Author Picture
1 February 1787 – 8 October 1863

The archbishop of Dublin, fourth son of Joseph Whately of Nonsuch Park, Surrey, by Jane, daughter of William Plumer of Gilston Park and Blakesware Park, Hertfordshire (cf. Lamb, Last Essays of Elia), was born in the house of his maternal uncle, William Plumer, in Cavendish Square, London, on 1 Feb. 1787. The father, Joseph Whately (d. 1797), was youngest brother of the horticulturist and politician Thomas Whately (d. 1772) He was vicar of Widford, Hertfordshire, 1768–90, and prebendary of Bristol 1793–7. He was also lecturer at Gresham College. He received the degree of D.C.L. from Oxford University on 9 July 1793, and died on 13 March 1797, having had issue, besides his sons, five daughters, of whom the youngest died on 17 Aug. 1866, widow of Sir David Barry.

Richard was born so delicate that he was not expected to live, and it was only very gradually that he gathered strength. Thrown in consequence upon his own resources, he pored eagerly over his books, scrutinised with intense curiosity the animal life in his father's garden, performed veritable feats of mental arithmetic, and essayed theoretic flights in ethics and politics. His extraordinary powers of calculation he lost before he was in his teens, and, though he always retained the faculty of close observation, its exercise gradually ceased to afford him exceptional delight. Only in the sphere of ratiocination was the promise of his boyhood fulfilled. Shortly before his father's death he was placed at a private school, which had a large West Indian connection, near Bristol. The stories of West Indian life which he there heard enlarged his horizon and helped to draw him out of himself. The regular routine of work and play subdued his excessive precocity and braced his health, so that he grew up tall, strong, and well-proportioned, though fonder of fishing or a solitary ramble than of ordinary diversions. From school he went to Oxford, where he matriculated, from Oriel College, on 6 April 1805, graduated B.A. (double second class) in 1808, and proceeded M.A. in 1812. In the meantime (1810) he had taken the English essay prize (subject, ‘The Arts in the cultivation of which the Ancients were less successful than the Moderns’) and been elected fellow of his college (1811). In due course he took holy orders, and in 1825 the degrees of B.D. and D.D.

With Edward Copleston, to whom he owed much, and Thomas Arnold (1795–1842) and Nassau William Senior, who owed much to him, Whately formed lifelong friendships. College life was eminently congenial to him. Communicative by nature, he found teaching a delight, and by no means confined himself within the limits of the ordinary curriculum. A pupil to him was an ‘anvil’ on which to beat out his ideas, and he had the tact to avoid dogmatism and, more Socratico, by stimulus and suggestion to elicit the learner's latent powers. This method he commonly practised during his early morning walks, in which he preferred byways to highways, and would sometimes make straight across country, scorning all impediments. No don was ever less donnish. He reveled in setting conventions at nought; and in the summer evenings would frequently be seen by the riverside exhibiting to a crowd of interested bystanders the cleverness of his favourite spaniel Sailor, whom he had trained to climb a tree and thence drop into the water. In the common-room his great argumentative powers found abundant play in the society of Copleston, Edward Hawkins (1789–1882), John Davison, John Keble, and Thomas Arnold. He lacked, however, the subtle sympathy and intuitive discernment necessary for wide and deep personal influence; and as a thinker was rather acute, active, and versatile than profound. Though kind at heart he was rough in exterior, and made only a few intimate friends, whose admiration he returned to excess. His limitations were as conspicuous as his powers. A few favourite authors, Aristotle, Thucydides, Bacon, Shakespeare, Bishop Butler, Warburton, Adam Smith, Crabbe, and Sir Walter Scott, were his constant companions; but otherwise he read little. He never mastered German, hardly even French. For historic antiquity and—to judge by the contempt with which he always regarded Wordsworth—for the beauty of nature he had no feeling whatever. He was without ear for music, and was almost equally dead to painting, sculpture, and architecture. Hence in travel he found no interest to compensate for the fatigue and annoyances incident to it; and, except for some other reason than his own pleasure, he never crossed the English Channel.

