Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ward, William George
WARD, WILLIAM GEORGE (1812–1882), Roman catholic theologian and philosopher, eldest son of William Ward (1787–1849) [q. v.], was born in London on 21 March 1812. He was educated at a private school at Brook Green, Hammersmith; at Winchester College, which he entered in 1823 and left in 1829, taking with him the gold medal for Latin prose; and at Oxford, where he matriculated from Christ Church on 26 Nov. 1830, was elected to a scholarship at Lincoln College in 1833, graduated B.A., and was elected fellow of Balliol College in 1834. He took holy orders in due course.
At school Ward evinced extraordinary aptitude for mathematics—he even discovered and applied for himself the principle of logarithms. He exhibited, too, a marked preponderance of the reflective over the imaginative faculty; a singular sensibility to music, a lively interest in dramatic performances of all kinds, and a vein of unobtrusive and deep piety—characteristics which he retained throughout life in their original proportion. At Oxford, with three other Wykehamists—Roundell Palmer (afterwards Earl of Selborne) [q. v.], Edward (afterwards Viscount) Cardwell [q. v.], and Robert Lowe (afterwards Viscount Sherbrooke) [q. v.]—he distinguished himself as an easy and powerful speaker in the debates of the Union Society, of which in Michaelmas term 1832 he was president. He was also a member of the short-lived Rambler Club. In the dialectical encounters of which the Balliol common-room was the nightly scene, he developed the dexterity and subtlety of intellectual fence of a mediæval doctor invincibilis. In these disputations his principal antagonist was Archibald Campbell Tait, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, with whom an ever widening divergence of opinions by no means impaired the cordiality of his friendship.
Though only lecturer in mathematics and logic, he was early associated with Tait in the work of superintending the moral and religious training of the undergraduates. He had the faculty of winning the confidence of his juniors, and his conversation was felt as a potent stimulus by men of a fibre very unlike his own—by Benjamin Jowett, by Arthur Penrhyn Stanley [q. v.], and Arthur Hugh Clough [q. v.] Too potent it proved for Clough, who in 1839 escaped with relief from ‘the vortex of philosophism and discussion whereof Ward is the centre’ (Remains, i. 84).
In theology Ward's earliest proclivities were latitudinarian. Evangelical dogmatism he loathed, and communicated his disgust to his friend, Frederick Oakeley [q. v.] But acquiescence in the ‘broad’ ideas of Whately or Arnold was impossible for a systematic thinker of profoundly religious temperament, attracted on the one hand by John Stuart Mill and Auguste Comte, and on the other by Hurrell Froude and John Henry Newman. For Ward, therefore, submission to ecclesiastical guidance in some form or another very soon came to present itself as the only alternative to limitless rationalism. In his melancholy, his devoutness, and his union of a severely logical intellect with a craving for more concrete assurance in matters spiritual than reason can afford, he closely resembled Pascal, and could never have rested content with theism. In this stage of his mental history he fell under Newman's influence, and thenceforth to find the true church became his main concern in life. While thus occupied he visited Arnold (1838), and opened his mind to him. A prolonged discussion followed, by which Arnold was so exhausted that, on Ward's departure, he took a day's rest in bed.
Ward started on his new quest unembarrassed by insular prejudices or Anglican traditions, in profound ignorance of history and the inductive sciences, and without systematic theological training of any kind. Satisfied by Newman that no form of protestantism could possibly have developed into catholicism, he strode straight to the conclusion that the Tridentine decrees were authoritative, and that the church of England must therefore reconcile her articles with them, or abandon her pretension to be a branch of the catholic church. In Newman's famous Tract xc. he saw nothing to regret except its reserve; and in two pamphlets, ‘A few Words in Support of No. xc.,’ and ‘A few more Words in Support of No. xc.,’ Oxford, 1841, he boldly claimed the right of substituting for the natural meaning of the articles his own conjectures as to the real intent of their framers [see Lowe, Robert, Lord Sherbrooke]. On account of these pamphlets Ward was deprived of his lectureships and quasi tutorial position at Balliol, a degradation to which he submitted with great good humour. He was appointed, however, junior bursar in 1841 and senior bursar in 1842.
Meanwhile Ward engaged in frequent colloquies with Newman at Littlemore, in which Ward's impetuous logic caused some distress to the more cautious and delicate spirit of his master. At the same time Ward was gaining by visits to Oscott, Grace-Dieu, and St. Edmund's College, Ware, some slight experience of the life of the Roman church, which, congenial from the first, became more so as the hope of corporate reunion faded away. The trend of his thought was manifest in the articles—‘Arnold's Sermons,’ ‘Whately's Essays,’ ‘Heurtley's Four Sermons,’ ‘Goode's Divine Rule,’ ‘St. Athanasius against the Arians’—which during this period (1841–3) he contributed to the ‘British Critic,’ and which evoked a protest from William Palmer (1803–1885) [q. v.] Ward's reply to so much as concerned himself in Palmer's ‘Narrative’ was a bulky volume entitled ‘The Ideal of a Christian Church considered in comparison with Existing Practice’ (Oxford, 1844, 8vo). In this clumsily written, ill-digested, but powerful work, which gained its author the sobriquet of ‘Ideal Ward,’ he depicted the Roman communion as the all but perfect embodiment of the Christian idea and ethos. The evident exultation with which he instituted his comparisons with the protestant communions was peculiarly odious to English churchmen of all parties.
