Nicolson, William

, a learned English prelate and antiquary, was both by the father and mother’s side of Cumberland extraction. His grandfather was Joseph Nicolson, of Averas Holme in that county, who married Radigunda- Scott, heiress to an estate at Park Broom, in the parish of Stanvvix which estate descended to Catherine eldest surviving daughter of our prelate. His father, who married Mary daughter of John Brisco of Grofton, esq. was a clergyman, of Queen’s college, Oxford; and rector of Orton near Carlisle. He was born at Orton in 1655, and in 1670 was entered of Queen’s college, under the tuition of Dr. Thos. Barlow, afterwards bishop of Lincoln, and took his degree of B. A. in 1676. While here he became known to sir Joseph Williamson, then secretary of state, the great benefactor to Queen’s college, and the patron of many of its scholars, who in 1678 sent him to Leipsic to learn the septentrional languages. While there he translated into Latin an essay of Mr. Hook’s, containing a proof of the motion of the earth from the sun’s parallax, which was printed at Leipsic by the professor who had recommended the task.

After a short tour into France, he returned to college, and completed his degree of M. A. July 23, 1679, and in the. same year was elected and admitted fellow of Queen’s college. He received deacon’s orders in December. In 1680, he furnished an account of the kingdoms of Poland, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland, for the first volume of Pitt’s English Atlas, and he compiled also the principal part, if ‘not the whole, of the second and third volumes. In February of the same year, he was sent by the vicechancellor to wait on George Lewis., prince of Brunswick, afterwards George I. who was then at Tetsworth, in his way to the university, where next day his highness was complimented with the degree of LL. D. In Sept. 1681, Mr. Nicolson was ordained priest, and was in that year collated by bishop Rainbow to a vacant prebend in the cathedral church of Carlisle, and also to the vicarage of Torpenhow, and in the year following to the archdeaconry of Carlisle, vacant by the resignation of Mr. Thomas Musgrave. | His attachment to the study of antiquities began to appear early, and although we cannot minutely trace the progress of his studies at Oxford, it is evident from his correspondence, that in addition to the ordinary pursuits of classical, philosophical, and theological information, he had accumulated a great stock of various learning. He had, among other branches, studied botany with much attention, and had paid particular attention to the natural history of the earth, the effects of the deluge, the authority of the scripture account of that event, and other subjects connected with it, which at that time were agitated by Dr. Woodward and his contemporaries. He made also great proficiency in ancient northern literature; and in matters of antiquarian research, had a great portion of that enthusiasm, without which no man can form an accomplished or successful antiquary. In one place we find him, speaking of a journey to Scotland, where “he met with a most ravishing Runic monument;” and it indeed appears that he spared neither labour or expence in investigating the remains of antiquity wherever they could be found. In 1685 he wrote a letter to Mr. Obadiah Walker, master of University college, Oxford, concerning a Runic inscription at Bewcastle in Cumberland, which is printed in the Philosophical Transactions, No. 178, and in Hutch inson’s Hist. of Cumberland, with the opinions of subsequent antiquaries. He likewise sent a letter to sir William Dugdale, printed in the same number of the Transactions, concerning a Runic inscription on the font in the church of Bride-kirk. Dr. Hickes, in the preface to his “Thesaurus,” acknowledges the able, polite, and prompt aid he received from Mr. Nicolson in preparing that great work. In 1696 he published the first part of his “English Historical Library,” a work intended to point out the sources whence all information respecting English history and aniiqu ties,- whether printed or in manuscript, was to be de* rived. The whole, in three parrs, was completed in 1699, and was followed by a similar “Library” for Scotland, in 1702; and for Ireland in 1724. These were published together in folio, and more recently in what, if not the best, is the most convenient edition, in 1776, 4-to, by T. Evans. Of the controversy which arose from this work, some notice will be taken hereafter.