Whately contributed to the Quarterly Review articles on Emigration to Canada and Modern Novels (July 1820 and January 1821), which were reprinted towards the close of his life in his Miscellaneous Lectures and Reviews. His first essay in independent authorship was Historic Doubts relative to Napoleon Buonaparte, London, 1819, in which he attempted to hoist Hume with his own petard by showing that on his principles the existence of Napoleon could not be admitted ‘as a well-authenticated fact’. This brilliant ignoratio elenchi—Hume made express reservation of cases in which greater improbabilities would be involved in scepticism than in belief—passed through more than twelve editions in its author's lifetime, and has since been reprinted (see Famous Pamphlets, ed. Henry Morley, Univ. Libr. vol. xliii., London, 1886, 8vo). By way of antidote to Calvinism, Whately issued in 1821 The Right Method of interpreting Scripture in what relates to the Nature of the Deity and His Dealings with Mankind, illustrated in a Discourse on Predestination by Dr. King, Lord Archbishop of Dublin, a reprint of King's Discourse with introduction and appendices based on Tucker's Light of Nature. He married in the same year, and in consequence accepted the living of Halesworth, Suffolk, to which he was instituted on 18 Feb. 1822. The duties of parish priest he discharged with a conscientiousness then unusual, but they were not so onerous as to leave him without abundant leisure. He was already occasional preacher to the university, and in 1822 he delivered the Bampton lectures, in which he attempted to define the via media between indifference and intolerance. They were published the same year under the title The Use and Abuse of Party Feeling in Matters of Religion (Oxford, 8vo), and followed by Five Sermons on several Occasions preached before the University of Oxford (Oxford, 1823, 8vo), with which, and with the Discourse on Predestination, they were reprinted in 1859 (London, 8vo).

In 1825 Whately returned to Oxford as principal of St. Alban Hall. He found the hall the Botany Bay of the university, but with the help of John Henry Newman and Samuel Hinds, each of whom in turn served under him as vice-principal, he gradually transformed it into a resort of reading men.

Learning was then at a low ebb in Oxford, where outside the precincts of Oriel there was little stir of intellectual life. Aristotle was more venerated than read, and Aldrich was still the text-book on logic. This reproach Whately did much to remove. To the Encyclopædia Metropolitana he contributed articles on ‘Logic’ and ‘Rhetoric’ which appeared in separate form, the one in 1826, the other in 1828 (London, 8vo). Neither work was of the kind which lays posterity under permanent obligation; but the logic unquestionably marks, if it did not make, a new epoch in the history of the science. It displays in a striking manner Whately's characteristic merits and shortcomings. The style is perspicuous, the arrangement and exposition are masterly. The analysis and classification of fallacies have perhaps never been surpassed. On the other hand, the historical part of the treatise is so meagre as to be practically worthless. Plato is ignored, and the schoolmen are set down indiscriminately as mere logomachists. The treatment of the categories and of realism is perfunctory. The Dictum de omni et nullo is pronounced the universal principle, and the syllogism the universal form of reasoning; and the obvious corollary, that deduction is merely explicative and induction extra-logical, is frankly drawn. The effect of the work was twofold: with certain thinkers it served to rehabilitate the discredited formal logic; to others it suggested the deeper questions as to the nature of the scientific method which it so airily dismissed from its purview, and of the illative process in general, to the solution of which John Stuart Mill addressed himself. The ‘Logic’ reached a ninth edition in 1850. The ‘Rhetoric,’ which owed much to Copleston, is a sound and serviceable treatise on the art of presenting argument in the form best adapted for legitimate effect. It had not the vogue of the ‘Logic,’ but reached a seventh edition in 1846.

