Wordsworth, Christopher (1807-1885) (DNB00)

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WORDSWORTH, CHRISTOPHER (1807−1885), bishop of Lincoln, born at Lambeth on 30 Oct. 1807, was third and youngest son of Christopher Wordsworth (1774−1846) [q. v.], master of Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1820, and his wife Priscilla, daughter of Charles Lloyd of Bingley Hall, Birmingham. John, the scholar, and Charles [q. v.], bishop of St. Andrews, were his elder brothers. The three were brought up at Bocking, Essex, of which their father was rector and dean from 1808, and at Sundridge, Kent, where they were from 1816 friends and neighbours of Henry Edward Manning [q. v.] In 1815 they lost their mother, and in 1820 Christopher entered as a commoner at Winchester, where he distinguished himself both as a scholar and as an athlete, and was known as ‘the great Christopher’. In 1825 he left Winchester, and in 1826 entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, where his list of college and university prizes and honours was almost unique. In 1830 he graduated as senior classic and fourteenth senior optime, winning also the first chancellor's medal for classical studies; and in the same year he was elected fellow of Trinity, and became shortly afterwards assistant college-tutor. In 1832−3 he travelled in Greece, and was the first Englishman presented to King Otho. He was a keen observer: e.g. his conjecture as to the site of Dodona was confirmed in 1878 by Carapanos. His ‘Athens and Attica’ and ‘Greece’ are still books of authority. In 1833 he was ordained deacon, and in 1835 priest. In 1836 he was chosen public orator at Cambridge, and in the same year became headmaster of Harrow. In 1838 he married Susanna Hatley Frere, daughter of George Frere, a solicitor (afterwards of Twyford House), a marriage which proved the greatest happiness of his life. His position at Harrow was difficult. Discipline had been lax there, and, although he improved the religious tone and was instrumental in building a school chapel, the numbers decreased greatly under his headmastership; he suffered pecuniary loss, and his health began to fail. In 1844 he was appointed, through Sir Robert Peel, canon of Westminster. He was one of the chief founders of the Westminster spiritual aid fund and of St. John's House, an institution for training nurses; and he won reputation as a preacher at the abbey. In 1850 he accepted the country living of Stanford-in-the-Vale, Berkshire, in the gift of the dean and chapter of Westminster. The income of the living was more than swallowed up by the expenses; but Wordsworth's experience of nearly twenty years as a parish priest stood him in good stead when he became a bishop. In 1852 he was elected proctor in convocation for the chapter of Westminster, and for seventeen years was a prominent figure in the lower house of convocation. In 1865 he became archdeacon of Westminster, and finally, in November 1868, after considerable hesitation, he accepted, on the nomination of Disraeli, the bishopric of Lincoln. He was consecrated in February 1869. In the same year he revived the office of (so-called) suffragan bishops, consecrating Henry Mackenzie [q. v.] bishop-suffragan of Nottingham on 2 Feb. 1870, and in 1871 the diocesan synod. Only one synod, however, was held; but at that synod the establishment of a diocesan conference of clergy and laity was arranged, which has been held annually ever since. In 1871, after the Purchas judgment, he revived the use of the cope in Lincoln Cathedral. He also held that a distinctive dress of the celebrant in holy communion was permissible under the ‘ornaments rubric,’ but not compulsory.

One of Wordsworth's marked characteristics was his moral courage in dealing with burning questions. The diocese of Lincoln is a stronghold of Wesleyanism, and in 1873 he issued ‘A Pastoral to the Wesleyan Methodists in the Diocese of Lincoln,’ inviting them to return to their mother church on the principles of their founder. A vehement controversy followed, the heat of which was not allayed when shortly afterwards he declined to use his influence with the vicar of Owston to allow the title of ‘Reverend’ to be applied to a Wesleyan minister on a tombstone in the churchyard. His decision was upheld in the court of arches, but overruled in the privy council.

