Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gaskell, William

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GASKELL, WILLIAM (1805–1884), unitarian minister, eldest son of William Gaskell (d. 15 March 1819), sail-canvas manufacturer, was born at Latchford, near Warrington, on 24 July 1805. Of an old nonconformist family, he was early destined for the ministry. After studying at Glasgow, where he graduated M.A. in 1824, he was admitted in 1825 to Manchester College, York, being nominated by Thomas Belsham [q. v.] as a divinity student on the Hackney fund. Leaving York in 1828, he became colleague with John Gooch Robberds at Cross Street Chapel, Manchester, entering upon the ministry on 3 Aug. This was his lifelong charge. Becoming senior minister in 1854, he had successively as colleagues James Panton Ham (1855–9), James Drummond, LL.D. (1860–9), and Samuel Alfred Steinthal. In his own denomination Gaskell held the highest positions. He was preacher to the ‘British and Foreign’ unitarian association in 1844, 1862, and 1875. At Manchester New College he was professor of English history and literature (1846–53) and chairman of committee from 1854, having previously been secretary (1840–6). Of the unitarian home missionary board he was one of the tutors from 1854 and principal from 1876, succeeding John Relly Beard [q. v.] From 1865 he was president of the provincial assembly of Lancashire and Cheshire. The jubilee of his Manchester ministry was commemorated in 1878 by the foundation of a scholarship bearing his name.

Gaskell exercised great influence in Manchester, especially in the promotion of education and learning. Though an effective and polished speaker, he rarely appeared on platforms. At Owens College he conducted the classes of logic and English literature during the illness of Principal Scott. On the formation of a working man's college in 1858 he was appointed lecturer on English literature, and retained that office on the amalgamation (1861) of this scheme with the evening classes of Owens College. His prelections were remarkable for their literary finish, and for the aptness and taste with which he drew upon an unusually wide compass of reading. The same qualities marked his discourses from the pulpit.

Gaskell died at his residence, Plymouth Grove, Manchester, on 11 June 1884; he was buried on 14 June at Knutsford. His portrait, painted in 1872 by W. Percy, is in the Memorial Hall, Manchester; another, painted in 1878 by Annie Robinson, is in the possession of his family; a marble bust, by J. W. Swinnerton, was placed in 1878 in the reading-room of the Portico Library, of which for thirty years he had been chairman. In 1832 he married Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson [see Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn, the novelist], by whom he had a son (d. in infancy), a daughter, Florence (d. 1881), married to Charles Crompton, Q.C., and three daughters who survived him.

He published a considerable number of sermons and controversial tracts, including funeral sermons for the Rev. John Gooch Robberds (1854), David Siltzer (1854), J. O. Curtis (1857), Sir John Potter (1859), John Ashton Nicholls, with memoir (1859), and the Rev. William Turner (1859). Among his other publications may be noted: 1. ‘Temperance Rhymes,’ 1839. 2. ‘Two Lectures on the Lancashire Dialect,’ 1844; also appended to his wife's ‘Mary Barton,’ 5th edition, 1854. (For their samples of dialectical peculiarities these lectures are valuable). He wrote a number of hymns, most of which were contributed to a collection edited by J. R. Beard, D.D., 1837; some of the best will be found in ‘Hymns of Praise and Prayer,’ edited by James Martineau, D.D., 1874. His translation of Luther's ‘Ein feste Burg’ has found general favour. He was one of the editors of the ‘Unitarian Herald’ from its establishment in 1861 to the end of 1875.

[Manchester Guardian, 11 June 1884; Christian Life, 14 June 1884; Inquirer, 14 June and 21 June 1884; Monthly Repository, 1819, p. 194; Roll of Students, Manchester New College, 1868; Baker's Memorials of a Dissenting Chapel (Cross Street, Manchester), 1884; Thompson's Owens College, 1886, pp. 227, 232, &c.; private information.]

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