Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stebbing, Henry (1799-1883)

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STEBBING, HENRY (1799–1883), poet, preacher, and historian, born at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, on 26 Aug. 1799, was the son of John Stebbing (d. 11 Dec. 1826), who married Mary Rede (d. 24 May 1843) of the Suffolk family of that name, both of whom were buried in the cemetery of St. James, Piccadilly. He ‘penned a stanza’ when he was a schoolboy, and his first poem, ‘The Wanderers,’ was printed at the close of 1817 and circulated among his friends. In the following August he published ‘Minstrel of the Glen and other Poems,’ which included ‘The Wanderers,’ and in October 1818 he proceeded to St. John's College, Cambridge, where he had been admitted a sizar on 4 July 1818. He graduated B.A. 1823, M.A. 1827, and D.D. 1839, and on 3 July 1857 was admitted ad eundem at Oxford. On 3 April 1845 he was elected F.R.S.

Stebbing was ordained deacon by Bishop Bathurst of Norwich in 1822, and priest in 1823. Within a few months he was in charge of three parishes for absentee incumbents, and rode forty miles each Sunday to do the duty. In 1825 he was appointed evening lecturer at St. Mary's, Bungay, and about 1824 he became perpetual curate of Ilketshall St. Lawrence, Norfolk. He married, at Calton church, near Norwich, on 21 Dec. 1824, Mary, daughter of William Griffin of Norwich, and sister of Vice-admiral William Griffin, and in order to increase his income he became, in January 1826, second master, under Dr. Valpy, of Norwich grammar school. Henry Reeve (1813–1895) [q. v.] was one of his pupils there.

In 1827 Stebbing moved to London, and was soon ‘working for the booksellers from morning to night and sometimes from night to morning.’ His connection with the ‘Athenæum’ from its foundation was what he most valued. He was engaged by Silk Buckingham ‘in the very first planning of the new journal, and in shaping the mode of its publication.’ A notice by him of Dr. Hampden's work on ‘Butler's Analogy, or Philosophical Evidences of Christianity,’ was the opening review in the first number of 2 Jan. 1828, and his article on Whately's ‘Rhetoric’ led the second number. After three or four issues he became the working editor (cf. his letter on The Athenæum in 1828–30, which appeared in that paper on 19 Jan. 1878).

From 1834 to 1836 he edited, with the Rev. R. Cattermole, thirty volumes of the ‘Sacred Classics’ of England. He was editor of the ‘Diamond Bible’ (1834, 1840, and 1857), ‘Diamond New Testament’ (1835), ‘Charles Knight's Pictorial Edition of the Book of Common Prayer’ (1838–1840), Tate and Brady's ‘Psalms’ (1840), ‘Psalms and Hymns, with some original Hymns’ (1841), and many modern theological works. He also edited the works of Josephus (1842) and of Bunyan, Milton's ‘Poems’ (1839 and 1851), Defoe's ‘Plague’ (1830), and ‘Robinson Crusoe’ (1859).

Stebbing wrote a continuation to the ‘Death of William IV,’ of Hume and Smollett's ‘History of England.’ His ‘Essay on the Study of History,’ which appeared as an addition to Hume, was published separately in 1841. In 1848 he owned and edited the ‘Christian Enquirer and the Literary Companion,’ but only seven numbers of it were published.

A life of literary activity brought Stebbing the acquaintance of many distinguished men. He breakfasted with Rogers, and was introduced by Basil Montagu to Coleridge's set at Highgate. He conversed with Scott, corresponded with Southey, heard Tom Moore sing his Irish ballads, and knew Thomas Campbell and Charles Dickens.

With his literary drudgery Stebbing combined much clerical work. From 1829 he was alternate morning preacher, and from 1836 to 1857 perpetual curate, of St. James, Hampstead Road, London. He officiated during the same period at the large cemetery of St. James, Piccadilly, which was situated behind his church, and from 1834 to December 1879 he acted as chaplain to University College hospital. For a few months, from 21 Nov. 1835 to the following spring, he held, on the presentation of John Norris, the vicarage of Hughenden in Buckinghamshire. In 1841 he was chaplain to the lord mayor, Thomas Johnson.

