Secker, Thomas

, an eminent English prelate, was born in 1693, at asmail village called Sibthorpe, in the vale of Belvoir, Nottinghamshire. His father was a Protestant dissenter, a pious, virtuous, and sensible man, who, having a small paternal fortune, followed no profession. His mother was the daughter of Mr. George Brough, of Shelton, in the county of Nottingham, a substantial gentleman farmer He received his education at several private schools in the country, being obliged by various | accidents to change his masters frequently; yet at the age of nineteen he had not only made a considerable progress in Greek and Latin, and read the best and most difficult writers in both languages, but had acquired a knowledge of French, Hebrew, Chaldee, and Syriac, had learned geography, logic, algebra, geometry, conic sections, and gone through a course of lectures on Jewish antiquities, and other points preparatory to the study of the Bible. At the same time, in one or other of theseacademies, he had an opportunity of forming an acquaintance with several persons of great abilities. Among the rest, in the academy of Mr. Jones at Tewkesbury, he laid the foundation of a strict friendship with Mr. Joseph Butler, afterwards bishop of Durham.

Mr, Seeker had been designed by his father for orders among the dissenters. With this view, his studies were directed chiefly, and very assiduously, to divinity, but not being able to decide upon certain doctrines, or determine absolutely what communion he should embrace, he resolved to pursue some profession, which should leave him at liberty to weigh these things more maturely in his thoughts, and therefore, about the end of 1716, he applied himself to the study of physic, both at London and Paris. During his stay at Paris, he kept up a constant correspondence with Mr. Butler, who was now preacher at the Rolls. Mr. Butler took occasion to mention his friend Mr. Seeker, without his knowledge, to Mr. Edward Talbot, who promised, in case he chose to take orders in the church of England, to engage the bishop, his father, to provide for him. This was communicated to Mr. Seeker, in a letter, about the beginning of May 1720. He had not at that time come to any resolution of quitting the study of physic, but he began to foresee many obstacles to his pursuing that profession: and having never discontinued his application to theology, his former difficulties, both with regard to conformity, and some other doubtful points, had gradually lessened, as his judgment became stronger, and his reading and knowledge more extensive. It appears also from two of his letters from Paris, both of them prior to the date of Mr. Butler’s communication above mentioned, that he was greatly dissatisfied with the divisions and disturbances which at that particular period prevailed among the dissenters. In this state of mind Mr. Butler’s unexpected proposal found him, and after deliberating carefully on the subject | of such a change for upwards of two month*, he resolved to embrace the offer, and for that purpose quitted France about July 1720.

Mr. Talbot died a few months after his arrival in England, but not without recommending Mr. Seeker, Mr. Benson, and Mr. Butler, to his father’s notice. Mr. Seeker having, notwithstanding this loss, determined to persevere in his new plan, and it being judged necessary by his friends that he should have a degree at Oxford, and he being informed that if he should previously take the degree of doctor in physic at Leyden, it would probably help him in obtaining the other, he went thither for that purpose, and took his degree at Leyden, March 7, 1721, and as a thesis wrote and printed a dissertation cle mectirina statica. On his return, he entered himself, April 1, a gentleman commoner of Exeter college, Oxford, about a year after which he obtained the degree of B. A. without any difficulty, in consequence of a recommendatory letter from the chancellor. In Dec. 1722, bishop Talbot ordained him deacon, and not long after priest in St. James’s church, where he preached his first sermon, March 28, 1723. In 1724, the bishop gave him the rectory of Houghton le Spring, and this valuable living enabling him to settle in the world, in a manner agreeably to his inclinations, he married Oct. 23, 1725, Miss Catherine Benson, sister to bishop Benson. At the earnest desire of both, Mrs. Talbot, widow to his friend Mr. Edward Talbot, and her daughter, consented to live with them, and the two families from that time became one.

