Friday, July 1, 2011

July 30, 1879 --- The Newman-Hall Divorce

The Rev. Christopher Newman-Hall, popular London preacher and best-selling author - his "Come to Jesus" had sold four million copies - opens divorce proceedings against his wife. The charge is adultery.

Now 63, Newman-Hall had married the much younger Charlotte Gordon, a doctor's daughter from Humberside, in 1846. They moved to London where he rose to the pulpit at Christ Church, Westminster. His marriage was less successful. Labeling his wife "spoiled from birth," Newman-Hall testifies that they argued constantly. He opposed her fancy for smoking and hunting. She took a separate bedroom and told him that love-making was "repugnance" to her.  That was "a sin against God and me," the cleric tells the court.

Enter Frank Richardson, an innkeeper's son from Tring whom Charlotte met while hunting. At first, Newman-Hall welcomed the "mere youth" into his home. When Frank came to London to open a livery business, Charlotte stabled her horse there. When she began "changing into her riding habit" in Frank's quarters, the gossip became intolerable. With witnesses lined up to testify to his wife's infidelity, the miserable Newman-Hall asks to be freed "from a bondage under which I have groaned for all these years." For her part, Charlotte makes an almost hysterical witness. She claims that her husband's conduct had also been "inconsistent with the teachings of God." He had a "person in his eye" himself, a wealthy parishioner named Mary Wyatt. Newman-Hall denied even "an unchaste thought" for another woman. 

Finally, young Richardson took the stand, "with considerable embarrassment." He claimed that Charlotte and he shared no more than a love of horses and an occasional friendly kiss; "She is a charming companion ... I have every affection for her as a friend." The presiding judge, poor Sir James Hannen, must frequently threaten to clear the galleries, condemning their "ill-timed hilarity" at the expense of the wretched participants.

The divorce was soon granted and Rev. Newman-Hall left the courtroom to the cheers of his supporters. After a brief retirement, he returned to his pulpit. He remarried the following year, to another member of his flock (not Miss Wyatt). The Times, which decried the general smirking coverage in rival papers, nonetheless could not help but comment: "The juxtaposition of Scriptural quotations and allusions, worldly motives and carnal incidents, is disconcerting."

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