Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Maitland, Samuel Roffey
MAITLAND, SAMUEL ROFFEY (1792–1866), historian and miscellaneous writer, was born in London at King's Road (now Theobald's Road), Bedford Row, on 7 Jan. 1792. His father, who was of Scottish extraction, was Alexander Maitland, a London merchant; his mother was Caroline Busby, a descendant of the famous head-master of Westminster School. She brought her husband an estate in Gloucestershire, which still remains in the possession of the family. The elder Maitland's presbyterian proclivities led him to attach himself to the congregationalist body in London, and it was very slowly that his only son, Samuel, broke away from his connection with the nonconformists. He was unfortunate in his early training, and was sent to various private schools, where he learnt a little Latin and less Greek, picked up some smattering of chemistry and French, but, as he says in an autobiographical fragment, ‘When I left school … I had no decent knowledge of any kind of history whatever.’ He left school in 1807, and was then placed under the tuition of the Rev. Launcelot Sharpe, one of the masters in Merchant Taylors' School, and a man of great learning and wide culture. Sharpe was a vehement supporter of the genuineness of the Rowley poems. From him, Maitland received his first acquaintance with the writings of Chatterton, and derived the conviction, which never left him, that there was more in the story of the Rowley poems than had yet been made known to the world. Under Sharpe, young Maitland, for the first time in his life, was brought into intimate relations with a scholar and man of real learning, who imparted to his pupil some of his own enthusiasm. From this time he became a diligent student, reading everything that came in his way. On 7 Oct. 1809 Maitland was admitted at St. John's College, Cambridge, and about the same time he entered at the Inner Temple with the intention of going to the bar. At St. John's he made no mark, and next year he migrated to Trinity College—induced to take this step by his desire to be nearer to his friend W. H. Mill [q. v.], afterwards Christian advocate, and regius professor of Hebrew in the university. It was from Mill that he caught his taste for Hebrew and Arabic literature. He left Cambridge in 1811, foreseeing that he could not get his degree without signing the Thirty-nine Articles and declaring himself ex animo a conscientious member of the church of England. As he afterwards declared, he could honestly have signed the articles, but he was not prepared to call himself a churchman when he was in communion with a dissenting body. In 1812 Dr. Maxwell [q. v.] died, leaving Maitland's father and uncle his executors. Among other things, the doctor had left a large miscellaneous library behind him, and this young Maitland undertook to catalogue, on condition of receiving the duplicates as his reward—this was his first introduction to the work of librarian. From 1811 to 1815 he was living with his father, reading omnivorously, though in the main preparing for the bar. When he applied to be called, he found there were serious difficulties in the way, as he had not kept his terms at Cambridge. Accordingly, on 10 Oct. 1815, he once more returned to the university, entering again at St. John's. He kept three more terms, and at this time made the acquaintance of Samuel Lee [q. v.], the self-taught orientalist, who had recently been made professor of Arabic. During the first half of 1816 he was occupying chambers in the Temple, and studying unceasingly, his only diversion apparently being music, which he studied as a science, while he practised it vigorously as an art, having a good command of two or three instruments. On 19 Nov. 1816 he married. He had been called to the bar in Easter term, 1816, but his literary tastes had got an increasing hold of him, and his studious habits were evidently not favourable to any hopes of professional success. In 1817 he published his first pamphlet, ‘A Dissertation on the Primary Objects of Idolatrous Worship,’ which is remarkable for its range of curious learning; but the subject could not attract readers. Jacob Bryant's writings, against which it was directed, were already almost forgotten, and the new school had not yet been thought of. About this time Maitland left London and settled at Taunton, and during the next three or four years his religious views appear to have been gradually changing. On 27 June 1821 he was admitted to deacon's orders at Norwich by Bishop Bathurst, and licensed to the curacy of St. Edmund in that city—a parish where the rector, the Rev. Charles David Brereton, was non-resident. Maitland did not stay long at Norwich, and was admitted to priest's orders by Bishop Ryder of Gloucester; his father having recently retired to that city, father and son living next door to one another. On 22 May 1823 he became perpetual curate of Christ Church, at Gloucester, which had been recently built, and this preferment he held till the end of 1827, when he determined to make a journey to the continent. He had been for some time greatly interested in the subject of the conversion of the Jews, and he wished to see the working of the society among the Jews in Germany and Poland. He started, accordingly, in April 1828, travelling through France, and thence through Germany and Prussia as far as Warsaw. He remained abroad till the autumn, and a series of thirty-six letters written during his absence, which have been preserved, give a very graphic and valuable description of the various places at which he stopped, and the condition of the countries through which he passed. During this journey he made himself master of German, acquired some knowledge of Polish, and his considerable knowledge of Hebrew, and especially Mishnaic literature, proved of advantage to him in his intercourse with the Jewish converts and inquirers. During his absence abroad he published ‘A Letter to the Rev. Charles Simeon,’ in which he strongly advocated the establishment of an institution which might serve as a place of refuge for Jewish converts who only wished to earn their livelihood, and were debarred from doing so when they became avowedly Christians. The proposal commended itself to philanthropists at home, and was at once acted upon, Maitland himself guaranteeing the expense for two years.
