Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Westcott, Brooke Foss
WESTCOTT, BROOKE FOSS (1825–1901), bishop of Durham, born at Birmingham on 12 Jan. 1825, was the only surviving son of Frederick Brooke Westcott, lecturer on botany at Sydenham College Medical School, Birmingham, and hon. sec, of the Birmingham Horticultural Society, by his wife Sarah, daughter of W. Armitage, a Birmingham manufacturer. His paternal great-grandfather, whose Christian names he bore, was a member of the East India Company's Madras establishment and was employed by the company on some important missions. From 1837 to 1844, while residing at home, the future bishop attended King Edward VI's School in Birmingham under James Prince Lee [q. v.], who, while he insisted on accuracy of scholarship and the precise value of words, used the classics to stimulate broad historical and human interests and love of literature, and gave suggestive theological teaching. From boyhood Westcott showed keenness in the pursuit of knowledge, aptitude for classical studies, a religious and thoughtful disposition, interest in current social industrial movements, and a predilection for drawing and music. Music he did not cultivate to any great extent in after-years, but through life he found a resource in sketching.
In October 1844 he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge. During his undergraduate career his mind and character developed on the same lines as at school. In 1846 he obtained the Battle University scholarship, and was awarded the medal for a Greek ode in that and the following year, and the members' prize for a Latin essay in 1847. At the same time he read widely. In his walks he studied botany and geology, as well as the architecture of village churches. His closest friends were scholars of Trinity of his year, all of whom, like himself, became fellows; they included C. B. Scott, afterwards headmaster of Westminster school, John Llewelyn Davies, and D. J. Vaughan [q. v. Suppl. II]; another companion was Alfred Barry [q. v. Suppl. II], afterwards bishop of Sydney. Two other friends of the same year were J. E. B. Mayor [q. v. Suppl. II] of St. John's, afterwards professor of Latin, and J. S. Howson [q. v.] of Christ's, afterwards dean of Chester. The young men discussed the most varied topics, literary, artistic, philosophical, and theological, including questions raised by the Oxford Movement, which reached a crisis in 1845 through the secession of J. H. Newman to the Church of Rome. Westcott liked Keble's poetry, and was attracted by the insistence of the Tractarians on the idea of the corporate life of the church and on the importance of self-disciphne, but he was repelled by their dogmatism. In many respects he felt more in sympathy with the views of Arnold, Hampden, and Stanley.
He graduated B.A. as 24th wrangler in January 1848, his friend C. B. Scott being two places above him. He then went in for the classical tripos, in which he was bracketed with Scott as first in the first class. In the competition for the chancellor's medals Scott was first and Westcott second. Both were elected fellows of Trinity in 1849. For the three and a half years after his tripos examinations Westcott took private pupils, and threw himself into this work with great zeal. Among his pupils, with many of whom he formed close friendships, were J. B. Lightfoot [q. v.] and E. W. Benson [q. v. Suppl. I], who had come up to Trinity subsequently to himself from King Edward VI's School, Birmingham, and F. J. A. Hort [q. v. Suppl. I]. Outside his teaching work he interested himself in forming with friends a society for investigating alleged supernatural appearances and effects — an anticipation of the 'Psychical Society.' But he soon seems to have concluded that such investigations could lead to no satisfactory or useful result. He found time for some theological reading, and in 1850 obtained the Norrisian prize for an essay 'On the Alleged Historical Contradictions of the Gospels,' and published it in 1851, under the title 'The Elements of the Gospel Harmony.' He was ordained deacon on Trinity Sunday 1851, his fellowship being taken as a title, and priest on the 21st of the following December, in both cases by his old headmaster. Prince Lee, who had now become bishop of Manchester. He had already decided to leave Cambridge, and in Jan. 1852 accepted a post at Harrow. In December of the same year he married. His work at Harrow was to assist Dr. Vaughan, the headmaster, in correcting the sixth-form composition, and occasionally to take the form for him. For some time, too, he had charge of a small boarding-house, and along with it a pupil-room of boys drawn mainly from the headmaster's house and the home-boarders. At the end of 1863 he succeeded to a large boarding-house. For the work of an ordinary form-master he was not well fitted. He did not understand the ordinary boy, and he had some difficulty in maintaining discipline. But on individual boys, of minds and characters more or less responsive to his, he made a deep impression. Happily both in his small house and his large house there were an unusual number of boys of promise. Meanwhile the school — masters and boys alike — increasingly, as time went on, looked up to him as a man of great and varied learning.
