Law, William

, the author of many pious works of great popularity, was born at KingVcliffe, in Northamptonshire, in 1686, and was the second son of Thomas Law, a grocer. It is supposed that he received his early education at Oakham or Uppingham, in Rutlandshire, whence on June 7, 1705, he entered of Emmanuel college, Cambridge. In 1708 he commenced B. A.; in 1711, was elected fellow of his college; and in 1712 took his degree of M. A. Soon after the accession of his majesty George I. being called upon to take the oaths prescribed by act of parliament, and to sign the declaration, he refused, and in consequence vacated his fellowship in 1716. He was after this considered as a nonjuror. It appears that he had for some time officiated as a curate in London, but had no ecclesiastical preferment. Soon after his resignation of his fellowship he went to reside at Putney, as tutor to Edward Gibbon, father to the eminent historian. When at home, notwithstanding his refusing the oaths, he continued to frequent his parish-church, and join in communion with his fellow parishioners. In 1727 he founded an alms-house at Cliffe, for the reception and maintenance of two old women, either unmarried and helpless, or widows; and a school for the instruction and clothing of fourteen girls. It is thought that the money thus applied was the gift of an unknown benefactor, and given to him in the following manner. While he was standing at the door of a shop in London, a person unknown to him asked whether his name was William Law, and whether he was of King’s-cliffe; and after having received a satisfactory answer, delivered a sealed paper, directed to the Rev. William Law, which | contained a bank note for 1000l. But as tlifre is no proof that this was given to him in trust tor the purpose, he is fully entitled to the merit of having employed it in the service of the poor; and such beneficence was perfectly consistent with his general character.

At what time Mr. Law quitted Mr. Gibbon’s house at Putney, his biographer has not discovered, but it appears that some time before 1740, he was instrumental in bringing about an intimacy between Mrs. Hester Gibbon, his pupil’s sister, and Mrs. Elizabeth Hntcheson, widow of Archibald Hutcheson, esq. of the Middle Temple. Mr. Hutcheson, when near his decease, recommended to his wife a. retired life, and told her he knew no person whose society would be so likely to prove profitable and agreeable to her as that of Mr. Law, of whose writings he highly approved. Mrs. Hutcheson, whose maiden name was Lawrence, had been the wife of colonel Robert Steward; and when she went to reside in Northamptonshire, was in possession of a large income, from the produce of an estate which was in her own power, and of a life interest in property settled on her in marriage, or devised to her by Mr. Hutcheson. These two ladies, Mrs. Hutcheson and Mrs. H. Gibbon, appear lo have been of congenial sentiments, and now formed a plan of living together in the country, far from that circle of society generally called the world; and of taking Mr. Law as their chaplain, instructor, and almoner. With this view they took a house at Thrapston, in Northamptonshire; but that situation not proving agreeable to them, the two ladies enabled Mr. Law, about 1740, to prepare a roomy house near the church at King’s-cliffe, and in that part of the town called “The Hall-yard.” This house was then possessed by Mr. Law, and was the only property devised to him by his father. Here the whole income of these two ladies,' after deducting the frugal expences of their household, was expended in acts of charity to the poor and the sick, and in donations of greater amount to distressed persons of a somewhat higher class. And after twenty years residence, Mr. Law died in this house April 9, 1761.

By some persons now or lately living at Cliffe, who knew Mr. Law, it is reported that he was by nature of an active and cheerful disposition, very warm-hearted, unaffected, and affable, but not to appearance so remarkable for meekness “as some others of the most revered | members of the Christian church are reported to have been.” He was in stature rather over than under the middle size; not corpulent, but stout made, with broad shoulders; his visage was round, his eyes grey, his features well-proportioned, and not large, his complexion ruddy, and his countenance open and agreeable. He was naturally more inclined to be merry than sad. In his habits he was very regular and temperate; he rose early, breakfasted in his bed-room on one cup of chocolate; joined his family in prayer at nine o‘clock, and again, soon after noon, at dinner. When the daily provision for the poor was not made punctually at the usual hour, he expressed his displeasure sharply, but seldom on any other occasion. He did not join Mrs. Gibbon and Mrs. Hutcheson at the tea-table, but sometimes ate a few raisins standing while they sat. At an early supper, after an hour’s walk in his field, or elsewhere, he ate something, and drank one or two glasses of wine; then joined in prayer with the ladies and their servants, attended to the reading of some portion of scripture, and at nine o’clock retired.

