Collier, Jeremy

, an eminent English divine, was born at Stow Qui in Cambridgeshire, Sept. 23, 1650. His father Jeremy Collier was a divine and a considerable linguist; and some time master of the free-school at Ipswich, in Suffolk. He was educated under his father at Ipswich, whence he was sent to Cambridge, and admitted a poor scholar of Caius college under the tuition of John Ellys, in April 1669. He took the degree of B. A. in 1673, and that of M. A. in 1676; being ordained deacon the same year by Gunning, bishop of Ely, and priest the year after by Compton bishop of London. He officiated for some time at the countess dowager of Dorset’s at Knowle in Kent, whence he removed to a small rectory at Ampton near St. Edmund’s Bury in Suffolk, to which he was presented by James Calthorpe, esq. in 1679. After he had held this benefice six years, he resigned it, came to London in 1685, and was some little time after made lecturer of Gray’s Inn. But the revolution coming on, the public exercise of his function became impracticable.

Collier, however, was of too active a spirit to remain supine, and therefore began the attack upon the revolution: for his pamphlet is said to have been the first written on that side the question after the prince of Orange’s arrival, with a piece entitled “The Desertion discussed in a letter to a country gentleman, 1688,” 4to. This was written in, answer to a pamphlet of Dr. Gilbert Burnet, afterwards bishop of Salisbury, called “An Enquiry into the present State of Affairs, &c.” wherein king James is treated as a deserter from his crown; and it gave such offence, that, after the government was settled, Collier was sent to Newgate, where he continued a close prisoner for some months, | but was at length discharged without being brought to a trial. He afterwards published the following pieces: 1. A translation of the 9th, 10th, llth, and 12th books of Sleidan’s Commentaries, 1689, 4to. 2. “Vindiciae juris regii, or remarks upon a paper entitled An Enquiry into the measures of submission to the Supreme Authority,1689, 4to. The author of this inquiry was also Dr. Burnet. 3. “Animadversions upon the modern explanation of 2 Hen. VII. chap. i. or a king de facto,” 1689, 4to. 4. “A Caution against Inconsistency, or the connection between praying and swearing, in relation to the Civil Powers,1690, 4to. This discourse is a dissuasive from joining in public assemblies. 5. “A Dialogue concerning the Times, between Philobelgus and Sempronius, 1690, 4to: to the right honourable the lords, and to the gentlemen convened at Westminster, Oct. 1690.” This is a petition for an inquiry into the birth of the prince of Wales, and printed upon a half sheet. 6. “Dr. Sherlock’s Case of Allegiance considered, with some remarks upon his Vindication,1691, 4to. 7. “A brief essay concerning the independency of Church Power,1692, 4to. The design of this essay is to prove the public assemblies guilty of schism, upon account of their being held under such bishops as had assumed, or owned such as had assumed, the sees of those who were deprived for not taking the oaths of the new government.

Thus did Collier, by such ways and means as were in his power, continue to oppose with great vigour and spirit the revolution and all its abettors: and thus he became obnoxious to the men in power, who only waited for an occasion to seize him. That occasion at length came; for information being given to the earl of Nottingham, then secretary of state, that Collier, with one Newton, another nonjuring clergyman, was gone to Romney marsh, with a view of sending to, or receiving intelligence from the other side of the water, messengers were sent to apprehend them. They were brought to London, and, after a short examination by the earl, committed to the Gate-house. This was in the latter end of 1692, but as no evidence of their being concerned in any such design could be found, they were admitted to bail, and released. Newton, as far as appears, availed himself of this but Collier refused to remain upon bail, because he conceived that an acknowledgment of the jurisdiction of the court in which the bail | was taken, and consequently of the power from whence the authority of the court was derived, and therefore surrendered in discharge of his bail before chief justice Holt, and was committed to “the king’s-bench prison. He v/as released again at the intercession of friends, in a very few days; but still attempted to support his principles and justify his conduct by the following pieces, of which, it is said, there were only five copies printed: 8.” The case of giving Bail to a pretended authority examined, dated from the King’s-bench, Nov. 23, 1692,“with a preface, dated Dec. 1692; and, 9,A Letter to sir John Holt,“dated Nov. 30, 1692; and also, 10.A Reply to some Remarks upon the case of giving bail, &c. dated April, 1693.“He wrote soon after this, 11.A Persuasive to consideration, tendered to the Royalists, particularly those of the Church of England,“1693, 4to. It was afterwards reprinted in 8vo, together with his vindication of it, against a piece entitled” The Layman’s Apology.“He wrote also, 12.” Remarks upon the London Gazette, relating to the Streights’ Fleet, and the Battle of Landen in Flanders," 1693, 4to.

