Norris, John

, a learned English divine and Platonic philosopher, was born in 1657, at Collingborne-Kingston, in Wiltshire, of which place his father, Mr. John Norris, was then minister. After being educated in grammar, &c, at Winchester school, he was entered of Exeter college in Oxford in 1676; but was elected fellow of All Souls in 1680, soon after he had taken his degree of bachelor of arts. From his first application to philosophy, Plato became his favourite author; by degrees he grew deeply enamoured with beauties in that divine writer, as he thought him, and took an early occasion to communicate his ideal happiness to the public, by printing an English translation of a rhapsody entitled “Effigies Arnoris,” but which he called “The Picture of Love unveiled,” in 1682. He commenced master of arts in 1684, and the same year opened a correspondence with that learned mystic Dr. Henry More, of Christ’s college in Cambridge, and with those learned females, lady Masham, and Mrs. Astell.

He resided at his college, and had been in holy orders five years, when he was presented to the rectory of Newton St. Loe, in Somersetshire, 1689; upon which occasion he married, and resigned his fellowship. In 1691, his distinguished merit procured him the rectory of Bemerton, near Sarum. This living, upwards of 200l. a-year, came very seasonably to his growing family; and was the more acceptable, for the easiness of the parochial duty, which gave him leisure to make an addition to his revenues, by the fruits of his genius; the activity of which produced a large harvest, that continued increasing till 1710.*


Such is the information of the Biographia Britannica. By a letter of his own, however, addressed to Dr. Charlett of Oxford, we learn a very different account. “I might be glad perhaps to be a little easier in the worid, which indeed is but strait and hard with me, the clear income of my parsonage not being much above three-score and ten pounds a-year, all things discharged.” See the whole of this interesting letter in “Letters written by eminent Persons,1813, 3 vols. 8vo.

But he seems to have died a martyr, in some measure, to this, activity; for, towards the latter end of his life, he grew | very infirm, and died 1711, in his 55th year, at Bemerton. He was interred in the chancel of that church, where there“is a handsome marble monument erected to his memory, with the following inscription:H. S. E. Johannes Norris, parochiæ hujus rector, ubi annos viginti bene latuit curæ pastorali & literis vacans, quo in recessu sibi posuit late per orbem sparsa ingenii paris ac pietatis monumenta. Obiit An. Dom. 1711, ætatis 54."

As to his character, he had a tincture of enthusiasm in his composition, which led him to imbibe the principles of the idealists in philosophy, and the mystics in theology; and the whole turn of his poetry shews that enthusiasm made him a poet. As an idealist, he opposed Locke, and adorned Malebranche’s opinion, of seeing all things in God, with all the advantages of style, and perspicuity of expression. A late writer who appears to have studied his works with almost the same enthusiasm that inspired them, says, that " in metaphysical acumen, in theological learning, and in purity of diction, Mr. Norris acknowledges no superior. Mr. Locke, the reputed discoverer of the true theory of the mind, does not rank higher in that peculiar branch of science than our penetrating divine; for if his reply to Locke’s Essay on Human Understanding be critically considered, it will be found to detect many fundamental errors in that celebrated treatise.

"The piety of Norris was as conspicuous as his learning and abilities. The extreme fervour of devotion which appears throughout his works, may be termed enthusiasm in this age, when moral precepts, elegantly dressed, constitute clerical compositions.

" ‘The Theory of the Ideal World’ may be considered as the capital work of Norris. The depth of thought, and the acuteness of logic, which he displays in this treatise on a very abstruse subject, justly entitle him to claim a high rank among metaphysicians. His philosophical pieces, with a peculiar vigour of mind, display a closeness of style, and a nice but just discrimination of causes and effects; and though in a treatise professedly on the subject, he decries the value of scholastic learning, yet he every where proves his familiarity with every branch of it; and perhaps he has made a more frequent and better use of logic, than any writer in the English language.

As the pious and sincere Christian, as the fervent and zealous divine, Norris is above praise. The pure morality | which breathes through his discourses, the seraphic fire which glows in his aspirations, may be too refined, may be too warm for the cool and rational taste of the present day; but the ardency of this divine heat is a strong proof of the natural sensibility of his heart, and of the. sincerity of his religious professions. Nor is the genius of Norris, as a poet, at all inferior to that of his contempqraries; specimens of genuine poetry, whose fire and sublimity are barely excelled by the Paradise Lost, are displayed in his Miscellanies.

In much of this panegyric we cordially agree, but doubt whether the revival of Mr. Norris’s works would be benerjcial either to religion or philosophy. It cannot, however, be denied, that men of a similar cast of mind may be greatly benefited by some of his works; and we know that some of our most eminent divines have formed their theological studies upon them. Mr. Norris left a widow, two sons and a daughter. His eldest son was rector of Little Langford, and vicar of the two Chilterns, in Wiltshire. His second son, Thomas, was also a clergyman, and some time minister of Stroud, in Gloucestershire. They have both long been dead, as well as their mother, who died at the house of Mr. Bowyer, vicar of Martock, in Somersetshire, who married her daughter.