Towards the end of Maitland's incumbency at Christ Church, the religious world throughout England had been greatly moved by the eloquence of Edward Irving [q. v.]; and a large school of well-meaning readers of the Scriptures had devoted themselves to what was called the interpretation of the prophecies on the theory first propounded in the twelfth century by Abbot Joachim, and which usually goes by the name of the Year-day Theory. As early as 1826 Maitland had felt very grave doubts as to whether this theory was tenable, and had put forth a pamphlet which he called ‘An Enquiry into the Grounds on which the Prophetic Period of Daniel and St. John has been supposed to consist of 1260 Years.’ The pamphlet attracted great attention, and was the occasion of a paper war, which continued for some years. The result was that the ‘Year-day Theory’ was absolutely demolished by the overwhelming learning and critical ability of the one man who was more than a match for all his assailants. But as one of the side issues in the controversy turned upon the question of the orthodoxy, or rather the protestantism, of the Albigenses and the Waldenses, whom Joseph Milner [q. v.], in his ‘Church History,’ had claimed as among the ‘Heavenly Witnesses’ during the middle ages, Maitland set himself to the task of an exhaustive examination of the tenets of those sectaries, and in 1832 he published, in a volume of 546 pages, his most elaborate work entitled ‘Facts and Documents illustrative of the History, Doctrine, and Rites of the ancient Albigenses and Waldenses.’ The book must be regarded as one of the most masterly monographs in ecclesiastical history which have appeared in England; and, as such, it has been recognised by theologians of all schools at home and abroad. In this volume Maitland had allowed himself to speak with something like contempt of Milner's ‘Church History’ [6th edit. 5 vols. 1824, 8vo; revised and continued by the author's brother, Isaac], a book which, for want of anything better, had for some time been looked upon as a standard work by a large section of the clergy and others. This tone of disparagement had caused much offence in some quarters, and again Maitland was attacked in print, and was compelled to justify his language. But by this time it began to be felt that he was an antagonist whom it was better to leave alone; and although he was not averse to engage in polemics, and did do so when in his judgment it was necessary to vindicate any position he had taken up, the last thirty years of his life were free from such annoyances, as ‘unlearned and ignorant men’ had caused him in the first half of his career.
