Kennicott, Benjamin

, a very learned divine, the son of Benjamin Kennicott, parish clerk of Totnes in Devonshire, was born April 4, 1718, at that place. From his early age he manifested a strong inclination for books, which his father encouraged by every means within the compass of his ability; for he had from the scanty pittance of a parish clerk *, and the profits of a small school, saved


It is said that when Dr. Kennicott hnd taken orders, he came to officiate in his clerical capacity in his native town: when his father as clerk proceeded to place the surplice on his shoulders, a ktruggle ensued between the modesty of the son and the honest pride of the parent, who insisted on paying that respect to his son which he had been accustomed to shew to other clergymen: to this filial obedience was obliged to submit. A circumstance is added, that his mother had often declared she should never be able to support the joy of hearing her son preach; and that on her attendance at the church for the first time, she was so overcome as to be taken out in a state of temporary insensibility. The following anecdotes are from Polwhele’s History of Devonshire. “In his younger days Dr. Kennicott was much attached to the study and practice of music. I have at this time in my possession an anthem, to which the tenor and counter-tenor were added by him. He also taught the choir at Totnes church, and much delighted to walk into the fields with a few of the best of the singers, and would there join with them in the praise of that God to whose honour he has erected so lasting a monnment. I have been assured that his voice and manner far exceeded mediocrity. He was also a ringer; and there is an inscription on a brass chandelier in the belfry, where his name is mentioned as being one of its donors, to the ringers of Totnes church, for ever. I shall further add, that when the doctor first returned from Oxford, in orders, he was thought by his benefactors to aff.‘ct a little too much the gentleman, and i vm to assume so far as to pay ev to the sister of one of his subscribers: this gave offence, and the doctor desisted but this repulse gave his mother an opportunity to say, `Truly, I think it a lucky thing; for if my son had married Miss, he would have been a country curate all his life, but I now trust I shall live to see him a bishop.’ ”As I have already taken notice that the doctor was a ringer, some regulations, in his own hand-writing, for the establishment of a society for the cultivation of that amusement, are here copied. The disposition of a man is more strongly marked by trifles of this sort, than by matters of more weighty import, as the mind is here biassed neither by interest nor ambition. "Totnes, Nov. 8th, 1742. Among the many recreations approved of by the eons of pleasure, ringing is a diversion that may be emphatically said to bear away the bell, and so much does it engage the natives of Great Britain, beyond all other nations, that it has even the distinguishing appellation of the ‘ringing isle.’ The art, then, for which this kingdom is renowned, shews a judicious taste in those of its inhabitants who have, by their performances, contributed thereto: since this art wants no foreign encomiast, but the harmonious bells are the heralds of your own praise. The ingenuity required for, the diversion administered in, and the health subsequent upon, this exercise, give it a particular sanction among mankind, and recommend it as an employment at vacant hours, worthy the regard of all denominations. We, therefore, whose names are subscribed, taking into consideration the great pleasure that results from this manly employment, the innocence with which it is performed, and the advantage enjoyed

| money to purchase a very good library. Dr. Kennicott was placed as a foundation boy under the care of Mr. Row, then master of the grammar-school at Totnes, where he distinguished himself by industry and regularity of conduct. At this school he continued about seven years, with a constant wish and expectation of one day being sent to the university. After he left Mr. Row, he became master of the charity-school in Totnes, and occasionally added to the small emoluments of his school by writing for the attornies. A short poem which he wrote, entitled “Bidwell,” recommended him to the attention of the neighbouring gentlemen; and before he was thirty, he published a poem on the recovery of Mrs. Courtenay of Painsford. This strongly entitled him to her favour, and subscriptions were solicited for his support, at Oxford, to the success of which scheme he now bent all his efforts but every exertion, on the first attempt, failed and a mind less firm than, his, would, perhaps, have sunk under the disappointment. Soon after, however, another subscription was set on foot, under the auspices of the benevolent Mr. Allen of Bath, in consequence of which, in 1744, he was entered of Wadham college, where he soon proved that he was deserving of the patronage conferred upon him. In 1747 he produced his first performance, entitled “Two Dissertations: the first, On the Tree of Life in Paradise, with some observations on the Creation and Fall of Man: the second, On the Oblations of Cain and Abel,” 8vo, printed at the university press. To this work he prefixed a dedication, | addressed to a numerous list of benefactors, to whom h had been indebted for his education, which speaks strongly the language of an humble and grateful heart; and of this, indeed, he exhibited many proofs in the course of his life. The approbation bestowed on this performance was not without some mixture of opposition, and some answers appeared against it. It procured him, however, so much reputation at Oxford, that a vacancy for a fellowship of Exeter college occurring before he could qualify himself to be a candidate by taking his first degree, the university, as a mark of favour, conferred his bachelor’s degree on him before the statutable period, and without fees. Soon, after, he was elected fellow of Exeter college, and on the 4th of May 1750, took the degree of M. A.

