Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Walker, Obadiah

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WALKER, OBADIAH (1616–1699), master of University College, Oxford, was the son of William Walker of Worsborodale, Yorkshire. He was born at Darfield, near Barnsley (Hearne, Collect. ed. Doble, i. 81), and was baptised on 17 Sept. 1616. He matriculated at Oxford, 5 April 1633, at the age of sixteen, and entered University College, where he passed under the care of Abraham Woodhead [q. v.] as tutor. He became fellow of his college in August following, graduated B.A. 4 July 1635, and M.A. 23 April 1638. He soon became a tutor of note in his college and a man of mark in the university. During the civil war he was elected one of the standing extraordinary delegates of the university for public business. He preached several times before the court, was favourably regarded by the king, and in 1646 was offered, but appears to have refused, his grace of bachelor of divinity. Through a part of this period he acted as college bursar (cf. Smith, manuscript Transcripts, x. 210). In July 1648 the master and fellows were ejected by the parliamentary commissioners. Walker appears to have gone abroad, visiting Rome, and ‘improving himself in all kinds of polite literature’ (Smith, Annals of University College). On the recommendation of John Evelyn about 1650, he became tutor to Henry and Charles, sons of Henry Hildyard of Horsley in Surrey (Evelyn, Diary, ed. Bray, iii. 22), and the early perversion of his pupil to the church of Rome may probably be regarded as one of the results of his tuition. On the Restoration he was reinstated as fellow of his college; ‘after having been,’ as he wrote to a friend in 1678 (Smith, manuscript, Transcripts, x. 192), ‘heaved out of my place and wandred a long time up and down, I am at last, by the good providence of God, set down just as I was.’ Soon, however, he again left Oxford, and again travelled to Rome, as tutor to a young gentleman. The college gave him leave of absence for four terms, in August 1661, on 31 Jan. 1663, and 23 March 1664, and for two terms on 14 Jan. 1665 (Univ. Coll. Reg. pp. 79–82).

On the death of the master, Dr. Thomas Walker, in 1665, Obadiah declined to contest Clayton's election to the vacant office. He now, however, resided again in the college as senior fellow and tutor. He was a delegate of the university press in 1667, and through his influence an offer was made to Anthony à Wood (whose acquaintance about this time he had accidentally made in the coach on the way to Oxford) for the printing of the ‘History and Antiquities of Oxford’ (Wood, Life and Times, ii. 173). The mastership became again vacant by the death of Dr. Clayton on 14 June 1676, and Obadiah Walker was elected on 22 June 1676 by the unanimous consent of the fellows (Univ. Coll. Reg. p. 99). Though, when writing to a friend on 20 Nov. 1675, he complained of old age (Smith, manuscript Transcripts, x. 199), he soon proved himself an active head of the college. With energy he canvassed old members of the college for subscriptions towards the rebuilding of the big quadrangle, which was completed in April 1677. The same year the college, under the auspices of their new master, undertook an edition in Latin of Sir John Spelman's ‘Life of Alfred;’ this they did ‘that the world should know that their benefactions are not bestowed on mere drones’ (letter from O. W. 19 April 1677, ib. p. 192). This publication, though often attributed to Walker alone, was a joint production, ‘divers of the society assisting with their pains and learning’ (ib.); it was dedicated to Charles II with a fulsome comparison of that monarch to Alfred. The character of some of the notes in the volume, and Walker's connection with Abraham Woodhead's ‘popish seminary’ at Hoxton (Woodhead, who died in May 1678, left by will the priory at Hoxton to Walker), caused the master's conduct to be noted in the House of Commons towards the latter end of October 1678, when ‘several things were given in against him by the archdeacon of Middlesex’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. App. vii. 150). He was ‘much suspected at this time to be a papist’ (ib.), and, says Wood, ‘had not Mr. Walker had a friend in the house who stood up for him, he would have had a messenger sent for him’ (Wood, Life and Times, ed. Clark, ii. 421); the same authority gives it that two of the fellows of the college made friends in the parliament-house to have the master turned out that one of them might succeed. Whatever inclination Walker entertained at this time towards the Roman church, on the heads of houses being called on 17 Feb. 1679 to make returns to the vice-chancellor of all persons in their societies suspected to be papists, he categorically denied that he knew of any such in his college. But in April of the same year his name was mentioned in Sir Harbottle Grimston's speech calling the attention of the house to the printing of popish books at the theatre at Oxford (ib. p. 449); and in June 1680 complaint was made to the vice-chancellor of the popish character of a sermon preached by one of his pupils at St. Mary's, and the booksellers in Oxford were forbidden to sell his book, ‘The Benefits of our Saviour Jesus Christ to Mankind,’ because of the passages savouring of popery (ib. p. 488). The course he was steering began to render him unpopular both in the town and university, where his main friends and supporters were Leybourne and Massey, and among the fellows Nathaniel Boys and Thomas Deane.

