Hort, Fenton John Anthony (DNB01)

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HORT, FENTON JOHN ANTHONY (1828–1892), scholar and divine, was born on 23 April 1828. His father, Fenton Hort, third son of Sir John Hort, and grandson of Josiah Hort (1674?–1751) [q. v.], arch-bishop of Tuam, was a refined and well educated man of good natural abilities; he had been a scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge, and was one of the original members of the Union Debating Society (1815). He had private means, never followed any profession, but had many interests, and was always full of occupation. He married Anne Collett, the daughter of a Suffolk clergyman, a lady of remarkable intellectual power, and of strong old-fashioned evangelical religious views. Their first home was at Leopardstown, a house near Dublin, at the foot of the Three Rock Mountain; but it was in Dublin, at Lady Hort's house, that their eldest child, Fenton John Anthony, was born on 23 April 1828.

The family moved from Dublin to Cheltenham in 1837, and in 1839 young Fenton was sent to the preparatory school kept by the Rev. J. Buckland at Laleham. In October 1841 he was transferred to Rugby, where Arnold was then head-master, and was entered at the house of the Rev. C. Anstey. The first twelvemonth of his public school life was clouded by the death of his younger brother Arthur, to whom he was devotedly attached, and by the death of Dr. Arnold (12 June), whose influence had already made a deep impression upon him. Hort was five years at Rugby (1841–1840), and his intellectual progress during that time was evidently out of the common. He always himself alleged that he derived especial benefit from the vigorous and stimulating teaching of Bonamy Price [q. v.], and used to speak with great affection and gratitude of his head-master, Tait, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury.

He went to Trinity College, Cambridge, in October 1846 as a pensioner. His tutor was William Hepworth Thompson [q. v.] Hort's life as an undergraduate was one of vehement intellectual energy. He read for honours in mathematics and classics; but he seems to have read everything else as well—philosophy, natural science, theology being favourite subjects—and to have followed the course of public affairs with intense interest. He obtained a foundation scholarship at Trinity College in 1849. Unluckily he was attacked by scarlatina shortly before his mathematical tripos. By a great effort and with considerable risk he did the work of the first three days of the examination; but had to be content with a place in the third class (a junior optime). Undaunted by this disappointment, but still weak from the effects of his recent illness, he sat for the classical tripos and was placed fifth in the first class (1850).

He at once devoted himself to the task of studying for the two newly created triposes in moral science and natural science. He read with prodigious energy, and next year (1851) obtained a first class in both subjects, winning also the Whewell prize for proficiency in moral philosphy in the moral science tripos, and securing in the natural sciences tripos the mark of distinction both in botany and in physiology. Hort was probably too reserved and too much of a student to be what is termed 'a popular man' as an undergraduate. But he had several fast friends, the most intimate of these being J. Ellerton, afterwards the famous hymn writer, Gerald Blunt, the rector of Chelsea, J. B. Mayor, J. E. B. Mayor, Henry Bradshaw, Gorham, Vernon Lushington, Vansittart, and Westlake.

Towards the close of his undergraduate career he read with Westcott, then a recent B.A. residing in Trinity and taking pupils. Thus the friendship sprang up which was destined to be productive of a remarkable alliance in theological studies. About the same time he became acquainted with Lightfoot (afterwards Bishop of Durham), whose attached friend he was for the rest of his life. He graduated B.A. in 1850, M.A. in 1853, B.D. in 1875, and D.D. in 1876.

In 1852 he was elected to a fellowship at Trinity at the same time as his friend Lightfoot ; and it is a good illustration of his versatility that in 1852 he was president of the Union Debating Society, where he was a frequent speaker, and was regarded as 'one of the rising hopes of the Cambridge school of botanists' (cf. obituary notice by G. S. Boulger in the Journal of Botany, February 1893). At this period of his life also he made full use of the privilege of personal acquaintance with F. D. Maurice. This was an epoch in his life. Maurice's influence and Maurice's teaching were a kind of revelation to him. Through Maurice he was brought into contact with Charles Kingsley, Tom Hughes, Daniel and Alexander Macmillan, Mr. J. M. Ludlow, and others, with whose endeavours on behalf of working men and in interests of a social and educational reform he was in strong sympathy. Maurice supplied that which the old evangelicalism and the Oxford movement had failed to give a philosophy of religion penetrating beneath traditional views and controversies.