In the Oxford of his day Whately's was a name to mention with bated breath. He was known to be ‘noetic,’ anti-evangelical, and anti-Erastian. He was accordingly credited with the authorship of the anonymous Letters on the Church by an Episcopalian (London, 1826, 8vo), which, by the vigour of their argument for the autonomy of the church, caused no small stir in clerical circles. Through Newman, whom they profoundly influenced, the ‘Letters’ contributed to the initiation of the tractarian movement. By Whately they were neither acknowledged nor disavowed; but neither were they claimed by any one else. The style is undoubtedly Whatelian; but the high view of apostolical succession which they embody is countenanced in none, and expressly repudiated in one, of Whately's mature works. On the whole it is most probable that they were written by Whately, but written without an exact appreciation of the ultimate consequences of their principles. In that respect the intimacy which he was even then forming with Joseph Blanco White, a Spaniard, who had abjured Catholicism, was probably educative. Whately's anti-Erastian principles doubtless dictated the support which, at the cost of much misconstruction, he gave to catholic emancipation, and may perhaps account for the high tone adopted in some of the articles in the British Critic, then under his influence; but his polemical treatise, The Errors of Romanism traced to their Origin in Human Nature, which appeared in 1830, with a dedication acknowledging obligations to Blanco White (London, 8vo), shows that by that time, at any rate, he was under no illusions as to the tendency of catholic principles, and already apprehensive of their revival within the established church. The book reached a fifth edition in 1856. An abridgment, entitled Romanism the Religion of Human Nature, was edited by Whately's daughter, E. J. Whately, in 1878 (London, 8vo).

Whately succeeded Senior in 1829 as Drummond professor of political economy, but resigned the chair in 1831 on his advancement (patent dated 22 Oct.) to the archiepiscopal see of Dublin. His Introductory Lectures on Political Economy, which appeared in the latter year (London, 8vo; 4th edit. 1855), accurately defined the scope of the abstract science, and made a contribution to the doctrine of division of labour. On the whole, however, their inordinate discursiveness was not compensated by originality. It was probably about this time that Whately conceived the project of a universal currency, which in 1851 he laid before the managers of the Great Exhibition.

Whately was consecrated archbishop of Dublin in St. Patrick's Cathedral, in which ex officio he held the prebend of Cullen, on 23 Oct. 1831, and was enthroned the same day at Christ Church. On 24 Nov. following he was sworn in as chancellor of the order of St. Patrick (Dublin Evening Post, 25 Oct. and 26 Nov. 1831). In Trinity College, of which he was ex officio visitor, he founded in 1832 a chair of political economy. A scheme which he had at heart for the establishment of a separate theological hall was defeated in 1839, but led to the provision of more efficient instruction in the rudiments of religion within the college. Whately was also a member of the Royal Irish Academy, of which in 1848 he was nominated vice-president. He took his seat in the House of Lords on 1 Feb. 1833.

Whately found his position at Dublin no sinecure. To his ordinary duties, which he discharged with scrupulous conscientiousness, the tithe war added the care of sustaining the drooping courage of an almost destitute clergy and rendering the government such assistance as was in his power (cf. Introductory Lectures on Political Economy, App. C., ‘Extracts from Evidence before the Select Committee of the House of Lords appointed to inquire into the Collection and Payment of Tithes in Ireland,’ 1832). He was ex officio lord justice during the absence of the lord lieutenant. He also presided (1833–6) over the royal commission on the condition of the Irish poor (see Parl. Papers, 1835 xxxii. No. 369, 1836 xxx. and xxxii., 1836 xxxi. 587 et seq.). Experience and responsibility taught him how to reconcile his anti-Erastian principles with the promotion of the sweeping changes introduced into the Irish establishment by the Church Temporalities Act (1833); but he disapproved the Tithe Commutation Act of 1838. The burden of his office was not lightened by popularity. His English birth and breeding and his well-known antipathy to evangelical principles made him an object of jealousy and suspicion to both clergy and laity. His preaching was unpalatable. His chaste, clear-cut, unimpassioned, argumentative style failed to move his hearers, even if his matter did not, as to some it sometimes did, savour of heresy, not to say infidelity. Above all, his position as working head of the commission appointed on 26 Nov. 1831 to administer the new system of ‘united national education’ militated against him. The experiment was to be tried of providing in the common schools such elementary religious instruction as might, it was hoped, prove acceptable to Catholics and protestants alike. It fell accordingly to Whately to compile, in conjunction with his catholic colleague, Daniel Murray, a course of Scripture Extracts, in which certain deviations from the authorised version could not but be admitted. This embroiled him with the more extreme protestants, who were still further offended by his support of the Maynooth grant in 1845 (see his charge, entitled Reflections on a Grant to a Roman Catholic Seminary, London, 1845, 8vo; and Debates, 3rd ser. lxxx. 1, 338).