By using every spare hour during the school terms and the greater part of the holidays for study and writing, Westcott succeeded in producing, while at Harrow, some of his best-known books and making a wide reputation as a biblical critic and theologian. In 1855 appeared his 'General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament during the First Four Centuries'; in 1859 a course of four sermons preached before the University of Cambridge on' Characteristics of the Gospel Miracles'; in 1860 his 'Introduction to the Study of the Gospels,' an enlargement of his early essay entitled 'The Elements of the Gospel Harmony'; in 1864 'The Bible in the Church,' a popular account of the reception of the Old Testament in the Jewish, and of both Old and New in the Christian, Church; in 1866 the 'Gospel of the Resurrection,' an essay in wluch he gave expression to some of bis most characteristic thoughts on the Christian faith and its relation to reason and human life; in 1868, 'A General View of the History of the English Bible,' in which he threw light on many points which had commonly been misunderstood (3rd edit, revised by W. Aldis Wright, 1905). He also wrote many articles for 'Smith's Dictionary of the Bible,' of which the first volume appeared in 1860 and the second and third in 1863, and he was beginning to work at the Johannine writings and to collaborate with Hort in the preparation of a critical text of the New Testament. In 1866 and 1867 he published three articles in the 'Contemporary Review' on 'The Myths of Plato,' 'The Dramatist as Prophet: Æschylus,' and 'Euripides as a Religious Teacher.' These were republished many years later in his 'Essays in the History of Religious Thought in the West' (1891). Further during his last two or three years at Harrow he gave a good deal of time to the study of Robert Browning's poems, and of the works of Comte, and in 1867 pubhshed an article in the 'Contemporary Review' on 'Aspects of Positivism in Relation to Christianity,' which was republished as an Appendix to the 3rd edit, of his 'Gospel of the Resurrection.'
In the autumn of 1868, Dr. Magee, who had just been consecrated to the see of Peterborough, made Westcott one of his examining chaplains, and in 1869 appointed him to a residentiary canonry. The resignation of his mastership and large house at Harrow involved pecuniary sacrifice, but for two or three years past he had found school-work very wearing, and the canonry promised more leisure for literary work. Soon after leaving Harrow, however, Cambridge rather than Peterborough became his headquarters. In September 1870 the regius professorship of divinity at Cambridge became vacant through the resignation of Dr. Jeremie [q. v.]. Lightfoot, then Hulsean professor, refused to stand, and prevailed upon Westcott to do so, and used his great influence to secure the latter's election, which took place on 1 Nov. He retained his canonry till May 1883, but he resided at Peterborough only for three months in each long vacation.
At Peterborough Westcott taught himself so to use his naturally weak voice as to make himself audible in a large building. In the architecture and history of the cathedral he took deep interest. Like his friend Benson, he cherished the hope that ancient ideals might be so adapted to modern conditions as to make the cathedrals of England a more potent influence for good in the life of the church and nation than they had long been. He wrote two articles on the subject in 'Macmillan's Magazine'; and an essay in the volume on Cathedrals edited by Dean Howson. He strove in various ways to increase the usefulness of his own cathedral both to the city and diocese. He gave courses of expositions and addresses at other than the usual times of service. He also took an active interest both in the regular choir and in the formation of a voluntary choir to assist at special services in the nave; and he arranged the Paragraph Psalter with a view to the rendering of the Psalms in a manner that would better bring out their meaning. During his summers at Peterborough some able young Oxford graduates came to read theology imder his guidance; one of them was Henry Scott Holland.