Between 1852 and 1857 Hort resided at Cambridge, devoting himself to study, turning night into day, and laying up a store of ill-health in after years. It was during this period that he laid the foundation for the minute investigation of the text of the New Testament, and in conjunction with Dr. Westcott first undertook the scheme of a joint editorship of a critical edition of the New Testament in Greek. He found time, however, for other things. Thus, as a labour of love, he edited and saw through the press the Hulsean prize essay, written by his friend and contemporary, Henry Mackenzie, on 'The Beneficial Influence of the Christian Clergy on European Progress in the first Ten Centuries.' Mackenzie died in 1853. The essay was issued under Hort's editorship in 1855. Hort was also associated with his friends, Prof. J. E. B. Mayor and Lightfoot, in editing 'The Journal of Classical and Sacred Philology,' of which the first number was issued in 1854. Hort himself was a frequent contributor.

On 12 March 1854 he was ordained deacon at Cuddesdon, and in 1856 priest at Ely. In 1856 he was appointed to examine for the natural sciences tripos ; he was employed in useful work on the library syndicate, and in other new departments of university life. In the same year (1856) he contributed to the 'Cambridge Essays' a striking essay on S. T. Coleridge, which has been regarded by competent judges as one of the most successful endeavours to appreciate and interpret Coleridge.

In 1857 he married Fanny, daughter of Thomas Dyson Holland of Heighington, near Lincoln. As his marriage meant the forfeiture of his fellowship, he accepted immediately afterwards the living of St. Ippolyts cum Great Wymondley, near Hitchin, in Hertfordshire, which was in the patronage of Trinity College. For the next fifteen years (1857-72) he lived in this quiet secluded parish. He discharged his pastoral duties conscientiously. He had two churches to serve, and two volumes of the sermons that he preached there have been posthumously published. But his natural bent was towards his studies, and these he prosecuted with unremitting energy. To bad health was added the anxiety of straitened means. After repeated warnings he was compelled by doctor's orders to give up all work between 1863 and 1865. During this interval he made Cheltenham his headquarters, and took long summer visits to Switzerland. On resuming his pastoral work in 1865, he was drawn more and more into the current of university work at Cambridge. He examined frequently for the moral science tripos, and in 1871 he was appointed Hulsean lecturer, when he delivered the remarkable lectures published after his death under the title of 'The Way, the Truth, and the Life '(1893). In 1868 he wrote articles for (Sir) William Smith's 'Dictionary of Christian Antiquities.' In 1870 he joined the New Testament revision company, and for ten years the revision was one of the most exacting duties in life. On all matters of textual criticism and scholarship Hort's voice in the revision company carried immense weight.

It was evident that in a country parish, at a distance from libraries and burdened with parochial duties, he was carrying on his scholarly work at a great disadvantage. Accordingly the master and fellows of Emmanuel College generously elected him in 1871 to a fellowship, together with a lectureship in theology. His devotion to Emmanuel College was the return which he rendered to that society for the unusual step of electing a senior married man to a fellowship. His friend Dr. Westcott had recently been appointed regius professor of divinity, and his other great scholar friend, Lightfoot, had since 1862 been Hulsean professor of divinity.

Hort returned to Cambridge in March 1872, taking up his abode at 6 St. Peter's Terrace, which was his home for the remainder of his life. As divinity lecturer he lectured at Emmanuel College for six years (1872-8) on New Testament and patristic subjects, e.g. the Epistles, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, St. James, Rev. i-iii., Origen's 'Contra Celsum,' Irenaeus's 'Contr. omn. Haeres.' lib. iii., Clement's 'Stromateis,' lib. vii. His many-sided interests, his remarkable accuracy, his keen sense of fairness, caused him to be in much request in university business throughout a period of great development. He occupied himself with the most elaborate care in mastering the intricacies of every syndicate and board on which he served.

