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Fitchett, Dr William Henry
1841-1928; e.m. 1865

Australian minister, born in Grantham. When he was 7 his family emigrated to Australia, where his father, who was consumptive, died within a year. Working from an early age as a quarryman near Geelong and as a jackaroo in Queensland, he was self-educated, proving a voracious reader. Converted at 16, he was called to fill a ministerial vacancy caused by illness and graduated at Victoria University, which later granted him an honorary LLD. He was the founder and, for 46 years, the Principal of the Methodist Ladies' College at Hawthorne, Melbourne, was twice President of the Victoria WM Conference and once of the Australasian Conference.

He was an indefatigable and influential journalist, edited the interdenominational Southern Cross and the monthly magazine Life (which he had founded) and was engaged by Lord Northcliffe to report the coronation of George V. His many books included imperialistic works such as the popular How England Saved Europe (in Napoleonic times) (4 vols, 1899-1900), the Fernley Lecture of 1905 on The Unrealized Logic of Religion, which deeply influenced Leslie D. Weatherhead, and a major study of Wesley and his Century (1906). His implacable opposition to modern biblical scholarship (especially the work of E.H. Sugden and A.S. Peake) was expressed in Where the Higher Criticism Fails (1922), which Peake comprehensively demolished in the Holborn Review.

Quotations

'Fitchett, who starts his [life of Wesley] by quoting plaudits about Wesley from such luminaries as Sir Lesliew Stephen, Robert Southey, Thomas Macaulay and Matthew Arnold, to support his notion of Wesley's greatness, hgoes on to include a chapter on "Wesley's Odd Opinions". Nevertheless, the traditional triumphalism not only prevails in the end, but also takes on a new dimension: Fitchett compares Wesley to nearly every major figure in English history (Shakespeare, Wellington, Pitt, Washington, et al.) and in the end determines that Wesley's influence is more enduring than all of them. '

Richard P. Heitzenrater, The Elusive Mr. Wesley (Nashville, 1984) II p. 192

'[His book] is radically incompetent, it is reckless and random in its statements, marred by grave inaccuracies. It exhibits no pains to understand the methods and processes, to weigh the arguments or present the results of a scientific criticism. I do not doubt that it will have a great and a mischievous vogue among those whose greedy credulity is willing to welcome any book against [biblical] criticism so long as it is written with self-confidence and in hard-hitting style. But as a reply to a sane criticism it possesses no value, and time is wasted which is spent on reading it.'

A.S. Peake, in Holborn Review, July 1923 pp.373-80

Sources

  • C. Irving Benson in Heritage, (Methodist Historical Society of Victoria), October 1960
  • Dictionary of Australian Biography

Entry written by: JAV
Category: Person

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