Marsh, Herbert (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

MARSH, HERBERT (1757–1839), bishop of Peterborough, son of Richard Marsh of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (B.A. 1731, M.A. 1756), vicar of Faversham, Kent, by Elizabeth his wife, was born at Faversham 10 Dec. 1757. He was educated first at Faversham school, and from 1770 at the King's School, Canterbury, under Dr. Osmund Beauvoir, i one of the first classical scholars of his day' (Brydges, Autobiog. i. 68; Nichols, Lit. Anecdotes, ix. 810). He was admitted king's scholar 4 March 1771. Among his schoolfellows were Charles Abbott [q. v.] (afterwards Chief-justice Tenterden) and William Frend [q. v.] On 29 Dec. 1774 he was entered as a pensioner at St. John's College, Cambridge, and was elected scholar in March 1775. He graduated B.A. in 1779 as second wrangler, and also obtained the second Smith's prize. His subsequent degrees were : M.A. 1782, B.D. 1792, D.D. (by royal mandate) 1808. He was elected junior fellow of St. John's 23 March 1779, and senior fellow 28 March 1797. In 1784 he zealously supported Pitt's candidature for the representation of the university of Cambridge in parliament. In 1785 he left Cambridge, travelled abroad, studied at Leipzig under J. D. Michaelis, and corresponded with Griesbach on the text of the New Testament. In 1792 he returned to Cambridge to take the B.D. degree required for the retention of his fellowship. On the prosecution in 1793 of his old schoolfellow and relative, William Frend, in the vice-chancellors court, for the publication of a seditious tract, he was summoned as a witness on the ground of his having communicated the ad- vertisement of the tract to the Cambridge papers. He publicly protested, amidst the applause of a crowded court, against 'the cruelty' of attempting to compel him to bear testimony against one who had been 'a confidential friend from childhood,' and Dr. Thomas Kipling [q. v.], the chief promoter of the suit, was forced reluctantly to dispense with his evidence. Marsh made an ineffectual attempt to bring about a compromise. Feeling among the leading members of the university was so strong against all sympathisers with Frend that Marsh returned to Leipzig, where he prosecuted his theological and critical studies (Gunning, Reminiscences, i. 292-3; Cooper, Annals of Cambridge, iv. 447-53).

In 1792 appeared two essays by Marsh on 'The Usefulness and Necessity of Theological Learning to those designed for Holy Orders,' and another vindicating the authenticity of the Pentateuch. In 1793 he issued the first volume of the translation of J. D. Michaelis's 'Introduction to the New Testament,' with notes and dissertations from his own pen. The work first introduced English scholars to the problems connected with the four gospels and with their relations to each other. Three more volumes followed consecutively, the last being published in 1801. The third volume contained the famous dissertation on 'the origin and composition' of the three first gospels (published separately in 1802), and Marsh's own 'hypothesis,' and its 'illustration,' which, though highly esteemed by continental scholars for its wide and accurate scholarship, critical insight, and clearness of perception, aroused a storm of adverse criticism from theologians of the conservative school at home. One of the chief opponents was Dr. John Randolph [q. v.], bishop of Oxford, who in his 'Remarks,' published anonymously in 1802, condemned Marsh's critical researches as 'derogating from the character of the sacred books, and injurious to Christianity as fostering a spirit of scepticism.' Marsh replied, both in ' Letters to the Anonymous Author of Remarks on Michaelis and his Commentator,' and more fully in 'An Illustration of the Hypothesis proposed in the Dissertation on the Origin and Composition of our three first Canonical Gospels' (1803), descending to what Randolph, who is generally very temperate in his language, designated in a 'Supplement to his Remarks,' 'a coarse strain of low abuse.' Though Marsh affected to despise his antagonist as one not worthy of 'wasting time and health' on, he returned to the fray in a 'Defence of the Illustration' (1804), which he styled 'a clincher.' Other attacks upon Marsh's theory were by Veysie and William Dealtry [q. v.]

