Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Church, Richard William
CHURCH, RICHARD WILLIAM (1815–1890), dean of St. Paul's, born at Lisbon on 25 April 1815, was eldest of three sons of John Dearman Church, a merchant, by his wife Bromley Caroline Metzener, and grandson of Matthew Church, a member of the Society of Friends, whose second son was General Sir Richard Church [q. v.] J. D. Church was baptised a member of the English church at the time of his marriage in 1814. His other children were Bromley, who entered the merchant service and died at sea in 1852, and Charles, born in 1822, now (1901) canon residentiary of Wells.
In 1818 the family settled in Florence, and at eleven years old Richard went to a, preparatory school at Leghorn, where he and his brother learnt to love the sea and everything connected with it. The life in Italy, which was to have a permanent influence on Church's tastes, came to an end in 1828 by his father's sudden death, and the family returned to England and settled in Bath. After a term at a school in Exeter Richard was sent to Redland, near Bristol, where he spent the next five years, working hard at his classics and becoming imbued with the evangelical principles of the place, and in spare moments haunting the old bookshops in Bristol. When the time came for him to go to Oxford, at Easter 1833, he was sent to Wadham because the tutors there were reputed evangelical. His introduction to the other school of religious thought came partly from 'The Christian Year,' published in 1827, and partly through his mother's second marriage at this time with a widower, Thomas Crokat of Leghorn, whose daughter, Mary, married the next year George Moberly [q. v.], at that time fellow and tutor of Balliol. To an undergraduate of a shy temper, with no public school or university connections, the friendship of so distinguished a man as Moberly was of great social value, while intellectually it counteracted the narrowing influence of Redland. Charles Marriott [q. v.] also seems to have taken him up, and in 1835 he was introduced at Oriel to Keble and Newman. But he did not see much of the leaders of the Oxford movement until at the end of 1836 he graduated B.A., coming out, much to his own astonishment, in the first class. For the next eighteen months he read hard for an Oriel fellowship, to which he was elected in 1838. Among the theological writers read in the meantime he notes especially Bishop Butler and F. D. Maurice; but he became at this time more definitely a disciple of Newman, attending regularly at the afternoon sermons at St. Mary's. The sermon on 'Ventures of Faith,' preached in 1836, was said by himself to have been 'in some sort the turning point of his life.' During this interval also he translated St. Cyril's catechetical lectures (1841) for Pusey's 'Library of the Fathers,' in which it formed the second volume. This first piece of literary work, as Church himself admitted later, is a colourless performance.
Church's residence at Oriel as fellow threw him more than ever under the influence of Newman, with whom he formed a fast friendship. Other intimate friends were Frederic Rogers (afterwards Lord Blachford) [q. v.] and James Bowling Mozley [q. v.], who were members of the tractarian party; but Church's friendships were always wider than his theological sympathies; with Arthur Penrhyn Stanley [q. v.], for instance, notwithstanding the divergence of their views, he remained on terms of friendship to the last. He was ordained deacon at Christmas 1839 in St. Mary's, in company with Stanley, and in the same year was somewhat reluctantly obliged to take a vacant tutorship a post which brought him into close and not very congenial relations with the undergraduates. To make up for time thus diverted from study he stayed in Oxford to read during the long vacations. He surrendered the tutorship in 1842, in consequence of the suspicion that fell upon all members of the tractarian party after the publication of Newman's tract No. 90 upon the articles. In 1844 Church was junior proctor, and in the convocation of 13 Feb. with his colleague, Henry Peter Guillemard of Trinity, vetoed the proposal to censure Tract 90. Characteristically, in his account of the proceedings (The Oxford Movement, p. 382), Church gives no hint of his own share in the business, but a letter of the period to Newman makes plain that, though Guillemard as the senior proctor actually spoke the decisive words nobis procuratoribus non placet, it was the junior proctor who had taken the initiative and influenced his colleague. An address signed by over five hundred members of the university was presented to the proctors, thanking them for the course they had taken.
