Mason, John

, a non-conformist divine, chiefly known for his excellent work entitled “Self-Knowledge,” was descended from ancestors who were for several generations beneficed clergymen of the established church. His grandfather was the rev. John Mason, rector of Water-Stratford in Buckinghamshire, whose “Select Remains” were published by his grandson, the subject of this article: “a little work,” we are told by his biographer, “highly esteemed and warmly recommended by Dr. Watts.” This little work we have not seen, but from two accounts of the author’s life, one published anonymously in 1694, 4to, and the other by the rev. H. Maurice, rector of Tyringham in Bucks, in 1695, 4to, we are justified in ranking him among those enthusiasts who have done much to bring religion into disgrace; and our readers will probably be of the same opinion, when we inform them, that after having discharged his pastoral duties for several years, as a pious and useful clergyman, he propagated the notion that Christ’s second appearance was to be at Water- Stratford, where all his faithful people were to be collected, and reign with him a thousand years. This brought a great many persons to reside at that place, in hopes of meeting the Saviour, who were for some time called Mr. Mason’s followers; nor was it until his death had disappointed their hopes, that this delusion gradually abated. One of the sons of this enthusiast, John, the father of our author, became a dissenter, and, while pastor of a congregation at Dunmow in Essex, his son was born there, in 1705-6. He was educated at a dissenting academy, and in 1730 accepted an invitation to the pastoral charge of a congregation at Dorking in Surrey, where he had a numerous auditory. His earliest production was a Sermon on “Subjection to the higher powers,” preached Nov. 5, 1740, and published at the request of the congregation.

In the same spirit he published, in 1743, a tract entitled “A plain and modest plea for Christianity: or a sober and rational appeal to Infidels, occasioned by a perusal of some of their late productions, particularly a treatise entitled ‘ Christianity not founded on argument’.” This was at first published anonymously, but was possessed of a merit so prominent, that the author was soon inquired after and discovered, and it procured for him, unsolicited and without his knowledge, the degree of M. A. from the university of Edinburgh. His next publication was that | on which his reputation now chiefly rests, entitled “Selfknowledge: a treatise shewing the nature and benefit of that important science, and the way to attain it.” It was first printed in, 1745, and instantly became so popular, that a new edition was annually demanded for several years, and it was, and continues to be, reprinted in various forms in other parts of the three kingdoms. It has also been translated into various European languages. Without entering minutely into the merits of this excellent practical manual, we may adopt the words of the editor to whom we are indebted for this account, that while the language is rendered purposely as plain as possible consistent with common elegance, “it is full of sense and sentiment: it comes home to every man’s business and bosom: the sentences are short and apothegmatic: replete with maxims of the utmost importance, and often rivalling the wisdom of those sages of antiquity whose valuable precepts and happy turns of expression are quoted so largely, and with such exquisite taste and appropriation, in the notes. It was written chiefly for the improvement of young persons: and a more valuable present cannot easily be made to them.

In July 1746, Mr, Mason was induced to quit Dorking for Cheshunt in Hertfordshire, upon the warm and urgent invitation of a large congregation of dissenters in that place. Here his first exertion was to prepare for the press a volume of “Sermons for the benefit of young persons,” preached by his predecessor, a Mr. Oakes, and selected from his manuscripts. Having complied with this last act of duty to his friend, we find him progressively engaged in a multiplicity of original works; some of them of a smaller extent, as single sermons, but many of a much wider range, and giving ample scope to his talents. The largest of his works consists of four 8vo volumes of sermons, entitled “The Lord’s-Dav evening entertainment,” intended as “a complete set of practical discourses for the use of families, recommending and urging the grand and substantial points of Christianity in a plain and striking manner, and tree from all distinguishing peculiarities in style and sentiments.” Of this, which soon became popular, a second edition was published in 1754. In 1758, he published; a single octavo volume of “Fifteen Discourses, devotional and practical, together with an Historical Dissertation on the analogy between the behaviour of God’s | people towards him in the several periods of the Jewish and Christian church, and his correspondent dispensations towards them in those respective periods.” In 1761 he published another set of sermons, in 2 vols. 8vo, under the title of “Christian Morals.” This was followed by a “Letter to a Friend upon his entrance to the ministerial office,” and “The Student and Pastor, or Directions how to attain to eminence and usefulness in those respective characters.” These were occasioned bv his having become tutor to several students intended for the ministry among the dissenters. Some parts of his “Theological Lectures,” which he delivered to them, have been published in the Protestant Dissenter’s Magazine for 1794 1796.

But while thus employed, he found leisure for directing his taste and acquaintance with classical criticism to all the elegancies of literature. The result of these less serious pursuits was the three following tracts, all of which passed through several editions, and one of them not less than five or six “Essay on the power and harmony of Prosaic numbers” “Essay on the power of Numbers, and the principles of Harmony in Poetical compositions and” Essay on Elocution“which last became the most popular, and was long employed as a text-book in one of the English universities. Mr. Mason died Feb. 10, 1763, and was buried in Cheshunt church-yard, leaving an excellent character for piety, learning, and a conciliating and liberal temper. After his” Self-Knowledge" had been reprinted a great number of times, often very inaccurately, and, what is more censurable, once, at least, with such alterations as tended to suppress his opinions, and make him the follower of a party which he would have despised, his relative John Mason Good, esq. a gentleman well known in the learned world, became editor of a very correct edition, and prefixed a life of the author, of which we have availed ourselves in this account. 1

1 Life as above stereotype edit. 1811, 8vo.