Whiston, William

, an English divine of very uncommon parts and more uncommon learning, but of a singular and extraordinary character, was born Dec. 9, 1667, at Norton near Twycrosse, in the county of Leicester; of which place his father Josiah Whiston, a learned and pious man, was rector. He was kept at home till he was seventeen, and trained under his father; and this on two accounts: first, because he was himself a valetudinarian, being greatly subject to the flatus hypocondriaciis in various shapes all his life long; secondly, that he might serve his father, who had lost his eye-sight, in the quality of an amanuensis. In 1684, he was sent to Tamvvorth school, and two years after admitted of Clare-hall in Cambridge, where he pursued his studies, and particularly the mathematics, eight hours a day, till 1693. During this time, and while he was under-graduate, an accident happened to him, which he relates for a caution and benefit to others in the like circumstances. He observed one summer, that his eyes did not see as usual, biU dazzled after an aukward manner. Upon which, imagining it arose fro’m too much application, he remitted for a fortnight, and tried to recover his usual sight, by walking much in green fields; but found himself no better. At that time he met with an account of Mr. Boyle’s having known a person, who, having new-whited the wall of his chamber on which the sun shone, and having accustomed himself to read in that glaring light, thereby lost his sight for some time; till, upon hanging the place with green, he recovered it again: and this, he says, was exactly his own case, in a less degree, both as to the cause and the remedy.

In x 1693 he became master of arts, and fellow of the college; and soon after set up for a tutor; when, such was his reputation for learning and good manners, that | archbishop Tillotson sent him his nephew for a pupil. But his health did not permit him to go on in that way; and therefore, resigning his pupils to Mr. Laughton, he became chaplain (for he had taken orders) to Dr. Moore, bishop of Norwich. During the time of his being chaplain to bishop Moore, which was from 1694 to 1698, he published his first work, entitled “A new Theory of the Earth, from its original to the consummation of all things; wherein the Creation of the World in six days, the universal deluge, and the general conflagration, as laid down in the Holy Scriptures, are shewn to be perfectly agreeable to Reason and Philosophy,1696, 8vo. Whision relates, that this book was shewed in manuscript to Dr. Bent-ley, to sir Christopher Wren, and especially to sir Isaac Newton, on whose principles it depended and though Mr. John Keill soon after wrote against it, and demonstrated that it could not stand the test of mathematics and sound philosophy, yet it brought no small reputation to the author. Thus Locke, mentioning it in a letter to Mr. Molyneux, dated Feb. 22, 1696, says, “I have not -heard any one of my acquaintance speak of it but with great commendations, as I think it deserves ‘and truly I think it is more to be admired, that he has laid dow(i an hypothesis, whereby he has explained so many wonderful and before inexplicable things in the great changes of this globe, than that some of them should not easily go down with some men; when the whole was entirely new to all. -,He is one of those sort of writers, that I always fancy should be most esteemed and encouraged: I am always for the builders, who bring some addition to our knowledge, or at least some nevr things to our thoughts.” This work of Whiston has gone through six editions; but no considerable additions, as he informs us, were made to it after the third.

In 1698, bishop Moore gave him the living of Lowestoft cum Kessingland, by the sea-side, in Suffolk; upon which he quitted his place of chaplain, and was succeeded by Mr. (afterwards the celebrated Dr.) Clarke, who was then about four-and-twenty years of age. He went to reside upon his living, and applied himself most earnestly and conscientiously to the duties of the station. He kept a curate, yet preached twice a Sunday himself; and, all the summer season at least, read a catechetic lecture at the chapel in the evening, chiefly for the instruction of the adult. He has recorded an instance or two, which shew | how zealous he was for the promotion of piety and good manners. The parish-officers applied to him once for his hand to a licence, in order to set up a new alehouse; to whom he answered, “If they would bring him a paper to sign, for the pulling an alehouse down, he would certainly sign it; but would never sign one for setting an alehouse up.

