Williams, David

, a literary and religious projector of some note, was born at a village near Cardigan, in 1738, and after receiving the rudiments of education, was placed in a school or college at Carmarthen, preparatory to the dissenting ministry; which profession he entered upon in obedience to parental authority, but very contrary to his own inclination. His abilities and acquirements even then appeared of a superior order; but he has often in the latter part of his life stated to the writer of his memoirs, in the Gentleman’s Magazine, that he had long considered it | &s a severe misfortune, that the most injurious impressions were made upon his youthful and ardent mind by the cold, austere, oppressive, and unarniable manner in which the doctrines and duties of religion were disguised in the stern and rigid habits of a severe puritanical master. From this college he took the office of teacher to a small congregation at Frome, in Somersetshire, and after a short residence was removed to a more weighty charge at Exeter. There the eminent abilities and engaging manners of the young preacher opened to him the seductive path of pleasure; when the reproof that some elder members of the society thought necessary, being administered in a manner to awaken resentment rather than contrition; and the eagle eye of anger discovering in his accusers imperfections of a different character indeed, but of tendency little suited to a public disclosure, the threatened recrimination suspended the proceedings, and an accommodation took place, by which Mr. Williams left Exeter, and was engaged to the superintendence of a dissenting congregation at Highgate. After a residence there of a year or two, he made his first appearance in 1770, as an author, by a “Letter to David Garrick,” a judicious and masterly critique on the actor, but a sarcastic personal attack qn the man, intended to rescue Mossop from the supposed unjust displeasure of the modern Roscius: this effect was produced, Mossop was liberated, and the letter withdrawn from the booksellers, Shortly after appeared “The Philosopher, in three Conversations,” which were much read, and attracted considerable notice. This was soon followed by “Essays on Public Worship, Patriotism, and Projects of Reformation;” written and published upon the occasion of the leading religious controversy of the day; but though they obtained considerable circulation, they appear not to have softened the asperities of either of the contending parties. The Appendix to these Essays gave a strong indication of that detestation of intolerance, bigotry, and hypocrisy which formed the leading character of his subsequent life, and which had been gradually taking possession of his mind from the conduct of softie of the circle of associates into which his profession had thrown him.

He published two volumes of “Sermons,” chiefly upon Religious Hypocrisy, and then discontinued the exercise of his profession, and his connection with the body of dissenters. He now turned his thoughts to the education of | youth, and in 1773, published “A Treatise on Education,” recommending a method founded on the plans of Commenius and Rousseau, which he proposed to carry into effect. He took a house in Lawrence-street, Chelsea, married a young lady not distinguished either by fortune or connection, and soon found himself at the head of a lucrative and prosperous establishment. A severe domestic misfortune in the death of his wife blighted this prospect of fame and fortune: his fortitude sunk under the shock; his anxious attendance upon her illness injured his own health, the internal concerns of the family became disarranged, and he left his house and his institution, to which he never again returned.

During his residence at Chelsea, he became a member of a select club of political and literary characters, to one of whom, the celebrated Benjamin Franklin, he afforded an asylum in his house at Chelsea during the popular ferment against him, about the time of the commencement of the American war. In this club was formed the plan of public worship intended to unite all parties and persuasions in one comprehensive form. Mr. Williams drew up and published, “A Liturgy on the universal principles of Religion and Morality;” and afterwards printed two volumes of Lectures, delivered with this Liturgy at the chapel in Margaret- street, Cavendish-square, opened April 7, 1776. This service continued about four years, but with so little public support, that the expence of the establishment nearly involved the lecturer in the loss of his liberty. As the plan proposed to include in one act of public worship every class of mn who acknowledged the being of a God, and the utility of public prayer and praise, it necessarily left unnoticed every other point of doptrine; intending, that without expressing them in public worship, every man should be left in unmolested possession of his own peculiar opinions in private. This, however, would not satisfy any of the various classes and divisions of Christians; it was equally obnoxious to the churchman and to the dissenter; and as even the original proposers, though consisting only of five or six, could not long agree, several of them attempting to obtain a more marked expression of their own peculiar opinions and dogmas, the plan necessarily expired. Mr. Williams now occupied his time and talents in assisting gentlemen whose education had been defective, and in forwarding their qualifications for the senate, the | diplornacy, and the learned professions. In this employment he prepared, and subsequently published, “Lectures ori Political Principles,” and “Lectures on Education,” in 3 vols, His abilities also were ever most readily and cheerfully employed in the cause of friendship and benevolence; and many persons under injury and distress have to acknowledge the lasting benefit of his energetic and powerful pen.

