Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Alford, Henry
ALFORD, HENRY (1810–1871), dean of Canterbury, the editor of the Greek Testament, was the son of the Rev. Henry Alford, vicar of Ampton, near Bury St. Edmunds, a parish which he subsequently left for that of Aston Sandford, near Thame. He was born in London, 10 Oct. 1810. His mother died at his birth, and he was during his early life thrown much upon his relations, and was constantly in the family of his uncle, the Rev. Samuel Alford, of Heale House, in the parish of Curry Rivell, near Taunton, of which parish his ancestors for two generations had been vicars. At the age of nine he was sent to a school kept by the Rev. B. Jeanes, congregationalist minister at Charmouth, and was successively at a private school at Hammersmith, at Ilminster grammar school, and at Aston in Suffolk as a private pupil of the Rev. John Bickersteth, with whose sons (afterwards dean of Lichfield and bishop of Ripon) he formed a close friendship. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in October 1829, gained the Bell scholarship in 1831, and graduated 8th classic and 34th wrangler in January 1832. He was ordained in 1833 as curate to his father's parish of Ampton, and began at once to take pupils. He was elected to a fellowship at Trinity in 1834, but early in the next year accepted from the college the post of vicar of Wymeswold, and was immediately afterwards married to his cousin, Fanny Alford, daughter of Mr. Alford, of Heale House, Curry Rivell, above mentioned. There he continued for eighteen years, engaged in parish work and in tuition; and there he published the first volume of the Greek Testament in 1849 (the last was published in 1861). In 1853 he moved to London, and became minister of Quebec Chapel in Marylebone. In 1857 he was appointed to the deanery of Canterbury, which he held till his death in 1871.
As a child he was delicate, and never took much part in athletic exercises; but as a man he had extraordinary powers of mental work, and also travelled a great deal both in England and on the Continent. He had little or no fortune, and made his way by his own exertions. His early marriage brought him only four children, two of whom, his only sons, died in childhood. His daughters were both married in his lifetime. Towards the close of his life he purchased a house, Vine's Gate, near Sevenoaks, as a summer home for the time of his absence from Canterbury. His domestic life was one of peculiar happiness, and he had a large circle of friends, among whom the most intimate were the Rev. E. T. Vaughan, of Harpenden, Herts, and the Rev. J. H. Hamilton, vicar of St. Michael's, Chester Square, in London, and afterwards canon of Rochester. He was naturally of a poetical temperament, and his talents were drawn out by the society in which he mixed when at Cambridge, which included the Tennysons, Arthur Hallam, Trench, Blakesley, Charles Merivale, Spedding, Brookfield, Thompson (afterwards master of Trinity), and Christopher Wordsworth. His first publication was a volume of poems published before he was twenty-two, which was afterwards republished with additions, together with a longer poem, ‘The School of the Heart,’ in 1835, and later another small volume (1841) called ‘The Abbot of Muchelnaye,’ with sonnets, &c. Later in life he published a translation of the ‘Odyssey’ in blank verse. His poems were highly commended by Wordsworth, the poet, with whom he had some acquaintance, and were favourably noticed in the ‘Edinburgh’ and other reviews. He also wrote many hymns, two of which, the harvest hymn, ‘Come, ye thankful people, come,’ and the baptismal hymn, ‘In token that thou shalt not fear,’ have won a very high position.
He was a man of various accomplishments. He composed pieces for the piano and organ and vocal music; he both sang and played himself. He had considerable mechanical skill, and he carved in wood. He also was a water-colour painter. A book which he wrote about the Riviera, with coloured lithographs from water-colour drawings of his own, was one of his last publications.
