Potter, John

, archbishop of Canterbury, was the son of Thomas Potter, a linen draper at Wakefield in Yorkshire, where he was born about the year 1674. He was educated at a school at Wakefield, and it is said, made an uncommon progress, in a short time, especially in the Greek languague. That this, however, was a private school seems to be taken for granted by Dr. Parr, who, after mentioning that our author’s Latin productions are not free from faults, says that he would have been taught to avoid these “in our best public seminaries.” At the age of fourteen, Mr. Potter was sent to Oxford, and entered a battler of University college in the beginning of 1688. There is every reason to think that his diligence here was exemplary and successful; for, after taking his bachelor’s degree, he was employed by the master of his college, the learned Dr. Charlett, to compile a work for the use of his fellow students, entitled, “Variantes lectiones et notae ad Plutarchi librum de audiendis poetis, item Variantes lectiones, &c. ad Basilii Magni orationem ad juvenes, quomodo cum fructu legere possint Graecorum libros,” 8vo. This was printed at the University press, then in the Theatre, in 1693, at the expence of Dr. Charlett, who used to present copies of it, as a new-year’s-gift, to the young students of University college, and to others of his friends.

In 1694 he was chosen fellow of Lincoln college, and proceeding M. A. in October of the same year, he took pupils and went into orders. Still pursuing his private | studies, he produced, in 1697, his beautiful edition of Lycophron’s “Alexandra,” fol. the second edition of which, in 1702, Dr. Harwood pronounces “an everlasting monument of the learning of the illustrious editor.” It is no inconsiderable proof of his having distinguished himself in the republic of letters, that we find him already corresponding with many eminent scholars on the continent, and among Dr. Mead’s letters are some from Mr. Potter to Graevius, from whom he received the Basil edition of Lycophron, 1546, collated with ancient vellum Mss. and by this assistance he was enabled to correct and enlarge the commentaries of Tzetzes in no less than two hundred places, and throw much additional light on this very obscure poem. In the same year he printed the first volume of his “Archaeologia Graeca,” or Antiquities of Greece, and in the following year, 1698, the second volume. Several improvements were introduced by him in the subsequent editions of this valuable work, which has hitherto been unrivalled, and he lived to see at least five editions printed. It still continues a standard book for Greek students. It was incorporated in Gronovius’s Thesaurus. In the preface to the fifth edition he speaks of a Latin edition printed in Holland, the publisher of which pretended it was corrected by the author; but he assures us that “he never saw it till it was all printed, and therefore the many errors in it must not be imputed to him.

In July 1704 he commenced bachelor of divinity, and being about the same time appointed chaplain to archbishop Tenison, he removed from Oxford to reside at Lambeth palace. He proceeded D.D. in April 1706, and soon after became chaplain in ordinary to queen Anne. In 1707 appeared his first publication connected with his profession, entitled a “Discourse of Church Government,” 8vo. In this he asserts the constitution, rights, and government, of the Christian church, chiefly as described by the fathers of the first three centuries against Erastian principles; his design being to vindicate the church of England from the charge of those principles. In this view, among other ecclesiastical powers distinct from the state, he maintains the doctrine of our church, concerning the distinction of the three orders of bishops, priests, and deacons, particularly with regard to the superiority of the episcopal order above that of presbyters, which he endeavours to prove was settled by divine institution: that this distinction was | in fact constantly kept up to the time of Constantine: and in the next age after that, the same distinction, he observes, was constantly reckoned to be of divine institution, and derived from the apostles down to these times.

In the beginning of 1708, he succeeded Dr. Jane as regius professor of divinity, and canon of Christ Church, who brought him back to Oxford. This promotion he owed to the interest of the celebrated duke of Marlborougb, and to the opinion held concerning him that he was a Whig; whereas Dr. Smalridge, whom the other party wished to succeed in the professorship and canonry, had distinguished himself by opposition to the whig-measures of the court. In point of qualification these divines might be equal, and Dr. Potter certainly, both as a scholar and divine, was liable to no objection. It was probably to the same interest that he owed his promotion, in April 1715, to the see of Oxford. Just before he was made bishop he published, what had occupied his attention a very considerable time, his splendid and elaborate edition of the works of Clemens Alexandrinus, 2 vols. fol. Gr. and Lat. an edition, says Harwood, “worthy of the celebrity of the place where it was published, and the erudition of the very learned prelate, who has so happily illustrated this miscellaneous writer.” In this he has given an entire new version of the “Cohortations,” and intended to have done the same for the “Stromata,” but was prevented by the duties of his professorship. In his preface he intreats the reader’s candour as to some typographical errors, he being afflicted during part of the printing by a complaint in his eyes, which obliged him to trust the correction of the press to others.

