Wordsworth, Christopher (1774-1846) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 63
Wordsworth, Christopher (1774-1846)

by John Willis Clark
Contains subarticle John Wordsworth (1805−1839).

WORDSWORTH, CHRISTOPHER (1774−1846), master of Trinity College, Cambridge, youngest son of John Wordsworth and youngest brother of William Wordsworth [q. v.], was born at Cockermouth in Cumberland on 9 June 1774. He received his first education at Hawkshead grammar school, and went to Trinity College as a pensioner in 1792. He graduated B.A. in 1796 as tenth wrangler, and in 1798 was elected fellow of his college. Extracts from a diary kept by him at Cambridge (1793−1801) have been printed by his grandson Christopher (Social Life at the English Universities, pp. 585−99). He proceeded M.A. in 1799 and D.D. (by royal mandate) in 1810. In 1802 Wordsworth published, anonymously, ‘Six Letters to Granville Sharp, Esq., respecting his "Remarks on the Uses of the Definitive Article in the Greek Text of the New Testament,"’ London, 1802 [see Sharp, Granville]. Wordsworth supported his views with great learning and accurate scholarship, gaining thereby the approval of Richard Porson [q. v.] (preface to Who wrote Eicon Basilike? p. iv).

Wordsworth had been private tutor to Charles Manners-Sutton, first viscount Canterbury [q. v.], probably while he was an undergraduate of Trinity College (1798−1802), and through him had become acquainted with his father, then bishop of Norwich, and afterwards archbishop of Canterbury. Both father and son became his patrons. The bishop in 1804 presented him to the rectory of Ashby with Obyand Thinne, Norfolk, a preferment which enabled him to marry. In 1805, when Manners-Sutton became archbishop of Canterbury, he made Wordsworth his domestic chaplain, and transferred him first to the rectory of Woodchurch, Kent (1806), and next (1808) to the deanery and rectory of Bocking, Essex, to which Monks-Eleigh, Suffolk, was afterwards added (1812). In 1816 these preferments were exchanged for St. Mary's, Lambeth, and Sundridge, Kent, in the former of which parishes Wordsworth actively promoted the erection and endowment of additional churches. In 1817, when his old pupil was elected speaker of the House of Commons, Wordsworth became chaplain.

Residence at Lambeth gave Wordsworth facilities of access to the library, of which he availed himself for his ‘Ecclesiastical Biography’ published in 1810, with a dedication to the archbishop. In 1811, with his friend Joshua Watson [q. v.], he took an active part in the foundation of the National Society (Churton, Life of Watson, i. 113).

On the death of William Lort Mansel [q. v.], on 27 June 1820, Wordsworth was made master of Trinity College, Cambridge, by Lord Liverpool, on the recommendation of the archbishop (Annals of my Early Life, p. 8). He thereupon gave up Lambeth and Sundridge, receiving in exchange the living of Buxted with Uckfield in Sussex. He removed at once to Cambridge, and was elected vice-chancellor for the ensuing academic year, 1820−1. He held the office for a second time, 1826−7. The new master began as a reformer. A few months after his election he laid before the seniors his views on providing increased accommodation in college for undergraduates. The first entry on this subject in the ‘Conclusion Book’ is dated 14 Dec. 1820, and, notwithstanding considerable opposition in the society, the quadrangle called ‘The New Court’ was occupied in the Michaelmas term of 1825. The architect was William Wilkins [q. v.] (Arch. Hist. ii. 651−60). Further, he instituted in his own college prizes for compositions in Latin hexameters, elegiacs, and alcaics, and during his first vice-chancellorship (10 April 1821) made proposals for a public examination in classics and divinity which met with considerable support (Whewell, Of a Liberal Education, § 218), and, though rejected at the time, may be regarded as the parent of the classical tripos, established in the following year. His mastership, however, can hardly be described as a success. He came back to Cambridge after an absence of sixteen years, with interests and friends outside the pale of the university. His wife had died in 1815, and he had no daughter or female relative to take her place at the head of his household. He therefore led a secluded life, and made few, if any, new friends. He was a strict disciplinarian, and exacted an unquestioning conformity to all college rules. It was on his initiative that a more frequent attendance at chapel was insisted upon a step which so irritated the undergraduates that they established a ‘Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Undergraduates,’ which printed and published for a few weeks a tabular view of the attendance of the fellows, with notes. The younger members of the college persistently misunderstood him, though he had been the first to allow, as vice-chancellor, the Union Debating Society previously forbidden. Nor did he fare much better with the fellows, as may be gathered from what took place when he requested Connop Thirlwall [q. v.] to resign his assistant tutorship.