In 1845 Newman joined the church of Rome, and for fifteen years the two friends neither met nor corresponded, though subsequently there was a renewal of the old familiar relations. The effect of Newman's secession was for a time to break up the tractarian movement in Oxford, but a secondary result was to spread it more effectually through the country. A sign of a new era was the starting of the 'Guardian' newspaper by Church and a few friends—James Mozley, Thomas Henry Haddan [q. v.], Lord Blachford, Mountague Bernard [q. v.], and others. Church presided over the reviews, contributing him- self largely, his historical interests being shown by reviews of such books as Carlyle's 'Cromwell,' and his scientific interests by a notice of the 'Sequel to the Vestiges of Creation,' which earned the commendation of Sir Richard Owen [q. v.], and by an article on Le Verrier's discovery of the planet Neptune, which drew an appreciatory letter from the great astronomer. These and other reviews, from the 'Guardian' and 'Saturday Review,' being for the most part original studies on the questions treated, have been collected into two volumes of 'Occasional Papers,' 1897. The remaining six years at Oxford were not eventful. The greater part of 1847 was spent by Church in foreign travel, and the essays he contributed on his return to the 'Christian Remembrancer' upon foreign politics and politicians proved that he had travelled with his eyes open. The essay on Dante was published in the 'Christian Remembrancer for January 1850. These papers were collected by his friends, when he left Oxford in 1853, into a volume of 'Essays and Reviews' (1854).
In the autumn of 1853 Church, who wished to marry, resigned his fellowship and accepted the living of Whatley, a small parish of two hundred people, in Somerset, and proceeded to priest's orders at Christmas, taking up his residence at Whatley in the following January and marrying in July. The care of a small country village was at first strange to him, and pastoral work at Whatley was not made less difficult by the fact that his predecessor had been non-resident; but Church's high sense of duty made him devote himself unsparingly to the interests of his people, which very soon became his own interests, and he gradually won their confidence. Three series of his 'Village Sermons' have been published since his death (1892-7). Their tone reveals the earnest piety and sense of the reality of unseen things which distinguish all his religious writings; but their form, owing to the endeavour to impress the slow minds of a country congregation, si somewhat lengthy and cumbrous. They are said to have been listened to with attention. Probably not the least effective part of the sermon was the preacher's personality. At Whatley, Church contributed regularly to the 'Guardian' and the 'Saturday Review,' and occasionally to the 'Christian Remembrancer.' In 1857 an essay upon Montaigne appeared as one of the 'Oxford Essays.' Much of his correspondence during this period was addressed to Asa Gray, the American botanist, with whom Church had contracted a warm friendship. They are interesting still from the notices they contain of such books as Darwin's 'Origin of Species' and the Oxford 'Essays and Reviews,' and, again, of such events as the appointment of Dr. Temple to the bishopric of Exeter, showing the fair mind, as far as possible removed from panic, which Church always brought to the discussion of crying questions. He was appointed select preacher at Oxford in 1868, and the next year accepted the post of chaplain to Moberly, when he became bishop of Salisbury, preaching the consecration sermon. He was select preacher at Oxford for the second time in 1876-8 and again in 1881-2. In politics Church, though he describes himself as 'conservative in spirit,' was long a follower of Gladstone. For Gladstone's character and talents he had great admiration, though not without a clear perception of his weak points, and Gladstone's adoption of home rule in 1886 ultimately alienated Church's political sympathies. In 1869 Church defended Gladstone's Irish church policy, and in the same year he declined an offer by the crown of a canonry at Worcester, from a feeling that it might be considered as payment for his defence of the minister; and he thought it important that it should seem possible for high churchmen to support Gladstone's policy disinterestedly. Also he thought he saw signs of a return of 'the old spirit of preferment-seeking 'among the clergy which needed a rebuke. In August 1871 he accepted the deanery of St. Paul's, offered to him by Gladstone on the death of Henry Longueville Mansel [q. v.] A letter (dated 31 Dec. 1882) to Asa Gray puts beyond doubt that Gladstone wished to make Church archbishop of Canterbury on the death of Archbishop Tait [q. v.] The work that engrossed the new dean at St. Paul's for the first years after his appointment was the negotiation with the ecclesiastical commissioners in regard to the cathedral endowment. In this work he was fortunate in having the help of so able a financier as the treasurer, Canon Gregory, who eventually succeeded him as dean. His own interest was more clearly shown in the advances made towards a more dignified worship, and a greater use of the cathedral for public services. Under his auspices also a scheme for the decoration of the cathedral interior was elaborated, with which public opinion has more than once come into conflict. His removal to London brought him into greater prominence as a leading churchman of the high-church party, and he was now constantly appealed to for advice and help on questions of the day. The Public Worship .Regulation Act of 1874 found in him a resolute opponent, although he had little sympathy with excess of ritualistic zeal. He considered the act 'a misuse of law, such as has before now been known in history, and a policy of injustice towards an unpopular party,' and he thought the conduct of the episcopal bench timid and time-serving. In 1881 he put out an address to the archbishop, which was very largely and influentially signed, urging 'toleration and forbearance in dealing with questions of ritual.' He also republished his essay from the 'Christian Remembrancer' (1850) on 'The Relation between Church and State.' When the royal commission was appointed in that year to inquire into the constitution and working of ecclesiastical courts he was offered a seat upon it, but declined on the ground of ill-health. Six years later, when Bell Cox of Liverpool was prosecuted, he wrote a strong letter of remonstrance to Archbishop Benson.
