Kennet, White

, an English writer, and bishop of Peterborough, was the son of the rev. Basil Kennet, rector of Dunchurch, and vicar of Postling, near Hythe, in Kent, and was born at Dover, Aug. 10, 1660. He was called White, from his mother’s father, one Mr. Thomas | White, a wealthy magistrate at Dover, who had formerly been a master shipwright there. When he was a little grown up, he was sent to Westminster-school, with a view of getting upon the foundation; but, being seized with the srnall-pox at the time of the election, it was thought advisable to take him away. In June 1678 he was entered of St. Edmund-hall in Oxford, where he was pupil to Mr. Allam, a very celebrated tutor, who took a particular pleasure in imposing exercises on him, which he would often read in the common room with great approbation. It was by Mr. Allam’s advice that he translated Erasmus on Folly, and some other pieces for the Oxford booksellers. Under this tutor he applied hard to study, and commenced an author in politics, even while he was an under-graduate; for, in 1680, he published “A Letter from a student at Oxford to a friend in the country, concerning the approaching parliament, in vindication of his majesty, the church of England, and tfye university:” with which the whig party, as it then began to be called, in the House of Commons, were so much offended, that inquiries were made after the author, in order to have him punished. In March 1681 he published, in the same spirit of party, “a Poem,” that is, “a Ballad,” addressed “to Mr. E. L. on his majesty’s dissolving the late parliament at Oxford,” which was printed on one side of a sheet of paper, and began, “An atheist now must a monster be,” &c. He took his bachelor’s degree in May 1683; and published, in 1684, a translation of Erasmus’s “Morise encomium,” which he entitled “Wit against Wisdom, or a Panegyric upon Folly,” which, as we have already noticed, his tutor had advised him to undertake. He proceeded M. A. Jan. 22, 1684; and, the same year, was presented by sir William Glynne, bart. to the vicarage of Amersden, or Ambroseden, in Oxfordshire; which favour was procured him by his patron’s eldest son, who was his contemporary in the halh To this patron he dedicated “Pliny’s Panegyric,” which he translated in 1686, and published with this title, “An address of thanks to a good prince, presented in the Panegyric of Pliny upon Trajan, the best of the Roman emperors.” It was reprinted in 1717; before which time several reflections having been made on him for this performance, he gave the following account of it in a “Postscript” to the translation of his “Convocation Sermon,” in 1710. “The remarker says, the doctor dedicated Pliny’s Panegyric to the late | king James: and, what if he did? Only it appears he did not. This is an idle tale among the party, who, perhaps, have told it till they believe it: when the truth is, there was no such dedication, and the translation itself of Pliny was not designed for any court address. The young translator’s tutor, Mr. Allam, directed his pupil, by way of exercise, to turn some Latin tracts into English. The first was a little book of Erasmus, entitled,” Moriae Encomiumu;“which the tutor was pleased to give to a bookseller in Oxford, who put it in the press while the translator was but an under-graduate. Another sort of task required by his tutor was this ‘ Panegyric of Pliny upon Trajan,’ which he likewise gave to a bookseller in Oxford, before the translator was M. A. designing to have it published in the reign, of king Charles; and a small cut of that prince at full length was prepared, and afterwards put before several of the books, though the impression happened to be retarded till the death of king Charles; and then the same tutor, not long before his own death, advised a new preface, adapted to the then received opinion of king James’s being a just and good prince. However, there was no dedication to king James, but to a private patron, a worthy baronet, who came in heartily to the beginning of the late happy revolution. This is the whole truth of that story, that hath been so often cast at the doctor not that he thinks himself obliged to defend every thought and expression of his juvenile studies, when he had possibly been trained up to some notions, which he afterwards found reason to put away as childish things.

In 1689, as he was exercising himself in shooting, he had the misfortune to be dangerously wounded in the forehead by the bursting of the gun. Both the tables of his skull were broken, which occasioned him constantly to wear a black velvet patch on that part. He lay a considerable time under this accident; and it is said, that while he was in great disorder both of body and brain, just after he had undergone the severe operation of trepanning, he made a copy of Latin verses, and dictated them to a friend at his bed-side. The copy was transmitted to his patron, sir William Glynne, in whose study it was found, after the author had forgot every thing but the sad occasion: and the writer of his life tells us, that “it was then in his possession, and thought, by good judges, to be no reproach to the author.” He was too young a divine to engage in | the famous popish controversy; but he distinguished himself by preaching against popery. He likewise refused to read the declaration for liberty of conscience in 1688, and went with the body of the clergy in the diocese of Oxford, when they rejected an address to king James, recommended by bishop Parker in the same year. While he continued at Amersden, he contracted an acquaintance with Dr. George Hickes, whom he entertained in his house, and was instructed by him in the Saxon and Northern tongues; though their different principles in church and state afterwards dissolved the friendship between them. In September 1691, he was chosen lecturer of St. Martin’s in Oxford, having some time before been invited back to Edmund-hall, to be tutor and vice-principal there; where he lived in friendship with the learned Dr. Mill, the editor of the New Testament, who was then principal of that house. In February 1692, he addressed a letter from Edmund-hall to Brome, the editor of Somner’s “Treatise of the Roman Ports and Forts in Kent,” containing an account of the life of that famous antiquary; which gave him an opportunity of displaying his knowledge in the history of the Saxon language in England. In February 1693, he was presented to the rectory of Shottesbrook, in Berkshire, by William Cherry, esq. the father of one of his fellow-students at college, but he still resided at Oxford, where he diligently pursued and encouraged the study of antiquities. We have a strong attestation to this part of his character from Gibson, afterwards bishop of London, who publishing, in 1694, a translation of Somner’s treatise, written in answer to Chifflet, concerning the situation of the Portus Iccius on the coast of France, opposite to Kent, where Caesar embarked for the invasion of this island, introduced it to the world with a dedication to Mr. Kennet.