For some time after his being made bishop of Oxford, he retained the divinity chair, and filled both the dignities with great reputation, rarely failing to preside in person over the divinity disputations in the schools, and regularly holding hisxtriennial visitation at St. Mary’s church; upon which occasions his charges to the clergy were suited to the exigencies of the times. In 1717, Dr. Hoadly, then bishop of Bangor, having advanced some doctrines, respecting sincerity, in one of his tracts, which our prelate judged to be injurious to true religion, he took occasion to animadvert upon them in his first visitation the following year; and his charge having been published, at the request of his clergy, Dr. Hoadly answered it, which produced a reply, | from our prelate. In this short controversy, he displayed more warmth than was thought consistent with the general moderation of his temper; but such were his arguments and his character, that Hoadly is said to have been more concerned on account of this adversary than of any other he had then encountered.

Some time after this he became much a favourite with queen Caroline, then princess of Wales; and upon the accession of George II. preached the coronation sermon, Oct. 11, 1727, which was afterwards printed by his majesty’s express commands, and is inserted among the bishop’s theological works. It was generally supposed that the chief direction of public affairs, with regard to the church, was designed to be committed to his care; but as he saw that this must involve him in the politics of the times, he declined the proposal, and returned to his bishopric, until the death of Dr. Wake, in January 1737, when he was appointed his successor in the archbishopric of Canterbury. This high office he filled during the space of ten years with great reputation, and towards the close of that period fell into a lingering disorder, which put a period to his life Oct. 10, 1747, in the seventy-fourth year of his age. He was buried at Croydon.

He left behind him the character of a prelate of distinguished piety and learning, strictly orthodox in respect to the established doctrines of the church of England, and a zealous and vigilant guardian of her interests. He was a great advocate for regularity, order, and oeconomy, but he supported the dignity of his high office of archbishop, in a manner which was by some attributed to a haughtiness of temper. Whiston is his principal accuser, in this respect, but allowances must be made for that writer’s prejudices, especially when we find that among the heaviest charges he brings against the archbishop is his having the Athanasian Creed read in his chapel. He had a numerous family of children, of whom three daughters and two sons survived him. One of his daughters, Mrs. Sayer, died in 1771.

His eldest son, John Potter, born in 1713, after a private education, was entered a member of Christ Church, Oxford, in 1727, and took his master’s degree in 1734. After he went into orders, he obtained from his father the vicarage of Blackburne, in the county of Lancaster, and in 1739, the valuable sinecure of Elme cum Emneth, in the isle of Ely, In 1741 his father presented him to the | archdeaconry of Oxford. His other promotions were the v y icarage of Lydde in Kent, the twelfth prebend of Canterbury, and the rich benefice of Wrotham in Kent, with which he retained the vicarage of Lydde. In 1766 he was advanced to the deanery of Canterbury, on which he resigned the archdeaconry of Oxford. He died at Wrotham Sept. 20, 1770. He offended his father very much by marrying one of his servants, in consequence of which, although the archbishop, as we have seen, gave him many preferments, he left his personal fortune, which has been estimated at 70,000l. some say 90,000l. to his second son, Thomas Potter, esq. who followed the profession of the law, became recorder of Bath, joint vice-treasurer of Ireland, and member of parliament for Aylesbury and Oakhampton. He died June 17, 1759.

The archbishop’s works were published in 1753, 3 vols. 3vo, under the title of “TheTheological Works of Dr. John Potter, &c. containing his Sermons, Charges, Discourse of Church-government, and Divinity Lectures.” He had himself prepared these for the press; his divinity lectures form a continued treatise on the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures. Some letters of his, relative to St. Luke’s Gospel, &c. are printed in “Atterbury’s Correspondence.1


Biog. Brit. —Ath. Ox. vol. II. Nichols’s Bowyer. Whislbn’s Life.