It was not, however, until the book had been widely read, reviewed, and discussed that the universities determined to take action. Ward was cited (30 Nov.) before the vice-chancellor and hebdomadal council, and asked whether he desired to disavow the book itself or certain specified portions of its contents. He was allowed three days to make up his mind, and on 3 Dec. declined to commit himself in any way until he knew what further proceedings were to be taken against him. The vice-chancellor thereupon censured (13 Dec.) the selected passages as inconsistent with the Thirty-nine articles and the good faith of the author. This censure was formally adopted by convocation assembled in the Sheldonian theatre on 13 Feb. 1845, and Ward, who defended himself with great spirit and ability, was degraded by a large majority. A subsequent resolution condemnatory of Tract xc. was vetoed by the proctors.
Of the legality of the degradation there was grave doubt; but Ward, instead of applying for a mandamus for his restitution, resigned his fellowship, married, and took a cottage at Rose Hill, near Oxford. With his wife he was received into the Roman communion in the jesuit chapel, Bolton Street, London, on 5 Sept., and confirmed by Cardinal Wiseman at Oscott on 14 Sept. 1845. In the following year he took up his quarters in a small house built for him by Pugin near St. Edmund's College, Ware. He found at first no work in the college; but he turned his leisure to good account in theological study and religious exercise; nor did he lose touch of wider interests. Two articles by him in the ‘Tablet’ (24 June and 15 July 1845) on the ‘Political Economy’ of John Stuart Mill led to an introduction to Mill, who had highly appreciated Ward's earlier review of his ‘Logic’ in the ‘British Critic’ (October 1843), and had read the ‘Ideal’ with interest. The two men had little in common except the qualities of intellectual thoroughness and perfect candour; for though in economics (the population question excepted) Ward was content to sit at Mill's feet, his docility was largely due to ignorance; and in logic and metaphysics, though his views were as yet crude, they tended in a direction as far as possible removed from empiricism. Their personal intercourse was inconsiderable; but an irregular correspondence was maintained until shortly before Mill's death.
In October 1851 Ward was appointed lecturer in moral philosophy, and in the following year professor—though his modesty declined any higher title than that of assistant-lecturer in dogmatic theology—in St. Edmund's College. This anomalous position he owed to Cardinal Wiseman, by whom he was sustained in it, against a strong opposition both within and without the college.
At Rome, where Ward had a staunch and influential friend in Monsignor Talbot, the appointment was approved, and in 1854 Ward received from the pope the diploma of Ph.D. His lectures were carefully studied with a view not only to the needs of his pupils, but to the construction of a systematic treatise ‘On Nature and Grace.’ Only the philosophical introduction to the projected work saw the light (London, 1860, 8vo); but the vigour of its polemic against agnosticism and of its defence of independent morality, established Ward's reputation as a thinker (cf. Mill, Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy, 6th ser. p. 209 n.). Ward resigned his lectureship at St. Edmund's College in 1858, and for three years resided at Northwood Park, to which, with another estate in the Isle of Wight, he had succeeded on the death of his uncle in 1849. From the irksome business of managing his property he found relief in occasional visits to London, where he became intimate with Frederick William Faber [q. v.] Meanwhile he closely observed the signs of the times, and prepared himself for the polemics in which the rest of his life was to be passed. His aversion from liberalism, even in the mild form represented within the church by Döllinger, Montalembert, and the ‘Rambler Review,’ edited (from 1859) by Sir John (now Lord) Acton, became intense; and in 1861 he returned to his former quarters, near St. Edmund's College, with a mind made up to wage war to the knife against it. His crusade was carried on chiefly in the ‘Dublin Review,’ which he raised from decadence and edited with conspicuous success from 1863 to 1878. In its pages he defended the encyclical ‘Quanta Cura’ and ‘Syllabus Errorum’ of 1864, and led the extreme wing of the ultramontane party in the controversy on papal infallibility. He speculated freely on the extent of infallibility, and reduced the interpretative functions of the ‘schola theologorum’ to a minimum. His startling conclusions he enunciated with the serenity of a philosopher and defended with the vehemence of a fanatic. The mortification caused him by the triumph of the moderate party at the Vatican council was salved by a brief conveying the papal commendation and benediction (4 July 1870). The heat evolved in this controversy, and also the part he took in frustrating the scheme for a catholic hall at Oxford, strained his relations with Newman, for whom he nevertheless retained in secret his old veneration. His horror of liberalism carried him to the verge of obscurantism. He gravely proposed to dethrone the classics from their place of honour in the higher culture, and suggested that the progress of science would probably be accelerated by the submission of hypotheses to papal censorship. On Wiseman's death all the influence which Ward possessed at Rome was exerted to secure the appointment of Manning to the see of Westminster. Both men were at one in their detestation of the modern spirit and their unswerving loyalty to the holy see, though Manning was far too cautious a controversialist to imitate Ward's intemperate tone or explicitly identify himself with Ward's extreme positions.
