Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Liddon, Henry Parry
LIDDON, HENRY PARRY (1829–1890), canon of St. Paul's, born on 20 Aug. 1829 at North Stoneham, Hampshire, was eldest son of Captain Matthew Liddon, R.N. His father was second in command of the Arctic expedition under Sir Edward Parry, and the latter was Liddon's sponsor. His mother was Anne Bilke of Christchurch, Surrey. The family, consisting of ten children, moved to ‘The Grove,’ Colyton, Devonshire, in 1832, and young Liddon began attending a neighbouring day-school about 1836. His favourite game as a child was ‘preaching,’ robed in a sheet of the ‘Times.’ At ten years old he was sent to school at Lyme Regis, under George Roberts [q. v.] He took little part in usual games, but delighted in initiating others of his own invention, chiefly military in character. He swam well; and wrote, and acted, plays. In 1841 he went to King's College School, London, and took a good place in the upper sixth, which brought him under the teaching of the head-master, Mr. Major. Mr. Frederic Harrison speaks of him as ‘a little priest’ among the boys, accepted as a spiritual mentor with an affectionate respect. At about sixteen he was constantly writing sermons, some of which were lent for preaching; and it was partly through these sermons, as well as through the high character that he bore at King's College, that Dr. Barnes, canon of Christ Church, Oxford, was led to nominate him to a studentship at Christ Church. He went up to Oxford at the early age of seventeen.
Liddon entered warmly, not into the sports, but into the intimacies and affections of undergraduate life, and grew possessed by an enduring love for Christ Church and for the historical and ecclesiastical associations of Oxford. His university friends included Lord Beauchamp, Henry Nutcombe Oxenham, Lord Carnarvon, Lord Salisbury, G. W. Kitchin (subsequently dean of Durham), R. M. Benson of Cowley, and Frank Buckland. After graduating B.A. in 1850, with a second class in classical honours, he won in 1851 the Johnson theological scholarship. At the normal period he was confirmed in his studentship at Christ Church, which he held to the day of his death, though after 1871 he handed over the small emolument to a fund under the control of the dean for the benefit of poor students. He was ordained deacon by Bishop Wilberforce in 1852, and priest in 1853. Thenceforth his whole heart and mind were possessed by the ideal of the Christian ministry, and by the responsibilities laid upon him at his ordination. He had come up, as an undergraduate, already prepared to pass wholly under the sway of the Oxford movement, just when, in Oxford, its home, it seemed almost lost. Pusey of Christ Church, Charles Marriott of Oriel, Manuel John Johnson [q. v.] of the Observatory, were left almost alone to represent the cause; and with these men Liddon threw in his lot, knitting himself for life to Pusey and intimately associating himself with Keble.
Liddon left Oxford on his ordination to act as curate to William John Butler, later dean of Lincoln, at Wantage, where Alexander Heriot Mackonochie [q. v.], afterwards of St. Alban's, Holborn, was his fellow-curate. He thus came into touch with that development of parish-work in town and country into which the Oxford movement was then passing. He never lost the profound sympathy, excited in him as a curate, with the life of the very poor; and at Wantage workhouse he received an indelible impression of the harshness of the poor law, which drove him, for the rest of his days, into a defiant refusal to submit his charities to the strict necessities of systematic organisation. At Wantage he gave the earliest indications of his genius as a preacher. His sermons were characterised by passionate fervour, much motion, and great length. The style was felt, by the country people, to be somewhat ‘foreign;’ but a competent critic said at once, ‘That young man preaches better than Manning.’
In spite of his enthusiasm for the ministerial work, Liddon abandoned it in 1854, when he was appointed the first vice-principal of Bishop Wilberforce's Theological College at Cuddesdon; ‘he will be far better fitted for this,’ wrote Mackonochie at the time. At Cuddesdon, during the next four years, he put out his highest powers with the fullest effect. His gifts as an expositor of Scripture, his trained and rich piety, his delightful companionship, gave him exceptional influence over younger men. But his intense convictions were more definite and pronounced than those of the bishop, especially in the matter of sacramental doctrine. ‘There is in him,’ wrote the bishop, ‘an ardour, a strength of will, a restlessness, a dominant imagination, which makes it impossible for him to give to the young men any tone except exactly his own.’ Liddon's teaching excited suspicion, and, finally, attack. In 1858 C. P. Golightly of Oxford obtained a commission of inquiry into the management of Cuddesdon College; the ‘Quarterly Review’ thundered. The bishop's defence was hampered by his inability to agree wholly with Liddon's views. Under these circumstances Liddon resigned at Easter 1859 (Wilberforce, Life, ii. 372).
