1902 Encyclopedia > Richard Chenevix Trench

Richard Chenevix Trench
Irish archbishop, poet, scholar and divine

RICHARD CHENEVIX TRENCH (1807-1886), arch-bishop of Dublin, poet, scholar, and divine, was born at Dublin, September 9, 1807, and graduated at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1829. While incumbent of Curd-ridge Chapel, near Bishop Waltham in Hampshire, he published (1835) The Storp of Justin Martyr and other Poems, which, having been very favourably received, was followed in 1838 by Sabhation, Honor Neale, and other Poems, and in 1842 by Poems from Eastern Sources. These volumes revealed the author as decidedly the most gifted of the immediate disciples of Wordsworth, with a warmer colouring and more pronounced ecclesiastical sympathies than the master, and strong affinities to Tennyson, Keble, and Milnes. In 1841 he resigned his living to become curate to Samuel Wilberforce, then rector of Alverstoke, and upon Wilberforce's promotion to the deanery of West-minster, in 1845, he was presented to the rectory of Itchenstoke. In 1845 and 1846 he preached the Hulsean lecture, and in the former year was made examining chaplain to Wilberforce, now bishop of Oxford. He was shortly afterwards appointed theological professor and examiner at King's College, London. In 1851 he estab-lished his fame as a philologist by his charming little work on The Study of Words, originally delivered as lectures to the pupils of the Diocesan Training School, Winchester. His purpose, as stated by himself, was to show that in words, even taken singly, " there are boundless stores of moral and historic truth, and no less of passion and imagination laid up "—a truth enforced by a number of most apposite illustrations. The book may be regarded as a comment on the saying that " language is fossil poetry." It was followed by two equally delightful little volumes of similar character—English Past and Present (1855), and A Select Glossary of English Words (1859). All have gone through numerous editions, and they have probably con-tributed more than all the labours of severer but less cultured and tasteful philologists to promote the historical study of the English tongue. Yet Trench did little more than indicate the existence of a vast region of research extending over all literary languages. Another great service to English philology was rendered by his paper, read before the Philological Society, " On some Deficiencies in our English Dictionaries" (1857), which gave the first impulse to the great enterprise now proceeding under the auspices of Dr Murray. His advocacy of a revised translation of the New Testament (1858) powerfully aided to promote another great national undertaking. In 1856 he published a valuable essay on Calderón, with a transla-tion of a portion of Life is a Dream in the original metre. He had not, meanwhile, been forgetful of professional claims upon his pen. In 1841 he had published his Notes on the Parables, and in 1846 his Notes on the Miracles, works which, containing much to gratify every school of thought, and little to offend any, obtained the most exten-sive popularity, and have been resorted to by English theologians of all persuasions, who have turned the author to the same account as he has turned his patristic, Romanist, and Lutheran predecessors. There is, in fact, very little originality in these volumes, but they are treasuries of erudite and acute illustration, selected from various quarters with admirable judgment, and displayed with consummate taste.
In 1856 Trench was raised to the deanery of West-minster, probably the position in the whole church which suited him best. In January 1864 he was advanced to the more dignified but less congenial post of archbishop of Dublin. Stanley had been named, but rejected by the Irish Church, and, according to Bishop Wilberforce's corre-spondence, Trench's appointment was favoured neither by the prime minister nor the lord lieutenant. It was, more-over, unpopular in Ireland, and a blow to English litera-ture ; yet the course of events soon proved it to have been most fortunate. Trench, indeed, could do nothing to prevent the disestablishment of the Irish Church, though he resisted with dignity, and repelled the insidious pro-posal that she should do execution upon herself. But, when the disestablished communion had to be reconstituted under the greatest difficulties, it was found of the highest importance that the occupant of his position should be a man of a liberal and genial spirit, able to ward off the narrowness which would have alienated the sympathies of English churchmen, and sown the seeds of schism in a body beyond all others in need of amity and unity. This was the work of the remainder of Trench's life; and, if less personally agreeable and of less general utility than the literary performances which might have been expected from him if he had remained at Westminster, it was much more weighty and important. It exposed him at times to considerable misconstruction and obloquy, but he came to-be appreciated, and, when in November 1884 he resigned his archbishopric from infirmity, clergy and laity unani-mously recorded their sense of his " wisdom, learning, dili-gence, and munificence." He had found time for Lectures on Mediaeval Church History (1878) ; his poetical works were rearranged and collected in two volumes (last edition 1885). He died in London, after a lingering illness, on March 28, 1886.
As a man Trench was universally beloved and esteemed. He
was remarkable for a high spirit, munificence, and general elevation
of sentiment. As a prose author he ranks among the most useful and
agreeable of his generation, and may almost be said to gain in both
respects by his deficiency in originality. Both as Biblical commen-
tator and philologist, he has done far more by popularizing the
researches of more exact scholars and more profound thinkers than
he could have done by striving to make discoveries of his own.
For durable fame as a poet originality is indispensable, and here
Trench fails. The style of his poems is frequently admirable, but
even- when not obviously derived from some other writer it wants
the stamp of strong individuality. He has written little beyond
the reach of any man uniting exquisite culture to the accomplish-
ment of verse : the pieces where poetry seems a natural language
with him are chiefly to be found among his elegiac poems, which
express real personal experience, and appeal movingly to the
heart. (E. 6.)

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