In 1702, on the eve of Ascension day, our author was elected bishop of Carlisle, confirmed June 3, and | consecrated June 14, at Lambeth. This promotion he owed to the interest of the house of Edenhall. On Sept. 15, 1704, the celebrated Dr. Atterbury, who had reflected with much harshness on some parts of the “Historical Library,” waited upon bishop Nicolson at Rose, for institution to the deanery of Carlisle; but the letters patent being directed to the chapter, and not to the bishop, and the date thereof being July 15, though the late dean (Grahme,) did not resign till the 5th of August, and some dispute also arising about the regal supremacy, institution was then refused. The bishop, however, declared at the same time that the affair should be laid forthwith before the queen; and that, if her majesty should, notwithstanding these objections, be pleased to repeat her commands for giving Dr. Atterbury possession of the deanery, institution should be given, which was accordingly done in consequence of her intimation to the bishop through the secretary of state. This preferment, however, was followed by many unpleasant consequences, as we shall have occasion to notice, a^ter enumerating the remaining productions of our learned pre* late.

In November 1705, bishop Nicolson was elected F.R.& and published his “Leges Marchiarum, or Border Laws; with a preface, and an appendix of Charters and Records relating thereto,” Lond. 8vo, reprinted in 1747. In 1713 he wrote an essay, or discourse, to be affixed to Mr. Chamberlayne’s collection of the Lord’s prayer in one hundred different languages. Dr. Hickes bestows the highest praises on this essay: “I know not,” says he, “which is most to be admired in it, the vast variety of reading, or the putting all his observations together in so short, clear^ and easy a discourse, which mightily confirms the history of Moses, and refutes the vain cavils which atheists, and deists, and latitudinarians are wont to make against the truth of it.” In 1718 he wrote a preface to the third edition of Dr. Wilkins’s “Leges Anglo-Saxonicae.” This appears to be the last of his literary performances, to the list of which may be added. seven occasional sermons, published in the course of his life.

In 1715, George I. appointed bishop Nicolson lord high almoner; an office which was resigned in his favour by his friend archbishop Wake. On March 17, 1718, he was nominated to the bishopric of Derry in Ireland, but was allowed to be continued bishop of Carlisle and lord almoner | till after Easter. On Feb. 9, 1727, he was translated to the archbishopric of Cashel, but died suddenly, on the 14th of that’ month, and was buried in the cathedral at Derry, without any monumental inscription. He married Elizabeth youngest daughter of John Archer, of Oxenholme near Kendal, esq. by whom he had eight children. One daughter, Catherine, was living unmarried in 1777, but this family is probably now extinct. He had a brother, who was master of the Apothecaries company, and died in 1723.

The archbishop left three ms volumes, fol. to the dean and chapter of Carlisle, consisting of copies and extracts from various books, Mss. registers, recorus, and charters, relating to the diocese of Carlisle, from which many articles in the “History of Cumberland,” by his nephew Joseph Nicolson, esq. and Dr. Richard Burn, were transcribed. There is also a large octavo ms. of his, containing miscellaneous accounts of the state of the churches, parsonage and vicarage houses, glebe lands, and other possessions, in the several parishes within the diocese, collected in his parochial visitation of the several churches in 1703, 1704, and 1707, which, in 1777, was in the possession of his nephew. Bagford, in his catalogue prefixed to Gibson’s edition of Camden’s “Britannia,1695, advertised, as ready for the press, but stiil remaining in the dean and chapter’s library at Carlisle, a description of the ancient kingdom of Northumberland, by bishop Nicolson. when archdeacon of Carlisle, consisting of eight parts; but although no man was more capable of executing such a work, we are assured by Mr. Wallis in the preface to his account of Northumberland, that all that can now be found in the Carlisle library is only a compendious ecclesiastical view of that diocese in a parochial method. The truth appears to have been, that instead of making a separate publication of his account of Northumberland, he made other uses of his collections, as in his “Leges Marchiarum,” where we find much information respecting the ancient state of Northumberland, but we are not permitted to doubt that a separate work was his original design. In 1692 he speaks of his having hopes that his “Essay on the Kingdom of Northumberland,” would be completed in a few months; and that Mr. Ray had promised (in the preface to his late collection of English words), that it should shortly be published. He informs us also that he was the | author of the “Glossarium Northanhymbricum,” in Ray’s work.

