James Henthorn Todd, biblical scholar, educator, and Irish historian, is born in Rathfarnham, a Southside suburb of Dublin, on April 23, 1805. He is noted for his efforts to place religious disagreements on a rational historical footing, for his advocacy of a liberal form of Protestantism, and for his endeavours as an educator, librarian, and scholar in Irish history.
Todd is the son of Charles Hawkes Todd, a professor of surgery, and Eliza Bentley, and is the oldest of fifteen children. Noted physician Robert Bentley Todd is among his younger brothers. His father dies a year after he receives a B.A. from Trinity College, Dublin in 1825, diminishing his prospects for success. However, he is able to remain at the college by tutoring and editing a church periodical.
Todd obtains a premium in 1829, and two years later is elected Fellow, taking deacon’s orders in the same year. From that time until 1850, when he becomes a Senior Fellow, he is among the most popular tutors in Trinity College.
Todd takes priest’s orders in 1832. He begins publishing in earnest, including papers on John Wycliffe, church history, and the religious questions of his day. He is Donnellan Lecturer in 1838 and 1839, publishing works related to the Antichrist in which he opposes the views of the more extreme of his co-religionists who apply this term to the Roman Catholicism and the Pope. In 1840 he graduates Doctor of Divinity.
In 1837 Todd is installed Treasurer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, and becomes Precentor in 1864. His style of preaching is described as simple and lucid, and his sermons interesting. He co-founds Saint Columba’s College in 1843, a school which promotes the Irish language for those who intend to take orders, as well as promoting the principles of the Church of Ireland.
In 1849 Todd is made Regius Professor of Hebrew at Trinity, and a Senior Fellow the following year. In 1852 he is appointed Librarian, and working alongside John O’Donovan and Eugene O’Curry, he classifies and arranges the collection of manuscripts. When his office receives money, he spends it on the acquisition of manuscripts and rare books, and he deserves much credit for the library’s high ranking as one of the chief libraries of Europe.
Todd’s secular achievements are no less remarkable. In 1840 he co-founds the Irish Archaeological Society and acts as its honorary secretary. He is elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy, and strives actively to acquire transcripts and accurate accounts of Irish manuscripts from foreign libraries. He is honorary secretary from 1847 to 1855, and president from 1856 to 1861. In 1860 he is given an ad eundem degree at the University of Oxford.
Todd is a notable person among notable people. His work is widely respected and cited. Among his friends and acquaintances are lawyer and poet Sir Samuel Ferguson, Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) and Roman Catholic convert Edwin Wyndham-Quin, fellow historian William Reeves, artist Sir George Petrie, and the Stokes family (physician father William, future lawyer and Celticist son Whitley, and future antiquarian daughter Margaret).
James Henthorn Todd dies at his house in Rathfarnham on June 28, 1869 and is buried in the churchyard of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.