Colonel olcott

What has become of the 19th-century explosion of religiosity?

Matthew Arnold cannot have been much fun on holiday. Watching waves crash on the pebbles at Dover Beach, he heard only metaphors for the decay of religion. The ‘Sea of Faith’ had once been full, but now its ‘melancholy, long, withdrawing roar’ filled his ears. Dominic Green thinks he was much too gloomy. He prefers Arnold’s chirpy contemporary Ralph Waldo Emerson, who perceived that faith was not so much ebbing as flowing into new channels. From the time of the 1848 revolutions to the century’s close, railways, industrialised wars and questions raised by geologists and biologists shook people’s faith in Christianity. But the crisis of religion fuelled the expansion of