In 1873−5 occurred ‘the Great Coates case,’ on his refusing to institute a clergyman who had purchased the life interest in an advowson, which the bishop held to be practically the purchase of a next presentation. The courts, however, held that it was of the nature of the purchase of an advowson. The bishop had to pay heavy costs and damages; but the laity of the diocese subscribed the sum (1,000l.), which he devoted to repairing Bishop Alnwick's tower. In 1874 he opposed the public worship regulation bill, because he thought that the church had not had a fair opportunity of discussing it in its own proper assembly (convocation), and he had much to do with saving the bishops' veto in ritual prosecutions. In 1880 he stood almost alone among the bishops in his opposition to the burials bill, which opened churchyards for nonchurch services. In 1873 he revived, after an abeyance of more than a hundred years, the triennial visitation of the cathedral body; and in 1874 he reissued the ‘Laudum’ and ‘Novum Registrum’ of Bishop Alnwick as statutes by which they should be guided. He contended that each residentiary canon had his own particular work, and insisted upon constant residence as a sine qua non for the capitular body. One result was the establishment of the ‘Scholæ Cancellarii’ for the training of young men for the ministry under the direction of the chancellor, Edward White Benson (afterwards archbishop), whom he brought from Wellington College, and drew into the circle of cathedral and diocesan life, thus creating an intimacy which was valuable to both. On this institution the bishop expended personally at least 6,000l., besides an annual subscription of 100l. to the bursary fund. His generosity to the diocese (as, indeed, elsewhere) was unbounded: one of his last gifts was that of his costly commentary on the whole Bible to every licensed curate.

Wordsworth's anti-Roman attitude was very marked, especially in his earlier life, and was exhibited in his books on the ‘Apocalypse’ and the striking ‘Letters to M. Gondon’ (1847) and ‘Sequel’ (1848). He made special inquiries into church life in France and Italy, and left interesting memorials of his tours in a ‘Diary in France’ (1845), ‘Notes at Paris’ (1854), and ‘A Journal of a Tour in Italy’ (1863). He was naturally one of the strongest supporters of the Anglo-Continental Society, the secretary of which (Canon F. Meyrick) was one of his examining chaplains. The revolt of the old catholics in Germany, which followed the Vatican council of 1870, drew him into close relations with Döllinger and his friends. He attended the congress at Cologne in 1872, writing a remarkably learned Latin letter to its members on his journey in favour of the abolition of clerical celibacy. He was also deeply interested in the Greek church, to which he looked with hopefulness as not irrevocably committed to new developments of doctrine. Being an accomplished modern Greek scholar, he was able to hold intercourse with its members with greater facility than most Englishmen. He translated into Greek (as well as Latin) the Lambeth encyclicals of 1867 and 1878; and he received with great delight at Riseholme Alexander Lycurgus, archbishop of Syra and Tenos, who visited England in 1870. Wordsworth lived just long enough to see the accomplishment of a scheme which he had long had at heart: the subdivision of the diocese of Lincoln, and the establishment of the new see of Southwell, embracing Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Though a Cambridge man, he had frequent contact with Oxford. As bishop of Lincoln he was ex-officio visitor of Brasenose and Lincoln colleges; in 1881 he successfully maintained his right to appoint a clerical fellow of Lincoln, a right which was about to be swept away by the new college statutes. In 1884 his health gave way, and on 28 Oct. of that year his wife died, a blow from which he never recovered. On 9 Feb. 1885 he resigned his see, and on 21 March passed away at the house of his son-in-law, P. A. Steedman, at Harewood. His funeral took place in Lincoln Cathedral on 25 March, whence his body was conveyed to Riseholme, and laid by the side of his wife. He left a family of two sons and five daughters. His eldest son, John, became bishop of Salisbury (October 1885), and his second son, Christopher, is known as a writer on university life and liturgical subjects. His eldest daughter, Elizabeth, became in 1879 the first principal of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, an institution which he warmly supported.

There are several portraits of Bishop Wordsworth: one in oils, painted by Robson (1823), belonging to his brother's family; one in crayon, drawn by G. Richmond (1853), with Canon Wordsworth; one in oils, by Edwin Long, R.A. (1878), at Old Palace, Lincoln; one in oils, by E. R. Taylor, and a drawing in coloured crayons by Rev. J. Mansell, both taken when he was bishop of Lincoln, with Canon Trebeck. A bust by Miller belongs to Miss Wordsworth. The best portrait, perhaps, is a photograph by Elliott & Fry (1884), reproduced in his ‘Life.’ A good portrait of Mrs. Wordsworth by Eddis is at the Palace, Salisbury.

Wordsworth was an indefatigable writer, but much more than a mere scholar. His memory was remarkable, and his learning always ready for use. He was clear-headed and businesslike, yet he had a vein of mystic enthusiasm. In manner he was quick but courteous and dignified; his language was studiously refined, but rather full in its expression, after the manner of some of our older divines. He was transparently sincere in character, and unhesitating in faith and doctrine. A certain tendency to sarcasm and severity was kept under by rigorous self-discipline. To many he seemed a living embodiment of the spirit of the early fathers of the church, and on those who knew him well, or followed his teaching for any time in the pulpit, he at all periods of his life exercised a remarkable influence — not least on his Harrow — pupils winning their lasting love and veneration.

