Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Mansel, Henry Longueville
MANSEL, HENRY LONGUEVILLE (1820–1871), metaphysician, born on 6 Oct. 1820 at the rectory of Cosgrove, Northamptonshire, was the eldest son and fourth of the eight children (six daughters and two sons) of Henry Longueville Mansel (1783–1835), rector of Cosgrove, by his wife Maria Margaret, daughter of Admiral Sir Robert Moorsom. The Mansels are said to have been landowners in Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire from the time of the Conquest (Historical and Genealogical Account of the Ancient Family of Maunsell, Mansell, Mansel, by William W. Mansell, privately printed in 1850). They lived at Chicheley, Buckinghamshire, for fourteen generations, till in the early years of the seventeenth century a Samuel Maunsell became possessed by marriage of Cosgrove, where the family afterwards lived. John Mansel, a great-grandson of Samuel, became a general, and was killed at the battle of Coteau in Flanders, when serving under the Duke of York. He was leading a brigade of cavalry in a charge which, as his grandson, Henry Longueville, stated in a letter to the 'Times,' 26 Jan. 1855, surpassed the famous charge of the six hundred at Balaclava. General Mansel left four sons, the eldest of whom, John Christopher, retired with the rank of major, and lived at Cosgrove Hall; the second son, Robert, became an admiral; the third, George, died in 1818, as captain in the 25th light dragoons; and Henry Longueville, the youngest, held the family living, built the rectory house, and lived at Cosgrove till his death. Henry Longueville, the son, was brought up at Cosgrove, for which he retained a strong affection through life, and showed early metaphysical promise, asking 'What is me?' in a childish soliloquy. Between the ages of eight and ten he was at a preparatory school kept by the Rev. John Collins at East Farndon, Northamptonshire. On 29 Sept. 1830 he entered Merchant Taylors' School, and was placed in the house of the head-master, J. W. Bellamy. He was irascible, though easily pacified, and cared little for games, but soon showed remarkable powers of concentration and acquisition. He had a very powerful memory, and spent all his pocket-money on books, forming ‘quite a large library of the English poets.’ He was already a strong tory, as became a member of an old family of soldiers and clergymen. He wrote in the ‘School Magazine’ in 1832–3, and in 1838 published a volume of youthful verses, ‘The Demons of the Wind and other Poems.’ After his father's death in 1835 his mother left Cosgrove, and from 1838 to 1842 lived in London, where her two sons (the younger, Robert Stanley, being also at Merchant Taylors') lived in her house. In 1842 she returned to Cosgrove. In 1838 Mansel won the prize for English verse and a Hebrew medal given by Sir Moses Montefiore. In 1839 he won two of the four chief classical prizes, and on 11 June 1839 was matriculated as a scholar of St. John's College, Oxford. He was a model undergraduate, never missing the morning service at chapel, rising at six, and, until his health manifestly suffered, at four, and working hard at classics and mathematics, while at the same time he was sociable and popular. His private tutor for his last years was Archdeacon Hessey, who was much impressed by his thoroughness in attacking difficulties and his skill in humorous application of parallels to Aristotle, drawn from Shakespeare or ‘Pickwick.’ In the Easter term of 1843 he took a ‘double first.’ His vivâ voce examination is said to have been disappointing, because he insisted upon arguing against a false assumption involved in his examiner's first question.
He began to take pupils directly after his degree, and soon became one of the leading private tutors at Oxford. He was ordained deacon at Christmas 1844, and priest at Christmas 1845 by the Bishop of Oxford. He found time to study French, German, and Hebrew, the English divines, and early ecclesiastical history. He became also popular in the common-room, where his brilliant wit and memory, stored with anecdotes and literary knowledge, made him a leader of conversation. His strong tory and high church principles made him a typical Oxford don of the older type. He soon published (see below) some logical treatises, showing great command of the subject, and in 1850 published his witty ‘Phrontisterion,’ an imitation of Aristophanes—spontaneous and never malevolent—suggested by the commission appointed to examine into university organisation and studies.