His religious development was precocious. At ten years old he wrote a short sermon. At fifteen he wrote a long and serious letter to his cousin (afterwards his wife), who was then about to be confirmed. From his earliest days he had looked forward to ordination, and his letters and journals show that this purpose was always before him. When ordained he threw himself earnestly into the work of his parish, where he built schools and restored the church in a manner which at that time was quite uncommon. He had great facility in preaching, and adopted various styles, from the serious treatise to the extempore address, in all of which he was successful, his clear baritone voice aiding a good delivery. He began to publish sermons while at Wymeswold; at Quebec Chapel he published as many as seven volumes. He was also for the years 1841–2 Hulsean lecturer at Cambridge, and published the lectures on ‘The Consistency of the Divine Conduct in revealing the Doctrines of Redemption,’ in two volumes. His early training was in the evangelical school; he was to some extent carried away by the clericalist movement of the years 1835–42, but shook himself clear of this, and adopted distinctly the protestant basis for his religious and ecclesiastical convictions, and took pains to recognise the leading nonconformist ministers (not excepting the unitarians), by whom his generous feeling was fully reciprocated. At Canterbury he instituted a sermon on Sunday afternoons, and lectured and preached continually there and in London; he founded a choral society for the cultivation of music, and especially for the execution of oratorios in the cathedral. He also took great interest in the restoration of the cathedral and its adjoining buildings. The new King's School, the exposure to view of the infirmary arches, the rehabilitation of the south Norman tower and the porch, were executed under his direction; the statues in the porch and west front were obtained by subscriptions raised by him, and the curious Roman columns from Reculver were placed by him in the baptistery garden.
His Greek Testament and other biblical works, however, constitute his chief claim to gratitude and fame. His design of editing the Greek Testament was conceived in 1845; the first volume was published in 1849, the last in 1861. He recognised from the first the superiority of the German critics, and went to Bonn in 1847 for three months to make himself master of the language. He adopted a text mainly taken from Buttmann and Lachmann, but corrected later by the aid of the works of Tregelles and Tischendorf. The various readings are given minutely. The references to passages illustrating the use of words in Hellenistic Greek are original and important. The notes display throughout an independent and sound judgment, occasionally hasty and peremptory, but giving the student the means of forming his own opinion. His theological standpoint is that of a liberal belief in inspiration; he separates himself distinctly from the mechanical and verbal theory, and on the other hand from the freer handling of the New Testament by writers such as Professor Jowett. His work forms an epoch in biblical studies in England; and, though separate portions of the Greek Testament have since been more fully dealt with by others, it is as yet unapproached as a whole. His New Testament for English readers, an adaptation of the notes in the Greek Testament to the use of those who do not read Greek, was begun immediately the Greek Testament was finished. He also undertook, during the progress of the Greek Testament, a revised English version, begun in company with three others but finished by himself alone. He was naturally, at a later date, one of the leaders of the company for the revision of the English New Testament until his death. In the last year of his life he undertook a commentary on the Old Testament, which was only carried to the twenty-fifth chapter of Exodus at the time of his death.
His works were very miscellaneous, comprising a book on the Greek poets, selections of English prose and verse for translation into the classical languages and vice versâ, a volume entitled ‘The Queen's English,’ lectures on English descriptive poetry, and many other subjects. He edited the works of Dr. Donne, in seven volumes, for J. W. Parker, in 1839. He was editor of ‘Dearden's Magazine,’ published at Nottingham at the same time. In later life he was the first editor of the ‘Contemporary Review,’ and to this and ‘Good Words’ and the ‘Sunday Magazine’ he was a constant contributor. Indeed, he was one of the most voluminous writers of our age. The list of his works, with a short statement of their subjects, occupies an appendix to his ‘Life’ of 15 pages 8vo. They comprise 48 volumes, some of which are slight, but others, like the Poems and the Greek Testament, exceedingly laborious; 104 articles in reviews, and 21 short separate pieces, hymns, sermons, or tracts. His activity and powers of sustained intellectual work were very remarkable. He passed rapidly and without rest from one employment to another. When he commenced his New Testament he was working seven hours a day with pupils, besides having the charge of a parish and the cares of a family; and throughout life his standard of work was on a similar scale. He had extraordinary buoyancy; but the effects of overstrain began to tell upon him some ten years before his death, and he was obliged to take frequent intervals of repose, mostly in the shape of foreign tours, which became longer and more frequent. His death, in his sixty-first year, was sudden, and appears to have had no other cause than the exhaustion of the vital energy.[The materials for this article are gathered from ‘The Life of Dean Alford by his Widow’ (Rivingtons, 1873), from a general acquaintance with his works, and from personal reminiscences.]