Farmer, Hugh

, a learned divine among the-protestant dissenters, was born in 17 14, at a village near Shrewsbury, where his parents resided, and being early designed for the dissenting ministry, received the first part of his grammatical learning in a school in Llanegrin, nearTowyn, | Merionethshire, which had been founded by two of his progenitors. From tiiis place he was sent to perfect his classical education under the tuition of Dr. Owen of Warrington and in 1730, began his academical studies at Northampton, under the care of Mr. (afterwards Dr.) Doddridge, being one of the doctor’s earliest pupils. After Mr. Farmer had finished his academical course, he became chaplain to William Coward, esq. of Waltham-Stowe, Essex, and preacher in a meeting-house which had been lately erected by that gentleman, whose name is of great note^ among the dissenters, on account of the large bequests which he made for the education of young men for the ministry, and for other beneficent purposes. Mr. Coward was remarkable for the peculiarities and oddities of his temper; and in this respect many pleasant stories are related concerning him. Amongst his other whimsies, his house was shut up at an uncommon early hour, we believe at six in the winter, and seven in the summer; and whoever, whether a visitant or a stated resident, trespassed upon the time, was denied admission. Mr. Farmer having one evening been somewhat too late, was of course excluded. In this exigence he had recourse to a neighbouring family, that of William Snell, esq. a solicitor, in which he continued more than thirty years, during the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Snell, by whom he was treated more like an equal than an inferior. Here he enjoyed a long series of peaceful leisure, which he employed in collecting a large fund of sacred and profane literature, and in his duties as a pastor. His congregation, which, when he accepted the charge of it, was very small, gradually became one or the most wealthy dissenting societies in or near the city of" London.

Mr. Farmer’s first appearance as an author was in a discourse on the suppression of the rebellion of 1745. It was preached on the day of public thanksgiving appointed upon that occasion in 1746, and printed in the same year. This was the only sermon that we recollect his having ever committed to the press. His abilities, though they might have been usefully displayed in that way, led him to those novel opinions on which his temporary fame was founded. Iiv 1761, he published “An Inquiry into the nature and design of Christ’s Temptation in the Wilderness” the general intention of which is to show, that this part of the evangelical history is not only to be understood as a recital of | visionary representations, but that the whole was a divine vision, premonitory of the labours and offices of our Lord’s future ministry. An interpretation so new and singular, could not pass unnoticed. In 1762 there appeared a pamphlet against the Inquiry, entitled “Christ’s Temptations, real facts: or, a Defence of the Evangelic History; shewing that our Lord’s temptations may be fairly and reasonably understood as a narrative of what was really transacted.A second edition of Mr. Farmer’s treatise was soon called for; in which the subject received additional illustration from a considerable number of new notes. Besides this, he published in 1764, an appendix to the “Inquiry,” containing some farther observations on the point in debate, and an answer to objections. Another tract, the publication of which was occasioned by the “Inquiry,” was entitled “The Sovereignty of the Divine Administration vindicated, or a rational Account of our blessed Saviour’s remarkable Temptation in the Wilderness; the Possessed at Capernaum, the Demoniacs at Gadara, and the Destruction of the Swine: with free Remarks on several other important passages in the New Testament.” This was a posthumous piece, which had been written before Mr. Farmer’s work appeared, by Mr. Dixon, who had been a dissenting minister, first at Norwich, and afterwards at Bolton in Lancashire. Mr. Dixon proposes a figurative or allegorical interpretation of our Lord’s temptation. A third edition, with large additions, of Mr. Farmer’s “Inquiry” was published in 1776. In 1771, he published “A Dissertation on Miracles, designed to shew that they are arguments of a divine interposition, and absolute proofs of the mission and doctrine of a Prophet,” 8vo. Not long -after the appearance of the “Dissertation,” a notion was propagated, that Mr. Farmer had made considerable use of a treatise of Le Moine l s on the same subject, without acknowledging it; and it was asserted, that his book had the very same view with Mr. Le Moine’s, and was a copy of his work.Mr. Farmer therefore endeavoured to vindicate himself in a pamphlet, published in 1772, entitled “An Examination of the late rev. Mr. Le Moine’s Treatise on Miracles,” in which he enters into a particular discussion of that performance, and a defence of himself; but the accusation continued to be repeated, particularly by a writer in th? London Magazine.

In 1775, Mr. Farmer gave to the world “Essay on the | Demoniacs of the New Testament,” in which his opinions were too far remote from those of the Christian world to give much satisfaction. It was ably attacked by Dr. Worthington, a learned clergyman, who had already favoured the public with some pious and valuable writings, in “An impartial Inquiry into the case of the Gospel Demoniacs, with an Appendix, consisting of an essay on Scripture Demonology,1777. There were some things advanced in this work, which, in Mr. Farmer’s opinion, deserved to be considered; and he thought that certain parts of the subject were capable of farther and fuller illustration. He printed, therefore, in 1778, “Letters to the rev. Dr. Worthington, in answer to his late publication, entitled An impartial Inquiry into the case of the Gospel Demoniacs.” Another of Mr. Fanner’s antagonists was the late rev. Mr. Fell, a dissenting minister, at that time of Thaxted in Essex, and afterwards one of the tutors of the dissenting academy at Homerton. This gentleman pubJished in 177l>, a treatise, entitled “Demoniacs an inquiry into the lieathen and the Scripture doctrine of Daemons; in which the hypotheses of the rev. Mr. Farmer, and others, on this subject, are particularly considered,” In this Mr. Fell deduces the injurious consequences to natural and revealed religion which he apprehends to result from the doctrines advanced in the “Dissertation on Miracles,” and the “Essay on the Demoniacs,” but acquits Mr. Farmer of any evil design, and allows “that he really meant to serve the cause of virtue, which he thought could not be more effectually done than by removing every thing which appeared to him in the light of superstition.