When Westcott resumed as professor his connection with Cambridge, active change was in progress in the university. The abolition of tests finally passed in 1871 was a challenge to earnest churchmen to strive to guard in new ways the religious influences which they felt to be most precious. In his 'Religious Office of the Universities,' a volume of sermons and papers published in 1873, Westcott showed what a source of far-reaching influence the university ought in his view to be, notwithstanding its changed relation to the church. The arrangements for the encouragement of theological studies stood in great need of improvement, and in the movement for reform Westcott, as regius professor, took the lead. From time to time the lectures of particular professors had excited interest. But there was no concerted action among the professors or the colleges — in which indeed few theological lectures of much value were given — with a view to covering different branches of the subject. At the beginning of the Michaelmas term of 1871 the divinity professors for the first time issued a joint programme of their lectures. In 1871 it fell to the new regius professor to have a hand in framing fresh regulations for the B.D. and D.D. degrees, and the principal share in carrying them into effect and in raising the standard of attainment. He also bore a considerable part in drawing up the scheme for an honours examination in theology, held for the first time in 1874, by which the B.A. degree could be obtained and which was of wider scope than the existing theological examination, designed chiefly for candidates for orders. Again, he succeeded in establishing in 1873 the preliminary examination for holy orders, although it was not an examination under the management of the university.
Far more important than any administrative measures was the influence of his teaching and his character. His full courses for the first three years were on periods of, or topics chosen from, early church history. In that subject he was personally interested, and there was as yet no professor of ecclesiastical history in the university, and no prominent lecturer engaged in teaching it in any of the colleges. From 1874-9 his principal courses were on Christian doctrine; subsequent themes were a book, or selected passages, of the New Testament. He also held once a week from the first a more informal evening class, in which for many years he commented on the Johannine writings. Somewhat excessive condensation in expression made him at times difficult to follow. He dwelt by preference on the widest aspects of truth, which are the most difficult to grasp. But his lectures gave evidence of painstaking inquiry after facts, careful analysis, and thoroughness in investigating the significations of words. Above all he succeeded in communicating to many hearers somewhat of his own sense of the deep spiritual meaning of the scriptures, and his broad sympathy with various forms of Christian faith and hope, and with the best endeavours of pre-Christian times.
His counsel was often privately asked on questions of belief, or on the choice of a sphere of work. Younger members of the university turned to him for aid in various religious efforts. To his inspiration and guidance was largely due the inception of the Cambridge Mission to Delhi, which continues to bear the impress of his aims and spirit. So, too, with a view that men who were looking forward to be parochial clergy should receive more help at the university in preparing for their future work, the Cambridge Clergy Training School was founded, with Westcott as president; he delivered courses of devotional addresses to the members, and they regularly attended his classes on Christian doctrine. The school's subsequent position largely reflects Westcott's early interest in it. Its present home has received the name of Westcott House.
At public meetings in Cambridge he advocated foreign missions and other religious or social objects with inspiring eloquence. In general university business he was also active. From 1872 to 1876 and 1878 to 1882 he was a member of the council of the senate, the chief administrative body in the university, and he served on important syndicates. Like Lightfoot he urged on the senate the plan of university extension originated by (Prof.) James Stuart, for establishing, under the management of a university syndicate, systematic courses of lectures and classes in populous centres.
In May 1883 he resigned his examining chaplaincy at Peterborough. To his surprise Bishop Magee thereupon requested him to resign his canonry. Next month (June) he became examining chaplain to his old friend. Dr. Benson, newly appointed archbishop of Canterbury; and in October he received through Gladstone a canonry at Westminster. Gladstone had already sounded him as to his willingness to accept the deanery of Exeter, and in 1885 the liberal prime minister offered that of Lincoln, while in 1889 Lord Salisbury offered him that of Norwich. But he felt that so long as his strength was equal to his work at Cambridge he ought not to give it up for such a post.
He felt deeply the responsibility of preaching in the Abbey; and its historic associations powerfully appealed to him. He looked forward to settling altogether at Westminster on retiring from his professorship. During his months of residence there he took part in several public movements, and joined in an influential protest by members of various Christian bodies against the immense expenditure of the nations of Europe on armaments, and in a plea for the settlement of international differences by arbitration.
Though no considerable work appeared from his pen during the first ten years of the tenure of his professorship, he published various sermons, essays, and addresses and the articles on the Alexandrian teachers, 'Clement,' 'Demetrius,' and 'Dionysius,' in the 'Dictionary of Christian Biography' (vol. i. 1877). His literary energy was mainly absorbed by the preparation, in conjunction with Hort, of a critical text of the New Testament in Greek. This, the fruit of twenty-eight years' toil, was published in May 1881 (2 vols.; new edit. 1885). In 1870 he had been appointed a member of the committee for the revision of the English translation of the New Testament. The revised version was published in 1881, a few days after Westcott and Hort's Greek text. He was besides still at work upon the Johannine writings. His commentary upon the 'Gospel according to St. John' appeared in the 'Speaker's Commentary' in 1882, that on the 'Epistles of St. John' in 1883. Thereupon he devoted himself to the 'Epistle to the Hebrews,' and published his Commentary upon it in 1889.
