Egerton, John

, late bishop of Durham, a descendant of the preceding, was the son of Henry Egerton, bishop of Hereford (fifth son of John third earl of Bridgewater, by lady Jane Powlett, first daughter of Charles duke of Bolton), who marrying lady Elizabeth Ariana Bentinck, daughter of William earl of Portland, had by her one daughter and five sons, of whom John was the eldest. He was born in London, on the 30th of November, 1721, was educated at Eton school, and admitted a gentleman commoner in Oriel college, Oxford, upon the 20th of May 1740, under the tuition of the rev. Dr. Bentham, afterwards regius professor of divinity in that university, where he prosecuted his studies extensively and successfully for six or seven years. He was ordained deacon privately by Dr. Benjamin Hoadly, bishop of Worcester, in Grosvenor chapel, Westminster, on the 21st of Dec. 1745, and the following day he was ordained priest, at a general ordination holden by the same bishop in the same place. On the 23d he was collated by his father to the living of Ross in Herefordshire, and on the 28th was inducted by Robert Breton archdeacon of Hereford. On the 3d of January 1746 (a short time before his father’s death, which happened on the 1st of April following), he was collated to the canonry or prebend of Cublington, in the church of Hereford. Upon the 30th of May 1746, he took the degree of bachelor of civil law, for which he went out grand compounder. On the 21st of November 1748 he married Indy Anne Sophia, daughter of Henry de Grey, duke of Kent, by Sophia, daughter of William Bentinck, earl of Portland. He was appointed chaplain in ordinary to the king upon the lyth of March 1749; and was promoted to the deanery of Hereford on the 24th of July 1750. He was consecrated bishop of Bangor on the 4th of July 1756, at Lambeth; and had the temporalities restored to him upon | the 22d, previously to which, on the 21st of May, the university of Oxford conferred upon him the degree of LL. D. by diploma, and he was empowered to hold the living of Ross, and the prebend of Cublington, with that bishopric, in commendam, dated the 1st of July. On the 12th of November 1768, he was translated to the see of Lichfield and Coventry, with which he held the prebend of Weldland, and residentiary ship of St. Paul’s, and also the two preferments before mentioned. He was inducted, installed, and enthroned at Lichfield by proxy, upon the 22d of November, and had the temporalities restored upon, the 26th. On the death of Dr. Richard Trevor, he was elected to the see of Durham, upon the 8th of July 1771, and was confirmed on the 20th in St. James’s church, Westminster. Upon the 2d of August following he was enthroned and installed at Durham by proxy. The temporalities of the see were restored to his lordship on the 15th of August, and on the 3d of September he made his public entry into his palatinate. On his taking possession of the bishopric, he found the county divided by former contested elections, which had destroyed the general peace: no endeavours were wanting on his part to promote and secure a thorough reconciliation of contending interests, on terms honourable and advantageous to all; and when the affability, politeness, and condescension, for which he was distinguished, uniting in a person of his high character and station, had won the affections of ll parties to himself, he found less difficulty in reconciling them to each other, and had soon the high satisfaction to see men of the first distinction in the county conciliated by his means, and meeting in good neighbourhood at his princely table. The harmony he had so happily restored, he was equally studious to preserve, which he effectually did, by treating the nobility and gentry of the county at all times with a proper regard, by paying an entire and impartial attention to their native interests, by forbearing to improve any opportunities of influencing their parliamentary choice in favour of his own family or particular friends, and by consulting on all occasions the honour of the palatinate. The same conciliating interposition he had used in the county, he employed in the city of Durham with the same success. At the approach of the general election in 1780 he postponed granting the Mew charter, which would considerably enlarge the number | of voters, till some months after the election, that he might maintain the strictest neutrality between the candidates, and avoid even the imputation of partiality; and when he confirmed it, and freely restored to the city all its ancient rights, privileges, and immunities, in the most ample and advantageous form, he selected the members of the new corporation, with great care, out of the most moderate and respectable of the citizens, regardless of every consideration but its peace and due regulation; objects which he steadily held in view, and in the attainment of which he succeeded to his utmost wish, and far beyond his expectation. A conduct equally calculated to promote order and good government, he displayed, if possible, still more conspicuously in the spiritual than in the temporal department of his double office. Towards the chapter, and towards the body of the clergy at large, he exercised every good office, making them all look up to him as their common friend and father: and to those who had enjoyed the special favour of his predecessor, he was particularly kind and attentive, both from a sense of their merit, and that he might mitigate in some degree their loss of so excellent a friend and patron. In the discharge of all his episcopal functions, he was diligent and conscientious. He was extremely scrupulous whom he admitted into orders, in respect of their learning, character, and religious tenets. In his visitations, he urged and enforced the regularity, the decorum, and the well-being of the church, by a particular inquiry into the conduct of its ministers, encouraging them to reside upon their several henetices, and manifesting upon all opportunities, a sincere and active concern for the interests and accommodation of the inferior clergy. His charges were the exact transcripts of his mind. Objections have been made to some compositions of this kind, that they bear the resemblance of being as specious as sincere, and are calculated sometimes, perhaps, rather a little more to raise the reputation of their author as a fine writer, than to edify the ministry and advance religion. Of the charges his lordship delivered, it may truly be said, that, upon such occasions, he recommended nothing to his clergy which he did not practise in his life, and approve of in his closet.

