Oriel Noetics

The Oriel Noetics is a term now applied to a group of early 19th-century dons of the University of Oxford closely associated with Oriel College. John Tulloch in 1885 wrote about them as the "early Oriel school" of theologians, the contrast being with the Tractarians, also strongly based in Oriel.[1]

The Noetics were moderate freethinkers and reformers within the Church of England. In terms of Anglican religious parties, the Noetics were High Church opponents of evangelicalism, but adhered also to a rationalism from the previous century.[2] They advocated for a "national religion" or national church,[3] and in their own view stood for orthodoxy rather than liberalism.[4] In politics, they were associated with the Whigs, and influenced prominent statesmen such as Lord John Russell, Viscount Morpeth, and Thomas Spring Rice.[5]

Distinctively, the Noetics combined natural theology with political economy. Their approach had something in common with that of Thomas Chalmers, and had much support at the time outside the college in Oxford, and more widely.[6]

The Noetics at OrielEdit

Oriel College at the beginning of the 19th century had a policy of recruitment of Fellows on merit, disregarding both patronage and examination classes in search of intellectual calibre.[7] The college was also abstemious, compared with the others, and the "Oriel teapot" became proverbial.[8]

Prominent Noetics who were directly associated with Oriel included the successive Provosts John Eveleigh and Edward Copleston. Others who were Fellows of the College for some period were Thomas Arnold, Joseph Blanco White, Renn Dickson Hampden, Edward Hawkins, and Richard Whately. Baden Powell was an undergraduate at Oriel.[9] John Davison was excluded from the group of Noetics when William Tuckwell wrote about them in the early 20th century, but is counted by Richard Brent in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.[10][11]

Relationship with the High Church menEdit

The Edinburgh Review called Oriel under Copleston "the school of speculative philosophy in England".[12] Copleston was seen by Edward William Grinfield in 1821 as undermining the orthodox Anglicanism of Joseph Butler's natural theology. He took care to rebut this charge; and Grinfield in the British Critic was represented as over-impressed by Oriel's reputation. Baden Powell remained close to his High Church roots, an ally of the Hackney Phalanx.[13][14]

John Henry Overton argued that Copleston was his own man, not attached to a church party; and that his leaving Oxford in 1827 as a bishop removed his influence.[15] A split in views developed in the run-up to the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, which left the Oriel group and the diehard Hackney Phalanx on opposite sides of the question, Baden Powell siding with the reforming views of others in the college.[16]

Relationship with the TractariansEdit

The rise of the "Oxford Movement" proved very divisive within Oriel College, where John Keble, John Henry Newman and Hurrell Froude held positions. The successor to Copleston as Provost was Hawkins. By 1833 the fellowship split with four fellows opposed to the incipient Tractarian moves, while more were broadly supportive.[17] Hawkins was an early influence on Newman, but his election (defeating Keble) blocked internal changes to college teaching in 1831, which Newman, Froude and Robert Wilberforce wished to have more of a pastoral content;[18] the other tutor of the time, Joseph Dornford, supported Hawkins.[19]

Political economyEdit

The Noetics stood for a degree of curriculum reform in the university, in the form of optional courses. As part of this drive, Copleston and Whately in 1831 introduced a course on political economy, treated in the context of natural theology. It drew on Whately's Elements of Logic, which had an appendix on political economy by Nassau Senior.[20] Whately was Drummond Professor of Political Economy for a year after Senior, but left Oxford in 1831.[21]

Social policyEdit

It has been claimed that the composition of the Royal Commission into the Operation of the Poor Laws 1832 was heavily slanted towards followers of the Noetics. Among reformers involved named as aligned with the Noetics and their views are William Sturges Bourne, Walter Coulson, and Henry Gawler. Edwin Chadwick, an assistant commissioner, had contributed to the London Review founded as an organ for the Noetics.[22]


  1. ^ Stuart G. Hall (26 February 2009). Jesus Christ Today: Studies of Christology in Various Contexts. Proceedings of the Académie Internationale des Sciences Religieuses, Oxford 25–29 August 2006 and Princeton 25–30 August 2007. Walter de Gruyter. p. 142 notes. ISBN 978-3-11-021277-8. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
  2. ^ Michael George Brock; Mark Charles Curthoys (1997). 19th Century Oxford. Oxford University Press. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-19-951016-0. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
  3. ^ Arthur Burns; Joanna Innes (13 November 2003). Rethinking the Age of Reform: Britain 1780-1850. Cambridge University Press. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-521-82394-4. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
  4. ^ John Walsh; Colin Haydon; Stephen Taylor (7 October 1993). The Church of England c.1689-c.1833: From Toleration to Tractarianism. Cambridge University Press. p. 41. ISBN 978-0-521-41732-7. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
  5. ^ Curthoys, Mark C. (1997). Nineteenth-century Oxford, Part 1. Clarendon Press. p. 74.
  6. ^ Peter Mandler, Tories and Paupers: Christian Political Economy and the Making of the New Poor Law, The Historical Journal, Vol. 33, No. 1, Mar., 1990, Cambridge University Press, p. 86 note 20; Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/2639392.
  7. ^ Nigel F. B. Allington; Noel W. Thompson (25 October 2010). English, Irish and Subversives Among the Dismal Scientists. Emerald Group Publishing. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-85724-061-3. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
  8. ^ Ursula Aylmer; Carolyn McCrum (1995). Oxford Food: An Anthology. Ashmolean Museum. p. 148. ISBN 978-1-85444-058-7. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
  9. ^ Terence Copley (23 April 2002). Black Tom: Arnold of Rugby: The Myth and the Man. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 187–8. ISBN 978-0-8264-6705-8. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
  10. ^ Tod E. Jones (1 July 2003). The Broad Church: A Biography of a Movement. Lexington Books. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-7391-0611-2. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
  11. ^ Brent, Richard. "Davison, John". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/7303. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  12. ^ Maurice Cross (1835). Selections from the Edinburgh review: comprising the best articles in that journal, from its commencement to the present time. With a preliminary dissertation, and explanatory notes. Baudry's European Library. p. 301 note. Retrieved 11 December 2012. This was in a review of a supplement by Dugald Stewart to the Encyclopædia Britannica.
  13. ^ Pietro Corsi (26 May 1988). Science and Religion: Baden Powell and the Anglican Debate, 1800-1860. Cambridge University Press. pp. 77–8. ISBN 978-0-521-24245-5. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
  14. ^ The British Critic. F. and C. Rivington. 1822. pp. 1–20. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
  15. ^ John Henry Overton, The English Church in the Nineteenth Century, 1800-1833 (1893), p. 117;archive.org.
  16. ^ Corsi, Pietro. "Powell, Baden". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/22642. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  17. ^ C. Brad Faught (1 January 2004). The Oxford Movement: A Thematic History of the Tractarians and Their Times. Penn State Press. p. 85. ISBN 978-0-271-02394-6. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
  18. ^ "Hawkins, Edward (1789-1882)" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  19. ^ Brian Martin (30 January 2001). John Henry Newman: His Life and Work. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-8264-4993-1. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
  20. ^ James Gasser (30 September 2000). A Boole Anthology: Recent and Classical Studies in the Logic of George Boole. Springer. p. 145. ISBN 978-0-7923-6380-4. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
  21. ^ "Whately, Richard" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  22. ^ John Offer (2006). An Intellectual History of British Social Policy: Idealism Versus Non-Idealism. The Policy Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-1-86134-531-8. Retrieved 11 December 2012.