Зображення сторінки

rashly quitting the beaten track of life in which they were originally all destined to walk. Many a one also, who, in extension of views, has surpassed the age in which he lived, has precluded the benefits which his speculations might have bestowed upon the public at large, by the impudence and eccentricity of bis conduct: and if the extravagances of an individual of this description have been noted by the pen of the satirist, or the burin of the caricaturist, his actual merits are obscured, and his memory is embalmed in the bitter condiment of ridicule alone.

These remarks are exemplified in the fate of a man, of whom every body has read, but of whose history, character, and acquirements, the great mass of readers are utterly ignorant. Let not the gentle reader start, when we tell him that the man to whom we allude is Orator Henley, who stands, and will for ever stand, exposed in the adamantine pillory of Pope. In

consequence of the severe revenge inflicted on this literary and theological experimentalist by the irritated poet, his name is connected with the idea of mere ignorance, charlatanism, and impudence. But from the materials which lie, before us, and a list of which is given at the head of this article, we are convinced that Henley was a man of learning, that he entertained just notions of the extent to which religious liberty ought to be carried, that he was sensible of the defects of the system of academical instruction in England; and that, if the questionable shape in which he appeared before the public disqualified him from effecting a reformation in those institutions, he is entitled to the merit of having, at an early period, pointed out the expediency of an amelioration in their constitution. This position will be best evinced by a narrative of bis life, which we have compiled from authentic documents of rare occurrence, and which, we trust, will not be uninteresting to our readers.

John Henley was born at Melton Mowbray, in the county of Leicester, on the 3rd of August, 1692. He was a genuine son of the church, his father and his grandfather, by the mother's side, having been vicars of his native place. Úis paternal grandfather, who was educated among the dissenters, at the time of the Civil wars, but conformed at the Restoration, was also in holy orders, and held the rectory of Salmonby and Thetford, in Lincolnshire. , Young Henley learned the rudiments of literature at the free school of Melton, then kept by Mr. Daffy, “a diligent and expert grammarian,” under whose instructions he distinguished himself by his rapid progress in the studies adapted to his age. From this seminary he was removed to the free school at Oakham, in Rutlandshire, where he was put under the tuition of Mr. Wright, a celebrated Greek and Hebrew scholar, and where his improvement was also much promoted by the kind attentions of the usher, the Rev. Mr. Weston. Here he assiduously cultivated the graces of English and Latin poetry, and made considerable advances in a knowledge of the Hebrew tongue.

His father did not fall into the error of sending him at too early a period to the University; for it was not till he had attained the age of seventeen that he was transferred from St. John's College, in Cambridge, where he passed his examination on admission with distinguished applause. In this famous seminary, he went through the stated process of education, and regularly took his degrees of bachelor and master of arts. At this time, however, his restless and inquisitive spirit seems to have revolted against established institutions ; for “here,” says his friend, Mr. Welstead," he began to be uneasy, that the art of thinking regularly on all subjects, and for all functions, was not the prevailing instruction. He was impatient that systems of all sorts were put into his hands ready carved out for him, and that he incurred the danger of losing his interest, as well as incurring the scandal of heterodoxy and ill principles, if, as his genius led him, he freely disputed all propositions, and called all points to account, in order to satisfy and convince his own reason. It shocked him to find that he was commanded to believe against his judgment, in points of logic, philosophy, and metaphysics, as well as religion; and that a course of mathematics was the least, if any, part of the usual academical education. He was always impatient under the fetters of the free-born mind, and privately resolved, some time or other, to enter his protest against any person's being bred like a slave who is born an Englishman.”

These rebellious cogitations, however, he, in all probability, at this time kept concealed in the recesses of his own bosom, since, when he had commenced bachelor of arts, he was appointed, by the trustees of Melton school, as usher, and afterwards as head master, of that seminary; which, under his auspices, speedily rose from a state of decline to great celebrity. And it may be remarked, that, in introducing into the system of school-discipline which he organized on his promotion to the mastership, the practice of improving elocution, by the daily public recital of orations and of passages of the classics, he evinced that love of display which gave a turn to the future fortunes of his life. That he did not, however, confine his attention to superficial accomplishments, is evinced by the fact, that during his residence at Melton, in the quality of master of the free school, he commenced a great work, which he entitled the “Universal Grammar,” in which he analysed

the rationale of ten languages. This work he afterwards published, with a dedication to the Duke of Newcastle. About this time, he also published a poem founded on the story of Queen Esther, which was well received, and contains, indeed, many spirited and highly-wrought passages.

Whatever objections Henley might have to the discipline of the University, his dread of spiritual slavery did not deter him from entering into the church; for he was ordained deacon by Dr. Wake, Bishop of Lincoln, and, in due time, he was admitted to priest's orders by Dr. Gibson, who succeeded Wake in that see. The matter of the subscription requisite to admission into holy orders in the church of England, he seems to have got over by the disingenuous plea, adopted by too many even at the present day, that “if every man is obliged to subscribe, (according to some doctors) in that sense which he thinks most consistent with the Scripture, any man may subscribe on those terms; and till the Church of England declares in what particular sense any candidate for orders shall sign her decrees, that sense stands on equal authority with that of any private determination.” When the orator had risen to notoriety, he offered to maintain this latitudinarian principle in a public disputation.