Some years before his death, his health not permitting him to go into the more distant parts of his diocese, he gave a commission to Dr. Law, then bishop of Cioufert and | KilmaccUiagh, assisted by the archdeacon, to visit and confirm in Northumberland, confining his personal attendance to the county of Durham. The preferments in his disposal he gave with a truly pastoral care: with many of them he rewarded the provincial clergy, on account of their learning and other merits. In a remarkable instance, in which he wished to prefer a particular friend, he declined indulging his inclination, from a conviction, that the person he was desirous to promote, was not entirely orthodox in his tenets; making a covenant with himself that his affection should not press upon his duty. Such was the wise ceconomy preserved by his lordship, that the expence attending his hospitality and munificence was no obstruction to his well-directed benefactions. Besides many gifts and charities bestowed on indigent clergymen and their families, and other deserving characters in distress, with a delicacy that gave them a double value, and which, during his life, were industriously concealed, he continued to his death all the bounties he had annually given in his two former dioceses of Bangor, and of Lichfield and Coventry, as well as all the numerous benefactions of his predecessors at Durham, increasing those to the sons of the clergy, whom he was particularly solicitous to support, and those to the infirmary at Newcastle. To St. Anne’s chapel in. Auckland, to the schools of Wolsingham, Norton, and many other places, he gave particular benefactions; and, whenever it was practicable, he made it a condition of his consent, upon the inclosure of waste lands, that twenty or thirty acres should be given to the living, where it was small, over and above the allotment to which it was entitled. To the county in general, he was a great benefactor, as well as to the copyholders in particular. He promoted the inclosure of Walling Fen in Howdenshire, which could never have been accomplished without his interposition, on account of the many opposite interests concerned in it, by which six thousand acres were drained and cultivated, and now present the agreeable and useful prospect of numerous farms and cottages, a new town, and a navigation from Market Weighton to the Humber.