In 1835 Maitland began to contribute to the ‘British Magazine,’ of which Hugh James Rose [q. v.] was at that time the editor. Between him and Maitland a close friendship had grown up, and at his suggestion those remarkable papers were contributed to the ‘British Magazine,’ which appeared month by month during the next ten or twelve years, and which were eventually collected into two volumes, and have left a profound impress upon our historical literature. The first of these volumes appeared in 1844, under the title of ‘The Dark Ages: a Series of Essays intended to illustrate the State of Religion and Literature in the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth Centuries.’ The second was issued five years later, as ‘Essays on Subjects connected with the Reformation in England.’ In 1838 Archbishop Howley appointed Maitland librarian and keeper of the manuscripts at Lambeth. The stipend attaching to the office was merely nominal; the duties just as light or just as onerous as the librarian was disposed to make them—the opportunities for study and research exactly such as a lover of learning would value highly. But no preferment followed. The archbishop indeed conferred the degree of D.D. upon his librarian; but when in 1848 Archbishop Sumner succeeded, Maitland returned to Gloucester an unbeneficed clergyman, never having even received the offer of preferment, nor any substantial recognition at the hands of high or low. Meanwhile, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1839, and when Hugh James Rose died in this same year, Maitland became editor of the ‘British Magazine,’ and carried it on till 1849, when it was discontinued. The magazine after Rose's death became more and more literary and historical in its tone; and Maitland, while he had incurred the deep dislike of the evangelical party by his severe handling of many of their leaders, not to speak of his merciless criticism of Milner, Foxe the martyrologist, and many another, had become an object of suspicion to the tractarians, ‘whom he declined to follow in their later developments,’ by his ‘Letter to a Friend on Tract No. 89,’ which he issued in 1841, and republished in the curious little volume of ‘Eight Essays,’ which was printed in 1852. After his return to Gloucester and until his death Maitland lived in retirement, passing his time in amassing an immense store of varied learning, and yet interesting himself in all the literary questions of the day. He was a very active supporter of W. J. Thoms, when ‘Notes and Queries’ was first started, and a frequent contributor to the earlier volumes, sometimes under the signature of ‘Rufus,’ sometimes giving his full name. The list of his work shows how prolific a writer he was, and how wide his sympathies were. He was a man of many accomplishments, he was a considerable musician, he had great skill as a draughtsman, he kept a small printing-press in his house, and tried his hand at bookbinding among other things. His conversational powers were very brilliant, and he was very accessible to young students, whom he was always glad to help and advise. His influence, direct and indirect, upon those who were pursuing historical studies, especially at Cambridge, was far greater than is generally known. Such men as Archdeacon Hardwicke, J. G. Dowling, Canon J. C. Robertson, Dr. Luard, Professor J. E. B. Mayor, were proud to acknowledge their deep obligations to him. Animated by a rare desire after simple truth, generously candid and free from all pretence or pedantry, he wrote in a style which was peculiarly sparkling, lucid, and attractive. Few men of his generation were more stimulating and suggestive.
Maitland died at Gloucester on 19 Jan. 1866, in his seventy-fifth year. He survived his wife (Selina, daughter of Christopher Stephenson, vicar of Olney) and son, John Gorham Maitland [q. v.]
His works are:
- ‘A Dissertation on the Primary Objects of Idolatrous Worship,’ 1817.
- ‘An Enquiry into the Grounds on which the Prophetic Period of Daniel and St. John has been supposed to consist of 1,260 Years,’ 8vo, 1826; 2nd edit., pp. 72, 1837.
- ‘Saint Bernard's Holy War Translated’ (by the Rev. S. R. Maitland), with title-page etched by the translator, 12mo, 1827 (a tiny volume, the title-page evidently the work of an amateur).
- ‘A Letter to the Rev. Charles Simeon’ (Warsaw), 21 July 1828; 2nd edit. 1828.
- ‘A Second Enquiry,’ pp. 175, 1829.
- ‘The 1,260 Days, in Reply to a Review in the “Morning Watch,” No. 3, p. 509,’ 1830.
- ‘An Attempt to elucidate the Prophecies concerning Antichrist,’ 1830; 2nd edit. 1853.
- ‘A Letter to the Rev. W. Digby, A.M., occasioned by his Treatise on the 1,260 Days’ (Gloucester, 25 Oct.), 1831.
- ‘Eruvin, or Miscellaneous Essays on Subjects connected with the Nature, History, and Destiny of Man,’ 12mo, 1831; 2nd edit. 16mo, 1850.
- ‘Facts and Documents illustrative of the History, Doctrine, and Rites of the Ancient Albigenses and Waldenses,’ pp. 546, 1832.
- ‘The Voluntary System.’ Forty-two Letters reprinted from the ‘Gloucestershire Chronicle,’ 12mo, 1834; 2nd edit. 1837.
- ‘The 1,260 Days, in Reply to the Strictures of William Cunningham, Esq.,’ pp. viii and 118, 1834.
- ‘The Translation of Bishops,’ pp. 24, 1834.
- ‘A Letter to the Rev. Hugh James Rose, B.D., Chaplain to his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, with Strictures on Milner's “Church History,”’ pp. 53, 1834.
- ‘A second Letter to the same, containing Notes on Milner's “History of the Church in the Fourth Century,”’ pp. 87, 1835.