We know not where a more just character of this singular man can be found than in the “Miscellaneous Works” of Gibbon, the historian, who has for once praised a churchman and a man of piety, not only without irony, but with affection. “In our family,” says Gibbon, “he left the reputation of a worthy and pious man, who believed all that he professed, and practised all that he enjoined. The character of a nonjuror, which he maintained to the last, is a sufficient evidence of his principles in church and state; and the sacrifice of interest to conscience will be always respectable. His theological writings, which our domestic connection has tempted me to peruse, preserve an imperfect sort of life, and I can pronounce with more confidence and knowledge on the merits of the author. His last compositions are darkly tinctured by the incomprehensible visions of Jacob Behmen; and his discourse? on the absolute unlawfulness of stage-entertainments is sometimes quoted for a ridiculous intemperance of sentiment and language. But these sallies of religious phrensy must not extinguish the praise which is due to Mr. William Law as a wit and a scholar. His argument on topics of less absurdity is specious and acute, his manner is lively, his style forcible and clear; and, had not his vigorous mind been clouded by enthusiasm, he | might be ranked with the most agreeable and ingeniotfs writers of the times. While the Bangorian controversy was a fashionable theme, he entered the lists on the subject of Christ’s kingdom, and the authority of the priesthood; against the Plain account of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper‘ he resumed the combat with bishop Hoadly, the object of Whig idolatry and Tory abhorrence; and at every weapon of attack and defence, the nonjuror, on the ground which is common to both, approves himself at least equal to the prelate. On the appearance of the * Fable of the Bees,’ he drew his pen against the licentious doctrine that private vices are public benefits, and morality as well as religion must join in his applause. Mr. Law’s masterwork, the ‘Serious Call,’ is still read as a popular and powerful book of devotion. His precepts are rigid, but they are founded on the gospel; his satire is sharp, but it is drawn from the knowledge of human life; and many of his portraits are not unworthy of the pen of La Bruyere *. If he finds a spark of piety in his reader’s mind, be will soon kindle it to a flame; and a philosopher must allow that he exposes, with equal severity and truth, the strange contradiction between the faith and practice of the Christian world.

As a theologian, Law held certain tenets peculiar to himself which, either from being misunderstood, or misrepresented, subjected him at different times, to two very opposite imputations, that of being a Socinian and that of being a Methodist. What, however, was really erroneous in his opinions has been ably pointed out by bishop Home in a small tract, printed with his life, entitled “Cautions to the readers of Mr. Law.” It was in his latter days that Mr. Law became most confused in his ideas, from having bewildered his imagination with the reveries of Jacob Behmen, for whose sake he learned German that he might read his works, and whom he pronounces “the strongest, the plainest, the most open, intelligible, awakening, convincing writer, that ever was.” Although it is as a devotional writer that he is now best known, and there can be no


The late writer of Mr. Law’s Life is of opinion that Mr. Gibbom was wrong in supposing that “Miranda,” in the Serious Call,“was intended for his aunt, she being very young at her father’s house when the work was written. Of his power of drawing cha racters, Dr. Warton speaks as highly as Mr. Gibbon. There are some female characters sketched, with exquisite delicacy aad deep knowledge of nature, in a book where one would not expect to find them, in Law’s Christian Perfection."

| doubt that his “Serious call*,” and “Christian perfection” have been singularly useful, it is as a controversial writer, that he ought to be more highly praised. His letters to bishop Hoadly are among the finest specimens of controversial writing in our language, with respect to style, wit, and argument.

Mr. Law’s works amount to nine vols. 8vo, and consist of, 1 “A Serious Call to a devout and holy life.” 2. “A practical Treatise on Christian Perfection.” 3. “Three Letters to the Bishop of Bangor.” 4. “Remarks upon a late Book, entitled, The Fable of the Bees; or private vices public benefits.” 5. “The absolute Unlawfulness of Stage Entertainments fully demonstrated.” 6. “The Case of Reason, or Natural Religion, fairly and fully stated.” 7. “An earnest and serious answer to Dr. Trapp’s Discourse of the folly, sin, and danger, of being righteous over much.” 8. “The Grounds and Reasons of Christian Regeneration.” 9. “A Demonstration of the gross and fundamental errors of a late book, called, A plain account of the nature and end of the Sacramentof the Lord’s Supper.” 10. “An Appeal to all that doubt or disbelieve the Jruths of the Gospel.” 11.“The Spirit of Prayer; or, the Soul rising out of the vanity of Time into riches of Eternity. In two Parts.” 12. “The Spirit of Love, in two Parts.” 13. “The Way to Divine Knowledge; being several Dialogues between Humanus, Academicus, Rusticus, and Theophilus.” 14. “A short but sufficient Confutation of the rev. Dr. Warburton’s projected Defence (as he calls it) of Christianity, in his Divine Legation of Moses. In a Letter to the right rev. the Lord Bishop of London.” 15. “Of Justification by Faith and Works; a Dialogue between a Methodist and a Churchman,” 8vo. 16. “A Collection of Letters on the most interesting and important subjects, and on several occasions.” 17. “An humble, earnest, and affectionate Address to the Clergy.1

1 Short Account of the Life and Writings of Mr. Law, by Richard Tighe, 1813, 8vo. Gibbon’s Miscellaneous Works, vol. I. pp. 14, 142. Jones’s Life f Bishop Home, pp. 73, 198,Gwt. Mag, vol. LXX. Nichols’s Bovyer.