Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hook, Walter Farquhar

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HOOK, WALTER FARQUHAR (1798–1875), dean of Chichester, eldest child of the Rev. James Hook [q. v.] and Anne his wife, and the nephew of Theodore Edward Hook [q. v.], was born in London 13 March 1798, at the residence in Conduit Street of his maternal grandfather, Sir Walter Farquhar, bart. [q. v.] His early childhood was spent at his father's rectory of Hertingfordbury, and at the age of nine he went with his only brother, Robert, to a school at Hertford, kept by Dr. Michael Henry Thornhill Luscombe [q. v.], and after about two years there to Tiverton, where the teaching was indifferent. In 1812 he was entered at Commoners, Winchester, where he formed a lasting friendship with William Page Wood [q. v.] He had no great aptitude for pure scholarship, and no liking for ordinary school games, although he was strong and muscular and a good swimmer. He was enthusiastically devoted to English poetry, biography, and history. He succeeded in getting into the sixth form at Winchester, and twice won the silver medal for recitations on the speech day.

In 1817 his grandfather, Sir Walter Farquhar, obtained a nomination for him from the prince-regent to a studentship at Christ-Church, Oxford. His life there was somewhat isolated, he had no sympathy with the ordinary course of study, and found his chief recreation in reading Shakespeare. His friend Wood was at Geneva. Hook's father and mother, as partisans of George IV, objected to their son associating with the son of Sir Matthew Wood [q. v.], the confidential ally of Queen Caroline; but the friends corresponded constantly, and met again in 1822. Hook was deeply disappointed by his failure in 1821 to get the Newdigate prize for an English poem, the only university honour which he tried to obtain. He was glad to leave the university after graduating B.A. 1821 (M.A. 1824, B.D. and D.D. in 1837).

On 30 Sept. 1821 he was ordained deacon, and until 1826 was his father's curate at Whippingham in the Isle of Wight. Hook was practically curate in charge. In a little wooden hut which he set up near the corner of the churchyard he worked with great energy at a course of theological and historical study previously marked out for himself from an early hour daily till two or three o'clock in the afternoon. The rest of the day he devoted to his parish. ‘The strong pastoral feeling,’ he wrote subsequently in reference to his life at Whippingham, ‘is generated in the country, and I attribute what little success I have had entirely to my country breeding.’ The parish included East Cowes, two miles distant from the rectory. There was no church in East Cowes, but Hook held a service in a sail-loft there every Sunday evening after two full services in the parish church.

In 1822, while still only a deacon, he preached at the Bishop of Winchester's visitation at Newport, as a substitute for his father, who was ill. The subject of the sermon was ‘The peculiar character of the Church of England independently of its connection with the State.’ He confidently argued that it is the duty of Englishmen to belong to the church, not because it is established, but because it is a pure branch of the church catholic, which can exist in purity and vigour under any form of government, either severed from the state or connected with it. This view he maintained through life. At the request of the bishop (Dr. Tomline) the sermon was printed. Soon afterwards Hook's former schoolmaster, Dr. Luscombe, pointed out the need of an archdeacon or bishop to superintend the scattered congregations of the English church on the continent. The proposal to appoint a suffragan to the Bishop of London, was rejected on political grounds. Thereupon Hook suggested that the bishops of the Scottish church, who had in 1785 consecrated Dr. Seabury, the first bishop of the church in America, should consecrate a bishop to minister to the English on the European continent. The suggestion was adopted; the Scottish bishops elected Dr. Luscombe, and on Sunday, 20 March 1825, Hook preached the sermon at his consecration at Stirling. The sermon was entitled ‘An attempt to demonstrate the Catholicism of the Church of England and the other branches of the Episcopal Church.’

Hook left Whippingham in 1825 when his father was made dean of Worcester, and was soon afterwards appointed to the perpetual curacy of Moseley, then a country village about four miles from Birmingham. In 1827 he was also appointed to a lectureship at St. Philip's, Birmingham. The emolument of the lectureship enabled him to keep a curate at Moseley, but he never spared himself. In Birmingham he established a penitentiary, and in Moseley a village school.

