South, Robert

, an English divine of great parts and learning, but of very inconsistent character, was the son of a merchant in London, and born at Hackney, in Middlesex, 1633. He was educated in Westminster-school, under Dr. Busby, where he acquired an uncommon share of grammatical and philological learning. In 1648 he made himself remarkable by reading the Latin prayers in the school, on the day in which king Charles was beheaded, and praying for that prince by name. He continued four years at Westminster, and in 1651 was elected thence student of Christchurch, Oxford. He took a bachelor of arts degree in 1654; and the same year wrote a copy of Latin verses, to congratulate the protector Cromwell upon the peace concluded with the Dutch. They were published in a collection of poems by the university. The year after, he published another Latin poem, entitled “Musica Incantans; sive Poema exprimens Musicse vires juvenem in insaniam abigentis, et?lusici hide periculum.” This was at that time highly appLuded for the beauty of the language, and was printed at the request of Dr. Fell; but it is said that Dr. South, to his dying day, regretted the publication of it, as a juvenile and trifling performance. He commenced M. A. in June 1657, alter performing all the preparatory exercises for it with the highest applause, and such wit and humour, as justly entitled him to represent the Terra: F’dius, in which character he spoke the usual speech at the celebration of the act the same year. He preached frequently, and (as Wood thinks) without any orders. He | appeared, at St. Mary’s, the great champion for Calvinism against Sociniuuism and Arminianisir; and his behaviour was such, and his talents esteemed so exceedingly useful and serviceable, that the heads of that party were considering how to give proper encouragement and proportionable preferment to so hopeful a convert. In the mean time the protector Cromwell died and then, the presbyterians prevailing over the independents,South sided with them. He began to contemn, and in a manner to defy, the dean of his college. Dr. Owen, who was reckoned the head of the independent party; upon which the doctor plainly told him, that he was one who “sate in the seat of the scornful.” The author of the memoirs of South’s life tells us, that he was admitted into holy orders according to the rites and ceremonies of the church or England, in 1658. In July 1659, he preached the assize-sermon at Oxford, in which he inveighed vehemently against the independents; and by this greatly pleased the presbyterians, who made him their acknowledgments. The same year, when it was visible that the king would be restored, he appeared someuhat irresolute, yet was still reckoned a member of “the fanatic ordinary,” as Wood expresses it; but, as his majesty’s restoration approached, he began to exercise his pulpittalents, which were very great, as much against the presbyterians, as he had done before against the independents. Such was the conduct and behaviour of this celebrated divine in the earlier part of his life, as it is described by his contemporary in the university, Mr. Anthony Wood; and if Wood was not unreasonably prejudiced against him, he is, doubtless, to be classed among those time-servers, who know no better use of the great abilities God has given them, than to obtain the favour of those who can reward them best .*


Wood’s dislike of South is said to have been occasioned by an ill-timed witticism of the latter. Wood one day complained to Dr. South of a disorder with which he was much afflicted, amd which terminated in his death viz. a suppression of urine. South told him that “if he could not make water, he must make earth.” Anthony immediately went home, and wrote South’s life, in which, however, although the colouring be harsh, the principal facts, we are afraid, have not been much misrepresented.

He seems to have proceeded as he had begun; that is, he pushed himself on by an extraordinary zeal for the powers that were; and he did not succeed amiss. On Aug. 10, 1660, he was chosen public orator of the | university ,*


While public orator, it fell to him to present an officer of nute to the university for an honorary degree. On this occasion he began in the usual style of address to the vice-chancellor, proctors, &c. “Præsento vobis, virum hunc belicosissimum”—that moment some accident obliged the great warior to turn about unexpectedly, and South immediately went on, “qui nunquam antea tergiversatus est.” —Gent. Mag. LIII. p. 464.

and at the same time “tugged bird,” says Wood, “such was the high conceit of his worth, to be canon of Christcburch, as belonging to that office; but was kept back by the endeavours of the dean. This was a great discontent to him; and not being able to conceal it, he clamoured at it, and shewed much passion in his sermons till he could get preferment, which made them therefore frequented by the generality, though shunned by some. This person, though he was a junior master, and h;id never suffered for the royal cause, yet so great was his conceit, or so blinded he was with ambition, that he thought he could never be enough loaded with preferment; while others, who had suffered much, and had been reduced to a bit of bread for his majesty’s cause, could get nothing.” South’s talents, however, might be of use, and were not to be neglected; and these, together with his ardent zeal, which he was ever ready to exert on all occasions, recommended him effectually to notice and preferment. In 1661 he became domestic chaplain to lord Clarendon, chancellor of England, and of the university of Oxford; and, in March 1663, was installed prebendary of Westminster. On October the 1st following, he was admitted to the degree of D. D.; but this, as Wood relates, not without some commotion in the university. “Letters were sent by lord Clarendon, in behalf of his chaplain South, who was therein recommended to the doctorate: but some were so offended, on account of certain prejudices against South, whom they looked upon as a mere time-server, that they stiffly denied the passing of these letters in convocation.A tumult arose, and they proceeded to a scrutiny; after which the senior proctor, Nathaniel Crew, fellow of Lincoln-college, and afterwards bishop of Durham, did “according to his usual perfidy, which,” says Wood, “he frequently exercised in his office; for he was born and bred a presbyterian”) pronounce him passed by the major part of the house; in consequence of which, by the double presentation of Dr. John Wallis, Savilian professor of geometry, he was first admitted bachelor, then doctor of divinity.