Pursuing his studies with great diligence, he in 1753 published “The State of the printed Hebrew Text of the Old Testament considered. A Dissertation in Two Parts. Part the First compares I Chron. xi. with 2 Sam. v. and xxiii.; and Part the Second contains Observations on seventy Hebrew Mss. with an Extract of Mistakes and various Readings;Oxford, 8vo. In this work he first exhibited the utility and necessity of a collation of the Hebrew Text with the various ancient Mss. existing.

At this period the university of Oxford was much tainted with disaffection to the reigning family on the throne, and Tory, if not Jacobite principles, were very prevalent there, and met with much encouragement. In the rage of party it was not likely that any active member should escape the disorders of the times. Mr. Kennicott adhered to the side of government, and in consequence much of the abuse then liberally distributed amongst the friends of what was called the new interest, or Whig party, fell to his share, He defended himself however with spirit and acuteness in his “Letter to Dr. King, occasioned by his late Apology” *,

* Dr. King, in his " Apology, or fortune, yet above want; in youth,

Vindication of Himself," 1755, 4to, industrious in the station assigned him

Cd edit. p. 42, upbraids our author as by providence; exact in his morals;

the son of a low mechanic, whom he exemplary in his religion; at middle

afterwards styles a cobler. In answer age, loyal in principle; peaceable in

to which illiberal sarcasm, Dr. Kenni- practice enabled to exchange the

cott, after drawing a portrait of Dr. more active life for a more contemplaKing with equal spirit and acrimony, live; ever warm for the glory of the

thus repells the attack on his parent, church if England; concerned for, yet

by the following contrast: "But on the charitable towards those who are not

right hand (I am now drawing a real of her communion; qualified by uncharactcr), behold a man born to no common reading to judge of his ow | and, as it was supposed, in a newspaper then published, entitled “The Evening Advertiser.” About this time he was appointed one of the preachers at Whitehall. In January 1757, he preached before the university of Oxford a sermon, which, being misrepresented, occasioned its publication under the title of “Christian Fortitude.” Between this period and 1760 he was presented to the vicarage of Culham, in Oxfordshire.

He had now employed himself for several years in searching out and collating Hebrew Mss. It appears, when he began the study of the Hebrew language, and for several years afterwards, he was strongly prejudiced in favour of the integrity of the Hebrew text; taking it for granted that if the printed copies of the Hebrew Bible at all differed from the originals of Moses and the prophets, the variations were very few and quite inconsiderable. In 1748 he was convinced of his mistake, and satisfied that there were such corruptions in the sacred volume as to affect the sense greatly in many instances. The particular chapter which extorted from him this conviction, was recommended to his perusal by the rev. Dr. Lowth, afterwards bishop of London. It was the 23d chapter of the 2d book of Samuel. Being thus convinced of his mistake, he thought it his duty to endeavour to convince others; and accordingly in 1753 published the work already mentioned. In 1758 the delegates of the press at Oxford were recommended by the Hebrew professor to encourage, amongst various other particulars, a collation of all those Hebrew Mss. of the Old Testament, which were preserved in the Bodleian library; and archbishop Seeker strongly pressed our author to undertake the task, as the person best qualified to carry it into execution. In 176O he was prevailed upon to give up the remainder of his life to the arduous work, and early in that year published “The State of the printed Hebrew text considered, Dissertation the Second,” 8vi, in which he further enforced

happiness as a protestant and an Eng- his numerous surviving friends Happy

lishman and most effectually recom- would it be for you, sir, (addressing mending toothers (with zeal regulated himself to Dr. King), were your latter

by prudence) the important duties end to be like his I" Letter to Dr.