Much heartburning was also caused among Catholics by the Introductory Lessons on Christian Evidence (London, 1838; 7th edit. 1846, 16mo), which Whately wrote for use in the schools, and which received the sanction of the board. An abridgment of this manual was, however, expressly approved by Dr. Murray, who so long as he lived continued cordially to co-operate with Whately. When Murray died (1852) the excitement occasioned by the so-called ‘papal aggression’ had not yet subsided, and the policy of the Vatican had ceased to be conciliatory. The new primate, Paul Cullen, censured both the Scripture Extracts and the Lessons. The majority of the board declined to insist on their retention in the curriculum, and Whately thereupon resigned (26 July 1853). His retirement tended to reassure the protestant party, and, though he never became exactly popular, justice was at length done to the courage, conscientiousness, and zeal with which, in the face of unremitting obstruction and misconstruction, he had laboured for more than twenty years to make the best of an experiment foredoomed to failure. His services to elementary education were by no means confined to his work on the board. He possessed the rare gift of expounding matters not usually taught in primary schools in a manner intelligible to the young; and truly admirable in their way are his Easy Lessons on Money Matters (London, 1837; 9th edit. 1845, 16mo), Easy Lessons on Reasoning (London, 1843; 5th edit. 1848, 12mo), Introductory Lessons on the British Constitution (London, 1854, 18mo), Introductory Lessons on Morals (London, 1855, 18mo), and Introductory Lessons on Mind (London, 1859, 8vo).

In politics Whately was an independent liberal. While the Reform Bill was under discussion he predicted that it would fail of finality, and avowed his preference for manhood suffrage, provided property were protected by a system of plural voting and the voter secured against canvassing and intimidation. Purely political questions, however, interested him less than the weightier matters which partisans usually ignore. In the spirit of a philosopher he studied our penal system, which he proposed to reform by the abolition of all punishments but such as were strictly and merely deterrent. His principles were too abstract to gain general acceptance, and were indeed never given to the world in their entirety; but his public utterances in regard to transportation did much to awaken the public mind to a sense of its futility and mischievous results (see his Thoughts on Secondary Punishments, in a Letter to Earl Grey, London, 1832, 8vo; Report from the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Transportation, together with a Letter from the Archbishop of Dublin on the same Subject, London, 1838, 8vo; and cf. his Introductory Lectures on Political Economy, App. E-G, containing (1) ‘Article on Transportation from the “London Review,”’ 1829, (2) ‘Remarks on Transportation, in a Letter to Earl Grey,’ 1834, and (3) ‘Substance of a Speech on Transportation in the House of Lords, 19 May 1840’). He had boundless faith in political economy, and, having early formed a strong opinion against outdoor relief, steadfastly opposed its extension to Ireland; nor did he shrink from adhering to his principles during the potato famine (ib. App. D, ‘Substance of a Speech in the House of Lords, 26 March 1847, on the Motion for a Committee on Irish Poor Laws,’ and subjoined ‘Protest’). He was, however, a munificent contributor to the voluntary relief fund, and organised a special committee in aid of the poor clergy. He had no panacea for Ireland's woes, but thought it would tend to reduce disaffection if the viceroyalty were abolished and the visits of the sovereign were frequent and prolonged. He was one of the pioneers of social science, being an original member of the Statistical Society of Dublin (founded in 1847) and of its auxiliary (founded in 1850), the Society for promoting Scientific Inquiries into Social Questions, of which he was vice-president. He presided over the statistical department of the British Association at Belfast in 1852 and at Dublin in 1857.