His monumental work was a commentary on the whole Bible. He began intentionally with the New Testament, in the light of which he always taught that the Old should be read. He published a revised Greek text and commentary in four parts, 1856−60. The Old Testament followed with extraordinary rapidity in twelve parts, 1864−1870. His great merit as a commentator is in showing the interdependence of the various portions of scripture and in supplying homiletic material. The introductions are specially valuable. His ‘Church History up to A.D. 451,’ in four volumes, was the work of his old age (1881−3). It is specially interesting from his sympathy with, and firsthand knowledge of, the fathers.

Besides the works already mentioned, Wordsworth's publications included, apart from numerous single sermons, tracts, pamphlets, addresses, and charges: 1. ‘Athens and Attica,’ 1836. 2. ‘Pompeian Inscriptions,’ the first published collection of ‘graffiti,’ 1837, republished in No. 34. 3. ‘Greece, Pictorial and Descriptive,’ 1839; 6th edition 1858, with 600 engravings and a notice of Greek art by (Sir) George Scharf; new edition edited by the Rev. H. F. Tozer, 1882; a French translation, 1840. 4. ‘Preces Selectæ,’ 1842. 5. ‘A Manual for those about to be Confirmed,’ 1842; like No. 4, for the use of Harrow school. 6. ‘King Edward VI's Latin Grammar’ (1841), long a standard schoolbook, but superseded in 1871 by the publication of the ‘Public Schools Latin Grammar.’ 7. ‘The Correspondence of Richard Bentley,’ 1842, which had been commenced by Dr. Monk and carried on by the bishop's brother, John Wordsworth, who died in 1839 while engaged in the work. 8. ‘Theophilus Anglicanus,’ 1843, was intended in the first instance simply to instruct his Harrow pupils in church principles, but, appearing at a time when those principles, having been revived by the Oxford movement, were receiving a shock by the threatened secessions to Rome, it just met a deeply felt want. 9. ‘Theocritus,’ 1st edit. 1844, which was superseded by the fuller edition of 1877, a work of much scholarship and full of acute conjectures. 10. ‘Discourses on Public Education,’ 1844. 11. ‘Hulsean Lectures [first series] on the Canon of Scripture,’ 1848. 12. ‘Hulsean Lectures [second series] on the Apocalypse,’ 1849. 13. ‘Occasional Sermons’ (first series), 1850: chiefly on the Gorham controversy. 14. ‘Occasional Sermons’ (second series), 1851. 15. ‘Memoirs of William Wordsworth’ (1851), his uncle the poet, with whom he had been on terms of the greatest intimacy, and whose literary executor he became. 16−17. ‘Occasional Sermons’ (1852), the third and fourth series. 18. ‘Sermons on the Irish Church,’ 1852. 19. ‘S. Hippolytus and the Church of Rome’ (1853), which threw much light upon a then little known period of church history. 20. ‘Boyle Lectures on Religious Restoration’ (1854), forming the fifth series of his ‘Occasional Sermons.’ 21−2. ‘Occasional Sermons,’ sixth series 1857, and seventh series 1859. 23. ‘Lectures on Inspiration,’ 1861. 24. ‘The Holy Year,’ 1862: his only publication in English verse, intended for congregational use, and to illustrate in detail all the teaching of the Book of Common Prayer. Many hymns from this book are now in common use. They are largely scriptural and patristic in substance, and are often a sort of essence of his commentaries. They are intensely devotional in tone, but the element of individual emotion is generally suppressed. 25. ‘Sermons on the Maccabees,’ 1871; preached at Cambridge. 26. ‘Ethica et Spiritualia,’ 1872: a collection of about five hundred pithy maxims, intended for the students at the Scholæ Cancellarii. 27. ‘Twelve Diocesan Addresses,’ 1873. 28. A revised English version of ‘Bishop Sanderson's Lectures on Conscience and Human Law,’ 1877. 29. ‘Miscellanies, Literary and Religious,’ 1879, 3 vols. 8vo, containing an extraordinary variety of matter, some of which was printed for the first time. 30. ‘Conjectural Emendations of Passages in Ancient Authors, and other Papers,’ 1883 (see No. 3). 31. A tract on ‘John Wiclif,’ 1884, à propos of the Wycliffe tercentenary. 32. ‘How to read the Old Testament,’ 1885: written for his grandchildren.

[Life of Christopher Wordsworth, Bishop of Lincoln, by J. H. Overton and Elizabeth Wordsworth (1888); Bishop Wordsworth's Works, passim; personal knowledge and private information.]

J. H. O.