At Houghton Mr. Seeker applied himself with alacrity to all the duties of a country clergyman, omitting nothing which he thought could be of use to his Bock. He brought clown his conversation and his sermons to the level of their understandings; visited them in private, catechised the young and ignorant, received his country neighbours and tenants kindly and hospitably, and was of great service to the poorer sort by his skill in physic, which was the only use he ever made of it. Though this place was in a very remote part of the world, yet the solitude of it perfectly suited his studious disposition, and the income arising from it bounded his ambition. Here he would have been content to live and die here, as he has often been heard to declare, he spent some of the happiest hours of his life and it was no thought or choice of his own that removed | "him to a higher and more public sphere. But Mrs. Seeker’s health, which was thought to have been injured by the dampness of the situation, obliged him to think of exchanging it for a more healthy one. On this account he procured an exchange of Houghton for a prebend of Durham, and the rectory of Ryton, in 1727; and for the two following years he lived chiefly at Durham, going over every week to officiate at Ryton, and spending there two or three months together in the summer. In July 1732, the duke of Grafton, then lord chamberlain, appointed him chaplain to the king. For this favour he was indebted to bishop Sherlock, who having heard him preach at Bath, thought his abilities worthy of being brought forward into public notice. From that time an intimacy commenced betwixt them, and he received from that prelate many solid proofs of esteem and friendship. This preferment produced him also the honour of a conversation with queen Caroline. Mr. Seeker’s character was now so well established, that on the resignation of Dr. Tyrwhit, he was instituted to the rectory of St. James’s, May 18, 1733, and in the beginning of July went to Oxford to take his degree of doctor of laws, not being of sufficient standing for that of divinity. On this occasion he preached his celebrated Act sermon, on the advantages and duties of academical education, which was printed at the desire of the heads of houses, and quickly passed through several editions. The queen, in a subsequent interview, expressed her high opinion of this sermon, which was also thought to have contributed not a little to his promotion to the bishopric of Bristol, to which he was consecrated Jan. 19, 1735.

Dr. Seeker immediately set about the visitation of his dioeese, confirmed in a great many places, preached in several churches, sometimes, twice a day, and from the information received in his progress, laid the foundation of a parochial account of his diocese, for the benefit of his successors. Finding at the same time, the affairs of his parish of St. James’s in great disorder, he took the trouble, in concert with a few others, to put the accounts of the several officers into a regular method. He also drew up for the use of his parishioners that course of “Lectures on the Church Catechism,” which have since been so often reprinted. “The sermons,” says bishop Porteus, “which he set himself to compose were truly excellent and original. His faculties were now in their full vigour, and he had an audience to | speak before that rendered the utmost exertion of them necessary. He did not, however, seek to gratify the higher part by amusing them with refined speculations or ingenious essays, unintelligible to the lower part, and unprofitable to both; but he laid before them all, with equal freedom and plainness, the great Christian duties belonging to their respective stations, and reproved the follies and vices of every rank amongst them without distinction or palliation.” He was certainly one of the most popular preachers of his time, and though, as his biographer observes, his sermons, may not now afford the same pleasure, or produce the same effects in the closet, as they did from the pulpit, accompanied as they then were with all the advantages of his delivery, yet it will plainly appear that the applause they met with was founded no less on the matter they contained, than the manner in which they were spoken.

On the translation of Dr. Potter to the archbishopric of Canterbury, Dr. Seeker was translated to the bishopric of Oxford, in May 1737. When the unfortunate breach happened between the late king and the prince of Wales, his highness having removed to Norfolk-house, in the parish of St. James’s, attended divine service constantly at that church. Two stories are told of this matter, which, although without much foundation, served to amuse the public for a while. The one was, that the first time the prince made his appearance at church, the clerk in orders, Mr. Bonney, began the service with the sentence, “I will arise and go to my father,” &c- The other, that Dr. Seeker preached from the text, “Honour thy father and thy mother,” &c. Dr. Seeker had the honour of baptizing all his highness’s children except two, and though he did not attend his court, which was forbidden to those who went to the king’s, yet on every proper occasion he behaved with all the submission and respect due to his illustrious rank. In consequence of this, his influence with the prince being supposed much greater than it really was, he was sent, by the king’s direction, with a message to his royal highness; which not producing the effects expected from it, he had the misfortune to incur his majesty’s displeasure, who had been unhappily persuaded to think that he might have done more with the prince than he did, though indeed he could not For this reason, and because he sometimes acted with those who opposed the court, the king did not speak to him for a great number of years. The whole of Dr, | Seeker’s parliamentary conduct appears to have been loyalj manly, and independent. His circular letter to his clergy, and his sermon on the subject of the rebellion in 1745, rank among the best and most efficacious documents of the kind which that melancholy event produced. In the spring of 1748 his wife died, to whom he had now been married upwards of twenty years.