Though not opposed to religious tests, Whately had an intense aversion to oaths sworn on secular occasions, and petitioned the queen (1837) for relief from the duty of swearing in the knights of St. Patrick. He supported the claim of the Jews to exemption from the parliamentary oath, and eventually pronounced decisively against the oath itself, and indeed any form of asseveration or declaration on entering parliament (see his speeches in the House of Lords on 1 Aug. 1833, 26 June 1849, and 29 April 1853. Debates, 3rd ser. xx. 226, cvi. 891, cxxvi. 772).

While deploring slavery, Whately thought gradual preferable to sudden emancipation. He discountenanced Sabbatarianism (see his Thoughts on the Sabbath, London, 1830, 1832, 8vo), and approved of the legalisation of marriage with a deceased wife's sister and of the subsisting marriages of converted polygamists. From Dublin he watched with keen interest the course of events in Oxford. It was on his recommendation that Renn Dickson Hampden was appointed to the regius chair of divinity, and bitterly did he resent the part taken by Newman in the subsequent controversy. He did not decline to receive Newman on a flying visit to Oxford in September 1838; but the publication of Tract xc completed the estrangement. It was not, however, until the appearance of Ward's Ideal of a Christian Church that Whately took decisive action against the movement. He then in a strongly worded letter appealed to the vice-chancellor to vindicate the Protestantism of the university (26 Oct. 1844). The form which the vindication assumed disappointed him, as he held that Ward's degradation was not, while his expulsion would have been, within the powers of convocation. He also regretted the defeat of the proposed censure of Tract xc.

The Gorham controversy elicited from Whately a charge, Infant Baptism (London, 1850; 2nd ed. 1854, 8vo), in which he attempted to prove that the high view of baptism is unscriptural.

On the part of Rome Whately dreaded overt action far less than secret propaganda. By the so-called papal aggression of 1850 he was almost unmoved. The Ecclesiastical Titles Act he deplored as an error of judgment, but deprecated the proposed exception of Ireland from its purview (see his charge, Protective Measures in behalf of the Established Church, London, 1851, 8vo). The Society for Protecting the Rights of Conscience which he founded in 1851 was merely intended to afford assistance to converts from Catholicism to Protestantism who were suffering under religious persecution. The support which in 1853 he gave to Lord Shaftesbury's petition for the registration and inspection of conventual establishments rested on broad grounds of public utility (see his speech in the House of Lords, 9 May 1853. Debates, 3rd ser. cxxvi. 1286). On the definition of the Immaculate Conception he did indeed issue a charge, Thoughts on the New Dogma of the Church of Rome (London, 1855, 8vo), but his main concern was to dissuade others from embarking in fruitless controversy. From the evangelical alliance he held aloof (see his Thoughts on the Evangelical Alliance, London, 1846, 12mo). To German rationalism he was as strongly opposed as to sacerdotalism and Calvinism (see Historic Certainties respecting the Early History of America, London, 1851, 8vo, an ingenious travesty of the higher criticism, in which he collaborated with William Fitzgerald, and the Cautions for the Times, London, 1853, 8vo, for which, with Fitzgerald, he was also jointly responsible).

