Paley, William

, a very celebrated English divine, and one of the most successful writers of his time, was born at Peterborough in July 1743, and was educated by his father, who was the head master of Giggleswick school, in Yorkshire, vicar of Helpstone in Northamptonshire, and a minor canon of Peterborough. In his earliest days he manifested a taste for solid knowledge, and a peculiar activity of mind. In Nov. 1758 he was admitted a sizar of Christ’s college, Cambridge, and before he went to reside there was taught the mathematics by Mr. William Howarth, a master of some eminence at Dishworth, near Rippon. In December 1759, soon after he took up his residence in the university, he obtained a scholarship, and applied to his studies with such diligence as to make a distinguished figure in the public schools, particularly when he took his bachelor’s degree in 1763. He was afterwards employed for about three years as assistant at an academy at Greenwich; in 1765 he obtained the first prize for a prose Latin dissertation; the subject proposed was “A comparison between the Stoic and Epicurean philosophy, with respect to the influence of each on the morals of a people,” in which he took the Epicurean side.

Having received deacon’s orders, he became curate to Dr. Hinchliffe, then vicar of Greenwich, and afterwards bishop of Peterborough; and when he left the academy above-mentioned, continued to officiate in the church. In June 1766 he was elected a fellow on the foundation of Christ’s college, and at the ensuing commencement took his degree of M. A. He did not, however, return to his residence in college until Oct. 1767, when he engaged in the business of private tuition, which was soon followed by his appointment to the office of one of the college tutors. On the 21st of December 1767, he was ordained a priest by bishop Terrick.

The duties of college tutor Mr. Paley discharged with uncommon assiduity and zeal; and the whole of his system of tuition, as given by his biographer, appears to have been eminently calculated to render instruction easy, pleasant, and of permanent effect. It is somewhat remarkable, that | while thus employed in improving others, he was laying the foundation of his future fame; for his lectures on moral philosophy, and on the Greek Testament, contained the outlines of the very popular works which he afterwards published. He maintained an intimate acquaintance with almost every person of celebrity in the university; but his particular friends were Dr. Waring, and Dr. John Jebb, well known for his zeal in religious and political contro^ versy, and with whom, in some points, Mr. Paley was thought to have coincided more closely than afterwards appeared to be the case. Even now they could not persuade him to sign the petition for relief in the matter of subscription to the thirty-nine articles, although he was prevailed on to contribute to the cause, by an anonymous pamphlet, entitled “A Defence of the Considerations on the propriety of requiring a subscription to Articles of Faith,” in answer to Dr. Randolph’s masterly pamphlet against the “Considerations.” After he had spent about ten years as college-tutor, he quitted the university in 1776, and married. His first benefice in the church was the rectory of Musgrove, in Westmoreland, worth only about eighty pounds a-year, which he obtained in the month of May 1775, and in December 1776 he was inducted into the vicarage of Dalston, in Cumberland; and not long after to the living of Appleby, in Westmoreland, worth about 300l. per annum.

In 1776, a new edition of bishop Law’s “Reflections on the Life and Character of Christ,” originally published in the “Consideration on the Theory of Religion,” was given in a separate form at Cambridge, for the use of the students. To this treatise some brief “Observations on the character and example of Christ” were added, with an “Appendix on the Morality of the Gospel” both from Mr. Paley’s pen. From a passage in this little essay it appears, that his theory of morals was not then altogether firmly fixed on the basis which supports it now.

While at Appleby, he published a small volume selected from the Book of Common Prayer, and the writings of some eminent divines, entitled “The Clergyman’s Comr panion in visiting the Sick.” This useful work at first appeared without his name, but it has passed through nine editions, and is now printed among his works. In June 1780, he was collated to the fourth prebendal stall in the cathedral church of Carlisle, and thus became coadjutor in | the chapter to his friend Mr. Law, who was now archdeacon; but in 1782, upon Dr. Law’s being created an Irish bishop, Mr. Paley was made archdeacon of the diocese, and in 1785, he succeeded Dr. Burn, author of “The Justice of Peace,” in the chancellorship. For these different preferments he was indebted either to the venerable bishop of Carlisle, Dr. Law, or to the dean and chapter of the cathedral church. While his residence was divided between Carlisle and Dalston, Mr. Paley engaged in the composition of his celebrated work, “The Elements of Moral and Political Philosophy;” but hesitated long as to the publication, imagining there would be but fewreaders for such a work; and he was the more determined on this point after he had entered on the married state, thinking it a duty that he owed his family to avoid risking any extraordinary expense. To remove this last objection, Dr. John Law presented a living then in his gift to Mr. Paley, on the promise that he would consider it as a compensation for the hazard of printing, and he immediately set about preparing his work for the press, which appeared in 1785, in quarto. Of a work * so generally known and admired, and so extensively circulated, it would be unnecessary to say much. Although the many editions which came rapidly from the press stamped no ordinary merit on it, yet some of his friends appear to have not been completely gratified. They expected, that from his intimacy with Jebb, and the latitudinarian party at Cambridge, he would have brought forward those sentiments which Jebb in vain endeavoured to disseminate while at the university; and they were surprized to find that his reasoning on subscription to articles of religion, and on the British constitution, in which he not only disputes the expediency of reform in the House of Commons, but vindicates the influence of the crown in that branch of parliament, was diametrically opposite to their opinions and wishes.

