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Birth of James Ussher, Primate of All Ireland

james-ussherJames Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, is born in Dublin on January 4, 1581. He is best known for his massive compendium of ancient history, The Annals of the World, in which he attempts to calculate the number of years that had elapsed since creation.

Early in life Ussher is determined to pursue a career with the Church of England, a resolve quite similar to that of the Biblical Judge, Samuel.

A gifted polyglot, Ussher enters Dublin Free School and then the newly founded Trinity College, Dublin on January 9, 1594, at the age of thirteen (not an unusual age at the time). He receives his Bachelor of Arts degree by 1598, and was a fellow and MA by 1600. In May 1602, he was ordained in the Trinity College Chapel as a deacon (and possibly priest on the same day) in the Protestant Church of Ireland by his uncle Henry Ussher, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.

At the age of 26, Ussher becomes Professor and Chairman of the Department of Divinity at Dublin University, and he holds his professorship from 1609 to 1621. In 1625, he becomes Archbishop of Armagh, an office he apparently holds until his death. In 1628, King James I makes him a Privy Councillor.

Ussher is considered well-read and well-versed in history, a subject that soon becomes his primary focus. He writes several histories of the doings of the Irish and English churches dating back to Roman times. He also makes himself an expert in Semitic languages, an expertise that informs his argument in favor of the Masoretic Text of the Bible in preference to the Septuagint.

Ussher’s Confessions appear in 1643, followed in 1646 by his fifth work, Here I Stand. His most famous work, the dating of the creation as calculated from the Biblical record, appears in writing in the 1650s.

In 1656, Ussher goes to stay in the Countess of Peterborough’s house in Reigate, Surrey. On March 19, he feels a sharp pain in his side after supper and takes to his bed. His symptoms seem to have been those of a severe internal haemorrhage. Two days later, on March 21, 1656, he dies at the age of 75. His last words are reported as: “O Lord, forgive me, especially my sins of omission.” His body is embalmed and is to have been buried in Reigate, but at Oliver Cromwell‘s insistence he was given a state funeral on April 17 and was buried in the chapel of St. Erasmus in Westminster Abbey.

Ussher’s extensive library of manuscripts, many of them Middle Eastern originals, become part of the collection at Dublin University.

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Birth of William Edward Hartpole Lecky, Historian & Theorist

William Edward Hartpole Lecky, Irish historian and political theorist, is born at Newtown Park, near Dublin, on March 26, 1838. His major work is an eight-volume History of England during the Eighteenth Century.

Lecky is educated at Kingstown, Armagh, at Cheltenham College, and at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduates BA in 1859 and MA in 1863, and where he studies divinity with a view of becoming a priest in the Church of Ireland.

In 1860, Lecky publishes anonymously a small book entitled The Religious Tendencies of the Age, but upon leaving college he turns to historiography. In 1861 he publishes Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland, containing brief sketches of Jonathan Swift, Henry Flood, Henry Grattan, and Daniel O’Connell, originally anonymous and republished in 1871. The essay on Swift, rewritten and amplified, appears again in 1897 as an introduction to an edition of Swift’s works. Two surveys follow: A History of the Rise and Influence of Rationalism in Europe (2 vols., 1865), and A History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne (2 vols., 1869). The latter arouses criticism, with its opening dissertation on “the natural history of morals.”

Lecky then concentrates on his major work, A History of England during the Eighteenth Century, Vols. i. and ii. which appear in 1878, and Vols. vii. and viii., which complete the work, in 1890. In the “cabinet” edition of 1892, in twelve volumes, A History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century is separated out.

A volume of Poems (1891) is less successful. In 1896, he publishes two volumes entitled Democracy and Liberty, in which he considers modern democracy. The pessimistic conclusions at which he arrives provoked criticism both in the UK and the United States, which is renewed when he publishes in a new edition (1899) his low estimate of William Ewart Gladstone, then recently dead.

In The Map of Life (1899) Lecky discusses in a popular style ethical problems of everyday life. In 1903 he publishes a revised and enlarged edition of Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland, in two volumes, with the essay on Swift omitted and that on O’Connell expanded into a complete biography. A critic of the methods by which the Act of Union is passed, Lecky, who grew up as a moderate Liberal, is opposed to Gladstone’s policy of Home Rule and, in 1895, he is returned to parliament as Unionist member for University of Dublin constituency in a by-election. In 1897, he is made a privy councillor, and among the coronation honours in 1902, he is nominated an original member of the new Order of Merit.

William Edward Hartpole Lecky dies in London on October 22, 1903.