Samuel Wilberforce

A photo of Samuel Wilberforce by Lewis Carroll
Samuel Wilberforce (7 September 180519 July 1873) was an English bishop in the Church of England, third son of William Wilberforce.

Life

Wilberforce was born at Clapham Common, London. In 1823 he entered Oriel College, Oxford. In the "United Debating Society," which afterwards developed into the "Union," he distinguished himself as a zealous advocate of liberalism. The set of friends with whom he chiefly associated at Oxford were sometimes named, on account of their exceptionally decorous conduct, the "Bethel Union"; but he was by no means averse to amusements, and specially delighted in hurdle jumping and hunting. He graduated in 1826, taking a first class in mathematics and a second in classics. He spent the summer and autumn of 1827 touring the continent. After his marriage on 11 June 1828 to Emily Sargent, he was in December ordained and appointed curate-in-charge at Checkenden nearn Henley-on-Thames.

In 1830 he was presented by Bishop Charles Sumner of Winchester to the rectory of Brighstone in the Isle of Wight. In this comparatively retired sphere he soon found scope for that manifold activity which so prominently characterized his subsequent career. In 1831 he published a tract on tithes, "to correct the prejudices of the lower order of farmers," and in the following year a collection of hymns for use in his parish, which had a large general circulation; a small volume of stories entitled the Note Book of a Country Clergyman; and a sermon, The Apostolical Ministry. At the close of 1837 he published the Letters and Journals of Henry Martyn.

Although a High Churchman, Wilberforce held aloof from the Oxford movement, and in 1838 his divergence from the Tractarian writers became so marked that John Henry Newman declined further contributions from him to the British Critic, not deeming it advisable that they should longer "co-operate very closely." In 1838 Wilberforce published, with his elder brother Robert Wilberforce, the Life of his father, and two years later his father's Correspondence. In 1839 he also published Eucharistica (from the old English divines), to which he wrote an introduction, Agathos and other Sunday Stories, and a volume of University Sermons, and in the following year Rocky Island and other Parables. In November 1839 he was installed archdeacon of Surrey, in August 1840 was collated canon of Winchester and in October he accepted the rectory of Alverstoke.

In 1841 he was chosen Bampton lecturer, and shortly afterwards made chaplain to Prince Albert, an appointment he owed to the impression produced by a speech at an anti-slavery meeting some months previously. In October 1843 he was appointed by the archbishop of York to be sub-almoner to the Queen. In 1844 appeared his History of the American Church. In March of the following year he accepted the deanery of Westminster, and in October the bishopric of Oxford.

The bishop in 1847 became involved in the Hampden controversy, and signed the remonstrance of the thirteen bishops to Lord John Russell against Hampden's appointment to the bishopric of Hereford. He also endeavoured to obtain satisfactory assurances from Hampden; but, though unsuccessful in this, he withdrew from the suit against him. The publication of a papal bull in 1850 establishing a Roman hierarchy in England brought the High Church party, of whom Wilberforce was the most prominent member, into temporary disrepute. The secession to the Church of Rome of his brother-in-law, afterwards Cardinal Manning, and then of his brothers, as well as his only daughter and his son-in-law, Mr and Mrs J. H. Pye, brought him under further suspicion, and his revival of the powers of Convocation lessened his influence at court; but his unfailing tact and wide sympathies, his marvellous energy in church organization, the magnetism of his personality, and his eloquence both on the platform and in the pulpit, gradually won for him recognition as without a rival on the episcopal bench.

His diary reveals a tender and devout private life which has been overlooked by those who have only considered the versatile facility and persuasive expediency that marked the successful public career of the bishop, and perhaps earned him the sobriquet of "Soapy Sam", though this may have been a reference to his characteristic hand-washing gesture, so clearly captured in the Vanity Fair cartoon by 'Ape'. In the House of Lords he took a prominent part in the discussion of social and ecclesiastical questions. He has been styled the "bishop of society"; but society occupied only a fraction of his time. The great bent of his energies was ceaselessly directed to the better organization of his diocese and to the furtherance of schemes for increasing the influence and efficiency of the church.

In 1854 he opened a theological college at Cuddesdon, now known as Ripon College (Cuddesdon), which was afterwards the subject of some controversy on account of its alleged Romanist tendencies.
A cartoon image representing Wilberforce during the Huxley-Wilberforce debate that was published in Vanity Fair


In 1860, he took part in the famous debate at the British Association meeting at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. The debate took place on the Saturday, after Richard Owen and Thomas Henry Huxley had already clashed on man's position in nature the previous day. On the Saturday Wilberforce got his chance to criticise Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, especially the implication that man descended from apes, a theme carried over from the previous day. Darwin was not present, but several of his friends replied, with Huxley perhaps the most effective. The general view was and still is that Huxley had got the better of the exchange (see Thomas Huxley) but there are dissenting voices[1] and Wilberforce himself thought he had done well. 'Reports from the time suggest that everybody enjoyed himself immensely, and all went cheerfully off to dinner together afterwards.'[2].

