Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Palmer, William (1811-1879)

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PALMER, WILLIAM (1811–1879), theologian and archæologist, eldest son of William Jocelyn Palmer, rector of Mixbury, Oxfordshire, by Dorothea Richardson, daughter of the Rev. William Roundell of Gledstone, Yorkshire, was born on 12 July 1811. Archdeacon Palmer and Roundell Palmer, first earl of Selborne [q. v.], were his brothers. He was educated at Rugby and Oxford, where he matriculated on 27 July 1826, and was elected to a demyship at Magdalen College. In 1830 he obtained the chancellor's prize with a Latin poem, ‘Tyrus,’ and a first-class in the classical schools. In 1831 he graduated B.A. (17 Feb.), and in 1832 took deacon's orders and a Magdalen fellowship. In 1833 he proceeded M.A., and gained the chancellor's prize with a Latin ‘Oratio de Comœdia Atticorum,’ printed the same year. During the next three years he was tutor in the university of Durham, during the three years 1837–9 examiner in the classical schools at Oxford, and from 1838 to 1843 tutor at Magdalen College.

An extreme high churchman, Palmer anticipated in an unpublished Latin introduction to the Thirty-nine Articles composed for the use of his pupils in 1839–40 the ingenious argument of the celebrated ‘Tract XC.’ He took, however, little active part in the tractarian movement, but occupied his leisure time in the study of various forms of ecclesiastical polity and theological belief. In 1840 he visited Russia in order to examine oriental christianity in its principal seat, and to obtain if possible an authoritative recognition of the Anglican claim to intercommunion. Letters of commendation and introduction from Dr. Martin Joseph Routh [q. v.], president of Magdalen College, and the British ambassador at the Russian court, gained him the ear of the highest functionaries in the Russian church. The difficulty of persuading them that the church of England was a branch of the catholic church was greatly aggravated by the recent admission to communion by the English chaplain at Geneva of Princess Galitzin and her eldest daughter, both of whom had renounced the Greek church. Prince Galitzin had sought by letter, but had failed to obtain, from Archbishop Howley [q. v.] an opinion on the question whether apostates from the Russian church could lawfully take the communion in the church of England. At the prince's desire Palmer corresponded with the ladies, the younger of whom he induced to return to the Russian church. During his stay in St. Petersburg he edited R. W. Blackmore's translation of Mouravieff's ‘History of the Church in Russia,’ Oxford, 1842, 8vo. His claim for admission to communion in the Russian church, pressed with the utmost pertinacity and ingenuity for nearly a year, was at length decisively rejected by the metropolitan of Moscow.

On his return to England in the autumn of 1841, Palmer submitted to Bishop Blomfield, as ordinary of continental chaplains, the question on which Archbishop Howley had maintained so discreet a reserve, and received an affirmative answer. Too late to break a lance in defence of ‘Tract XC.,’ he was in time to repel with animation a charge of ‘Romanism’ levelled at himself (cf. his Letter to the Rev. C. P. Golightly; his Letter to a Protestant-Catholic, both published at Oxford in 1841, 8vo; and his Letter to the Rev. Dr. Hampden, Oxford, 1842, 8vo). An able ‘Protest against Prusso-Anglican Protestantism,’ which he lodged with Archbishop Howley in reference to the recently established Jerusalem bishopric, was, at the archbishop's request, withheld from publication. He issued, however, the notes and appendices thereto, under the title ‘Aids to Reflection on the seemingly Double Character of the Established Church,’ Oxford, 1841, 8vo, and recurred to the same topic in an anonymous ‘Examination of an Announcement made in the Prussian State Gazette concerning the “Relations of the Bishop of the United Church of England and Ireland in Jerusalem” with the German Congregation of the Evangelical Religion in Palestine,’ Oxford, 1842, 8vo.

Bent on renewing his application for admission to communion in the Greek church, Palmer early in 1842 visited Paris, and laid the whole case before Bishop Luscombe [q. v.], in whose chapel the Princess Galitzin, then resident in Paris, was in the habit of communicating. He had several interviews with the princess, but failed to alter her views. Bishop Luscombe refused, however, to furnish her with a certificate of communion on the eve of her departure for Russia, and thus Palmer on his return to St. Petersburg was able to exclude her from communion in the English chapel there. His second application for admission to communion in the Russian church, though supported by letters commendatory from Bishop Luscombe and a vast magazine of ingenious dissertations of his own on the position of the church of England in the economy of Christendom, only elicited an express and explicit rejection on the part of the Russian church of the Anglican claim to catholicity. After a minute examination of the entire case, the holy governing synod declined to admit him to communion unless he acknowledged the Thirty-nine Articles of religion to be ‘in their plain literal sense and spirit’ a full and perfect expression of the faith of the churches of England and Scotland, and to contain forty-four heresies; unless he renounced and anathematised the said heresies, the Thirty-nine Articles as containing them and the churches of England and Scotland as implicated in them; and further admitted the Greek church to be the œcumenical church, and were received into the same as a proselyte.