Meanwhile he had devoted all available time to the great work on New Testament textual criticism on which he was engaged with Professor Westcott. The work went forward more rapidly now that Hort and Westcott were near neighbours. In 1878 Hort had written for the second time an 'Introduction' to their text.

In 1876 he published two important theses, written for the degrees of bachelor and doctor in divinity, to which he had proceeded in the previous year. They appeared in thin octavo form, with the title 'Two Dissertations : 1. On Μονογενὴς Θεὸς in Scripture and Tradition, and 2. On the Constantinopolitan and other Eastern Creeds of the Fourth Century.' The importance of these contributions to scholarship was generally recognised, and they are excellent examples of the width of Hort's reading and the thoroughness of his methods. In 1877 the first volume of Smith's 'Dictionary of Christian Biography' appeared, to which Hort contributed seventy articles in 'A' and 'B' on the Gnostics, the most elaborate of them being on ' Bardaisan' and 'Basilides.'

In 1878 Hort was elected to the Hulsean professorship of divinity in the place of Dr. J. J. S. Perowne, the present bishop of Worcester, who had accepted the deanery of Peterborough. Thus the three scholar friends were divinity professors together Westcott as regius ; Lightfoot, who until 1875 had been Hulsean as Lady Margaret ; and Hort as Hulsean. The combination was short-lived, for in 1879 Lightfoot left Cambridge to be bishop of Durham.

In 1881 most of the New Testament work upon which Hort had been engaged for more than twenty years at length saw the light. The text of the Greek New Testament, as edited by Westcott and himself, appeared on 12 May, and the revised English version of the New Testament on 17 May ; while on 4 Sept. appeared 'The Introduction' and 'Appendix' explanatory of the Westcott and Hort text. 'The Introduction' was written entirely by Hort, and it at once secured for the writer a foremost position among the great New Testament critics of the century. He was denounced by the more conservative school, who considered that the textua receptus had preserved a purer text than that which had been attained by the scientific principles followed by Westcott and Hort.

The compression that had to be practised in the 'Introduction,' and the guarded language adopted in order to avoid anything like the over-statement of his case, cause Hort's 'Introduction' to be difficult reading. But every word was carefully weighed. The problems of criticism are stated with a wonderful grasp of the whole subject; the more distinctly original portion dealing with the distribution of materials into the four groups Syrian, Western, Alexandrian, and 'neutral' was hailed by the best scholars as constituting a great advance in the scientific handling of New Testament criticism.

Between 1882 and 1890 Hort was associated with Dr. Westcott and William Fiddian Moulton [q. v. Suppl.] in preparing the revised version of Wisdom and 2 Mace. ; and this work was practically finished at the time of his death.

In 1887 the Lady Margaret's readership in divinity was rendered vacant by the death of Charles Anthony Swainson [q. v.], and Hort was elected on 26 Oct. In 1890 the appointment of Dr. Westcott to the see of Durham, in the place of Lightfoot, left him the survivor of the three scholar friends at Cambridge. On 1 May 1890 Hcrt preached the sermon in Westminster Abbey at Dr. Westcott's consecration. On 23 May the honorary degree of D.C.L. was conferred on him at Durham. But his health, which for years had not been robust, now began to fail, although his mental activity was unimpaired. In 1891 he appointed the Rev. Frederic Wallis of Gonville and Caius College (now bishop of Wellington) to act as his deputy.

In the summer of 1892 he went to Switzerland, but he was brought home in September in a very prostrate condition. Even so, however, he was' able to write under great pressure the full and interesting biography of his old friend Dr. Lightfoot for the present 'Dictionary.' It was a last effort; it seemed as if it exhausted the remaining threads of strength. He died in sleep in the early morning of 30 Nov. 1892. A portrait of Hort was painted in 1891, by Mr. Jacomb Hood, for Emmanuel College combination, room; copies are in the hall of Trinity College, in the library of the divinity school, Cambridge, at Rugby, and in the possession of Mrs. Hort.