On May 5, 1694, he took the degree of B. D. that of D. D. July 19, 1699 and in 1700, was appointed minister of St. Botolph Aldgate in London, without any solicitation of his own. In 1701, he engaged against Dr. Atterbury, in the disputes about the rights of convocation, of which he became a member about this time, as archdeacon of Huntingdon; to which dignity he was advanced the same year by Dr. Gardiner, bishop of Lincoln. He now grew into great esteem by those who were deemed the lowchurch party, and particularly with Tenison the archbishop of Canterbury. He preached a sermon at Aldgate, January | 30, 1703, which exposed him to great clamour, and occasioned many pamphlets to be written against it; and in 1705, when Dr. Wake was advanced to the see of Lincoln, was appointed to preach his consecration sermon; which was so much admired by lord chief-justice Holt, that he declared, “it had more in it to the purpose of the legal and Christian constitution of this church than any volume of discourses.” About the same time, some booksellers, having undertaken to print a collection of the best writers of the English history, as far as to the reign of Charles I. in two folio volumes, prevailed with Dr. Kennet to prepare a third volume, which should carry the history down to the then present reign of queen Anne. This, being finished with a particular preface, was published with the other two, tinder the title of “A complete History of England, &c.” in 1706. The two volumes were collected by Mr. Hughes, who wrote also the general preface, without any participation of Dr. Kennet: and, in 1719, appeared the second edition with notes, said to be inserted by Mr. Strype, and several alterations and additions. Not long after this, he was appointed chaplain to her majesty; and by the management of bishop Burnet, preached the funeral sermon on the death of the first duke of Devonshire, Sept. 5, 1707. This sermon gave great offence, and made some say, that “the preacher had built a bridge to heaven for men of wit and parts, but excluded the duller part of mankind from any chance of passing it.” This charge was grounded on the following passage; where, speaking of a late repentance, he says, that “this rarely happens but in men of distinguished sense and judgment. Ordinary abilities may Jt>e altogether sunk by a long vicious course of life: the duller flame is easily extinguished. The meaner sinful wretches are commonly given up to a reprobate mind, and die as stupidly as they lived; while the nobler and brighter parts have an advantage of understanding the worth of their souls before they resign them. If they are allowed the benefit of sickness, they commonly awake out of their dream of sin, and reflect, and look upward. They acknowledge an infinite being they feel their own immortal part they recollect and relish the holy Scriptures they call for the elders of the church they think what to answer at a judgment-seat. Not that God is a respecter of persons, but the difference is in men; and, the more intelligent nature is, the more susceptible of the divine grace.” Of | this sermon a new edition, with “Memoirs of the Family of Cavendish,” and notes and illustrations, was published in 1797, which is now as scarce as the original edition, the greater part of the impression having been burnt at Mr. Nichols’s (the editor’s) fire in 1808.