Origen and his place in the history of Christian thought was a subject which peculiarly attracted him. He delivered two lectures on it at Edinburgh in 1877, wrote in the 'Contemporary Review' in 1878 on 'Origen and the Beginnings of Religious Philosophy' (see Religious Thought in the West, 1891), and contributed a masterly article on Origen to the 'Dictionary of Christian Biography' (vol. iv. 1889). Another favourite theme was 'Benjamin Whichcote,' 'father of the Cambridge Platonists' (see Religious Thought and Barry's Masters of English Theology). In 1881 he was appointed a member of the ecclesiastical courts commission, for which he did historical work of another kind. Sermons and addresses also continued to appear singly or in volumes, among them 'Christus Consummator' (1886) and 'Social Aspects of Christianity' (1887), two volumes of sermons preached at Westminster. The latter was his earliest treatment with some fulness of a subject in which he always took the deepest interest. In 'The Victory of the Cross,' sermons preached in Hereford Cathedral in 1888, he defined his views on the doctrine of the Atonement.
On 21 May 1882 Westcott was elected fellow of King's College, Cambridge. The degree of D.C.L. was conferred on him at Oxford in 1881; and that of D.D. (honorary) at the Tercentenary of Edinburgh University in 1884. He was made hon. D.D. of Dublin in 1888. Three months after the death of his friend Lightfoot the bishopric of Durham was offered to Westcott, on 6 March 1890. He was in his sixty-sixth year; he was wanting in some of the practical qualities that were conspicuous in Lightfoot; but it was certain that he would form a great conception of what he ought to attempt to do, and would strive to fulfil it with an enthusiasm which age had not abated. For himself, when his duty to accept the post became clear, he saw an unique opportunity for labouring, 'at the end of life,' more effectively than before for objects about which he had always felt deep concern, especially the fulfilment by the Church of her mission in relation to human society. He was consecrated in Westminster Abbey on 1 May 1890. On leaving Cambridge he was elected honorary fellow of both King's and Trinity Colleges, and the University of Durham made him hon. D.D. on settling in his diocese.
In a first letter to his clergy of the diocese, which he addressed to them as soon as he had been duly elected, he undertook 'to face in the fight of the Christian faith some of the gravest problems of social and national life.' Very soon, with a view to furthering the solution of difficult social and economic problems and the removal of class-prejudices, he brought together for conferences at Auckland Castle employers of labour, secretaries of trade-unions, leading co-operators, men who had taken a prominent part in the administration of the poor laws or in municipal life. In the choice of the representatives Westcott found in Canon W. M. Ede, rector of Gateshead (now dean of Worcester), a valuable adviser. The men met at dinner in the evening for friendly intercourse, and after spending the night under the Bishop's roof, engaged the next morning in a formal discussion of some appointed question, when the bishop presided and opened the proceedings with a short and pertinent address. These conferences prepared the way for the part which the bishop was able to play in the settlement of the great strike which took place in the Durham coal trade and lasted from 9 March to 1 June 1892. For many weeks Westcott watched anxiously for a moment at which he could prudently intervene. Then he addressed an invitation to the representatives of the miners and of the owners to meet at Auckland Castle, which was accepted by both sides. The owners finally consented to reopen the pits without insisting on the full reduction that they had declared to be necessary, stating that they did so in consequence of the appeal which the Bishop had made to them 'not on the ground of any judgment on his part of the reasonableness or otherwise of their claim, but solely on the ground of consideration and of the impoverished condition of the men and of the generally prevailing distress.' The bishop also assisted in procuring the establishment of boards of conciliation in the county for dealing with industrial differences. At the same time he warmly supported movements for providing homes for aged miners, and better dwellings for the miners. He frequently addressed large bodies of workpeople, not merely at services specially arranged for them, such as an annual miners' service in Durham Cathedral, but at their own meetings. At various times he spoke to the members of co-operative societies, and in 1894 he addressed the great concourse at the Northumberland Miners' Gala. In many previous years this gathering had been addressed by eminent politicians, as well as by labour-leaders, but the invitation to a church dignitary was something new, and was a remarkable proof of the place that Westcott had won in the esteem of the pitmen. Before such audiences he held up high ideals of duty and human brotherhood; though he never condescended to partisan advocacy of their cause, they felt his enthusiasm and his strong sympathy. He used on these occasions few notes, and spoke with a greater eloquence and effect than in delivering sermons and addresses which were carefully written but were sometimes difficult to follow. The bishop's influence in labour matters is in some respects unique in the history of the English episcopate. (For Westcott's treatment of labour problems and for the impression which he made upon the miners, see especially the very interesting appreciation by Mr. Thomas Burt, M.P., in the Life, ii. 733 seq.)
