Vaughan, Robert Alfred (DNB00)

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VAUGHAN, ROBERT ALFRED (1823–1857), author of ‘Hours with the Mystics,’ eldest child of Robert Vaughan (1795–1868) [q. v.], was born at Worcester on 18 March 1823. He was a seven-months child, reared with difficulty, and never robust, though he reached a handsome manhood. His father began his education, and he entered University College school, London, in 1836 at the age of thirteen. Passing on to University College, he graduated at the age of nineteen (1842) B.A. with classical honours, in London University. He wrote verses, drew landscapes, and thought of taking to art as a profession. But his prevailing tastes were literary, and the life of the lettered divine was congenial to his deeply religious temperament. In 1843 he became a student in the Lancashire Independent College, under his father's presidency. Next year he put forth his first publication, ‘The Witch of Endor, and other Poems,’ 1844, 12mo, his desire being ‘to face criticism early.’ His verse shows facility rather than promise. His father set him on reading Origen for an article for the ‘British Quarterly;’ when published (October 1845) it won the commendations of Sir James Stephen [q. v.] and Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd [q. v.] To the ‘London University Magazine’ he contributed in 1846 a dramatic piece, ‘Edwin and Elgiva.’

Having finished his course in Manchester, and become engaged to be married, he spent a session (1846–7) at the university of Halle, coming under the influence of Julius Müller and Tholuck. At this time his mind was somewhat morbidly introspective. The work of his life, he thought, was to be the production of a series of ecclesiastical dramas to illustrate the history of the church. Tholuck directed him to the study of philosophy, which gave tone to his mind. Between June and October 1847 he travelled in Italy with his father. Early in 1848 he became assistant to William Jay [q. v.] at Argyle Chapel, Bath. His preaching was very acceptable to the bulk of the congregation. He expected to be ordained as colleague and successor to Jay, and resigned when difficulties were made about this; his engagement ended on 24 March 1850. While at Bath he wrote articles for the ‘British Quarterly’ on Schleiermacher and Savonarola, and projected (March 1849) his work on the mystics.

Accepting a call from Ebenezer Chapel, Steelhouse Lane, Birmingham, he was ordained there on 8 Sept. 1850. The chapel was too large for his physical powers; he suffered from ill-health in the winter of 1851–2, and he overworked himself in his study. He was learning Spanish and Dutch (being already at home in French, German, and Italian) to gain access to the writings of mystics, and was contributing constantly to the ‘British Quarterly.’ In the autumn of 1854 he visited Glasgow, but declined a call to succeed Ralph Wardlaw [q. v.] He returned home ill, and was laid by for two months with pleurisy. In the spring of 1855 symptoms of pulmonary disease were apparent; he resigned his charge, preaching his last sermon on 24 June. In August he put to press his ‘Hours with the Mystics,’ published in March 1856, 2 vols. 8vo; an enlarged edition appeared in 1860, edited by his father; a third edition in 1880, edited by his son, Wycliffe Vaughan.

As designed by himself, this series of dialogues, interspersed with studies in narrative form, was meant as a prelude to further work on the whole history of the church; it has proved an introduction, of singular attractiveness and great permanent value, to a class of writers and thinkers never before presented to the English mind in such lifelike tints. The range of the survey is very wide, and the accuracy remarkable; the power of selection and ease of compression exhibit equal grasp and skill, and the setting of the sketches is delightful.

The brief remainder of his life was that of an invalid at Bournemouth, St. John's Wood, and Westbourne Park, London. Yet he was hard at work with his pen, contributing articles to ‘Fraser's Magazine’ (‘Art and History,’ October 1857) as well as to the ‘British Quarterly.’ He died at 19 Alexander Street, Westbourne Park, on 26 Oct. 1857. About 1848 he married the only child of James Finlay of Newcastle-on-Tyne. The portrait prefixed to his ‘Essays and Remains,’ 1858, 2 vols. 8vo, shows a noble forehead and a flowing mass of curly hair. As preacher his nearsightedness forbade him to use manuscript, nor could he commit to memory what he had written; the quiet grace of his manner accorded with the ‘rhythmical sweetness’ of his spoken discourse. His conversation was buoyant and full of a quaint humour. His sympathies were catholic; in his essays on imaginative literature, and on phases of thought and action, he is less the critic than the communicator of his own keen enjoyment of his themes. Some of his letters will be found in ‘Positive Religion,’ 1857, 12mo, edited by Edward White.

[Funeral Sermon, by Stallybrass, 1857; Memoir, by his father, prefixed to Essays and Remains, 1858, also separately, 1864 (enlarged); Biogr. Sketch by J. B. Paton in the Eclectic Review, September 1858; Sibree and Caston's Independency in Warwickshire, 1855, p. 185; Urwick's Nonconformity in Worcester, 1897, p. 205.]

A. G.