Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Howson, John Saul

HOWSON, JOHN SAUL, D.D. (1816–1885), dean of Chester, born 5 May 1816 at Giggleswick-in-Craven, Yorkshire, was son of the Rev. John Howson, who for more than forty years had been connected with Giggleswick grammar school, and was long its headmaster. John Saul became a pupil in his father's school, reading during later vacations with Mr. Slee, a mathematician of some eminence, living near Ullswater. At the early age of seventeen he entered Trinity College, Cambridge. There he made lifelong friendships with contemporaries of the highest stamp, such as George Edward Lynch Cotton [q.v.], the future bishop of Calcutta, William John Conybeare [q.v.], and Thomas Whytehead of St. John s [q.v.], his most intimate friend, who accompanied Bishop Selwyn to New Zealand, and died there in 1843. Howson graduated B.A. in 1837, obtaining a wranglership and a place in the first class of the classical tripos, and proceeded M.A. in 1841 and D.D. in 1861. He gained the members' Latin essay prize two years in succession (1837 and 1838), and was Norrisian prizeman in 1841. On leaving the university he became private tutor to the Marquis of Sligo, and subsequently to the Marquis of Lorne, the present duke of Argyll. In 1845 he joined his friend Conybeare, who had just been appointed principal of the Liverpool Collegiate Institution, as senior classical master. He was ordained deacon in 1845, and priest in 1846. He left Liverpool for a short time to become tutor to the present Duke of Sutherland, but returned again in 1849 to undertake the principalship of the Institution, which he retained till 1865. His management was remarkably successful, and he was also the means of establishing a college for girls at Liverpool on the same principles. In 1862 he delivered the Hulsean lectures at Cambridge. In 1866 Bishop Harold Browne of Ely, who had recently appointed him his examining chaplain, presented him to the vicarage of Wisbech. Howson thereupon resigned the principalship of the Liverpool college. He left Wisbech in 1867 on being nominated dean of Chester.

During the eighteen years he held the deanery Howson devoted his whole powers to the benefit of the cathedral and city of Chester. He found his cathedral externally crumbling to decay and in some parts in danger of absolute downfall, and its interior generally squalid and dreary. Howson at once commenced the Sunday-evening services in the long-disused nave. The work of restoration of the fabric, which had been already begun, he took up and carried through with never-relaxing vigour. The cathedral was reopened on 25 Jan. 1872, after the expenditure of nearly 100,000l., chiefly raised by his personal exertions. Other works succeeded for the adornment and completion of the fabric. In behalf of the city of Chester Howson was the chief instrument in the building and endowing of the King's School, and in its reorganisation on a broader basis, open to all creeds and ranks, and of the Queen's School, for the higher education of girls. He contributed largely to the building and organising of the new museum, and took a keen interest in the school of art, of which for many years he was president. He tried to repress the evils accompanying the 'race week ' at Chester (cf. Kingsley's Life and Letters, ii. 360), and started a series of short papers on the subject, to which, at his request, Charles Kingsley [q.v.], who in 1870 had become a canon of Chester, contributed his well-known letter on 'Betting.' Despite Howson's prejudice against broad churchmen, he and Kingsley were on very cordial terms during Kingsley's three years' stay at Chester. In the convocation of York Howson took an active part, especially opposing the retention of the Athanasian Creed in the public services of the church. He was a frequent preacher in the university pulpits of Cambridge and Oxford, and at St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey; and actively assisted at the meetings of the church congress. He contributed an article in the 'Quarterly Review,' 1861, on 'Deaconesses in the Church of England,' published separately as 'The Official Help of Women in Parochial Work and in Charitable Institutions' (1862), and this publication, with his speech at the church congress at York in 1866, gave an impulse to the revival of a systematised ministry of women in the church. Howson died at Bournemouth, in the seventieth year of his age, 15 Dec. 1885. He was buried 19 Dec. in the cloister garth of the cathedral. While in Liverpool he married Mary, daughter of John Cropper of Dingle Bank; she only survived him a few days, and was buried in the same grave. He left three sons and two daughters.

Howson's character was one of unaffected simplicity and transparent truthfulness. His sympathies were more with evangelicals than with high churchmen; but he was widely tolerant in his church views. He travelled much abroad, and twice visited America (1871 and 1880).

Howson's scholarship was sound, and his reading extensive. As a preacher, if not eloquent, he was always interesting. His most important work, prepared while he was at Liverpool, is 'The Life and Epistles of St. Paul,' of which he was the joint author with his friend, the Rev. W. J. Conybeare. The major portion, including the descriptive, geographical, and historical portions, to which its popularity is chiefly due, was written by Howson. The work was published in parts, the complete edition being issued in 1852. It has gone through many editions, and is still a standard work of reference. Howson pursued the subject of the life of the great apostle in the Hulsean lectures delivered in 1862 on 'The Character of St. Paul,' which reached a fourth edition in 1884; in ' Scenes from the Life of St. Paul,' 1866; in the 'Metaphors of St. Paul,' 1868; and in 'The Companions of St. Paul,' 1874. His Horæ Petrinæ, or Studies in the Life of St. Peter,' 1883, is a slighter work. The Bohlen lectures 'The Evidential Value of the Acts of the Apostles,' delivered at Philadelphia (1880), traverse similar ground. Of his numerous contributions to periodical literature, which somewhat suffered from hasty composition, the most important were his 'Quarterly Review' articles on 'Greece,' 'French Algeria,' 'The Geography and Biography of the Old Testament,' &c., and his contributions to Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible.' For the exegesis of the New Testament he wrote commentaries on the 'Epistle to the Galatians' in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' 1881; on that to Titus in the 'Pulpit Commentary,' 1884; and on the Acts of the Apostles in Dr. Schaff's 'Popular Commentary,' 1880. In controversial literature, he was the author of 'Before the Table,' and the 'Position of the Celebrant during Consecration,' opposing the 'eastward position,' the introduction of which into his cathedral he strongly deprecated. He was the author of several topographical and archæological works, such as the 'Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Argyllshire' in the 'Transactions' of the Cambridge Camden Society; 'Chester as it was,' 1872; 'The River Dee: its Aspect and History,' 1875; and an historical and architectural guide to his own cathedral church. Howson also published some devotional books and many separate sermons.

[Personal knowledge; private information; obituary notices.]

E. V.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.162
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
130 ii 32-33 Howson, John S.: for (head-master) read (second master)
57-58 for Collegiate Institution, read College,
131 i 3 for Institution read College