Returning to Oxford, Liddon took the vice-principalship of St. Edmund's Hall. There he soon began a remarkable series of lectures on Sunday evenings, on the New Testament. The numbers attending grew so rapidly that Liddon was allowed the use of Queen's College Hall. These lectures were models of expository skill, and their fine scholarship, felicity of language, and tone of deep devotion attracted for years the main mass of serious undergraduates. They were continued without cessation until 1869, and were recommenced during the last years of Liddon's life from the beginning of 1883. In 1864 Liddon was appointed examining chaplain to Walter Kerr Hamilton [q. v.], bishop of Salisbury; who in the same year gave him the prebendal stall of Major Pars Altaris. His intimacy with Hamilton, the record of which he gave in a memoir published after the bishop's death in 1869 (3rd edit. 1890), deeply affected his life, and the bishop stood, in Liddon's memory, beside Keble and Pusey. The episcopal charge in which Hamilton formulated in 1867 his adherence to the doctrine of the real presence in the sacrament, was given with Liddon's cordial consent and co-operation. A brother chaplain was James Fraser [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Manchester, with whom, in spite of ever-widening difference of temperament and judgment, Liddon always remained in affectionate relations. Liddon was appointed select preacher to the university in 1863, being reappointed in 1870, 1877, and 1884, and from the date of his first university sermon in 1863 to the last that he ever preached, on Whitsunday 1890, the power which he wielded from the pulpit of St. Mary's never for a moment wavered, despite the fixity of his principles and the continual change of audience. His gifts as a preacher and thinker received conspicuous illustration in the celebrated ‘Bampton Lectures,’ delivered, under special request and at short notice, in 1866, ‘On the Divinity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ The published volume has gone into fifteen editions, has been translated into German, and is the text-book on its subject. In these lectures Liddon first proved his powers, both as a Christian advocate and as a trained and equipped expert in theology. They are not characterised by the speculative originality of Mozley or Mansel. But the Christian case has seldom been stated with such insight, learning, or ardour.
From this time until the death of Dr. Pusey (16 Sept. 1882) Liddon played a prominent part in the politics of the university. He was three times elected to the hebdomadal board between 1864 and 1875. In 1870 he proceeded B.D. and D.D., and was created D.C.L. In the same year he was appointed Ireland professor of exegesis, in succession to Dr. Hawkins, a post which involved him in constant and arduous lecturing until his retirement in 1882. In all academical matters he acted in closest concert with Dr. Pusey, and was strongly opposed to the main set of the educational movement which was at that time reshaping the character and redistributing the endowments of the university. He viewed the transformation of Oxford which was finally sealed by the Universities Commission of 1882 as the disestablishing of the church in Oxford, and as an abandonment of its formal attachment to religion. His rooted conservatism as a university politician rendered the movement for the admission of women especially distasteful to him.
Liddon's eminence as a preacher was soon recognised throughout the country. In 1870 he startled the London world by a remarkable series of lectures given in St. James's, Piccadilly, and published as ‘Some Elements of Religion.’ In spite of the abnormal length of each lecture the church was thronged, and the effect on the educated people of the west end of London was profound. In the same year Liddon accepted an offer through Mr. Gladstone of a canonry in St. Paul's Cathedral, and his intimate relations with Oxford were at length interrupted. The crowds that had listened to him at St. James's, Piccadilly, came to hear his first sermon at St. Paul's, and flooded the choir, which alone was then used. On the second Sunday in September 1870 he moved out to a pulpit under the dome, and thus forced the change, which has since become permanent, of using the main body of the cathedral for all services. He found the changes which were to revivify St. Paul's already beginning under Dean Mansel and Canon Gregory. And when, from September 1871, he had the satisfaction of serving under Dean Church, who evoked his devoted loyalty, he threw all his ardour into the revival of the full devotional use of the cathedral. It was in the direction of this devotional development that Liddon's help was of peculiar value. The daily sacrament was restored, together with the midday and evening prayers and the full choral celebration.