In 1849 he stood unsuccessfully for the chair of logic against Professor Wall. In October 1854 he was elected as one of the members of convocation upon the hebdomadal council under the new regulations. On 16 Aug. 1855 he married Charlotte Augusta, third daughter of Daniel Taylor of Clapham Common. He gave up taking pupils, though he retained his tutorship at St. John's. He was afterwards(8 April 1864) elected ‘professor fellow’ of St. John's. He had been enabled to marry by his election to the readership in moral and metaphysical philosophy at Magdalen College. His inaugural lecture and another upon Kant were published in 1855 and 1856, and he wrote the article upon metaphysics for the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica’ (eighth edition) in 1857. He was in the same year appointed Bampton lecturer for 1858. Although far from easy to follow, his lectures were heard by large audiences. They made a great impression when published, and led to a sharp controversy. Mansel's theory was a development of that first stated by Sir William Hamilton in his article upon ‘The Philosophy of the Unconditioned.’ He aimed at proving that the ‘unconditioned’ is ‘incognisable and inconceivable,’ in order to meet the criticisms of deists upon the conceptions of divine morality embodied in some Jewish and Christian doctrines. His antagonists urged that the argument thus directed against ‘deism’ really told against all theism, or was virtually ‘agnostic.’ Mr. Herbert Spencer, in the ‘prospectus’ of his philosophical writings (issued March 1860), said that he was ‘carrying a step further the doctrine put into shape by Hamilton and Mansel.’ F. D. Maurice (whom Mansel had already criticised in 1854, in a pamphlet called ‘Man's Conception of Eternity’) attacked Mansel from this point of view in ‘What is Revelation?’ Mansel called this book ‘a tissue of misrepresentations without a parallel in recent literature,’ and replied in an ‘Examination.’ Maurice answered, and was again answered by Mansel. Professor Goldwin Smith in 1861 renewed the controversy from the same side in a postscript to his ‘Lecture on the Study of History,’ to which Mansel also replied in a ‘Letter to Professor Goldwin Smith.’ Whatever the legitimate conclusion from Mansel's arguments, he was undeniably sincere in repudiating the interpretation of his opponents. He argued that belief in God was reasonable, although our conceptions of the deity were inadequate; that our religious beliefs are ‘regulative,’ not ‘speculative,’ or founded rather upon the conscience than the understanding, and that a revelation was not only possible, but actual.
While carrying on this controversy Mansel was actively employed in other ways. In 1859 he edited (with Professor Veitch) Sir William Hamilton's lectures. He was select preacher from October 1860 to June 1862 (he held the same position afterwards from October 1869 till June 1871), and contributed to ‘Aids to Faith’ (1861), besides writing various sermons and articles. In 1865 his health suffered from his labours, and he took a holiday abroad, visiting Rome with his wife. On returning, he answered Mill's ‘Examination of Sir W. Hamilton's Philosophy’ in some articles in the ‘Contemporary Review,’ afterwards republished. He criticised Mill's ignorance of the doctrines of Kant, but breaks off with an impatient expression of contempt without completing his answer. In 1865 he was a prominent member of the committee in support of Mr. Gathorne Hardy against Mr. Gladstone. From 1864 to 1868 he was examining chaplain to the Bishop of Peterborough (Dr. Jeune). At the end of 1866 he was appointed by Lord Derby to the professorship of ecclesiastical history, vacant by the death of Dr. Shirley on 30 Nov. He delivered in the Lent term of 1868 a course of lectures upon ‘The Gnostic Heresies,’ published after his death. In the same year he was appointed to the deanery of St. Paul's by Mr. Disraeli. His health was weakened by the pressure of business at Oxford, and he had been much distressed by the direction in which the university had been developing. He hoped to find more leisure for literary projects in his new position. There was, however, much to be done in arranging a final settlement with the ecclesiastical commissioners, and he was much occupied in finishing his share of the ‘Speaker's Commentary’ (the first two gospels) which he had undertaken in 1863. He also took the lead in promoting the new scheme for the decoration of the cathedral. He paid visits with his wife to his brother-in-law at Cosgrove Hall during his tenure of the deanery, and while staying there in 1871 he died suddenly in his sleep (30 July), from the rupture of a blood-vessel in the brain. A memorial window, representing the incredulity of St. Thomas, was erected to his memory in the north chapel of St. Paul's Cathedral, and unveiled on St. Paul's day 1879.
