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Samuel Sharpe by his daughter, Matilda.
Samuel Sharpe by his daughter, Matilda.

Samuel Sharpe (1799–1881) was an English Unitarian banker who, in his leisure hours, made substantial contributions to Egyptology and Biblical translation. Like his literary uncle Samuel Rogers, he was connected for much of his life with Newington Green Unitarian Church.

Life

He was the second son of Sutton Sharpe (1756–1806), brewer, by his second wife, Maria (died 1806), and was born in King Street, Golden Square, London, on 8 March 1799, baptised at St. James's, Piccadilly. His mother was the third daughter of Thomas Rogers, banker, and thus sister to Samuel Rogers, who in addition to banking was also known as a poet and literary gatekeeper. On her death, followed later in 1806 by his father's failure, Samuel and his five siblings were orphaned. They found a second mother in his half-sister Catherine, the only child of his father's first marriage. She was in her early 20s when she was faced with this domestic tragedy and challenge. She resolved to keep the family together, and found them a house in Stoke Newington, on Church Street. His younger sister Mary married legal reformer Edwin Wilkins Field. One of the younger brothers, Daniel Sharpe, achieved eminence as a geologist. At midsummer 1807 Samuel became a boarder in the school of Eliezer Cogan at Higham Hill, Walthamstow. At Christmas 1814 he was taken into the bank run by his two unmarried uncles, Samuel and Henry Rogers, at 29 Clement's Lane, Lombard Street. He remained connected with the firm till 1861, having been made partner in 1824.

Brought up an Anglican, he came gradually to adopt the Unitarian views held by his mother's relatives, a prosperous family of Dissenters at Newington Green, then a village just north of London. In 1821 he joined the South Place Chapel (later the South Place Ethical Society, later still Conway Hall), the congregation of William Johnson Fox in Finsbury, central London. In 1827 he married his first cousin Sarah (born 1796, died 3 June 1851), daughter of Joseph Sharpe, and had six children, of whom two daughters survived him. The girls are described as offering "efficient help" in his studies, for example by tracing Egyptian hieroglyphs, and with their assistance he was able to release "by far the largest collection of hieroglyphical inscriptions ever yet published"[1]

For many years Sharpe and his brothers taught classes to poor children, before office hours, in the Lancasterian school, Harp Alley, Farringdon Street. He was elected a fellow of the Geological Society about 1827, but took a greater interest in mathematical science and archæological research, as his contributions (1828–31) to the Philosophical Magazine show.

His interest in Egyptology followed the works of Thomas Young. He studied the works of Champollion and what had been published by Sir John Gardner Wilkinson, learned Coptic, and formed a hieroglyph vocabulary. Before publishing his first book, The Early History of Egypt (1836), he consulted his uncle, Samuel Rogers, who said, "Why, surely you can do it if Wilkinson can; his only thought is where to buy his kid gloves".

Sharpe's work as a translator of the Bible began with a revision (1840) of the authorised version of the New Testament. His Greek text was that of J. J. Griesbach, and he took little interest in the progress of textual studies. When, in 1870, the project of the Revised Version was undertaken by the convocation of Canterbury, Sharpe was one of four Unitarian scholars invited to select a member of their body to co-operate with the New Testament company.

His benefactions to University College and School, London exceeded £15,000. (He reminded readers in the 1830s, and again in the 1870s, that about this sum had been extorted from wealthy Dissenters to pay for Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London.[2]) He was a trustee of Dr. Daniel Williams's foundations, 1853–1857, and worked keenly to improve Dr Williams's Library; president of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association in 1869–70, and president of Manchester College, the Unitarian seminary, in 1876–8.

Death

Plaque to Sharpe in Newington Green Unitarian Church
Plaque to Sharpe in Newington Green Unitarian Church

He died at 32 Highbury Place on 28 July 1881, and was buried at Abney Park Cemetery on 3 August. In 1885 the Misses Matilda and Emily Sharpe endowed the Channing School for Girls, primarily for the daughters of Unitarian ministers, and named after William Ellery Channing. They had cut their teeth, from ages 11 and 13, teaching at the Sunday School he established at Newington Green.[3]

Works

The first part (spring of 1837) of his ‘Egyptian Inscriptions,’ chiefly from the British Museum, contained the largest corpus of hieroglyphical writing that had yet been published, and was followed by additional series in 1841 and 1855. His ‘Vocabulary of Hieroglyphics’ was published in the autumn of 1837; in the introduction he thus states his general method of investigation: ‘Granted a sentence in which most of the words are already known, required the meaning of others;’ he allowed that the results were often tentative.

He wrote in the midst of family life, not in a solitary study. By 1838 "I had gained some experience in writing and enlarged my views of authorship. I wished to be an historian rather than an antiquary ; I ventured upon moral reflections, and thought of wording my sentences so that they might be listened to with pleasure when read aloud. I read every part of it as it was written to my dear wife and children. This wholesome practice I never afterwards omitted, and I always made use of their good taste and judgment to warn me against the use of hard words, as well as to tell me whether my sentences could be readily understood, and whether they conveyed the meaning that I wished them to bear."

In the autumn of 1838 appeared his ‘History of Egypt under the Ptolemies;’ in 1842 his ‘History of Egypt under the Romans;’ these were incorporated with the ‘Early History’ in ‘The History of Egypt,’ 1846. Other publications followed in the same line of research, but on many points his conclusions did not win acceptance.

His revision of the authorised version of the Old Testament was first issued in 1865. In eight editions of his New Testament, and four of his Old, he devoted care to the improvement of his work. As a translator he was concerned to remove archaisms. Among the last advocates of unpointed Hebrew, he published manuals for instruction in this system. His ‘History of the Hebrew Nation and its Literature,’ 1869, and his exegetical works bear his individual stamp. He said of himself, ‘I am a heretic in everything, even among Unitarians.’

For the Unitarian weekly, The Inquirer, founded in 1842 by Edward Hill, he wrote for some years, though he thought newspaper writing ‘a bad employment.’ He resumed in 1876 when the Christian Life was started by his friend Robert Spears, writing a weekly article till his death. He had contributed papers, chiefly biblical, to the Christian Reformer (1834–63) with the signature ‘S. S.,’ and to many other periodicals.

He published, besides doctrinal tracts:

HIs biography Samuel Sharpe, Egyptologist and Translator of the Bible (1883) was written by Peter William Clayden, who married Ellen Sharpe in 1887, and later wrote about Rogers.

References

  1. ^ Clayden, PW. Samuel Sharpe. p. 82. Retrieved 7 May 2016.
  2. ^ Clayden, PW. Samuel Sharpe. p. 51. Retrieved 7 May 2016.
  3. ^ Clayden, PW. Samuel Sharpe. p. 89. Retrieved 7 May 2016.