Explanatory Introduction to “Religious Opinions” by the Late Reverend Chauncey Hare Townshend
Mr. Chauncey Hare Townshend died in London, on the 25th of February 1868. His will contained the following passage:—
“I appoint my friend Charles Dickens, of Gad’s Hill Place, in the County of Kent, Esquire, my literary executor; and beg of him to publish without alteration as much of my notes and reflections as may make known my opinions on religious matters, they being such as I verily believe would be conducive to the happiness of mankind.”
In pursuance of the foregoing injunction, the Literary Executor so appointed (not previously aware that the publication of any Religious Opinions would be enjoined upon him), applied himself to the examination of the numerous papers left by his deceased friend. Some of these were in Lausanne, and some were in London. Considerable delay occurred before they could be got together, arising out of certain claims preferred, and formalities insisted on by the authorities of the Canton de Vaud. When at length the whole of his late friend’s papers passed into the Literary Executor’s hands, it was found that Religious Opinions were scattered up and down through a variety of memoranda and note-books, the gradual accumulation of years and years. Many of the following pages were carefully transcribed, numbered, connected, and prepared for the press; but many more were dispersed fragments, originally written in pencil, afterwards inked over, the intended sequence of which in the writer’s mind, it was extremely difficult to follow. These again were intermixed with journals of travel, fragments of poems, critical essays, voluminous correspondence, and old school-exercises and college themes, having no kind of connection with them.
To publish such materials “without alteration”, was simply impossible. But finding everywhere internal evidence that Mr. Townshend’s Religious Opinions had been constantly meditated and reconsidered with great pains and sincerity throughout his life, the Literary Executor carefully compiled them (always in the writer’s exact words), and endeavoured in piecing them together to avoid needless repetition. He does not doubt that Mr. Townshend held the clue to a precise plan, which could have greatly simplified the presentation of these views; and he has devoted the first section of this volume to Mr. Townshend’s own notes of his comprehensive intentions. Proofs of the devout spirit in which they were conceived, and of the sense of responsibility with which he worked at them, abound through the whole mass of papers. Mr. Townshend’s varied attainments, delicate tastes, and amiable and gentle nature, caused him to be beloved through life by the variously distinguished men who were his compeers at Cambridge long ago. To his Literary Executor he was always a warmly-attached and sympathetic friend. To the public, he has been a most generous benefactor, both in his munificent bequest of his collection of precious stones in the South Kensington Museum, and in the devotion of the bulk of his property to the education of poor children.