In his more normal episcopal work his el ations with his younger clergy were especially noteworthy. He continued lightfoot's plan of having six or eight candidates for orders to read for a year or so at Auckland Castle. Once a week he lectured to them; for another hour also in each week he presided when one of the students read a short paper, which was then discussed. These 'sons of the house,' as they were called, present and past, including those who had been there in Lightfoot's time, assembled once a year at the Castle. Many of the junior clergy placed themselves in Westcott's hands to decide for them individually as their bishop what their work should be, whether in the church at home or abroad. His old interest in foreign missions never diminished, and thirty-six men in orders went from the diocese during his episcopate 'with the bishop's direct mission or glad approval' to foreign or colonial service.
In his charges, addresses at diocesan conferences, and the like the bishop did not dwell on controversial questions, but on fundamental truths and their application to the common life of the church. He did not collect large sums of money for church-building or church-work; he was satisfied with the organisation of the diocese as he found it. He was preoccupied with ideas which were not always congenial to business men, and he was not invariably a good judge of men's capabilities and characters. Yet the diocese acknowledged the influence of his saintliness, of his devotion to duty, and to some extent of his teaching.
While unassuming in demeanour and in the conduct of his household, he had a keen sense of the respect due to his office. He delighted in the historic associations of Auckland Castle, where he constantly entertained workpeople and church-workers. He was chary of undertaking work outside his diocese, but he presided at short notice at the Church Congress at Hull, oweing to the illness of W. D. Maclagan, archbishop of York, and read a paper on 'Socialism.' In 1893 he was a chief speaker at the demonstration in the Albert Hall against the Welsh Church suspensory bill; and preached before the British Medical Association at Newcastle, and the Church Congress at Birmingham. In 1895 he delivered the annual sermon in London before the Church Missionary Society, and in 1901 the sermon before the York convocation. Of the Christian Social Union, which was formed in 1889 mainly under Oxford auspices, he was first president, and he held the office till his death, giving an address at each annual meeting. He continued to aid the cause of peace and international arbitration. Yet he supported the Boer war when it had become evident that the Boers were striving for supremacy in South Africa.
His literary work, although limited by the calls of his episcopate, did not cease. In the first two years he put into shape the notes of his Cambridge lectures on Christian doctrine, and published them under the title 'The Gospel of Life’ (1892). During his summer holidays also up to the end he worked at a commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians, and the portion of it that he left was edited and published after his death. For the rest, he composed little save sermons and addresses; but these cost him no small effort, for he never had a facile pen. Many of them he collected and published in such volumes as 'The Incarnation and Common Life' (1893), 'Christian Aspects of Life' (1897), and 'Lessons from Work' (1901). In 1898, when dedicating a memorial to Christina Rossetti in Christ Church, Woburn Square, he gave a careful and sympathetic appreciation of her character and poetry.
On 28 May 1901 his wife died; but in the weeks following this bereavement the bishop fulfilled his public engagements. He preached with great apparent vigour at the miners' service in Durham Cathedral on Saturday, 20 July. But his strength was giving way, and he died on 27 July. He was buried beside his wife in the chapel of Auckland Castle. It was his express wish that there should be no subscription for a memorial to him.
A lifelike portrait of Westcott, painted in 1889 by Sir W. B. Richmond, is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The artist wrote of his 'countenance so mobile, so flashing, so tender and yet so strong.' His old friend Llewelyn Davies recalled that as an undergraduate 'he had the intensity which was always noticed in him, rather feminine than robust, ready at any moment to lighten into vivid looks and utterance.' His figure was spare and rather below middle height; his movements were rapid and energetic.
