Seeley, Robert Benton (DNB00)

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SEELEY, ROBERT BENTON (1798–1886), publisher and author, son of Leonard Benton Seeley, publisher, was born in 1798 in Ave Maria Lane, London, where his father (the son of a bookseller at Buckingham) had established himself as a bookseller and publisher about 1784. The business was afterwards removed to 169 Fleet Street. Robert Benton served in his father's business until 1826, when he took control of the publishing branch of it, and entered into partnership with Mr. Burnside. In 1827 he opened a shop at 10 Crane Court, from which in 1830 he removed to 172 Fleet Street, and in 1840 to 54 Fleet Street. In 1854 he entered into partnership with Mr. Jackson and Mr. Halliday (who both died a few years later), and in 1857 he relinquished his interest in the business to his second son, although for some years he continued to render active help in the management.

Seeley was brought up in the traditions of evangelical churchmanship, and his publications were mainly confined to books expounding evangelical opinions. He issued an edition of the works of Richard Cecil [q. v.] in 1838, biographies of Hannah More (1838), John Newton (1843), and Henry Martyn (1855), and many of the publications of the Church Missionary Society. He was intimate with the Rev. Edward Auriol, Dean Boyd, and Dean Champneys, whose works he published.

Seeley joined his friends in promoting many religious and philanthropic movements. He was one of the founders of the Church Pastoral Aid Society in 1837, and of the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes in 1844, and he served on the subdivision of parishes commission in 1849. With the Earl of Shaftesbury he exerted himself in supporting the factory bills. He was a member of the metropolitan board of works from 1856 to 1857. He died at 59 Hilldrop Crescent, Camden Town, London, on 31 May 1886, leaving Leonard Benton Seeley (see below) and three other sons and six daughters. The second son, Mr. Richmond Seeley, succeeded to the publishing firm. His third son, Sir John Robert Seeley, is noticed separately.

Seeley personally engaged in literary work, on both religious and historical lines, sending many contributions to the ‘Times,’ the ‘Morning Herald,’ the ‘Record,’ the ‘Morning Advertiser,’ and ‘Fraser's Magazine.’ One of his most thoughtful works was his ‘Essays on the Church, by a Layman,’ 1834, which went through many editions. Its object was to show that church establishments were in accordance with scripture, and that secession from the communion of the English church was not justifiable. More interesting was Seeley's ‘The Greatest of the Plantagenets, Edward I,’ 1860, which reappeared as ‘The Life and Reign of Edward I,’ 1872. Here Seeley successfully defended Edward I from the contemptuous strictures of Hume and other historians, and proved his greatness as a ruler, an opinion that later writers have generally adopted. Seeley's other writings were: 1. ‘Essays on Romanism,’ 1839. 2. ‘Memoirs of the Life and Writings of M. T. Sadler,’ 1842. 3. ‘Remedies for the Perils of the Nation: an Appeal,’ 1843. 4. ‘The Church of Christ in the Middle Ages,’ 1845. 5. ‘The Atlas of Prophecy, being the Prophecies of Daniel, with an Exposition,’ 1849. 6. ‘The Pope a Pretender: the Substance of a Speech,’ 10th edit. 1850. 7. ‘A Memoir of the Rev. A. B. Johnson,’ 1852. 8. ‘The Life of W. Cowper,’ 1855. 9. ‘The Life of J. Wesley,’ 1856. 10. ‘The Spanish Peninsula: a Sketch,’ 1861. 11. ‘Is the Bible True?’ seven dialogues between James White (a pseudonym) and E. Owen, 1862. 12. ‘Have we any Word of God?’ 1864. 13. ‘Is the Bible True? Seven dialogues by a Layman,’ 1866. 14. ‘Essays on the Bible,’ 1870. 15. ‘The Life and Writings of St. Peter,’ 1872. 16. ‘The greatest of the Prophets, Moses,’ 1875.

Leonard Benton Seeley (1831–1893), the eldest son, born in 1831, was educated at the City of London school and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was fifth wrangler, was placed in the first class of the classical tripos, and in the first class in the moral sciences tripos, graduating B.A. in 1852, and M.A. in 1855. In 1854 he was elected fellow of Trinity College. On 30 April 1855 he was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn; he practised as a conveyancer and equity draughtsman, and his written opinions displayed much care and learning. He died at 1 Great James Street, London, on 30 Oct. 1893. He edited ‘Euclid,’ 1875; ‘Horace Walpole and his Works, select Passages from his Writings,’ 1884; ‘Fanny Burney and her Friends,’ 1890; and ‘Mrs. Thrale, afterwards Mrs. Piozzi: a Sketch of her Life and Passages from her Diaries and Letters,’ 1891 (Times, 2, 3 Nov. 1893).

[Times, 1 July 1886, p. 1, 3 July p. 7; Publishers' Circular, 15 June 1886, pp. 601–2, with portrait; World, November 1893.]

G. C. B.