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CASSELS, WALTER RICHARD (1826–1907), theological critic, fourth son of Robert Cassels, for many years British consul at Honfleur, by his wife Jean, daughter of John Scougall of Leith, was born in London on 4 Sept. 1826. The family, whose pedigree has been traced to Alfred the Great, and through alliance with the Gibson stock to William the Conqueror, was of mercantile capacity. Walter, who early showed literary aptitude, became partner with his brothers Andrew and John in the firm of Peel, Cassels & Co. at Bombay. That position he held until 1865. From 1863 to 1865 he was an active member of the legislative council of Bombay. Referring to a debate in the council on 8 Sept. 1864, the 'Bombay Gazette' distinguished Sir William Rose Mansfield (afterwards Lord Sandhurst) [q. v.] and Cassels as 'men known not only throughout India but in England for the knowledge and ability they have shown in discussing the most important questions of commercial law and practice.' Returning to England, Cassels lived in London, save for an interval spent in the neighbourhood of Manchester. In 1874 he published anonymously two volumes entitled 'Supernatural Religion; an Inquiry into the Reality of Divine Revelation,' in which he impugned the credibility of miracles and the authenticity of the New Testament. This publication, which was calculated to provoke antagonism, aroused instant attention, both by its display of minute learning and by its trenchant conclusions. The wildest conjectures as to its author were rife; it was attributed among others to a nephew of Dr. Pusey and, as Lightfoot says, to 'a learned and venerable prelate' (Thirlwall, who had just resigned his bishopric). Early reviewers agreed in taking for granted the soundness of the scholarship; deeper critics came later. In December 1874 Joseph Barber Lightfoot [q. v.], moved by what he deemed its 'cruel and unjustifiable assault ... on a very dear friend' (Westcott), began in the 'Contemporary Review' a series of nine articles entitled 'Supernatural Religion,' which appeared at intervals up to May 1877; though left unfinished, these articles materially reduced the anonymous writer's pretensions to scholarship, and were regarded as giving new strength to the defence of the New Testament canon; they were collected into a volume of 'Essays' in 1889. Meanwhile Cassels's book passed through six editions by 1875; in 1877 a third volume was added; a revised edition of the complete work appeared in 1879; popular editions in one volume, after compression and further revision, were issued in 1902 and 1905. To Lightfoot's first 'essay' the author had replied in the 'Fortnightly Review' (Jan. 1875); to subsequent ones in prefaces and notes to the various editions of his work; these rejoinders he collected in 'A Reply to Dr. Lightfoot's Essays. By the Author of "Supernatural Religion"' (1889). Lightfoot reverted to the controversy in a paper in the 'Academy,' the last he wrote (21 Sept. 1889), to which Cassels replied anonymously in the 'Academy' (28 Sept.). In 1894 appeared 'The Gospel according to Peter. A Study. By the Author of "Supernatural Religion." ' The secret of this authorship was marvellously well kept. Lightfoot in 1889 wrote that he knew neither his name nor 'whether he is living or dead.' On the appearance in the 'Nineteenth Century ' (April 1895) of an article on the 'Diatessaron of Tatian,' signed Walter R. Cassels, the statement was made in the 'Manchester City News' (20 April 1895) that Cassels (described as 'a Manchester poet') 'has now avowed himself the author of "Supernatural Religion." ' There was no public avowal. Further articles appeared in the 'Nineteenth Century' on the 'Virgin Birth of Jesus' (January 1903) and on the 'Present Position of Apologetics' (October 1903), signed Walter R. Cassels, yet the public was slow to connect them with the author of 'Supernatural Religion.'

Cassels was long a collector of pictures. Five of his pictures were sold at Christie's on 30 June 1906; they had cost him 1685l. 5s., and they realised 8547l. Among them Turner's 'Rape of Europa,' which he had bought in 1871 for 295 guineas, sold for 6400 guineas, and the portrait of John Wesley, by Romney, which had cost him 530 guineas, fetched 720 guineas. He died unmarried at 43 Harrington Gardens, South Kensington, on 10 June 1907.

In addition to the theological publications above enumerated, he was the author of the following:

  1. 'Eidolon, or the Course of a Soul; and other Poems,' 1850.
  2. 'Poems,' 1856.
  3. 'Cotton. An Account of its Culture in the Bombay Presidency,' Bombay, 1862, 4to.

[R. Cassels, Records of the Family of Cassels, 1870; The Times, 1 July 1906, 20 June 1907; Annual Register, 1906, 1907; private information.]

A. G.