Hook was appointed by Lord Chancellor Lyndhurst in the autumn of 1828 to the living of Holy Trinity, Coventry. The parish was an onerous charge at the time; there was great depression of trade, and the spirit of churchmanship was at a low ebb. But the new vicar soon poured new life into the place. He began evening services—rare in those days—in the summer of 1830, and his church was the first in Coventry to be lighted with gas. He introduced frequent celebrations of holy communion, services on saints' days, and lectures in Lent. In 1834 he gave a series of lectures on the liturgy, and his Sunday evening sermons were generally an expository course upon some book of holy scripture. The course upon St. Matthew occupied several years, and the sermon, afterwards so notorious, ‘Hear the Church,’ was originally written for this series. In holy week, 1830, he delivered day by day the lectures afterwards published under the title of ‘The Last Days of Our Lord's Ministry.’ This, his first literary venture, was one of the most successful. A dispensary, a savings bank, and a society called ‘The Religious and Useful Knowledge Society,’ which included a library, classes of instruction, and periodical lectures, were all more or less directly established by him.

In 1837 Hook was elected to the vicarage of Leeds by more than two-thirds of the trustees, in spite of a vigorous opposition from the low-church party. The chief conditions which he had to face at Leeds were a huge and rapidly increasing population, great ignorance among church people of the principles of their church, and active opposition on the part of dissenters. The population had risen from 53,162 in 1801 to 123,393 in 1831. The parish included the whole of the town and a large portion of the suburbs. In 1835 there were only eight churches in the town besides the parish church, and nine in the suburbs. The total number of clergy was eighteen. The town churches were mere chapels of ease to the parish church; no districts were assigned to them, the patronage of nearly all was vested in the vicar, and most of the baptisms, marriages, and funerals were performed at the parish church, functions which consumed nearly all the time of the clerical staff, consisting of the vicar, one curate, and a clerk in orders. The agitation against compulsory church rates was in progress when Hook arrived in Leeds. The ratepayers had purposely elected seven churchwardens either hostile or indifferent to the church. Hook found the surplices in rags and the service books in tatters, but the churchwardens refused to expend a farthing upon such things, and behaved at a vestry meeting in the church with the grossest irreverence. As chairman of a church-rate meeting in the old Cloth Hall Yard in August 1837, the vicar found himself confronted by a mob of nearly three thousand persons. A halfpenny rate was proposed to meet the church expenses for the coming year. A baptist preacher furiously attacked both church rates and the vicar, but Hook, by his tact, boldness, and ready wit, gained the day, the rate was passed, and a vote of thanks to the chairman was carried by acclamation.

The congregation at the parish church soon became so large that scarcely standing room could be found at the Sunday services. An entirely new church, capable of holding nearly four thousand persons, was opened in 1841. It was Hook's custom for many years to preach not only each Sunday but every day in Lent. His sermons were always learned and forcible, and full of fervid piety. The whole number of communicants when he became vicar was little more than fifty, and among these there were no young men, and very few men of any age. But in the course of two or three years four or five hundred persons communicated on Easter day, and before he left Leeds this number was often doubled. At the same time his published sermons, pamphlets, and other occasional writings extended his influence far beyond his parish.

In 1844 he succeeded, after many delays, and at the sacrifice of his own income and patronage, in getting an act of parliament passed for the division of the huge, unwieldy parish. By this act about twenty chapels of ease were converted into parish churches, and non-resident curates into resident vicars.

