Milner, Joseph

, a pious and learned divine and ecclesiastical historian, was born in the neighbourhood of Leeds in Yorkshire, Jan. 2, 1744, and was educated at the grammar school of his native place, where he made great proficiency in Greek and Latin, in which he was assisted by a memory of such uncommon powers, that his biographer, the present dean of Carlisle, says that he never saw his equal, among the numerous persons of science and literature with whom he has been acquainted. This faculty which Mr. Milner possessed, without any visible decay, during the whole of his life, gained him no little reputation at school, where his master, the rev. Mr. Moore, often availed himself of his memory in cases of history and mythology, and used to say, “Milner is more easily consulted than the Dictionaries or the Pantheon, and he is quite as much to be relied on.” Moore, indeed, told so many and almost incredible stories of his memory, that the rev. Mr. Murgatroyd, a very respectable clergyman, at that time minister of St. John’s church in Leeds, expressed some suspicion of exaggeration. Mr. Moore was a man of the strictest veracity, but of a warm temper. He instantly offered to give satisfactory proof of his assertions. “Milner,” said he, “shall go to church next Sunday, and without taking a single note at the time, shall write down your sermon afterward. Will you permit us to compare what he writes with what you preach” Mr. Murgatroyd accepted the proposal with pleasure, and was often heard to express his astonishment at the event of this trial of memory. The lad,“said he,” has not omitted a single thought or sentiment in the whole sermon; and frequently he has got the very words for a long way together."

About the age of thirteen, there were few of young Milner’s years equally skilled in Latin and Greek, and none who were to be compared to him in the accurate and extensive knowledge of ancient history. His love of the study of history shewed itself as soon as ever he could read, and he employed his leisure hours in reading, as a weakly constitution, and early disposition to asthma, rendered him utterly incapable of mixing with his schoolfellows in their plays and diversions. This passion for the study of history continued strong for many years, and was his favourite amusement and relaxation to the last. With such acquirements, at so early an age, it cannot be thought wonderful if while among his poorer and more ignorant neighbours, | he went by the name of the “learned lad,” his schoolmaster should feel some degree of vanity in producing such a scholar; but his regard for him was more sincere than mere vanity could have produced, and Mr. Moore now meditated in what way he could be able to send his pupil to the university, where talents like his might have a wider range, and lead to the honours he merited. In this benevolent plan he seemed at first to be obstructed by the death of Mr. Milner’s father, who had been unsuccessful in business, and htd little to spare from the necessary demands of his family*; but this event seemed rather to quicken Mr. Moore’s zeal in favour of his pupil, and as the latter had begun to teach grown-up children of both sexes, in some opulent families in Leeds, &c. there seemed a general disposition to forward the plan of sending him to the university. At the moment when the purses of the wealthy were ready to be opened in favour of this scheme, the tutor of Catherine hall, Cambridge, an old acquaintance of Mr. Moore, wrote to him to the following effect “The office of Chapel-clerk with us will soon be vacant and if you have any clever lad, who is not very rich, and whom you would wish to assist, send him to us.” Mr. Moore instantly communicated this proposal to several of the liberal gentlemen above alluded to, who all cheerfully concurred in it, and young Milner was thus enabled to go to Catherinehall in 1762, in his eighteenth year.

Here his biographer expresses his surprise that Mr. Milner should have obtained so high a situation as he did in the mathematical and philosophical list of honours; and the more so, as he most certainly had no peculiar relish for those studies. He was the third senior optime; but, perhaps he applied to these studies in order to be qualified for the honours bestowed on classical learning, in which he was more familiar. The chancellor’s two gold medals for the best proficients in classical learning, were announced, and none but senior optimes could be candidates. He became, therefore, in 1766, in which year he took his bachelor’s degree, one of a list of candidates uncommonly numerous and able, and the two prizes were adjudged to Dr.

* Old Mr. Milner used to tell the seph, instead of a joint of meat for the

following anecdote with a good deal succeeding Sunday’s dinner. It was

of humour: “Once on a Saturday too Hue,” add^d he, " that 1 could not

evening, I surprised my wife, by send- send both" Life by Dr. Milner. ing hom.e a Greek book for my son | JoLaw, the late bishop of Elphin, and to Joseph Milner. Several members of the university are still alive, who well remember the general surprise caused by the success of the latter; and how his humorous and spirited translations of Terence and Plutarch, shown by the examiners to their friends, were handed about through the colleges, and excited general admiration.

