Newton, John

, an English clergyman, whose extraordinary history has long been before the public, was born in London, July 24, 1725. His father was many years master of a ship in the Mediterranean trade, and in 1748 went out as governor of York Fort, in Hudson’s Bay, where he died in 1750. His mother, who died when he was only seven years old, had given him such religious instruction as suited his capacity, which was apt and good. By school education he profited little. He appears indeed to have been at a school at Stratford, in Essex, about two years, and acquired some knowledge of the L&tin, but his master’s method being too precipitate, he soon lost all he had learned. At the age of eleven he was taken to sea by his father, and before 1742 had made several voyages, at considerable intervals, which were chiefly spent in the country, excepting a few months in his fifteenth year, when he was placed with a very advantageous prospect at Alicant, where, as he says, “he might have done well, if he had behaved well.” For about two years something like religious reformation appeared in him, but he adds, “it was a poor religion, and only tended to make him gloomy, stupid, unsocial, and useless;” and from this he was seduced into the contrary extreme, by perusing some of the writings of Shaftesbury, which he found in a petty shop at Middleburgh, in Holland. | In 1742, when his father proposed to leave off going to sea, he endeavoured to provide his son with a situation, and an eligible one occurred of his going to Jamaica; but happening to meet with the lady who became afterwards his wife, he abhorred the thought of living from her at such a distance as Jamaica, and that perhaps for four or five years, and therefore absented himself on a visit to Kent, until the ship sailed without him. His father, though highly displeased, became reconciled, and in a little time Mr. Newton sailed with a friend of his father’s to Venice. In this voyage, being a common sailor, and exposed to the company of some profligate comrades, he began to relax from the regularity which he had preserved in a certain degree, for more than two years; and in this and his subsequent voyages, represents himself as extremely thoughtless, vi-r cious, and abandoned. The consequences of this conduct led to those adventures which he has so interestingly de-r tailed in his life, published in 1764, and to which we must refer as to a work that does not admit of a satisfactory abridgment. If his vices were great, his sufferings seem also to have amounted to the extremes of misery and disgrace; but at length, about 1747, he was rescued by his father from this state of wretchedness, and in 1748, appears to have been for the first time awakened to a proper sense of his past life, which gradually improved into a real reformation. After this he was employed in ships concerned in the African slave-trade, and acquired that knowledge which many years afterwards enabled him to contribute, by his evidenoe before parliament, to the abo-i lition of that detestable traffic.

It is remarkable, that in all his miseries and wretchedness, and even when most profligate and apparently thoughtless in his conduct on board of ship, he preserved an anxiety to learn, and at his leisure hours, acquired a considerable knowledge of the mathematics. In his later voyages, he endeavoured to revive his acquaintance with the Latin language. How scanty his means were, appears from his own account. “He had seen an imitation of one of Horace’s odes in a magazine, and wished to be able to read that poet, but had no other help than an old English translation, with Castalio’s Latin Bible. He had the DeU phin edition of Horace, and by comparing the odes with the interpretation, and tracing such words as he understood from place to place by the index, together with what | assistance he could get from the Latin Bible, he thus, by dint of hard industry, made some progress. He not only understood the sense of many odes, and some of the epistles, butI began,“he says,” 4o relish the beauties of the composition; acquired a spice of what Mr. Law calls classical enthusiasm; and, indeed, by this means, I had Horace more ad unguem, than some who are masters of the Latin tongue. For my helps were so few, that I generally had the passage fixed in my memory before I could fully understand its meaning." In a future voyage, which he commenced from Liverpool in August 1750^ as commander, he made still greater progress in Latin; providing himself with a dictionary, and adding to Horace, Juvenal, Livy, Caesar, &c. His conduct in all respects was now become regular. He allotted about eight hours for sleep and meals, eight hours for exercise and devotion, and eight hours to his books. In a Guinea trader, such a life perhaps has no parallel.

