Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Wordsworth, John
WORDSWORTH, JOHN (1843–1911), bishop of Salisbury, was elder son of Christopher Wordsworth [q. v.], bishop of Lincoln, by his wife Susanna Hatley, daughter of George Frere. His brother is Christopher Wordsworth, master of St. Nicholas' Hospital, Salisbury, and formerly fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge. Among his five sisters were Elizabeth, first principal of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and Susan (d. 1912), first head of the Southwark Diocesan Society of Grey Ladies. He was born on 21 Sept. 1843 at Harrow, his father being headmaster of the school, and was educated as a pensioner at Winchester and as a scholar at New College, Oxford, from which he matriculated in 1861. In 1863 he was placed in the first class in classical moderations, and in 1865 in the second class in literæ humaniores. He graduated B.A. in 1865, proceeding M.A. in 1868. He won the Latin essay prize in 1866, and the Craven scholarship in 1867. After a year as assistant master at Wellington College under Edward White Benson, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, he was elected in 1867 to a fellowship at Brasenose, and was ordained deacon and priest by Bishop Wilberforce of Oxford in 1867 and 1869. He served Brasenose College as chaplain. In 1870 he was appointed examining chaplain and was collated to a prebend in Lincoln Cathedral by his father, just consecrated to that see. Though he was from the first interested in divinity, his college work and his studies were chiefly classical. Beside writings of less importance, he published in 1874 ‘Fragments and Specimens of Early Latin,’ still a standard work, though its philology is that of its date. It gave an ample and judicious collection of examples, with a sound and learned commentary, and proved Wordsworth to be one of the best Latin scholars in Oxford. Thenceforth he applied his Latin scholarship to biblical study. In 1878 the University Press accepted a proposal from him for the publication of a critical edition of the Vulgate text of the New Testament, which should reproduce, so far as possible, the exact words of St. Jerome. The enterprise was in progress the rest of his life. Wordsworth at once began to collect his material. MSS. were collated, principally by himself, in all the countries of Western Europe; earlier collations, such as those of Bentley and John Walker [q. v.] were examined; unused material of Tischendorf was purchased; the patristic writers were searched for quotations; readings of importance from one or another point of view were brought together from a multitude of printed editions. Fully a hundred sources were drawn upon for the text of the Gospels. Wordsworth met satisfactorily all the requirements of palæographical, grammatical, historical, and exegetical knowledge, and his notes and indices became mines of varied erudition. As a preliminary to the substantive publication, certain important MSS. were from 1883 onwards printed in full in ‘Old Latin Biblical Texts’; in this task Wordsworth enlisted the aid of Dr. Sanday and other scholars. Subsequently he associated with himself in his work the Rev. Henry Julian White, now professor of New Testament exegesis in King's College, London. At length in 1889 St. Matthew was published, in 1891 St. Mark, in 1892 St. Luke, in 1895 St. John. An ‘Epilogus’ of discussions and results followed in 1898, the whole forming a quarto volume of over 800 pages. The Acts appeared in 1905; the work is still in progress under the care of Dr. White with the assistance of the Rev. George Mallows Youngman. Before his death the bishop passed through the press a minor edition of the whole Vulgate New Testament, which appeared in 1912. Owing to other occupations Wordsworth in his later years took no large share in the actual shaping of the work, but the materials were mostly of his collection, and he retained a full knowledge of every detail, and in doubtful questions gave the final decision.
Meanwhile Wordsworth had gained high office at Oxford and in the church. In 1877 J. B. Mozley [q. v.], regius professor of divinity, chose him as his deputy, and he served that office for two years. On his lectures as deputy professor he based the Bampton lectures of 1881. Entitled ‘The One Religion,’ they were a development of the ‘testimonium animæ naturaliter Christianæ,’ and a comparison of Christianity with other great religions. Wordsworth was no orientalist, and this is the only book in which he used second-hand knowledge. Nor did Wordsworth venture elsewhere upon the field of philosophy, which as in the case of his uncle Charles was alien to his mode of thought. At the same time the Bampton lectures illustrate his strong interest in missions. He was among the founders of the Oxford Missionary Association of Graduates, and of St. Stephen's House, which was designed to prepare members of the university for mission life. In 1883 Wordsworth's theological learning was recognised by his election to the Oriel professorship of the interpretation of scripture. The Oriel professorship was newly founded, and he was the first occupant; it carried with it a canonry of Rochester, where Wordsworth threw himself heartily into the work of church and cathedral. Two years later Wordsworth was nominated to the see of Salisbury in succession to George Moberly [q. v.]. He was consecrated on 28 Oct. 1885, and was made D.D. at Oxford. Thenceforth his literary work, apart from the Vulgate, was incidental to his new duties. Succeeding to a well-administered diocese, without the problem of an increasing population, he was able to devote much of his time to the general policy of the church. Possessed of a strong will and unfailing memory, combined with a genuine interest in the work of his clergy and an ample generosity, he fully exerted his authority. He made himself an efficient ecclesiastical lawyer, and was fearless in risking litigation, from which in fact his boldness protected him. He was the first to exercise the power under the Pluralities Act Amendment Act (1898), by which a bishop can appoint a curate, at the expense of an incompetent incumbent, to a neglected parish. He also revived the canonical right of examining and rejecting, on the score of insufficient learning, the presentee to a benefice. The diocesan work for which he found widest scope was that of education. Not only did he make great, and often successful, efforts to maintain elementary church schools, but he also concerned himself with higher instruction. He founded and endowed the Bishop's School at Salisbury for the secondary co-education of boys and girls.