Mr. Farmer’s last work appeared in 1783, and was entitled “The general prevalence of the worship of Human Spirits in the ancient lieathen Nations asserted and proved.” In this work, which had liule success, there arc a number of notes referring to Mr. Fell, and which shew Mr. Farmer’s sensibility to the attack that had been made upon him by that writer. Indeed, says his panegyrist, we cannot approve of the oblique manner in which some of these notes are composed. It would have been far preferable in our author, either not to have taken any notice of Mr. Fell at all, or to have done it in a more open and manly way. Mr. Fell was not backward in his own vindication. This appeared in 1785, in a publication entitled “The Idolatry of Greece and Rome distinguished from that of other | heathen nations: in a letter to the reverend Hugh Farmer.” At the same time that in this tract ample retaliation is made upon Mr. Farmer for his personal severities, it appears to us to contain many things, which, if he had continued to publish on the subject, would have been found deserving of consideration and reply.

As a minister Mr. Farmer received every mark of honour from the dissenters which it was in their power to bestow. For a great number of years he preached twice a day at Walthamstow: but, an associate being at length provided for him at that place, he became in 1761 afternoonpreacher to the congregation of Salters-hall, and some time after was chosen one of the Tuesday-lecturers at Salters-hall. He was also a trustee of the rev. Dr. Daniel Williams’ s various bequests; and he was likewise one of Mr. Coward’s trustees; in which capacity he became a dispenser of the large charities that had been left by the gentleman with whom he had been connected in early life. As Mr. Farmer advanced in years, he gradually remitted of his employments as a divine. He resigned first, in 1772, the being afternoon-preacher at Salters-hall; after which, in 1780, he gave up the Tuesday lectureship of the same place. In his pastoral relation at Walthamstow he continued a few years longer, when he quitted the pulpit entirely. In these several cases his resignations were accepted with peculiar regret. After he had ceased to be a preacher, it was his general custom to spend part of the winter at Bath. Early in 1785, Mr. Farmer was afflicted with almost a total failure of sight, which, however, was restored by the skill, first of Baron Wenzel, and afterwards of Mr. Wathen. Infirmities, however, growing upon him, he departed this life on the 6th of February, 1787, in the seventy-third year of his age, and was buried in Walthamstow church-yard, in the same grave with his friends Mr. and Mrs. Snell. On Sunday, the 18th, his funeral sermon was preached by Mr. Urvvick, of Clapham, whose discourse was printed. In his last will, besides providing handsomely for his relations, and remembering his servants, he left a hundred pounds to the fund for the widows of dissenting ministers, and forty pounds to the poor of Walthamstow parish. His regard to the family with which he had so long been connected, and to which he had been so peculiarly obliged, was testified by his bequeathing pecuniary legacies to every member of that | family. Smaller legacies were left by him to others of his friends. His executors were William Snell, esq. of Clapham, and William Hood, esq. of Chancery-lane, barrister; the first the son, and the second one of the grandsons of Mr. Farmer’s great patron. To another grandson, the rev. Robert Jacomb, our author bequeathed his library, with the exception of such classic books as Mr. Snell might select; who also was a residuary legatee, in conjunction with his sister, Mrs. Hood. In this will he also made his request (for that is the term used), that his executors would burn his sermons and manuscripts, unless he should direct otherwise by a separate paper; and, in case they should not do it, the legacies of a hundred pounds each, which he had left them, were to be null and void. He had nearly completed a second volume on the demonology of the ancients; a curious dissertation on the story of Balaam, which he had transcribed for the press, and for the printing of which he had given his directions, and had made preparations for a second edition of his Treatise on Miracles, by which it would have been considerably enlarged, and highly improved; all which were destroyed, as, in the opinion of the executors, coming within the intent of his will. His biographer laments bitterly this undistinguishing destruction, which, indeed, seems rather too much to resemble what happened in Don Quixote’s library.

As to his general character, we are told that he was particularly excellent in the pulpit, and that his sermons were rational, spiritual, evangelical, and not unfrequcntly pathetic; that he had an admirable talent, without trimming, of pleasing persons of very different sentiments, and that when he was speaking of the doctrines of the gospel, there was a swell in his language that looked as if he was rising to a greater degree of orthodoxy* in expression than some persons might approve; but it never cam6 to that point. In conversation he was lively and brilliant to an uncommon degree; and, like Doddridge, he sometimes went far enough in his complimentary language to persons present. He was likewise very backward in readily declaring his sentiments, when asked them, concerning particular topics, living writers, or recent publications. Any question of this kind not un frequently produced from him, what has been ascribed to the quakers, another question in return. He appears, however, to have been no philosopher, for we are told that it was probably some feeling | of his last work’s not having met with the attention he expected, which dictated the order concerning the burning of his manuscripts. He had great generosity of disposition, and in his distributions to charitable designs and objects went to the utmost extent of his property. 1

1 Biog. Dict.T-Memoirs by the late Michael Dodson, 8vo, IS05.