Watson, Richard

, a late eminent and learned prelate, was born in August 1737, at Heversham in Westmoreland, five miles from Kendal, in which town his | father, a clergyman, was master of the free grammar-school, and took upon himself the whole care of his son’s early education. From this seminary he was sent, in November 1754, with a considerable stock of classical learning, a spirit of persevering industry, and an obstinate provincial accent, to Trinity college, Cambridge, where, from the time of his admission, he distinguished himself by close application to study, residing constantly, until made a scholar in May 1757. He became engaged with private pupils in November following, and took the degree of B. A. (with superior credit, being second Wrangler,) in January 1759. He was elected fellow of Trinity college in Oct. 1760; was appointed assistant tutor to Mr. Backhouse in November that year; took the degree of M. A. in 1762, and was made moderator, for the first time, in October following. He was unanimously elected professor of chemistry in Nov. 1764; became one of the head tutors of Trinity college in 1767; appointed regius professor of divinity (on the death of the learned Dr. Rutherforth) in Oct. 1771, with the rectory of Somersham in Huntingdonshire annexed.

During a residence of more than thirty years, he was distinguished at one time by the ingenuity of his chemical researches; at another, by his demeanour in the divinity chair*. He wrote, within the above period, the following papers in the Philosophical Transactions (having been elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1769): “Experiments and Observations on various Phenomena attending the Solution of Salts;” “Remarks on the Effects of Cold in February 1771;” “Account of an Experiment made with a Thermometer, whose Bulb was painted black, and exposed to the rays of the Sun;” “Chemical Experiments and Observations on Lead Ore;” all which were reprinted in the fifth volume of the “Chemical Essays.” In 1768 be published “Institutiones Metallurgies,” 8vo, intended as a text-book for that part of his chemical lectures which

* On this subject a correspondent with the dignity of the professor. He

in the Gentleman’s Magazine, who gave full scope to the ingenuity of the

signs himself Clencus Londinensis, af- respondents, and their opponents- and

fords us the following information: delivered his sentiments with a fluency

"The late regius professor, bishop and elegance which few cau attain in a

Watson, had the singular qualification foreign language. During sixteen years

of impressing a numerous auditory he presided in the chair, and left the

with the highest opinion of his abili- learned members^ of the university to

ties. His comprehensive mind grasped lament that he was obliged, from bad

every subject, and, as moderator, he health, to retire to his native county.“united the urbanity of the gentleman | explained the properties of metallic substances; and in 1771, xc An Essay, on the Subjects of Chemistry and their general divisions,” 8vo,

In 1769, he published an Assize Sermon, preached at Cambridge, 4to; and in 1776, two other sermons preached at Cambridge, 4to, which extended his fame beyond the precincts of the university one, on the 29th of May, “The Principles of the Revolution vindicated” the other, on the “Anniversary of his Majesty’s Accession.

In 1774, he was presented to a prebend in the church of Ely; and in January 1780, succeeded Dr. Charles Plumptre in the archdeaconry of that diocese. He published a sermon preached before the university at the general fast, Feb. 4, 1780; and a discourse delivered to the clergy of the archdeaconry of Ely. In August that year he was presented by bishop Keene to the rectory of Northwold, in Norfolk.

The principles expressed by Mr Gibbon, in various parts of the “History of the Rise and Declension of the Roman Empire,” called forth the zeal of Dr. Watson; whose 66 Apology for Christianity, in a series of letters, addressed to Edward Gibbon, e*q " was published in 1776, 12mo, and several times repr.nted. This work is certainly replete with sound information and reasoning, but it produced in the learned historian no diffidence of his own powers, although he did not choose to exert them in controversy. A correspondence took place on that occasion between the antagonists, which is preserved in the Life of Gibbon by lord Sheffield. In this, which consists of only two short letters, Dr. Watson must, we think, be allowed to have carried his politeness or his liberality to the utmost verge .*


These letters are short, and too curious to be omitted.

"Bentinck-street, Nov. 2, 1776.

Mr. Gibbon takes the earliest opportunity of presenting his compliments and thanks to Dr. Watson, and of expressing his sense of the liberal treatment which he has received from so candid an adversary. Mr. Gibbon entirely coincides in opinion with Dr. Watson, that as their different sentiments, on a very important period of history, are now submitted to the public, they both may employ their time in a manner much more useful, as well as agreeable, than they could possibly do by exhibiting a single combat in the | amphitheatre of controversy. Mr. Gibbon is therefore determined to resist the temptation of justifying, in a professed reply, any passages of his history, which might perhaps be easily cleared from censure and misapprehension; but he still reserves to himself the privilege of inserting iq a future edition some occasional remarks and explanations of his meaning. If any calls of pleasure or business should bring Dr. Watson to town, Mr. Gibbon would think himself happy in being permitted to solicit the honour of his acquaintance.