arising from both these characters; King, occasioned by his late Apology,

and now, in old age, I shall only say, and in particular by such parts of it as

enjoying the prospect of that awful pe- are meant to defame Mr. Keunicott,

riod, which, however favourable to Fellow of Exeter-college, 1755, 8ro f

himself, will cause deep distress among p. 41. | the necessity of the collation he had so strenuously recommended. In the same year he published his proposals, and was immediately encouraged by a liberal subscription from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin; the archbishops of Canterbury, York, and Dublin many of the bishops some noblemen the principal of the dissenting ministers and various clergymen, as well as other encouragers of literature. The time he proposed to be employed in the work was ten years, and he set about to fulfil his engagement with alacrity; determining to exert the utmost of his endeavours to serve the public, and not at all doubting the generosity of the public for the reward of his labours. On the 6th of December 1761, he took the degree of B. D. and on the 10th of the same month that of D. D. In that year his majesty’s name was added to the list of annual subscribers for the sum of 200l.; and about this time he was presented to his majesty at court.

The importance of the work being generally acknowledged, numberless articles of information were received from various parts of Europe, and the learned in everyquarter seemed willing to promote the success of a plan so apparently beneficial to the interests of revelation. Some, however, doubted the necessity, and some the usefulness of the undertaking; and objections soon were started by different persons, some with a friendly view, and some with a petulant one. Amongst others, the professor of divinity at Cambridge, Dr. Rutherforth, published, “A Letter to the Rev. Mr. Kennicott, in which his Defence of the Samaritan Pentateuch is examined, and his Second Dissertation on the State of the printed Hebrew Text of the Old Testament is shewn to be in many instances injudicious and inaccurate. With a postscript, occasioned by his advertizing, before this Letter was printed, that he had an Answer to it in the press,1761, 8vo. To this Dr. Kennicott published an immediate reply, under the title of “An Answer to a Letter from the Rev. T. Rutherforth, D. D. F. R. S.” &c. 1762, 8vo, in the postscript to which he declared it to be his resolution not to be diverted from his principal design by engaging in any further controversy.

This resolution he was unable to persevere in. An antagonist of superior order, whose influence was too mighty to be treated with neglect, made his appearance. This was Dr. Warburton, bishop of Gloucester, then possessed | of all his powers, and exercising authority in the world of letters almost without controul. This learned writer, finding an explanation of a passage in the Proverbs different from his own sentiments, attacked the Collation of the Hebrew Mss. in the Preface to his Doctrine of Grace, 1764, in a style not unusual with him, and calculated to make an unfavourable impression on the public mind. To repel the attack, Dr. Kennicott published “A Sermon preached before the university of Oxford at St. Mary’s church, on Sunday May 19, 1765,” 8vo, in the notes to which he defended himself with great spirit, and even assailed his opponent, whose reflections, he observed, with regard to his work, were a mere fortuitous concourse of words, of heterogeneous and incompatible meanings, which were incapable of forming any regular system of opposition, and had therefore the benevolent faculty of destroying One another.

In the summer of 1766 he visited Paris for the purpose of examining the Mss. in that place, and was received with the honours due to him on account of his learning and diligence, and of the utility of his undertaking. In November 1767 he was appointed by the archbishop of Canterbury, and the other electors, to the office of Radcliffe librarian. In 1768 he published “Observations on the First Book of Samuel, chap. vi. verse 19,” 8vo. These were dedicated to Dr. Lowth, the earliest and most steady encourager of the work. They were the fruit of his visit to Paris, and were soon after translated into French.

At length, in 1769, the important work was concluded within the period of ten years, originally promised. On this occasion he published the ten annual accounts of the progress of this laborious undertaking, by which it appeared that the whole money received from the subscribers amounted to the sum of 9117l. 7s. 6cl. on the recital of which Dr. Kennicott exclaims, “Reader! What a sum is here! Let foreign nations rea,d with astonishment this story of Britons and their king, joined by one foreign prince and one foreign academy, voluntarily contributing for ten years their several bounties, with a degree of public spirit beyond all example, for the accomplishment of a work purely subservient to the honour of revelation; a work sacred to the glory of God, and the good of mankind! And, under the powerful influence of this view of my work, it js impossible for me to be sufficiently thankful, either to | those xvho have honoured with their patronage me, as the humble instrument in beginning and completing it, or to Divine Providence for granting me life to finish it, as well as resolution to undertake it.” He then states, that after deducting his income to live on during these ten years, the money spent in collations abroad, and assistants at home, there remained only 500l. all which was likely to be swallowed up in further expences, which he had engaged to pay. His industry had been unremitted; his general rule being to devote to it ten or twelve hours in a day, and frequently fourteen; at least, he says, “This was my practice, till such severe application became no longer possible, through the injuries done to my constitution.” In this final statement, he also, with proper indignation, notices some insinuations which had been thrown on him during the progress of the work. He had declared at the outset of his undertaking, that he had no doubt of receiving from the public the reward of his labours. Accordingly, on the death of Dr. Ballard, in June 1770, he was appointed a prebendary of Westminster, which in October he exchanged for a canonry of Christ-church Oxford. His circumstances being thus rendered easy, he entered into the marriage state Jan. 3, 1771, with Miss Ann Chamberlayne, sister to Mr. Chamberlayne, one of the solicitors of the treasury, a lady of learned accomplishments, who still survives him.

In 1776 he gave the public the first fruits of his long and laborious task, by the publication of the first volume of the Hebrew Bible, with the various readings; and this was followed in 1780 by the second volume, with a general dissertation, which completed the work. He had enjoyed an extraordinary share of good health until near the conclusion of his labours, when the infirmities of age impaired his exertions, and terminated his life Aug. Is, 1783. He was buried in Christ-church cathedral. His last employment was to prepare for the press, “Remarks on select passages in the Old Testament; to which are added, eight sermons;” part was printed in his life-time, and the whole published in 1787. In the introduction he professes himself a zealous advocate for an authorized revisal of the English version of the Old Testament, and the great object of his work seems to be, to demonstrate the necessity and facilitate the execution of this project; but the propriety or necessity of such an interposition of authority | has not yet appeared sufficiently obvious, and indeed the objections to it have been generally thought insuperable, Dr. Geddes’s attempt on the Old Testament, and a more recent Socinian translation of the New, are unfortunate examples of what may be done without authority. Referring to the works quoted in the note for further information on the controversies in which Dr. Kennicott’s labours involved him, we shall add, in the words of a judicious biographer, that if in brilliancy of genius, or elegance of taste, he had many superiors; if in the study of Oriental languages in general he was comparatively deficient; and if in critical acumen, and felicity of conjecture, he stood not in the very first rank; yet in a profound knowledge of Hebrew, and in the persevering industry with which he applied it to the illustration of the sacred page, he had few equals. His collation of the Hebrew Mss. was a work which added splendour to a great nation and an enlightened age. To the Hebrew scholar it unlocked the richest stores of sacred philology; while, by establishing the general purity of the Hebrew text, so far as the essentials of religion are concerned, it has confirmed the faith and hopes f every pious Christian.

We have yet to add an anecdote very honourable to his memory. He was for many years possessed of Mynhenyote, a very valuable living in Cornwall, in the gift of the dean and chapter of Exeter, and obtained for him by his steady friend bishop Lowth. It had been his avowed intention, as soon as his great work should be finished, to reside there, at least occasionally; but when that period arrived, he was in such a state of health, that the measure was altogether unadvisable. He, therefore, with the consent of the friends of his wife, and of herself, freely and voluntarily resigned the living about a year or more before his death. Dr. Kennicott never seems to have forgotten the humble station from which the liberality of his friends first raised him; and all his future preferments seem to have exceeded his wishes. Contentment, gratitude, and sincerity, were the leading features of his character. 1


European Mag. for 1799.—Gent. Mag. LIX. 289.—Jones’s Life of Bishop Horne, p. 84, 95.—Polwhele’s Hist. of Devonshire.—Month. Rev. vol. LXXVIII. —Nichols’s Bowyer.