He was naturally of a poetical temperament, and his talents were drawn out by the society in which he mixed when at Cambridge, which included the Tennysons, Arthur Hallam, Trench, Blakesley, Charles Merivale, Spedding, Brookfield, Thompson (afterwards master of Trinity), and Christopher Wordsworth. His first publication was a volume of poems published before he was twenty-two, which was afterwards republished with additions, together with a longer poem, ‘The School of the Heart,’ in 1835, and later another small volume (1841) called ‘The Abbot of Muchelnaye,’ with sonnets, &c. Later in life he published a translation of the ‘Odyssey’ in blank verse. His poems were highly commended by Wordsworth, the poet, with whom he had some acquaintance, and were favourably noticed in the ‘Edinburgh’ and other reviews. He also wrote many hymns, two of which, the harvest hymn, ‘Come, ye thankful people, come,’ and the baptismal hymn, ‘In token that thou shalt not fear,’ have won a very high position.
He was a man of various accomplishments. He composed pieces for the piano and organ and vocal music; he both sang and played himself. He had considerable mechanical skill, and he carved in wood. He also was a water-colour painter. A book which he wrote about the Riviera, with coloured lithographs from water-colour drawings of his own, was one of his last publications.
His religious development was precocious. At ten years old he wrote a short sermon. At fifteen he wrote a long and serious letter to his cousin (afterwards his wife), who was then about to be confirmed. From his earliest days he had looked forward to ordination, and his letters and journals show that this purpose was always before him. When ordained he threw himself earnestly into the work of his pariah, where he built schools and restored the church in a manner which at that time was quite uncommon. He had great facility in preaching, and adopted various styles, from the serious treatise to the extempore address, in all of which he was successful, his clear baritone voice aiding a good delivery. He began to publish sermons while at Wymeswold; at Quebec Chapel he published as many as seven volumes. He was also for the years 1841–2 Hulsean lecturer at Cambridge, and published the lectures on ‘The Consistency of the Divine Conduct in revealing the Doctrines of Redemption,’ in two volumes. His early training was in the evangelical school; he was to some extent carried away by the clericalist movement of the years 1835–42, but shook himself clear of this, and adopted distinctly the protestant basis for his religious and ecclesiastical convictions, and took pains to recognise the leading nonconformist ministers (not excepting the unitarians), by whom his generous feeling was fully reciprocated. At Canterbury he instituted a sermon on Sunday afternoons, and lectured and preached continually there and in London; he founded a choral society for the cultivation of music, and especially for the execution of oratorios in the cathedral. He also took great interest in the restoration of the cathedral and its adjoining buildings. The new King's School, the exposure to view of the infirmary arches, the rehabilitation of the south Norman tower and the porch, were executed under his direction; the statues in the porch and west front were obtained by subscriptions raised by him, and the curious Roman columns from Reculver were placed by him in the baptistery garden.
His Greek Testament and other biblical works, however, constitute his chief claim to gratitude and fame. His design of editing the Greek Testament was conceived in 1845; the first volume was published in 1849, the last in 1861. He recognised from the first the superiority of the German critics, and went to Bonn in 1847 for three months to make himself master of the language. He adopted a text mainly taken from Buttmann and Lachmann, but corrected later by the aid of the works of Tregelles and Tischendorf. The various readings are given minutely. The references to passages illustrating the use of words in Hellenistic Greek are original and important. The notes display throughout an independent and sound judgment, occasionally hasty and peremptory, but giving the student the means of forming his own opinion. His theological standpoint is that of a liberal belief in inspiration; he separates himself distinctly from the mechanical and verbal theory, and on the other hand from the freer handling of the New Testament by writers such as Professor Jowett. His work forms an epoch in biblical studies in England; and, though separate portions of the Greek Testament have since been more fully dealt with by others, it is as yet unapproached as a whole. His New Testament for English readers, an adaptation of the notes in the Greek Testament to the use of those who do not read Greek, was begun immediately the Greek Testament was finished. He also undertook, during the progress of the Greek Testament, a revised English version, begun in company with three others but finished by himself alone. He was natu-