Higgins, Godfrey (DNB00)
HIGGINS, GODFREY (1773–1833), archæologist, only son of Godfrey Higgins of Skellow Grange, near Doncaster, West Riding of Yorkshire, by his wife Christiana (Matterson), was born on (or shortly before) 1 May 1773. He kept terms as a pensioner at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and afterwards studied law in London, but took no degree, and was not called to the bar. On his father's death he succeeded to a considerable estate, and married (1800). In 1802, during the scare of an anticipated invasion by Napoleon, he became a major in the 3rd West York militia, and while in this service he was seized with a bad fever at Harwich, from the effects of which he never recovered. Resigning his commission about 1813, he devoted himself entirely to an unbiassed investigation into the history of religious beliefs. He acquired a knowledge of Hebrew, and sometimes pursued his studies in foreign libraries. At the date of his death he had projected a journey to Egypt, ‘and perhaps Samarcand,’ in search of further clues to religious problems.
Higgins acted with energy as a justice of the peace, and was keenly interested in practical questions of political economy. He took part in measures for the better treatment of the insane, and was the means of erecting a house for pauper lunatics near Wakefield. He favoured the abolition of corn-laws and game-laws, and as early as 1832 advocated the disestablishment of the Irish church. In 1831 several of the radical political unions of Yorkshire were anxious to elect him to parliament; he pledged himself to serve if elected, but declined to come forward as a candidate.
Higgins attended the meeting of the British Association at Cambridge in June 1833, returned home out of health, and died at his Yorkshire residence at Skellow Grange on 9 Aug. 1833. His London house was 20 Keppel Street, Russell Square. He married in 1800 Jane (d. 18 May 1822 at Bath), heiress of Richard Thorpe, and left a son, Godfrey, and a daughter, Jane (married to Lieutenant-general Matthew Sharpe of Hoddam Castle, Dumfries). Another daughter, Catherine, died before him unmarried. Higgins was a freemason, a fellow of the Society of Arts, the Royal Asiatic Society, and other learned bodies.
Among his social and political publications are the following: 1. ‘Letter to … Earl Fitzwilliam,’ &c. [York, 1814], 8vo (on lunatic asylums). 2. ‘The Evidence … respecting the Asylum at York,’ &c., Doncaster, 1816, 8vo. 3. ‘Address to the Electors of the West Riding,’ &c., Hackney , 8vo; 2nd edit., Doncaster, 1833, 8vo. 4. ‘A Letter to the House of Commons on the … discontent of the British Empire,’ &c., 1819, 8vo (written from Geneva on the passing of the Metallic Currency Bill). 5. ‘Observations on … the Corn Laws,’ &c., 1826, 8vo (reprinted in ‘The Pamphleteer,’ vol. xxvii.). 6. ‘A Letter to the Political Unions,’ &c., Hackney , 8vo. 7. ‘A Second Letter,’ &c., Hackney , 8vo.
His contributions to the archæology of religion are the following: 1. ‘Horæ Sabbaticæ, or an Attempt to correct … errors respecting the Sabbath,’ &c., 1826, 8vo (two parts in one); 2nd edit., with appendix, 1833, 8vo; 3rd edit., with autobiography, 1851, 8vo. His positions were attacked by Henry Standish and by T. S. Hughes, B.D. 2. ‘An Apology for … Mohammed,’ &c., 1829, 8vo. This was criticised by Edward Upham, author of the ‘History of Buddhism.’ 3. ‘The Celtic Druids,’ &c., 1829, 4to; his most important work, containing ‘a most valuable collection of prints’ (Hunter). 4. ‘Anacalypsis, an Attempt to draw aside the veil of the Saitic Isis; or, an Inquiry into the Origin of Languages, Nations, and Religions,’ &c., 1836, 4to, 2 vols.; another edition, Glasgow, 1878, 8vo. The first volume, though not published till 1836, was printed off in June 1833; four sheets of the second volume were revised by the author, at whose son's expense the remainder was edited by George Smallfield. The ‘Celtic Druids’ was designed as an introduction to this work, which is coloured by Higgins's researches into phallic worship. He had intended ‘to exhibit in a future book the Christianity of Jesus Christ from his own mouth.’ He claimed to be a Christian, regarding our Lord as a Nazarite, of the monastic order of Pythagorean Essenes, probably a Samaritan by birth, and leading the life of a hermit.
[Autobiography in Horæ Sabbaticæ, 1851; prefaces to Anacalypsis, and autobiographical references in other works; Gent. Mag. October 1833, p. 371.]