We hear no more of Collier till 1696; and then we find him acting a very extraordinary part, in regard to sir John Friend and sir William Perkins, who were convicted of being concerned in the assassination plot. Collier, with Cook and Snatt, two clergymen of his own way of thinking, attended those unhappy persons at the place of their execution, upon April 3; where Collier solemnly absolved the former, as Cook did the latter, and all three joined in the imposition of hands upon them both. This, as might well be expected, was looked upon as an high insult on the civil and ecclesiastical government; for which reason there was a declaration, signed by the two archbishops and the bishops of London, Durham, Winchester, Coven<­try and Litchfield, Rochester, Hereford, Norwich, Peterborough, Gloucester, Chichester, and, St. Asaph, in which they signified their abhorrence of this scandalous, irregular, schismatic, and seditious proceeding. This “Declaration,” which may be seen in the Appendix to the third vol. of the State Tracts in the time of king William, did not only bring upon them ecclesiastical censure; they were prosecuted also in the secular courts, as enemies to the government. In consequence of this Cook and Snatt were committed to Newgate, but afterwards released without being | brought to a trial; but Collier having still his old scruple about putting in bail, and absconding, was outlawed, and so continued to the time of his death. He did not fail, however, to have recourse to his pen as usual, in order to justify his conduct upon this occasion; and therefore pubJished, 13. “A Defence of the Absolution given to sir William Perkins at the place of execution; with a farther vindication thereof, occasioned by a paper entitled, A Declaration of the sense of the archbishops and bishops, &c. the first dated April 9, 1696, the other April 21, 1696;” to which is added, “A Postscript in relation to a paper called An Answer to his Defence, &c. dated April 25.” Also, “A Reply to the Absolution of a Penitent according to the directions of the church of England, &c.” dated May 20, 1696: and “An Answer to the Animadversions on two pamphlets lately published by Mr. Collier, &c.” dated July 1, 1696, 4to.

When this affair was over, Collier employed himself in reviewing and finishing several miscellaneous pieces, which he published under the title of “Essays upon several Moral Subjects.” They consist of 3 vols. 8vo; the first of which was printed in 1697, and its success encouraged the author to publish a second in 1705, and a third in 1709. These were written with such a mixture of learning and wit, and in a style so easy and flowing, that notwithstanding the prejudice of party, which ran strong against him, they were in general well received, and have passed through many editions since. In 1698 he entered on his celebrated attempt to reform the stage, by publishing his “Short View of the immorality and profaneness of the English Stage, together with the sense of antiquity upon this argument,” 8vo. This engaged him in a controversy with the wits; and Congreve and Vanbrugh, whom, with many others, he had taken to task very severely, appeared openly against him. The pieces he wrote in this conflict, besides the first already mentioned, were, 2. “A Defence of the Short View, being a reply to Mr. Congreve’s amendments, &c. and to the vindication of the author of the Relapse,1699, 8vo. 3. “A Second Defence of the Short View, being a reply to a book entitled The ancient and modern Stages surveyed, &c.1700, 8vo the book here replied to was written by Mr. Drake. 4. “Mr. Collier’s dissuasive from the Play-house: in a letter to a person of quality, occasioned by the late calamity of the tempest,1703, 8vo. | S. “A farther Vindication of the Short View, &c. in whjch the objections of a late book, entitled A Defence of Plays, are considered,1708, 8vo. “The Defence of Piays” has Dr. Filmer for its author. In this controversy with the stage, Collier exerted himself to the utmost advantage; and shewed that a clergyman might have wit as well as learning and reason on his side. It is remarkable, that his labours here were attended with success, and actually produced repentance and amendment; for it is allowed on all hands, that the decorum which has been for the most part observed by the later writers of dramatic poetry, is entirely owing to the animadversions of Collier. What Dryden said upon this occasion in the preface to his Fables does much credit to his candour and good sense. “I shall say the less of Mr. Collier, because in many things he has taxed me justly; and I have pleaded guilty to all thoughts and expressions of mine which can be truly arraigned of obscenity, profaneness, or immorality, and retract them. If he be my enemy, let him triumph; if he be my friend, as 1 have given him no personal occasion to be otherwise, he will be glad of my repentance. It becomes me not to draw my pen in the defence of a bad cause, when I have so often drawn it for a good one.” If Congreve andVanbrugh had taken the same method with Dryden, and made an ingenuous confession of their faults, they would have retired with a better grace than they did: for it is certain that, with all the wit which they have shewn in their respective vindications, they make but a very indifferent figure. “Congreve and Vanbrugh, says Dr. Johnson, attempted answers. Congreve, a very young man, elated with success, and impatient of censure, assumed an air of confidence and security. His chief artifice of controversy is to retort upon his adversary his own words: he is very angry, and hoping to conquer Collier with his own weapons, allows himself in the use of every term of contumely and contempt: but he has the sword without the arm of Scanderbeg; he has his antagonist’s coarseness, but not his strength. Collier replied; for contest was his delight: he was not to be frighted from his purpose, or his prey. The cause of Congreve was not tenable: whatever glosses he might use for the defence or palliation of single passages, the general tenour and tendency of his plays must always be condemned. It is acknowledged, with universal conviction, that the perusal of his works will make no man better; and that their Vol. X, | ultimate effect is to represent pleasure in alliance with vice, and to relax those obligations by which life ought to be regulated. The stage found other advocates, and the dispute was protracted through ten years: but at last comedy grew more modest, and Collier lived to see the reward of his labour in the‘ reformation of the theatre.