In December 1750, he was promoted to the deanery of St. Paul’s, in exchange for the rectory of St. James’s and the prebend of Durham. Having now more leisure both to prosecute his own studies, and to encourage those of others, he gave Dr. Church considerable assistance in his “first and second Vindication of the Miraculous powers,” against Dr. Middleton, and in his " Analysis of Lord Bolingbroke’s Works,‘ 7 which appeared a few years afterwards. He likewise assisted archdeacon Sharpe in his controversy with the Hutchinsonians, which was carried on to the end of the year 1755.

During the whole time that he was dean of St. Paul’s, he attended divine service constantly in that cathedral twice every day, whether in residence or not and in concert with the three other residentiaries, established the custom of always- preaching their own turns in the afternoon, or exchanging with each other only, which, excepting the case of illness, or extraordinary accidents, was very punctually observed. He also introduced many salutary regulations in the financial concerns of the church, the keeping of the registers, &c. &c. In the summer months he resided constantly at his episcopal house at Ctiddesden, the vicinity of which to Oxford rendered it very pleasing to a man of his literary turn. His house was the resort of those who were most distinguished for academical merit, and his conversation such as was worthy of his guests, who always left him with a high esteem of his understanding and learning. And though in the warm contest in 1754, for representatives of the county (in which it was scarce possible for any person of eminence to remain neuter), he openly espoused that side ’which was thought most favourable to the principles of the revolution; yet it was without bitterness or vehemence, without ever departing from the decency of his profession, the dignity of his station, or the charity prescribed by his religion.

His conduct as a prelate was in the strictest sense of the word, exemplary. In his charges, he enjoined no duty, | &nd imposed no burthen, on those under his jurisdiction, which he had not formerly undergone, or was not still ready, as far as became him, to undergo. He preached constantly in his church at Cuddesden every Sunday morning, and read a lecture on the catechism in the evening; (both which he continued to do in Lambeth chapel after he became archbishop) and in every other respect, within his own proper department, was himself that devout, discreet, disinterested, laborious, conscientious pastor, which he wished and exhorted every clergyman in his diocese to become. At length such distinguished merit prevailed over all the political obstacles to his advancement; and on the death of archbishop Hutton, he was appointed by the king to succeed him in the diocese of Canterbury, and was accordingly confirmed at Bow-church on April 21, 1758. The use he made of this dignity very clearly shewed that rank, and wealth, and power, had in no other light any charms for him, than as they enlarged the sphere of his active and industrious benevolence.

In little more than two years after his grace’s promotion to the see of Canterbury, died the late George II. Of what passed on that occasion, and of the form observed in proclaiming our present sovereign (in which the archbishop of course took the lead), his grace has left an account in writing. He did the same with regard to the subsequent ceremonials of marrying and crowning their present majesties, which in consequence of his station he had the honour to solemnize, and in which he found a great want of proper precedents and directions. He had before, when rector of St. James’s, baptized the new king (who was born in Norfolk-house, in that parish) and he was afterwards called upon to perform the same office for the greatest part of his majesty’s children a remarkable, and perhaps unexampled concurrence of such incidents in the life of one man.

As archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Seeker considered himself as the natural guardian, not only of that church over which he presided, but of learning, virtue, and religion at large; and, from the eminence on which he was placed, looked round with a watchful eye on every thing that concerned them, embracing readily all opportunities to promote their interests, and opposing, as far as he was able, all attempts to injure them. Men of real genius or extensive knowledge, he sought out and encouraged. Even tho^e- of humbler talents, provided their industry was great, | and their intentions good, he treated with kindness and condescension. Both sorts he would frequently employ in undertakings suited to their respective abilities, and rewarded them in ways suited to their respective wants. He assisted them with books, promoted subscriptions to their 5 works, contributed largely to them himself, talked with them on their private concerns, entered warmly into their interests, used his credit for them with the great, and gave them preferments of his own. He expended upwards o 300l. in arranging and improving the ms library at Lambeth. Arid having observed with concern, that the library of printed books in that palace had received no accessions since the time of archbishop Tenison, he made it his business to collect books in all languages from most parts of Europe, at a very great expence, with a view of supplying that chasm; which he accordingly did, by leaving them to the library at his death.

