Correspondence and papers of the Most Revd Richard Whately (1787–1863), Archbishop of Dublin 1831–1863
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Another recently–catalogued collection at the RCB Library comprises a selection of the papers of the Church of Ireland’s most dynamic prelate of the 19th century – Richard Whately (1787–1863), who served as archbishop of Dublin between 1831 and his death in 1863. Highlights from this collection, together with the complete catalogue list, feature here as August’s Archive of the Month.
We have previously featured here episcopal–related materials in two online exhibits: the letters of Richard Mant, bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore, 1823–1848 (available permanently on this link www.ireland.anglican.org/about/164) and the papers of the Right Reverend William Shaw Kerr, bishop of Down and Dromore, 1945–1955 (available here www.ireland.anglican.org/about/186). As we pointed out in both these presentations, such materials created during of the careers of bishops and archbishops are relatively rare survivals for documenting Church of Ireland history.
Another exception is represented by materials relating to the career of the Most Revd Richard Whately, archbishop of Dublin 1831–1863. Collections of Whately papers survive in Lambeth Palace Library, while many additional papers and letters were reproduced in the two–volume biography published shortly after his death by his daughter E. Jane Whately, Life and Correspondence of Richard Whately, Late Archbishop of Dublin (London, 1866). Both the manuscript and printed collections throw a great deal of light on Whately’s eventful and often controversial career, as well as the wide variety of subjects in which he was interested.
Now in addition to these existing and well–known resources, are the contents of this further collection of Whately’s papers transferred to the RCB Library in 1995 from St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, where they was found among a tranche of unrelated materials concerning the business of the cathedral.
The RCB Library collection, accessioned as MS 707/, consists of miscellaneous original drafts of outward correspondence and papers, much of it in the archbishop’s hand; as well as a run of original correspondence with two of his most trusted confidents and domestic chaplains – the Revd Dr Charles Dickinson (1792–1842) who served in that capacity from 1833 (when this collection commences) and up until his appointment as bishop of Meath in December 1840; and secondly with Canon John West (who succeeded Dickinson in the role as archbishop’s chaplain) from around 1840.
The papers are significant for three reasons. First, they relate to a very concentrated period of time during the archbishop’s long and distinguished career both as a spiritual leader but also Liberal politician renowned for his innovative and often controversial ideas –many of which demonstrated that he was ahead of his time in his thinking. They centre on the years 1834–40, when he was most active in the House of Lords, with odd snippets before and after that period, and also a considerable number of undated items which we must assume fall roughly into the main period.
Second, of interest to historians and Whately’s biographers will be the fact that the bulk of the material has not been published or known about before and thus is likely to generate new interest in his political and religious ideas, not just Irish in origin, but in general.
Finally, much of the correspondence is addressed to his successive chaplains, Dickinson and West, giving insight to the close and trusted working relationship that existed between archbishop and confidents, demonstrating for example how on many occasions, simply because of the volume of political and spiritual work before him, he entrusted them to re–work drafts of papers; recommend candidates for offices; and even send out letters bearing his signature.
Copied document made by George Grey relative to his voyages to Australia, RCB Library 707/1/1/7 and document in archbishop’s hand for copying and outward transmission bearing his signature, RCB Library 707/2/1
Among the burning political issues of the time covered by the collection are the following subjects: tithe reform; reform of parliament and structures of government; national school education; ending the so–called ‘legal exclusion’ of Jewish people from Parliament; and the issue of ‘secondary punishments’ or transportation which Whately viewed as a dangerous ‘experiment of colonization’.
On matters spiritual, there is detailed insight to Whately’s views on both Tractarian and Unitarian theology, the latter revealed in a fascinating three–way correspondence to, from and about the Revd Joseph Blanco White (1775–1841). The three correspondents are White himself, the archbishop and Mr Clemente de Zulueta, a Spanish merchant and intellect, based in Liverpool, and member of the Socinian community which White joined. White was Whately’s friend from Oxford University who became tutor to the Whately children at Redesdale House, where he resided after his appointment to Dublin. Towards the end of 1834, White’s sudden and unexpected decision to embrace Socinian or Unitarian views, and withdraw to Liverpool to join a Unitarian congregation, cost him his job, but was deeply embarrassing for the archbishop and their exchange reveals a depth of theological difference.
In this copy letter from the archbishop to Blanco White, dated 10 March 1835, he sets out in friendly terms some of his concerns about White’s intention to publish a book on his beliefs.
There is an in interesting run of material collectively entitled: ‘Correspondence on the New York Ordination Case – Archbishop of Dublin’, for the period 1843–44, chronicling Whately’s concerns about the recent ordination of a Revd Carey (who had known Tractarian sympathies) for the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States in the diocese of New York, and revealing strains on inter–Communion between various Anglican churches in the 19th century. In his last letter on file about the matter, the archbishop pointed out to the correspondent that he does ‘not pretend to any right of interference with the decisions of another Church. I only wish to satisfy myself whether I can with a safe conscience continue to admit, as I have heretofore done, clergymen of your Church in inter–communion’.
