Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Townsend, George (1788-1857)

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TOWNSEND, GEORGE (1788–1857), author, born at Ramsgate, Kent, in 1788, was the son of George Townsend, independent minister in that town, a man of some note and the author of numerous published sermons. He was educated at Ramsgate, and attracted the attention of Richard Cumberland (1732–1811) [q. v.], the dramatist, by whose aid he was able to proceed to Trinity College, Cambridge, whence he graduated B.A. in 1812 and M.A. in 1816. He was ordained deacon in 1813 and priest in the year following, and in 1813 became curate of Littleport, Cambridgeshire, whence he removed to Hackney as curate to John James Watson, archdeacon of Colchester. In 1816 he was appointed professor at Sandhurst, and at the same time undertook the curacy of Farnborough, Hampshire. In 1811 appeared his first published work, a reply to Sir William Drummond (1770?–1828) [q. v.], who in ‘Œdipus Judaicus’ alleged that the greater part of the Old Testament was a solar allegory, and that the twelve patriarchs symbolised the signs of the zodiac. Townsend rejoined with ‘Œdipus Romanus,’ in which by similar reasoning he showed that the signs of the zodiac were represented by the twelve Cæsars. In 1821 appeared the first part of his great work, ‘The Old Testament arranged in historical and chronological order,’ London, 8vo; 5th edit. 1860. This work obtained the notice of several eminent men, among others of Shute Barrington [q. v.], bishop of Durham, who appointed him his domestic chaplain in 1822. In this position he had sufficient leisure to bring out the second part of his work, ‘The New Testament arranged in historical and chronological order,’ London, 1826, 8vo; 5th edit. 1860.

At that period the question of catholic emancipation produced much polemical literature, and, at the request of Barrington, Townsend in 1825 contributed to the controversy ‘The Accusations of History against the Church of Rome,’ 8vo; new edit 1845, 18mo. The work was intended as a reply to Charles Butler's ‘Historical Memoirs of the English, Scottish, and Irish Catholics since the Reformation,’ 1822, and Townsend on 25 Aug. 1825 received in reward the tenth prebendal stall in the see of Durham, which he retained until his death. He also obtained, on 26 April 1826 the chapter living of Northallerton, which he exchanged on 22 Feb. 1839 for the perpetual curacy of St. Margaret, Durham. In 1836 he compiled a ‘Life and Vindication of John Foxe,’ the martyrologist, which was prefixed to the first volume of the edition of his ‘Acts and Monuments,’ edited by S. R. Cattley (8 vols. 1837–41). In 1850 he undertook a journey to Italy with the intention of converting Pio Nono, an enterprise for which his ironical ‘Life and Defence of the Principles of Bishop Bonner’ (London, 1842, 8vo) was hardly likely to smooth the way. On his return he published an account of his journey, under the title ‘Journal of a Tour in Italy in 1850, with an Account of an Interview with the Pope in the Vatican,’ London, 1850, 8vo. He died at the college, Durham, on 23 Nov. 1857. He was twice married, and by his first wife left a son, George Fyler Townsend, who was afterwards perpetual curate of St. Michael's, Burleigh Street, Westminster.

Besides the works mentioned, Townsend was the author of: 1. ‘Poems,’ London, 1810, 8vo. 2. ‘Armageddon, a Poem,’ London, 1816, 4to. 3. ‘Thirty Sermons on some of the most interesting Subjects in Theology,’ London, 1830, 8vo. 4. ‘Plan for abolishing Pluralities and Non-residence,’ London, 1833, 8vo. 5. ‘Spiritual Communion with God; or the Pentateuch and the Book of Job arranged,’ 2 vols. London, 1845–9, 8vo. 6. ‘Historical Researches: Ecclesiastical and Civil History from the Ascension of our Lord to the Death of Wycliffe, philosophically considered with reference to a future Reunion of Christians,’ London, 1847, 8vo. 7. ‘Twenty-seven Sermons on Miscellaneous Subjects,’ London, 1849, 8vo. Townsend also wrote a series of sonnets to accompany Thomas Stothard's illustrations of the ‘Pilgrim's Progress;’ and edited in 1828 the ‘Theological Works’ of John Shute Barrington, first viscount Barrington [q. v.]

[Gent. Mag. 1858, i. 101; Ward's Men of the Reign; Foster's Index Eccles.]

E. I. C.