In the beginning of the last century he was called to be sir Isaac Newton’s deputy, and afterwards his successor in the Lucasian professorship of mathematics; when he resigned his living, and went to Cambridge. In 1702 he published “A short view of the Chronology of the Old Testament, and of the Harmony of the Four Evangelists,” in 4to; and in March 1702-3, “Tacquet’s Euclid, with select theorems of Archimedes, and practical corollaries,” in Latin, for the use of young students in the university. This edition of Euclid was reprinted at Cambridge in 1710; and afterwards in English at London, under his own inspection. He tells us that it was the accidental purchase of Tacquet’s own Euclid at an auction, which occasioned his first application to mathematical studies. In 1706 he published an “Essay on the Revelation of St. John;” in 1707, “Proslectiones astronomicae;” and sir Isaac Newton’s “Arithmetic* Universalis,” by the author’s permission. The same year, 1707, he preached eight sermons upon the accomplishment of Scripture Prophecies, at the lecture founded by the honourable Mr. Boyle; which he printed the year alter, with an appendix to the same purpose. About August, 1708, he drew up an “Essaly upon the Apostolical Constitutions,” and offered it to the vicechancellor, for his licence to be printed at Cambridge; but was refused it. He tells us that he had now read over the two first centuries of the church; and found that the Eusebian, or commonly called Arian, doctrine was, for the main, the doctrine of those ages; and, as he thought it a point of duty to communicate what he had thus discovered, so his heterodox notions upon the article of the Trinity were now very generally known.

In 1709 he published a volume of “Sermons and Essays oh several subjects;” one of which is to prove that our blessed Saviour had several brethren and sisters properly o called, that is, the children of his reputed father Joseph, and of his true mother, the Virgin Mary. Dr. Clarke, he says, wrote to him to suppress this piece, not | on account of its being false, but that the common opinion might go undisturbed but, he adds, <: that such sort of motives were of no weight with him, compared with the discovery and propagation of truth. In 1710 he published “Praelectiones Physico-Mathematicae sive Pbilosophia clarissimi Newtoni Mathematica illustrata” which, together with the “Prajlectiones Astronomicae” before mentioned, were afterwards translated and published tn English; and it may be said, with no small honour to the memory of Mr. Whiston, that he was one of the first, if not the very first, who explained the Newtonian philosophy in a popular way, and so that the generality of readers might comprehend it with little difficulty. About this year, 1710, Menkenius, a very learned man in Germany, wrote to Dr. Hudson, the keeper of the Bodleian library at Oxford, for an account of Mr. Whiston; whose writings then made, as he said, a great noise in Germany. He had some time embraced the Arian heresy, and was forming projects to support and propagate it and, among other things, had translated the “Apostolical Constitutions” into English, which favoured that doctrine, and which he asserted to be genuine. His friends began to be alarmed for him; they represented to him the dangers he would bring upon himself and family, for he had been married many years, by proceeding in this design; but all they could say availed nothing: and the consequence was, that, Oct. 30, 1710, he was deprived of his professorship, and expelled the university of Cambridge, after having been formally convened and interrogated for some days before.

At the end of the same year he published his “Historical Preface;” setting forth the several pteps and reasons of his departing from the commonly-received notions of the Trinity; and, in 1711, his 4 vols. of “.Primitive Christianity revived,” in 8vo. The first volume contains “The” Epistles of Ignatius, both larger and smaller, in Greek and English;“the third,” An Essay on those Apostolical Constitutions;“the fourth,” An account of the Primitive Faith, concerning the Trinity and Incarnation.“In March 1711, soon after the publication of his” Historical Preface,“he was attacked in the convocation, of whose proceedings, as well as those of the university, against him, he published distinct accounts, in two appendixes to that preface, when it was reprinted with additions, and prefixed to his volumes of” Primitive Christianity revived.“After | his expulsion from Cambridge he went to London; where he had conferences with Clarke, Hoadly, and other learned men, who endeavoured to moderate his zeal, but he proved the superior tenderness of his conscience, by assuring them that he would not suffer his zeal to be tainted or corrupted, as he imagined it would be, with the least mixture of prudence or worldly wisdom. He tells us of those eminent persons, that, with regard to his account of the primitive faith about the Trinity and incarnation, they were not much dissatisfied with it; and that, though they were far less convinced of the authority and genuineness of the” Apostolical Constitutions," yet they wer& willing enough to receive them, as being much better and more authentic than what were already in the church.

