A People of One Book

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A People of One Book: The Bible and the Victorians Timothy Larson Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, ISBN: 9780199570096

By providing case studies of representative figure such as the Baptist preacher C.H. Spurgeon, Jewish author Grace Aguilar, agnostic T.H. Huxley, atheist Annie Besant, Quaker prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, and Anglican Florence Nightingale, Timothy Larson, McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, Illinois, looks at the diversity and variety of ways scripture was all-pervading in the culture of nineteenth-century Britain, arguing that the Bible was so dominating a presence in Victorian society that the Victorians can be described as ‘a people of one book’.

The coining of the phrase Homo unius libri or ‘man of one book’ is attributed to the Dominican priest and theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), although it is sometimes claimed that he expressed this as hominem unius libri timeo ("I fear the man of a single book"), sometimes rendered Cave ab homine unius libri (‘Be cautious of the man of one book’). The meaning is debated, but has been interpreted as either disparaging limited mental horizons or as a warning that an authority in a narrow field is dangerous or perhaps just a formidable opponent. The more recent use of the phrase was coined by John Wesley (1703-1791), leader of the evangelical revival in the late eighteenth-century, who described himself as homo unius libri, ‘a man of one book’, meaning that the word of God, the Bible, was only guide or rule of thought, word and action.

In his biography of his parents Sir Robert Anderson and Lady Agnes Anderson, Arthur Posonby Moore-Anderson wrote of his father, ‘Beyond all else my father was a man of the Book…’, (http://www.casebook.org/ripper_media/rps.apmoore.5.html) meaning that the Bible, which he accepted as authoritative and free of error, dictated his life.