Open main menu

MIDDLETON, THOMAS FANSHAW (1769–1822), bishop of Calcutta, was the only son of Thomas Middleton, rector of Kedleston, Derbyshire, where he was born on 26 Jan. 1769. He entered Christ's Hospital on 21 April 1779, and became a ‘Grecian.’ Among his schoolfellows were S. T. Coleridge and Charles Lamb, who describes him (Christ's Hospital Five-and-thirty Years Ago) as ‘a scholar and a gentleman in his teens,’ whose manner at school was ‘firm, but mild and unassuming.’ Middleton was always grateful to Christ's Hospital, and shortly before his death gave a donation of 400l. and was elected a governor of the institution. Entering Pembroke College, Cambridge, he graduated B.A. January 1792 as fourth in the list of senior optimes. He became M.A. 1795, D.D. 1808. In March 1792 he was ordained deacon by Dr. Pretyman, bishop of Lincoln, and became curate of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, where he edited, and in great part wrote, a weekly periodical called ‘The Country Spectator.’ The first number appeared 9 Oct. 1792, the last on 21 May 1793 (Mozley, Reminiscences of Oriel, &c. ii. 414). This periodical—an echo of Addison and Steele—attracted the attention of Dr. John Pretyman, archdeacon of Lincoln, and brother of Bishop Pretyman, and he made Middleton tutor to his sons, first at Lincoln and then at Norwich. In 1795 Middleton was presented by Dr. Pretyman to the rectory of Tansor, Northamptonshire, and in 1802 to the consolidated rectory of Little and Castle Bytham, Lincolnshire. At this time he began his well-known work on the Greek article, being incited by a controversy on this subject, in which Granville Sharp, Wordsworth, master of Trinity, and Calvin Winstanley engaged (1798–1805). The volume appeared in 1808 as ‘The Doctrine of the Greek Article applied to the Criticism and the Illustration of the New Testament,’ London, 8vo. It was praised in the ‘Quarterly Review’ (ii. 187 ff.) as a learned and useful work, and went through five editions (2nd edit. 1828, by Professor James Scholefield; 3rd edit. 1833, by H. J. Rose; 1841, 1858). In 1809 Middleton obtained a prebendal stall at Lincoln, and in 1811 exchanged Tansor and Bytham for the vicarage of St. Pancras, London, and the rectory of Puttenham, Hertfordshire. In 1812 he became archdeacon of Huntingdon. On his removal to London in 1811 he undertook the editorship of the ‘British Critic’ (new series), and took an active part in the proceedings of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. He endeavoured, unsuccessfully, to raise funds for a new church in St. Pancras parish.

The act of 1813 which renewed the charter of the East India Company erected their territories into one vast diocese, with a bishop (of Calcutta) and three archdeacons. The number of Anglican clergy in India was very small. The bishopric, the salary of which was 5,000l., was offered to Middleton. He was consecrated at Lambeth Palace on 8 May 1814, and reached Calcutta on 28 Nov. 1814. Difficulties had been prophesied with the natives on religious grounds, but the bishop's arrival and subsequent visitations created no alarm or disturbance. He found the Bible Society established at Calcutta, but declined an invitation to join it. He had difficulty (1815) with the presbyterian ministers who were maintained by the court of directors of the East India Company. In 1815 he organised the Free School and the Orphan School at Calcutta, and in May of the same year formed a diocesan committee of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, a society which, when he left England, had placed 1,000l. at his disposal in furtherance of its views. On 18 Dec. 1815 he left Calcutta to make his primary visitation, attended by a party of about 450 people. The whole journey was one of about five thousand miles. He had an interview with the nabob of the Carnatic at Madras, traversed Southern India, visited Bombay, Goa, Ceylon, and the Syrian Christians at Cochin. During this visitation, which ended in 1816, the bishop made no heathen converts. His view, frequently expressed, was that the ‘fabric of idolatry’ in India would never be shaken merely by the preaching of missionaries. He trusted rather to the general diffusion of knowledge and the arts to pave the way for Christianity. The first duty of the Anglican church was to bring the European inhabitants under its influence, and to set up a high standard of moral and religious life. About September 1820 the bishop's house was struck by lightning while the family was at dinner, but no one was injured (India Gazette, quoted in Selections from the Asiatic Journal, i–xxviii. 399).

On 15 Dec. 1820 Middleton laid the foundation-stone of Bishop's Mission College, on a site within three miles of Calcutta. The establishment of this college was the bishop's favourite scheme. The institution was to consist of a principal and professors, and of students who were afterwards to be provided for as missionaries and schoolmasters in India. On 19 April 1821 the bishop again visited Cochin to ascertain the condition of the Syrian church there, and in December held his third visitation at Calcutta. He died on 8 July 1822 of a fever, in the fifty-fourth year of his age and the ninth of his episcopate. He was buried in Calcutta Cathedral.

The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, to which he left 500l. and five hundred volumes from his library, joined the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge in subscribing for a monument to him in the nave of St. Paul's Cathedral. This memorial—a marble group by J. G. Lough—represents Bishop Middleton blessing two Indian children kneeling before him. In accordance with Middleton's will all his writings in manuscript were destroyed, including a memoir on the Syrian church. While in India he collected Syriac manuscripts and learnt Hindustani, but gave up the study of Greek. His ‘Sermons and Charges’ were published, with a memoir, in 1824 by Archdeacon Bonney. Middleton was a fellow of the Royal Society (elected 1814) and a vice-president of the Asiatic Society (1815).

A portrait of Middleton in his robes, engraved by T. A. Dean, forms the frontispiece to vol. i. of the ‘Life of T. F. Middleton,’ London, 1831, 8vo, by his friend the Rev. C. W. Le Bas. Middleton was a man of handsome and vigorous appearance; his voice was clear and sonorous, and his preaching impressive. Kaye (Christianity in India, pp. 312–14) calls him ‘a cold and stately formalist’ who had ‘an overweening sense of the dignity of the episcopal office,’ though he admits that the bishop was not actuated by personal vanity, and that the externals of religion had been too much neglected in India before his arrival. Other friends of Middleton found him stiff and proud in his manner (Mozley, Reminiscences, vol. ii. Addenda), though, as Charles Lamb expressed it, the ‘regni novitas’—the new and imperfectly defined position of the first Anglican bishop of India—perhaps justified his high carriage. As an organiser he was cautious, able, and active, and his successor, Reginald Heber [q. v.], was not a little indebted to him. Some favourite common-sense maxims of Middleton's are collected in the ‘Life’ by Le Bas, i. 60, 61.

Middleton married in 1797 Elizabeth, eldest daughter of John Maddison of Alvingham, Lincolnshire. His wife survived him, but there were no children of the marriage.

[Life of Middleton by Le Bas; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. v. 285; authorities cited.]

W. W.