Of issues concerning the governance and theology of the Church of Ireland specifically, there are detailed papers on the archbishop’s grand but ultimately unsuccessful plan to establish a Divinity Hall or College, independent of Trinity College Dublin, for the separate training of clergy. This got as far as a draft charter of endowment being drafted at government level. However, Whately’s ambitions ultimately failed on account of the vested interests and disapproval of the Trinity authorities, set out politely but clearly in this two–page memorandum, dated January 1834, signed by the Provost and several senior fellows, who viewed the archbishop’s proposal as ‘a corporation unconnected with the university … yet having as its object those already provided for in our existing foundation’, and thus likely to interfere with ‘one of the principal objects for which Trinity College was founded.
This section also includes materials relating to clergy discipline including Whately’s scrupulous and direct oversight to ensure compliance with his order not to officiate in another diocese without permission, and not to introduce strangers to preach in the ‘the archbishop’s diocese’; his injunction against the use of extemporaneous or free prayer in parish churches; and how he dealt with clergy seeking preferment. His efforts to stave off the suppression of the diocese of Kildare, which became a reality in 1846 is also alluded to in many letters.
In this example, we see signed declarations by Revds S. Walker and Mr Eccles, witnessed by the archbishop and other senior clergy in April 1836, promising to be ‘fully compliant with the Archbishop’s Rule’ in relation to the use of extemporaneous prayer. The low return of such promises would appear to indicate a lack of clergy support for this measure.
Drawing of the west end of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, prior to addition of steeple and other modifications made after John West became dean, as it would have appeared during most of Whately’s career, RCB Library portfolio drawings of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, C2.
The unlikely provenance of this collection in St Patrick’s cathedral, Dublin, amongst unrelated materials, may probably explained by one common link in the life of the cathedral, the archbishop, and the correspondent who features most prominently in this collection: the Revd Dr Charles Dickinson, who served as the archbishop’s trusted domestic chaplain between 1833 and 1840.
The common link between all three is in fact Dickinson’s successor: Canon John West (1805–1890) who served amongst many other roles as dean of that cathedral from 1864 to his retirement in 1889. West was Dickinson’s son–in–law, having married his third (of four) daughters: Bessie Margaret Dickinson, on 30 September 1841 (the same year that he succeeded his father–in–law as vicar of St Ann’s Dublin). Like Dickinson, who became bishop of Meath in December 1840, West would have a distinguished clerical career too. He was appointed Prebendery of Yagoe in St Patrick’s Cathedral from 1847, and then in 1851 became the archdeacon of Dublin – in which role he would continue until 1864 when he was appointed dean of the diocesan Christ Church Cathedral from 1864 to 1871, to which the additional deanship of St Patrick’s was added in 1864. As well as all that, he was part of Whately’s inner circle from at least 1840, and following Dickinson’s unexpected death in 1842 (after just one year in the post of bishop of Meath) West edited the Remains of Charles Dickinson, Lord Bishop of Meath with a Biographical Sketch (London, 1845) as a tribute to Dickinson’s work, giving particular attention to his support for Archbishop Whately.
(L)Title page from John West (editor), Remains of Charles Dickinson, Lord Bishop of Meath with a Biographical Sketch (London, 1845).
(R)Bust of the late Most Revd Charles Dickinson, bishop of Meath from John West (editor), Remains of Charles Dickinson, Lord Bishop of Meath with a Biographical Sketch (London, 1845)
It seems fair at least to speculate that the considerable volume of the archbishop’s original letters to Dickinson which remain in this collection may have been used by West when he penned the sketch, and thereafter got subsumed into the general working papers of the cathedral where he was dean until his retirement in 1889. As well as the run of 17 dated letters written by Whately to Dickinson at his residence in Baggot Street, Dublin between January and March 1837, and the further 15 undated items in or around the same period (see 1/1/10 and 1/1/12, and 1/2) there are three fascinating later letters to Dickinson after he has become bishop of Meath (in 1840) from his episcopal colleague ‘Edmund Limerick’, the Rt Revd Edmund Knox (1773–1849), bishop of Limerick 1834–49, in 1841, begging him to act as mediator in a misunderstanding Knox has had with the archbishop: ‘the archbishop of Dublin’s …coolness of manner to me, [as if he] had taken some offence against me’. Dickinson’s powers of persuasion evidently saved Knox, who informed him with much appreciation: ‘you have been the means of saving an innocent person from destruction’, in April 1841.
Of the many other materials in the collection, especially the miscellaneous letters that survive addressed to West from the archbishop, several have an anecdotal quality, which the former may have kept for particular personal reasons. These include an amusing if harsh reprimand from the archbishop (whilst at the House of Lords in London) complaining about ‘the load of distracting business I have to do without assistance’ and urging West to provide more detail about each matter he writes to him from Dublin: ‘you should send me not joints of raw meat for me to cook first and then carve, but meat not only ready – dressed, but cut up into mouthfuls’.
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood