Burnet, William

, eldest son of the preceding, was educated privately at first, and when perfected in the learned languages, was removed to the university of Cambridge, where he was admitted a gentleman commoner of Trinity college. In 1706 he was sent with his two younger brothers abroad, to finish his studies at Leyden; from whence he appears to have made a tour through Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. By his own choice he was bred to the law; but it is uncertain whether he practised at the bar. In 1720 he was one of the unhappy persons who suffered greatly in the infatuation of the South-Sea scheme. He had, however, a place in the revenue, of twelve hundred pounds a year; but, being desirous of retrieving his fortune, he quitted that post, and was appointed governor of New York and the Jerseys. In this station his conduct in general was very acceptable to those colonies, and approved of in England. After the accession of king George the Second, in order to provide for a gentleman who was understood to be in particular esteem with his majesty, Mr. Burnet was removed from the governments of New | York and the Jerseys to those of the Massachusets and New Hampshire. This change was highly disagreeable, and he considered it as a great hardship to be obliged to part with posts that were very profitable, for such. as would afford him, at best, only a decent support; and to leave an easy administration for one which he foresaw would be extremely troublesome. Of this he complained to his friends, and it had a visible effect upon his spirits. On the 13th of July, 1728, he arrived at Boston, and was received with unusual pomp. Having been instructed from England to insist on a fixed salary’s being settled upon him as governor, he adhered to his instructions with such unabated vigour and perseverance, as involved him in the warmest disputes with the general assembly of the province. A large detail of these contests may be seen in Mr. Hutchinson’s History of Massachusets’ Bay, from which Mr. Burnet’s abilities, firmness, and spirit will appear in a striking light. Being deprived of his salary, by refusing to receive it in the mode proposed by the assembly, and having by that means been driven to such straits as obliged him to apply to the assistance of his friends for the support of his family, he thought he might be justified in establishing a fee and perquisite which had never been known in the province before. At New York, all vessels took from the governor a pass, or permission for sailing out of the harbour, which, though it had no foundation in law, was submitted to without complaint. The same disposition did not prevail in the inhabitants of Boston. The fee which Mr. Burnet imposed on the ships, for their passes, being complained of to the king and council as illegal and oppressive, it was immediately disapproved. In all other respects his administration was unexceptionable, but this controversy with the general assembly made a great impression upon his mind. In the latter end of August, 1729, he was seized, at Boston, with a fever, which carried him off on the 7th of September, and the assembly ordered him a very honourable funeral at the public expence. Though he had been steady and inflexible in his adherence to his instructions, he discovered nothing of a grasping avaricious temper. His superior talents, and free and easy manner of communicating his sentiments, rendered him the delight of men of sense and learning; and his right of precedence in all companies, facilitated his natural disposition to take a great lead in conversation. His own | account of his genius was, that it was late before it budded; and that, until he was nearly twenty years of age, his father despaired of his ever making any figure in life. This, perhaps, might proceed from the exact discipline of the bishop’s family, not calculated alike for every temper. To long and frequent religious services at home in his youth, Mr. Burnet would sometimes pleasantly attribute his indisposition to a scrupulous attendance on public worship. Mr. Burnet' s first lady was a daughter of Dr. George Stanhope, dean of Canterbury, and was a woman equally distinguished for her beauty, wit, good-humour, singing, and various accomplishments. Her sense will appear from the following anecdote: When she was dying, being worn out with a long and painful sickness, as they rubbed her temples with Hungary water, in her last faintings, she begged them not to do it, for “that it would make her hair gray.” Mr. William Burnet was the author of a tract entitled “A View of Scripture Prophecy.1


Biog. Brit.