Robertson, Joseph

, a learned English divine and miscellaneous writer, was descended from a reputable family, which from time immemorial possessed a considerable estate at Mutter, in tae parish of Appleby, in Westmoreland. His father was an eminent maltster; and his mother, the only daughter of Mr. Edward Stevenson, of Knipe, in the same county, cousin to Edmund Gibson, bishop of London. He was born at this latter place, August 28, 1726; but his father soon afterwards removing to Rutter, he was sent, at a proper age, to the free-school at Appleby, where he received the rudiments of classical learning under Mr. Richard Yates, a man of eminent abilities, and distinguished character in his profession. From thence, in 1746, he went to Queen’s college, Oxford, where he took his degrees in arts, with considerable reputation for his ingenuity and learning. On his receiving orders he was, for some time, curate to the celebrated Dr. Sykes, at Rayleigh in Essex, and in 1758 he was instituted to the vicarage of Herriard in Hampshire; in 1770, to the rectory of Sutton in Essex; and in 1779, to the vicarage of Horucastle in Lincolnshire, to which he wns prcseuteU by his relation, Dr> Edtnund Law, bishop of Carlisle. | In 1761 he published a sermon, entitled “The subversion of ancient Kingdoms considered,” preached at St. John’s, Westminster, Feb. 13, the day appointed for a general fast. In 1772, he revised and corrected for the press Dr. Gregory Sharpens posthumous sermons; and the same year completed a new edition of Algernon Sidney’s Discourses on Government, with historical notes, in one volume quarto, at the persuasion of Thomas Hollis, esq. who highly approved his performance.

In 1775 a remarkable incident happened, which excited the public attention. A Miss Butterfield was accused of poisoning Mr. Wm. Scawen, of Wooclcote lodge in Surrey. Mr. Robertson thought her very cruelly treated, and took an active part in her defence. On this occasion, he published a letter to Mr. Sanxay, a surgeon, on whose testimony Miss Butterfield had been committed to prison; in which he very severely animadverts on the conduct and evidence of that gentleman. After she had been honourably acquitted at the assizes at Croydon, he published a second pamphlet, containing “Observations on the case of Miss Butterfield,” shewing the hardships she had sustained, and the necessity of prosecuting her right in a court of justice: that is, her claim to a considerable legacy, which Mr. Scawen had bequeathed her by a will, executed with great formality, two or three years before his death. The cause was accordingly tried in Doctors 1 Commons. But, though it was universally agreed, that this unfortunate young woman had been unjustly accused, and that Mr. Scawen had been induced, by false suggestions, to sign another testamentary paper, in which her name was not mentioned, yet no redress could be obtained, as the judge observed, “that it was the business of the court to determine the cause, according to what the testator had done; not according to what he ought to have done.

Mr. R. is said to have been the author of a useful tract, published in 178 1, “On Culinary Poisons.” In 1782, he published an elegant little volume for the improvement of young people in reading, entitled “An Introduction to the study of Polite Literature.” This performance was mentioned as the first volume of an intended series on the same subject; but the second never appeared, owing, as it is supposed, to part of it having been reprinted in a tract, for the use of Sunday-schools, without his consent, by | archdeacon Paley .*


See a controversy, more angry thai) was necessary, on this subject, in Gent. Wag. vol. LXII.

In the same year he revised and published a medical work of his friend sir Clifton Wintringham, “De Morbis quibusdam Commentarii,” in one vol. 8vo; to which a second volume was afterwards added in 1791.

In 1785 he published an“Essay on Punctuation,” in 12mo. In this treatise he has illustrated a dry and unpromising subject, with a variety of elegant and entertaining examples; a fourth edition of this essay was printed in 1796. In 1788 appeared “The Parian Chronicle, or the Chronicle of the Arundelian Marbles, with a Dissertation concerning its authenticity.” The tendency of this work is to shew, that the authenticity of this famous inscription, is extremely questionable; but although we may praise the ingenuity, acuteness, and learning, of the author, we may be permitted to doubt whether he has fully established his point.

In 1795 he published a translation of Telemachus, with notes, and the life of Fenelon, in two volumes 12mo; which bears the marks of his usual elegance, taste, and learning. By a note to the dissertation on the Parian Chronicle it appears, that he was concerned in writing the Critical Review “for twenty-one years, from August 1764, to September 1785, inclusive. During this period he was the author of above 2620 articles, on theological, classical, poetical, and miscellaneous publications.

In 1797, Mr. Robertson published “Observations on the Act for augmenting the Salaries of Curates, in four Letters to a Friend,” 8vo, written in consequence of what the author thought a disproportionate and oppressive enforcement of the curates’ act. In 1798 he published “An Essay on the Education of Young Ladies, addressed to a person of distinction,” 8vo; and the next year, “An Essay on the Nature of the English Verse, with Directions for reading Poetry,” 12mo.

Mr. Robertson married in 1758, Miss Raikes, the daughter of Mr. Timothy Raikes, apothecary, in London, by whom he had several children, who died in their infancy.

Mr Robertson’s health had been considerably impaired, owing to some fits of apoplexy which attacked him about 1799. During 1801 he seemed to have, in some measure, | recovered; but on Jan. 18, 1802, he was seized with violent effusion of blood, which occasioned his death, on the very next day, in the seventy-seventh year of his age. He was tall, stout, and handsome, of a ruddy complexion, prepossessing look, gentle and unassuming manner?, and exceedingly polite in conversation: he was an accomplished moral character in every sense of the word. Without violently condemning any of the Christian persuasion, he was enthusiastically devoted to the church of England; and without indulging in any illiberal animadversions on foreign governments, he was duly sensible of the unrivalled advantages and the invaluable blessings of the British Constitution. As to his domestic virtues, one of his biographers thinks he cannot exhibit a more finished picture of them than by stating what Mrs. Robertson told him, “During the forty-four years we have lived together, never, for a single night, did he desert the domestic society, to seek elsewhere for amusement!

The literary character of Mr. Robertson would rank high among those of his contemporaries in the same line, if he had concentrated his ideas in one large and compact work. Taken, however, as it is, it will unquestionably exhibit a learned critic and philologer, and one of the most accurate writers of his age. Although he was endowed with a vigorous understanding, and enriched with an uncommonly extensive knowledge, his predominant power was memory; and his favourite study, civil and literary history. In the last-mentioned branch he had, perhaps, no superior; and perhaps too, not many among the very professed bibliographers could rival him in the science of books, authors, and literary anecdotes. 1


From Memoirs written by himself in Nichols’s Bowyer and a Sketch by Mr. Datuia.