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Wright, Charles Henry Hamilton (DNB12)

WRIGHT, CHARLES HENRY HAMILTON (1836–1909), Hebraist and theologian, born at Dublin on 9 March 1836, was second son in a family of ten children of Edward Wright, LL.D., barrister, of Floraville, Donnybrook, co. Dublin, by his wife Charlotte, daughter of Joseph Wright of Beech Hill, Donnybrook. Edward Perceval Wright [q. v. Suppl. II] was his eldest brother. Charles was privately educated, and entered Trinity College, Dublin, on 1 July 1852. While still an undergraduate he actively engaged in religious controversy and propaganda on the protestant side, and in 1853 he wrote his first work, ‘Coming Events; or, Glimpses of the Future,’ as well as an anonymous attack on Roman catholicism, ‘The Pope the Antichrist.’ For a time Celtic philology occupied his attention. His early work in a field which was then little explored was seen to advantage in ‘A Grammar of the Modern Irish Language’ (1855; 2nd ed. 1860). But he soon turned to theology and oriental languages, which formed his main study through life. In 1856 he won the primate's Hebrew premium, graduating B.A. with a first class in the examination for the divinity testimonium in 1857. He was awarded the Arabic prize in 1859, proceeding M.A. in the same year, B.D. in 1873, and D.D. in 1879. He also took the degree of Ph.D. at Leipzig in 1875.

Meanwhile Wright had been ordained in 1859 to the curacy of Middleton-Tyas, Yorkshire; but though an earnest preacher he was unsuited to ordinary parochial work. Appointed in 1863 to the English chaplaincy at Dresden, he made the acquaintance of the leading German theologians, such as Delitzsch and Lechler. His protestant zeal gained him many adherents among the English residents, but offended the high church party, who successfully petitioned A. C. Tait, bishop of London, to appoint an additional chaplain. In 1868 Wright undertook the chaplaincy at Boulogne-sur-mer, where he ministered not only to British seamen but to the German prisoners during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870–1. Thanks to his efforts the English church was repaired, and a house was erected, which combined a sailors' institute with a chaplain's residence. Returning to Ireland, Wright served successively as incumbent of St. Mary's Belfast (1874–85), and of Bethesda Church, Dublin (1885–91). In 1891 he accepted the benefice of St. John's, Liverpool, retiring in 1898, when the church was pulled down to make way for city improvements.

Meanwhile Wright's activities were by no means limited to clerical duty. Incorporated M.A. at Exeter College, Oxford, on 5 July 1862, he was elected Bampton lecturer for 1878, and chose as his subject ‘Zechariah and his Prophecies’ (published in 1879). At Dublin he delivered the Donellan lectures (1880–1), in which he expounded ‘The Book of Ecclesiastes in Relation to Modern Criticism’ (1883). In 1893 he renewed his connection with Oxford on his appointment as Grinfield lecturer on the Septuagint, and was re-elected to that office in 1895 for a further term of two years. He also frequently acted as examiner in Hebrew in the Universities of Oxford, London, Manchester, and Wales.

One of the last great militant protestants, Wright devoted himself with conspicuous ability to the cause of the Protestant Reformation Society, of which he was clerical superintendent (1898–1907). From his prolific pen there flowed a steady stream of pamphlets denunciatory of Roman catholicism; these included ‘The Church of Rome and Mariolatry’ (1893), ‘Roman Catholicism’ (1896; 4th edit. 1909), and some trenchant articles in ‘A Protestant Dictionary’ (1904), of which he was joint editor. Wright's scholarship and acumen as a controversialist were acknowledged even by his opponents. But he lacked the gifts that make for popularity and public recognition. He died at his house on Wandsworth Common on 22 March 1909. He married on 23 June 1859 Ebba, daughter of Professor Nils Wilhelm Almroth, governor of the Royal Mint, Stockholm. He left five sons, of whom Sir Almroth, the pathologist, Charles Theodore Hagberg, LL.D., the librarian of the London Library, and Eric Blackwood, chief justice of the Seychelles since 1905, have attained distinction.

Wright's numerous theological works, though never enjoying a wide circulation, were valued by conservative critics. At the same time he reserved his independence of judgment as to the historical value of certain portions of the Old Testament, including ‘Jonah,’ which he regarded as allegorical. He published, with critical notes, the Hebrew text of the books of Genesis (1859) and Ruth (1864), and translations of ‘The Pentateuch’ (1869). Other exegetical works were ‘Biblical Essays … Studies on the Books of Job and Jonah’ (1886); ‘An Introduction to the Old Testament’ (Theological Educator, 1890; 4th edit. 1898); ‘Daniel and his Prophecies’ (1906), and ‘Light from Egyptian Papyri on Jewish History before Christ’ (1908). He also translated ‘The Writings of St. Patrick’ (1887), in collaboration with George Thomas Stokes [q. v. Suppl. I].

[The Times, 24 March 1909; Guardian, 31 March 1909; Mrs. C. H. H. [Ebba] Wright, Sunbeams on my Path, 2nd edit. 1900; private information from Dr. Hagberg Wright.]

G. S. W.