This business of subscription is, indeed, encompassed with difficulties. It seems but reasonable, that a community should be vested with power to prescribe the terms upon which any individual shall be admitted into as a member. But when honours and emolument are in question, it is by no means an easy task to devise a form of profession which ingenuity, when attended by little scrupulosity, cannot render a dead letter. When we take into consideration the wide difference which subsists between the evangelical and the orthodox clergy of the present day, we must be convinced that subscription does not secure that uniformity of doctrine which it is intended to effect; and we very much doubt whether Bishop Marsh's eighty explanatory propositions will completely fence the ecclesiastical fold from the intrusion of the wolf.

On taking orders, Mr. Henley undertook the duty of assistant curate in his native town; and we may conclude that he was, from the beginning of his clerical career, a popular preacher, from the circumstance that, during his residence at Melton, he was called upon to preach many occasional discourses, and, particularly, an assize sermon at Leicester, before Mr. Dodd and Mr. Justice Pratt.

The ambition of Henley was not, however, satisfied with the narrow sphere of operations afforded him in the country, and, in the course of a little time after he began to exercise the clerical functions, he resigned his mastership and his curacy, and repaired to London, furnished, as we are told, by above thirty letters of recommendation from the most considerable men in the county of Leicester, both of the clergy and the laity. He also brought with him to the metropolis the still more weighty patronage of " an agreeable purse of gold,” which he had "saved by his industry and good husbandry. Upon his arrival in London, 'he readily embraced every opportunity of displaying his talents, by doing duty for his brethren who were indolent, sick, or absent. The fame which he thus acquired drew upon him the notice of Dr. Burscough, who chose him his assistant-preacher in the chapels of Ormond-street and Bloomsbury. This situation he held for a considerable time, during which period he increased bis income and acquired reputation as a scholar, by publishing his grammar, and by translating some of Vertot's works from the French, and Pliny's Epistles from the Latin. These literary

efforts obtained for him the favour of that distinguished patron of learned men, the Earl of Macclesfield, who, in the year 1723, presented him to the living of Chelmondiston, in Suffolk. This living was worth £80 a-year; but, having obtained a dispensation from residence, he provided a curate, who performed all the duty of preaching, praying, christening, burying, &c. for an'annual stipend of twenty pounds.

While the curate was thus toiling for so scanty a recompense, the rector was making, as we say in modern times, great sensation" in London. His style of preaching was, as he himself acknowledges, “much out of the common road.” · He committed his sermons to memory, enlivened them with declamation and pathos, and endeavoured to commend their delivery by all the graces of studied action. In short, he was the Irving of his day. It is not to be wondered at, then, if he became extremely popular, and was a powerful preacher of charity-sermons; and that “double, nay, oftentimes, treble was the sum collected from his manner of persuading alms-giving, than when any dignified Don mounted the same pulpit, either before or after him.” In defence of his manner of preaching, which soon became a subject of severe animadversion to those who were bigotted adherents to ancient systems and old practices, he preached a sermon in the church of St. George the Martyr, which he printed under the following title: “ The History and advantage of Divine Revelation, with the honour that is due to the Word of God, especially in regard to the most perfect manner of delivering it, formed on the ancient laws of speaking and action; being an essay to restore them. Published at the request of many of the audience.” The title-page of this sermon was adorned by a


copper-plate engraving of St. Paul preaching with the action of an orator, with this motto, Paulum videre prædicantem votum Augustini. The latter part of this publication contains a sensible and temperate vindication of the impressive delivery of pulpitdiscourses. The essence of the principles which it maintains is comprised in the following passage:

“Sacred eloquence consists in a delivery of the Truths of God in the most just, forcible, and complete manner. No man speaks, looks, and behaves himself in the same manner, when he is angry as when he is pleased; when he loves as when he detests; and it would be very. absurd to mention the pains of Hell with a gay aspect; to press the fear of God with an air of negligence; or to exhibit and persuade in the posture of forbidding and of rebuke. As this infers a necessary variety in proper speaking and gesture, so the advantages of it are great and manifold. It awakens, draws, and fastens the attention; it works most sensibly on the understanding, the memory, the imagination, and the affections; it conveys instruction with more force and delight, and attains all the ends of public speaking in the most entire and effectual manner.”

They who quit the common highway of any of the liberal professions, expose themselves to the severity of the keenest criticism; and the man who spreads all sail to catch the breeze of popular applause is sure to encounter sunken rocks and shoals through which it is almost impossible for him to steer his course with safety. The popularity of Henley as a preacher excited the jealousy of many of his brethren, whom he, indeed, provoked, by characterising them as “hum-drum drones.” The serious portion of the community condemned his style of delivery as theatrical; and it is the bent of high ecclesiastical authorities, to regard with suspicion the proceedings of clergymen who study to throw themselves for support and patronage on the favour of the people. Hence, detraction was busied in slandering the private life of the orator. His moral character was impeached by whisperings and backbitings, to which many were ready to lend a willing ear. How far the imputations, at this time levelled against Henley, were true, it is impossible now to decide. He was popular;—but popularity is no sure test of correctness of conduct in an eloquent divine. Dr. Dodd was a favourite preacher, to the very moment when he committed a capital crime, in order to repair the dilapidation of his fortune, which was caused by extravagance and dissipation. At the same time, we must receive with caution the allegations of personal enemies, and of competitors for fame, who are outshone by the superior lustre of a successful rival. The reports to Henley's disadvantage seem to have induced one of his patrons to decline fulfilling a promise which he had made him, to give him a living in London; but his diocesan, on receiving complaints

« НазадПродовжити »