Whatever offence this sermon might give to others, it did not offend the succeeding duke of Devonshire, to whom it was dedicated, who, on the contrary, recommended the doctor to the queen for the deanery of Peterborough, which he obtained in 1707. In 1709, he published “A Vindication of the Church and Clergy of England from some ]ate Reproaches rudely and unjustly cast upon them” and, “A true Answer to Dr. SacheverelPs Sermon before the Lord-Mayor, November 5 of that year.” In 1710, he was greatly reproached, for not joining in the London clergy’s address to the queen. When the great point in SacheverelPs trial, the change of the ministry, was gained, and addresses succeeded, an address was prepared from the bishop and clergy of London, so worded that they, who would not subscribe it, might be represented as enemies to the queen and her ministry. Dr. Kennet, however, refused to sign it, which was announced in one of the newspapers, Dyer’s Letter of Aug. 4, 1710. This zealous conduct in Kennet, in favour of his own party, raised so great an odium against him, and made him so very obnoxious to the other, that very uncommon methods were taken to expose him; and one, in particular, by Dr. Weiton, rector of WhitechapeL In an altar-piece of that church, which was intended to represent Christ and his twelve apostles eating the passover and the last supper, Judas, the traitor, was drawn sitting in an elbow-chair, dressed in a black garment, between a gown and a cloak, with a black scarf and a white band, a short wig, and a mark in his forehead between a lock and a patch, and with so much of the countenance of Dr. Kennet, that under it, in effect, was written “the dean the traitor.” It was generally said, that the original sketch was designed for a bishop under Dr. Welton’s displeasure, which occasioned the elbow-chair, and that this bishop was Burnet: but the painter being apprehensive of an action of Scandalum Magnatum, leave was given him to drop the bishop, and make the dean. Multitudes of people came daily to the church to admire the sight; but it was esteemed so insolent a contempt of all that is sacred, that, upon the complaint of | others, (for the dean never saw or seemed to regard it, the bishop of London obliged those who set the picture up to take it down again. But these arts and contrivances to expose him, instead of discouraging, served only to animate him; and he continued to write and act as usual in the defence of that cause which he had espoused and pushed so vigorously hitherto. In the mean time, he employed his leisure-hours in things of a different nature; but which, he thought, would be no less serviceable to the public good. In 1713, he made a large collection of books, charts, maps, and papers, at his own expence, with a design of writing “A full History of the Propagation of Christianity in the English American Colonies;” and published a catalogue of all the distinct treatises and papers, in the order of time as they were first printed or written, under this title, “Bibliothecae Americanae primordia.” About the same time he founded “an antiquarian and historical library” at Peterborough; for which purpose he had long been gathering up pieces, from the very beginning of printing in England to the latter end of queen Elizabeth’s reign*. In the rebellion of 1715, he published a sermon upon “the witchcraft of the present Rebellion;” and, the two following years, was very zealous for repealing the acts against occasional conformity and the growth of schism. He also warmly opposed the proceedings in the convocation against Hoadly, then bishop of Bangor which was thought to hurt him so as to prove an effectual bar to his farther advancement in the church nevertheless, he was afterwards promoted to the see of Peterborough, November 1718. He continued to print several things after his last promotion, which he lived to enjoy something above ten years; and then died in his house in James’s-street, December 19, 1728. His numerous and valuable ms collections, which were once in the collection of Mr. West, were purchased by the earl of Shelburne, afterwards marquis of Lansdowne, and sold


This collection, amounting to about 1500 volumes and small tracts, was placed in a private rfiom at Peterborough, with a view of being daily supplied and augmented by the care of the rev. Mr. Sparke, a member of that church, of very good literature, and veil qualified to a.-si*t in the design, who published the oldest histories of the abbey, and with Mr. Timothy Nevè founded the Gentlemen’s society at Peterborough. There is a large written catalogue of this collection, inscribed, “Index librorum aliquot vetustorum quos in commune honum congessit W. K. decan‘ Petriburgh. 1712.” This library is now arranged in the chapel of St. Thomas Becket, over the west porch of the cathedral church.

| with the rest of his lordship’s Mss. to the British Museum, where they are now deposited. Among these are two volumes in a large Atlas folio, which were intended for publication under the following comprehensive title “Diptycha Ecclesise Anglicanae sive Tabulae Sacrse in quibus facili ordine recensentur Archiepiscopi, Episcopi, eorumque Suffraganei, Vicarii Generales, et Cancellarii; Ecclesiarum insuper Cathedralium Priores, Decani, Thesaurarii, Praecentores, Cancellarii, Archidiaconi, & melioris notae Canonici, continua serie deducti a Gulielmi I. Conquestu, ad auspicata Gul. III. tempora.

There is also in the British Museum, a curious Diary by bishop Kennet, in ms. of which the following specimen, extracted for our last edition, may not be unacceptable;

"Dr. Swift came into the coffee-house, and had a bow from every body but me, who, I confess, could not but despise him. When I came to the an ti- chamber to wait before prayers, Dr. Swift was the principal man of talk and business, and acted as a master of requests. He was soliciting the earl of Arran to speak to his brother the duke of Ormond, to get a chaplain’s place established in the garrison of Hull for Mr. Fiddes, a clergyman in that neighbourhood, who had lately been in gaol, and published sermons to pay fees. He was promising Mr. Thorold to undertake with my lord treasurer, that, according to his petition, he should obtain a salary of 200l. per annum, as minister of the English church at Rotterdam. Then he stopt F. Gwynne, esq. going in with his red bag to the queen, and told him aloud he had somewhat to say to him from my lord treasurer. He talked with the son of Dr. Davenant to be sent abroad, and took out his pocket-book and wrote down several things, as memoranda, to do for him. He turned to the fire, and took out his gold watch, and, telling the time of the day, complained it was very late. A gentleman said, ‘ he was too fast.’ * How can I help it,‘ says the doctor, ’ if the courtiers give me a watch that won‘t go right’ Then he instructed a young nobleman, that the best poet in England was Mr. Pope (a papist), who had begun a translation of Homer into English verse for which ‘ he must have ’em all subscribe’ for, says he, the author shall not begin to print till I have a thousand guineas for him. Lord Treasurer, after leaving the queen, came through the room beckoning Dr. Swift to follow him: both went off just before prayers. | 11 Nov. 3. I see and hear a great deal to confirm a doubt, that the pretender’s interest is much at the bottom of some