Westcott married in 1852 Sarah Louisa Mary, elder daughter of Thomas Whithard of Kingsdown, Bristol, the sister of an old schoolfellow. He had seven sons and three daughters. The eldest son, Frederick Brooke, senior classic in 1881, is archdeacon of Norwich. Five other sons were ordained, four of whom became missionaries to India. The youngest of these died there; two (Foss and George Herbert) are now bishops of Nagpur and Lucknow respectively. Westcott's life is remarkable for its many-sided activity and the extraordinary amount of achievement. On several of the subjects of biblical criticism and religious thought on which Westcott wrote inquiry and debate have since continued in Germany, and have become more or less active in England, and the position of some of the questions has consequently changed. Notably is this the case with the problems of the origin of the synoptic gospels and of the authorship of the fourth gospel; the former is discussed by Westcott in his 'Introduction to the Study of the Gospels,' and the latter both ia that work and in the 'Prolegomena' to his 'Commentary on St. John's Gospel.' On the other hand, in his work on the 'Canon of the New Testament' he contends in the main for views which have now come to be widely accepted, and this work is probably still for English students the most serviceable 'survey of the history' of the reception of the books of the New Testament in the Church. His treatment of all these subjects represented in England a great advance at the time when he wrote both in knowledge and in the candid examination of opinions opposed to the traditional ones.
In the field of textual criticism the appearance of 'Westcott and Hort's Greek Testament' was admitted, on the Continent as well as in England, to have been epoch-making. But Westcott has perhaps hardly had his due share of the credit owing to the fact that the exposition of the principles on which the text had been made was left to Hort, probably because the latter had fewer engagements. But these principles and the determination thereby of each individual reading were arrived at through the independent investigations of the two scholars, followed by discussion between them. Anyone knowing the two men would hesitate to say that the contribution of either of them to the result thus obtained was greater than that of the other.
The value of Westcott's work as a commentator lies especially in the aid he affords towards an understanding of the profound teaching of the Johannine writings, and of the Epistle to the Hebrews (1889; 3rd edit. 1903). It may be held that he is sometimes too subtle in his interpretations; but through spiritual sympathy and deep meditation he has often penetrated far into the real meaning of the text. His commentaries also contain many careful discussions of the usages of important words or phrases. With his ’Commentary on the Epistles of St. John' (1883) he published three important essays on 'The Church and the World' (an examination of the relations of Christianity and the Roman Empire), 'The Grospel of Creation,' and 'The Relation of Christianity to Art.' The last is included in 'Religious Thought in the West' (1891). Westcott's leading ideas on the final problems of existence may be best gathered from his 'Gospel of the Resurrection' (1866; 7th edit. 1891) and 'Grospel of Life' (1892). He was perhaps too apt to enimciate propositions of wide import, which in his view corresponded with the constitution of man's being, without discussing with sufficient fulness the means of their verification. But no one can fail to be impressed by his conception of the task of theology and his conviction that it is the duty of the Christian theologian to take account of knowledge of all kinds and of all the religious aspirations of mankind. A strong resemblance has often been noticed between his teaching and that of F. D. Maurice. Westcott, however, though younger by twenty years, had thought out his own position independently, and in order that he might do so had for the most part refrained, as he more than once said, from reading Maurice's works. In 1884, after reading the latter's 'Life and Letters,' he wrote to Llewelyn Davies, 'I never knew before how deep my sympathy is with most of his characteristic thoughts.' Westcott by his writings certainly helped no little to extend the influence of these thoughts, which were characteristic of them both.
[Arthur Westcott's Life and Letters of the bishop, his father, 1903, 2 vols., where a complete bibliography will be found; Hort's Life of F. J. A. Hort; A. C. Benson's Life of Archbishop Benson, 1899; A. C. Benson's The Leaves of the Tree, 1901, pp. 21-8; H. Scott Holland's B. F. Westcott, 1910; The Times, 29 July 1901; Guardian, 7 Aug. 1901 (Bishop Westcott as a Diocesan); In Memoriam in Cambridge Review, 17 Oct. 1901; personal knowledge and inquiry.]