Whiston was now settled with his family in London; and though it does not appear that he had any certain means of subsisting,*


This ssems not quite correct. His son informs us that he had a small estate in the county of Cambridge, which brought him in near 40l. a year and he taught mathematics. etc. to private pupils.

yet he continued to write books, and to propagate his primitive Christianity, with as much cheerfulness and vigour as if he had been in the most flourishing circumstances. During March 1711-12, prince Eugene of Savoy was in England; and because Whiston believed himself to have discovered, in his “Essay on the Revelation of St. John,” that some of the prophecies there had been fulfilled by that general’s victory over the Turks in 1697, or by the succeeding peace of Carlowitz in 1698, he printed a short dedication, and fixing it to the cover of a copy of that essay, presented it to the prince. The prince has been said to have replied, that “he did not know he had the honour of having been known to St: John;” however, he thought proper to take so much notice of Whiston’ s well-meant endeavours, a to send him a present of fifteen guineas. The dedication runs thus:

"Illustrissimo Principi Eugenio Sabaudiensi, vaticiniorum Apocalypticorum unwrn, Turcarum vastationibus finiendis destination, dudum adimplenti; alterum etiam, tie Galloram imperio subvertendo, inagna ex parte, uti spes est, mox adimpleturo; hunc libellum, summa qua decet reverentia, dat, dicat, consecrat,

8 id. Mart. 1711-12. Gulielmus Winston."

In 1715, 1716, 1717, a society for promoting primitive Christianity met weekly at his house in Cross-street, | Hatton-garden, composed of about ten or twelve persons; to which society Christians of all persuasions were equally admitted. Sir Peter King, Dr. Hare, Dr. Hoadly, and Dr. Clarke, were particularly invited; but none of them, he says, ever came. In 1719, he published “A Letter of Thanks to Robinson, bishop of London, for his late Letter to his Clergy against the use of new Forms of Doxology.” The common forms having been changed by Whiston, and indeed by Dr. Clarke, was the occasion of Robinson’s admonitory letter to his clergy: and this admonitory letter tempted Whiston to do a thing, he says, which he never did before or since; that is, to expose him in the way of banter or ridicule, and to cut him with great sharpness. Upon the publication of this a Letter of Thanks“to the bishop of London, Dr. Sacheverell attempted to shut him out of St. Andrew’s, Holborn, which was then his parish* church; and Whiston published an account of it. He relates, that Mr. Wilson, a lawyer, who did not love Sacheverell, would willingly have prosecuted him for the insult) and promised to do it without any costs to him; but Whiston replied,” if I should give my consent, I should shew myself to be as foolish and as passionate as Sacheverell himself/ 7 In the same year, 1719, he published a letter to the earl of Nottingham, “concerning the eternity of the Son of God, and his Holy Spirit;” and, in the second and following editions, a defence of it; for lord Nottingham had published “an Answer” in 1721, for which he wa highly complimented by addresses from both the universities, and from the London clergy. In 1720 he was proposed by sir Hans Sloane and Dr. Halley to the royal society as a member, for he was publishing something or other in the‘ way of philosophy; but was refused admittance by sir Isaac Newton, the president. He tells us he had enjoyed a large portion of sir Isaac’s favour for twenty years together; but lost it at last by contradicting him when he was old. “Sir Isaac,” adds he, “was of the most fearful, cautious, and suspicious temper, that I ever knew; and, had he been alive when I wrote against his Chronology, and so thoroughly confuted it that nobody has ever since ventured to vindicate it, I should not have thought proper to publish my confutation; because I knew his temper so well, that I should have expected it would have killed him,: as Dr. Bentiey, bishop Stillingfleet’s chaplain, told me that he believed Mr. Locke’s thorough | confutation of the bishop’s metaphysics about the Trinity hastened his end also.

