Samuel Wilberforce: Bishop of Oxford 1845–1869

Bishop Wilberforce

LONDON, JULY 24, 1869

Not a brawler”

”The Church has always claimed and received in the person of its dignitaries what laymen think an unfair proportion of sympathy and affection from society and the ladies, and the envious are often apt to complain of the influence exercised in all countries by the mysterious attributes of the clergy in making life disproportionately smooth and easy for them. The Bishop of Oxford, however, would be allowed by the most envious to have fairly won by personal qualities which are not only distinct from his cloth, but, as some men pretend to think, inconsistent with it, the great popularity of which he is the object. It is not for nothing that he is descended from the philanthropic Wilberforce, for he shows in all he does and says that he loves his fellow men and women in a much more attractive and less impracticable way than is usual among bishops. He is, of course, from the nature of his office, not a brawler, but he goes beyond this, and is an adept in the graceful social arts which are even more efficacious than sermons in making life pleasant; so that if the English Church was disestablished tomorrow he assuredly would be provided for by a grateful country as the most amusing diner out of his time.—JEHU JUNIOR.”

Samuel Wilberforce (1805–1873) was the son of William Wilberforce, the MP who led the anti-slave-trade movement. Samuel was Bishop of Oxford from 1845 to 1869, and was known as “Soapy Sam”. He was then Bishop of Winchester from 1869 until July 1873, when he was thrown from his horse on the Surrey downs and died instantly.

He is most famous for the debate about evolution held at the University Museum in 1860. Wilberforce supposedly asked Huxley whether it was through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his descent from a monkey, and Huxley is said to have replied that he would not be ashamed to have a monkey for his ancestor, but he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used his great gifts to obscure the truth.

Wikipedia: Samuel Wilberforce

Standing with crook

Samuel Wilberforce and his dog


Photograph of Wilberforce


Wilberforce at desk


Margaret Dyne Jeune wrote in her diary on 5 May 1861 that the Bishop of Oxford had preached in the afternoon on the Martyrdom of Stephen:

“The picture of the scene of murder was striking, but delivered in his Lordship’s usual mouthing style and the change of tone was exaggerated and affected, and moreover he expressed feeling quite beyond the requirements of his words, which has always a bad effect.”

Bust of Wilberforce in Christ Church Cathedral Bust of Wilberforce on the wall of Christ Church Cathedral

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