Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Bright, William

BRIGHT, WILLIAM (1824–1901), church historian, born at Doncaster on 14 Dec. 1824, was only son of William Bright, town-clerk of Doncaster, Yorkshire. Sent first to a preparatory school at Southwell, and thence, in 1837, to Rugby, he there reached the sixth form at the time of Dr. Thomas Arnold's death. Gaining a scholarship at University College, Oxford, he matriculated on 20 March 1843; obtained first-class honours in classics in 1846; was awarded the Johnson theological scholarship in 1847, and the Ellerton theological essay in 1848, the subject being 'The Prophetic Office under the Mosaic Dispensation.' He graduated B.A. in 1846, proceeding M.A. in 1849, and D.D. in 1869. He was ordained deacon in 1848 and priest in 1850.

Elected fellow of University College in 1847, he retained his fellowship till 1868. He became tutor of his college in 1848, but in 1851 accepted the theological tutorship at Trinity College, Glenalmond, under the wardenship of Dr. Charles Wordsworth [q. v.], afterwards bishop of St. Andrews. The Scottish bishops also appointed him to the Bell lectureship in ecclesiastical history, an office which entailed the custodianship of a mass of important documents illustrating the church history of Great Britain, which had been accumulated by the founder for the use of his lecturer. Bright was thus encouraged to pursue the historical studies to which he came to devote his best powers. In 1858 the bishop of Glasgow, Walter John Trower, took umbrage at a casual, but not unjust, remark of Bright as to the imperfection of the church settlement effected by Henry VIII, and procured his ejection from both Glenalmond tutorship and Bell lectureship. Bright protested in a pamphlet, 'A Statement of the Facts as to Certain Proceedings of the Bishop of Glasgow' (1858). Later on, the injustice of the proceedings was acknowledged, and Bright was honorary canon of Cumbrae cathedral from 1865 to 1893. Returning to Oxford in 1858, and resuming his tutorship at University College, he was appointed in 1868 regius professor of ecclesiastical history at Oxford and canon of Christ Church in succession to Arthur Penrhyn Stanley [q. v.]. In his new office he proved himself a student of unwearied industry. His 'Sylva,' his set of manuscript note-books of matter bearing on lectures from 1870 to 1880, amounts to over sixty large and methodical volumes (W. Lock, The Age of the Fathers, p. vi). He was a most forcible lecturer, full of fire, contagious energy, and quaint humour (H. S. Holland, Personal Studies, p. 298). He preached effectively in the university church and in the cathedral, and was always ready to help any Oxford clergyman by a sermon, or by taking the chair at church meetings. Anxious to make provision for the rapidly growing suburbs of Oxford, he earnestly advocated, and liberally contributed to, the building of the fine church of St. Margaret in the north suburb.

He was proctor in convocation for the chapter of Christ Church from 1878; examining chaplain to Edward King [q. v, Suppl. II], bishop of Lincoln, from 1885; and sub-dean of Christ Church from 1895. He died unmarried at Christ Church on 6 March 1901, and was buried in the Christ Church portion of Osney cemetery, by Oxford.

Bright's chief historical works were:

  1. 'A History of the Church, a.d. 313–451,' Oxford, 1860; 5th edit. 1888, a summary of his Glenalmond lectures: accepted as the standard treatise for Anglican theological students.
  2. 'Chapters of Early English Church History,' Oxford, 1878; 3rd edit. 1897, the substance of lectures on Bede.
  3. 'Lessons from the Lives of Three Great Fathers [Athanasius, Chrysostom, and Augustine],' 1890.
  4. 'Waymarks of Church History,' 1894, papers on the Arian and Pelagian controversies, on Papal claims, and William Laud's ideals.
  5. 'The Roman See in the Early Church,' 1896.
  6. 'The Age of the Fathers' (posthumous), 1903, 2 vols., a substantial treatise founded on lectures on the history of the church in the fourth and fifth centuries.

Besides other devotional treatises, sermons, and tracts, Bright also published:

  1. 'Ancient Collects and other Prayers for the Use of Clergy and Laity,' London, 1857; Oxford, 1862.
  2. 'Faith and Hope: Readings for the greater Holy-days and Sundays from Advent to Trinity,' 1864.
  3. 'Liber Precum Publicarum,' 1865, a Latin version of the Anglican liturgy, jointly with Peter Goldsmith Medd [q. v. Suppl. II], 1852–7.
  4. 'The Cathedral Church of Christ in Oxford,' Oxford, 1880.
  5. 'Iona and other Verses,' 1886.
  6. 'The Seven Sayings from the Cross,' 1887, meditations for the Good Friday Three Hours' Service.
  7. 'The Incarnation as a Motive Power,' 1889, a volume of sermons.
  8. 'Morality in Doctrine,' 1892, twenty-eight characteristic sermons.

Bright was also a hymn-writer of the first rank. He was author of 'We know Thee who Thou art, Lord Jesus, Mary's Son,' of the noble communion hymn 'And now, Father, mindful of the love,' and of the evening hymn 'And now the wants are told.' His 'Hymns and other Poems' were published in 1866, and again in 1874.

[Bright, Selected Letters, 1903; Foster, Oxford Men; The Times, 7 March 1901; Guardian, 1901, p. 346; Oxford Times, 9 March 1901; Oxford Mag. xix. 276, appreciation by Canon Driver.]

A. C.