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Temple was born in Santa Maura, one of the Ionian Islands, the son of Major Octavius Temple, who was subsequently appointed lieutenant-governor of Sierra Leone. On his retirement, Major Temple settled in Devon and contemplated a farming life for his son Frederick, giving him a practical training to that end. The boy was sent to Blundell's School, Tiverton, and soon showed signs of being suited to a different career. He retained a warm affection for the school, where he did well both academically and at physical activities, especially walking. The family was not wealthy, and Frederick knew he would have to earn his own living. He took the first step by winning a scholarship at Balliol College, Oxford, before he was seventeen .
The "Tractarian Movement" had begun five years earlier, but the memorable tract, No. 90, had not yet been written. Temple entered a university vibrating with intellectual and religious excitement. After much discussion and reflection he drew closer to the camp of "the Oxford Liberal Movement." In 1842 he took a "double first" and was elected fellow of Balliol, and lecturer in mathematics and logic. Four years later he was ordained, and, with the aim of improving the education of the very poor, he accepted the headship of Kneller Hall , a college founded by the government for the training of masters of workhouses and penal schools. The experiment was not successful, and Temple himself advised its abandonment in 1855. He then accepted a school-inspectorship, which he held until he went to teach at Rugby in 1858. In the meantime he had attracted the admiration of the Prince Albert, and in 1856 he was appointed chaplain-in-ordinary to Queen Victoria. In I857 he was select preacher at his university.
At Rugby Dr Arnold had died in 1842 and had been succeeded by Dr Tait, who again was followed by Dr Goulburn. Upon the resignation of the latter the trustees appointed Temple, who in that year (1858) had taken the degrees of B.D. and D.D. His life at Rugby was marked by great energy and bold initiative.
Temple strengthened the school's academic reputation in the classics, but also instituted scholarships in natural science, built a laboratory, and recognised the importance of these subjects. He reformed the sporting activities, in spite of all the traditions of the playing fields. His own tremendous powers of work and rough manner intimidated the pupils, but he soon became popular, and raised the school's reputation. His school sermons made a deep impression on the boys, teaching loyalty, faith and duty.
It was two years after he had taken up his work at Rugby that the volume entitled Essays and Reviews caused a controversy. The first essay in the book, "The Education of the World," was by Dr Temple. The authors of the volume were responsible only for their respective articles, but some of these were deemed so destructive that many people banned the whole book, and a noisy demand, led by Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, called on the headmaster of Rugby to dissociate himself from his comrades. Temple's essay had dealt with the intellectual and spiritual growth of the race, and had pointed out the contributions made respectively by the Hebrews, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, and others. Though accepted as harmless, it was blamed for being in the book. Temple refused to repudiate his associates, and it was only at a much later date (1870) that he decided to withdraw his essay. In the meantime, he printed a volume of his Rugby sermons, to show definitely what his own religious position was.
In politics Temple was a follower of Gladstone, and he approved of the disestablishment of the Irish Church. He also wrote and spoke in favour of the Elementary Education Act (1870) of William Edward Forster, and was an active member of the Endowed Schools Commission. In 1869 Gladstone offered him the deanery of Durham, but he declined because he wanted to stay at Rugby. When later in the same year, however, Henry Phillpotts, bishop of Exeter, died, the prime minister turned again to Temple, and he accepted the bishopric of the city he knew so well.
The appointment caused a fresh controversy. GA Denison, archdeacon of Taunton, Lord Shaftesbury, and others formed a strong committee of protest, whilst Pusey declared that "the choice was the most frightful enormity ever perpetrated by a prime minister." At the confirmation of his election, counsel was instructed to object to it, and in the voting the chapter was divided. Gladstone stood firm, and Temple was consecrated on December 21 1869. There were murmurings among his clergy against what they deemed his harsh control, but his real kindness soon made itself felt, and, during the sixteen years of his tenure, he overcame the prejudices against him, so that when, on the death of Dr John Jackson in 1885, he was translated to London, the appointment gave general satisfaction. In 1884 he was Bampton Lecturer, taking for his subject "The Relations between Religion and Science." In 1885 he was elected honorary fellow of Exeter College, Oxford.
Dr Temple's tenancy of the bishopric of London saw him working harder than ever. His normal working day at this time was one of fourteen or fifteen hours, though under the strain blindness was rapidly coming on. Many of his clergy and candidates for ordination thought him a rather terrifying person, enforcing almost impossible standards of diligence, accuracy and preaching efficiency, but his manifest devotion to his work and his zeal for the good of the people won him general confidence. In London he continued as a tireless temperance worker, and the working class instinctively recognized him as their friend. When, in view of his growing blindness, he offered to resign the bishopric, he was urged to reconsider his proposal, and on the sudden death of Archbishop Benson in 1896, though now seventy-six years of age, he accepted the see of Canterbury.
As archbishop he presided in 1897 over the decennial Lambeth Conference. In the same year Dr Temple and the Archbishop of York issued a joint response to an encyclical of the pope which denied the validity of Anglican orders. In 1900 the archbishops again acted together, when an appeal was addressed to them by the united episcopate, to decide the vexed questions of the use of incense in divine service and of the reservation of the elements. After hearing the arguments they decided against both the practices in question. During his archbishopric Dr Temple was deeply distressed by the divisions which were weakening the Anglican Church, and many of his most memorable sermons were calls for unity.
His first charge as primate on "Disputes in the Church" was felt to be a most powerful plea for a more catholic and a more charitable temper, and again and again during the closing years of his life he came back to this same theme. He was zealous also in the cause of foreign missions, and in a sermon preached at the opening of the new century he urged that a supreme obligation rested upon Britain at this epoch in the world's history to seek to evangelize all nations. In 1900 he presided over the World Temperance Congress in London, and on one occasion preached in the interests of women's education.
In 1902 he discharged the important duties of his office at the coronation of King Edward VII, but the strain at his advanced age told upon his health. During a speech which he delivered in the House of Lords on December 2 1902 on the Education Bill of that year, he was taken ill, and, though he revived sufficiently to finish his speech, he never fully recovered, and died on December 23 1902. He was interred in Canterbury Cathedral four days later. His second son, William Temple, became Archbishop of Canterbury some years later.
- Frederick Temple: an Appreciation (1907) E. G. Sandford , with biographical introduction by William Temple
- Memoirs of Archbishop Temple (1906) by "Seven Friends," edited by E. G. Sandford
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