All designs and institutions that tended to advance good morals and true religion he patronized with zeal and generosity. He contributed largely to the maintenance of schools for the poor, to rebuilding or repairing parsonagehouses and places of worship, and gave at one time no less than 500l. towards erecting a chapel in the parish of Lambeth, to which he afterwards added near 100l. more. To the society for promoting Christian knowledge he was a liberal benefactor; and to that for propagating the gospel in foreign parts, of which he was the president, he paid much attention, was constant at the meetings of its members, and superintended their deliberations with consummate prudence and temper. He was sincerely desirous to improve to the utmost that excellent institution, and to diffuse the knowledge and belief of Christianity as wide as the revenues of the society, and the extreme difficulty of establishing schools and missions amongst the Indians, and of making any effectual and durable impressions of religion on their uncivilized minds, would admit. But Dr. Mayhew, of Boston in New England, having in an angry pamphlet accused the society of not sufficiently answering these good purposes, and of departing widely from the spirit of their charter, with many injurious reflections interspersed on the church of England, and the design of appointing bishops in America, his grace on all these accounts thought himself called upon to confute his invectives, which he did in a short anonymous piece, entitled “An Answer to Dr. | Mayhew’s Observations on the charter and conduct of the Society for propagating the Gospel,London, 1764, reprinted in America. The strength of argument, as well as fairness and good temper, with which this answer was written, had a considerable effect on all impartial men; and even on the doctor himself, who plainly perceived that he had no common adversary to deal with; and could not help acknowledging him to be “a person of excellent sense, and of a happy talent at writing; apparently free from the sordid illiberal spirit of bigotry; one of a cool temper, who often shewed much candour, was well acquainted with the affairs of the society, and in general a fair reasoner.” He was therefore so far wrought upon by his “worthy answerer,” as to abate much in his reply of his former warmth and acrimony. But as he still would not allow himself to be “wrong in any material point,” nor forbear giving way too much to reproachful language and ludicrous misrepresentations, he was again animadverted upon by the late Mr. Apthorpe, in a sensible tract, entitled, “A Review of Dr. Mayhew’s Remarks,” &c. 1765. This put an end to the dispute. The doctor, on reading it, declared he should not answer it, and the following year he died.

It appeared evidently in the course of this controversy that Dr. Mayhew, and probably many other worthy men amongst the Dissenters, both at home and abroad, had conceived very unreasonable and groundless jealousies of the church of England, and its governors; and had, in particular, greatly misunderstood the proposal for appointing bishops in some of the colonies. The nature of that plan is fully explained in bishop Porteus’s life of our archbishop, to which we refer. The question is now of less importance, for notwithstanding the violent opposition to the measure, when Dr. Seeker espoused it, no sooner did the American provinces become independent states, than application was made to the English bishops by some of those states to consecrate bishops for them according to the rites of the church of England, and three bishops were actually consecrated in London some years ago: one for Pennsylvania, another for New York, and a third for Virginia.

Whenever any publications came to the archbishop’s knowledge that were manifestly calculated to corrupt good morals, or subvert the foundations of Christianity, he did his utmost to stop the circulation of them yet the wretched | authors themselves he was so far from wishing to treat withany undue rigour, that he has more than once extended his bounty to them in distress. And when their writing* could not properly be suppressed (as was too often the case) by lawful authority, he engaged men of abilities to answer them, and rewarded them for their trouble. His attention was everywhere. Even the falsehoods and misrepresentations of writers in the newspapers, on religious or ecclesiastical subjects, he generally took care to have contradicted: and when they seemed likely to injure, in any material degree, the cause of virtue and religion, or the reputation of eminent and worthy men, he would sometimes take the trouble of answering them himselfOne instance of this kind, which does him honour, and deserves mention, was his defence of Bishop Butler, who, in a pamphlet, published in 1767, was accused of having died a papist.

