Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Williams, Rowland
WILLIAMS, ROWLAND (1817–1870), Anglican divine, was born at Halkyn in Flint on 16 Aug. 1817. His father, Rowland Williams (d. 1854), canon of St. Asaph, held successively the livings of Halkyn, Meivod, and Ysceiviog. He married Jane Wynne, daughter of the Rev. Hugh Wynne Jones of Treiorwerth, Anglesey, and prebendary of Penmynydd. Rowland, their second son, went to Eton as king's scholar in 1828, was Newcastle medallist in 1835, left Eton for King's College, Cambridge, in 1836, and in his first year obtained Battie's university scholarship. He became fellow of King's in 1839. After graduating B.A. in 1841, he held for a short time the post of assistant-master at Eton, but resigned on account of delicate health. Returning to Cambridge, he was ordained deacon in 1842 and priest in 1843 by John Kaye, bishop of Lincoln. He was appointed classical tutor of King's College, Cambridge, and performed the duties of that office for eight years. He proceeded M.A. in 1844, and B.D. in 1851.
While at Cambridge he was not forgetful of public interests. When the amalgamation of the sees of St. Asaph and Bangor was threatened (1843–6), he took active part with the Earl of Powis, his father, and others in opposing the scheme. The remonstrances which appeared in the press were chiefly from his pen, and when the measure was averted he helped to found the Powis scholarships in recognition of Lord Powis's action in the matter.
In 1848 he obtained the prize offered to the university of Cambridge by the orientalist John Muir [q. v.] for a preliminary dissertation on the comparative merits of Christianity and Hinduism; and by a special grace of the senate was directed to proceed with a larger work on the same subject, for which the entire prize of 500l. was awarded.
In 1850 Williams became vice-principal and professor of Hebrew in the theological college of St. David's, Lampeter, impelled thereto by patriotic enthusiasm and a desire to raise the educational standard of the Welsh clergy. Many abuses had crept into the management of the college, and hostile criticism which threatened its extinction was at this time agitating the Welsh press. Dr. Harold Browne, his predecessor (afterwards bishop of Ely and Winchester), had found life at Lampeter a constant struggle for the principles of common-sense and honesty, and on resigning had inaugurated reforms (see Dean Kitchin, Life of Harold Browne, chaps. iii. and iv.) In Williams's hands the entire system of education and finance was remodelled, and, in spite of great obstacles, the literary and moral character of the college was raised and the number of students increased. He formed a scheme for the better endowment of the college in the interest of its scholars, and left no stone unturned to obtain help from government, but owing to complications, which arose in connection with his theological views, the increased endowment only took effect after he had left St. David's College.
In December 1854 he was appointed select preacher in the university of Cambridge. The second sermon of the course, on inspiration (Rational Godliness, s. xix), was destined to affect all his future career. The course being interrupted by his father's death, a report was circulated that it had been stopped by the authorities, and a cry of heterodoxy was raised. Other sermons, which, as a mark of confidence, the heads gave him the opportunity of preaching at Cambridge, were, together with sermons preached at St. David's College, published in ‘Rational Godliness after the Mind of Christ and the Written Voices of the Church,’ London, 1855. But the publication of that volume only increased the disquietude of the Welsh evangelical clergy. A memorial protesting against Williams's teaching was addressed to Connop Thirlwall [q. v.], bishop of St. David's. Alfred Ollivant [q. v.], bishop of Llandaff, asked him to resign his chaplaincy, and by admitting to holy orders in Llandaff students from other dioceses struck a severe blow at his position as theological tutor at Lampeter. But with characteristic tenacity of purpose Williams struggled on for eight years, finally appealing to the visitor to set the affairs of the college on a firmer basis.
Williams's greatest literary work was ‘Christianity and Hinduism,’ 8vo, Cambridge, 1856. This was the expansion of the Muir prize essay. His views on revelation, inspiration, and prophecy, already enunciated in ‘Rational Godliness,’ were brought out more fully, and to this book he referred inquirers as giving the most comprehensive account of his theological opinions, especially in their metaphysical aspect. The dissertation took the prescribed form of a dialogue in which a Buddhist, a Hindú philosopher, a Vedántist, a German naturalist, and two English clergymen discuss the respective merits of the Indian and other religions. A careful account of Brahmanism and Buddhism is given, as well as of the different systems of Eastern philosophy. The last five chapters deal with the Hebrew religion, discuss the prophetical question, and give an exposition of Christian doctrine based on the Lord's prayer. The Sanscrit scholar, Horace Hayman Wilson [q. v.], considered the book ‘well calculated to become a standard reference for the leading points of Hindú speculation, and the scope as well as history of their religious opinions.’ Bunsen welcomed it as a highly remarkable philosophical and learned work (Bunsen, Life, ii. 429, and Max Müller, Chips, iii. 506). Lassen and Ewald also appreciated it highly.
