Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Godkin, James

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GODKIN, JAMES (1806–1879), writer on Ireland, was born at Gorey, co. Wexford, in 1806. Ordained pastor of a dissenting congregation at Armagh in 1834, he afterwards became a general missionary to Roman catholics, in connection with the Irish Evangelical Society, and in 1836 issued ‘A Guide from the Church of Rome to the Church of Christ.’ In 1842 he published ‘The Touchstone of Orthodoxy’ and ‘Apostolic Christianity, or the People's Antidote against Puseyism and Romanism.’ Having written a prize essay on federalism in 1845 (‘The Rights of Ireland’), Godkin's connection with the Irish Evangelical Society ceased, and he turned his attention to journalism. Proceeding to London in 1847, he became a leader writer for provincial journals, Irish and Scotch, and a contributor to reviews and magazines. He published in 1848 ‘The Church Principles of the New Testament.’ Returning to Ireland in 1849, Godkin established in Belfast the ‘Christian Patriot.’ He afterwards became editor of the ‘Derry Standard,’ and then, removing to Dublin, he for several years held the chief editorial post on the ‘Daily Express.’ While engaged on this paper he acted as Dublin correspondent for the London ‘Times.’ For thirty years Godkin was a close student of every phase of the Irish question. In 1850 he was an active member of the Irish Tenant League.

Some of Godkin's writings on ecclesiastical and land questions had a large influence. Before the introduction of Mr. Gladstone's Irish legislative measures in the House of Commons Godkin published an elaborate treatise on ‘Ireland and her Churches’ (1867), advocating church equality and tenant security for the Irish people. In 1869 Godkin, as special commissioner of the ‘Irish Times,’ traversed the greater part of Ulster and portions of the south of Ireland in order to ascertain the feelings of the farmers and the working classes on the land question. The result of these investigations appeared in his work, ‘The Land War in Ireland’ (1870). In 1871 Godkin wrote, in conjunction with John A. Walker, ‘The New Handbook of Ireland,’ and in 1873 he published his ‘Religious History of Ireland; Primitive, Papal, and Protestant.’ He was also the author of ‘Religion and Education in India,’ and an ‘Illustrated History of England from 1820 to the Death of the Prince Consort.’ On the recommendation of Mr. Gladstone Queen Victoria conferred a pension on Godkin in 1873 for his literary services. He died in 1879.

[Read's Cabinet of Irish Literature; Ward's Men of the Reign; Godkin's Works.]

G. B. S.