The conduct which he observed towards the several ditisions and denominations of Christians in this kingdom, was such as shewed his way of thinking to be truly liberal and catholic. The dangerous spirit of popery, indeed, he thought should always be kept under proper legal resiraints, on account of its natural opposition, not only to the religious, but the civil rights of mankind. He therefore observed its movements with care, and exhorted his clergy to do the same, especially those who were situated in the midst of Roman catholic families: against whose influence they were charged to be upon their guard, and were furnished with proper books or instructions for the purpose. He took all opportunities of combating the errors of the church of Rome, in his own writings; and the best answers that were published to some bold apologiesfor popery were written at his instance, and under his direction.

With the dissenters his grace was sincerely desirous of cultivating a good understanding. He considered them, in general, as a conscientious and valuable class of men. With some of the most eminent of them, Watts, Doddridge *, Leland, Chandler, and Lardner, he maintained an

* The biographers of eminent dis- drulge’s Letters,“in his zeal, has* presenters, with all tlx-ir prejudices against duced two letters from archbishop Seckthe hierarchy, setm never to exult er to that dirine, forgetting; that he was more than when they can produce uot archbishop until several year after the correspondence of a distinguished Duddridge’s death, prelate. But the editor of” Dr. Dod | intercourse of friendship or civility. By the most candid and considerate part of them he was highly reverenced and esteemed: and to such among them as needed help he shewed no less kindness and liberality than to those of his own communion.

Nor was his concern for the Protestant cause confined to his own country he was well known as the great patron and protector of it in various parts of Europe from whence he had frequent applications for assistance, which never failed of being favourably received. To several foreign Protestants he ailowed pensions, to others he gave occasional relief, and to some of their universities was an annual benefactor.

In public affairs, his grace acted the part of an honest citizen, and a worthy member of the British legislature. From his entrance into the House of Peers, his parliamentary conduct was uniformly upright and noble. He kept equally clear from the extremes of factious petulance and servile dependence: never wantonly thwarting administration from motives of party zeal or private pique, or personal attachment, or a passion for popularity: nor yet going every length with every minister, from views of interest or ambition. He seldom, however, spoke in parliament, except where the interests of religion and virtue seemed to require it: but whenever he did, he spoke with propriety and strength, and was heard with attention and deference. Though he never attached himself blindly to any set of men, yet his chief political connections were with the late duke of Newcastle, and lord chancellor Hardwicke. To these he owed principally his advancement: and he lived long enough to shew his gratitude to them or their descendants.

During more than ten years that Dr. Seeker enjoyed the see of Canterbury, he resided constantly at his archiepiscopal house at Lambeth. A few months before his death, the dreadful pains he felt had compelled him to think of trying the Bath waters: but that design was stopped by the fatal accident which put an end to his life. His grace had been for many years subject to th gout, which, in the latter part of his life, returned with more frequency and violence, and did not go off in a regular manner, but left the parts affected for a long time very weak, and was succeeded by pains in different parts of the body. About a year and a half before be died, after a fit | of the gout, he was attacked with a pain in the arm, near the shoulder, which having continued about twelve months, a similar pain seized the upper and outer part of the opposite thigh, and the arm soon became easier. This was much more grievous than the former, as it quickly disabled him from walking, and kept him in almost continual torment, except when he was in a reclining position. During this time he had two or three fits of the goat: but neither the gout nor the medicines alleviated these pains, which, with the want of exercise, brought him into a general bad habit of body.

On Saturday July 30, 1768, he was seized, as he sat at dinner, with a sickness at his stomach. He recovered before night: but the next evening, while his physicians were attending, his servants raising him on his couch, he suddenly cried out that his thigh-bone was broken. He lay for some time in great agonies, but when the surgeons arrived, and discovered with certainty that the bone was broken, he was perfectly resigned, and never afterwards asked a question about the event. A fever soon ensued: on Tuesday he became lethargic, and continued so till about five o’clock on Wednesday afternoon, when he expired with great calmness, in the seventy- fifth year of his age. On examination, the thigh-bone was found to be carious about four inches in length, and at nearly the same distance from its head. He was buried, pursuant to his own directions, in a covered passage, leading from a private door of the palace to the north door of Lambeth church: and he forbade any monument or epitaph to be placed over him.

