Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wiseman, Nicholas Patrick Stephen

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WISEMAN, NICHOLAS PATRICK STEPHEN (1802–1865), cardinal-archbishop of Westminster, born at Seville on 2 Aug. 1802, was younger of the two sons by a second marriage of James Wiseman, an Irish catholic who had settled as a merchant in Spain. The family claimed descent from Capel Wiseman, protestant bishop of Dromore, third son of Sir William Wiseman, bart., and great-grandson of Sir John Wiseman, one of the auditors of the exchequer in the reign of Henry VIII. The family baronetcy is now represented by Sir William Wiseman of Lynton in Bedfordshire. The cardinal's father married, first, Mariana Dunphy, the daughter of a Spanish general; by her he had three daughters, of whom Marianne married Thomas Tucker, and their only child became the wife of William Burke of Knocknagur, and mother of the present Sir Theobald Burke, and of Thomas Henry Burke [q. v.], under-secretary of state for Ireland. The cardinal's father while on a visit to London married, in the church of SS. Mary and Michael in the Commercial Road, London, on 18 April 1800, his second wife, Xaviera, daughter of Peter Strange of Aylwardston Castle, co. Kilkenny. Two sons and a daughter were the result of the union. The elder son was named James, and the younger was the cardinal. Frances, the youngest child, married Count Andrea Gabrielli, of Fano, councillor of state under the papal government; she was mother of Count Randal Gabrielli. The cardinal's mother lived for many years at Fano, where the poet Browning met her in 1848.

Wiseman's parents returned from London to Seville early in 1802. On 3 Aug. in that year, the day after his birth, he was baptised at the church of Santa Cruz in that city. His paternal uncle, Patrick Wiseman, was his sponsor; 3 Aug. was commemorative of St. Stephen, whence his names Patrick and Stephen. While he was still an infant his mother laid him on one of the altars of Seville Cathedral, where he was solemnly consecrated to the service of the church. His father died suddenly of apoplexy at Seville in 1804. The young widow, with her three children, left Spain in 1805 for Waterford. There they remained two years, during which the boys received instruction at a local boarding-school. On 23 March 1810 Nicholas and his elder brother entered St. Cuthbert's College at Ushaw, near Durham. Thomas Eyre (1748–1810) [q. v.], the president, died just two months after the boys' arrival. His post was temporarily filled for a year by the vice-president, John Lingard the historian. Despite the disparity in years, Wiseman and Lingard then laid the foundation of a lifelong friendship. Wiseman studied syntax and rhetoric under Charles Newsham, afterwards president of Ushaw. Wiseman describes himself as appearing ‘dull and stupid’ to his companions when not in class, as never having ‘said a witty or clever thing while at college,’ but he was always reading and thinking while others played. ‘No pastime,’ as Cardinal Manning said of him at his funeral, was ‘so sweet as a book.’ It was only in his last year at St. Cuthbert's that his name appeared at the top of his class.

Before leaving St. Cuthbert's Nicholas made up his mind to become a priest. A cottage not far from the college on the road to Durham is still pointed out as that in which he took shelter from a terrific thunderstorm, in the course of which he is said to have received his religious vocation. Before quitting St. Cuthbert's, on 28 Sept. 1818, at the age of sixteen, Nicholas received the four minor orders. He was to complete his education at the English College at Rome. Embarking at Liverpool on 2 Oct. for Italy with five other clerical students from Ushaw, Wiseman reached Rome on 18 Dec. 1818. Six days afterwards the six youths were admitted to an audience at the Quirinal by Pius VII, to whom they were presented by Robert Gradwell [q. v.], rector of the newly reconstituted English College in the Via di Monserrato. At his own wish, Nicholas began at an early date to study at the Sapienza the Syriac and other oriental languages. Already in 1820 he was inter pares for the second prize in schola physico-mathematica, and also obtained the second prize ‘in schola physico-chimica.’ In 1822 he gained first prize in dogmatic theology, and the second prize in scholastic theology. Again, in 1823, he took the first prize in dogmatic and was ‘laudatus’ in scholastic theology, winning also the first prize in Hebrew. On 27 July 1823 Wiseman in a public discussion undertook to answer twelve objections, and to maintain as many as four hundred propositions. Cardinal Capellari (afterwards Gregory XVI) and the Abbé de Lamennais were among the auditors. In 1824 he was created doctor in divinity ‘cum præmio.’ On 18 Dec. of that year he was ordained subdeacon, on 23 Jan. in the following year deacon, and on 19 March 1825 priest.