On the accession of James II Walker's attitude soon became clear, for on 5 Jan. 1686 he went to London, being sent for by the king to be consulted as to changes in the university (Univ. Coll. Register). On this errand he remained away till nearly the end of the month, and on his recommendation his friend Massey is said to have been appointed dean of Christ Church. After Walker's return he did not go to prayers or receive the sacrament in the college chapel (Wood, Life, iii. 177). One result of his interviews with the king soon became apparent, for by a letter from James, dated 28 Jan. 1686, it was ordered that the revenue of the fellowship set free by the death of Edward Hinchcliffe should be sequestered into the hands of the master and applied ‘to such uses as we shall appoint, any custom or constitution of our said college to the contrary’ (ib. p. 110). In April in this year mass was held in the master's lodging, and on 3 May 1686 the master and three others were granted a royal license and dispensation ‘to absent themselves from church, common prayer, and from taking the oaths of supremacy and allegiance,’ and under the same authority were empowered to travel to London and Westminster, and to come and remain in the presence of the queen consort and queen dowager. This curious dispensation was effected by immediate warrant signed by the solicitor-general, as it could not have been safely passed under the privy seal (Evelyn, Diary, ed. Bray, iii. 21). In the same month Walker was also granted a license to print for twenty-one years a list of thirty-seven Roman catholic works, the only restriction being that the sale in any one year was not to exceed twenty thousand, and a private press for this purpose was erected in the college in the following year. He was also able at this time to exercise influence over the printing operations of the university; for under the will of Dr. Fell, who died on 10 July 1686, the patent of printing granted by Charles II was made over to Walker and two others (Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. App. p. 692). A chapel for public use was opened in the college on 15 Aug. 1686, rooms on the ground floor of the east side of the quadrangle, ‘in the entry leading from the quad on the right hand,’ being appropriated for the purpose; and the sequestered fellowship was applied for the maintenance of a priest, a Jesuit named Wakeman (Smith, Annals of University College). On the occasion of the king's visit to Oxford in September 1687, Walker (who had been created a J.P. for the county of Oxford, 7 July 1687) gave a public entertainment in the college, and James was present at vespers in the new chapel. Walker was consulted by the king as to the appointment of a new president of Magdalen; his sympathy was entirely with the sovereign, nothing, in his view, being plainer ‘than yt he who makes us corporations hath power also to unmake us’ (Bloxam, Magdalen College and James II, pp. 94, 237). By this expression of opinion and his general conduct his unpopularity was greatly increased, ‘popery being the aversion of town and university’ (ib.) In January 1688 the traders in the town complained of ‘the scholars being frighted away because of popery,’ and, says Wood, ‘Obadiah Walker has the curses of all both great and small’ (Wood, Life, iii. 209). The master, however, boldly pursued his course, and in February 1688 erected the king's statue over the inside of the college gate (ib. iii. 194). By means of correspondence he attempted this year to convert his old friend and pupil, Dr. John Radcliffe [q. v.] In a final letter (written 22 May 1688) to the doctor, whom he was quite unable to convince, Walker declared that he had only been confirmed in his profession of faith by reading Tillotson's book on the real presence, in deference to Radcliffe's wishes, and in the same letter he speaks of ‘that faith which, after many years of adhering to a contrary persuasion, I have through God's mercy embraced’ (Pittis, Memoirs of Dr. Radcliffe, ed. 1715, p. 18). The young wits of Christ Church were the authors of the following doggerel catch, which by their order was sung by ‘a poor natural’ at the master's door:

    Oh, old Obadiah,
    Sing Ave Maria,
    But so will not I a
    for why a
    I had rather be a fool than a knave a

(Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. App. vii. 200). Four days after the arrival of the Prince of Orange, Walker left Oxford, and before leaving moved his books and ‘bar'd up his door next the street’ (Wood, Life and Times, vol. iii. 9 Nov. 1688). His intention was to follow the king abroad, but on 11 Dec. he was stopped and arrested at Sittingbourne, in the company of Gifford, bishop of Madura, and Poulton, master of the school in the Savoy. The refugees were first committed to Maidstone gaol, and then conveyed to London and imprisoned in the Tower. On this event a somewhat scurrilous pamphlet was published in Oxford, entitled ‘A Dialogue between Father Gifford, the Popish President of Maudlin, and Obadiah Walker, on their new college preferment in Newgate.’ Meantime the vice-chancellor and the visitors of University College, having received a complaint from the fellows, met on 27 Jan. 1688–9, and agreed to summon the fellows and the absent master to appear before them, and on 4 Feb. 1689 the office of master was declared vacant, and filled by the election of the senior fellow.