hearts: a whisper, that Mr. N n (Nelson) had a prime

hand in the late book for hereditary right; and that one of them was presented to majesty itself, whom God preserve from the effect of such principles and such intrigues!"

Bishop Kennet took such an active part in the ecclesiastical and political controversies of his time, that whoever examines into the state of these must expect to find his character very differently represented. Upon a fair examination of his conduct, however, as well as his writings, it will probably be found that he did not fall much short of his contemporaries as an able divine and an honest politician. But it is as a historian and antiquary, that we feel most indebted to his labours, and could wish he had been enabled to devote more of his time to the illustration of literary history, to which he was early attached, and had every requisite to become a useful collector and biographer. As to his character in other respects, if we can rely on the rev. William Newton, the writer of his life, there was much that was exemplary. He was always indefatigable in the duties of his sacred function, had a great sense of the worth of souls, and was very solicitous to serve in the most effectual manner those committed to his care.

He was a man of great diligence and application, not only in his youth, but even to the close of his life; and like many other men of eminence, he began early that pursuit, which he more or less followed during the whole of his life. He assisted Anthony Wood in collecting materials for the “Athenae,” and would have probably given a valuable work of that kind to the world, had he found leisure to methodize and complete his collections, by which, however, men of research may yet be benefited. He had a very extensive and valuable library, collected at a great expence, and many of his happiest hours were spent there. He had one practice, into which most men of literary curiosity have fallen; that of writing notes, corrections, additions, &c. to all his books, many of which, thus illustrated, are now in various public and private libraries.

His manners and behaviour were easy, affable, and courteous. He was accessible and communicative, much a friend to the younger clergy, recollecting how greatly he had himself been indebted to the kindness of early | patrons and was always ready to assist them in their studies and, according to their merit, to promote them in the church. He was also liberal to the poor, and generous to his relations.

Among his works, besides those already noticed, are his 1. “Parochial Antiquities, attempted in the History of Ambroseden, Burcester, and other adjacent parts, in the counties of Oxford and Bucks,Oxford, 1695, 4to. 2. “Preface to sir Henry Spelman’s History of Sacrilege,1698. 3. “Ecclesiastical Synods, and Parliamentary Convocations in the Church of England, historically stated, and justly vindicated from the misrepresentations of Mr. Atterbury,” Lond. 1701, 8vo. 4. “An occasional Letter, on the subject of English Convocations,” ibid. 1701. 5. “The History of the Convocation summoned to meet Feb. 6, 1700, &c.” ibid. 1702, 4to. 6. “The case of Impropriations, and of the Augmentation of Vicarages^ &c.” ibid. 1704, 8vo. 7. “Preface to sir Henry Spelman’s and Dr. Ryve’s two tracts,” ibid. 1704. 8. “Account of the Society for propagating the Gospel in foreign parts,” ibid. 1706, 4to. 9. “The Christian Scholar, in rules and directions for children and youth sent to English schools,” ibid. 1708. 10. “The French favourite, or the seven discourses of Balzac’s Politics,” ibid. 1709. 11. “A Letter, about a motion in convocation, to the rev Thos. Brett, LL.D.” ibid. 1712. 12. “A Memorial for Protestants on the 5th of November, &c. in a letter to a peer of Great Britain,” ibid. 1713. 13. “A Letter to the lord bishop of Carlisle, concerning one of his predecessors, bishop Merks, on occasion of a new volume for the Pretender, entitled, The Hereditary Right of the Crown of England asserted/' ibid. 1713. 14.” The wisdom of looking backwards to judge the better on one side and the other, by the speeches, writings, actions, and other matters of fact on both sides, for the four last years,“ibid. 1715, 8vo. This is a very curious volume, and fills up a gap in our literary history; but he rendered a more important service afterwards by his” Register and Chronicle," 1728, folio. Dr. Kennet published also a great many sermons on occasional subjects. 1


Life by the Rev. W. Newton, 1730, 8vo.—Ath. Ox. vol. II.—Gent. Mag. see Index, and vol. LXXV. p, 971.—Biog. Brit.—Gen. Dict.—Nichols’s Atterbury and Bowyer.