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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Whately’

Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Richard Whately
1 February 1787 – 8 October 1863

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Richard Whately

Richard Whately was born in London, the son of the Rev. Dr. Joseph Whately. He was educated at a private school near Bristol, and at Oriel College, Oxford. Richard Whately obtained double second-class honours and the prize for the English essay; in 1811 he was elected Fellow of Oriel, and in 1814 took holy orders. He married Elizabeth Pope (third daughter of William born 7 October baptised 22 December 1795 at Hillingdon, Middlesex) at Cheltenham 3 Jul 1821. She later authored some Christian literature herself, dying 25 April 1860. After his marriage he settled in Oxford.

In August 1823 he moved to Halesworth in Suffolk, but in 1825, having been appointed principal of St. Alban Hall, he returned to Oxford. He found much to reform there, and left it a different place. He was initially on friendly terms with John Henry Newman, but they fell out as the divergence in their views became apparent; Newman later spoke of his Catholic University as continuing in Dublin the struggle against Whately which he had commenced at Oxford.

In 1829 Whately was elected to the professorship of political economy at Oxford in succession to Nassau William Senior. His tenure of office was cut short by his appointment to the archbishopric of Dublin in 1831. He published only one course of Introductory Lectures (1832), but one of his first acts on going to Dublin was to endow a chair of political economy in Trinity College.

Whately’s appointment by Lord Grey to the see of Dublin came as a political surprise. The aged Henry Bathurst had turned the post down. The new Whig administration found Whately, well known at Holland House and effective in a parliamentary committee appearance speaking on tithes, an acceptable option. Behind the scenes Thomas Hyde Villiers had lobbied Denis Le Marchant on his behalf, with the Brougham Whigs. The appointment was challenged in the House of Lords, but without success.

In Ireland, Whately’s bluntness and his lack of a conciliatory manner caused opposition from his clergy. He attempted to establish a national and non-sectarian system of education. He enforced strict discipline in his diocese; and he published a statement of his views on Sabbath (Thoughts on the Sabbath, 1832). He lived in Redesdale House in Kilmacud, just outside Dublin, where he could garden. Questions of tithes, reform of the Irish church and of the Irish Poor Laws, and, in particular, the organisation of national education occupied much of his time. He discussed other public questions, for example, the subject of transportation and the general question of secondary punishments.

His scheme of religious instruction for Protestants and Catholics alike was carried out for a number of years, but in 1852 it broke down owing to the opposition of the new Catholic archbishop of Dublin, Paul Cullen, and Whately felt himself constrained to withdraw from the Education Board. From the beginning Whately gave offence by supporting state endowment of the Catholic clergy. During the famine years of 1846 and 1847 the archbishop and his family tried to alleviate the miseries of the people. He was the first president of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland between 1847 and 1863.

On 27 March 1848, Whately became a member of the Canterbury Association.

From 1856 onwards symptoms of decline began to manifest themselves in a paralytic affection of the left side. Still he continued the active discharge of his public duties till the summer of 1863, when he was prostrated by an ulcer in the leg, and after several months of acute suffering he died on 8 October 1863.

During his residence at Oxford Whately wrote his tract, Historic Doubts relative to Napoleon Bonaparte, a jeu d’ésprit directed against excessive scepticism as applied to the Gospel history. In 1822 he was appointed Bampton lecturer. The lectures, On the Use and Abuse of Party Spirit in Matters of Religion, were published in the same year.

In 1825 he published a series of Essays on Some of the Peculiarities of the Christian Religion, followed in 1828 by a second series On some of the Difficulties in the Writings of St Paul, and in 1830 by a third On the Errors of Romanism traced to their Origin in Human Nature. While he was at St Alban Hall (1826) the work appeared which is perhaps most closely associated with his name—a treatise on logic entitled Elements of Logic. In the preface to the Elements of Logic, Whately wrote that the substance of the treatise was drawn from an article written by himself, entitled Logic, which had already been published in the Encyclopædia Metropolitana. The Elements of Logic gave a great impetus to the study of logic throughout Britain and the United States of America. Whately also contributed an article to the Encyclopædia Metropolitana entitled Rhetoric. This article was also adapted into a book, called Elements of Rhetoric, which was published in 1828.