Dr. Watson’s answer, it would appear, was not sent for above two years.

"Sir, Cambridge, Jan. 14, 1779.

It will give me the greatest pleasure to ‘have an opportunity of becoming better acquainted with Mr. Gibbon. I beg he would accept my sincere thanks for the too favourable manner in which he has spoken of a performance, which derives its chief merit from the elegance and importance of the work it attempts to oppose.’ I have no hope of a future existence, except that which is grounded on the truth of Christianity. I wish not to be deprived of this hope; but I should be an apostate from the mild principle of the religion I profess, if I could be actuated with the least animosity against those who do not think with me upon this, of all others, the most important subject. I beg your pardon for this declaration of my belief; but my temper is naturally open, and it ought assuredly to be without disguise to a man whom I wish no longer to look upon as an antagonist, but as a friend. I have the honour to be, with every sentiment of respect, your obliged servant, V"

R. W."

So extraordinary a letter surely requires no comment. In 1781, he published a volume of “Chemical Essays,” addressed to his pupil the duke of Rutland, which was received with such deserved approbation, as to induce the author to give to the world, at ditferent times, four additional volumes of equal merit with the first. It has been stated, that when bishop Watson obtained the professorship of chemistry, without much previous knowledge of that science, he deemed it his duty to acquire it; and accordingly studied it with so much industry, as materially to injure his health: with what success, his publications on that branch of philosophy demonstrate. When he was appointed to that professorship, he gave public lectures, which were | attended by numerous audiences; and his “Chemical Essays” prove that his reputation was not undeserved. They have passed already through several editions, and are accounted a valuable manual to those who pursue that branch of science. “The subjects of these Essays,” to use the author’s own words, “have been chosen, not so much with a view of giving a system of Chemistry to the world, as with the humble design of conveying, in a popular way, a general kind of knowledge to persons not much versed in chemical inquiries.” He accordingly apologizes to chemists, for having explained common matters with, what will appear to them, a disgusting minuteness; and for passing over in silence some of the most interesting questions, such as those respecting the analysis of air and fire, &c. The learned author also apologizes to divines; whose forgiveness he solicits, for having stolen a few hours from the studies of his profession, and employed them in the cultivation of natural philosophy; pleading, in his defence, the example of some of the greatest characters that ever adorned either the University of Cambridge, or the Church of England. In the preface to the last of these volumes, he introduces the following observations: “When I was elected professor of divinity in 1771, I determined to abandon for ever the study of chemistry, and I did abandon it for several years but the veteris vestigia jtamm& still continued to delight me, and at length seduced me from my purpose. When I was made a bishop in 1782, I again determined to quit my favourite pursuit: the volume which I now offer to the public is a sad proof of the imbecility of my resolution. I have on this day, however, offered a sacrifice to other people’s notions, I confess, rather than to my own opinion of episcopal decorum. I have destroyed all my chemical manuscripts. A prospect of returning health might have persuaded me to pursue this delightful science; but I have now certainly done with it for ever at least I have taken the most effectual step I could to wean myself from an attachment to it: for with the holy zeal of the idolaters of old, who had been addicted to curious arts I have burned my books.

Having been tutor to the late duke of Rutland, when his grace resided at Cambridge, Dr. Watson was presented by him to the valuable rectory of Knaptoft, Leicestershire, in 1782; and in the same year, through the recommendation of the same noble patron, was advanced and consecrated to the | bishopric of Landaff. In consequence of the small ness of the revenues of the latter, Dr. Watson was allowed to hold with it the archdeaconry of Ely, his rectory in Leicestershire, the divinity professorship, and rectory of Somersham. At that time his fame for talents and science stood very high; but his politics having taken an impression from the party which he had espoused, and which, though then admitted to power, had been in opposition, probably prevented his advancement to a more considerable eminence on the episcopal bench*. Immediately after his promotion, he published “A Letter to archbishop Cornwallis on the Church Revenues,1783, 4to; recommending a new disposition, by which the bishoprics should be rendered equal to each other in value, and the smaller livings be so far increased in income, by a proportionate deduction from the richer endowments, as to render them a decent competency. This letter produced several pamphlets in opposition to the scheme, which was never afterwards brought forward in any other shape. In 1784 bishop Watson published “A Sermon preached before the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, in the Abbey Church, Westminster, on Friday, Jan. 30,” 4to; and also “Visitation Articles for the Diocese of Landaff,” 4to.

