Gresley, William (DNB00)

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GRESLEY, WILLIAM (1801–1876), divine, born at Kenilworth, Warwickshire, on 16 March 1801, was the eldest son of Richard Gresley of Stowe House, Lichfield, Staffordshire, a descendant of the Gresleys of Drakelow Park, Burton-on-Trent, and a bencher of the Middle Temple, by his first wife, Caroline, youngest daughter of Andrew Grote, banker, of London. George Grote (1794–1871) [q. v.] was his first cousin on his mother's side. He was a king's scholar of Westminster School, and matriculated at Oxford as a student of Christ Church on 21 May 1819 (Foster, Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886, ii. 563). In 1822 he took a second class in classics, and graduated B.A. on 8 Feb. 1823, M.A. on 25 May 1825. An injury to his eyesight prevented his studying for the bar, and he took holy orders in 1825. He was curate for a short time (in 1828) at Drayton-Bassett, near Tamworth, and from 1830 to 1837 was curate of St. Chad's, Lichfield. During part of the time he was also morning lecturer at St. Mary's, Lichfield. An earnest high churchman, he threw himself with eagerness into the Tractarian movement of 1833, and tried to popularise its teaching. In 1835 he published ‘Ecclesiastes Anglicanus: being a Treatise on the Art of Preaching as adapted to a Church of England Congregation,’ and in 1838 his ‘Portrait of an English Churchman,’ which ran through many editions. In 1839 he began, in conjunction with Edward Churton [q. v.], a series of religious and social tales under the general title of ‘The Englishman's Library,’ 31 vols., 12mo, London, 1840–39–46. Of these tales he wrote six:

  1. ‘Clement Walton, or the English Citizen’ (vol. i.).
  2. ‘The Siege of Lichfield, a Tale illustrative of the Great Rebellion’ (vol. xiii.).
  3. ‘Charles Lever, or the Man of the Nineteenth Century’ (vol. xv.).
  4. ‘The Forest of Arden, a Tale Illustrative of the English Reformation’ (vol. xix.).
  5. ‘Church-Clavering, or The Schoolmaster’ (vol. xxiv.), in which he developed his views on education.
  6. ‘Coniston Hall, or the Jacobites’ (vol. xxxi.).

In November 1840 Gresley became a prebendary in Lichfield Cathedral, an honorary preferment (Le Neve, Fasti, ed. Hardy, i. 642). To describe the influence upon his own mind of the Oxford movement, and to illustrate the ‘danger of dissent,’ he wrote ‘Bernard Leslie, or a Tale of the Last Ten Years,’ 2 pts., 12mo, London, 1842, 1859. To ‘The Juvenile Englishman's Library’ (21 vols., 1845–44–49), edited successively by his friends F. E. Paget and J. F. Russell, he contributed ‘Henri de Clermont, or the Royalists of La Vendée: a Tale of the French Revolution’ (vol. iii.), and ‘Colton Green, a Tale of the Black Country’ (vol. xv.). About 1850 Gresley removed to Brighton, and acted as a volunteer assistant priest in the church of St. Paul. He preached every Sunday evening, worked untiringly among rich and poor alike, and exercised much power as a confessor. His ‘Ordinance of Confession,’ published in 1851, caused considerable stir, although he did not wish to make confession compulsory. In 1857 he accepted the perpetual curacy of All Saints, Boyne Hill, near Maidenhead, Berkshire, where a church, parsonage-house, and schools were in course of erection at the expense of three ladies living in the Oxford diocese. He settled there before either church or house was ready, and worked there with great success. His schools obtained a specially high reputation. Later in life Gresley, with a view to checking the spread of scepticism, published ‘Sophron and Neologus, or Common Sense Philosophy,’ in 1861; ‘Thoughts on the Bible,’ in 1871; ‘Priests and Philosophers,’ in 1873; and ‘Thoughts on Religion and Philosophy,’ in 1875. From the last two of these works selections, under the title of ‘The Scepticism of the Nineteenth Century,’ were published, with a short account of the author, and portrait, by a former curate, S. C. Austen, in 1879. Gresley died at Boyne Hill on 19 Nov. 1876, and was buried in the churchyard. In 1828 he married Anne Wright, daughter and heiress of John Barker Scott, banker, of Lichfield, and had by her nine children, all of whom he survived. His other writings include:

  1. ‘Sermons on some of the Social and Political Duties of a Christian,’ 12mo, London, 1836.
  2. ‘The Necessity of Zeal and Moderation in the present circumstances of the Church enforced and illustrated in Five Sermons preached before the University of Oxford,’ 12mo, London, 1839.
  3. ‘Some Thoughts on the Means of working out the Scheme of Diocesan Education,’ 8vo, London, 1839.
  4. ‘Remarks on the necessity of attempting a Restoration of the National Church,’ 8vo, London, 1841.
  5. ‘Parochial Sermons,’ 12mo, London, 1842.
  6. ‘The Spiritual Condition of the Young: Thoughts suggested by the Confirmation Service,’ 12mo, London, 1843.
  7. ‘St. Stephen: Death for Truth,’ being No. ix. of ‘Tracts for Englishmen,’ 12mo, 1844.
  8. ‘Anglo-Catholicism. A short Treatise on the Theory of the English Church,’ 8vo, London, 1844.
  9. ‘Frank's First Trip to the Continent’ (Burns's ‘Fireside Library’), 12mo, London, 1845.
  10. ‘Suggestions on the New Statute to be proposed in the University of Oxford,’ 8vo, London, 1845.
  11. ‘A Short Treatise on the English Church,’ 12mo, London, 1845.
  12. ‘Evangelical Truth and Apostolical Order; a Dialogue,’ 12mo, London, 1846.
  13. ‘The Real Danger of the Church of England,’ 8vo, London, 1846; 6th edit. 1847.
  14. ‘A Second Statement of the Real Danger of the Church of England … containing Answers to certain Objections [by F. Close and others] which have been made against his former Statement,’ 8vo, London, 1846.
  15. ‘A Third Statement of the real danger of the Church of England, setting forth the distinction between Romanists and Anglicans, and the identity of Evangelicals and Puritans,’ 8vo, London, 1847.
  16. ‘Practical Sermons,’ 12mo, London, 1848.
  17. ‘The Use of Confirmation’ (No. xi. of ‘The London Parochial Tracts,’ 8vo, 1848, &c.).
  18. ‘A Word of Remonstrance with the Evangelicals, addressed to the Rev. Francis Wilson … in reply to his Pamphlet called “No Peace with Tractarianism,”’ 8vo, London, 1850; 3rd edit. 1851.
  19. ‘A Help to Prayer, in Six Tracts,’ 12mo, Oxford and London, 1850.
  20. ‘Stand Fast and Hope. A Letter’ [on the decision of the Privy Council in the Gorham case], 8vo, London, 1850.
  21. ‘Distinctive Tenets of the Church of England,’ 4th edit., 8vo, London, 1851.
  22. ‘A Second Word of Remonstrance with the Evangelicals,’ 8vo, London, 1851.
  23. ‘A Letter to the Dean of Bristol [G. Elliott] on what he considers the “Fundamental Error” of Tractarianism,’ 8vo, London, 1851.
  24. ‘A Letter on Confession and Absolution … in reply to a Letter and Speeches of the Rev. R. J. McGhee,’ 8vo, London, 1852.
  25. ‘The Present State of the Controversy with Rome. Three Sermons,’ 12mo, London, 1855.
  26. ‘Answer to a Letter of the Rev. E. B. Elliott addressed to the Rev. W. Gresley on the “Delusion of the Tractarian Clergy as to the Validity of their Ministerial Orders,”’ 8vo, London, 1856.
  27. ‘Position of the Church and the Duty of her Members in regard to the Denison Case,’ 8vo, London, 1856.
  28. ‘Sermons preached at Brighton,’ 12mo, London, 1858.
  29. ‘Boyne Hill Tracts. By W. G.,’ 8vo, London, 1858.
  30. ‘Idealism considered; chiefly with reference to a volume of “Essays and Reviews” lately published,’ 8vo, London, 1860.
  31. ‘The Prayer-Book as it is,’ 8vo, London, 1865.

[Burke's Peerage, 1889, p. 626; Welch's Alumni Westmon. 1852, pp. 485, 486; Austen's Memoir cited above; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. G.