- ‘A Letter to the Rev. John King, M.A., Incumbent of Christ Church, Hull,’ occasioned by his pamphlet, ‘Maitland not entitled to censure Milner,’ pp. 91, 1835.
- ‘Remarks on that part of Rev. J. King's pamphlet … which relates to the Waldenses … pp. 80, 1836.
- ‘A Review of Fox the Martyrologist's “History of the Waldenses,”’ 8vo, 1837.
- ‘Six Letters on Fox's “Acts and Monuments,” reprinted from the “British Magazine,” with Notes and Additions,’ 1837.
- ‘Remarks on the Constitution of the Committee of the Gloucester and Bristol Diocesan Church Building Association,’ 1837.
- ‘A Letter to the Rev. W. H. Mill, D.D., containing some Strictures on Mr. Faber's recent work, entitled “The Ancient Waldenses and Albigenses,”’ 8vo, 1839.
- ‘A Letter to a Friend on the “Tract for the Times No. 89;” reprinted in “Eight Essays,”’ infra, 1841.
- ‘Notes on the Contributions of the Rev. George Townsend to the new edit. of Fox's “Martyrology,”’ 3 pts. 8vo, 1841–2.
- ‘The Dark Ages. … A Series of Essays intended to illustrate the state of Religion and Literature in the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth Centuries,’ reprinted from the ‘British Magazine,’ with additions, 8vo, 1844; 2nd edit., with added notes, 1845; 3rd Catholic Standard Library, 1888.
- ‘An Index of such English Books printed before the year MDC as are now in the Archiepiscopal Library at Lambeth, pp. xii, 120, 1845.
- ‘Remarks on the first vol. of Strype's “Life of Archbishop Cranmer,” reprinted from the “British Magazine,”’ vols. i. and ii. 1848.
- ‘Ecclesiastical History Society. A Statement, &c.,’ reprinted from ‘British Magazine,’ 1849.
- ‘Essays on Subjects connected with the Reformation in England,’ reprinted, with additions from ‘British Magazine,’ 1849.
- ‘Illustrations and Enquiries relating to Mesmerism,’ pt. i. pp. 82, 1849.
- ‘A Plan for a Church History Society,’ pp. 16 (Gloucester, 15 Oct. 1850), 1850.
- ‘Eight Essays on various Subjects,’ post 8vo, pp. 254, 1852.
- ‘Convocation. Remarks on the Charge recently delivered by the Right Rev. Lord Bishop of Oxford’ (Wilberforce), pp. 35, 1855.
- ‘Superstition and Science: an Essay,’ 1855.
- ‘False Worship: an Essay,’ 1856.
- ‘Chatterton: an Essay,’ 1857.
- ‘Notes on Strype’ (Gloucester), 1858.
- ‘A Supplication for Toleration addressed to King James I by some of the late silenced Ministers, now reprinted with the King's notes by Rev. S. R. M.,’ 1859.
To these must be added a curious little brochure, written for sale at a bazaar, entitled ‘The Owl: a Didactic Poem. Carefully reprinted from the original edition by Thomas Savill, dwelling in St. Martin's Lane, Westminster,’ 1842, small 4to, 16 pp. This jeu d'esprit Maitland sent to the present writer in 1854. The copy is probably unique.
[Two brief notices of Maitland appeared shortly after his death, one in the Proceedings of the Royal Society (vol. xvi. p. xxi) by his friend Professor Augustus De Morgan, the other in the Gentleman's Magazine (April 1866, p. 590) by a kinsman, the Rev. Samuel Greatheed. He commenced an autobiographical account of his life, which still remains in manuscript. Unfortunately, it goes no further than 1817. The letters from abroad referred to above afford some interesting information, and this has been supplemented for the last years of his life by communications received from relatives and friends. Probably large numbers of his letters have been preserved. His copy of Strype, with numerous corrections in his handwriting, is now in the Cambridge University Library. A copy of his Facts and Documents on the Ancient Albigenses and Waldenses, with many brief notes and references added by him in the margin, is now in the possession of the present writer. In Mark Pattison's Memoirs, p. 200, Cardinal Newman is made to say that Maitland ‘followed Boone as editor’ of the British Critic. This is a mistake. See, too, Burgon's Lives of Twelve Good Men, p. 265.]