His sermons at St. Paul's for twenty years formed a central fact of London life. All ranks and conditions of men were there, of many nations and of all varieties of creeds. Liddon had studied the great school of French oratory, admiring especially Bourdaloue, and of the later preachers the influence of Lacordaire was distinctly discernible. To their example he owed the completeness with which he arranged the framework of his sermons as well as much of the manner and method of his appeals. The matter of the sermon was generally quite simple; it was confined to the elemental doctrines of the faith. The argument was plain, the premisses familiar. He read much, but his central position was unaffected by new discoveries. There was no assimilation of them with the texture of his thought. His mental structure was marked by an intense permanence, and his latest deliverance from the pulpit was in all essentials the same as his first. His acute understanding was set on bringing everything into order, and it fought shy of all that was vague in outline or paradoxical. He was intensely Latin in mental structure; he delighted in calling himself an ecclesiastic. His typical abhorrence was a misty Teutonism. This dislike held him aloof from all philosophies of development. He bent himself in his sermons to exclude originality of idea; he spent himself in the effort simply to prove and to persuade. And to this effort everything in him contributed—his charm of feature, his exquisite intonation, his kindling eye, his quivering pose and gestures, his fiery sarcasm, his rich humour, his delicate knowledge of the heart, and his argumentative skill.
Though constantly touching on the interests of the day, he rarely in the cathedral sermons entered into strictly controversial matter, but he spoke out emphatically from the pulpit at one or two crises. In the political conflict over the Bulgarian atrocities in 1876 he threw out a passionate warning of the moral and spiritual issues involved for England in a struggle between Christian and Mohammedan. He had been, as a young curate, hotly indignant with England's policy in the Crimean war. In October 1876 he and Canon McColl became implicated in a warm argument with the foreign office and the home press, owing to their united declaration that they had seen the body of an impaled Bulgarian on the banks of the Save, while journeying a few months earlier to visit Cardinal Strossmayer, archbishop of Bosnia. Liddon never doubted for a moment that he had seen what he said (cf. Times, 6 and 21 Oct. 1876).
In 1881, when the collision between the ritualists and the judicial authorities reached its climax in the imprisonment of Mr. Dale and Mr. Enraght for refusal to obey the judgment of Lord Penzance in the court of arches, Liddon preached four sermons during his month's residence in December (published under the title ‘Thoughts on Present Church Troubles,’ 1881), in which he stated with skill and force the duties and the anxieties of churchmen. In an elaborate preface he justified the rare occasions on which, in view of the religious and moral interests involved, he had spoken on contemporary controversies from the pulpit of St. Paul's, and he laid down at length his reasons for repudiating the final court of appeal, and the novel jurisdiction erected under the Public Worship Regulation Act. Against that act he had already delivered himself in two sermons in 1874, as well as in a speech for the English Church Union. He had also declared himself against the ecclesiastical authority of the privy council by a published letter written in 1871 in concert with Canon Gregory; there he challenged the Bishop of London to proceed against them for the adoption of the eastward position. He was summoned as a witness before the commission on ecclesiastical courts on 16 Aug. 1882, and was relieved to see the allegations made against the spiritual authority of the existing court amply justified by the commission's report.
In December 1889, his last month but one of residence at St. Paul's, he vehemently denounced an article on ‘Inspiration,’ written by Charles Gore, principal of the Pusey House, Oxford (afterwards Bishop of Birmingham), in a volume of essays called ‘Lux Mundi.’ The volume came from those who adhered to the theological school of which Liddon was himself the foremost interpreter, and the writer of the article belonged to the closest circle of his friends among the younger generation. But Liddon believed it illogical and impossible to permit criticism to dissect and redistribute the structure and materials of the Old Testament, and yet to hope to retain belief in the infallible authority of Jesus Christ. His last sermon, preached on Whitsunday 1890, before the university, at St. Mary's, Oxford, contained a final and measured pronouncement on this controversy.
