Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Shirley, Walter Waddington

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SHIRLEY, WALTER WADDINGTON (1828–1866), ecclesiastical historian and divine, the only son of Walter Augustus Shirley [q. v.], bishop of Sodor and Man, was born at Shirley, Derbyshire, on 24 July 1828. He was educated at Rugby under Dr. Arnold. His most intimate friend at school and throughout his life was his cousin, William Henry Waddington, who afterwards won for himself a high position in French politics. In June 1846 Shirley matriculated at University College, Oxford, but in the following year he migrated to Wadham College, where he had gained a scholarship. He obtained a first class in the honour school of mathematics in 1851, and in 1852 was elected a fellow of his college. He was compelled to vacate his fellowship three years later, in consequence of his entrance on his mother's death into possession of a small landed property. From 1855 to 1863 he was tutor and mathematical lecturer of Wadham. It was during this period that he began to devote his best energies to historical study. Patient in research, possessing to an extraordinary degree the rare quality of fair-mindedness, the master of a clear and dignified style, he came to be regarded by many competent judges, both in England and in Germany, as one of the most brilliant of the new school of Oxford historians. In 1858 his edition of ‘Fasciculi Zizaniorum Magistri Johannis Wyclif’ was published in the Rolls Series. His admirable introduction attracted the attention of historical students (but cf. Athenæum, 1858, ii. 415, 454), and he commenced the preparation of a life of Wiclif which he did not live to complete. In 1865, however, he published ‘Catalogue of the Original Works of John Wiclif,’ Oxford, 8vo. In 1862 he edited for the Rolls Series ‘Royal and other Historical Letters illustrative of the Reign of Henry III.’

During this period his theological views underwent considerable change. Having been in his early days a disciple of Arnold, he ultimately came to regard ‘undogmatic Christianity’ as a contradiction in terms. Finally, in May 1863, he preached in the university church a closely reasoned sermon—which created a profound impression at the time of its delivery and has often been quoted since—wherein he sought to demonstrate the unreasonableness of Arnold's teaching. Two or three months after the delivery of this sermon he was made regius professor of ecclesiastical history and canon of Christ Church. His scrupulous fairness in controversy, his freedom from party spirit, the mingled strength and simplicity of his character, had won for him the esteem of men of widely divergent views, and his appointment to the professorship met with general approval. He was one of the pioneers of the university extension movement, and played a prominent part in the early history of the founding of Keble College. His promising career was cut short at the age of thirty-eight. He died on 20 Nov. 1866. By his wife Philippa, daughter of Samuel Knight, esq., of Impington, Cambridgeshire, whom he married on 4 July 1855, Shirley had issue three daughters and two sons, of whom the elder, Walter Knight, is heir-presumptive to the earldom of Ferrers.

The theological position which Shirley occupied at the time of his death was still a provisional one. He always regarded as ‘the most treacherous of all fallacies the assumption that the general position, moral or intellectual, which a man has taken up can never require to be reconsidered.’ In addition to the works already mentioned, he published a lecture on ‘Scholasticism,’ delivered before the university of Oxford, 1866. After his death a small volume by him, entitled ‘Some Account of the Church in the Apostolic Age,’ was published by the Clarendon Press.

[Gardiner's Registers of Wadham College, 1719–1871; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Burgon's Twelve Good Men; Archdeacon Hill's Letters and Memoir of W. A. Shirley, D.D., Bishop of Sodor and Man; Burke's Peerage; unpublished letters of Madame Bunsen, W. H. Waddington, Canon J. C. Robertson, Dr. Buddensieg of Dresden, and others; private information.]

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