In 1854 Whately discharged a labour of love and piety by editing Copleston's Remains (London, 8vo). In 1856 he concentrated the results of many years of study in an annotated edition of Bacon's Essays (last ed. 1873). In 1859 he did a like office for Paley's Moral Philosophy and View of Christian Evidences (London, 8vo). His own Lectures on some of the Scripture Parables also appeared in 1859 (London, 12mo). His Miscellaneous Lectures and Reviews followed in 1861 (London, 8vo). A paralytic attack from which he suffered in 1856 proved to be symptomatic of a constitution thoroughly undermined. Gradual decay supervened, and, after a prolonged and painful illness, he died at the Palace, St. Stephen's Green, Dublin, on 1 Oct. 1863. His remains were interred in St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Whately married, on 18 July 1821, Elizabeth (d. 25 April 1860), third daughter of William Pope of Hillingdon Hall, Uxbridge, Middlesex, by whom he left (with female issue) a son, Edward William Whately, chancellor of St. Patrick's 1862–71, and rector of Staines, Middlesex, 1871–92.

Whately ignored metaphysics and minimised theology. In early life he was suspected of a leaning towards Sabellianism, but this was at most a fugitive phase. From the appendices to the Discourse on Predestination it is plain that already in 1821 his views tended towards the agnosticism which was afterwards precisely formulated by Mansel. Transcendentalism and the higher criticism, which he did not understand, he was content to dismiss with a sneer. His cardinal principle was that of Chillingworth—‘the Bible, and the Bible alone, is the religion of protestants;’ and his exegesis was directed to determine the general tenor of the scriptures to the exclusion of dogmas based on isolated texts. There is no reason to question his reception of the central doctrines of the faith, though he shrank from theorising or even attempting to formulate them with precision. On election he held, broadly speaking, the Arminian view, and his antipathy to Calvinism was intense. He dwelt more on the life than on the death of Christ, the necessity of which he denied. He also denied the real (objective) presence in the eucharist, but allowed a certain (adoptive) efficacy to baptism. He doubted the natural immortality of the soul and denied the physical resurrection of the body, but made no attempt to attenuate the significance of the doctrine of eternal punishment (see his Essays on some of the Peculiarities of the Christian Religion, London, 1825, 8th ed. 1880, 8vo; View of the Scripture Revelations concerning a Future State, London, 1829, 2nd ed. 1830, 8vo; The Right Principle of the interpretation of Scripture considered in reference to the Eucharist, and the Doctrines connected therewith, London, 1856, 8vo; The Scripture Doctrine of the Sacraments, London, 1857, 8vo). Apostolical succession he discarded in his acknowledged works as an unverifiable and pernicious assumption, and claimed for every Christian community the right of freely determining its own organisation within the limits prescribed by Christ himself (see his Kingdom of Christ Delineated, &c., London, 1841, 8vo; abridgment by Miss E. J. Whately entitled Apostolical Succession Considered, London, 1877, 16mo).

In ethics Whately was an intuitionist of the school of Butler, and accordingly his annotations on Paley's Moral Philosophy frequently took the form of strictures. In apologetics, on the other hand, Paley was his acknowledged master. His most characteristic mental trait was strong common-sense. His style was dignified, nervous, perspicuous, and sometimes sententious (see Detached Thoughts and Apothegms and Selections from his writings, London, 1854 and 1856, 8vo). His piety is undeniable, and his belief in the universal mission of the church is attested by the support which he gave to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. Though no bigot, he did not exactly err through excessive tolerance. To Pusey he denied permission to preach in the archdiocese, and Newman he declined to receive in Dublin. Blanco White, on his secession from the church of England, found that he must resign his position in Whately's household.

Notwithstanding the brusquerie of manner which he never completely lost, Whately shone in society. His conversational powers excited the admiration of so competent a judge as Guizot (Mémoires, v. 168); but he did not, on the whole, seek society. Sismondi, whose acquaintance he made in 1839, he failed to cultivate. In later life he became somewhat recluse, and, though always a genial, if eccentric, host, was never so happy as among his books or his flowers: he was an enthusiastic horticulturist at his country house, Redesdale, near Kingstown.


A biography by James McMullen Rigg,
Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900Volume 60