The œcumenical character of the Greek church Palmer readily admitted; he also renounced and anathematised the forty-four heresies, but demurred to their alleged presence in the Thirty-nine Articles. On the question whether what he had done amounted to a renunciation of the churches of England and Scotland, he appealed to Bishop Luscombe and the Scottish Episcopal College.

On his return to England Palmer occupied himself in the composition of a ‘Harmony of Anglican Doctrine with the Doctrine of the Eastern Church’ (Aberdeen, 1846; Greek translation, Athens, 1851) and in the preparation of his case for the Scottish Episcopal College. The latter, which occupies a thick and closely printed volume, entitled ‘An Appeal to the Scottish Bishops and Clergy, and generally to the Church of their Communion,’ Edinburgh, 1849, 8vo, was dismissed unheard by the Scottish Episcopal Synod assembled in Edinburgh on 7 Sept. 1849.

Soon after the decision of the privy council in the Gorham case in 1852 Palmer again sought admission to the Greek church, but recoiled before the unconditional rebaptism to which he was required to submit. In 1853 appeared his learned and ingenious ‘Dissertations on Subjects relating to the Orthodox or Eastern-Catholic Communion,’ London, 8vo. On the eve of the Crimean war he studied the question of the Holy Places at Jerusalem. The winter of 1853–4 he passed in Egypt. He afterwards went into retreat under Passaglia at Rome, and there was received into the Roman church, the rite of baptism being dispensed with, in the chapel of the Roman College on 28 Feb. 1855.

For the rest of his life Palmer resided at Rome in the Piazza di Santa Maria in Campitelli, where he died on 4 April 1879, in his sixty-eighth year. His remains were interred (8 April) in the cemetery of S. Lorenzo in Campo Verano.

Palmer was a profoundly learned theologian, and (when he chose) a brilliant writer. His piety was deep and fervent, and, though a trenchant controversialist, he was one of the most amiable of men. In later life, notwithstanding broken health, he made laborious researches in ecclesiastical history and archæology. He left voluminous manuscripts, chiefly autobiographical. Dr. Newman, to whom he used to pay an annual visit at Birmingham, edited after his death his ‘Notes of a Visit to the Russian Church in the Years 1840, 1841,’ London, 1882, 8vo.

Besides the works mentioned above, Palmer was author of the following: 1. ‘Short Poems and Hymns, the latter mostly Translations,’ Oxford, 1843. 2. Ταπενὴ ἀναφορὰ τοῖς πατριάρχαις, Athens, 1850. 3. Διατριβαὶ περὶ τῆς Ἀγγλικῆς Ἐκκλησίas, Athens, 1851. 4. Διατριβαὶ περὶ τῆς άνατολικῆς ἐκκλησίas, Athens, 1852. 5. ‘Remarks on the Turkish Question,’ London, 1858. 6. ‘An Introduction to Early Christian Symbolism; being the Description of a Series of Fourteen Compositions from Fresco-paintings, Glasses, and Sculptured Sarcophagi; with three Appendices,’ London, 1859, 8vo; new edition, under the title ‘Early Christian Symbolism: a Series of Compositions,’ &c., ed. J. G. Northcote and W. R. Brownlow, London, 1885, fol. 7. ‘Egyptian Chronicles: with a Harmony of Sacred and Egyptian Chronology, and an Appendix on Babylonian and Assyrian Antiquities,’ London, 1861, 2 vols. 8vo. 8. ‘Commentatio in Librum Danielis,’ Rome, 1874. 9. ‘The Patriarch Nicon and the Tsar,’ from the Russian, London, 6 vols. 1871–6.

[Rugby School Reg.; Bloxam's Magd. Coll. Reg.; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Oxford Honours List; Notes of a Visit to the Russian Church, ed. Cardinal Newman, with the above-mentioned Appeal; Egyptian Chronicles (Introduction); Neale's Life of Patrick Torry, D.D., 1856, chap. vi.; Tablet, 17 March 1855, and 12 April 1879; Guardian, 9 and 16 April; Times, 12 April 1879; Academy, 1879, i. 348; Charles Wordsworth's Annals of my Life, 1847–56, pp. 74–8; Liddon's Life of Pusey, ii. 287; Allies's Life's Decision, p. 337; E. G. Kirwan Browne's Annals of the Tractarian Movement, 1856, p. 180; T. Mozley's Reminiscences; Ornsby's Memoirs of Hope-Scott, ii. 12; Month, 1872, p. 168; North Amer. Rev. 1863, pt. i. 111; Eclectic Review, July 1862; Dublin Review, vol. xli.; Ibrahim Hilmy's Lit. Egypt.]

J. M. R.