In the central counsels of his church, Wordsworth's influence was especially powerful. He was on terms of close intimacy with Archbishop Benson, and his assistance proved indispensable to Benson's successors. He was one of the assessors in the bishop of Lincoln's case in 1889–90, and laboriously studied the relevant law and history.
Wordsworth cherished hopes of reunion of Christendom, and the aspiration stirred his best energies. But he inherited much of his father's strong feeling against Rome; and though he frankly expressed his admiration for its more scholarly representatives, he was always ready to state, in Latin or English, the points of difference and the claims of his own church to antiquity or authority. He was always interested in symptoms of internal revolt in the Roman communion, and watched such growth as might be found among the Old Catholics, especially of Austria. In fact, his range of interest covered the whole area of Christendom where bishops existed. In the general recognition of episcopacy he saw the one hope of unity. The common feature of episcopacy drew Wordsworth to remote Eastern churches of whose orthodoxy he was willing to take the most favourable view, and towards Swedes and Moravians, episcopal brethren, though other sides of their system might seem to rank them with those who care little for the historic ministry, and though their link with the past might, as in the last case, be very dubious. He grudged no effort to remove obstacles and in the negotiation of terms of possible association. His last work, the Hale lectures, delivered at Chicago in 1910, and published in England in 1911, on the national church of Sweden, was inspired by this motive. It was composed in ill-health, but is a substantial and original contribution to history. It has been translated into Swedish, and is a recognised text-book in the Swedish colleges. In his ‘De successione Episcoporum in Ecclesia Anglicana’ (1890) and ‘De validitate ordinum Anglicanorum’ (1894) he laboriously attempted to refute the scruples of the so-called Jansenist Church of Holland. The correspondence was kept up through his life, though his hopes were never fully realised. He also made some efforts to continue the attempts of his uncle Charles to draw together the episcopal and presbyterian churches of Scotland. His elaborate history of the episcopate of Charles Wordsworth (1899), like his later researches, as in his ‘Ordination Problems’ (1909) and ‘Unity and Fellowship’ (1910), was largely devoted to precedents for the absorption of religious societies with some defect in their title into others whose pedigree was unblemished.
Wordsworth found in history an authoritative clue to present duty. His two most important practical works, ‘Holy Communion,’ originally a series of visitation addresses in 1891 (3rd edit. 1910), and his ‘Ministry of Grace,’ charges of 1901 (2nd edit. 1902) are laboriously historical in method. The last is a history of the Christian ministry which contains substantial additions to knowledge. If history revealed institutions to be accepted as authoritative, scripture was equally a succession of oracles to be interpreted, not to be criticised. Though in his later years Wordsworth ceased to share such fears as Liddon's, he was to the last very conservative in regard to criticism of the Bible.
In his preaching Wordsworth showed himself equally sure of his ground, scriptural and historical, and spoke impressively and often with originality, although he sometimes forgot that his audience did not share his interests and his knowledge. Outside his own lines of reading, the literature that interested him was such as dealt with practical questions. His appetite for information was keen; the local and natural history of his diocese, for instance, became thoroughly familiar to him, and on most concrete topics he had something to impart. Though he was an accomplished critic and writer of Latin, style in English literature did not greatly interest him; in poetry he was chiefly attracted by the grave morality of his great-uncle, William Wordsworth. He is memorable chiefly for his efforts for the reunion of Christendom, which compare with those of Archbishop Wake, and for the scholarly work which places him among the masters in historical theology. He was made hon. LL.D. of Dublin in 1890, of Cambridge in 1908, and hon. D.D. of Berne in 1892. In 1905 he was chosen a fellow of the British Academy. He wrote in this Dictionary on Charles Wordsworth [q. v.] and on John Walker [q. v. Suppl. I].
The bishop died suddenly at his palace at Salisbury on 16 Aug. 1911, and was buried at Britford, near Salisbury. He married (1) in 1870, Susan Esther (d 1894), daughter of Henry Octavius Coxe [q. v.]; (2) in 1896, Mary, daughter of Colonel Robert William, M.P., of Bridehead, Dorset, by whom he left four sons and two daughters.
His portrait was painted in duplicate in 1905 by Sir George Reid and presented to him by the diocese. One picture is in the Palace, Salisbury, the other belongs to Mrs. Wordsworth. It has been engraved. He is to be commemorated by a recumbent statue and by the erection of choir-stalls in Salisbury cathedral.
[Personal knowledge; The Times, 17 and 21 Aug. 1911; Salisbury Diocesan Gazette, Sept. to Dec. 1911 (articles by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Principal of Brasenose, Miss E. Wordsworth, and others); Dr. H. J. White in Journal of Theolog. Studies, Jan. 1912, xiii. 201; Dr. W. Sanday in Proc. Brit. Academy, 1912; a biography by the present writer is in preparation.