In person, Dr. Seeker was tall and comely in the early part of his life slender, and rather consumptive but as he advanced in years, his size increased, yet never to a degree of corpulency that was disproportionate or troublesome. His countenance was open, ingenuous, and expressive.

By his will, he appointed Dr. Daniel Burton, and Mrs. Catherine Talbot (daughter of the Rev. Mr. Edward Talhot), his executors; and left thirteen thousand pounds in the three per cent, annuities to Dr. Porteus and Dr. Stinton his chaplains, in trust, to pay the interest thereof to Mrs. Talbot and her daughter during their joint lives, or the life of the survivor; and, after the decease of both those ladies, eleven thousand to be transferred to the following charitable purposes: | To the society for propagation of the gospel in foreign parts, for the general uses of the society, lOOOl.; to the same society, towards the establishment of a bishop or bishops in the king’s dominions in America, 1000; to the society for promoting Christian knowledge, 600l. to the Irish protestant working schools, 500l. to the corporation of the widows and children of the poor clergy, 500L to the society of the stewards of the said charity, 200l. to Bromley college in Kent, 500l. to the hospitals of the archbishop of Canterbury, at Croydon, St. John at Canterbury, and St. Nicholas Harbledown, 500l. each to St, George’s and London hospitals, and the Jying-in-hospital in Brownlow-s-treet, 500l. each; to the Asylum in the parish of Lambeth, 400l. to the Magdalen-hospital, the Lock-hospital, the Small- pox and Inoculation-h ispital, to each of which his grace was a subscriber, ’6001. each to the incurables at St. Luke’s hospital, 500l. towards the repairing or rebuilding of houses belonging to ppor livings in the diocese of Canterbury, 2.00Q/.

Besides these donations, he left 100G/. to be distributed amongst his servants 200l. to such poor persons as he assisted in his life-time 5000l. to the two daughters of his nephew Mr. Frost 500l. to Mrs. Seeker, the widow of his nephew Dr. George Seeker, and 200l. to Dr. Daniel Burton. After the payment of those and some other smaller legacies, he left his real and the residue of his personal estate to Mr. Thomas Frost of Nottingham. The greatest part of his very noble collection of books he bequeathed to the Archiepiscopal library at Lambeth, the rest betwixt his two chaplains and two other friends. To the manuscript library in the same palace, he left a large number of very learned and valuable Mss. writtenby himself on a great variety of subjects, critical and theological. His well-known catechetical lectures, and his ms sermons he left to be revised by his two chaplains, Dr. Stinton and Dr. Porteus, by whom they were published in 1770. His options he gave to the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishop of London, and the bishop of Winchester for the time being, in trust, to be disposed of by them (as they became vacant) to such persons as they should in their consciences think it would have been most reasonable for him to have given them, had he been living.

The life prefixed to his works was written by Dr. Porteus, the late very amiable and much admired bishop of | London, and reprinted separately by his lordship in 1797, in consequence of bishop Kurd’s having, in his life of Warburton, “judged it expedient to introduce into his life of bishop Warburton, such observations on the talents, learning, and writings of archbishop Seeker, as appeared, both to Dr. Porteus and to many other of his grace’s friends extremely injurious to his literary character, and the credit of his numerous and useful publications; and therefore highly deserving of some notice from those who loved him in life, and revered him after death.” These observations are indeed fully refuted in this excellent piece of biography, as well as the other slanders which the steady and upright conduct of archbishop Seeker drew upon him from persons notoriously disaffected to religion and the church; and time, which never fails to do ample justice to such characters as his, has almost effaced the remembrance of them. Yet, as some have lately attempted to revive the calumny, and suppress the refutation, we have given some references in the note on this subject, not without confidence that archbishop Seeker’s character will suffer little while he has a Porteus for his defender, and a Hollis, a Walpole, a Blackburn, and a Wakefield for his accusers. 1


Life by Porteus. —Gent. Mag. vols. LVIII. LXVIII. See also Index. Many of his Letters are in Kippis’s Life of Lardner, Butler’s Jife of Bishop Hildesley, Doddridge’s Letters, &c. &c.