The publication of the first part of his “Historical Library” involved him in the first literary controversy in which he was engaged. Two of his antagonists were Dr, Hugh Todd, and Dr. Simon Lowth, against whom he appears to have defended himself with much reputation, as they were both far beneath him in talents and learning* In Atterbury, who likewise attacked him, he had an antagonist more worthy of his powers; but even against him he was very successful, although not very temperate, in the long letter addressed to Dr. Kennett, which was originally a separate publication, and has since been prefixed with some alterations to the various editions of the “Historical Library.” This, however, perhaps laid the foundation for that degree of animosity which prevailed between our prelate and Dr. Atterbury. The latter, unfortunately for both parties, considering their hostile tempers, was made dean of Carlisle while Nicolson was bishop. In any other arrangement of preferments, their passions might have had leisure to cool, but they were now brought together, with no personal respect on either side, and the consequences were what might have been expected. Nicolson, it must be allowed, had some reason to complain, or some apology for his feelings concerning Atterbury: Atterbury had made an, attack on his “Historical Library,” in very contemptuous language; but what was worse, Atterbury appears to have been the cause of Nicolson 9 s being for some time refused a degree at his own university, when, on his promotion to the bishopric of Carlisle, he applied for that of D. D. For an explanation of this we must refer to the principles of the times, as well as of the men; and both perhaps will be sufficiently illustrated by the following paper which was sent to Mr. Nicolson (in answer to his request of having a doctor’s degree by diploma) by the vice-chancellor, Dr. Mander, “Whereas the members of the university of Oxford, in a very full convocation held the (fifth) day of (March) 1701, did unanimously agree to confer the degree of Doctor of Divinity upon the reverend Mr. Francis Atterbury, as a testimony of the sense which they had of the signal service he had done the church, by his excellent book entitled The Rights, Powers, and Privileges of an English Convocation, 7 &c. (See Atterbury, vol. III. p. 113, &c.) And whereas W. Nicolson, | archdeacon of Carlisle, in a pamphlet, entitled ‘ A Letter to Dr. White Kennett, in defence of the English Historical Library against the unmannerly and slanderous objections of Mr. Francis Atterbury, preacher at the Rolls,’ &c. and printed in 1702, doth, in and through the said pamphlet, term the said doctor Mr. Atterbury only, in a seeming contempt of the honour done him by the said university: And whereas the said archdeacon (in the thirty-fourth page of the said pamphlet) hath these words: viz. * I need not, Sir, acquaint you what a toil and expence the very collecting of those materials hath brought upon me; nor how much trouble I have had in the composure. And it is but a discouraging prospect (after all) to see so many men of gravity and good learning, to whom I thought my labours might have been chiefly useful, caressing an empty mis^ representer of our antiquities, histories, and records; and patronizing an ambitious wretch in his insolent attempts against our ancient and apostolical church-government;* which words are conceived to contain a severe and undecent reflection upon the proceedings of the university; it is humbly proposed to Mr. Vice-chancellor, by several members of your venerable convocation, whether it can be consistent with the honour of the university to bestow any mark of favour upon the said archdeacon, before he shall have made suitable satisfaction for so high an indignity, and open an affront, as he hath hereby put upon her.

The vice-chancellor, who communicated this paper to bishop Nicolson, added that he would notwithstanding propose the degree, if “he would please to order him what to say in answer.” Nicolson, however, irritated at the superiority thus given to his antagonist, determined to send no answer. His own words on this occasion are: “Mr. Vice-chancellor not having acquainted me who the masters or members of the venerable convocation are, that presented this libellous memorial to him: the most civil treatment, which (as I thought, by advice of my friends) could be given to it, was, to take no manner of notice of its coming to my hand.” He accordingly applied to Cam-­bridge, where the degree in question was readily granted; and, what must have been yet more gratifying, he received the same honour from the university of Oxford, on July 25 following. The former refusal seems to have been that of a party, and not of the convocation at large. In one of his letters written at this time to Dr. Charlett, master of | University-college, he enters upon a defence of his vindication of the “Historical Library,” and not unsuccessfully* The objection that he had called the doctor Mr. Atterbury was certainly trifling and unjust, for he was Mr. Atterbury when he wrote against Nicolson. He also alludes to the coarse treatment of himself in the above paper, where he is styled only William Nicolson, although at that time a bishop elect. But whatever may be thought of bishop Nicolson’s conduct, or that of these members of the convocation, it was not to be expected that when Atterbury was made dean of Carlisle, there could be much cordiality between them. Nicolson knew to whom he had been indebted for the affront he had received from the university; and Atterbury was equally out of humour with the bishop, in addition to his usual turbulence of disposition. In 1707, when the bishop found that Atterbury was continually raising fresh disputes with his chapter, he endeavoured to appease them once for all, by visiting the chapter in pursuance of the power given by the statutes of Henry VIII. at the foundation of the corporation of the dean and chapter. But Dr. Todd, already mentioned, one of the prebendaries, was instigated by Atterbury to protest against any such visitation, insisting upon the invalidity of Henry VIII's statutes and that the queen, and not the bishop, was the local visitor. Nicolson, conscious of his strength in a point which he had probably studied more deeply than any of the chapter, during the course of his visitation suspended and afterwards excommunicated Dr. Todd on which the latter moved the court of common pleas for a prohibition, and obtained it unless cause shown. In the mean time such proceedings alarmed the whole bench of bishops; and the archbishop of Canterbury, Tenison, wrote a circular letter on the subject to all his suffragans, considering the cause of the bishop of Carlisle as a common cause, and of great concern to the church, which, he added, “will never be quiet so long as that evil generation of men who make it their business to search into little flaws in ancient charters and statutes, and to unfix what laudable custom hath well fixed, meet with any success.” Soon afterwards a bill was carried into parliament, and passed into a law, which established the validity of the local statutes given by Henry VIII. to his new foundations. Bishop Nicolson published on this occasion, “Short Remarks on a paper of Reasons against thepassing of a bill for avoiding | of doubts and questions touching the statutes of divers cathedrals and collegiate churches,” 4to, in one half sheetj without date. His triumph was now compleat, and a fevr years afterwards, when Atterbury was preferred to the deanry of Christ-church, his old friends of the university of Oxford had reason to change their sentiments of him.

