Extract from ‘The History of The Athenaeum – 1797-1997’.
Reverend William Shepherd 1768-1847
One of The Athenaeum’s original subscribers.
A native of Liverpool, he became a Minister of the Unitarian Chapel at Gateacre, where he also opened a school. Sharing the same religious and political views as William Roscoe, he became a prominent member of Roscoe’s circle and was an early abolitionist.
A man of great natural abilities, he was well-known as a brilliant after-dinner speaker and raconteur. His interest in Italian literature was aroused by Roscoe and he wrote a Life of Poggio Bracciolini. As a Unitarian he supported Catholic emancipation and was a friend of Dr John Lingard, the Catholic historian.
Despite his political interests he did not neglect his pastoral duties. The historian of Gateacre Chapel states “Judged by the length of his pastorate, by the breadth of his influence, both locally and nationally and by his sterling and brilliant abilities, he must be considered a quite remarkable person and minister”.
Shepherd’s gravestone at Gateacre Chapel sums him up as an “energetic champion of civil and religious liberty”.
Joseph Blanco White 1775-1841
Author and student of theology
White’s odyssey in search of theological truth took him from Catholic priest to Anglican ordination and finally to Unitarian beliefs.
He was born in Seville in a family originally from Ireland, but domiciled in Spain for several generations. Ordained priest in 1800, he became opposed to the Inquisition and began to doubt his faith. With Spain in turmoil during the French invasion, White left the country and the priesthood in 1810.
Settling in England, White edited a journal exposing the Spanish national cause against the French. After the expulsion of the French from Spain he was awarded a life pension by the British Government.
White gradually regained his Christian faith, but now adhered to the Church of England. Through studies at Oxford in the 1820’s he became a friend of the rising stars of the Oxford Movement, Newman and Pusey. Another friend, Whateley, became Anglican Archbishop of Dublin and White joined him as tutor to his son.
White’s intense theological studies then left to further doubts. He eventually decided that the only rational form of Christianity was Unitarianism. So he came to Liverpool in 1835, as this was a major centre of the faith. Here he continued his studies and here his odyssey ended.
He is now best known in his native country as an early and revered exponent of Spanish nationalism. Official delegations and television crews have visited Liverpool as the site of Blanco White’s final years and the Athenaeum’s Library always forms part of their pilgrimage.
The Blanco White cabinet found in the Committee Room holds some of his collection held by the Library.