This work completed, Williams took his D.D. degree on 11 June 1857. Shortly after he visited Baron Bunsen at Heidelberg. In 1858 he accepted the King's College living of Broad Chalke with Bower Chalke and Alvedistone, near Salisbury. At first he stayed there only during the vacations, but in June 1862, when with great reluctance he left Lampeter, he took up his residence at Broad Chalke, and in the following August finally severed his connection with St. David's College.
In February 1860 ‘Essays and Reviews’ was published. To this volume Williams contributed a review of Bunsen's ‘Biblical Researches,’ with the object of giving the latest results of Biblical criticism. The freedom with which theological questions were treated in this volume alarmed the adherents of plenary and verbal inspiration, and a panic ensued. Williams was prosecuted by Walter Kerr Hamilton [q. v.], bishop of Salisbury, for heterodoxy, and cited before the arches court of Canterbury, where he was defended by (Sir) James Parker Deane and (Sir) James Fitzjames Stephen [q. v.] The hearing occupied ten days—19 to 21 Dec. 1861 and 7 to 16 Jan. 1862. Judgment was deferred till 25 June 1862, when, out of twenty-two articles of indictment, three were admitted—those on inspiration, propitiation, and justification; the first two were ordered to be reformed. Though in the main adverse, this interlocutory judgment practically sanctioned nearly all the positions of biblical criticism and of the relations of scripture to science which Williams had maintained to be consistent with the standards of the Anglican church. He wrote: ‘Whatever freedom I have claimed is judicially conceded as permissible by the Church of England. If we gain nothing more, I feel this day that I have not lived in vain; my Master has done a work by me which will abide.’ But there were details—including, chiefly, a description of Bunsen's Lutheran and philosophical doctrines—for which he was held legally responsible. The admitted articles were brought in on 12 Sept. 1862, but the hearing was deferred till 15 Dec. 1862, when the judge, Stephen Lushington [q. v.], adhered to his judgment of June, and the sentence of suspension for one year, with costs, was passed. An appeal was at once made to the privy council. Meanwhile the charge respecting propitiation had been withdrawn and the appeal reduced to two counts. Williams, together with his friend Henry Bristow Wilson [q. v.], appealed in person on 19 June 1863 before the judicial committee of the privy council. The hearing lasted till 26 June, and on 8 Feb. 1864 the court reversed such parts of the judgment of the arches court as were unfavourable to Williams. During the trial Williams had printed ‘Hints to my Counsel in the Court of Arches,’ in which he set forth the line he wished to be adopted for his defence. This was at first supplied to his counsel alone, but on his deathbed he directed that copies should be sent to libraries in England and Wales.
The reversal of the judgment excited fresh agitation, and the ‘Oxford Declaration’ on the verbal inspiration of the Bible and eternal punishment prepared by Pusey was signed by four thousand of the clergy. Convocation proceeding to condemn ‘Essays and Reviews,’ Williams presented a petition, through Canon Wordsworth, praying to be heard before he was condemned. The petition was entered on the minutes, but refused, and a synodical condemnation carried. A debate followed in the House of Lords, when Lord Houghton (Richard Monckton Milnes) questioned the right of convocation to condemn books at all, and the lord chancellor (Westbury) declared that, as a judgment, the sentence had no meaning, and that the so-called synodical condemnation was no condemnation at all (Life and Letters, ii. 153–65).
At Broad Chalke Williams wrote ‘Broad Chalke Sermon-Essays,’ London, 1867. These were essays expanded from preaching notes of a simple kind. He was also engaged upon a translation of the ‘Hebrew Prophets, with introduction and notes, 2 vols. Part i. was published 1866, and part ii. was brought out after his death, 1871, edited by his wife, with the help of the Rev. W. W. Harvey. Part iii. was planned but not begun. He felt compelled, though most reluctantly, to give up the predictive element in the prophetical writings, and was convinced that the prophets dealt with events then taking place, and that it was in the applicability to all time of the truths they uttered that their words might be considered prophetic. He claimed for them ‘a moral affinity to the thoughts of the future rather than a foresight of its events, a predication of eternal truths rather than a prediction of temporal accidents’ (Christianity and Hinduism, p. 477). Ewald wrote of Williams's ‘Hebrew Prophets’ as ‘a work quite unparalleled in English literature’ (Gött. gel. Anz. S. 4, 1867). Kuenen, in ‘Theologisch Tijdschrift,’ 1871, and Diestel, in ‘Jahrbücher für deutsche Theologie,’ 1872, reviewed it favourably (see also Cheyne, Founders of Old Testament Criticism).