In appearance, as the writer recalls him between 1875 and 1892, Hort was one of the most striking-looking men among the more distinguished personages of his university. He was of middle height; he had the slight stoop of an indefatigable reader; his hair and close-cut beard, moustache, and whiskers were prematurely white. He had well-cut features, with a strikingly fine and broad forehead. He was, as a young man, an ardent mountaineer, and one of the earliest members of the Alpine Club. His interest in natural science was always maintained, and he was a first-rate practical botanist. He had a good ear for music, and as a young man sang a good deal.

He had a love for poetry, and himself had something of true poetical gift (cf. his poem on 'Tintern Abbey,' written in 1855, in the Life and Letters, i. 301). As a lecturer he always maintained a high level. His lectures were prepared beforehand with most laborious care; many of them have been published since his death, almost word for word as he delivered them. Although, owing to his fastidiousness and passion for thoroughness, he produced comparatively little literary work, he was able by his superb stores of knowledge to aid scholars who from every quarter sought his assistance and counsel.

In his latter years he obtained a remarkable hold over younger teachers and scholars. In theological matters he kept strictly aloof from party movements and controversies. His historical sense dominated his whole mind. He could not be a partisan. His lectures on 'The Christian Ecclesia' and 'Judaistic Christianity' illustrate his capacity for working in 'a dry light.' He aimed only at arriving at truth, not at confirming opinion. He always vehemently contended for Holy Scripture being made the foundation of all English theological teaching, and insisted on doctrine being studied in the light of history. His own attitude of mind was one of intense reverence for the past, and of boldness in the simplicity of a strong faith (cf. Fairbairn, Catholicism, Roman and Anglican, p. 406). He was no mere schoolman, engrossed in texts and readings, as the outside world supposed. He combined in a rare measure the scholar and the thinker; and in some of the posthumous writings which have been published, notably in his 'Hulsean Lectures,' it is not hard to discern that, in spite of the long discipline of scientific criticism and textual classification, he kept alive the aspiration to express constructively and philosophically his own interpretation of the Christian position in relation to the problems of modern thought. Dr. Sanday called him (American Journal of Theology, pp. 95-117) 'our greatest English theologian of the century.' Distinguished foreign scholars like Dr. Caspar René Gregory Realencyclopädie f. prot. Theologie u. Kirche, 3 Aufl.) and Dr. Samuel Berger (d. 1900), the French protestant biblical scholar (Des Études d'Histoire Ecclésiastique: Leçon d'ouverture, 3 Nov. 1899, Paris, 1899) were as enthusiastic as his own countrymen in their testimonies to the eminence of Hort's achievements in New Testament criticism.

A complete bibliography of Hort's writings published during his lifetime will be found in Appendix iii. (pp. 492-5) of the second volume of 'The Life and Letters.' The more important of those published during his lifetime have been already mentioned. The following have been published posthumously:

  1. 'The Way, the Truth, the Life,' 1893 (Hulsean Lectures for 1871).
  2. 'Judaistic Christianity,' 1894.
  3. 'Prolegomena to St. Paul's Epistles to the Romans andEphesians,' 1895.
  4. 'Six Popular Lectures on the Ante-Nicene Fathers,' 1895.
  5. 'The Christian Ecclesia, a Course of Lectures on the Early History and Early Conception of the Ecclesia, and Four Sermons,' 1897.
  6. 'Village Sermons,' 1897.
  7. 'Cambridge and other Sermons,' 1898.
  8. 'The First Epistle of St. Peter, i. i-ii. 17, the Greek Text with Introductory Lecture, Commentary, and Additional Notes,' 1898.
  9. 'Village Sermons in Outline,' 1900.

[The Life and Letters of Fenton J. A. Hort, by his son, Arthur Fenton Hort (2 vols. 1896); personal knowledge.]

Herbert Exon.