Comber, Thomas

, dean of Durham, the son of James Comber, and Mary Burton, who, when she married his father was the widow of Mr. Edward Hampden of Westerham in Kent, was born at Westerham March 19, 1644, and was the last child baptised in that parish church according to the rites of the church of England, before those rites were prohibited by the usurping powers. His father was so persecuted in that tumultuous period, for his loyalty, as to be compelled to take refuge in Flanders, leaving his son entirely under the care of jiis mother. His early education he received at the school of Westerham, under | the rev. Thomas Walter, a teacher of piety as well as learning. Here his progress was so rapid that he could read and write Greek before he was ten years old, and in other respects was accounted a pupil of great promise. From this place he removed in 1653 to London, and passed some time under a schoolmaster, a distant relation, but without adding much to his stock of knowledge, and in 1656 returned to his first master at Westerham, and on his death, read Greek and Latin, for a year, assisted by the rev. William Holland.

In 1659 he was admitted of Sidney-Sussex college, Cam-, bridge, April 18, after having completed his fourteenth year. Here he was under the care of the rev. Edmund Matthews, B. D. senior fellow and president of the college. To this gentleman he acknowledges his obligations for the pains he took in teaching him experimental philosophy, geometry, astronomy, and other parts of the mathematics, music, painting, and even the oriental languages, and the elements of philosophy and divinity. His family having been sufferers by the rebellion, he was obliged to husband his little property with the utmost care, and seems to have considered an exhibition of ten pounds annually as a very important acquisition; because with the addition of five pounds from a private benefactor, he informs us, “it enabled him to live very well, and from that time, he put his parents to no other expence, but that of providing him his clothes and books.” In January 1662 he was chosen scholar of the house, with another pension of five pounds per annum % which cheered an ceconomist of such humble expectations with the prospect of absolute plenty. Having been admitted to the degree of A. B. Jan. 21, 1662, he now indulged the natural wish of a young scholar, to continue in the university, and was led to entertain hopes of obtaining a fellowship, either in his own college, or in St. John’s, the master of which, Dr. Gunning, had made him many promises; but these proving abortive, and the ten pound exhibition being withdrawn (which did not come from the college, but from a fund raised by certain Kentish men resident in London) he was obliged to leave the university, and retire to his father’s house. In this situation, however, he was not without friends; a Mr. John Holney of Eden-bridge, a pious old gentleman, and his father’s particular friend, found out his merit, and made him a handsome present, with a request that he would draw upon | him at any time for any sum he might want; and so many other friends from other quarters appeared, that Mr. Comber never found it necessary to avail himself of Mr. Holney’s munificence in the future periods of his life.

Early in 1663, he accepted an invitation to the house of his late preceptor Mr. Holland, now rector of All-hallows Staining, London, and being ordained deacon Aug. 18, he read prayers for Mr. Holland, and employed the week in studying at Sjon college. Soon after he was invited to be curate to the rev. Gilbert Bennet, who held the living of Stonegrave in Yorkshire, and who promised, if he liked him, to resign in his favour in a year or two, as he was possessed of other preferment. Having accepted this offer, he was next year ordained priest at York minster by archbishop Sterne, and no objection, was made to his age (twenty years) on account of his uncommon qualifications; and when this circumstance, which had not passed unobserved, was afterwards objected to the archbishop, as an irregularity, he declared he had found no reason to repent. In 1666 he was admitted at Cambridge to his master’s degree by proxy, the plague then raging at the university. At Stonegrave, his character having recommended him to the notice of Mr. Thornton of East-Newton in Yorkshire, he was invited to reside at that gentleman’s house, and he afterwards married one of his daughters. While he lived with this family, he wrote various theological pieces, and also amused himself with poetical compositions. In 1669 Mr. Bennet resigned the living of Stonegrave, and Mr, Comber was inducted in October of that year.

Having long been an admirer of the church-service, ne determined to recommend* it to the public, which at that time was frequently interested in disputes respecting set forms and extempore prayer; and with this view published, about 1672, the first part of his “Companion to the Temple;” in 1674 the second part; and in 1675, the third part, of which a different arrangement was adopted in the subsequent editions. In 1677, he was installed prebend of Holme in the metropolitan church of York, and the same year, so rapid was the sale, a third edition of his “Companion to the Temple” was published, and at the same time a new edition of a very useful tract, to which he did not put his name, entitled “Advice to the Roman Catholics,” and his first book of “The Right of Tithes,” &c. against Elwood the quaker, and also without his name, | The same year appeared his “Brief Discourse on the Offices of Baptism, Catechism, and Confirmation,” dedicated to Tillotson. In 1678 the living of Thornton becoming vacant, he was presented to it by sir Hugh Choimeley; and as this place was only ten miles from Stonegrave, he found no difficulty in obtaining a dispensation from the archbishop of Canterbury, who also created him, by patent, D. D. In 1680 we find him combating an adversary, on the subject of tithes, far more considerable than Elwood, namely, John Selden, so justly celebrated for his learning and abilities. In confutation of Selden’s “History of Tithes,” he now published the first part of his “Historical Vindication of the Divine right of Tithes,” and in 1681, the second part. Some time in this year, he published a tract, entitled “Religion and Loyalty,” which he informs us was intended to convince the duke of York, that no person in succession to the throne of England ought to embrace popery; and to persuade the people of England not to alter the succession. As in this pamphlet he seemed to favour the doctrine of non-resistance, he was attacked by the popular party as an enemy to freedom; but his biographer has defended him with success against such charges.