Meanwhile Marsh had in 1797 effectually supported English national credit at the critical juncture when the Bank of England had suspended cash payments, by publishing a translation of an essay of Patje, president of the board of finance at Hanover, written to remove the apprehensions of those who had money invested in the English funds. In 1799 he did a greater service by issuing his octavo 'History of the Politics of Great Britain and France, from the time of the conference of Pilnitz to the declaration of war against Great Britain.' A 'Postscript' followed in the same year, and a vindication of his views 'from a late attack of William Belsham' in 1801. The work was written originally in German, and subsequently in English, and proved by authentic documents that the French rulers had been the aggressors in the war between the two countries. Written in pure vernacular German it was widely read on the continent. A copy falling into the hands of Pitt, he sought an introduction to the author, and offered him a pension. The offer was at first declined, but afterwards accepted as a temporary recompense until suitable provision should be made for him in the church. Marsh resigned the pension after he obtained a bishopric (Critical Review, April 1810, p. 36). The influence of Marsh's work on the continent in favour of England led Bonaparte to proscribe him, and in order to escape arrest at Leipzig, Marsh lay concealed there for several months in the house of a merchant named Lecarriere (London Mag. April 1825, p. 503).

Despite Marsh's boldness as a critical theologian he was elected in 1807 to the Lady Margaret professorship at Cambridge, in succession to John Mainwaring, and retained the appointment till his death. After his election he married the daughter of his Leipzig protector, Marianne Emilie Charlotte Lecarriere. The wedding took place by special license at Harwich, 1 July, immediately on the lady's landing. Marsh had already by his writings introduced into theological study at Cambridge a more scientific and liberal form of biblical criticism. He now delivered his professorial lectures in English, and not, as was previously the case, in Latin. His first course was delivered in 1809 in the university church, instead of the divinity schools, so as to accommodate the crowded audience. Townsmen, as well as the university men, we are told, 'listened to them with rapture.' The opening course, on 'The History of Sacred Criticism,' was published by request the same year. These were followed by successive courses on 'The Criticism of the Greek Testament,' 1810, 'The Interpretation of the Bible,' 1813, and 'The Interpretation of Prophecy,' 1816, which were published as they were delivered, and subsequently republished in one volume in 1828, and again in 1838, with the addition of two lectures, bringing the history of biblical interpretation down to modern times. Marsh showed a strong prejudice against the allegorical system of the fathers, and that of the middle ages generally, and maintained that scripture has but one sense, the grammatical. Subsequently he continued the publication of his professorial lectures, those on 'The Authenticity of the New Testament' appearing in 1820, those on its 'Credibility' in 1822, and, finally, those on 'The Authority of the Old Testament' in 1823.

Meanwhile Marsh had engaged in another controversy. In 1805 he preached a course of sermons before the university, of a strongly anti-Calvinistic tone, in which he denounced the doctrines of justification by faith without works, and of the impossibility of falling from grace, as giving a license to immoral living. These sermons were withheld from publication, in spite of the protests of Charles Simeon [q. v.], Isaac Milner [q. v.], and the other evangelical leaders, against whom they were aimed. They were answered by Simeon in sermons, also preached before the university, repudiating the obnoxious opinions he and his friends had been charged with holding, and vindicating their fidelity to the church of England. In 1811 the dispute, already heated, was fanned into flame by the proposal to establish an auxiliary Bible Society in Cambridge. This was vehemently opposed by Marsh and the senior members of the university. In an 'Address to the Members of the Senate' (1812), which, 'with incredible industry,' he put into the hands, not of the members of the university only, but of the leading personages in the county, Marsh denounced the scheme because it sanctioned a union with dissenters and the circulation of the Bible unaccompanied with the liturgy. Polemical pamphlets abounded. But Marsh's violent language aroused a strong feeling in favour of the Bible Society, and after an enthusiastic meeting in the town-hall the auxiliary was established (Gunning, Reminiscences, ii. 277; Simeon, Life, pp. 287, 294, 373). Peace, however, was not restored. Marsh's pugnacity was stimulated by his defeat, and he speedily produced one of his most powerful and stinging pamphlets, entitled 'An Inquiry into the consequences of neglecting to give the Prayer Book with the Bible' (1812), to which was subsequently added as an appendix 'A History of the Translations of the Scriptures from the Earliest Ages.' This called forth rejoinders from Dr. E. D. Clarke [q. v.], the Rev. W. Otter [q. v.] (subsequently bishop of Chichester), Rev. W. Dealtry, Nicholas Vansittart [q. v.] (afterwards Ford Bexley), and others, as well as two covertly satirical 'Congratulatory Letters' from Peter Gandolphy, a priest of the Roman catholic church. The most notorious of the attacks was Dean Milner's 'Strictures' (1813) on Marsh's writings generally, including his biblical criticism. Marsh issued a forcible 'Reply' (1813). Simeon himself once more joined the fray in a 'Congratulatory Address' on the 'Close of the Marshian Controversy,' and Marsh published 'An Answer to his Pretended Congratulatory Address, and a Confutation of his various Mis-statements.' Simeon reissued his 'Address,' with an appendix, defending his views on baptism, which Marsh had assailed. This, of course, called forth 'A Second Letter' from Marsh, in which he took his 'final leave ' of the whole controversy.