He would have now gladly remained at the university, and increased his literary reputation, so happily begun, but there was no opportunity of electing him fellow at Catherine-hall, and he was already somewhat in debt. During his first year’s residence at Cambridge, he had lost by a premature death, his affectionate schoolmaster, Mr. Moore; and the management of his slender finances was transferred from the hands of Mr. Moore to those of a careless and dissipated person. Mr. Milner was not old enough for deacon’s orders, and it became absolutely necessary that he should look out for some employment. He accordingly became assistant in a school, and afterwards in the cure of his church, to the rev. Mr. Atkinson of Thorp-Arch, near Tadcaster. Here, we are told, he completed an epic poem, begun at Catherine-hall, entitled “Davideis,” or Satan’s various attempts to defeat the purpose of the Almighty, who had promised that a Saviour of the world should spring from king David. The ms. is still in existence. His biographer pronounces it “a fine monument of the author’s learning, taste, genius, and exuberant imagination.” He submitted it to Dr. Hurd, who sent him a very complimentary letter; but he laid the poem aside, and it has not been thought proper to publish it.

When he had obtained deacon’s orders, he applied for the place of head-master of the grammar-school at Hull, and having obtained it, was soon after chosen afternoon, lecturer in the principal church in that town. Under his auspices, the school, which had decayed through the negligence of his immediate predecessors, soon acquired and retained very considerable celebrity, and as the master’s salary rose in proportion to the increase of scholars, his income now, on the whole, amounted to upwards of 200L a year. The first use he made of this great change of circumstances was to discharge those duties that arose from the situation of his father’s family. His pious affection instantly led him to invite his mother (then living at Leeds in poverty) to Hull, where she became the manager of his | house. He also sent for two indigent orphans, the children of his eldest brother, and took effectual care of their education. At this time his youngest brother, Isaac, whose prospects of advancement in learning were ruined by his father’s death, was now humbly employed in the woollen manufactory at Leeds. From this situation his brother Joseph instantly removed him, and employed him as his assistant in teaching the lower boys of his crowded school at Hull. By his brother’s means also, he was sent to Queen’s college, Cambridge, in 1770, of which he is now master, professor of mathematics, and dean of Carlisle. Of the affection between those brothers, the survivor thus speaks, “Perhaps no two brothers were ever more closely bound to each other. Isaac, in particular, remembers no earthly 7 thing without being able to connect it, in some way, tenderly with his brother Joseph. During all his life” he has constantly aimed at enjoying his company as much as circumstances permitted. The dissolution of such a connection could not take place without being severely felt by the survivor. No separation was ever more bitter and afflicting; with a constitution long shattered by disease, he never expects to recover from That wound."

Mr. Milner’s labours as a preacher were not confined to the town of Hull. He was curate for upwards of seventeen years, of North Ferriby, about nine miles from Hull, and afterwards vicar of the place. At both he became a highly popular and successful preacher, but for some years, met with considerable opposition from the upper classes, for his supposed tendency towards methodism. His sentiments and mode of preaching had in fact undergone a change, which produced this suspicion, for the causes and consequences of which we must refer to his biographer. It may be sufficient here to notice, that he at length regained his credit by a steady, upright, preseveriog, and disinterested conduct, and just before his death, the mayor and corporation of Hull, almost unanimously, chose him vicar of the Holy Trinity church, on the decease of the rev. T. Clarke. Mr. Milner died Nov. 15, 1797, in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and perhaps the loss of no man in that place has ever been lamented with more general or unfeigned regret. His scholars, almost without exception, loved and revered him. Several gentlemen, who had been his pupils many years before, shewed a sincere regard for their instructor, by erecting at their own expence, an elegant monument (by Bacon) to his memory in the high church of Hull. | Mr. Milner’s principal publications are, 1. “Some passages in the Life of William Howard,” which has gone through several editions; 2. An Answer to Gibbon’s Attack on Christianity;“3.” Essays on the Influence of the Holy Spirit.“But his principal work is his ecclesiastical history, under the title of a” History of the Church of Christ,“of which he lived to complete three volumes, which reach to the thirteenth century. A fourth volume, in two parts, has since been edited from his Mss. by his brother Dr. Isaac Milner, reaching to the sixteenth century, and a farther continuation may be expected from the same pen. Since his death also, two volumes of his practical sermons have been published, with a life of the author by his brother, from which we have selected the above particulars. To his” History of the Church," we have often referred in these volumes, as it appears to us of more authority in many respects than that of Mosheim; and whatever difference of opinion there may be as to the view Mr. Milner takes of the progress of religion, he appears to have read more and penetrated deeper into the history, principles, and writings of the fathers and reformers, than any preceding English historian. 1

1 Life, as above.