By a special rescript of Leo XII, Wiseman was appointed assistant to the Abbate Molza, who was compiling a Syriac grammar, anthology, and lexicon, with the encouragement of the pope. In 1828 the result of Wiseman's researches appeared under the title ‘Horæ Syriacæ, seu Commentationes et Anecdota res vel Litteras Syriacas spectantia, tomus i.,’ and it at once won him a European reputation among oriental scholars, although his interpretation of some Syriac texts were controverted by Samuel Lee (1783–1852) [q. v.] In this work he first described the Syriac version known as the Karkaphensian Codex of the Old Testament, which was preserved in the Vatican library. At the time that he was engaged in these researches he suffered the only temptation, according to his own account, of his life, from ‘venomous suggestions of a fiend-like infidelity,’ but the trial proved temporary and never recurred.

In October of the year in which Wiseman's ‘Horæ Syriacæ’ was published, Leo XII nominated him professor supernumerary in the two chairs of Hebrew and Syro-Chaldaic in the Roman Archigymnasium of the Sapienza, with the provisional assignment of one hundred scudi until the chairs fell vacant.

Meanwhile, in November 1827, Wiseman became vice-rector of the English College, and next year was appointed rector upon the election of Gradwell by propaganda (19 May 1828) as coadjutor to Bishop James Yorke Bramston [q. v.] He held the office of rector for twelve years, and the English College under his guidance enjoyed a new era of activity. He welcomed and entertained a throng of celebrated persons. He won high reputation as a preacher, and Leo XII appointed him special English preacher at Rome. In 1833 John Henry Newman [q. v.] came with Richard Hurrell Froude [q. v.] to consult Wiseman, hitherto a stranger to them both, as to the course they ought to pursue in the spiritual crisis through which the Anglican church was passing.

During the Lent of 1835 Wiseman delivered in the drawing-room of Cardinal Thomas Weld [q. v.] in the Palazzo Odescalchi a course of twelve lectures chiefly dealing with geology, ‘On the Connection between Science and Revealed Religion.’ In the following year the lectures were published in two volumes, and awakened widespread interest and much discussion. The book is a powerful exposition and defence of the orthodox position, and has been repeatedly reissued. A French translation appeared in 1841, and it is included in Migne's ‘Démonstrations Évangéliques’ (1843–53).

Later in 1835 Wiseman returned to England. He had arranged to exchange duties for a twelvemonth with the Abbate Baldaconni of the Sardinian embassy chapel in Lincoln's Inn Fields. In December 1835 he began a course of ‘Lectures on the Principal Doctrines and Practices of the Catholic Church’ at the Sardinian embassy chapel, which he repeated at the request of Bishop Bramston in the Advent and Lent of the following year at St. Mary's, Moorfields. These lectures were published in 1826, and excited much public attention, not only in England but in France and America. Lord Brougham was conspicuous among Wiseman's hearers when they were first delivered. In May 1836, in association with Daniel O'Connell and Michael Joseph Quin [q. v.], Wiseman founded under his own direction a catholic quarterly magazine, with the title of the ‘Dublin Review.’ Quin was the first editor. Outside catholic circles Wiseman's literary abilities were fully recognised, and he was invited to write the article on the catholic church in the ‘Penny Cyclopædia.’

In October 1836 Wiseman returned to the English College in Rome. During the following Lent he published ‘Four Lectures on the Offices and Ceremonies of Holy Week, as performed in the Papal Chapels,’ and delivered at the college ‘Eight Lectures on the Body and Blood of Our Lord in the Blessed Eucharist,’ London, 1836, 8vo. Thomas Turton [q. v.] assailed Wiseman's treatment of the last subject, and Wiseman retorted to him and other critics in a published ‘Reply’ (1839).