In January 1888 Church lost his only son, Frederick, a young man of great promise, author of a translation of Dante's Latin treatise 'De Monarchia' (1878), and a little book on the 'Trial and Death of Socrates' (1886). After that other losses followed quickly one upon another of such old friends as Asa Gray, Bishop Lightfoot, Lord Blachford, Cardinal Newman, and the dean retired more and more from public life. His strength was now rapidly failing. The last time he appeared in his cathedral was to read the sentences of committal to the grave over Dr. Liddon, his colleague of nineteen years. He died at Dover on 9 Dec. 1890. He lived to welcome Archbishop Benson's judgment in the bishop of Lincoln's case, which he pronounced 'the most courageous thing that has come from Lambeth for two hundred years.' At the time of his death he was putting the last touches to his 'History of the Oxford Movement' (London, 1891, 8vo), a brilliant account of its origin and progress up to Newman's secession. He was buried by his desire in the churchyard at Whatley. On 5 July 1863, at Sparkford in Somerset, Church married Helen Frances, daughter of Henry Bennett, rector and squire of Sparkford. By her he had four children, of whom the eldest daughter, Helen Beatrice, married in 1883 the Very Rev. Francis Paget, dean of Christ Church and afterwards bishop of Oxford, and died on 22 Nov. 1900. A portrait of Church by Mr. E. Miller was lent by Dr. Paget to the Victorian exhibition of 1891-2.
Dean Church had not a few points in common with two of his most distinguished predecessors at St. Paul's. Like Colet he 'studied to be quiet.' The motto of the one might well have been the motto of the other, 'Si vis divinus esse, late ut deus.' Both were raised to high place against their inclination. On another side, in his passionate piety, he suggests Donne, and, like Donne, he was remarkable as a writer of prose, though the style was of quite another character. The early tractarians set much store by reserve and reality, which are two sides of the same austere love of truth, and alike in temper and in style Church was a tractarian. In a letter (21 Sept. 1887) to a correspondent who consulted him on the cultivation of style, he says the only training in style he had recognised in himself was watching against the temptation of 'unreal' and 'fine' words; and he adds that he owed it to Newman, if he could write at all simply and with a wish to be real. The influence of Newman is easily traceable in the candour and lucidity of his writing, but it lacks Newman's flexibility and ease. Church's best work as a writer was a series of critical studies, the chief being upon Anselm (1843, expanded 1870), Dante (1850), Spenser in the 'English Men of Letters' series (1879), and Bacon in the same series (1884). As a critic his characteristic note is one of moderation and wide sympathy. The son of a merchant of business interests in many countries, by a lady of German extraction, himself born at Lisbon and bred at Florence, he was by nature cosmopolitan: and his quaker blood further assisted in freeing him from many prejudices habitual in religious Englishmen of his generation. He was gifted with considerable historical insight and imagination, and such studies as those on the early Ottomans and the court of Leo X are admirable specimens of their class. In theology his power lay in the treatment of moral rather than doctrinal or philosophical questions. His book on Anselm ignores the philosophical treatises, though he made an excellent edition of the first book of Hooker's 'Ecclesiastical Polity' (1868), and with Dr. Paget revised Keble's edition of the whole (1888). He was perhaps the most impressive preacher of his generation: the only one who suggested to his hearers the presence of a prophetic gift. His sermons before the universities or at St Paul's were almost always upon moral and social questions. Their titles are as follows: 'The Gifts of Civilisation' (1880), 'Human Life and its Conditions' (1878); 'Discipline of the Christian Character' (1885). A further volume of Cathedral and University Sermons was published posthumously (1892). The most interesting feature of these sermons is the serious attempt they make to distinguish between the advantages of civilisation and culture, which are recognised at their full value, and the peculiar benefits of Christianity. A volume (1893) called 'Paschal and other Sermons' contains excellent studies of the 'Pensees,' Bishop Butler, and Bishop Andrewes. They are all the work of a mind with a large and clear outlook and great delicacy of perception and discrimination.
[Life and Letters of Dean Church, edited by his daughter, M. C. Church, 1895; obituary notices in Times and Guardian, December 1890; Craik's English Prose Writers; private information.]