Firmin, Thomas

, a person memorable for public benefactions and charities, was born at Ipswich in Sutfolk, in June 1633. His parents, whowere puritans, and very reputable and substantial people, at a proper age put out their son to an apprenticeship in London. His master was an Arminian, a hearer of Mr. John Goodwin; to whose sermons young Firmin resorting, “exchanged, 77 as we are told,” the harsh opinions of Calvin, in which he had been | educated, for those more reasonable ones of Arminius and the remonstrants.“But here he did not stop: being what is called a free inquirer into religious matters, he was afterwards carried by this spirit and temper to espouse some opinions totally at variance with the orthodox faith: he became persuaded, for instance,” that “the unity of God is an unity of person as well as of nature; and that the Holy Spirit is indeed a person, but not God.” He adopted these principles first from the noted Biddle, who was imprisoned for his opinions in 1645, and Firmin was so zealous in his cause, that when he was only an apprentice, he delivered a petition for his release to Oliver Cromwell, who gave him this laconic answer: “You curl-pated boy, do you think I’ll show any favour to a man that denies his Saviour, and disturbs the government?

As soon as he was made free, he began to trade for himself in the linen manufacture, with a stock not exceeding 100l. which, however, he improved so far, as to marry, in 1660, a citizen’s daughter with 500l. to her portion. This wife did not live many years, but after bringing him two children, died, while he was managing some affairs of trade at Cambridge: and, according to the assertion of his biographer, he dreamed at the same time at Cambridge, that his wife was breathing her last. Afterwards he settled in Lombard-street, and became so celebrated for his public^ spiritedness and benevolence, that he was noticed by all persons of consequence, and especially by the clergy. He became upon intimate terms with Whichcot, Wilkins, Tillotson, &c. so particularly with the last, that when obliged to be out of town, at Canterbury perhaps, where he was dean, he left to Mr. Firmin the provision of preachers for his Tuesday’s lecture at St. Laurence’s church near Guildhall. Mr. Firmin was afterwards so publicly known, as to fall under the cognizance of majesty itself. Queen Mary having heard of his usefulness in all public designs, those of charity especially, and that he was heterodox in the articles of the trinity, the divinity of our Saviour, and the satisfaction, spoke to Tillotson to set him right in those weighty and necessary points; who answered, that he had often endeavoured it; but that Mr. Firmin had now so long imbibed the Socinian doctrine, as to be beyond the reach of his arguments. His grace, however, for he was then archbishop, published his sermons, formerly preached at St. Laurence’s, concerning those questions, and sent | Mr. Firmin one of the first copies from the press, who, not convinced, caused a respectful answer to be drawn up and published with this title, “Considerations on the explications and defences of the doctrine of the Trinity,” himself giving a copy to his grace: to which the archbishop, after he had read it, only answered, “My lord of Sarum,” meaning Dr. Burnet, “shall humble your writers;” still retaining, however, his usual kindness for Mr. Firmin.

In 1664, he married a second wife, who brought him several children: nevertheless, his benevolent spirit did not slacken, but he went about doing good as usual, and the plague in 1665, and the fire in 1666, furnished him with a variety of objects. He went on with his trade in Lombard-street, till 1676: at which time his biographer supposes him to have been worth 9000l. though he had disposed of incredible sums in charities. This year he erected his warehouse in Little-Britain, for the employment of the poor in the linen manufacture; of which Tillotson has spoken most honourably, in his funeral sermon on Mr. Gouge, in 1681, giving the merit of the thought to Mr. Gouge, but that of the adoption and great extension of it to Mr. Firmin. The method was this he bought flax and hemp for them to spin when spun he paid them for their work, and caused it to be wrought into cloth, which he sold as he could, himself bearing the whole loss.

In 1680 and 1681, came over the French protestants, who furnished new work for Mr. Firrnin’s zeal and charity: and, in 1682, he set up a linen manufacture for them at Ipswich. During the last twenty years of his life, he was one of the governors of Christ’s hospital in London; to which he procured many considerable donations. About the revolution, when great numbers of Irish nobility, clergy, gentry, and others, fled into England from the persecution and proscription of king James, briefs and other means were set on foot for their relief, in all which Mr. Firmin was so active, that he received a letter of thanks for his diligence and kindness, signed by the archbishop of Tuam, and seven bishops. In April 1693, he became a governor of St. Thomas’s hospital in Southwark, nor was there hardly any public trust or charity, in which he either was not ia one shape or other concerned. He died Dec. 20, 1697, in the sixty-sixth year of his age, and was buried, according to his desire, in the cloisters of Christ’s hospital. In | the wall near his grave is placed an inscription, in which hii benevolence is recorded with a just encomium. 1

1 Life by Conjiih, 1780, 12nw. —Burnet’s Own Times. Birch’s Tillotson.