To see Wilberforce in the full glory of his social status and reputation, it is perhaps enough to recall that he was not merely Bishop of Oxford (a grand enough post in the nineteenth century) but Lord Bishop of Oxford, a member of the House of Lords and a Fellow of the Royal Society. This last distinction is rarely mentioned in accounts of the famous Oxford debate.

His attitude towards Essays and Reviews in 1861, against which he wrote an article in the Quarterly, won him the special gratitude of the Low Church party, and latterly he enjoyed the full confidence and esteem of all except the extreme men of either side and party. It was also Wilberforce who proclaimed eminent geologist Sir Roderick Murchison the unofficial King of Siluria. On the publication of John William Colenso's Commentary on the Romans in 1861, Wilberforce endeavoured to induce the author to hold a private conference with him; but after the publication of the first two parts of the Pentateuch Critically Examined he drew up the address of the bishops which called on Colenso to resign his bishopric. In 1867 he framed the first Report of the Ritualistic Commission, in which coercive measures against ritualism were discountenanced by the use of the word "restrain" instead of "abolish" or "prohibit." He also endeavoured to take the sting out of some resolutions of the second Ritualistic Commission in 1868, and was one of the four who signed the Report with qualifications. Though strongly opposed to the disestablishment of the Irish Church, yet, when the constituencies decided for it, he advised that no opposition should be made to it by the House of Lords. After twenty-four years in the diocese of Oxford, he was translated by Gladstone to the bishopric of Winchester. He was killed on 19 July 1873, by the shock of a fall from his horse near Dorking, Surrey. Huxley reportedly commented that Wilberforce's brains had at last come into contact with reality, and the result had been fatal.

Family

Wilberforce left three sons. The eldest, Reginald Carton Wilberforce, was the author of An Unrecorded Chapter of the Indian Mutiny (1894). His two younger sons both attained distinction in the English church. Ernest Roland Wilberforce (1840–1908) was bishop of Newcastle-upon-Tyne from 1882 to 1895, and bishop of Chichester from 1895 till his death. Albert Basil Orme Wilberforce (b. 1841) was appointed canon residentiary of Westminster in 1894, chaplain of the House of Commons in 1896 and Archdeacon of Westminster in 1900; he published several volumes of sermons.

Works

Besides the works already mentioned, Wilberforce wrote Heroes of Hebrew History (1870), originally contributed to Good Words, and several volumes of sermons. See Life of Samuel Wilberforce, with Selections from his Diary and Correspondence (1879–1882), vol. i., ed. by Canon AR Ashwell, and vols. ii. and iii., ed. by his son RG Wilberforce, who also wrote a one-volume Life (1888). One of the volumes of the "English Leaders of Religion" is devoted to him, and he is included in Dean Burgon's Lives of Twelve Good Men (1888).

References

1. ^ An examination of the evidence for what was really said in the 1860 debate on Darwinism.
2. ^ p.5, Ruse, M. Can a Darwinian be a Christian? CUP 2001
  • Woodward, Horace B. 1907. History of the Geological Society of London. Geological Society, London, 336p

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Religious titles
Preceded by
Thomas Turton
Dean of Westminster
1845
Succeeded by
William Buckland
Preceded by
Richard Bagot
Bishop of Oxford
1845–1870
Succeeded by
John Mackarness
Preceded by
Charles Richard Sumner
Bishop of Winchester
1870–1873
Succeeded by
Edward Browne

Persondata
NAMEWilberforce, Samuel
ALTERNATIVE NAMES
SHORT DESCRIPTIONBishop in the Church of England
DATE OF BIRTH1805-09-07
PLACE OF BIRTHClapham Common, London, England
DATE OF DEATH1873-07-19
PLACE OF DEATHDorking, Surrey, England
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William Wilberforce (24 August 1759–29 July 1833) was an English politician, Member of Parliament for Yorkshire (1784–1812), a philanthropist, and evangelical Christian who, as a leading abolitionist headed the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade,
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Clapham Common is a triangular area of grassland of about 220 acres (0.8 km²) in size, situated between Clapham, Battersea and Balham in south London, England. It was historically common land for the parishes of Battersea and Clapham, but was converted to parkland under the
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Robert Isaac Wilberforce (December 1802- 3 February 1857), English clergyman and writer, second son of William Wilberforce, was born in December of 1802. He was educated at Oriel College, Oxford, taking a double first in 1823.
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