McNEILE, HUGH (1795-1879), Anglican divine, younger son of Alexander McNeile (or McNeill), was born at Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, on the isth of July 1795. He graduated at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1810. His handsome presence, and his promise of exceptional gifts of oratory, led a wealthy uncle, Major-General Daniel McNeill, to adopt him as his heir; and he was destined for a parliamentary career. During a stay at Florence, Hugh McNeile became temporarily intimate with Lord Byron and Madame de Stae'l. On returning home, he determined to abandon the prospect of political distinction for the clerical profession, and was disinherited. In 1820 he was ordained, and after holding the curacy of Stranorlar, Co. Donegal, for two years, was appointed to the living of Albury, Surrey, by Henry Drummond.
Edward Irving endeavoured, not without success at first, to draw McNeile into agreement with his doctrine and aims. Irving's increasing extravagance, however, soon alienated McNeile. His preaching now attracted much attention; in London he frequently was heard by large congregations. In 1834 he accepted the incumbency of St Jude's, Liverpool, where for the next thirty years he wielded great political as well as ecclesiastical influence. He repudiated the notion that a clergyman should be debarred from politics, maintaining at a public meeting that " God when He made the minister did not unmake the citizen." In 1835 McNeile entered upon a long contest, in which he was eventually successful, with the Liverpool corporation, which had been captured by the Whigs, after the passing of the Municipal Reform Act. A proposal was carried that the elementary schools under the control of the corporation should be secularized by the introduction of what was known as the Irish National System. The threatened withdrawal of the Bible as the basis of denominational religious teaching was met by a fierce agitation led by McNeile, who so successfully enlisted public support that before the new system could be introduced every child was provided for in new Church of England schools established by public subscriptions. At the same time he conducted a campaign which gradually reduced the Whig element in the council, till in 1841 it almost entirely disappeared. To his influence was also attributed the defeat of the Liberal parliamentary candidates in the general election of 1837, followed by a long period of Conservative predominance in Liverpool politics. McNeile had the Irish Protestant's horror of Romanism, which he constantly denounced in the pulpit and on the platform; and Macaulay, speaking in the House of Commons on the Maynooth endowment in April 1845, singled him out for attack as the most powerful representative of uncompromising Protestant opinion in the country. As the Tractarian movement in the Church of England developed, he became one of its most zealous opponents and the most conspicuous leader of the evangelical party. In 1840 he published a volume of Lectures on the Church of England, and in 1846 (the year after Newman's secession to Rome) The Church and the Churches, in which he maintained with much dialectical skill the evangelical doctrine of the " invisible Church " in opposition to the teaching of Newman and Pusey. Hugh McNeile was in close sympathy with the philanthropic work as well as the religious views of the 7th earl of Shaftesbury, who more than once tried to persuade Lord Palmerston to raise him to the episcopal bench. But although Palmerston usually followed the advice of Shaftesbury in the appointment of bishops, he would not consent to the elevation to the House of Lords of so powerful a political opponent as McNeile, whom Lord John Russell had accused of frustrating for thirty years the education policy of the Liberal party. In 1860 he was appointed a canon of Chester; and in 1868 Disraeli appointed him dean of Ripon. This preferment he resigned in 1875, and he lived in retirement at Bournemouth till his death on the 28th of January 1879. McNeile married, in 1822, Anne, daughter of William Magee, archbishop of Dublin, and aunt of William Connor Magee, archbishop of York, by whom he had a large family.
Although a vehement controversialist, Hugh McNeile was a man of simple and sincere piety of character. Sir Edward Russell, an opponent alike of his religious and his political opinions, bears witness to the deep spirituality of his teaching, and describes him as an absolutely unique personality. " He made himself leader of the Liverpool people, and always led with calm and majesty in the most excited times. His eloquence was grave, flowing, emphatic had a dignity in delivery, a perfection of elocution, that only John Bright equalled in the latter half of the 19th century. Its fire was solemn force. McNeile's voice was probably the finest organ ever heard in public oratory. His action was as graceful as it was expressive. He ruled an audience."
See J. A. Picton, Memorials of Liverpool, vol. i. (1873) ; Sir Edward Russell, " The Religious Life of Liverpool," in the Sunday Magazine (June 1905); Charles Bullock, Hugh McNeile and Reformation Truth. (R. J. M.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)