The next thing Collier undertook was a work of considerable industry, that of translating Moreri’s great “Historical, geographical, genealogical, and poetical Dictionary.” The two first volumes were printed in 1701, the third, under the title of a “Supplement,” in 1705, and the fourth, which is called “An Appendix,” in 1721. This was a work of great utility at the time it was published. It was the first of its kind in the English language, and many articles of biography in the Appendices may yet be consulted with advantage, as containing particulars which are not to be found elsewhere. About 1701, he published also, “An English translation of Antoninus’s Meditations, &c. to which is added, the Mythological Picture of Cebes, &c.” In the reign of queen Anne, some overtures were made to engage him to a compliance, and he was promised preferment, if he would acknowledge and submit to the government; but as he became a nonjuror upon a principle of conscience, he could not be prevailed upon to listen to any terms. Afterwards he published, in 2 vols. folio, “An Ecclesiastical History of Great Britain, chiefly of England, from the first planting of Christianity, to the end of the reign of Charles II. with a brief account of the affairs of religion in Ireland, collected from the best ancient historians, councils, and records.” The first volume, which comes down to Henry Vie was published in 1708, the second in 1714. This history, which contains, besides a relation of facts, many curious discourses upon ecclesiastical and religious subjects, was censured by bishop Burnet, bishop Nicolson, and doctor Kennet, afterwards bishop of Peterborough; but was defended by Collier in two pieces. The first was entitled “An Answer to some exceptions in bishop Burnet’s third part of the History of the Reformation, &c. against Mr. Collier’s Ecclesiastical History; together with a reply to some remarks in bishop Nicolson’s English Historical Library, &c. upon the same subject, 1715;” the second, “Some Remarks on Dr. Kennet’s second and third Letters; wherein his misrepresenta-. tions of Mr. Collier’s Ecclesiastical History are laid open, | and his calumnies disproved, 1717.” Collier’s prejudices, however, in favour of the popish establishment, aud against the reformers, render it necessary to read this work with much caution: on the other hand, we cannot but observe, to Collier’s credit, an instance of his great impartiality in the second volume of his history; which is, that in disculpating the presbyterians from the imputation of their being consenting to the murder of Charles I. he has shewn, that as they only had it in their power to protest, so they did protest against that bloody act, both before and after it was committed.

In 17 13, Collier, as is confidently related, was consecrated a bishop by Dr. George Hickes, who had himself been consecrated suffragan of Thetford by the deprived bishops of Norwich, Ely, and Peterborough, Feb. 23, 1694. As he grew in years, his health became impaired by frequent attacks of the stone, to which his sedentary life probably contributed: so that he published nothing more but a volume of “Practical Discourses” in 1725, and an additional sermon “upon God not the origin of Evil,” in 1726. Be* sides what has been mentioned, he wrote some prefaces to other men’s works; and published also an advertisement against bishop Burnet’s “History of his own Times:”’ this was printed on a slip of paper, and dispersed in all the coffee-houses in 1724, and is to be seen in the “Evening-post, No. 2254.” He died of the stone, April 26, 1726, aged seventy-six; an.d was interred three days after in the church-yard of St. Pancras near London. Hs was a very ingenious, learned, moral, and religious man* and though stiff in his opinions, is aid to have had nothing stiff or pedantic in his behaviour, but a great deal of life, spirit, and innocent freedom. It ought never to be forgot, that Collier was a man of strict principle, and great sincerity, for to that he sacrificed all the most flattering prospects that could have been presented to him, and died at an advanced age in the profession and belief in which he had lived. He will long be remembered as the reformer of the stage, an attempt which he made, and in which he was successful, single-handed, against a confederacy of dramatic talents the most brilliant that ever appeared on the British stage. His reputation as a man of letters was not confined to his own country: for the learned father Courbeville, who translated into French “The Hero of Balthazar Gratian,” in his preface to that work, speaks in | high terms of his “Miscellaneous Essays;” which, he says, set him upon a level with Montaigne, St. Evremond, La Bruyere, &c. The same person translated into French his “Short View of the English Stage;” where he speaks of him again in strong expressions of admiration and esteem. 1


Biog. Brit. Dr. Johnson’s Works.