At length a variety of circumstances concurred to wean him from the sea, and after having been for some time placed in a situation as tidewaiter at Liverpool, he applied with great diligence to his studies, and acquired a competent knowledge of the sacred languages, with a view to take orders in the church. In 1758 he had received a title to a curacy, but on application to the archbishop of York, Dr. Gilbert, was refused ordination, as it appeared that he had been guilty of some irregularities, such as preaching in dissenting meetings, or other places, without ordination of any kind. In April 1764, however, by dint of strong recommendation, and a professed attachment, which he ever most carefully preserved, to the doctrines and discipline of the church, he was ordained by Dr. Green, bishop of Lincoln, to the curacy of Olney, and admitted into priest’s orders in June 1765. The living of Olney was at this time held by the celebrated angler, Moses Brown (see his article), a man who maintained the same evangelical sentiments as Mr. Newton, but had been under pecuniary difficulties, and was glad to accept the chaplaincy of Morden college, Blackheath, leaving the charge of his flock at Olney to Mr. Newton, who remained here for sixteen years.

At Olney Mr. Newton became acquainted with two gentlemen whose friendship gave an important interest to his future life, the benevolent John Thornton, esq. and | William Cowper, the celebrated poet. The farmer, conceiving a high idea of the integrity and usefulness of Mr. Newton in this parish, determined to allow him a certain sum (200l. a year) with which he wished him to keep open house for such as were worthy of entertainment, and to help the poor and needy. Mr. Newton reckoned that he had received of Mr. Thornton upwards of 3000l. in this way during his residence atOlney, a sum which, however great, will not surprize those who knew the extent of Mr. Thornton’s liberality. His intimacy with Cowper forms one of the most interesting periods of that poet’s life. To what is said in our account of Cowper (vol. X. p. 405, &c.) we have only to regret in this place that much information has been lost to the public by the suppression of Mr. Newton’s letters to his afflicted friend. These letters must have been in Cowper’s possession; but what became of them after his death has never been explained. Had they appeared, they probably would have established beyond all power of contradiction, that no part of Cowper’s deplorable melancholy was attributable to his connection with Mr. Newton, or with men of his principles. Mr. Newton was himself a man of remarkable cheerfulness of disposition, and had a particular talent in administering consolation to those whose uneasiness arose from religious affections, nor was he easily mistaken in separating real concern from affectation. It appears that Mr. Newton was once in possession of a life of Cowper, written by himself, at the calmest period of his life; some facts from this have been communicated to the public by his biographer, but more remains, which we have been told would have thrown additional light on Mr. Cowper’s remarkable history.

In 1779 Mr. Newton was removed from Olney to be rector of the united parishes of St. Mary Woolnoth and St. Mary Woolchurch Haw, Lombard-street, on the presentation of his steady friend Mr. Thornton, and continued his labours in this place during life. Few men had more the art of attracting friendship; and his congregation, which increased every day, became attached to him in a degree which time has not yet. abated. One trait in his character added much to his usefulness; his benevolence was most extensive; his house was open to the afflicted of every description; gratitude appears to have been his predominant virtue; he never for a moment forgot the wretched state from which Providence had raised him, and | this thankfulness continually operated in endeavour! to relieve the wants of others. He never knew how to refuse applications from the distressed, and his sympathy often drew such nearer him than a man more studious of domestic quiet would have wished. However liberal in affording an asylum to poor persons of whom he had a good opinion, he was, like Dr. Johnson, often the only person in his house who exhibited a contented mind and a thankful heart. Among his other services of no small importance, was his kind patronage of young men intended for the church. Some of these he had frequently about him, and assisted them either from his own scanty means, or by recommending them to his opulent friends, with whom Mr. Newton’s recommendations were decisive. It may now be mentioned, that the world owes the character and services of the late Dr. Claudius Buchapan to Mr. Newton, as will appear more particularly when the life of that gentleman shall be exhibited to the world. The early part of it was almost as unpromising as that of Mr. Newton himself.

Mr. Newton died Dec. 31, 1807, and was buried in the rector’s vault of his church. His faculties experienced some decay during the last two or three years, but his conversation at times exhibited his usual powers, and that original turn of thinking and expression which, in his former days, rendered his company equally pleasant and edifying. In 1750 he married Mary, the daughter of Mr. George Cattet, of Chatham, in Kent, who died in 1790, but had no issue by her. His principal works, of which a complete edition was published soon after his death, consist of sermons, preached and published at various times; the narrative of his life, published in 1764; “Review of Ecclesiastical History,” on the plan which Mr. Milner afterwards pursued; “Hymns,” some of which are by Cowper; “Cardiphonia;” and the “Messiah,” a series of sermons on the words of the celebrated oratorio. His “Life” was written by the late rev. Richard Cecil, and is published in 12mo. To this we owe the above sketch. 1


Life as above.