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Davison, Dr. William Theophilus
1846-1935; e.m. 1868

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WM scholar and author, son of William Davison (1818-1893; e.m. 1840), whose wife Sarah came from theShum family of Bath.

William Davison jr. was born in Bath. At the age of 9 he went to Kingswood School. Thanks to his father's tuition, he excelled himself academically. He became head boy, but on the night before he left was involved in an act of defiance against the Governor, Francis West that became known as the 'Great Tower Row' and forfeited the school prizes he had won. He did not take up an Oxford scholarship because of his father's dread of the influence of Tractarianism and of Essays and Reviews. He served as Classics Tutor at Richmond College from 1881, then as Theological Tutor at Handsworth College, 1891-1904. As one who helped WM to come to terms with modern biblical scholarship, he had to face a heresy charge during his early career. There were those among his students who felt that this left him too cautious in his encouragement of new thinking. Leaving the Book Room with some relief after one year as Connexional Editor, he returned to Richmond as Theological Tutor and was Principal from 1909 to 1920, serving also as Dean of the Theology Faculty of London University. He was editor of the Methodist Recorder 1883-1886. An ecumenist with wide-ranging interests, including poetry and music, he contributed to the ERE and the Hastings Bible Dictionaries and gave the 1888 Fernley Lecture on The Christian Conscience (1888). Though small of stature, he was recognized as an outstanding preacher. He was President of the 1901 Conference. His wife was a grand-daughter of Jacob Stanley. He died on 7 November 1935.

Quotations

'In his class-room he lectured us on Theology, and was a most clear and incisive lecturer. Sometimes he aroused our impatience by refusing to give dogmatic answers to questions on certain theological themes. It was to us in those callow days of youth somewhat vexatious to be answered by the phrase "Yes and No". For we wanted one or the other. But we have seen since that there are many facets to truth - and that simple answers often deceive by their simplicity. We owe much to his breadth of outlook, and to his liberal and catholic spirit.'

W. Bardsley Brash, The Story of our Colleges (1935), pp.99-100


'He had a mind of quite extraordinary fineness and delicacy, of which his own finely chiselled features were the fitting reflex. As a teacher he was superb, and it is hardly possible to exaggerate the debt of successive generations of students to him. But … there were two serious limitations to his influence. One was his inability to enter into the average man's mind and put him at ease with him. I imagine that Davison himself knew this, and probably regretted it as much as any of us. The other, I think, was deliberate and cultivated: I mean, his fencing attitude, his unwillingness to declare his own mind in face of the difficulties which the studies of the classroom inevitably raised for us… and it was this lack in Davison that, at least for some of us, was fatal to his supreme influence as a Christian teacher, deep and far-reaching as nevertheless it was.'

George Jackson, quoted in Frank H. Cumbers (ed.), Richmond College 1843-1943 (1944) pp.69-70

Sources

  • Methodist Recorder, 25 July 1901; 14 Nov 1935
  • Memoir and tributes, in W.T. Davison, Mystics and Poets (1936)

Entry written by: JAV
Category: Person

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