In 1721 a large subscription was made for the support of his family, but principally, his son says, to reimburse him the expences he had been at in attempting to discover the longitude, on which he had expended above Soo/. This subscription amounted to 470l. and was, he tells us, by far the greatest sum that ever was put into his hands by his friends. It was upon contributions of this nature that he seems chiefly to have depended; for, though he drew profits from reading lectures upon philosophy, astronomy, and even divinity; and also from his publications, which were numerous; and from the small estate above mentioned, yet these, of themselves, would have been very insufficient; nor, when joined with the benevolence and charity of those who loved and esteemed him for his learning, integrity, and piety, did they prevent him from being frequently in great distress. He spent the remainder of his long life in the way he was now in; that is, in talking and acting against Athanasianism, and for primitive Christianity, and in writing and publishing books from time to time. In 1722 he published “An Essay towards restoring the true Text of the Old Testament, and for vindicating the citations thence made in the New Testament;” in 1724, “The literal Accomplishment of Scripture-Prophecies,” in answer to Mr. Collinses book upon the “Grounds and reasons of the Christian Religion;” in 1726, “Of the thundering Legion, or of the miraculous deliverance of Marcus Antoninus and his army on the prayers of the Christians,” occasioned by Mr. Moyle’s works, then lately published; in 1727, “A collection of authentic Records belonging to the Old and New Testament,” translated into English; in 1730, “Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Samuel Clarke;” in 1732, “A Vindication of the Testimony of Phlegon, or an account of the great Darkness and Earthquake at our Saviour’s Passion, described by Phlegon,” in answer to a dissertation of Dr. Sykes upon that eclipse and earthquake; in 1736, “Athanasian Forgeries, Impositions, and Interpolations;” the same year, “The Primitive Eucharist revived,” against bishop Hoadly’s “Plain account of the Lord’s Supper;” in 17S7, “The Astronomical Year, or an account of the many remarkable celestial phenomena, of the great year 1736,” particularly of the comet, which was foretold by sir Isaac Newton, and came accordingly; | the same year, “The genuine works of Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian, in English, as translated from the original Greek according to Havercamp’s accurate edition: illustrated with new plans and descriptions of Solomon’s, Zorobahel’s, Herod’s, and Ezekiel’s, temples, and with correct maps of Judea and Jerusalem; together with proper notes, observations, contents, parallel texts of scripture, five complete indexes, and the true chronology of the several histories adjusted in the margin: to which are prefixed eight dissertations, viz. 1. The testimonies of Josephus vindicated; 2. The copy of the Old Testament, made use of by Josephus, proved to be that which was Collected by Neheimah; 3. Concerning God’s command to Abraham to offer up his son Isaac for a sacrifice; 4. A large inquiry into the true chronology of Josephus. 5. An extract out of Josephus’s exhortation to the Greeks concerning Hades, and the resurrection of the dead; 6. Proofs that this exhortation is genuine; 7. A demonstration that Tacitus, the Roman historian, took his history of the Jews out of Josephus; 8 A dissertation of Cellarius against Hardouin, in Vindication of Josephus’s history of the family of Herod, from coins; with an account of the Jewish coins, weights, and measures,” in folio, and since reprinted in 8vo. This is reckoned the most useful of all Whiston’s learned labours, and accordingly has met with the greatest encouragement. In 1739 he put in his claim to the mathematical professorship at Cambridge, then vacant by the death of Saunderson, in a letter to Dr. Ashton, the master of Jesus college, who, his son avers, never produced it to the heads who were the electors, and consequently no regard was paid to it. In 174.5, he published his “Primitive NewTestament, in English;” in 1748, his “Sacred History of the Old and New Testament, from the creation of the world till the days of Constarrtine the Great, reduced into Annals;”and the same year, “Memoirs of his own Life and writings,” which are curious as a faithful picture of an ingenuous, enthusiastic, and somewhat disordered mind. He continued long a member of the Church- of England, and regularly frequented its service, although he disapproved of many things in it; but at last forsook it, and went over to the baptists. This happened when he was at the house of Samuel Barker, esq. at Lyndon, in Rutland, who had married his daughter; and there it was that he dates the following memorandum: “I continued in the communion | of the Church of England till Trinity Sunday, 1747: for, though I still resolved to go out of the church if Mr. Belgrave continued to read the Athanasian Creed, so did he by omitting it, both on Easter-day and Whitsunday this year, prevent my leaving the public worship till TrinitySunday, while he knew I should go out of the church if he begaq to read it. Yet did he read it that day, to my great surprise; upon which I was obliged to go out, and go to the baptist-meeting at Morcot, two miles off, as I intend to go hereafter, while I am here at Lyndon, till some better opportunity presents of setting up a more prijnitive congregation myself.