He applied to parliament to exonerate the copyholders of Lanchester-fell, and Hamsteel’s-fell, of the lord’s right to the timber, a measure highly useful and liberal; in consequence of which, many trees are planted on a surface of nearly thirty thousand acres, and are become already | ornamental to the country, and will in time be useful to the nation. He cpnsemed to an act of parliament for infranchising certain copyholds in the manor of Howdenshire, for the accommodation and convenience of the tenants, by enabling them to convey their lands with more ease and safety, and at the same time without prejudice to the lord. In the great flood of November 1771 the whole of the bridge over the Tyne, between Newcastle and Gateshead, was either swept away, or so much damaged as to render the taking it down necessary. Of the expence of rebuilding it, the see of Durham was subject to onethird, and the corporation of Newcastle to the remainder. Parliament enabled the bishop to raise, by life annuities chargeable upon the see, a sum sufficient for rebuilding his proportion. The surveyors for the bishop and corporation disagreeing, the bridge is not rebuilt upon a regular plan; which was so contrary to his lordship’s wishes, that he offered to advance to the corporation the amount of his one-third, that they mi^ht undertake the management of the whole, and finish it uniformly; which proposal was not accepted. In the progress of this business, he not only consented that his expence should be enlarged, but likewise that his income should be diminished; for he agreed to the widening of the new bridge, by which the expences of rebuilding were increased; and then, to alleviate the losses of his tenants who had houses on the old bridge, he gave them full leases for building upon the new, without taking any tine: but as building upon the new bridge would impair the beauty of it, and be an inconvenience to the public, he gave up his own interests in the sites of the houses, on condition that his tenants should have an equivalent on another spot, upon agreeing not to build upon the new bridge; and he then procured it to be enacted by parliament, that no houses should, in future, be built upon the new bridge, though the renewal of the leases of the buildings that otherwise might have been erected thereon, would have produced him a considerable income. The important rights of property, which had been long in dispute between the see and the respectable family of C layering, were brought by his means to an amicable conclusion and the rights of boundary, which his predecessors had long been litigating, were fully ascertained and when, by authority of parliament, he granted a lease of the estates in question, for Un.<. lues, he gave the fine he | received for the lease to his lessee of the mines, in consideration of the expences which were formerly incurred by him in defending the right It may truly be considered as no small proof of his moderation, that notwithstanding for nearly seventeen years he held the bishopric of Durham, in which the rights of property are so various and extensive, the persons with whom he had to transact business so numerous, and in their expectations, perhaps, not always reasonable, he had during that whole period but one Jaw-suit: and though there are in these times certainly no improper prejudices in favour of the claims of the church, that law-suit was, by a jury of the county, determined in his favour. It was instituted to prevent the onus of repairing the road between Auckland park and the river Wear from being fixed upon his successors, to whose interests he was always properly attentive. He adjusted the quota of the land tax of the estates in London belonging to the see, procuring to himself and his successors an abatement of 13-20ths of what had been before unduly paid; and he greatly increased the rents of the episcopal demesnes at Stockton. His additions and improvements at the episcopal palaces, offices, and grounds, did equal credit to his taste and liberality. Exclusively of such as he made in the castle and offices at Durham, by fitting up the great breakfast-room, now used as a drawing-room, and by enlarging and repairing the stables and their dependencies; at Auckland-castle, where he chiefly resided, his improvements were equally well judged, and much more various and expensive. At the north-east entrance of Auckland demesne, which, in the approach from Durham, opens the extensive and magnificent scene of the park and castle, he built a porter’s lodge and a gateway, and ornamented these with large plantations: and the new apartments at the south of the castle, which were begun by his predecessors, he completed, and made into a magnificent suite of rooms. The great room he fitted up, and new furnished the chapel. The steward’s house, as well as the offices and stables, he enlarged, repaired, and altered into regular buildings; and he lowered the walls of the court and bowling-green, to the great beauty of the scenery from the house. With the monies arising from the sale of the rents and fines in Howdenshire, he bought the Park closes, the Haver closes, and other grounds adjoining to the park, with some houses and tenements in Auckland; he considerably | extended the park wall, intending to continue it round the whole the kitchen garden he greatly enlarged, and secured it by a stone pier from the river Gaunless he built another stone pier and wall, to cover part of the park from the ravages of the river Wear; he embanked against the Gaunless in its whole course through the park, and formed in it many beautiful falls. He ornamented the park and demesne lands with various plantations, draining and improving the whole with much judgment, and especially the park farm, which he inclosed. Ail the grounds he kept in the very neatest order, employing the oldest and most indigent persons in the neighbourhood. In Belbourne wood, he cut several walks and ridings, and totally rebuilt the lodge-house and farm, which presents a beautiful object to the castle. Notwithstanding all these expences, he was liberal and indulgent to his tenants, remitting many fines, and taking no more than one year’s rent for a renewal of seven years, or one life; attempts, however, were sometimes made to abuse his lenity and indulgence.*


A gentleman applied to his lordship to exchange a life, which he stated to be a very good one, and said, that the reason which induced him to make this request, was merely that he had a quarrel with the man, and wished to have nothing to do even with his name; whereas the fact was, that the quarrel, if ever it had taken place, was certainly made up; and the man, whose life in the lease was desired to be exchanged, was dying, and was attended by a physician, at the expence of the lessee.

He discharged all the duties of his high and arduous station with a steadiness that was very remarkable: he not only knew what was right, but acted conformably to that knowledge: though he set a proper value upon the opinions of mankind, no man was less under the influence of vain popularity; and when upon reflection he had thoroughly satisfied his own mind, regardless of the world and the world’s law, he would never suffer the prejudices of others to supersede and cancel the higher obligations of what he conceived to be his duty. This firmness of disposition, advantageous in so many points of view, fitted him peculiarly for the administration of the great and various powers with which he was entrusted.

It is not always that men distinguished in public appear to advantage in their private characters. We shall consider the life of our prelate in both these views, and each will throw a lustre upon the other. In the following sketch we mean to delineate such select traits only as are not common to all other men, but were more peculiar in him. | His person was tall and well formed, it had both elegance and strength; his countenance was ingenuous, animated, and engaging. By nature he was endowed with strong and lively parts, a good temper, “and an active disposition. Descended from noble ancestors, and initiated from his birth in the most honourable connections, his manners and sentiments were cast from an early age in the happiest mould, and gave all the advantages of that ease and propriety of behaviour, which were so very observable even in the most indifferent actions of his life. In his address there was a peculiar mixture of dignity and affability, by which he had the remarkable art both of encouraging those who were diffident, and checking those who were presumptuous. The vivacity of his spirits and conversation, and the peculiar propriety of his manners, made him universally admired and caressed. His memory was accurate and extensive. In describing the characters, and in relating the anecdotes and transactions with which he had been acquainted, he took particular delight; and this, when his health permitted, he did with much spirit, and often with the utmost pleasantry and humour; but scrupulously taking care that the desire of ornamenting any narrative should never in the smallest degree induce him to depart from the truth of it. With so rare and happy a talent for description, with a mind stored with much information, and a memory very retentive, he was one of the most instructive and entertaining of companions; his conversation was enriched with pertinent and useful observations, and enlivened by genuine wit and humorous anecdote. He had a very peculiar art of extricating himself with much immediate address from those little embarrassments which perplex and confound many, and which often occur in society from thf awkwardness of others, or from a concurrence of singular and unexpected circumstances. When pressed by improper questions,*


