ALFORD, HENRY (1810–1871), English divine and scholar, was born in London on the 7th of October 1810. He came of a Somersetshire family, which had given five consecutive generations of clergymen to the Anglican church. Alford’s early years were passed with his widowed father, who was curate of Steeple Ashton in Wiltshire. He was an extremely precocious lad, and before he was ten had written several Latin odes, a history of the Jews and a series of homiletic outlines. After a peripatetic school course he went up to Cambridge in 1827 as a scholar of Trinity. In 1832 he was 34th wrangler and 8th classic, and in 1834 was made fellow of Trinity. He had already taken orders, and in 1835 began his eighteen years’ tenure of the vicarage of Wymeswold in Leicestershire, from which seclusion the twice-repeated offer of a colonial bishopric failed to draw him. He was Hulsean lecturer at Cambridge in 1841–1842, and steadily built up a reputation as scholar and preacher, which would have been enhanced but for his discursive ramblings in the fields of minor poetry and magazine editing. In September 1853 Alford removed to Quebec Chapel, London, where he had a large and cultured congregation. In March 1857 Viscount Palmerston advanced him to the deanery of Canterbury, where, till his death on the 12th of January 1871, he lived the same strenuous and diversified life that had always characterized him. The inscription on his tomb, chosen by himself, is “Diversorium Viatoris Hierosolymam Proficiscentis.”
Alford was a not inconsiderable artist, as his picture-book, The Riviera (1870), shows, and he had abundant musical and mechanical talent. Besides editing the works of John Donne, he published several volumes of his own verse, The School of the Heart (1835), The Abbot of Muchelnaye (1841), and a number of hymns, the best-known of which are “Forward! be our watch-word,” “Come, ye thankful people, come,” and “Ten thousand times ten thousand.” He translated the Odyssey, wrote a well-known manual of idiom, A Plea for the Queen’s English (1863), and was the first editor of the Contemporary Review (1866–1870). His chief fame, however, rests upon his monumental edition of the New Testament in Greek (4 vols.), which occupied him from 1841 to 1861. In this work he first brought before English students a careful collation of the readings of the chief MSS. and the researches of the ripest continental scholarship of his day. Philological rather than theological in character, it marked an epochal change from the old homiletic commentary, and though more recent research, patristic and papyral, has largely changed the method of New Testament exegesis, Alford’s work is still a quarry where the student can dig with a good deal of profit.
His Life, written by his widow, appeared in 1873 (Rivington). (A. J. G.)