Dawson, William James
1854-1928; e.m.1875

The son of the Rev. William J. Dawson (1816 -1880; e.m.1838), he was born at Towcester on 21 November 1854 and educated at Kingswood School 1863-1869. He followed his father into the WM ministry, though he was later to refer to his father's religious views as 'coloured by the barbarous theology [e.g. on the atonement] in which he had been bred'. He trained for the ministry at Didsbury College. From 1886 to 1888 he was junior minister at Wesley's Chapel and appears in Helen McKenny's City Road Diary, where she confided, 'I think he and I shall get on, for he feels as I do about the poor, believes in the Universal Brotherhood and a sort of Divine Socialism.' But she later concluded that his preaching 'often touches my heart but somehow not my soul. It does not seem bread for that, but pleasant cake for other parts of me!' He was then stationed at the WM Mission in Glasgow 1888-1890, where he found Scottish culture much more congenial and drew crowded congregations, and for two years at Mornington Road, Southport.

He was a delegate to the Ecumenical Methodist Conference in Washington DC in 1891, but left Methodism the following year and became pastor of the Highbury Quardant Congregational Church, London. In 1906 he emigrated to the USA, where he was minister of First Presbyterian Church, Newark NJ from 1911 until 1925. He received an honorary DD from Oberlin College, Ohio in 1905. He died at his son's home in Nelson, British Columbia, on 22 August 1928.

He derived his theology from the poetry of Robert Browning, was much influenced by the writings of William Hale White ('Mark Rutherford') and by Kingsley in his concern for the destitute and underprivileged. He himself became a prolific author and lecturer. His many publications include: Threshold of Mankind: a young man's words to young men (1889), Makers of Modern English (1890), The Redemption of Edward Strachan (1891), Makers of Modern Poetry (1899) and The Autobiograph of a Mind (1925). He collaborated in the editing of The American Hymnal (1913), to which he contributed four hymns, and with his son Coningsby W. Dawson edited a series of books under the title 'The Readers' Library'.

  • A.W. Harrison, 'A Methodist Mark Rutherford', in London Quarterly and Holborn Review, October 1935, pp.441-51

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