When at Dalston, in addition to his ordinary duties^ he gave a course of lectures on the New Testament, on the

* In this work there are some opi- system was also attacked by Mr. Pearnions equivocally expressed, without son, tutor of Sidney college, Camthe characteristic decision which be- bridge, in " Remarks on the Theory

comes a public teacher; and the of Morals,“1800, ahd” , Annotations

foundation of his system has also been on the practical part of Dr. Paley’s

thought liable to objection. In 1789, Principles of Moral and Political PhiMr. Gisborne published strictures on it, losophy," 1801. All these deserve

under the title of “The Principles of the attention of the readers of Paley. Moral Philosophy investigated.” His | Sunday afternoons. There is no part of his character more justly entitled to respect than the active and zealous discharge of his professional duties, and his even enlarging them, as in this instance, when he thought it would be for the benefit of his flock. While officiating as examining chaplain to the bishop of Carlisle, he caused a new edition to be published of Collyer’s “Sacred Interpreter,” a work which he recommended to candidates for deacon’s orders. In 1788, he joined to his other meritorious labours, an effort in favour of the abolition of the slave trade, and corresponded with Mr. Clarkson and the committee whose endeavours have been since crowned with success.

On the death of the venerable bishop of Carlisle in 1787, Mr. Paley drew up a short memoir of him. (See Law, Edmund). His next work places him in a high rank among the advocates for the truth and authenticity of the Christian Scriptures. It is entitled “Horae Paulina; or, the Truth of the Scripture History of St. Paul evinced, by a comparison of the Epistles which bear his name with the Acts of the Apostles, and with one another,” which he dedicated to his friend Dr. John Law, at that time bishop of Killala. The principal object of this work is to shew, that by a comparison of several indirect allusions and references in the Acts and Epistles, independently of all collateral testimony, their undesigned coincidence affords the strongest proof of their genuineness, and of the reality of the transactions to which they relate. Instead of requiring the truth of any part of the apostolic history to be taken for granted, he leaves the reader at liberty to suppose the writings to have been lately discovered, and to have come to our hands destitute of any extrinsic or collateral evidence whatever. The design was original, and the execution admirable. Soon after he compiled a small work, entitled “The Young Christian instructed in Reading, and the Principles of Religion.” This having brought upon him a charge of plagiarism, he defended himself in a good-humoured letter in the Gentleman’s Magazine. Previously to the appearance of these works he was offered by Dr. Yorke, bishop of Ely, the mastership of Jesus college, Cambridge, which, after due deliberation, he declined. In May 1792, he was instituted to the vicarage of Addingham, near Great SaJ-j kcld, on the presentation of the dean and chapter of Carlisle. During the political ferment excited by the French, | revolution, he published “Reasons for Contentment, addressed to the labouring classes,” and the chapter in his “Moral Philosophy,” on the British Constitution. In 1793, he vacated Dalston, on being collated by the bishop of Carlisle (Dr. Vernon) to the vicarage of Stanwix. His biographer informs us that, " beiug afterwards asked, by a clerical friend, why he quitted Dalston, he answered with a frankness peculiar to him, for he knew no deceit, 'Why, Sir, I had two or three reasons for taking Stanwix in exchange: first, it saved me double house-keeping, as Stanwix was within a twenty minutes walk of my house in Carlisle: secondly, it was fifty pounds a -year more in value: and, thirdly, I began to find my stock of sermons coming over again too fastV

