Melmoth, William, Esq.

, a learned and worthy bencher of LincolnVinn, was born in 1666. In conjunction with Mr. Peere Williams, Mr. Melmoth was the publisher of “Vernon’s Reports,” under an order of the court of chancery. He had once an intention of printing his own “Reports;” and a short time before his death, advertised them at the end of those of his coadjutor Peere Williams, as then actually preparing for the press. They have, however, not yet made their appearance. But the performance for which he justly deserves to be held in perpetual remembrance, is, “The Great Importance of a Religious Life.” It is a singular circumstance that the real author of this most admirable treatise should never have been publicly known until mentioned in the Anecdotes of Bowyer. It was ascribed by Walpole in his “Royal and Noble Authors,” to the first earl of Egmont. Of this work Mr. Melmoth’s son says, in the short preface which accompanies it, that “It may add weight, perhaps, to the reflections contained in the following pages, to inform the reader, that the author’s life was one uniform exemplar of those precepts, which, with so generous a zeal, and such an elegant and affecting simplicity of style, he endeavours to recommend to general practice. He left others to contend for modes of faith, and inflame themselves and the world with dndless controversy; it was the wiser purpose of his more ennobled aim, to act up to those clear rules of conduct which Revelation hath graciously prescribed. He possessed by temper every moral virtue; by religion every Christian grace. He had a humanity that melted at every distress; a charity which not only thought no evil, but suspected none. He exercised his profession with a skill and integrity, which nothing could equal, but the disinterested motive that animated his labours, or the amiable modesty which accompanied all his virtues. He employed his industry, not to gratify his own desires no man indulged himself less not to accumulate useless wealth no man more disdained so unworthy a pursuit it was for the decent advancement of his family, for the generous assistance of his friends, for the ready relief of the indigent. How often did he exert his distinguished abilities, yet refuse the reward of them, in defence of the widow, the fatherless, and him that had none to help him In a word, few have ever passed a more useful, not one a more blameless life y and his whole time was employed either in doing | good, or in meditating it. He died on the 6th day of April, 1743, and lies buried under the cloister of Lincoln’sinn chapel.” This passage is repeated in a short tract entitled “Memoirs of a late eminent Advocate,” published in 1796, in which the character of his father is rather -more unfolded. We learn from this tract, that Mr. Melmoth “from early youth performed the paiuful but indispensable duty of communing with his own heart, with the severest and most impartial scrutiny.” This appears by a copy of a letter from some eminent casuit, whom he had consulted respecting certain religious scruples. He was afterwards perplexed respecting taking the oaths at the revolution, which happened when he had the prospect of being admitted to the bar. On this occasion he consulted the celebrated Mr. Norris of Bemerton, and a correspondence took place, part of which is* published in the “Memoirs.” It is probable that he was at last convinced of the lawfulness of the oaths, as he was called to the bar in 1693. There are other letters and circumstances given in these “Memoirs,” which tend to raise the character of Mr. Melmoth as a man of sincerity and humility, not, however, perhaps, unmixed with what may now be reckoned a degree of superstitious weakness.

With respect to his “Great Importance,” it may be added, to the credit of the age, that above 100,000 copies have been sold since the author’s death. 1

1 Nichols’s Bowyer. Memoirs by his son For an account of a Socinian edition of the Great Importance, se —Gent. Mag. vol. Lxxxiu.