Except at St. Paul's or at the university churches of Oxford and Cambridge, he preached only on urgent reasons; e.g., after the death of Bishop Wilberforce; at the opening of Keble College Chapel (1876); on behalf of the memorial to Dr. Pusey; and once, in Christ Church Cathedral, on behalf of the Christ Church mission in Poplar (1889). Although he was an admirable public speaker he very rarely appeared on the platform or joined committees, or took a public part in religious controversy. But in 1871 he publicly addressed letters to Sir John Coleridge and to the Bishop of London on the Purchas judgment; he also wrote a series of letters in the ‘Times’ on ‘Anglican Books of Devotion,’ in December 1874 and January 1875; and again in 1888 in the ‘Guardian,’ on the re-establishment of the Anglican bishopric in Jerusalem. One of the severest struggles in which he engaged dealt with the use or disuse of the Athanasian Creed (1871). He was willing to add an explanation of the damnatory clauses; but any further change he regarded as a breach with catholic order, continuity, and authority. On 31 Dec. 1871 he announced to the Archbishop of Canterbury his resolution to resign all ministerial office in the church of England if the creed were mutilated or degraded from its place in the prayer-book, and he said that Dr. Pusey agreed with him (cf. Life of Tait, ii. 137–9). It was in protest against any such action that he made one of his very few speeches, at a great meeting in St. James's Hall on 31 Jan. 1873. It was chiefly owing to its treatment of this creed that he was in vehement disagreement with the church of Ireland at the time of its revision of the prayer-book in 1875 (cf. Letters of Archbishop Trench, chaps. ix. and x.)
Liddon took the deepest interest in the Eastern churches, as well as in the Old Catholic movement. In the Bonn conferences (10–16 Aug. 1875) he took a leading part, and translated in 1876 Dr. Reusch's record of the proceedings, adding a preface addressed to Dr. Pusey. At Bonn he formed a close friendship with Dr. Döllinger. He was already intimate with Père Loyson.
Liddon lived to the end at Oxford, when out of residence at St. Paul's; and there he gave himself heart and soul to the foundation in 1870 of Keble College, and he interested himself in the Pusey House from its inception in 1883. Both institutions seemed to him to give the church new security in Oxford, now that her old habitations were withdrawn from her. In spite of his indignation at the work of the university commission of 1881 he found himself cheered by the sympathetic affection of the younger generation, whose devotion never swerved. From 1883 his spare time was spent on a ‘Life’ of Dr. Pusey. The doctor's immense and scattered correspondence involved infinite labour; and Liddon set about his task, on a scale and with an industry rarely given to work of this type. The labour seriously injured his health. He left three volumes practically complete. These, with a fourth by another hand, are now being prepared for publication.
In 1884–5 Liddon was select preacher at both Oxford and Cambridge, and at the latter university again in 1889. In June 1886 he was elected bishop of Edinburgh by a convention of episcopal clergy and laymen, but he declined to accept the charge. At the same date he was appointed chancellor of St. Paul's Cathedral. At the end of the year he was recommended to winter in Egypt, and thence he visited the Holy Land. A record of this tour by his sister, Mrs. King, who accompanied him, was published in 1891. He came back with renewed vigour to his post at St. Paul's, but his health soon failed again. He aged rapidly, growing very grey, and in the autumn of 1889 he could hardly get through his residence at St. Paul's. He looked very ill in June, when he visited Cambridge to receive the honorary degree of LL.D. conferred on him by the university. Finally, he caught a severe chill at the funeral of his old friend, Lord Carnarvon (3 July 1890). After enduring great suffering at Christ Church, he seemed to be rallying, and was moved to his sister's house in Gloucestershire. Thence he went to Weston-super-Mare, where he died on 9 Sept. 1890. He was buried in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral.