By Wiseman's advice Gregory XVI increased the number of vicars-apostolic in England in 1839, and in the following summer Wiseman was appointed coadjutor to Dr. Walsh, the vicar-apostolic of the Midland district, but was almost immediately transferred to the newly created central district. On 8 June 1840 he was consecrated the bishop of Melipotamus in partibus by Cardinal Fransoni in the chapel of the English College at Rome, and was also appointed president of Oscott College. He took up his duties there on 16 Sept. 1840. The Oxford movement was at the time in full progress, and Wiseman's writings and actions largely influenced its development. His article in the ‘Dublin Review’ on ‘St. Augustine and the Donatists’ was pronounced by Newman ‘the first real hit from Romanism.’ Preaching at Derby, Wiseman argued that ‘there is a natural growth in every institution,’ and defined the position of the Roman church in much the same manner as Newman in his ‘Essay on Development.’ In February 1841 ‘Tract XC’ was published. Later in the year Wiseman addressed a published ‘Letter’ to Newman, besides contributing several papers on the illogical position of the tractarians to the ‘Dublin Review;’ these were collected into a volume called ‘High Church Claims’ (1841).

In 1846 Pius IX was elected supreme pontiff, and he inaugurated his reign by a general amnesty and a complete reform of the pontifical government. Wiseman visited him in Rome next year. He returned to England as Pio Nono's diplomatic envoy to Viscount Palmerston in the year of revolution (1848). At his instance Lord Palmerston sent Lord Minto to Italy. In the same year Wiseman became pro-vicar-apostolic of the London district, and next year succeeded to the vicariate-apostolic on the death of his superior, Dr. Walsh. Already a re-establishment by the pope of the Roman catholic hierarchy in England was talked of, but events were delayed by reason of the revolutions of 1848. Wiseman sought to prepare the way for the new régime by fusing the old and unchanging with the new and progressive elements in English catholicism. In the spring of 1850 the news came that he was to be made a cardinal. On 6 Aug. he was summoned by the pope to Rome, and there learned quite unexpectedly that the hierarchy in England was to be restored without further delay. On 29 Sept. the pope issued an apostolic letter to that effect, as well as a papal brief elevating Wiseman to the dignity of archbishop of Westminster. Next day, in a private consistory, the new archbishop was created a cardinal, with the title of St. Pudentiana. The announcement of the pope's act was made to English catholics by Wiseman in a published ‘Pastoral appointed to be read … in the Archdiocese of Westminster and the Diocese of Southwark.’ He further explained his new position in ‘Three Lectures on the Catholic Hierarchy, delivered in St. George's, Southwark’ (1850). The news of the pope's action excited throughout the protestants of Great Britain a frenzy of indignation which Wiseman's first pastoral failed to allay. In August 1851 parliament identified itself with the popular outcry against ‘papal aggression,’ and passed into law the ‘ecclesiastical titles bill,’ which prohibited the catholics from assuming the title of bishops under a penalty of 100l. The statute, however, remained a dead letter, and was repealed in 1872. Wiseman issued a powerful ‘appeal to the reason and good feeling’ of the English people, and the antagonism which he, in the capacity of reviver of the Roman catholic hierarchy, had provoked gradually subsided. For fourteen years he ruled the province of Westminster benignly, and lived down the events which marked the inauguration of his archiepiscopate.

Wiseman still found time for literature. In 1854 he published ‘Fabiola, or the Church of the Catacombs,’ a charming story of the third century, which was widely read. The archbishop of Milan wittily said of it that ‘it was the first good book that had had the success of a bad one.’ The book was written as Wiseman slowly journeyed towards Rome during illness. It was popular in Italy, where no fewer than seven translations (one of them by the author) were published. It was translated besides into most of the European languages, and into many of the Asiatic. It has taken its place as a classic of catholicism. In 1858 Wiseman issued another popular work, called ‘Recollections of the last Four Popes’ (Pius VII, Leo XII, Pius VIII, and Gregory XVI). An adverse ‘Answer’ to the book appeared in a volume from the pen of Alessandro Gavazzi in the same year. Soon afterwards Wiseman produced a drama in two acts, called ‘The Hidden Gem,’ written for the jubilee of his old college of St. Cuthbert's. After its publication, in 1858, it was acted in a Liverpool theatre during the following year.

