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The Times/1919/Obituary/William Samuel Lilly

< The Times‎ | 1919

Death of Mr. W. S. Lilly.
Essayist and catholic champion.

Mr. W. S. Lilly, who was well known as a writer on religious, political, and social subjects, died on August 29 at his residence in West Kensington.

William Samuel Lilly was the eldest son of William Lilly, of Windout House, near Exeter, and was born on July 10, 1840. In 1859 he was elected a scholar of Peterhouse, where he studied law, taking a third class in the Law Tripos and the degree of LL.B. in 1862, and his LL.M. in 1870. In 1861, after some private tuition from Sir A. W. Ward, now Master of Peterhouse, he passed into the Indian Civil Service, and in due course went to India. His work there was favourably noticed, and in 1869 he became Secretary to the Government of Madras. But, his health failing him, he was obliged to return to England and to find a new career.

He set about the task with pluck and determination, He had been admitted to the Inner Temple in April, 1869, and was called to its Bar in November, 1873, but he was a barrister in nothing much beyond the title. His conversion to Roman Catholicism made him known to the late Duke of Norfolk, and through the Duke's influence he was appointed in 1874 secretary of the Catholic Union of Great Britain, a post which he held for nearly 20 years. His attitude in Catholicism might be described as mildly Liberal. He was never a suspect; but he never allowed his reason to be enslaved, and he was among the English Roman Catholics who stoutly protested their entire loyalty to their Sovereign and their country when that loyalty was called in question during the great war.

Lilly's life's work, however, lay in his writings. He wrote on religion, on history, on politics, and on all three combined. In his books, and in the many articles which his industry contributed to the Reviews, he practised with success a from of writing which is perhaps commoner in France than in England—something between history and journalism. He was indefatigable in acquiring knowledge, and he brought his learning to bear upon contemporary events with a logical mind to bear upon contemporary events with a logical mind and a lucid style. It may be that this obedience and his independence of thought were occasionally at variance, so that his conclusions, especially on religious questions, are not always convincing; but his steady effort to reconcile the old and the new, and to trace the working-out of principle through the ages, resulted at least in some instructive and suggestive reading by the way.

Among his earliest books was the once famous "Ancient Religion and Modern Thought," published in 1884, of which he used anew a considerable part of the material in subsequent books. "Chapters in European History" (1886), "The Claims of Christianity" (1894), "Christianity and Modern Civilization" (1903), and "Studies in Religion and Literature" (1904) are among other essays in the same field, and in the biographical sketches which these studies involved Lilly's work was peculiarly happy. His knowledge of Law enabled him to compile, in collaboration with another, a very useful "Manual of the Law Specially Affecting Catholics" (1893); and his knowledge of India found expression in an entertaining and graphic study of "India and its Problems" (1902), which is full of still valid information about races, religions, and other characteristics. Lilly's political science was not very profound. His opinions, or prejudices, made it, for instance, impossible for him to do justice to such a subject as the French Revolution and it effects; and his volume on "The New France" (1913) is not among his most urbane or sensible. Nevertheless, his vigorous manner was profitable in challenging thought when it could not persuade, and his essays and articles in the periodical Press were usually stimulating. During the war he used his pen doughtily on behalf of the Allies, and allowed no Ultramontanism to come between his vision and the truth.

In 1893 he was made an Honorary Fellow of Peterhouse. The Athenæum elected him a member under its rule regarding distinguished men; and he was a Justice of the Peace for Middlesex and London.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1919, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 99 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.