On the first day of term, 23 Oct. 1689, a writ of habeas corpus was moved for Walker, and the House of Commons ordered that he should be brought to the bar. He was there charged, first, with changing his religion; secondly, for seducing others to it; thirdly, for keeping a mass house in the university of Oxford. To these charges he made answer that he could not say that he ever altered his religion, or that his principles were now wholly in agreement with the church of Rome. He denied that he had ever seduced others to the Romish religion, and declared that the chapel was no more his gift than that of the fellows, and that King James had requested it of them, and they had given a part of the college to his use. Having heard these answers, the commons ordered that he should be charged in the Tower by warrant for high treason in being reconciled to the church of Rome and other high crimes and misdemeanours (Commons' Journals, x. 275).

Walker remained in the Tower till 31 Jan. 1689–90, when, having come to the court of king's bench by habeas corpus, he was after some difficulty admitted to his liberty on very good bail (Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 10). On 12 Feb. he was continued in his recognisances till the next term, but was eventually discharged with his bail on 2 June 1690 (ib. ii. 50). He was, however, excepted from William and Mary's act of pardon in May 1690. Walker now again lived for a period on the continent, and after his return resided in London. Being in poor circumstances, he was supported by his old scholar, Dr. Radcliffe, ‘who sent him once a year a new suit of clothes, with ten broad pieces and twelve bottles of richest canary to support his drooping spirits’ (Wood, Life and Times, i. 81). On his infirmities increasing, he eventually found an asylum in Radcliffe's house.

Walker died on 21 Jan. 1698–9, and was buried in St. Pancras churchyard, where a tombstone was erected to his memory by his staunch friend, with the short inscription:

    O W
    per bonam famam
    et per infamiam.

His works are: 1. ‘Some Instruction concerning the Art of Oratory,’ London, 1659, 8vo. 2. ‘Of Education, especially of young Gentlemen,’ Oxford, 1673. This work was deservedly popular, and reached a sixth edition in 1699. It shows its author to have been a man of the world, with a shrewd understanding of the weaknesses of youth. 3. ‘Artis Rationis ad mentem Nominalium libri tres,’ Oxford, 1673, 8vo. 4. ‘A Paraphrase and Annotations upon the Epistle of St. Paul,’ written by O. W., edited by Dr. Fell, Oxford, 1675, 8vo. A new edition of this work appeared in 1852, with an introduction by Dr. Jacobson, D.D., in which he concludes that the book was first written by Walker, and afterwards possibly corrected and improved by Fell. 5. ‘Versio Latina et Annotationes ad Alfredi Magni Vitam Joannis Spelman,’ Oxford, 1678, fol. 6. ‘Propositions concerning Optic Glasses, with their natural Reasons drawn from Experiment,’ Oxford Theatre, 1679, 4to. 7. ‘The Benefits of our Saviour Jesus Christ to Mankind,’ Oxford Theatre, 1680, 4to. 8. ‘A Description of Greenland’ in the first volume of the ‘English Atlas,’ Oxford, 1680. 9. ‘Animadversions upon the Reply of Dr. H. Aldrich to the Discourse of Abraham Woodhead concerning the Adoration of our Blessed Saviour in the Eucharist,’ Oxford, 1688, 4to. The printer is said to have supplied the sheets of Abraham Woodhead's discourses concerning the adoration, &c., which was edited by Walker in January 1687, to Dr. Aldrich, whose answer to Woodhead's book appeared immediately. 10. ‘Some Instruction in the Art of Grammar, writ to assist a young Gentleman in the speedy understanding of the Latin Tongue,’ London, 1691, 8vo. 11. ‘The Greek and Roman History illustrated by Coins and Medals, representing their Religious Rites,’ &c. London, 1692, 8vo.

[Univ. Coll. Register and MSS.; Wood's Life and Times; Gent. Mag. 1786, vol. i.; Gutch's Collectanea Curiosa, i. 288; Pittis's Memoirs of Dr. Radcliffe; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iv. 439; Smith's Hist. of Univ. Coll.; British Museum and Bodleian Catalogues.]

W. C.-r.