William Ralph Inge

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William Ralph Inge

William Ralph Inge

6 June 1860
Crayke, Yorkshire, England
Died26 February 1954 (aged 93)
Alma materKing's College, Cambridge
Mary Catharine Inge
(m. 1905; died 1949)
ChurchChurch of England
Offices held
Vicar of All Saints, Knightsbridge (1905–1907)
Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity (1907–1911)
Dean of St Paul's (1911–1934)

William Ralph Inge KCVO FBA (/ˈɪŋ/;[1] 6 June 1860 – 26 February 1954) was an English author, Anglican priest, professor of divinity at Cambridge, and dean of St Paul's Cathedral. Although as an author he used W. R. Inge, and he was personally known as Ralph,[2] he was widely known by his title as Dean Inge. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature three times.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Time cover, 24 November 1924

He was born on 6 June 1860 in Crayke, Yorkshire, where his father, Rev. William Inge (later Provost of Worcester College, Oxford), was then curate. His mother was Susanna Churton, daughter of Edward Churton, Archdeacon of Cleveland.

Inge was educated at Eton College, where he was a King's Scholar and won the Newcastle Scholarship in 1879. In 1879, he went on to King's College, Cambridge, where he won a number of prizes including the Chancellor's Medal, as well as taking firsts in both parts of the Classical Tripos.[4]


Positions held[edit]

Inge was an assistant master at Eton from 1884 to 1888, and a Fellow of King's College from 1886 to 1888.[4]

In the Church of England, he was ordained deacon in 1888, and priest in 1892.[4]

He was a Fellow and Tutor at Hertford College, Oxford from 1889 to 1904.[5]

His only parochial position was as vicar of All Saints, Knightsbridge, London, from 1905 to 1907.[4]

In 1907, he moved to Jesus College, Cambridge, on being appointed Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity.

In 1911, he became Dean of St Paul's Cathedral in London. He served as president of the Aristotelian Society at Cambridge from 1920 to 1921.

He retired from full-time church ministry in 1934.

Inge was also a trustee of London's National Portrait Gallery from 1921 until 1951.


Inge was a prolific author. In addition to scores of articles, lectures and sermons, he also wrote over 35 books.[6] Inge was a columnist for the Evening Standard for many years, finishing in 1946.

He is best known for his works on Plotinus[6] and neoplatonic philosophy, and on Christian mysticism, but also wrote on general topics of life and current politics.

He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature three times.[3]


Inge was a strong proponent of the spiritual type of religion—"that autonomous faith which rests upon experience and individual inspiration"—as opposed to one of coercive authority. He was therefore outspoken in his criticisms of the Roman Catholic Church. His thought, on the whole, represents a blending of traditional Christian theology with elements of Platonic philosophy. He shares this in common with one of his favourite writers, Benjamin Whichcote, the first of the Cambridge Platonists.

He was nicknamed 'The Gloomy Dean' because of his pessimistic views in his Romanes Lecture of 1920, "The Idea of Progress"[7] and in his Evening Standard articles. In his Romanes Lecture he said that although mankind's accumulated experience and wonderful discoveries had great value, they did not constitute real progress in human nature itself.

He disapproved of democracy, which he called "an absurdity" and compared it to "the famous occasion when the voice of the people cried, Crucify Him!"[8] He wrote "Human beings are born unequal, and the only persons who have a right to govern their neighbours are those who are competent to do so."[9] He advanced various arguments why women should have fewer voting rights than men, if any.[10][non-primary source needed]

He was also a eugenicist[6] and wrote considerably on the subject. In his book Outspoken Essays, he devotes an entire chapter to this subject. His views included that the state should decide which couples be allowed to have children.[6]

Inge opposed social welfare "on the grounds that it penalized the successful while subsidizing the weak and feckless".[6]

He was also known for his support for nudism.[11] He supported the publishing of Maurice Parmelee's[12] book, The New Gymnosophy: Nudity and the Modern Life,[13] and was critical of town councillors who were insisting that bathers wear full bathing costumes.[14]


He was made a Commander of the Victorian Order (CVO) in 1918 and promoted to Knight Commander (KCVO) in 1930.[4] He received Honorary Doctorates of Divinity from both Oxford and Aberdeen Universities, Honorary Doctorates of Literature from both Durham and Sheffield, and Honorary Doctorates of Laws from both Edinburgh and St Andrews. He was also an honorary fellow of both King's and Jesus Colleges at Cambridge, and of Hertford College at Oxford. In 1921, he was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy.

Personal life[edit]

Brightwell Manor in 2008

On 3 May 1905, Inge married Mary Catharine ("Kitty"), daughter of Henry Maxwell Spooner,[15] Archdeacon of Maidstone. They had five children:

  • William Craufurd Inge (1906–2001)
  • Edward Ralph Churton Inge (1907–1980)
  • Catharine Mary Inge (1910–1997), married Derek Wigram
  • Margaret Paula Inge (1911–1923), died from type 1 diabetes[16]
  • Richard Wycliffe Spooner Inge (1915–1941), priest, killed on an RAF training flight[17]

Inge's wife died in 1949.[6]

Inge spent his later life at Brightwell Manor in Brightwell-cum-Sotwell, Oxfordshire, where he died on 26 February 1954, aged 93, five years after his wife.[6]


The following bibliography is a selection taken mainly from Adam Fox's biography Dean Inge and his biographical sketch in Crockford's Clerical Directory.



  1. ^ Inge - Definitions from Dictionary.com
  2. ^ e.g. in Hensley Henson's diaries: "The Henson Journals". 31 March 1923. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  3. ^ a b "Nomination Database". nobelprize.org. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Inge, William Ralph (IN879WR)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  5. ^ "Obituary" (PDF). The Hertford College Magazine. No. 42. May 1954. pp. 420–422. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Austen n.d.
  7. ^ Inge 1920.
  8. ^ "A Cause Lost—and Forgotten". University Bookman. March 2015. Retrieved 6 April 2017.
  9. ^ Inge 1932, p. 122.
  10. ^ Inge 1932, pp. 121–127.
  11. ^ Shaw 1937, p. 24.
  12. ^ Parmelee, Maurice (1927). The new gymnosophy: the philosophy of nudity as applied in modern life. F. H. Hitchcock.
  13. ^ Hirning 2013, p. 276.
  14. ^ "Dean Inge and The Nudists". Gloucestershire Echo. 17 November 1932. p. 1 col E. Retrieved 2 May 2016 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  15. ^ See Portraits of Mary Catharine Inge.
  16. ^ Bliss, Michael (1984). "Resurrections in Toronto: Fact and Myth in the Discovery of Insulin". Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 38 (3): 15–36. JSTOR 20171755. Paula, the 10-year-old daughter of Dean Inge, the noted Anglican theologian, was less fortunate. The onset of her diabetes was late in 1921. Because the British were operating about a year behind the North Americans, Paula Inge died before good insulin was available. her father consoled himself with the thought that God had given the parents a whole year's grace before taking their daughter.
  17. ^ "Casualty Details: Inge, Richard Wycliffe Spooner". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 21 September 2023.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Church of England titles
Preceded by Dean of St Paul's
Succeeded by
Academic offices
Preceded by Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity
1907 – c. 1911
Succeeded by
Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by President of the Aristotelian Society
Succeeded by
Preceded by President of the Modern Churchmen's Union
Succeeded by
Awards and achievements
Preceded by Cover of Time magazine
24 November 1924
Succeeded by