Stevens, William

, a very worthy, benevolent, and learned citizen of London, was born in the parish of St. Saviour’s, Southwark, March 2, 1732. His father was a tradesman, residing in that parish, and his mother was sister of the rev. Samuel Home, rector of Otham, near Maidstone, in Kent, and aunt of the late excellent Dr. Home, bishop of Norwich. His father died when he was in his infancy, and being educated with his cousin, George Home, an attachment, from similarity of disposition, commenced between them, which led to the same studies in their future lives, although their destinations were so different. When little more than fifteen, Mr. Home was sent to Oxford, and Mr. Stevens, at the same period, being only | fourteen, in August 1746, was placed as an apprentice with Mr. Hookham, No. 68, Old Broad-street, au eminent wholesale hosier, and in this house he lived and died. The cousins now communicated by correspondence, in which Mr. Home informed his friend of the studies in which he was engaged, wi.ile Mr. Stevens spent all his leisure time in acquiring, by his own labour and industry, that knowledge which the young academician was amassing under belter auspices. By such means Mr. Stevens acquired, not only an intimate acquaintance with the French language, but also a considerable knowledge of Latin, Greek,

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and Hebrew literature, and became also an excellent theologian. All this was performed amidst the strictest attention to the duties of his apprenticeship, and when that term expired in 1753, his master employed him for a year as his assistant, and then rewarded his fidelity and upright conduct, by taking him into partnership. Mr. Stevens, after this, continued to pursue his business with his usual activity for many years with little alteration as to the circumstances of it. When Mr. Hookham died, his nephew Mr. Paterson succeeded, with whom, and Mr. Watlington, Mr. Stevens conducted the business, as chief partner, until 1801, when he relinquished a great part of the profits, in order to be relieved from the drudgery of business, and to dedicate more of his time to the society of the friends that he loved, and to those studies in which he delighted. About two years before his death, he gave up the whole concern to Mr. Paterson, with whom, however, he continued to board till his death.

His leisure time, during the whole of his life, he dedicated to study, to intercourse with learned men, and to the duties of benevolence and devotion. His reading was extensive, and his taste may be understood from the plan of his studies. He was well versed in the writings of the fathers of the church of the first three centuries, generally called the Apostolic fathers; he had twice read through Dr. Thomas Jackson’s Body of Divinity, in three large folios; a divine for whose writings bishop Home always expressed the highest respect. The works of bishops Andrews, Jeremy Taylor, and dean Hickes, were quite familiar to Mr. Stevens; and there was hardiy a writer of modern days, at all celebrated for orthodox opinions, who was unknown to him. Such was the esteem in which he was held, as a theologian, that Dr. Douglas, bishop of Salisbury, | once said of him, “Here is a man, who, though not a bishop, yet would have been thought worthy of that character in the first and purest ages of the Christian church;” and the late bishop Horsley, who was not given to flattery, when on one occasion Mr. Stevens paid him a compliment on account of his sermon, said, “Mr. Stevens, a compliment from you upon such a subject is of no inconsiderable value.” Mr. Stevens was also, like bishop Home, a great admirer of the works of Mr. John Hutchinson.

In 1773 Mr. Stevens first appeared as an author, if we may say so of one who never put his name to his writings, by publishing “An Essay on the nature and constitution of the Christian church, wherein are set forth the form of its government, the extent of its powers, and the limits of our obedience, by a layman.” This was published at a time (the preface says) “when the press teemed with the most scurrilous invectives against the fundamental doctrines of our religion: and even the newspapers were converted into trumpets of sedition by the enemies of the church.” Thirty years after the appearance of this tract the society for promoting Christian knowledge placed it on the catalogue of their publications with the name of the author, one of whose primary motives for writing it was the effort making in 1773 to get rid of subscription to the Thirty-nine articles. With the same view, and about the same time, Mr. Woliaston, rector of Chislehurstin Kent, having published “An address to the Clergy of the church of England in particular, and to all Christians in general,” Mr. Stevens printed “Cursory Observations” on this pamphlet, with a mixture of playfulness and argument, censuring him for being friendly to the scheme then in view. In 1776 he published “A discourse on the English Constitution, extracted from a late eminent writer, and applicable to the present times,” which were, it may be remembered, times of great political turbulence. In the following year he published two distinct works: the one, “Strictures on a sermon entitled, The Principles of the Revolution vindicated — preached before the university of Cambridge, on Wednesday, May 29, 1776, by Richard Watson, D.I). F II. S. Regius professor of divinity in that university” an<1, the other, “The Revolution vindicated, and constitutional liberty asserted in answer to the Rev. Dr. Watson’s Accession Sermon, preached before the university of Cambridge on Oct. 25, 1776.” In both these | works, he contends that the preacher and his friends deavouf to support doctrines which, if followed, would destroy, and not preserve the constitution, grounding all authority in the power of the people: that the revolution (in 1688) intended to preserve, and did preserve, the constitution, in its pristine state and vigour: and that this is manifest from the convention, founding the revolution entirely on the abdication and vacancy of the throne.

