of Kingston, N. Y., with permission to use his communication freely. His father, Joseph N. Wattson, one day jokingly said to Prescott, who subsequently became a member of the English Society of St. John the Evangelist, known in the Anglican Church as the Cowley Fathers: "Don't you know, Prescott, that there is a number of Jesuit students in disguise here at the General, and that when they have made all the converts they can, they are going openly to Rome themselves?" Prescott took the joke in dead earnest and reported it to the dean. Upon this Wattson was called up before the dean. In due course of time he, and another student named Donnelly, of the same class, namely, that of 1846, were publicly tried upon charges founded upon this misconception. They were acquitted for want of sufficient proofs, but for all that they were quietly dismissed.  --The Oxford Movement in America
Far from being remembered as a ruthless tormentor of budding campus Catholics, Moore gets special and highly complimentary mention from the start of Walworth's memoir:
Santa Claus himself could not be more welcome to children than was this odd and genial man upon his appearance in the Hebrew class. He was very particular in his ways; but one great feature of his peculiarity was, that he was utterly unartificial. He was droll, but unconsciously so. He never joked in the class, but always something made the classroom seem merry when he was in it. He was a true scholar in Hebrew. His knowledge of Hebrew words did not seem to be derived from the dictionary alone. He knew each word familiarly, and remembered all the different places where it occurred in the Hebrew Bible, and so could prove its significance in one place by the meaning which necessarily attached to it elsewhere.  --Walworth, The Oxford Movement in America
In Beyond the Road to Rome, Wattson's son gives further details of the seminary inquest, without reference to Clement C. Moore,  Further information on the whole episode is available in the article by Scott MacDougall titled Hidden Jesuits?: "Romanizing" and Inquest at the General Theological Seminary, 1845--originally published in Anglican and Episcopal History, March 2007 and available online at Questia. As MacDougall verifies, Wattson's first accusers were fellow students who reported him not to Professor Moore but to Moore's colleague Professor Ogilby. Foster paraphrases a letter signed by Clement C. Moore, giving it as evidence of a personal Christmas Eve vendetta by Moore (what a Scrooge!) against Wattson. But Foster never mentions and may not know that Moore was simply writing to Wattson formally, in his capacity as faculty Secretary. In a poisoned and contentious atmosphere, the seminary faculty as a whole and Moore in particular exerted a moderating influence, as MacDougall explains:
"Showing more restraint, the faculty opted not to speculate on the outcome of the questions and resolved to interview the students. No punishment was specified. The faculty did agree however, to notifying Wattson's and McVickar's parents and their diocesan bishops. They added a further resolution, calling on Ogilby to provide the charges and the list of witnesses to Clement Moore, who, as secretary of the faculty, would send the requisite letters to the accused, their parents, their bishops, and to the witnesses to be called. The date of the inquest was set for 7 January 1845."  --Scott MacDougall on "Hidden Jesuits?"
As MacDougall reports in his review of faculty minutes, Moore absented himself from several sessions of the January inquest. Moore is also recorded in the minutes as objecting to the charge against student Henry McVickar of "advocating papal supremacy and Anglican reunion with Rome":
"Moore disagreed with the first charge, stating that McVickar had said only that the Pope was the head of the church, in an acceptable sense, but he was outvoted by his colleagues,and the charge stood."  --Scott MacDougall on "Hidden Jesuits?"
Below is Moore's written response to the Bishops' 43 questions. Most of them he refuses to answer directly, but his decent and dignified reply to #13 essentially answers them all:
To the 13th question I answer, that in my department, I have no reason to complain of want of "diligence" in the majority of the students; that I cannot pretend to judge of their "piety;" that I believe them to be orderly; and that I think the "general tone of their manners and behavior" good. --Clement C. Moore, October 20, 1844
Documentary proof (if any is wanted) of honorable conduct by Clement C. Moore in a time of notable stress and conflict at General Theological Seminary:

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