Stillingfleet, Benjamin

, grandson to the preceding, and an eminent naturalist and poet, was the son of Edward Stillingfleet, who was first a physician, but afterwards entered into holy orders. He died in 1708. Hia only son, Benjamin, was born in 1702, and educated at Norwich school, where he made a considerable proficiency in classical literature. In 1720 he entered as a subsizar at Trinity-college, Cambridge, where, while he improved his classical knowledge, he attached himself with success to mathematical studies. On May 3, 1723, he was admitted a scholar, and the same year took the degree of B. A. Soon after this he left the university, and in 1724 lived in the family of Ashe Windham, esq. of Felbrig, as preceptor to William, his only son, then about seven years old. In | the beginning of 1726, he returned to Cambridge, in hopes of succeeding to a fellowship, there being then four vacancies. But in this he was disappointed, “by the influence, it is said, of Dr. Bentley, who has been accused of repaying with this instance of ingratitude the obligations he had received from the father of the unprotected candidate.” Although we are unwilling to credit so serious a charge, it appears that Mr. Stillingfleet considered it as just, and “seldom afterwards omitted an opportunity of testifying his resentment against Bentley,” a circumstance which we are sorry to hear, even if the charge had been proved.

After this failure, he attached himself wholly to his patron Mr. Wind ham, and at the mansion of Felbrig passed the next fourteen years of his life, “beloved and respected by all who visited or were connected with the family.” While he was “employed in the grateful task of instructing a youth of superior talents and amiable disposition,” he was insensibly Jed into a tender attachment, in which he was not successful. The lady was a Miss Anne B; nes who, with the inexperience of youth, and the thoughtless gaiety of a volatile temper, encouraged his addresses; and he passed several years in her society, in the ardent hope that a favourable change in his circumstances at no distant period would unite him with the object of his first and lasting passion. But after ten years, the prudence or the lady outweighed her affection. As she was herself without fortune, and Mr. Stillingfleet without any means of establishing himself in life, she listened to an advantageous offer, and soon afterwards espoused a richer and more fortunate rival.

It appears that this disappointment made a deep impression; and his biographer has given us some lines against woman, which, as he justly observes, shew how anguish and disappointment could change the sentiments of a man so mild and amiable, so fond of domestic life, and so respectfully attached to the fair sex. The lines (for which we refer the reader to the edition of his works lately published) are certainly severe; but allowance must be made for the immediate provocation.

Soon after this disappointment, in 1737, he accompanied his pupil, Mr. Windham, to the Continent. The events of this tour, and the connexions to which it gave rise, fixed the future course, and formed the happiness of | his life. Mr. Coxe’s account of it is highly amusing, and introduces us to the acquaintance of many persons, now, or lately, distinguished in the political or literary world. One of the results of this tour was, “A Letter from an English Gentleman to Mr. Arlaud, a celebrated painter at Geneva, giving an account of the Glacieres, or Ice Alps of Savoy, written in the year 1741.” This was written chiefly by Mr. Windham and Mr. Price (of Foxley in Herefordshire), with the assistance of Mr. Siillingfieet, and illustrated with the drawings of Mr. Price. They are said to have been the first travellers who penetrated into these Alpine recesses. In 1743 Mr. Stillingfleet returned with his pupil to England. His pupil’s father gave Mr. Stillingfleet an annuity of 100l. which for some time was his principal support. He now resided partly in London and partly with some friends in the country; and his leisure hours were dedicated to literary pursuits, some of which Mr. Coxe has specified, particularly an edition of Milton, illustrated by notes, in which he had made considerable progress when the appearance of Dr. Newton’s proposals induced him to relinquish his design. His M8S. however, which were in the possession of the late bishop Dampier, were obligingly lent to Mr. Todd, for his excellent edition of our great epic poet. About this time Mr. Stillingfleet composed some of his poems, particularly those on “Conversation,” and “Earthquakes.

