Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Blakesley, Joseph Williams

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BLAKESLEY, JOSEPH WILLIAMS (1808–1885), dean of Lincoln, was born at 38 Coleman Street, in the city of London, on 6 March 1808, and baptised privately 22 April. His parents were Jeremiah George and Elizabeth Blaksley, as the name was then spelt, His father, who was a factor, died before his son had attained his tenth year. Young Blakesley entered St. Paul's School 3 Oct. 1819, whence, after a distinguished school career, he passed as captain, with a Stock scholarship and a special exhibition in consideration of his merits, to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, 3 Nov. 1827. Here he immediately took a leading position and obtained admission to the highest intellectual society among the younger residents. Among his intimate friends were R. Chenevix Trench (subsequently archbishop of Dublin), R. Monckton Milnes (Lord Houghton), Dean Alford, the two Speddings, Alfred Tennyson, and his brothers. So large an acquaintance among Trinity men, together with other considerations, led to Blakesley's removal from Corpus to Trinity in Lent 1830. Dr. Wordsworth, brother of the poet and father of the bishops of Lincoln and St. Andrews, was then master of Trinity, and among the tutors were Dr. Whewell, Dr. Wordsworth's successor, and Dr. Peacock, afterwards dean of Ely. Blakesley joined the 'youthful band of friends' (commemorated by Lord Tennyson, himself a member of the body) forming the celebrated ‘Apostles' Club.’ The club had recently begun its new phase of existence under the influence of its ‘second father,’ Professor F. D. Maurice, the 'creator not of its form but of its spirit' (Maurice's Life and Letters, i. 56, 110), and it greatly influenced Blakesley. He was the

Clear-headed friend, whose joyful scorn,
Edged with sharp laughter, cuts atwain
The knots that tangle human creeds,

to whom Lord Tennyson addressed one of his first published poems.

The year (1830) of Blakesley's removal to Trinity witnessed his election to a foundation scholarship. He graduated B.A. in 1831, M.A. in 1834, and B.D. 5 April 1849; he was a wrangler in the mathematical tripos, and was placed third in the classical tripos, where his chief strength lay, subsequently obtaining the senior chancellor's medal. He was elected a fellow of Trinity in 1831, and became assistant tutor in 1834, and tutor in 1839. Among his pupils were Lord Lyttelton, Lord Frederick Cavendish, Mr. Justice Denman, Mr. Beresford Hope, and Professor Cayley. Blakesley had originally intended to adopt the law as his profession, for which he was well fitted in many ways; but delicacy of health led him to change his destination. He was ordained deacon in 1833, and priest in 1835. He held his tutorship till 1845. From 1845 to 1872 he held the college living of Ware. In 1850 he was appointed classical examiner in the university of London. As vicar of Ware Blakesley became widely known as the 'Hertfordshire Incumbent,' whose letters occupied a leading place in the 'Times' newspaper for some years. In these letters he directed the dry light of an acute practical mind, free from enthusiasm or sentiment, to some of the chief social and political subjects of the day. The letters greatly increased Blakesley's reputation, and in 1863 he received a canonry at Canterbury from Lord Palmerston, with whose political views he fully sympathised. He became proctor in Convocation for his chapter, and was an influential, although very independent, member of the lower house till his death. Although no scientific theologian, Blakesley took much interest in theological studies, especially in the critical and evidential department. He twice occupied the university pulpit, in 1840, and again in 1843; the sermons then delivered, on the 'Dispensation of Paganism' and on 'Christian Evidences,' were subsequently published under the title of 'Conciones Academicæ.' Delicacy of health drove him to Algiers in the winter of 1857–8. On his return he published an account of his sojourn under the title of 'Four Months in Algiers, with a Visit to Carthage.' In 1872 he succeeded Dr. Jeremie as dean of Lincoln on Mr. Gladstone's recommendation. As dean he made Lincoln his home, and devoted himself to the interests of his cathedral and of the city of Lincoln. If not an ideal dean according to the modern type, for which his tone of mind and line of thought, essentially non-ecclesiastical, entirely unfitted him, he conscientiously fulfilled the duties of his office. In the city itself he helped to promote all well-considered measures for the welfare of the community. Blakesley was a whig of the old school as opposed to the modern radical. He was master of the court of the Mercers' Company in 1864. As one of the governors he took a warm interest in the welfare of St. Paul's School. Blakesley's chief work was an edition of Herodotus for the 'Bibliotheca Classica.' The annotations, though always characterised by sound sense and accurate scholarship, are not of the highest order, and are chiefly devoted to geographical and historical questions. He contributed articles to the 'Quarterly' and 'Edinburgh Reviews' and other periodicals, and in addition to the already mentioned 'Letters of a Hertfordshire Incumbent' he wrote many reviews of books for the 'Times' newspaper. He was an active member of the committee for the revision of the translation of the New Testament. On leaving college he married Margaret Wilson Holmes, the daughter of Thomas Holmes of Brooke, in the county of Norwich. Mrs. Blakesley predeceased her husband in 1880. He was the father of seven sons and four daughters, all of whom survived him. He died 18 April 1885.

The following is a list of his printed works:

  1. 'Thoughts on the Recommendations of the Ecclesiastical Commission,' London, 1837.
  2. 'Commemoration Sermon in Trinity College,' 1886.
  3. 'Life of Aristotle,' Cambridge, 1839.
  4. 'Commemoration Sermon in Trinity College,' 1842.
  5. 'Conciones Academicæ,' London, 1843.
  6. 'Where does the Evil lie?' (a pamphlet upon private tuition at Cambridge), London, 1845.
  7. 'The Way of Peace,' a sermon, 1852.
  8. 'Herodotus with a Commentary,' 2 vols., forming part of Macleane's 'Bibliotheca Classica, 1852-54.
  9. 'History of Greek and Roman Philosophy and Science,' part of the article in the 'Encyclopædia Metropolitana,' ed. 2, London, 1858.
  10. 'Four Months in Algeria, with a Visit to Carthage,' Cambridge, 1859.
  11. 'Real Belief and True Belief,' a sermon, 1862.
  12. 'A Preelection as Candidate for the Regius Professorship,' on 1 Cor. xi. 17-31 (privately printed).

[Saturday Review, 25 April 1886; Guardian, 22 April 1885; private information.]

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