Marsh thus obtained leisure to use his great powers against more legitimate foes, in a 'Comparative View of the Churches of England and Rome,' which was published in 1814, and went through three editions. A separately issued appendix followed in 1816. At the same tune he displayed his classical learning and powers of research in an inquiry into the origin and language of the Pelasgi, under the title of 'Horæ Pelasgicæ' (1815), of which only the first part was published. The discourtesy with which, according to his wont, Marsh, even in these works, treated those who differed from him, called forth a sensible and temperate answer from one of them, Dr. Thomas Burgess [q. v.], then bishop of St. Davids.

In 1816 the long-expected mitre was bestowed on Marsh by Lord Liverpool, and he was consecrated to the see of Llandaff 25 Aug. 1816. In 1819 he was translated to Peterborough, and he held that see, while still retaining the Margaret professorship, with the professor's house at Cambridge, till his death. But he did not perform any duties of the chair, and only twice again visited Cambridge, in the winters of 1827 and 1828. As a bishop he proved himself an active and courageous administrator, with a clear sense of what he deemed beneficial to the church, and undeterred from its pursuit by obloquy or misrepresentation. At Llandaff, as well as at Peterborough, he promoted the rebuilding and repair of churches and parsonages, enforced residence, discountenanced pluralities, and revived the office of rural dean. His charges show an accurate knowledge of his clergy, and his resolute determination to secure the adequate performance of their duties, and to enforce his own standard of orthodoxy. The clergy of the evangelical school he regarded with suspicion, and he sought to keep his dioceses free from them by proposing to all curates seeking to be licensed by him the notorious 'eighty-seven questions,' popularly known as 'a trap to catch Calvinists.' He moreover refused to license some already in full orders, who had been duly nominated but had declined to answer the questions, or had returned vague and evasive replies. A violent opposition was roused in the diocese and sedulously fomented by the bishop's enemies. A war of pamphlets ensued, alternately setting forth 'the wrongs of the clergy' and vindicating the bishop's action. Twice (14 June 1821 and 7 June 1822) petitions were presented to the House of Lords by those who had declined to answer Marsh's questions. On the first occasion Lord King, supported by Lords Lansdowne, Grey, Harrowby, and others, and on the second occasion Lord Dacre, moved that the petitions should be referred to a committee of the house, but in both cases the motion was rejected after powerful speeches from Marsh, both of which were published. The bishop was ably denounced by Sydney Smith, in an article as remarkable for wisdom as wit in the 'Edinburgh Review' (November 1822). The Duke of Sussex, writing to Dr. Parr in 1823, described Marsh as wishing 'to rule them [his clergy] with a rod of iron, which might be proper for schoolboys, but not for discriminating beings' (Parr, Works, vii. 5). Similarly, Marsh steadily set his face against the introduction of hymns in the public services unless authorised by the sovereign as the head of the church. 'The provision for uniformity of doctrine in the prayers was vain if clergymen might inculcate what doctrine they pleased by means of hymns' (Charge, July 1823). His opposition to Roman catholic emancipation and to the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts was unvarying.

The latter part of his episcopate was free from disputes, and he ceased his endeavours to coerce his clergy into his own opinions. Towards the close of his life he gradually sank into a state bordering on imbecility, 'almost equally insensible of censure and of praise' (Dibdin, Northern Tour, i. 32). He died at Peterborough 1 May 1839, and was buried in the eastern chapel of his cathedral. His eldest son, Herbert Charles Marsh, was appointed by his father to the lucrative rectory of Barnack in 1832, and to a prebendal stall in his cathedral in 1833, when only in his twenty-fifth year. He was declared of unsound mind in 1850, and died 4 Sept. 1851. He had a second son, George Henry Marsh.