In 1746 Mr. Stillingfleet took up his residence at Foxley, the seat of the above-mentioned Mr. Price, or rather in a neighbouring cottage, where he was master of his time and pursuits; and passed his leisure hours with the family. An indifferent state of health first led him to the pursuit of Natural History, which forms his principal distinction as an author; and he soon became one of the first defenders and earliest propagators of the Linnsean system in England. This zeal produced, in 1759, his “Miscellaneous Tracts in Natural History,” with a Preface, which contains a spirited eulogium of the study of nature, and a just tribute of applause to the talents and discoveries of the great Swede. The publication of this miscellany may be considered as the sera of the establishment of Linnaean Botany in England. His biographer has also published the Journal of Mr. Stillirigfleet’s excursion into part of North Wales, which is illustrative of his character and observations, and is curious as one of the first of those local tours which are since become so fashionable. | In 1760, Mr. Stillingfleet received an addition to his income by obtaining the place of barrack -master at Kensington, through the interest of his friend Mr. Price, brotherin-law to lord Harrington, then secretary at war. But in 1761 he had the misfortune to lose, by death, his friend Mr. Price, and also his pupil Mr. Windham. The latter left him guardian to his only son, the late much lamented statesman William Windham, esq. His feelings were not u little tried also, about this time, by the death of his sisters and their husbands, whose history, as well as that of Messrs. Price, Windham, and Williamson, form a very interesting part of Mr. Coxe’s memoirs. That of his nephew, capt. Locker, is particularly so, as he was one of those who contributed to form the wonderful mind of our gallant hero, lord Nelson.

After the publication of the second edition of his “Miscellaneous Tracts,” in 1762, Mr. Stillingfleet embarked on a scheme which was likely to employ the remainder of his life. This was a “General History of Husbandry,” from the earliest ages of the world to his own times. Of this work he left six volumes of ms collections, of which Mr. Coxe has given such an analysis as displays the author’s plan, and excites regret that a man of so much research and powers of thinking did not complete his intended work.

Among other pursuits Mr. Stillingfleet cultivated and understood music, both practically and theoretically; and this produced his “Treatise on the Principles and Power of Harmony,” on which, says his biographer, he seems to have bestowed unusual labour. It is, in fact, an analysis or abridgment of Tartini’s “Trattato di Musica,” with such an addition of new matter, that it may justly be deemed the joint production of Tartini and Stillingfleet; and, in executing this, Mr. Stillingfleet seems to have accomplished the wish of D’Alembert, namely, “that Tartini would engage some man of letters equally practised in music and skilled in writing, to develope those ideas which he himself has not unfolded with sufficient perspicuity.

This was the last of Mr. Stillingfleet' s publications; for he died, at his lodgings in Piccadilly opposite Burlingtonhouse, Dec. 15, 1771 (the year this last-me.itioned work was published), aged sixty-nine. He was interred in St. James’s church, where his great nephew Edward Hawke Locker, esq. third son of captain Locker, has recently erected a monument to his memory. | The merit most generally attributed to Mr. Stillingfleet is the service which he has rendered to our Natural History and Agriculture. In the present age it may not be deemed a merit in a gentleman, who is at the same time a man of letters, to encourage such pursuits by precept and example; as we have numerous instances of men of the first rank and abilities, who have dedicated their time and labours to the promotion of this branch of useful knowledge. But, in the time of Mr. Stillingfleet, the case was far different; for few men of respectable rank in society were farmers; and still fewer, if any, gave the result of their experience and observations to the public. On the contrary, there seems to have existed among the higher classes a strong prejudice against agricultural pursuits; which Mr. Stillingfleet took some pains to combat, and which, indeed, his example, as well as his precepts, greatly contributed to overcome. As a poet, Mr. Stillingfleet is less known, because few of his compositions were ever given to the public, and those were short, and confined to local or temporary subjects. The “Essay on Conversation” the “Poem on Earthquakes” the dramas and sonnets; will certainly entitle him to a place on the British Parnassus but, when we consider his refined and classical taste, his command of language, his rich and varied knowledge, and the flights of imagination which frequently escape from his rapid pen, we can have no hesitation in asserting, that if, instead of the haste in which he apparently prided himself, he had employed more patience and more assiduous correction, he would have attained no inconsiderable rank among our native poets. Independently of his merits as a naturalist and a poet, he possessed great versatility of genius and multifarious knowledge. His intimate acquaintance with the higher branches of the mathematics, and his skill in applying them to practice, are evident from his treatise on the principles and powers of harmony: and all his works, both printed and manuscript, display various and undoubted proofs of an extensive knowledge of modern languages, both ancient and modern, and a just and refined taste, formed on the best models of classic literature. 1


Literary Life and Select Works of Benjamin Stillingfleet.” By the rev. William Coxe, rector of Bemerton, &c, 1811, 3 vgls. 8vo.