In 1785, this learned prelate was editor of a “Collection of Theological Tracts, selected from various authors, for the use of the younger Students in the University,” 6 vols. 8vo. This compilation, comprising pieces on the most interesting subjects in sacred literature by different writers, was intended to form a library of divinity for every candidate for holy orders. Some objections, however, have been made to it on the score of its not being entirely confined to the writings of members of the Church of England, or at least that it did not exclude some of dubious principles. In the same year he published “The Wisdom and Goodness of God, in having made both Rich and Poor, a Sermon,” 4to; and a second edition in 1793.

In 1786, bishop Watson had a considerable accession to his private fortune, by the death of Mr. Luther, of Ongar in Essex; who, having been one of his pupils at Cambridge, retained so great a sense of his worth, that he

* At the time of the king’s illness sionally advanced by him during the

in 1789, bishop Watson advocated the American War. and at an early period

unqualified right of the prince of Wales of the French Revolution, had the efto assume the regency, which, with feet, it is supposed, of impeding his

some other political doctrines occa- translation to a better bishopric. | bequeathed to him an estate, which was sold to the earl of Egremont for 24,000l.

In 1788 he published “Sermons on Public Occasions, and Tracts on Religious Subjects,” 8vo, consisting. chiefly of smaller pieces which had before been printed separately. “An Address to young Persons after Confirmation, 1789,” 12mo, which had been annexed to the first of his charges; and (anonymous) “Considerations on the Expediency of revising the Liturgy and Articles of the Church of England,1790, 8vo. On the 27th of February, 1791, bishop Watson preached, to a crowded congregation, at the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, a sermon before the governors of the Royal Humane Society, and again pleaded for the same Society in 1797, in a sermon at St. Bride’s, Fleetstreet; but neither of these has been printed. His sermon for the Westminster Dispensary (preached in 1785), was published in 1792, with an excellent appendix; as well as “A Charge delivered to the Ciergy of his Diocese in June 179J,” 4to. “Two Sermons, preached in the Cathedral Church of Landaff, and a Charge delivered to the Clergy of that Diocese in June 1795,” were published together in 1795, 4to. The first of these Sermons is a general argument against Atheists; the second, a more particular discussion of the evidences for Christianity. The purport of the charge is, to recommend theological humility, in opposition to dogmatizing.

In 1796, his lordship’s powers in theological controversy were called forth on a most important occasion, though by a very inferior antagonist to Gibbon. Thomas Paine, after -having enlightened the world in regard to politics, proceeded, in his “Age of Reason,” to dispel the clouds in which, he impiously conceived, Christianity had for so many ages enveloped the world. The arguments of this man were abundantly superficial; but his book was likely to produce greater effect than the writings of the most learned infidels. The connexion of his political with his religious opinions tended still farther to increase the danger; for atheism and jacobinism at that time went hand in hand. It was on this occasion that the bishop of Landaff stood forward in defence of Christianity, by publishing his most seasonable and judicious “Apology for the Bible, in a Series of Letters addressed to Thomas Paine,” 12mo. His genius was here rendered peculiarly conspicuous, by his adopting the popular manner and style of his | antagonist; and by thus addressing himself in a particular manner to the comprehensions and ideas of those who were most likely to be misled by the arguments he so very ably confuted. By this he in a great measure contributed to prevent the pernicious effects of “The Age of Keason” among the lower classes of the community, and at the same time led them to suspect and (detest the revolutionary and political tenets of the author. The British Critics, speaking of this apology, say, “We hail with much delight the repetition of editions of a book so important to the best of causes, the cause of Christianity, as the present. It is written in an easy and popular style. The author has purposely, and we think wisely, abstained from pouring into it much of that learning which the stores of his mind would readily have supplied. He has contented himself with answering every argument or cavil in the plainest and clearest manner, not bestowing a superfluous word, or citing a superfluous authority for any point whatever.