Marsh was in his time the foremost man of letters and divine in Cambridge and the foremost bishop on the bench (Baker, St. John's College, ed. Mayor, p. 735). He was prompt and exact in the despatch of business, and in spite of his pugnacity was in private life benevolent, amiable, and genial. He was a good chess-player. His erudition was profound, and his critical works still repay perusal. He conferred a signal benefit on English biblical scholarship by introducing German methods of research. He was a keen dialectician, writing a vigorous style, which enlivened the dullest critical details. He delighted in the exercise of his power as 'the best pamphleteer of the day.' Professor Mayor says of his controversial tracts that they display a singular freshness and humour, 'but it is often apparent that success is his principal aim' (ib. p. 741). A happy result of these controversies was the formation both of the National Society for Education—which was greatly due to his energy after the 'Bell and Lancaster dispute,' and really had its origin in a sermon preached by him at St. Paul's 13 June 1811—and of the Prayer Book and Homily Society, to which his opponents were driven in 1812 by his strong representations of the danger of circulating the Bible without the prayerbook as a guide. The undaunted front with which he met the long-continued attacks of his adversaries often compelled admiration in his assailants. He was small of stature, with a remarkable but not handsome countenance. A portrait of him, a bequest of his friend and chaplain, Canon James, is in the hall of St. John's College.

Besides the works already noticed, Marsh wrote: 1. 'Letters to Archdeacon Travis in Vindication of one of the Translator's Notes to Michaelis's "Introduction," and in Confirmation of an Opinion that a Greek MS. preserved in the Public Library at Cambridge is one of the seven quoted by R. Stephens,' 8vo, 1795. 2. 'An Extract from Mr. Pappebaum's "Treatise on the Berlin MS.," and an Essay on the Origin and Object of the Velesian Readings,' 8vo, 1795. 3. 'An Examination into the Conduct of the British Ministry relating to the late Proposal of Buonaparte,' 8vo, 1800. 4. 'Memoir of the late Rev. Thomas Jones, 8vo, 1808. 5. 'A Letter to the Conductor of the "Critical Review' on Religious Toleration,' 8vo, 1810. 6. 'A Course of Lectures, containing a Description and Systematic Arrangement of the Several Branches of Divinity,' 8vo, 1810. 7. 'The Question Examined whether the Friends of the Duke of Gloucester in the Present Contest are the Enemies of the Church,' 1811. 8. 'A Defence of the "Question Examined,"' being a Reply to an Anonymous Pamphlet,' 1811. 9. 'Vindication of Dr. Bell's System of Tuition,' 8vo, 1811. 10. 'A Letter to the Right Hon. N. Vansittart, being an Answer to his Second Letter on the British and Foreign Bible Society,' 8vo, 1812. 11. 'Letter and Explanation to the Dissenter and Layman who has lately addressed himself to the Author on the Views of the Protestant Dissenters,' 8vo, 1813. 12. 'Letter to the Rev. P. Gandolphy in Confutation of the Opinion that the Vital Principles of the Reformation have been lately conceded to the Church of Rome,' 8vo, 1813. 13. 'National Religion the Foundation of National Education,' 8vo, 1813. 14. 'Appendix to "A Comparative View,"' &c, 8vo, 1816. 15. 'A Reply to a Pamphlet entitled "The Legality of the Questions proposed by Dr. Marsh"' &c, by a Layman,' 8vo, 1820. 16. 'A Refutation of the Objections advanced by the Rev. J. Wilson against the Questions proposed to Candidates for Holy Orders,' 1820. 17. 'The Conduct of the Bishop of Peterborough explained with reference to the Rector and Curate of Byfield,' 1824. 18. 'Statement of Two Cases Tried, one in the King's Bench and the other in the Arches Court, on the subject of his Anti-Calvinistic Examination of Candidates for Holy Orders, and Applicants to Preach or hold Livings in his Diocese' (n.d.) 19. Charges to the clergy of Llandaff, 1817, of Peterborough 1820, 1823, 1827, 1831.

[Baker's Hist of St John's College, by Mayor, ii. 735-898; Gunning's Reminiscences, i. 268, 292-3, ii. 279; Simeon's Life, pp. 287, 294-6, 313, 373, 377; Dean Milner's Strictures, pp. 191-7, 202, 238; Gent. Mag. 1839, ii. 86-8; Annual Register, 1839, p. 337; Cooper's Annals of Cambr. iv. 489, 495; Beloe's Sexagenarian, i. 1 31 ff.; Dibdin's Northern Tour, i. 32; Churton's Memoir of Watson, i. 104-6; Southey's Letters, ii. 255-6; Parr's Works, vii. 144-6, 148-50, 158;' Persecuting Bishops,' by Sydney Smith, in Edinburgh Review, November 1822.]

E. V.