In the autumn of 1858 the cardinal made a public tour through Ireland, where he was received with enthusiasm. A volume of sermons, lectures, and speeches delivered on the occasion appeared in 1859. Meanwhile he gained wide repute as an admirable lecturer on social, artistic, and literary topics. ‘The Highways of Peaceful Commerce have been the Highways of Art,’ a lecture delivered to Liverpool merchants, and a lecture ‘On the Connection between the Arts of Design and the Arts of Production,’ addressed to Manchester artisans, were published in a single volume in 1854. On 30 Jan. 1863 he lectured at the Royal Institution in London on ‘Points of Contact between Science and Art’ (London, 1863, 8vo), and subsequently at the same place on Shakespeare. A fragment of the last lecture, edited by his successor, Cardinal Manning, was published posthumously in 1865 (German transl. Cologne, 1865). A lecture delivered in 1864 at the South Kensington Museum on ‘Prospects of Good Architecture in London,’ and another on ‘Self-Culture’ delivered at Southampton in 1863, were also published soon after their delivery.

In 1855 George Errington [q. v.], a man of iron will, was translated from Plymouth to become coadjutor to the archbishop of Westminster; but Wiseman and his coadjutor were of different temperaments, and the pope in 1862 severed Errington's connection with the Westminster archdiocese.

Wiseman died at his town house, 8 York Place, Portman Square, on 15 Feb. 1865. On Tuesday the 21st the body was conveyed to the pro-cathedral at Moorfields—now (1900) in course of demolition—where Henry Edward Manning, Wiseman's successor in the archbishopric, preached the funeral oration in the presence of the principal catholic ambassadors of Europe and the dignitaries of the catholic church in Great Britain and Ireland. The interment took place in Kensal Green cemetery amid an extraordinary demonstration of public mourning. In 1868 it was resolved to build in Wiseman's memory a catholic cathedral in Westminster. Land was acquired, but building operations were not begun until after Cardinal Vaughan became archbishop of Westminster in 1892. The street at Seville in which Wiseman was born was renamed on his death, by order of the town council, ‘Calle del Cardenal Wiseman.’

Besides the works mentioned and numerous separate sermons, lectures, and pastorals, Wiseman published ‘Essays on Various Subjects,’ chiefly from the ‘Dublin Review’ (1853, 3 vols. 8vo, and with biographical introduction by J. Murphy, 1888), and ‘Sermons on our Lord Jesus Christ,’ Dublin, 1864, 8vo.

Wiseman's reputation was worldwide. He was conspicuous for rare intellect and abilities, for ‘the general justice of his mind,’ for the suavity of his demeanour, and the wide range of his literary and artistic knowledge and sympathies. As a linguist and scholar he was especially distinguished. He was often called the English Mezzofanti. Speaking of his linguistic facility to the present writer, he once said that, if he were allowed to choose his own path westwards, he could talk all the way from the most eastern point of the coast of Asia to the most western point of the coast of Europe. The poet Browning attempted an unfavourable interpretation of Wiseman's character in his ‘Bishop Blougram's Apology’ (first published in Browning's ‘Men and Women,’ 1855); ‘Sylvester Blougram,’ Browning's bishop, was undoubtedly intended for Wiseman, but Blougram's worldly and self-indulgent justification of his successful pursuit of the clerical career in the Roman catholic church, although dramatically most effective, cannot be accepted as a serious description of Wiseman's aims in life or conduct. According to Father Prout, Wiseman in ‘The Rambler’ temperately reviewed ‘Men and Women’ on its publication, and favourably noticed ‘Bishop Blougram's Apology’ as a masterly intellectual achievement, although he regarded it as an assault on the groundworks of religion.

Wiseman was in youth tall, thin, and comely. Macaulay described him in middle age as ‘a ruddy, strapping ecclesiastic,’ in a certain sense resembling the famous master of Trinity, William Whewell [q. v.] Three portraits are reproduced in Mr. Wilfrid Ward's ‘Biography,’ viz. a full-length water-colour picture of him as Monsignor Wiseman; an engraving from the painting by J. R. Herbert; and a photograph taken of the cardinal in 1862. A magnificent gold medal, bearing Wiseman's portrait, was presented to him in 1836, in commemoration of his visit to England when rector of the English College at Rome.

[A full biography of the cardinal was undertaken, on Cardinal Vaughan's selection, by Mr. Wilfrid Ward thirty-two years after the cardinal's death, and was published in 1897 in two volumes. Personal recollections of the writer of the present memoir; Brady's Episcopal Succession, 1877, iii. 369–81; White's Life of Cardinal Wiseman; Lord Houghton's Monographs, 1873, pp. 39–61; Canon Morris's Last Illness of Cardinal Wiseman; Men of the Time, 5th edit. 1862; Ann. Reg. 1865, ii. 217.]

C. K.