In some accounts of bishop Nicolson it has been said that he was deeply engaged in the Bangorian controversy. In one sense this could not be true, for although his opinions were in opposition to those which produced that memorable controversy, we cannot find that he wrote any thing expressly on the subject. In another sense he may be said to have been too deeply concerned, for on the very commencement of the controversy, he became involved in a dispute with Dr. Kennett, which threatened to affect his veracity, and from which it certainly did not escape without some injury. We have already noticed that he addressed his letter in vindication of his “Historical Library” to Dr. Kennett, and it may be added that they had lived for many years in habits of mutual respect and friendship, which were now to be dissolved by violence. It is not necessary to enter into a long detail of this affair; referring, therefore, to Newton’s Life of bishop Kennett, we shall confine ourselves to the following simple statement of the fact. Bishop Nicolson had asserted that some words in Dr. Hoadly’s memorable sermon were not originally in it, but were inserted by the advice of a friend, and by way of caution; and upon being called upon to give up his authority, mentioned Dr. White Kennett, not only as his authority, but as the person who advised Hoadly to leave out the objectionable words. Dr. Kennett, in the most solemn and positive manner, denied, either that he had given Dr. Nicolson such information, or that he had ever seen Dr. Hoadly’s sermon before it was preached, or that it had ever been submitted to his correction. In rejoinder, Dr. Nicolson re-affirmed as before in the most decided manner. Many letters passed between the parties (in the newspapers) which our prelate published in 1717, under the title of “A Collection of Papers scattered lately about the town in the. Daily Courant, St. James’s Post, &c. with some remarks upon them in a letter to the bishop of Bangor,” 8vo; and after this he determined to take no farther notice of the matter. His antagonists came at length to the conclusion that he stood convicted at least of | forgetfulness “in charging a fact upon the bishop of Bangor which was not true, and quoting a witness for it who knew nothing of the matter.” And this is certainly the conclusion which every one will wish to draw who respects his characv ter, or forms a judgment of it from his “Letters” lately published by Mr. Nichols, a collection to which we have been greatly indebted in drawing up our account, and rectifying the errors of his preceding biographers* Many of his sentiments are given without disguise in these letters, and prove him to have been a steady friend to the civil and ecclesiastical government of his country, and a man of liberality and candour. That he was not uniformly accurate in his historical researches has been oftenrepeated, but he appears to have been always ready to correct what errors were pointed out. In one letter, after defending some apparent mistakes noticed by his correspondent, he adds, “but nothing can be pleaded, except ignorance, in excuse for the rest.” It must still be admitted, what is equally evident from his correspondence, that his temper was somewhat irritable, and that, living in days of bitter controversy, he admitted in his disputes too much of that style which has in all ages been the reproach of literature. 1


Letters above mentioned.—Biog. Brit.—Harris’s Ware, vol. I.—Nicols’s Atterbury.—Appendix to Newton’s Life of Bishop Kennett.