These appointments brought with them small pecuniary reward; but in 1857 Dr. Tait, then bishop of London, conferred upon him the more lucrative rectory of St. Mary Somerset, with St. Mary Mounthaw in the city of London. Under the Union of Benefices Act the parishes of St. Nicholas Cole-Abbey and St. Nicholas Olave were united with them in November 1866, and those of St. Benet and St. Peter, Paul's Wharf, in June 1879. At this composite living Dr. Stebbing did duty for the rest of his days. He was a moderate churchman, inclining to evangelicalism. In 1847 he published ‘A Letter to Lord John Russell on the Established Church,’ in which he argued for a reform of the system of patronage. He died at St. James's parsonage, Hampstead Road, London, on 22 Sept. 1883, and was buried on 27 Sept. in Kensal Green cemetery.

His wife (born at Norwich on 22 Feb. 1805) died on 3 Feb. 1882, and was buried in the same cemetery. Five sons and four daughters survived. Two of his sons, Mr. William Stebbing and Mr. Thomas Roscoe Rede Stebbing, F.R.S., have distinguished themselves respectively in literature and science; while two daughters, Beatrice (now Mrs. Batty) and Miss Grace Stebbing, are also well known as authors. The eldest son, John (d. 1885), translated Humboldt's ‘Letters to a Lady’ and Thiers's ‘History of France under Napoleon.’

Stebbing's portrait was painted at least four times, the artists being Harland, Wivell, Baugniet, and Riviere. There were published an engraving by S. W. Reynolds of the portrait by T. W. Harland, and a large lithograph by C. Baugniet. A portrait, from a photograph, appeared in the ‘Illustrated London News’ (6 Oct. 1883).

Stebbing's chief works, excluding sermons and those already noticed, were: 1. ‘History of Chivalry and the Crusades’ in Constable's ‘Miscellany,’ vols. l. and li., 1830; much praised by Professor Wilson for its clearness of style and picturesque descriptions. 2. ‘Lives of the Italian Poets,’ 1831, 3 vols.; 2nd edit. with numerous additions, 1832, 3 vols.; new edition in one volume, with omissions and alterations, 1860. 3. ‘History of the Christian Church’ in Lardner's ‘Cabinet Cyclopædia,’ 1833, 2 vols. 4. ‘History of the Reformation’ in Lardner's ‘Cabinet Cyclopædia,’ 1836, 2 vols. 5. ‘History of Church of Christ from Diet of Augsburg, 1530, to the Eighteenth Century;’ originally intended as a continuation of Milner's ‘History,’ 1842, 3 vols. 6. ‘The Church and its Ministers,’ 1844. 7. ‘History of the Universal Church in Primitive Times,’ 1845; prefixed is his portrait with autograph signature. 8. ‘The Christian in Palestine, or Scenes of Sacred History;’ to illustrate sketches on the spot by W. H. Bartlett, 1847. 9. ‘Short Readings on Subjects for Long Reflection,’ 1849. 10. ‘History of Christ's Universal Church prior to the Reformation,’ 1850, 2 vols. 11. ‘The long Railway Journey and other Poems,’ 1851. 12. ‘Jesus: a poem in six Books,’ 1851. 13. ‘Christian Graces in Olden Time: Poetical Illustrations,’ 1852. 14. ‘Near the Cloisters,’ 1868, 2 vols.; descriptive of life at Norwich early in this century.

[Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Lipscomb's Buckinghamshire, iii. 587; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. v. 424–5, vi. 11; Athenæum, 29 Sept. 1883, pp. 400–1; Academy, 29 Sept. 1883, p. 214; Annual Reg. 1883, p. 171; Men of the Time, 8th ed.; Times, 7 Feb. 1882, p. 1, 24 Sept. 1883, p. 7; information from Mr. R. F. Scott, St. John's College, Cambridge, and Mr. William Stebbing.]

W. P. C.