In this manner Whiston went on to the last, bewildering himself in a maze of errors and changes, more, one would think, from temper than conviction. A short review of the progress of his opinions, with which a late eminent divine Jias furnished us, will not be without its use.

It was, as we have seen, in June 1708, that he began to be first heard of as a reputed Arian. In the August following, he offered a small essay on the apostolical constitutions to the licenser of the press at Cambridge, and was refused the licence. In 1709 he published a sermon against the eternity of hell-punishments. In 1710 he boldly asserted the apostolical constitutions to be “of equal authority with the four gospels themselves;” and a tract included in them, and called the doctrine of the apostles, to be “the most sacred of the canonical books.” In 1712 he published in favour of the Anabaptists; and the next year printed “A book of Common Prayer,” that had been reformed the backward way into Anabaptism and Arianism, and, two years afterward, set up a meeting-house for the use of it; having strangely drawn up his liturgy before he had provided his church. But he had still farther to go in his novelties. In 1723 he published a dissertation to prove the Canticles not a canonical book of scripture; in 1727 another, to prove the apocryphal book of Baruch canonical; in the same year another, to prove the epistle of Baruch to the nine tribes and a half equally canonical; jn the same year another, to prove the second book of Esdras, equally canonical; in the same year another, to prove eighteen psalms of a second Solomon equally canonical; in the same year another, to prove the book of Enoch equally canonical; in the same year another, to prove “The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs” equally canonical; and another | to prove an epistle of the Corinthians to St. Paul, with St. Paul’s answer to it, equally canonical. In 1745 he published his “Primitive New Testament in English, in four parts,” and added a page at the end “exhibiting the titles of the rest of the books of the New Testament, not yet known by the body of Christians/’ Among these were specified, besides, the works above recited, <: the Epistles of Timothy to Diognetus, and the Homily;” the “two Epistles of Clement to the Corinthians;” “Josephus’s homily concerning Hades;” the “Epistles of Barnabas, Ignatius, and Polycarp;” the “Shepherd of Hernias,” and the “Martyrdom of Polycarp.” He thus, according to his own enumeration, enlarged the number of the canonical books in the New Testament, from twenty-seven to fiftysix. In 1749 he gradually reached (says the historian of Arianism) the highest point of heretical perfection. He gravely asserted, first, that “neither a bishop, a presbyter, nor a deacon, ought to be more than once married that” primitive Christianity also forbad either bishops, presbyters, or deacons, to marry at all after their ordination and that, “in the days of the apostles, a fourth marriage was entirely rejected, even in the laity.” He also ventured upon the bold presumption of ascertaining the very year, “according to the scripture prophecies,” for certain events of the highest consequence to the world; and, sucli was the ingenuous simplicity of the man, was confident enough to name a year at no great distance. In this wayhe prophesied that the Jews were to rebuild their temple, and the millenium was to commence before the year 1766. But such a spirit as Whiston’s could not stop even here, and in the same year he ventured to assert the falsehood of some things in St. Paul’s epistles, as “no part of Christ’s revelation to him,” namely, where the apostle speaks of original sin. Whiston says, they are rather “weak reasonings of his own, accommodated to the weak Jews at that time only!

