Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Walmesley, Charles

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732566Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 59 — Walmesley, Charles1899Thompson Cooper

WALMESLEY, CHARLES (1722–1797), Roman catholic prelate and mathematician, seventh son of John Walmesley of Westwood House, near Wigan, Lancashire, by his wife Mary, daughter of William Greaves, was born at Westwood on 13 Jan. 1722 (Burke, Commoners, i. 278). He was educated in the English Benedictine college of St. Gregory at Douay, and in the English monastery of St. Edmund at Paris, where he made his profession as a monk of the Benedictine order in 1739. Subsequently he took the degree of D.D. at the Sorbonne. In the course of a tour through Europe he explored the summit of Mount Etna, where he made scientific observations. His scientific attainments soon brought him into public notice, and some of his astronomical papers were inserted in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ of 1745. In 1747 he entered into the discussions to which the celebrated problem of the three bodies at that time gave rise; and his investigations, though scarcely known in his native country, were thought on the continent to be on a level with those of Clairault, d'Alembert, and Euler (Butler, Hist. Memoirs, 1822, iv. 434). He produced in 1749 an analytical investigation of the motion of the lunar apsides, in which he attained approximately correct results. He extended and completed his theorem in 1758, and in 1761 his conclusions were confirmed by Matthew Stewart (1717–1785) [q. v.], who reached nearly the same results by purely geometric methods of investigation. Walmesley was also consulted by the British government on the reform of the calendar and the introduction of the ‘new style.’ He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London on 1 Nov. 1750, and he was also a fellow of the Royal Society of Berlin (Thomson, Hist. of the Royal Soc. Appendix No. 4, p. xlvi).

From 1749 to 1753 he held the office of prior of the monastery of St. Edmund at Paris, and in 1754 he was sent to Rome as procurator-general of his order (Snow, Necrology, p. 129). His election as coadjutor, cum jure successionis, to Bishop Laurence York [q. v.], vicar-apostolic of the western district of England, was made by propaganda on 6 April 1756, and was approved by the pope on 2 May. It was decreed that he should retain the Benedictine priory of St. Marcellus in the diocese of Chalon. He was consecrated at Rome with the title of bishop of Rama, in partibus, on 21 Dec. 1756. He administered the vicariate after the retirement of Bishop York in 1763, and succeeded to the vicariate on the death of his predecessor in 1770.

During the ‘no popery’ riots in London in June 1780 a post-chaise conveying four of the rioters, and bearing the insignia of the mob, hurried to Bath, where Walmesley resided. These delegates from Lord George Gordon's association so inflamed the populace that the newly erected catholic chapel in St. James's Parade was gutted and demolished, as well as the presbytery in Bell-tree Lane; and the registers, diocesan archives, and Walmesley's library and manuscripts perished in the flames.

In conjunction with his episcopal brethren and a large proportion of the laity, Walmesley consented in 1789 to sign the ‘protestation’ of the ‘catholic committee.’ But he subsequently withdrew his signature, and when this protestation was reduced into the form of an oath, he called a synod of his colleagues, and a decree was issued that ‘they unanimously condemned the new form of an oath intended for the catholics, and declared it unlawful to be taken.’ Walmesley gave no sanction to the schismatical proceedings of the ‘Cisalpine’ party (Amherst, Hist. of Catholic Emancipation, i. 164–71).

He died at Bath on 25 Nov. 1797, and was buried in St. Joseph's Chapel, Bristol, where there is a monument to his memory with a Latin epitaph written by Father Charles Plowden [q. v.]

Portraits of Walmesley are preserved at Downside and Lullworth, the latter being painted by Keenan. There is an engraved portrait in the ‘Laity's Directory’ for 1802.

His principal theological work is: 1. ‘The General History of the Christian Church, from her Birth to her Final Triumphant State in Heaven, chiefly deduced from the Apocalypse of St. John the Apostle, by Signor Pastorini [a pseudonym],’ sine loco, 1771, 8vo; Dublin, 1790, 8vo; London, 1798, 8vo; Dublin, 1806, 1812, and 1815, 8vo; Belfast, 1816, 8vo; Cork, 1820 and 1821, 8vo; and five editions published in America, one of which appeared at New York, 1851, 12mo. The work was published in a French translation at Rouen in 1777 (reprinted at St. Malo, 1790, 3 vols.); in Latin, shortly afterwards, at Paris; in German, by Abbé Goldhagen, in 1785; and in Italian in 2 vols. at Rome in 1798. A mischievous use was made of some portions of this work in Ireland in 1825, when many of the people were under great political excitement. Certain passages extracted from it were printed on a broadside sheet, and circulated gratuitously among the catholics of the northern counties. This was done with great secrecy (COTTON, Rhemes and Doway, p. 53). His other works are: 2. ‘Analyse des Mesures, des Rapports, et des Angles; ou Réduction des Intégrales aux Logarithmes et aux Arcs de Cercle,’ Paris, 1749, 4to. This is an extension and explanation of Cotes's ‘Harmonia Mensurarum.’ 3. ‘The Theory of the Motion of the Apsides in general, and of Apsides of the Moon's Orbit in particular, written in French by Dom C. Walmesley, and now translated into English’ [by J. Brown], London, 1754, 8vo. 4. ‘De Inæqualitatibus Motuum Lunarium,’ Florence, 1758, 4to. 5. ‘On the Irregularities in the Motion of a Satellite, arising from the Spheroidal Figure of its Primary Planet,’ in the ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ 1758. 6. ‘Of the Irregularities in the Planetary Motions, caused by the Mutual Attraction of the Planets,’ in the ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ 1761. 7. ‘Ezekiel's Vision Explained,’ London, 1778, 8vo.

[Brady's Episcopal Succession, pp. 223, 224, 297–302; Gent. Mag. 1797, ii. 1071; Hutton's Philosophical and Mathematical Dict. (1815); Le Glay's Notice sur C. Walmesley, Lille (1858), 8vo; Oliver's Cornwall, pp. 429, 527; Panzani's Memoirs, pp. 433 n., 437, 443, 449; Rambler (1851), vii. 59, 430.]

T. C.