In 1794, he published “A View of the Evidences of Christianity, in three parts: I. Of the direct historical Evidence of Christianity, and wherein it is distinguished from the Evidence alleged for other Miracles. II. Of the Auxiliary Evidences of Christianity; and, III. A brief Consideration of some popular Objections.” This work was first published in three volumes, 12mo, but in a few months it was republished in two volumes, 8vo, and has been continued in this form through many successive editions. It is perhaps the most complete summary of the evidences of our holy religion that has ever appeared. In August of the same year the bishop of London, Dr. Porteus, instituted him to the prebend of St. Pancras, in the cathedral of St. Paul’s, and in a very short time he was promoted to the subdeanery of Lincoln, a preferment of 700l. per annum, by Dr. Pretyman, bishop of that diocese. In January 1795, he proceeded to Cambridge to take his degree of D. D.; and before he left that place, he was surprized by a letter from the bishop of Durham, Dr. Barrington, with whom he had not the smallest acquaintance, offering him the valuable rectory of Bishop-Wear-*­mouth, estimated at twelve hundred pounds a-year. When he waited on his new patron to express his gratitude, his lordship instantly interrupted his acknowledgments: “Not a word,” said he, “you cannot have greater pleasure in, accepting the living of Bishop-Wearmouth, than I have in offering it to you.” After reading himself in, as a prebendary, at St. Paul’s cathedral, March 8th, Dr. Paley, for he now assumed that title, immediately proceeded to BishopWearmouth, took possession of his valuable cure, and then | returned to Cambridge against the commencement, to complete the Doctor’s degree, and on Sunday July 5th, preached before the university his sermon “On the dangers incidental to the Clerical character.” He now resigned the prebend of Carlisle, and the living of Stanwix, and divided his residence principally between Lincoln and Bisbop-Wearmoutb, spending his summers at the latter, and his winters at the former of those places. He next undertook the composition of his last work,entitled “Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, collected from the appearances of Nature.” In this he proceeded very slowly, and was much interrupted by ill-health; but the work was published in the summer of 1802. It was dedicated to the bishop of Durham, for the purpose of making the most acceptable return he was able for a great and important benefit conferred upon him. In this work he has traced the marks of wisdom and design in various parts of the creation; but has dwelt principally on those which may be discovered in the constitution of the human body. It is replete with instruction, and from its style and manner peculiarly calculated to fix the reader’s attention.

In 1804, Dr. Paley’s health was much upon the decline, and having experienced a severe attack in May 1805, it was evident that the powers of nature were exhausted, and medicine of no avail. He died on the 25th, under the accumulated influence of debility and disease, and was interred in the cathedral of Carlisle by the side of his first wife, by whom he had eight children, viz. four sons and four daughters. His second wife survived him. Since his death a volume of his “Sermons” has been published, and received by the public with nearly the same avidity as his other works.

In private life, Dr. Paley is said to have had nothing of the philosopher. He entered into little amusements with a degree of ardour which formed a singular contrast with the superiority of his mind. He was fond of company, which he had extraordinary powers of entertaining; nor was he at any time more happy, than when communicating the pleasure he could give by exerting his talents of wit and humour. No man was ever more beloved by his particular friends, or returned their affection with greater sincerity and ardour. That such a man, and such a writer, should not have been promoted to the bench | of bishops, has been considered as not very creditable to the times in which we live. It is generally understood that Mr. Pitt recommended him to his majesty some years ago for a vacant bishopric, and that an opposition was made from a very high quarter of the church, which rendered the recommendation ineffectual. If this be true, it is a striking proof of Mr. Pitt’s liberality; for, according to his biographer, Dr. Paley frequently indulged in sarcastic and disrespectful notice of that celebrated statesman. What truth may be in this, or what justice in the complaints of his friends, we shall not inquire. Judging from his writings, we should be inclined to regret, with them, that he had not higher preferment; but, contemplating his character, as given in the “Memoirs of William Paley, D. D. by George Wilson Meadley,” we must rather wonder that he had so much. It will, however, be universally acknowledged, that no author ever wrote more pleasingly on the subjects he has treated than Dr. Paley. The force and terseness of his expressions are not less admirable than the strength of his conceptions; and there is both in his language and his notions a peculiarity of manner, stamped by the vigour of his mind, which will perpetuate the reputation of his works. 1


Life by Meadley.—Gent. Mag. vol. LVII. LVIII. Lxn, LXXV. and LXXVI. &c.