Wordsworth was an earnest and deeply religiousman; in some respects a high churchman of the old school, but with sympathy for whatever was good and noble in others, and tolerance for dissenters (Annals, &c., pp. 330−4). In politics he was a staunch conservative, and when age and weakened health induced him to resign the mastership of Trinity College, he waited till Sir Robert Peel was in office in order to be sure that William Whewell [q. v.] would succeed him (Life of Whewell, p. 225). He resigned in October 1841, and retired to Buxted, where he died on 2 Feb. 1846. On 6 Oct. 1804 he married a quaker lady, Priscilla Lloyd, daughter of Charles Lloyd, banker, of Birmingham, and sister of Charles Lloyd [q. v.], the poet (Lucas, Charles Lamb and the Lloyds, 1898, p. 95).

Wordsworth had three sons: John, of whom an account is given below, and Charles and Christopher, who are separately noticed. His principal works, exclusive of those already mentioned, were:

  1. Ecclesiastical Biography; or Lives of Eminent Men connected with the History of Religion in England from the Commencement of the Reformation to the Revolution, with Notes,’ 1810, 6 vols. 8vo; 2nd edit. 1818; 3rd edit. (with a new introduction and additional lives), 1839; 4th edit. 1853.
  2. ‘Sermons on various Subjects,’ 1814, 2 vols. 8vo.
  3. ‘Who wrote ΕΙΚΩΝ ΒΑΣΙΛΙΚΗ?’ 1824. In this work and those that succeeded it Wordsworth supported the claims of Charles I as the author of the Icon (see Gauden, John, where the titles of Wordsworth's publications are given, with a full account of the controversy: of. Quarterly Review, xxxii. 467; Edinburgh Review, xliv. 1−37; article by Sir James Mackintosh, reprinted in his Works, ed. 1854, i. 508−42).
  4. ‘Christian Institutes: a Series of Discourses and Tracts selected from the Writings of the most eminent Divines of the English Church,’ 1836, 4 vols. 8vo.

His eldest son, John Wordsworth (1805−1839), born at Lambeth on 1 July 1805, was educated at a school at Woodford, Essex, kept by Dr. Holt Okes (1816−20), and at Winchester College (1820−4). In October 1824 he commenced residence at Trinity College, Cambridge. His university career was distinguished. In 1825 he obtained the Bell scholarship, in 1826 a scholarship at his own college, and was second for the Porson prize; in 1827 he obtained it. In 1828 he proceeded to the B.A. degree, but was disqualified for classical honours through distaste for mathematics. In 1830 he was elected fellow of his college.

He resided at Cambridge till 1833, occupying himself with literary pursuits. During this period he contributed to the first number of the ‘Philological Museum’ a review of Scholefield's ‘Æschylus,’ which exhibited unusual powers of criticism and extent of research. In 1833 he visited France, Switzerland, and Italy. At Florence he collated carefully the Medicean manuscript of Æschylus, with a view to a new edition. Some use was made of his material by John Conington [q. v.] in his edition of the ‘Choephorœ.’ In 1834 he was appointed a classical lecturer in Trinity College. His lectures were remarkable for erudition and unwearied industry. In addition to the work thus entailed upon him he undertook to edit Dr. Bentley's ‘Correspondence’ (afterwards completed by his brother Christopher). He also made large collections for a classical dictionary (Autobiography of Dean Merivale, p. 193). In 1837 he was ordained deacon, and priest shortly afterwards.

At about the same time his health began to fail; he resigned his lectureship, and even endeavoured, it is said, to obtain educational work of less severity elsewhere. From this step he was dissuaded, and remained at Cambridge till his death on 31 Dec. 1839. He is buried in the antechapel of the college, where a monument to him was placed by subscription. The bust was executed by Weekes, under Chantrey's supervision. Most of his collections are in the possession of his nephew, the bishop of Salisbury.

[Gent. Mag. 1846, i. 320; Annals of my Early Life, by Charles Wordsworth, London, 1891, 8vo; Memoir of Joshua Watson, ed. Edward Churton, Oxford, 1861, 2 vols. 8vo; Life of Sedgwick by Clark and Hughes, i. 436; Life of William Whewell by Mrs. Stair Douglas, 1881, p. 225; Graduati Cantabrigienses. For John Wordsworth see Correspondence of Dr. Bentley, 1842, 8vo, pp. xvi-xix, and Memoirs of William Wordsworth, 1851, ii. 358, both by Christopher Wordsworth, bishop of Lincoln; Annals of my Early Life, by Charles Wordsworth, bishop of St. Andrews, 1891, p. 239; Christopher Wordsworth, bishop of Lincoln, by J. H. Overton and E. Wordsworth, 1888; Gent. Mag. 1840, i. 436.]

J. W. C-k.