Many of Mansel's epigrams are remembered, and Dean Burgon has collected some good specimens of his sayings. If a rather large proportion consists of puns, some of them ‘atrocious,’ there are some really good sayings, and they show unforced playfulness. He was invariably cheerful, fond of joining in the amusements of children, and a simple and affectionate companion. The ‘loveliest feature of his character,’ says Burgon, was his ‘profound humility,’ which is illustrated by his readiness to ‘prostrate his reason’ before revelation, having once satisfied himself that the Bible was the word of God. It must be admitted that this amiable quality scarcely shows itself in his controversial writings. He was profoundly convinced that the teaching of Mill and his school was ‘utterly mischievous,’ as tending to materialism and the denial of the freedom of the will. His metaphysical position was that of a follower of Sir William Hamilton, and upon some points the disciple was in advance of his master. Later developments of thought, however, have proceeded upon different lines.
Mansel's works are: 1. ‘The Demons of the Wind and other Poems,’ 1838. 2. ‘On the Heads of Predicables,’ 1847. 3. ‘Artis Logicæ Rudimenta’ (a revised edition of Aldrich's ‘Logic’). 4. ‘Scenes from an unfinished Drama entitled Phrontisterion, or Oxford in the Nineteenth Century,’ 1850, 4th edit. 1852. 5. ‘Prolegomena Logica,’ a series of Psychological Essays introductory to the Science, 1851. 6. ‘The Limits of Demonstrative Science considered’ (in a Letter to Dr. Whewell), 1853. 7. ‘Man's Conception of Eternity,’ 1854 (in answer to Maurice). 8. ‘Psychology the Test of Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy’ (inaugural lecture), 1855. 9. ‘On the Philosophy of Kant’ (lecture), 1856. 10. Article on ‘Metaphysics’ in eighth edition of ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ 1857. Republished in 1860 as ‘Metaphysics, or the Philosophy of Consciousness, Phenomenal and Real.’ 11. ‘Bampton Lectures,’ 1858 (two editions), 1859 (two editions), and 1867. A preface in answer to critics is added to the fourth edition. 12. ‘Examination of the Rev. F. D. Maurice's Strictures on the Bampton Lectures of 1858,’ 1859 (in answer to Maurice's ‘What is Revelation?’). 13. ‘Letter to Professor Goldwin Smith concerning the Postscript to his Lectures on the Study of History,’ 1861. A second letter replied to Professor Smith's ‘Rational Religion and the Rationalistic Objections of the Bampton Lectures for 1858,’ 1861. 14. ‘Lenten Sermons,’ 1863. 15. ‘The Philosophy of the Conditioned: Remarks on Sir W. Hamilton's Philosophy, and on J. S. Mill's Examination of that Philosophy,’ 1866. 16. ‘Letters, Lectures, and Reviews’ (edited by Chandler in 1873). 17. ‘The Gnostic Heresies of the First and Second Centuries,’ with Sketch by Lord Carnarvon. Edited by J. B. Lightfoot, D.D., 1875. Mansel edited Hamilton's Lectures with Professor Veitch in 1859; contributed a ‘critical dissertation’ to ‘The Miracles,’ by the Right Hon. Joseph Napier, and wrote part of ‘The Speaker's Commentary.’ (see above).
[Lord Carnarvon's Sketch, as above; Burgon's Twelve Good Men, 1888, ii. 149–237.]