1902 Encyclopedia > Samuel Wilberforce

Samuel Wilberforce
Bishop of Oxford and afterwards of Winchester
(1805-73)




SAMUEL WILBERFORCE (1805-1873), bishop of Ox-ford and afterwards of Winchester, was the third son of William WILBERFORCE (see below), and was born at Clap-liam Common near London on 7th September 1805. Until he entered Oriel College, Oxford, in 1823 he was educated privately. In the " United Debating Society," which afterwards developed into the " Union," Wilberforce distinguished himself as a zealous advocate of liberalism. The set of friends with whom he chiefly associated at Ox-ford were sometimes named, on account of their excep-tionally decorous conduct, the " Bethel Union " ; but he was by no means averse to amusements, and specially delighted in hurdle jumping and hunting. He graduated in 1826 ; and the summer and autumn of 1827 were spent in a Continental tour. After his marriage on 11th June 1828 to Emily Sargent, he was in December ordained and ap-pointed curate-in-charge at Checkenden near Henley-on-Thames. In 1830 he was presented by Bishop Sumner of Winchester to the rectory of Brightstone in the Isle of Wight. In this comparatively retired sphere he soon found scope for that manifold activity which so promi-nently characterized his subsequent career. In 1831 he published a tract on tithes, " to correct the prejudices of the lower order of farmers," and in the following year a collection of hymns for use in his parish, which had a large general circulation ; a small volume of stories entitled the Note Book of a Country Clergyman; and a sermon, The Apostolical Ministry. He now began to be sought for as a preacher and declined several offers of appointments. In February 1836 he was made a rural dean. At the close of 1837 he published the Letters and Journals of Henry Martyn. Although a High Churchman Wilberforce held aloof from the Oxford movement, and in 1838 his diver-gence from the " Tract" writers became so marked that J. H. Newman declined further contributions from him to the British Critic, not deeming it advisable that they should longer "co-operate very closely." In 1838 Wilberforce pub-lished, with his elder brother Robert, the Life of his father and two years later his father's Correspondence. In 1839 he also published Eucharistica (from the old English divines), to which he wrote an introduction, Agathos and other Sunday Stories, and a volume of University Sermons, and in the following year Rocky Island and other Parables. In November 1839 he was installed archdeacon of Surrey, in August 1840 collated canon of Winchester, and in October he accepted the rectory of Alverstoke. In 1841 he was chosen Bampton lecturer, and shortly afterwards made chaplain to the Prince Consort, an appointment he owed to the impression produced by a speech at an anti-slavery meeting some months previously. In October 1843 he was appointed by the archbishop of York to be sub-almoner to the queen. In 1844 appeared his History of the American Church. In March of the following year he accepted the deanery of Westminster, and in October the bishopric of Oxford.
The bishop in 1847 became involved in the Hampden controversy, and signed the remonstrance of the thirteen bishops to Lord John Russell against Dr Hampden's appointment to the bishopric of Hereford. He also en-deavoured to obtain satisfactory assurances from Dr Hampden; but, though unsuccessful in this, he withdrew from the suit against him. The publication of a papal bull in 1850 establishing a Roman hierarchy in England brought the High Church party, of whom Wilberforce was the most prominent member, into temporary disrepute. The secession to the Church of Rome of his brother-in-law, Archdeacon (now Cardinal) Manning, and afterwards of his two brothers, brought him under further suspicion, and his revival of the powers of convocation lessened his influence at court; but his unfailing tact and wide sympathies, his marvellous energy in church organization, the magnetism of his personality, and his eloquence, both on the platform and in the pulpit, gradually won for him recognition as without a rival on the episcopal bench. In the House of Lords he took a prominent part in the discussion of social and ecclesiastical questions. He has been styled the " bishop of society" ; but society occupied only a fraction of his time. The great bent of his energies was ceaselessly directed to the better organization of his diocese and to the furtherance of schemes for increasing the influence and efficiency of the church. In 1854 he opened a theological college at Cuddesdon, which was afterwards the subject of some controversy on account of its alleged Romanist tend-encies. His attitude towards Essays and Reviews in 1861, against which he wrote an article in the Quarterly, won him the special gratitude of the Low Church party, and latterly he enjoyed the full confidence and esteem of all except the extreme men of either side and party. On the publication of Colenso's Commentary mi the Romans in 1861 Wilberforce endeavoured to induce the author to hold a private conference with him; but after the publica-tion of the first two parts of the Pentateuch Critically Ex-amined he drew up the address of the bishops which called on Colenso to resign his bishopric. In 1867 he framed the first Report of the Ritualistic Commission, in which coercive measures against ritualism were discountenanced by the use of the word " restrain " instead of " abolish " or " prohibit." He also endeavoured to take the sting out of some resolutions of the second Ritualistic Commission in 1868, and was one of the four who signed the Report with qualifications. Though strongly opposed to the disestab-lishment of the Irish Church, yet, when the constituencies decided for it, he prudently advised that no opposition should be made to it by the House of Lords. After twenty-four years' labour in the diocese of Oxford, he was named by Mr Gladstone for the bishopric of Winchester. His unremitting labours had, however, seriously told on his constitution, and the change to a new diocese, entailing a repetition of the work of organization which he had com-pleted in the old one, proved too much for his health. The result was a severe affection of the heart, which on more than one occasion threatened to prove fatal. He was killed on 19th July 1873 by the shock of a fall from his horse near Dorking, Surrey.
Besides the works already mentioned, Wilberforce wrote Héroe» of Hebrew History (1870), originally contributed to Good Words, and several volumes of sermons. See Life of Samuel Wilberforce, with Selections from his Diary and Correspondence, vol. i., ed. by Ash-well, and vols. ii. and iii., ed. by his son Reginald G. Wilberforce.







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