Who was William Wickes
I once posted about two very important books on טעמי המקרא, Biblical Cantillation, which were written by the Reverend Dr. William Wickes. See this recent post by Lion of Zion which refers to one of them. Victor Tunkel has posted a comment to that post, and points out that in his book, The Music of the Hebrew Bible and the Western Ashkenazic Chant Tradition, he discusses Wickes’s biography. Below is some biographical information from Tunkel’s informative book.
Wickes was born in Dover, England, on August 15, 1817, and went on to study mathematics at Cambridge. After finishing Cambridge, he went to Canada and taught mathematics at a number of institutions. While in Montreal, he was ordained as a deacon, and later a priest. In 1854 he returned to England. Tunkel writes,
In 1856 he moved to the job which was to enable him to achieve his life’s work. He went to London to work for the Colonial and Continental Church Society (subsequently the Commonwealth and Continental, and now the Intercontinental). The Society’s main purposes were establishing and ministering to Anglican congregations in the colonies and mainland Europe, corresponding with them, visiting and supporting them, and providing them with chaplains. He was appointed one of several of the Society’s Association Secretaries. So for the next seven years he had the opportunity to travel all over the Continent in search and scrutiny of all the extant sources of the vocalised Bible text. In 1863 he was promoted to be the Secretary of the Society. That presumably kept him at headquarters in London; we may assume that by then he had all the source-material and could begin to collate and draw conclusions.
He then returned to Canada, and had a number of teaching positions, both in Bible and mathematics. He eventually returned to England, and in 1881 published A Treatise on the Accentuation of the Three so-called Poetical Books on the Old Testament, Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. In 1887 he then published A Treatise on the Accentuation of the Twenty-one so-called Prose Books of the Old Testament. Wickes died on October 17, 1903, at the age of 86. Again from Tunkel,
The above details of his life give little clue of how and when he acquired his extensive knowledge of Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic and Syriac; or, indeed, what it was that originally inspired him as a mathematician and cleric to pursue this unlikely and arcane interest. Various contemporaries refer generally to his scholarship but say nothing of its content or breadth. One may guess that after having established himself in Canada, his return in 1855 to England, when approaching 40 and to poorly-paid employment, must have been motivated by his need for time and opportunity to pursue his manuscript studes.
Tunkel quotes Aron Dotan who wrote,
Whatever flaws we may have found in Wickes’s work do not in the least detract from the fundamental value of his enormous achievement.
We thank Wickes for his work, and Victor Tunkel for helping give this important man the acknowledgement that he deserves.