The following are two instances, among the many that might be alluded to: to a gentleman who indulged rather an unnecessary curiosity in inquiring of him what he inherited from his father? what was his wife’s fortune? and what was the value of his living at Ross? he answered to the first question, “not so much as he expected;” to the second, “not so much as was reported;” and to the third, “more than he made of it.A gentleman requiring of him the renewal of a lease upon terms far short of its real value, and the bishop refusing, the gentleman assigned as a reason why the proposal ought to be accepted, that his lordship was in such a declining state of health, as to render his life very precarious, implying that it was very improbable he should live long; upon this the bishop very


readily remarked, “since that was the case, the gentleman must be convinced that his own interest was but a second ary consideration to him, and his principal object must be to do no injury to his successors.

instead of being offended with | them himself, or giving offence by his replies, be had a talent of returning very ready and very dextrous answers. In every sort of emergency, as well in personal danger as in difficulties of an inferior nature, he shewed an uncommon presence of mind. He possessed a great reach of understanding, and was singularly gifted with a quick and ready judgment, deciding rightly upon the instant when it was necessary. No man was better qualified, or at the same time more averse to give his opinion; which, upon many occasions, he found a difficulty in avoiding, its value being so well known, that it was often solicited by his friends; and, when he was prevailed upon, he delivered it rather with the humility of one who asked, than with the authority of one who gave advice. In forming his friendships, he was as cautious as he was steady and uniform in adhering to them. He was extremely partial to the friendships of his youth, and made a particular point of being useful to those with whom he had been thus early connected. In all the domestic relations of life he was exemplary, as a husband, a master, and a parent. Instead of holding over his children an authority founded upon interest, during his life he put them into possession of a great part of such fortunes as they would have inherited from him upon his death, willing to have their obedience proceed not merely from a sense of duty, but from gratitude, and from pure disinterested affection. Though he was ever disinclined to write for the public, yet his merit as a scholar was, however, well known, and properly estimated, by such of his private friends as were them” selves distinguished by their erudition, particularly by archbishop Seeker, Benson bishop of Gloucester, Butler bishop of Durham, the late lord Lyttelton, the late lord Egremont, the late Mr. George Grenville, Mr. William Gerard Hamilton, Mr. Ansty, Mr. Richard Owen Cambridge, Mr. Garrick, Mr. Stillingfleet, Mr. J. Nourse, author of several pieces of poetry in Dodsley’s collection, Dr. Croxall, sir William Draper, &c. &c. His only publications were three sermons one preached before the lords, the llth of February, 1757, being a general fast another before the lords, the 30th of January, 1761 and a third before the society for the propagation of the gospel, on the 18th of February, 1763. | In the early part of his life he was fond of those manly exercises which give strength and vigour both to the body and mind, without suffering them to interrupt his studies; a practice, which thus regulated, instead of being injurious, is serviceable to learning, and which men eminent for their judgment have lamented was not more cultivated and improved. His usual relaxations were such as exercised the understanding; chess was his favourite amusement, and he played well at that game. The Greek and Latin tongues were familiar to him. He spoke the French and Italian languages; and wrote, and spoke his own with purity and precision. Of books he had a competent knowledge, and collected a good library. In every thing he had a pure taste. In history, anecdotes, and memoirs, in the belles-lettres, in the arts and sciences, and in whatever else may be supposed to fall within the circle of polite education, he was by no means uninstructed.

His health had been declining for many years, and though he was neither so old nor so infirm as to look upon death as a release, he lived as it he hourly expected it. He died at his house in Grosvenor-square, London, on the 18th of January, 1787, and by his own express desire was privately interred in St. James’s church, under the communion-table, near his father. By his wife, lady Sophia, he had a daughter (the lady of sir Abraham Hume, bart.) and two sons, John-William, who on the death of Francis, third duke of Bridgwater, succeeded to the earldom, and is now seventh earl of Bridgewater; and the hon. and rev. Francis Egerton, prebendary of Durham, and rector of Whitchurch, in Shropshire, to whom the last and present articles are much indebted for his work entitled “A compilation of various authentic evidences and historical authorities, tending to illustrate the life and character of Thomas Egerton, lord Ellesmere, viscount Brackley, lord chancellor of England, Jfcc. and the nature of the times in wjiich he was lord keeper and lord chancellor; also a sketch of the lives of John Egerton, bishop of Durham, and of Francis Egerton, third duke of Bridgewater,” fol. 1

1 Hutchlnsoa’s Hist, of Durham, vol. III. Brydges’s edit, of Collins’s Peerage.