Prior in point of time to these works on political subjects, he had proved his critical knowledge of the Hebrew language, by a work entitled “A new and faithful translation of Letters from M. LAbbé de ——— Hebrew professor in the university of ——— to the rev. Benj. Kennicott, &c.

Whether these letters were translated from the French, as the title-page imports, or were the xvork of Mr. Stevens himself, “it is not,” says his learned biographer, “material to inquire. The object of this publication was to offer some observations on the doctor’s proposals, and to point out the supposed evil tendency of the plan.” In this, as we have noticed in our account of Dr. Kennicott, Mr. Stevens was not singular, and if he erred, he did not err alone in his judgment upon the points at issue. Although Mr. Stevens would never announce himself as the author of any of the preceding works, he collected them at the earnest solicitation of his friends, into a volume, which, with his characteristic humility, he entitled “OvSevo; efya,” “The Works of Nobody,” and gave copies in presents to his friends.

In 1800, he was again induced to enter the fields of controversy, in defence of the opinions partly of his relation bishop Home, and partly of his friend Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones, in his life of bishop Home, had adverted to that prelate’s acquaintance with the writings of Htitchinson; but before a second edition was wanted, some writers had attacked the character of Dr. Home, as an Hutthinsonian and Mr. Jones therefore, in the new edition of the life, published in 1799, introduced a long preface^ vindicating the bishop, and shewing that the Hutchinsonian plan was consistent with the Holy Scriptures. This preface being reviewed in the British Critic in a manner by no means satisfactory to the supporters of Hutchinsonian opinions, or the friends of Mr. Jones (who died about this time), Mr. Stevens, with all the ardour of friendship, and with all the ability and spirit which had distinguished him in his earlier | years, published under the name of Ain, the Hebrew word for Nobody, “A Review of the Review of a new Preface to the second edition of Mr. Jones’s Life of bishop Home.

The last literary work in which Mr. Stevens was engaged, was an uniform edition of the works of Mr. Jones, in 12 vols 8vo, to which he prefixed a life of that excellent man, composed in a style of artless and pathetic religious eloquence, which his biographer has very aptly compared to that of Isaac Walton, between whom and Mr. Stevens he states otner similarities. “Both were tradesmen; they were both men of reading, and personally acquired learning; of considerable theological knowledge well versed in that book which is the only legitimate source of all theology, the Bible. Both were companions and friends of the most eminent prelates and divines that adorned the church of England; both were profound masters in the art of k(>ly living, and of the same cheerfulness of disposition, &c. &c.” But though Mr. Stevens never published any other work that can be called his own, yet he was always considering how the world might be benefited by the labours of others, and therefore he was a great encourager of his learned friend Mr. Jones, in the publication of his various works; and alter the death of bishop Home, the most severe loss he ever met with, he superintended the publication of some of the volumes of his sermons. It was he also who suggested to the bishop the “Letters on Infidelity,” in answer to Ur. Adam Smith’s exaggerated character of Hume; and to him the bishop addressed them under the initials of W. S. esq.

Mr. Stevens died Feb. 6, 1807, at his house in Broadstreet,;nd was interred in Oiharn church-yard in the county of Kent. Otham wa* not the place of his nativity, yet, from being the parish of his maternal relations, he had always regarded it as his home; and in that church-yard he expressed his desire to be buried. Indeed to the church of Otham he had, during his life-time, been a great benefactor, having laid out about 600l. in repairing and adorning it. An epitaph has since been placed on a marble tablet, containing a just summary of his excellent character. For a more minute detail of it, and particularly of his extensive -charities, both as ari individual, and as treasurer of queen Anne’s bounty, which office he held many years, and it afforded to him a wide scope for benevolent exertion for many admirable traits of temper and | proofs of talent, and for an example of integrity, private virtues, and public usefulness, rarely to be met with, we must refer to the “Memoirs of William Stevens, esq.” printed for private distribution in 1812, 8vo, and in 1815 for sale. 7'his very interesting and instructive work is the well-known, although not avowed, production of a learned judge, who bus ably proved “how much every man has it in his power, even under very discouraging circumstances, by diligence, fidelity, and attention, to advance himself, not only in worldly prosperity, but in learning and wisdom, in purity of life, and in moral and religious knowledge,” and that “a life of the strictest piety and devotion to God, and of the warmest and most extensive benevolence to our fellow men, is strictly compatible with the utmost cheerfulness of disposition, with all rational pleasures, and with all the gaiety, which young persons naturally feel.1


Memoirs as above.