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Renn Dickson Hampden (1793-1868)

This article was written by George Clement Boase and was published in 1890

Renn Dickson Hampden, bishop of Hereford, eldest son of Renn Hampden, a colonel of militia in Barbadoes, by his wife Frances Raven, was born in Barbadoes 29 March 1793. He was sent to England in 1798, and educated by the Rev. M. Rowlandson, vicar of Warminster, Wiltshire, from that date to 1810. He entered as a commoner at Oriel College, Oxford, on 9 May 1810, and at the examination in Michaelmas term 1813 he gained a double first (B.A. 1814 and M.A. 1816). In 1814 he won the chancellor's prize for a Latin essay and was elected a fellow of his college.At Oriel Thomas Arnold and Richard Whately were his contemporaries and intimate friends, while Newman, Keble, Pusey, and Hawkins were, at one time or another, among his colleagues there.

On 24 April 1816 he married Mary, only daughter of Edward Lovell of Bath. After his ordination on 22 December 1816 he became curate of Newton, near Bath, and then was successively curate of Blagdon, of Faringdon, of Hungerford, and of Hackney. He afterwards resided in London, occupying himself with literary pursuits, and in 1827 published ‘Essays on the Philosophical Evidence of Christianity.’ In 1829 he returned to Oxford, and was public examiner in that year, in 1831, and in 1832. He was elected Bampton lecturer in 1832, and was soon afterwards appointed a tutor in Oriel College by the influence of the newly elected provost, Edward Hawkins. In April 1833 Lord Grenville nominated him principal of St. Mary Hall, Oxford, when he took his B.D. and D.D. degrees. As principal of his hall he so improved the course of studies that for the first time a first-class degree in the examinations was gained by a resident student.

Hampden at his own expense restored the chapel, rebuilt the principal's lodgings, and made other improvements at the cost of £4,000. He was appointed professor of moral philosophy in 1834, and published his lectures. In 1836 Lord Melbourne offered him the regius professorship of divinity, to which is attached a canonry in Christ Church Cathedral. An agitation against him was immediately set on foot by the high church and tory party, who stated that his Bampton lectures, the subject of which was ‘The Scholastic Philosophy considered in its relations to Christian Theology,’ were unorthodox, and persuaded the board of heads to condemn them. The main point objected to was a statement that the authority of the scriptures was of greater weight than the authority of the church. Hampden offered to withdraw from the appointment, but Lord Melbourne said: ‘For the sake of the principles of toleration and free inquiry we consider ourselves bound to persevere in your appointment,’ and on 17 October 1836 he entered on his office. His opponents, however, on 22 March 1837 proposed in convocation the exclusion of the regius professor from his place at a board whose duty it was to name select preachers for the university. The exclusion was carried, but the proctors exercised their right of veto. The proposal was again brought forward in May, and a change of proctors having in the meantime taken place, it was ultimately carried. The appointment to the professorship and the nomination to the board were made subjects of bitter controversy, and upwards of forty-five books and pamphlets were issued by the parties to the discussion. As regius professor he also held the living of Ewelme, where he became very popular and did much good between 17 February 1836 and 1847.

In 1847 the see of Hereford was offered to Hampden by Lord John Russell. This appointment was also violently opposed, and thirteen of the bishops presented an address of remonstrance to the prime minister. On the other hand, fifteen of the heads of houses at Oxford sent Hampden an address expressing their satisfaction with his religious belief, and their confidence in his integrity. The Dean of Hereford then wrote to Lord John Russell stating that he proposed to vote against the election of Hampden; to his letter was sent the following reply: ‘Sir, I have had the honour to receive your letter of the 23rd instant, in which you intimate to me your intention of violating the law.’

Hampden was elected bishop on 28 December, the dean and one canon voting against him. At the confirmation in Bow Church on 11 January 1848, when the custom of citing opposers was followed, three persons appeared by their proctors as opposers, but Dr. Lushington gave judgment that the opposers had no right to appear. These persons then made an application to the court of queen's bench for a mandamus to force the Archbishop of Canterbury to listen to them. A rule having been obtained, on 24 January the attorney-general began the argument, and on 1 February judgment was given against the issuing of the mandamus. This question of the bishopric again gave rise to a paper war, and upwards of thirty works on the matter issued from the press. In consequence of the death of Archbishop Howley it was some time before Hampden could assume his office, and his consecration in Lambeth Chapel did not take place until 26 March. The new prelate fully confirmed the opinion held of him by the prime minister and his friends. He administered the affairs of his diocese for twenty years, to the great benefit of his charge. No one through life less courted and less deserved the observations and attacks of which he was the object. He never retaliated or referred to the opposition which had been raised against him, and in his life and conduct was an exemplary prelate. He was evangelical in his views, and highly disapproved of the clergy who joined the church of Rome, and of the re-establishment of the papal hierarchy in England.

He died at 107 Eaton Place, London, 23 April 1868, and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery. His wife died at 107 Eaton Place on 21 July 1865.

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