From the very i commencement of the discussions on the slave trade, his lordship always stood forward as a strenuous advocate “for its abolition; and though in the earlier years of the eventful contest with France which speedily succeeded, he in general recommended pacific measures, yet before its conclusion he became convinced of the necessity of prosecuting the war with vigour. His lordship’s” Address to the People of Great Britain,“1798, 8vo, is evidently the address of a man, who amidst all the differences in matters of less moment, feels honestly for his country in the hour of danger, and wishes to unite all hands and hearts in her defence. Such a tract from so distinguished a character was not likely to pass unnoticed: several replies appeared, among which the most intemperate was that of Gilbert Wakefield. His” Charge delivered to the Clergy of Landaff, is a suitable supplement to the “Address;” and in 1802 appeared another very excellent “Cnarge to the Clergy of Landaff.” hi 1803, the bishop published “A Sermon, preached in the Chapel of the London Hospital, on the 8th of April;” a powerful antidote to the mischief produced among the people at large by his old antagonist Paine; of whom he takes occasion thus to speak, contrasting him, as an unbeliever, with sir Isaac Newton as a believer: “I think myseli justified in saying, that a thousand such men are, in understanding, but as the dust of the balance, when weighed against | Newton;” an indubitable truth, most usefully presented to the contemplation of the multitude. In the same year appeared his “Thoughts on the intended Invasion,” 8vo. In “The Substance of a Speech intended to have been delivered in the House of Lords, Nov. 22, 1803,” which was printed in 1804, bishop Watson warmly entreats the nation, to coincide with the measures proposed for the emancipation of the catholics, and also states some proposals for freeing the nation of its public burthens by one patriotic effort.

The bishop published a Sermon preached at St. George, Hanover-square, May 3, 1804, before the Society for the Suppression of Vice; for which, it cannot be denied, he pleads with his usual energy; though it must be admitted, the principles and maxims of the society may not be found so efficacious towards the wished-for reformation, which is levelled at the lower ranks of society, instead of the higher, who are the manifest corrupters of the others, by their example and influence.

A Charge delivered to the Clergy of the Diocese of Landaff in June 1805,” was published in that year; and another in 1808: “Two Apologies, one for Christianity against Gibbon, and the other for the Bible against Paine, published together with two Sermons and a Charge in Defence of Revealed Religion,” in 1806, 8vo: “A Second Defence of Revealed Religion, in two Sermons; preached in the Chapel-royal, St. James’s, 1807.” “Communica r tion to the Board of Agriculture, on Planting and Waste Lands,1808. His lordship’s latest publication was a collection, of “Miscellaneous Tracts on Religious, Political, and Agricultural subjects,1815, 2 vols. 8vo. Some articles by him occur in the Transactions of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, of which he was one of the earliest members, During the last years of his life his lordship employed his leisure upon a history of his own times, after the manner of bishop Burnet’s celebrated work; and left directions for its publication after his decease. Such a performance from so, eminent a character will, of course, be expected with no ordinary anxiety by the political as well as the literary world, and will throw light on those parts of his own character and conduct which have been the subject of some difference of opinion. In the mean time it may be said of him, that he was an excellent public speaker, both in the pulpit and in the senate; his action graceful, his voice full and harmonious, | and his delivery chaste and correct. As far as his influence extended, he was invariably the patron of merit. As a writer, bishop Watson united the knowledge of a scholar with the liberality of a gentlemaa, and in the course of a long, active, and conspicuous life, his lordship’s demeanour was marked by the characteristics of a very superior mind. His partiality to unlimited toleration in regard to religious opinion called down upon him the applauses of one part of the community, and the censures of the other. He uniformly exerted his endeavours to procure the abolition of the corporation and test-acts. In his private deportment, though somewhat reserved, he was remarkable for the simplicity of his manners, and the equality of his temper; enjoying all the emoluments of his stations, and the fame arising from his writings, in rural retirement, at Calgarth-park, Westmorland, a beautiful sequestered situation on the celebrated Lakes, a retreat which he had not only adorned and improved, but in some measure created, and where he passed much of his time in the indulgence of those deep studies to which his whole life was addicted. His plantations here were very extensive, and in 1789 gained him a premium from the Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce. On the whole, Dr. Watson may justly be pronounced a prelate of distinguished abilities, learning, research, and industry. He had a numerous family, and many distinguished personages were attached to him by the ties of friendship; amongst whom, the late duke of Grafton, to the close of his life, was long one of the most conspicuous. 1

1 Gent. Mag.’ for 1816.