Stephen Copley Research Report: Jordan Welsh in Oxford

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The next deadline for applying for a Copley Award is 15 December. Please see details of how to apply here.

The following report is by Jordan Welsh, PhD Candidate at the University of Essex.

The prospect of any research trip during the COVID-19 pandemic seemed like a distant dream back in February 2021 when I was awarded the Stephen Copley Research Award. I had proposed to use the award to travel to Oxford in order to undertake research at various sites across the University and the city. My PhD thesis focuses on the Romantic and Victorian periods, with a particular emphasis on nature and religion in the works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Christina Rossetti, and Gerard Manley Hopkins. My trip to Oxford was an attempt to understand more about the High Anglican Oxford Movement who I have been using to tie my three central writers together. 

After much waiting and a lot of email exchanges, I was granted permission to access the archives of Keble College. The college’s collection provide a wealth of papers, letters and documents relating not just to John Keble (one of the key figures of the Oxford Movement) but also other significant individuals including John Henry Newman, Edward Pusey, Isaac Williams, and Richard Froude. In fact, I was only the second person to have been allowed into Keble’s archives after it had been shut to visitors for a number of months due to the pandemic. 

It was exciting to find in the archives two letters written by William Wordsworth, and whose handwriting was much clearer to read than Keble’s! Curiously, a letter from Keble during a visit to the Lake District provided a completely new perspective for my research as it showed that Keble and Wordsworth had met in person much earlier than I had originally thought. Another letter showed how Keble visited members of the Coleridge family in Ottery St Mary following the death of their elderly aunt. Keble was a close friend of the family, particularly John Taylor Coleridge (nephew of STC) who would go on to write a memoir about Keble in 1869.

Two letters from 1832 are written to Keble from Robert Southey who by this point was the Poet Laureate. The letters consider the threat from the establishment on the church as well as lavishing praise on Keble’s poetry collection The Christian Year (originally published in 1827) which was a popular publication and a best seller. Further letters also showed how Keble was consulted about the wording of the Wordsworth Memorial at Grasmere Church, which itself was a translation of the Latin oration given by Keble when Wordsworth received an honorary degree from Oxford in 1839. 

I also visited the University Church of St Mary from where Keble and Newman (and others) gave the sermons and talks that defined the High Church Oxford Movement. I was particularly interested to see that the guidebook and historical information in the church still refer to the pulpit as “Newman’s Pulpit.” It was from the same church a hundred years earlier that John Wesley had preached several sermons, including one that criticised the spiritually apathy of some of the University’s members.

In addition to joining the Bodleian Library, I also made a point of visiting the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. The neo-gothic building blends the influences of science, art, architecture and arguably religion too. It was here that a debate took place in 1860 on the topic of evolution headed by the biologist Thomas Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford. A highly significant debate, it was but one of the many conflicts and controversies surrounding the position and importance of religion that occurred in Oxford during the nineteenth century.

My five-day trip to Oxford proved to be so valuable to my thesis and has provided a wealth of material and information for me to process and write about. I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to BARS and the Stephen Copley Research Bursary. The entire prospect of travelling, being in an archive, and visiting museums still feels like a huge novelty and I am extremely grateful for the support I was given and encourage others to apply for this wonderful funding opportunity. 

– Jordan Welsh (University of Essex)