His works were, 1. “The picture of Love unveiled,” already mentioned. 2. “Hierocles upon the golden verses of the Pythagoreans,Oxford, 1682, 8vo. 3. “An idea of Happiness, in a letter to a friend, inquiring wherein the greatest happiness attainable by man in this life doth consist,London, 1683, 4to. 4. “A Murnival of Knaves; or Whiggism plainly displayed and burlesqued out of countenance,London, 1683, 4to. 5. “Tractatus adversus Reprobationis absolutae Decretum, nova methodo & snccinctissimo compendio adornatus, & in duos libros digestus,London, 1683, 8vo. What follows in this treatise after the third chapter of the second book, is a declamation spoken in the public schools, commending the Roman senate for banishing all mathematicians out of their dominions. 6. “Poems and discourses occasionally written,” Lond. 1684, 8vo. 7. An ‘English translation of the four last books of “The institution and life of Cyrus,” from Xenophon, Lond. 1685, 8vo. The four first books were translated by Mr. Francis Digby, of Queen’s college. 8.“A collection of Miscellanies, consisting of Poems, | Essays, Discourses, and Letters occasionally written,Oxford, 1637, 8vo. The fifth edition, carefully revised, corrected, and improved by the author, was printed at London, 1710, in 8vo. - This has been the most popular of all his works, and affords the picture of a truly amiable mind. 9. “The theory and regulation of Love, a moral essay,Oxford, 1688, 8vo. 10. “Reason and Religion; or the grounds and measures of Devotion considered from the nature of God and the nature of man, in several contemplations. With exercises of devotion applied to every contemplation,” Lond. 1689, 8vo. 11. “Reflections upon the conduct of human life with reference to the study of learning and knowledge; in a letter to the excellent lady, the lady Mashana,” Lond. 1690, 8vo. To which is subjoined a “Visitation sermon on John xi. 15. preached at the Abbey Church at Bath, July the 30th, 1689. The” Reflections*’ were reprinted with large additions, in 1691, 8vo. 12. “Christian blessedness; or discourses upon the Beatitudes of our Lord and Saviour 4 Jesus Christ,” Lond. 1690, 8vo; to which he subjoined, “Cursory reflections upon a book called e An Essay concerning Human Understanding.‘” 13. “The charge of Schism continued; being a justification of the author of * Christian Blessedness,’ for his charging the Separatists with Schism, notwithstanding the toleration. In a letter to a city friend,” Lond. 1691, 12mo. 14. “Practical discourses upon several divine subjects, vols. II. and III.” The third volume was printed in 1693, 8vo. 15. “Two treatises concerning the divine light. The first being an answer to a letter of a learned Quaker (Mr. Vickris), which he is pleased to call A just reprehension to John Morris for his unjust reflections on the Quakers in his book entitled Reflections upon the conduct of human life, &c. The second being a discourse concerning the grossness of the Quakers’ notion of the light within, with their confusion and inconsistency in explaining it,” Lond. 1692, 8vo. 16. “Spiritual counsel; or the father’s advice to his children,” Lond. 1694, 8vo; which was at first composed, as he observes in the Advertisement before it, for the use of his own children. 17. “Letters concerning the Love of God, between the author of the `Proposal to the Ladies,' and Mr. John Norris wherein his Jate discourse, shewing that it ought to be intire and exclusive of all other loves, is further cleared and justified,” Lorid. 1695, 8vo. The second edition, | corrected by the authors, with some few things added, was printed at London, 1705, fcvo. The lady, whose letters are published in this collection, was Mrs. Astell. 18. “Practical Discourses; vol. IV.” Lond. 1698, 8vo. To which he subjoined “An Admonition concerning two late books, called ‘ A Discourse of the Love of God,’” &c. 19. “An Essay towards the Theory of the Ideal or Intelligible World; considering it absolutely in itself. Part I.” Lond. 1701, 8vo. “The Second Part, being the relative part of it; wherein the intelligible World is considered with relation to human understanding; whereof some account is here attempted and proposed,” was printed at London, 170*, 8vo. 20. “A Philosophical Discourse concerning the Natural Immortality of the Soul, wherein the great question of the Soul’s Immortality is endeavoured to be rightly stated and cleared,” Lond. 1708, 8vo. Mr. Dodweli returned an Answer to this piece, in the Appendix to his book entitled “The natural Mortality of the Human Souls clearly demonstrated from the Holy Scriptures, and the concurrent Testimonies of the Primitive Writers,” Lond. 1708, 8vo. 21. “A Treatise concerning Christian Prudence; or the Principles of Practical Wisdom fitted to the use of Human Life, designed for the better Regulation of it,” Lond. 1710, 8vo. 22. “A Practical Treatise concerning Humility; designed for the Furtherance and Improvement of that great Christian Virtue, both in the Minds and Lives of Men,” Lond. 8vo. There are some of his letters to Mrs. Thomas, in “Pylades and Corinna,” vol. II. p. 199. 1


Biog. Brit. Letter in Europ. Mag. for May, 1797.