In private life Liddon's companionship was an incomparable and unfailing delight. His conversation, which was restrained and guarded so long as he at all suspected the temper of his company, bubbled over with imaginative humour when once he was assured of full sympathy. He had intense dramatic vividness, and told a story to perfection. In politics he was popularly known as a liberal; but this was accidentally, rather than substantially, true. In all his natural instincts he was intensely conservative. But his natural instincts were dominated by spiritual convictions; and these spiritual convictions made him deeply suspicious of the worldly ties which knit the church to the state as an establishment, and they threw him on to the liberal side on the only occasion on which he actually showed himself on the political field, i.e. in the agitation respecting the Bulgarian atrocities and the Russo-Turkish war. He looked to character in politics, rather than to any particular measures, and lived on friendly terms both with Lord Salisbury and Mr. Gladstone. A profound belief in the latter's moral character he had inherited from the Tractarian chiefs, but his inherent conservatism was often disturbed by Mr. Gladstone's public action. Each statesman when prime minister took steps to sound Liddon respecting his willingness to accept a bishopric, but Liddon resolutely refused to entertain either proposal.
His recreation was travelling, and he was an inveterate sightseer. He was possessed of private means, and was a generous giver. Intensely domestic and lovable, and unaffected by any worldly ambition, he was totally free from the peculiar moral weakness to which a great popular preacher is proverbially liable. His most striking characteristics were a passionate chivalry, a burning courage, and a delicious humour.
A fine portrait, painted by Mr. G. Richmond in 1866, is at Keble College. Another by Professor Herkomer is in Christ Church Hall.
In addition to the works mentioned, numerous separate sermons, and prefaces contributed to the works of others, Liddon published: 1. ‘Some Words for God; being Sermons preached before the University of Oxford in 1863–5,’ London, 1865; 2nd ed. 1866, with the title ‘Sermons preached before the University of Oxford;’ 8th ed. 1884. A second series, 1868–79, was published London, 1879; this reached a fourth edition in 1887. A new edition containing both series appeared London, 1891. 2. ‘Some Elements of Religion: Lent Lectures, 1870,’ London, 1872, 8vo; 7th ed. 1890. 3. ‘Evening Communions contrary to the Teaching and Practice of the Church in all ages,’ 4th thousand, London, 1876, 8vo; reprinted from ‘The Christian Remembrancer’ for July 1860 and January 1861. 4. ‘Easter in St. Paul's: Sermons bearing chiefly on the Resurrection of our Lord,’ 2 vols., London, 1885; 1 vol. 1890. 5. Four series of sermons on various subjects, all published London, 1886. The second series included the ‘Two Lectures on the Life of St. Paul.’ 6. ‘Advent in St. Paul's: Sermons bearing chiefly on the Two Comings of our Lord,’ 2 vols., London, 1888, 8vo; revised ed. 1889; 1 vol. ed. 1890. 7. Three series of sermons, in the ‘Contemporary Pulpit Library,’ London, 1888–91. 8. ‘Christmastide in St. Paul's: Sermons bearing chiefly on the Birth of our Lord and the End of the Year,’ London, 1889, 8vo. 9. ‘The Magnificat: Sermons in St. Paul's, August, 1889,’ London, 1889, 8vo, 1890 and 1891. 10. ‘Passiontide Sermons,’ 1891. 11. ‘Sermons on Old Testament Subjects,’ London, 1891, 8vo. 12. ‘Sermons on some Words of Christ,’ London, 1892, 8vo. 13. ‘Essays and Addresses,’ 1892, cr. 8vo. With Dr. William Bright in 1872 he wrote a tract on ‘Protestant Orders,’ and edited the ‘Church Defence Tracts.’ In 1875 he contributed to A. W. N. Pugin's ‘Church and State.’ He compiled in 1881 ‘Midday Prayers for Use in St. Paul's Cathedral.’ Liddon also edited Andrewes's ‘Manual for the Sick’ in 1869, and two works of Dr. Pusey in 1883, namely, ‘Prayers for a Young Schoolboy’ and ‘Private Prayers.’ ‘Selections’ from his writings appeared in 1882, and ‘Maxims and Gleanings’ from them in 1891.
[Private information; Times, 10 Sept. 1890; Guardian, September 1890; Review of Reviews, 1890.]