Some inferior preferments, obtained by Dr. Comber, were followed (in 16S3) by a grant of the dignity of precentor of York. He was in this situation when a series of imprudent and arbitrary measures roused that national spirit which drove James II. from his throne. The precentor was not slow in promoting this spirit; and, when the prince and princess of Orange had been called to the throne, he vindicated the legality of the new government against the calumnies of the Tory party. His patriotic exertions were not unrewarded; for he was promoted in 1691 to the valuable deanry of Durham, partly by the interest of archbishop Tillotson, but was not a little affected in owing the vacancy to the deprivation of his friend Dr. Dennis Grenville, a nonjuror. He would probably have been at length advanced to the episcopal dignity, had not a consumption put an end to his life in 1699, before he had completed his fifty-fifth year.

Besides the works already noticed, Dr. Comber wrote, 1. “A Scholastical History of the primitive and general use of Liturgies in the Christian Church; together with an Answer to Mr. David Clarkson’s late Discourse concerning | Liturgies,” Lond. 1690, dedicated to king William and queen Mary. 2. “A Companion to the Altar; or, an Help to the worthy Receiving of the Lord’s Supper, by Discourses and Meditations upon the whole Communionoffice.” 3. “A brief Discourse upon the Offices of Baptism, Catechism, and Confirmation,” printed at the end of the Companion to the Altar.“4.A Discourse on the occasional Offices in the Common Prayer, viz. Matrimony, Visitation of the Sick, Burial of the Dead, Churching of Women, and the Commination.“5.A Discourse upon the Manner and Form of making Bishops, Priests, and Deacons,“London, 1699, 8vo, dedicated to archbishop Tenison. 6.” Short Discourses upon the whole Common Prayer, designed to inform the judgment, and excite the devotion of such as daily use the same;“chiefly byway of paraphrase, London, 1684, 8vo, dedicated to Anne, princess of Denmark, to whom the author was chaplain. 7. f Roman Forgeries in the Councils during the first four Centuries; together with an Appendix, concerning the forgeries and errors in the annals of Baronius,” ibid. 1689, 4to. It seems doubtful whether the edition of Fox’s “Christus Triumphans,” which appeared in 1672, was published by him. From his correspondence, and from a ms account of his life left in his family, his great grandson, the rev. T. Comber of Jesus college, Cambridge, published in 1799, an interesting volume, entitled “Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Thomas Comber, D. D. some time dean of Durham; in which is introduced a candid view of the scope and execution of the -several works of Dr. Comber, as well printed as ms.; also a fair account of his literary correspondence.” Of this we have availed ourselves as to the preceding facts, and must still refer to it for a more satisfactory detail of Dr. Comber’s public services and private character. He was unquestionably a pious, learned, and indefatigable supporter of the doctrine and discipline of the church of England; and his private character added a very striking lustre to his public professions. His principal works, not of the controversial kind, are those he wrote on the various parts of the liturgy, which, although in less reputation now than formerly, unquestionably were the first of the kind, and rendered the labours of his successors Nichols, Wheatley, &c. more easy. His style is in general perspicuous, although void of ornament, and the phraseology, somewhat | peculiar; but these liturgical commentaries are chiefly valuable for the accumulation of learned references and authorities. As to his private character, his biographer assures us, that “his modesty and inambition were singularly remarkable. Content with a moderate fortune, he was desirous of continuing in a private station, though possessed of abilities and integrity capable of adorning the most exalted and splendid rank. Insensible equally to the calls of ambition and the allurements of wealth, we behold him declining situations of honour and emolument, to obtain which thousands have made shipwreck of their honour and conscience. When the importunity of his friends had at last prevailed on him to lay aside his thoughts of continuing in obscurity, and induced him to step forward into a more public life, we see him respected by all the great and good men of his time, and frequently receiving public marks of esteem from the lips of royalty itself. The same modesty which had made him desirous of continuing in a private station, still adhered to him when preferred to an eminent dignity in the church: unassuming and humble in private life, in public he was dignified without pride, and generous without ostentation.

There was also another Thomas Comber, D. D. who lived in the same century, and was of Trinity college in Cambridge. He was born -in Sussex, Jan. 1, 1575 5 admitted scholar of Trinity college, May 1593; chosen fellow of the same, October 1597; preferred to the deanery of Carlisle, August 1630; and sworn in master of Trinity college, Oct. 1631. In 1642, he was imprisoned, plundered, and deprived of all his preferments; and died February 1653, at Cambridge. He was a man of very extensive learning, particularly in the classical and oriental languages; and Neal, the historian of his persecutors, bears testimony to the excellence of his character in this and other respects. He is here however noticed, chiefly to correct the mistakes of the Biog. Britannica, Wood’s Athenas, &c. in which he is confounded with the dean of Durham, and said to have entered into a controversy with Selden on the subject of tithes. He was, however, related to him, the dean’s grandfather John Comber, esq. being his uncle. 1


Memoirs as above.—Birch’s Tillolson.—Of the Dean of Carlisle, see Walker’s Sufferings, and his Fuueral Sermon by Boreman, 1653, 4to.