Hook became a royal chaplain soon after he went to Coventry, and in 1838 preached before the young queen at the Chapel Royal the memorable sermon ‘Hear the Church,’ in which he argued that the church of England was not founded, but reformed, in the sixteenth century, that the Roman catholics in England in the reign of Elizabeth quitted the national church, and that the bishops of the English church trace their succession back to the apostles. The sermon was invested with an exaggerated importance never dreamed of by the preacher. It ran through twenty-eight editions, and about a hundred thousand copies were sold. Hook was very commonly looked upon at this time as a member of the Oxford or tractarian school, but his views had been formed long before the ‘Oxford Tracts’ were issued. He was for a certain time with the tractarians, but was never of them. Although he disapproved of the book entitled ‘An Ideal of the Christian Church’ (1844), written by W. G. Ward [q. v.], he voted in convocation at Oxford against the proposals to condemn the book and its author. His bitterest trial at Leeds was connected with a church established there by Dr. Pusey and his friends. This church, St. Saviour's, of which Hook laid the foundation-stone in 1842, was consecrated in October 1845, a fortnight after Newman had seceded to the church of Rome. It became a separate parish church under the Leeds Vicarage Act in the autumn of 1846, and soon afterwards several of the clergy and some of the laity connected with it joined the church of Rome. Old opponents, after a long silence, declaimed once more against Hook, and credited his teaching with responsibility for this result. At the same time he was reproached by the more advanced members of the Puseyite school for his condemnation of the teaching and practice of some of the clergy at St. Saviour's. During these troubles he delivered the lecture, December 1846, afterwards published, entitled ‘The Three Reformations: Lutheran, Roman, Anglican.’

Hook had sketched as early as 1838, in a letter to his friend Page Wood, the outlines of a scheme of national education, which he formally propounded in 1846 in a celebrated letter to the Bishop of St. David's (Thirlwall). The main points of Hook's scheme, which excited bitter opposition from many churchmen, were (1) all children ought to receive elementary education; (2) the state alone can enforce this education; (3) religion is an essential part of education, but in England the state cannot undertake this part because there is no one religion common to the whole people; therefore (4) let the state establish rate-paid schools in which all children, to whatever religion they belong, may receive elementary secular instruction; (5) let class-rooms be attached to such schools in which at certain hours the clergy of the church and dissenting ministers may give religious instruction separately to the children of their several flocks. In everything touching the real welfare of the working people Hook was interested. He warmly advocated the Factory Ten Hours Bill, introduced by Lord Ashley (afterwards Lord Shaftesbury [q. v.]), although it was vehemently opposed by the rich manufacturers of Leeds, and by the vast majority of the tory party to which he had hitherto adhered. He supported the early closing movement. He opposed the encampment of the militia on Woodhouse Moor, an open tract of high and healthy ground adjacent to Leeds, and urged the town council to secure it as a public park. He would not support a scheme for providing bands of music to play on the moor on Sundays, but would not sign a protest against it. He preached a sermon in the parish church pointing out the confusion introduced by the puritans between the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Sunday which did not disfavour innocent recreation. During a strike among the colliers near Leeds the men proposed that their claims should be referred to three arbitrators, the first to be chosen by the masters, the second by the men, the third by the vicar of Leeds. In 1842 and 1843 a set of chartists were elected churchwardens. The vicar told them that he should have been better pleased if a body of good churchmen had been elected, but as they had been appointed he should trust them to act with fairness. His trust was justified. He lectured repeatedly at mechanics' institutes and similar institutions, and performed no kind of work with keener zest.

In February 1859 he was appointed to the deanery of Chichester, one of the poorest deaneries in England, a very slender recognition of his services. But Hook was not ambitious, and welcomed the prospect of comparative rest. He left Leeds a very different place from what he found it. He found it a stronghold of dissent, he left it a stronghold of the church; he found it with fifteen churches, he left it with thirty-six; he found it with three schools, he left it with thirty; he found it with six parsonage-houses, he left it with twenty-nine.