In 1837 Whately wrote his handbook of Christian Evidences, which was translated during his lifetime into more than a dozen languages. At a later period he also wrote, in a similar form, Easy Lessons on Reasoning, on Morals, on Mind and on the British Constitution. Among his other works may be mentioned Charges and Tracts (1836), Essays on Some of the Dangers to Christian Faith (1839), The Kingdom of Christ (1841). He also edited Bacon’s Essays, Paley’s Evidences and Paley’s Moral Philosophy.

  • 1822 “On the Use and Abuse of Party Spirit in Matters of Religion” (Bampton Lectures)
  • 1825 “Essays on Some of the Peculiarities of the Christian Religion”
  • 1826 “Elements of Logic”
  • 1828 “Elements of Rhetoric”
  • 1828 “On some of the Difficulties in the Writings of St Paul”
  • 1830 “On the Errors of Romanism traced to their Origin in Human Nature”
  • 1832 “Introductory Lectures”
  • 1832 A view of the Scripture revelations concerning a future state: lectures advancing belief in Christian mortalism.
  • 1832 “Thoughts on the Sabbath”
  • 1836 “Charges and Tracts”
  • 1837 “Christian Evidences”
  • 1839 “Essays on Some of the Dangers to Christian Faith”
  • 1841 “The Kingdom of Christ”
  • 1845 onwards “Easy Lessons”: on Reasoning, On Morals, On Mind, and on the British Constitution
  • 1849 “Historic Doubts relative to Napoleon Bonaparte”

Whately was a great talker, much addicted in early life to argument, in which he used others as instruments on which to hammer out his own views, and as he advanced in life much given to didactic monologue. He had a keen wit, whose sharp edge often inflicted wounds never deliberately intended by the speaker, a healthy appetite and a wholly uncontrollable love of punning. Whately often offended people by the extreme unconventionality of his manners. When at Oxford his white hat, rough white coat, and huge white dog earned for him the sobriquet of the White Bear, and he outraged the conventions of the place by exhibiting the exploits of his climbing dog in Christchurch Meadow.

Whately was a devout Christian, but opposed to mere outward displays of faith. While sharing the Evangelical belief in Scripture as the sole instrument of salvation, and also like the Evangelicals being a Biblical literalist, he disagreed with the Evangelical party on the applicability of the Mosaic laws to Christians and generally favoured a more intellectual approach to religion than most of the Evangelicals of his period. He also disagreed with the Tractarian emphasis on ritual and church authority. Instead, he emphasised careful reading and understanding of the Bible and a sincere attempt to follow the precepts and example of Jesus in one’s personal life. He offended Tractarian and Evangelical parties equally in his insistence that imposing civil penalties for religious beliefs led to a mere nominal Christianity. He fully supported complete religious liberty, civil rights, and freedom of speech for dissenters, Roman Catholics, Jews, and even atheists, a position that outraged many of his compatriots.

He took a practical, almost business-like view of Christianity, which seemed to High Churchmen and Evangelicals alike little better than Rationalism. In this they did Whately less than justice, for his religion was very real and genuine. But he may be said to have continued the typical Christianity of the 18th century—that of the theologians who went out to fight the Rationalists with their own weapons. It was to Whately essentially a belief in certain matters of fact, to be accepted or rejected after an examination of “evidences.” Hence his endeavour always is to convince the logical faculty, and his Christianity inevitably appears as a thing of the intellect rather than of the heart. Whately’s qualities are exhibited at their best in his Logic. He wrote nothing better than the luminous Appendix to this work on Ambiguous Terms.

Whately was perhaps the single most important figure in the revival of Aristotelian logic in the early nineteenth century. He was also important in the history of political economy, founding what is now known as the Whately Chair of political economy at Trinity College, Dublin. His Elements of Rhetoric remains widely read by rhetorical scholars in English and Communication Departments, especially in North America, and he continues to have a significant influence on rhetorical theory, especially in thought about presumption, burden of proof, and testimony.

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