As a philosopher Ward throughout life exhibited a largeness of mind, a temperateness of tone, and a generosity of temper in striking contrast to his theological narrowness and intolerance. In the Metaphysical Society, of which he was a founder (March 1869), president (1870), and while health permitted a mainstay, he showed himself a disputant as fair, genial, and generous as he was keen, dexterous, and unsparing; and the same characteristics are apparent not only in the fragment ‘On Nature and Grace,’ but in the ‘Essays on the Philosophy of Theism,’ reprinted from the ‘Dublin Review’ (ed. Wilfrid Ward, London, 1884, 2 vols. 8vo), in which he attempted the reconstruction of metaphysics in opposition to the then prevalent empiricism. In these remarkable prolegomena—the substantive argument was never cast into shape—Ward substitutes for the appeal to experience a canon of certitude essentially Cartesian; but while maintaining that the ultimately indubitable is necessarily true, he declines to admit that the ultimately inconceivable is necessarily false. With Kant (though rather perhaps by way of coincidence than of obligation) he insists on the universal presuppositions of experience and experimental science; the foundation of ethics he lays in an intuition of ‘moral goodness’ and resultant ‘moral axioms;’ on the question of liberty and necessity he adopts a middle course, admitting determinism so far as the will obeys ‘the predominant spontaneous impulse,’ but finding place for freedom in ‘anti-impulsive’ effort.
Ward's declining years were passed chiefly on his estate, Weston Manor, Freshwater, Isle of Wight, in the intimate society of his near neighbour, Tennyson. The operatic season he usually spent at Hampstead, where he had congenial friends in Richard Holt Hutton, editor of the ‘Spectator,’ and Baron Friedrich von Hügel. There, after a prolonged and painful illness, he died on 6 July 1882. His remains rest beneath a stone octagon base supporting a Gothic cross in Weston Manor catholic churchyard. ‘Fidei propugnator acerrimus,’ so runs the inscription; but the words, though apt, indicate only a small part of a complex character. His best epitaph is by Tennyson (Demeter and other Poems, edit. 1893, p. 281):
Farewell, whose living like I shall not find,
Whose faith and work were bells of full accord,
My friend, the most unworldly of mankind,
Most generous of all ultramontanes, Ward,
How subtle at tierce and quart of mind with mind,
How loyal in the following of thy Lord.’
By his wife, Frances Mary, youngest daughter of John Wingfield, prebendary of Worcester, whom he married on 31 March 1845, Ward had issue, besides five daughters, of whom three took the veil, three sons: 1. Edmund Granville, b. 9 Nov. 1853, appointed private chamberlain in 1888 to Leo XIII; 2. Wilfrid Philip, his father's biographer, b. 2 Jan. 1856; 3. Bernard Nicholas, b. 4 Feb. 1857, priest since 1882, and since 1893 president of St. Edmund's College, Ware. Ward's widow died in August 1898 (cf. Tablet, 13 Aug. 1898).
Besides the works mentioned above, Ward was the author of: 1. ‘Three Letters to the Editor of the “Guardian;” with a preliminary paper on the Extravagance of certain Allegations which imply some similarity between the Anglican Establishment and some Branch existing at some Period of the Catholic Church. And a preface including some Criticism of Professor Hussey's Lectures on the Rise of the Papal Power,’ London, 1852, 8vo. 2. ‘The Relation of Intellectual Power to Man's True Perfection considered in two Essays read before the English Academy of the Catholic Religion,’ London, 1858; reprinted in ‘Essays on Religion and Literature,’ ed. Manning, 2nd series, London, 1867, 8vo. 3. ‘The Authority of Doctrinal Decisions which are not definitions of Faith considered in a short series of Essays reprinted from the “Dublin Review,”’ London, 1866, 8vo. 4. ‘A Letter to Father Ryder,’ and ‘A Second Letter to Father Ryder,’ London, 1867, 8vo; followed by ‘A Brief Summary of the recent Controversy on Infallibility: being a reply to Rev. Father Ryder on his Postscript,’ London, 1868, 8vo. 5. ‘De Infallibilitatis Extensione theses quasdam et quæstiones theologorum judicio subjicit G. G. W.’ London, 1869, 8vo. 6. ‘Strictures on Mr. Ffoulkes's Letter to Archbishop Manning’ (on the filioque question, from the ‘Dublin Review’), London, 1869, 8vo. 7. ‘The Condemnation of Pope Honorius: an essay republished and newly arranged from the “Dublin Review,”’ London, 1879, 8vo. 8. ‘Essays on the Church's Doctrinal Authority, mostly reprinted from the “Dublin Review,”’ London, 1880, 8vo.