At Chichester he soon embarked upon his great literary work, the ‘Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury,’ his chief employment for the remainder of his life. But the fall of the cathedral tower and spire in 1861 involved him again in the irksome business of begging for subscriptions, attending committees and making speeches, and entailed heavy expenses which he could ill afford. Nevertheless he toiled on at his literary work with astonishing vigour; his conception of it enlarged until it embraced the whole history of the church of England. The prolonged ill-health of his wife and her death in 1871 gave a shock to his constitution, and the last years of his life were marked by a decline of bodily and mental power. When Mr. Gladstone was prime minister he in vain offered Hook one deanery after another in rapid succession, Rochester in 1870, Canterbury and St. Paul's in 1871, Winchester in 1872. Hook died on 20 Oct. 1875, and was buried beside his wife in the churchyard of Mid Lavant, two miles from Chichester. The tenth volume of his history had been brought out early in the same year, and the eleventh, containing the lives of Laud and Juxon, had been sent to press. Hook married, in June 1829, Anna Delicia, eldest daughter of Dr. John Johnstone, a physician of Birmingham.

In youth and early manhood Hook was spare and bony, but, though tall and muscular, he never was agile. With advancing years he grew stout, especially after he became a total abstainer. The plainness of his face was a subject upon which he often jested, but it was redeemed by a sweet smile and melodious voice, which was remarkable for strength and compass. In his massive frame and low but bossy brow he resembled Dr. Johnson; he was like him also in other peculiarities—occasional twitchings of the face, fits of depression, a constitutional dread of dying, and a vehement antipathy to foreigners. His industry was prodigious. He commonly rose at five, sometimes at four o'clock or even earlier. He was an excellent letter-writer, and his correspondence with private friends, public men, and persons who sought his advice from all parts of the country was very large; but it was in his letters to his friend Page Wood, written once a fortnight at least during sixty years, that he poured out his whole mind and heart. The secret of his immense personal influence consisted in his large-hearted sympathy, his enthusiastic zeal, his honesty, his high sense of justice and fair play, his shrewd common sense, and his inexhaustible fund of playful humour.

Many of Hook's sermons were published together in two volumes entitled ‘The Church and her Ordinances,’ edited in 1876 by his son, Walter Hook, rector of Porlock, Somerset. His principal writings, besides those mentioned above, were:

  1. ‘The Catholic Clergy of Ireland, their Cause defended,’ 1836.
  2. Five sermons preached before the university of Oxford, 1837.
  3. ‘The Gospel and the Gospel only the Basis of Education,’ 1839.
  4. ‘A Call to Union on the Principles of the English Reformation,’ 1839.
  5. Sermons on various subjects, vol. i. 1841; vol. ii. 1842.
  6. ‘A Letter to the Bishop of Ripon on the State of Parties in the Church of England,’ 1841.
  7. ‘Reasons for contributing towards the Support of an English Bishop at Jerusalem,’ 1842.
  8. A ‘Church Dictionary,’ 1842. Originally brought out in short numbers on a small scale for parochial distribution, afterwards much enlarged in successive editions; 14th edit., 1887, revised and in great part rewritten under the editorship of the Revs. Walter Hook and W. R. W. Stephens.
  9. ‘Mutual Forbearance in Things Indifferent,’ 1843.
  10. ‘“Take heed what ye hear,”’ 1844.
  11. A ‘Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Biography,’ 8 vols. 1845–52.
  12. ‘Sermons on the Miracles,’ 2 vols. 1847–8.
  13. ‘Sermons on the Ordinances of the Church,’ preached at St. James's, Morpeth, 1847.
  14. ‘Letter to Sir W. Farquhar on the Present Crisis in the Church,’ 1850.
  15. ‘Duty of English Churchmen and Progress of the Church in Leeds,’ 1851.
  16. Discourses on controversies of the day, 1853.
  17. ‘Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury,’ 12 vols., with index (vol. i. 1860; vol. ii. 1862; vols. iii.–iv. 1865; vol. v. 1867; vols. vi.–vii. 1868; vol. viii. 1869; vol. ix. 1872; vols. x.–xi. 1875; and vol. xii. index 1876).

Hook also edited the ‘Cross of Christ,’ ‘Meditations for every Day in the Year,’ ‘The Christian taught by the Church's Services,’ and other devotional works.

[Letters and Diary; reminiscences supplied by friends; personal recollections; Life and Letters (with two portraits), by the writer of this article, 1878, 2 vols., popular ed. 1880.]

W. R. W. S.