Williams died on 18 Jan. 1870. He was buried in the churchyard at Broad Chalke. A cross rising from a block of granite marks his resting-place. In 1859 he married Ellen, daughter of Charles Cotesworth, R.N., a Liverpool merchant.
The fine five-light Perpendicular west window of All Saints, Broad Chalke, was filled with painted glass in his memory at the expense of his parishioners and friends from all parts; it was unveiled in 1873. At Lampeter a bronze tablet with inscription was put up in the college chapel by his pupils and friends in Wales; and at Cambridge a brass memorial plate has been placed by some of his pupils in the ante-chapel of King's College.
Williams was of short stature, with a large head and massive brow, features of the Celtic type, deep-set dark blue eyes, and brown hair. On leaving Lampeter his friends and pupils presented him with an oil portrait by John Robertson, of Liverpool, which is a very good likeness. He bequeathed this portrait to King's College, Cambridge, on his wife's death.
Williams was endowed with considerable intellectual powers, to which he added sound scholarship and a good memory. He was ardent, enthusiastic, and deeply devotional. Bold and uncompromising in controversy, his private life was marked by great tenderness and strong family affection. Of a finely strung, sensitive, and nervous temperament, he felt too deeply the controversies and misunderstandings with which his life was beset, and, conscious of integrity, suffered much from insinuations to the contrary. His writings are characterised by a strong love of truth. He was attached to the church of England, and looked forward to a day when he would be acknowledged to have been a true son. He objected to being identified with any special party in the church. In ‘Hints to my Counsel,’ p. 1, he declares that he accepts the articles as they are, and claims to teach by them with fidelity and clearness. At the same time, he contended for entire freedom in all literary investigation of the scriptures, pleading for an open Bible and free criticism as the right of the clergy of the English church. He held very stringent views on clerical obligation (see article, Fortnightly Review, March 1868), but considered that subscription ‘does not imply a claim of divine perfection or a promise to abstain from suggesting improvements’ (Hints to my Counsel, p. 19).
Williams bequeathed his library (leaving such part as she chose to keep to his wife for her lifetime) to such town in Wales as would provide a suitable repository and means of paying a guardian of it, Swansea and Carnarvon to have the first choice. Swansea accepted the bequest, and all the books will eventually be sent thither.
Besides the works mentioned Williams wrote: 1. ‘A Defence of the Grant to Maynooth,’ 1845. 2. ‘Lays from the Cimbric Lyre, by Goronva Camlan,’ 1845. 3. ‘Lampeter Theology,’ 1856. 4. ‘Christian Freedom in the Council of Jerusalem: preached before the University of Cambridge with a Review of Bishop Ollivant's Charge,’ 1857. 5. ‘Orestes and the Avengers: an Hellenic Mystery, by Goronva Camlan,’ 1859. 6. ‘Persecution for the Word; with Postscript on the Interlocutory Judgment’ (farewell sermon at St. David's College), 1862. 7. ‘Owen Glendower: a Dramatic Biography, with other poems,’ 1870 (this was passing through the press at the time of his death). 8. ‘Psalms and Litanies,’ &c., 1872, 1876, and 1892 (which he was writing, and, when dying, desired might be published). 9. ‘Stray Thoughts from the Note-Books of Rowland Williams,’ 1878 and 1892. He was also the author of articles in the ‘Quarterly Review’ on ‘Methodism in Wales,’ vol. lxxxv. 1849, ‘The Church and Education in Wales,’ vol. lxxxvii. 1850, and ‘Bards of the Sixth Century,’ vol. xci. 1852.[Life and Letters of Rowland Williams, D.D., edited by his wife, 2 vols. cr. 8vo, 1874; family papers and correspondence; verbatim reports of proceedings in the Court of Arches; Times, January 1870; Guardian, January 1870; see also the Rev. R. B. Kennard's Essays and Reviews; J. Fitzjames Stephen's Defence of Rowland Williams; the Rev. John Owen's Dr. Rowland Williams and his Place in Contemporary Religious Thought (Contemporary Review, April 1870); C. Kegan Paul's Biographical Sketches.]