Afterwards he had a sinecure in Wales bestowed upon | him by his patron the earl of Clarendon and, at that earl’s retirement into France in 1G67, became chaplain to James duke of York. In 1670, he was made canon of Christ church, Oxibrd. In 1676, he attended as chaplain Laurence Hyde, esq. ambassador extraordinary to the king of Poland; of which journey he gave an account, in a letter to Dr. Edward Pocock, dated from Dantzick the 16th of Dec. 1677; which is printed in the “Memoirs of his Life.” In 167S, iie was nominated by the dean and chapter of Westminster to the rectory of Islip in Oxfordshire; and, in 16SO, rebuilt the chancel of that church, as he did afterwards the rectory-house. He also allowed an hundred pounds per annum to his curate, and expended the rest in educating and apprenticing the poorer children of the parish. Jn I6bl he exhibited a remarkable example of accommodating his principles to those of the times. Being now one of the king’s chaplains in ordinary, he preached before his majesty upon these words, “The lot is cast into the lap, but the disposing of it is of the Lord.” In this sermon he introduced three remarkable instances of unexpected advancements, those of Agathocles, Massaniello, and Oliver Cromwell. Of the latter he says, “And who that had beheld such a bankrupt beggarly fellow as Cromwell, first entering the parliament house with a threadbare torn cloak, greasy hat (perhaps neither of them paid for), could have suspected that in the space of so few years, he should, by the murder of one king, and the banishment of another, ascend the throne r” At this, the king is said to have fallen into a violent tit of laughter, and turning to Dr. South’s patron, Mr. Laurence Hyde, now created lord Rochester, said, “Odds fish, Lory, your chaplain must be a bishop, therefore put me in mind of him at the next death!

Wood observes, that Dr. South, notwithstanding his various preferments, lived upon none of them; but upon his temporal estate at Caversham near Reading, and, as the people of Oxford imagined, in a discontented and clamorous condition for want of more. They were mistaken, however, if the author of the Memoirs of his Life is to be depended on, who tells us, that he refused several offers of bishoprics, as likewise that of an archbishopric in Ireland, which was made him in James the Second’s reign, by his patron the earl of Rochester, then lord lieutenant of that kingdom. But this was only rumour; and there is | little reason to suppose that it had any foundation. South’s nature and temper were violent, domineering, and intractable to the last degree; and it is more than probable, that his patrons might not think it expedient to raise him higher, and by that means invest him with more power than he was likely to use with discretion. There is a particular recorded, which shews, that they were no strangers to his nature. The earl of Rochester, being solicited by James II. to change his religion, agreed to be present at a dispute between two divines of the church of England, and two of the church of Rome; and to abide by the result of it. The king nominated two for the Popish side, the earl two for the Protestant, one of whom was South; to whom the king objected, saying, that he could not agree to the choice of South, who instead of arguments would bring railing accusations, and had not temper to go through a dispute that required the greatest attention and calmness: upon which Dr. Patrick, then dean of Peterborough, and minister of St. Paul’s, Covent garden, was chosen in his stead.