Mr. Whiston died after a week’s illness, Aug. 22, 1752, in the eighty-fifth year of his age, and was buried afe Lyndon in Rutlandshire. Of his character little more need be added. He enjoyed a certain degree of celebrity during a very long life, but that he produced rrwch influence on the state of public opinion may be doubted. He was not well calculated to form, or to support, a sect already formed; his absurdities were too many and too glaring, and he | received no applause, even from the Arians of his day, that was not mixed with compassion. Still his profound erudition, and his disinterested attachment to Arianism, supported by an ostensible love of truth, were likely to attract the notice of young men, who, in the ardour of free inquiry, did not immediately perceive the pernicious tendency of their new opinions. That these were sometimes eagerly imbibed was a grateful compliment to his vanity; and that they were as readily renounced, provoked the most pointed invective, which he scrupled not to use with intemperate indulgence, whenever his cause declined by the secession of his proselytes. Having himself renounced secular emoluments, as incompatible with his idea of primitive Christianity, he considered them as the only barrier to the general reception of his tenets. And he therefore upbraided those who afterwards relinquished them, as yielding only to the bias of interest: too confident to suspect a possible fallacy in his opinions, or a detection of s his own misrepresentations of the Holy Scriptures. Nor was his mind, ample and strong as it certainly often appeared to be, uninfluenced by the most consummate vanity. He flattered himself, that he was one of those luminaries, by whose etherial light we are happily assisted in the pursuit of reason and the divine truths. But it would he uncandid to deny, that he exhausted a long life in scholastic labour and self-denial, in elaborate investigations of abstruse doctrinal positions, which he inculcated with indefatigable diligence, in inflexible integrity, and a resolute contempt of wealth acquired at the expence of conscience. His moral character was blameless, but not amiable. His severe manners and systems are more readily admired than imitated; while we must yet lament his want of orthodoxy, and his pertinacious scepticism.

Whiston was occasionally exposed, as appears from the works of Swift and Pope, to the ridicule of these wits; but he was not himself without some portion of hutnour. The two following instances may be given on the authority of his son. “Being in company with Mr. Addison, sir Richard Steele, Mr. secretary Craggs, and sir Robert Waipole, they were busily engaged in a dispute, whether a secretary of state could be an honest man. Mr. Whiston, not intermeddling in it, was pressed to declare his opinion, which at length he did, by saying, he thought honesty was the best policy, and if a prime minister would practise it, he | would find it so. To which Mr. Craggs replied: it might do for a fortnight; but would not do for a month.‘ Mr. Whiston asked him, ’ if he had ever tried it for a fortnight?‘ To which he making no reply, the company gave it for Mr. Whiston.

He was much esteemed by the-late queen Caroline, who generously made him a present of 50l. every year from the time she became queen, which pension his late majesty continued to him so long as he lived. The queen usually sent for him once in the summer, whilst she was out of town, to spend a day or two with her. At Richmond it happened she who loved his free conversation, asked him what people in general said of her. He replied, that they justly esteemed her as a lady of great abilities, a patron of learned men, and a kind friend to the poor. * But,‘ says she, < no one is without faults, pray what are mine’ Mr. W. begged to be excused speaking on that subject; but she insisting, he said, her majesty did not behave with proper reverence at church. She replied, the king would talk with her. He said a Greater than kings was there only to be regarded. She acknowledged it, and confessed her fault. < Pray,‘ says she, * tell me what is my next?’ He replied, < When I hear your majesty has amended of that fault, I will tell you of your next;’ and so it ended.” This last anecdote Whiston often repeated.

Whiston married, in 1 69y, Ruth, the daughter of the Rev. Mr. Antrobus, master of Tamworth-school, by whom he had several children, three of whom survived him. The eldest a daughter, Sarah, was married to Samuel Barker of Lyndon, in Rutlandshire, esq. at whose house he died. This lady died in 1791. His surviving sons were George and John, the latter an eminent bookseller, who died in 1780. Whiston had a younger brother, the Rev. Daniel Whiston, frequently mentioned in his “Memoirs,” and who appears to have entertained an equal aversion to the Athanasian Creed. He was curate at Somersham for fifty-two years; but his principles did not permit him to accept of any living. He died in 1759, leaving a son, the Rev. Thomas Whiston, who died in 1795. Of this Daniel Whiston, we have heard nothing more remarkable than that he left behind him several hundred manuscript sermons, which he had never preached. 1


Winston’s Memors, 2 vols.—Biog. Brit.—Whitaker’s Hist. of arianism.— Dallaway’s Life of Rundle, p. 31, &c.