After the revolution, South took the oath of allegiance to their majesties; though he is said to have excused himself from accepting a great dignity in the church, vacated by a refusal of those oaths. Bishop Kennet says, that at first he made a demur about submitting to the revolution, and thought himself deceived by Dr. Sherlock, “which was the true foundation of the bitter difference in writing: about the Trinity.” Whatever the cause, Dr. South, in 1693, published “Animadversions on Dr. Sherlock’s book, entitled, ‘A vindication of the Holy and ever Blessed Trinity,’ &c. together with a more necessary vindication of that sacred and prime article of the Christian faith from his new notions and false explications of it: humbly offered to his admirers, and to himself the chief of them,1693, 4to. Sherlock having published in 1694 a “Defence” of himself against these Animadversions, South replied, in a book entitled, “Tritheism charged upon Dr. Sherlock’s neur notion of the Trinity, and the charge made good in an answer to the Defence,” &c. This was a sharp contest, and men of great note espoused the cause of each; though the cause of each, as is curious to observe, was not the cause of orthodoxy, which lay between them both: for if Sherlock ran into Tritheism, and made three substances as well as three persons of the Godhead, South on the other hand leaned to the heresy of Sabellius, which, destroying | the triple personage, supposed only one substance with something like three modes. The victory, nevertheless, was adjudged to South in an extraordinary manner at Oxford, as we have already noticed in the life of Sherlock; for Mr. Bingham of University college, having fallen in with Sherlock’s notions, and asserted in a sermon be to re the university, that “there were three infinite distinct minds and substances in the Trinity, and also that the three persons in the Trinity are three distinct minds or spirits and three individual substances, was censured by a solemn decree there in convocation: wherein they judge, declare, and determine the aforesaid words, lately delivered i;i the said sermon, to be” false, impious, heretical, and contrary to the doctrine of the church of England.“But this decree rather irritated, than composed the differences: and at length the king interposed his authority, by directions to the archbishops and bishops, that no preacher whatsoever in his sermon or lecture, should presume to preach any other doctrine concerning the blessed Trinity, than what was contained in the Holy Scriptures, and was agreeable to the three Creeds and thirty-nine Articles of religion. This put an end to the controversy; though not till after both the disputants, together with Dr. Thomas Burnet, master of the Charter-house, had been ridiculed in a wellknown ballad, called” The Battle Royal.“Burnet about the same time had ridiculed, in his” Arclueologia Philosophica," the literal account of the creation and fall of man, as it stands in the beginning of Genesis; and this being thought heterodox and profane, exposed him to the lash upon the present occasion.

During the greatest part of queen Annie’s reign, South was in a state of inactivity; and, the infirmities of old age growing fast upon him, he performed very little of the duty of his ministerial function, otherwise than by attending divine service at Westminster abbey. Yet when there was any alarm about the church’s danger, none shewed greater activity; nor had Sacheverell in 1710 a more strenuous advocate. He had from time to time given his sermons to the public; and, in 1715, he published a fourth volume, which he dedicated to the right hon. William Bromley, esq. “some time speaker to the Hon. House of Commons, and after that principal Secretary of State to her Majesty Queen Anne, of ever blessed memory.” He died aged eightythree, July 8, 1716 and was interred with great solemnity, | in Westminster abbey, where a monument is erected to him, with an inscription upon it. He was a man of very uncommon abilities and attainments; of judgment, wit, and learning equally great. There is as much wit in his sermons, as there is good sense and learning, well combined and strongly set forth: and there is yet more ill humour, spleen, and batire. His wit indeed was his bane, for he never could repress it on the most solemn occasions, and preaching may surely be reckoned one of those. Of this he seems to have been sensible himself; for when Sherlock accused him of employing wit in a controversy on the Trinity, South, in his reply, observed that, " had it pleased God to have made him (Dr. Sherlock) a wit, he wished to know what he would have done?*


On one occasion, it is said, that when preaching before king Charles II. and his courtiers, be perceived in the middle of his sermon that sleep had taken possession of some of them. Stopping, and changing the tone of his voice, he called three times to lord Lauderdale, and when he had awakened him, “My lord,” said South, “I am sorry to interrupt your repose, but I must beg that you will not snore quite so loud, lest you should awaken his majesty” and then calmly continued his discourse. Of his general preaching, bishop Kenuet savs, “He laboured very much to compose his sermons, and in the pnlpit worked up his body when he came to apiece of wit, or any notable saying.” Kennett’s Mss. in Brit. Museum.

However admirable, there was certainly nothing amiable in his nature: for it is doing him no injustice to say, that he was sour, morose, peevish, quarrelsome, intolerant, and unforgiving; and, had not his zeal for religion served for the time to cover a multitude of moral imperfections, all his parts and learning could not have screened him from the imputation of being but an indifferent kind of man.

His sermons have been often printed in 6 vols. 8vo. In 1717, his “Opera Posthuma Latina,” consisting of orations and poems; and his “Posthumous Works” in English, containing three sermons, an account of his travels into Poland, memoirs of his life, and a copy of his will, were published in 2 vols. 8vo. By this will, as well as his general conduct in life, it appears that covetousness was not to be enumerated among his failings. His fortune he bestowed liberally on the church, the clergy, and the poor. 1


Life prefixed to his Posthumous Works. Biog. Bdt, —Ath. Ox. vol. IL Birch’s Tillotson. —Burnet’s Own Times, &c. &c.