During the alarm in 1780 he published a tract, entitled “A Plan of Association on Constitutional Principles” and in 1782, on occasion of the county meetings and associations, he gave to the public his “Letters on Political Liberty;” the most important perhaps of all his works-, it was extensively circulated both in England and France, having been translated into French by Brissot, and was the occasion of its author being invited to Paris, to assist in the formation of a constitution for that country. He continued about six months in Paris; and on the death of the king, and declaration of war against this country, took leave of his friends of the Girondist party, with an almost prophetic intimation of the fate that awaited them. He brought with him on his return a letter from the minister of war, addressed to lord Grenville, and intended to give Mr. Williams, who was fully and confidentially entrusted with the private sentiments and wishes of the persons then in actual possession of the government of France, an opportunity of conveying those sentiments and wishes to the British ministry. Mr. Williams delivered the letter into the hands of Mr. Aust, the under secretary of state, but never heard from lord Grenville on the subject. Some further curious circumstances relating to this transaction are detailed in a page or two, corrected by Mr. Williams himself, in Bisset’s “History of George III.

Previously to receiving this invitation he had removed from Russell -street to Brompton, for the purpose of executing an engagement he had formed with Mr. Bowyer, ta superintend the splendid edition of Hume, and write a continuation of the history; but after his return from France he found himself in an extraordinary situation, for at the very time he had been denounced in France as a royalist, he had been branded in his own country as a democrat; and he was informed that his engagement respecting the History of England could not be carried into effect, in consequence, as it was slated, of an intimation having | feeen given that the privilege of dedication to the crown would be withdrawn if he continued the work. About this time he published the “Lessons to a young Prince,” and engaged in, and afterwards executed, the “History of Monmouthshire,” in one vol. 4to, with plates by his friend the rev. John Gardnor.

With regard to the circumstance upon which he always seemed inclined to rest his fame, and which was most dear to his heart the establishment of the Literary Fund, he had, so far back as the time of his residence at Chelsea, projected a plan for the assistance of deserving authors in distress; and after several ineffectual attempts, he so far succeeded in 178S and 1789 as to found the institution, and commence its benevolent operations, and with unremitting zeal and activity devoted the full force of his abilities, and the greater part of his time and attention, to foster and support the infant institution. He had the heartfelt satisfaction of seeing it continually rise in public estimation, and at length honoured with the illustrious patronage of his royal highness the prince of Wales, who generously bestowed an annual donation for the purpose of providing a house for the use of the society, and expressly desired that Mr. Williams should reside in it. A singular and striking work, written by Mr. Williams and several of his zealous and able coadjutors, who each put their names to their own several productions, was given by the public under the title of “The Claims of Literature; explanatory of the Nature, Formation, and Purposes of the Institution.

During the peace of Amiens Mr. Williams again visited Paris, and is supposed to have been then intrusted with some confidential mission from the government of his own country, his remarkable figure having previously been noticed entering the houses of several of the higher members of the then administration. On his return he published a much enlarged edition of a little work which the alarm of invasion had induced him to write, entitled “Regulations of Parochial Police;” and he is thought to have been the author of a sort of periodical publication which appeared about that time in numbers, “Egeria; or Elementary Studies on the Progress of Nations in Political Economy, Legislation, and Government;” but which does not appear to have been continued beyond the first volume. The last acknowledged work that proceeded from his prolific pen was, “Preparatory Studies for Political | Reformers.” It is curious and instructive to observe -thrf marked aad striking effect produced by his experience of reform and reformers in the struggles of, and consequent upon, the French revolution'; his diction retain3 its full vigour, but his anticipations are much less sanguine, and his opinions on the pliability of the materials ort which reformers are to operate, or in other words, on the real character of human nature, seem much changed. About five years before his death he was seized with a severe paralytic affection, from which he partially recovered, but continued to suffer the gradual loss of his corporeal and mental powers; his memory became very considerably impaired, and for some length of time preceding his decease he was unable to walk or move without assistance. The tender assiduities of an affectionate niece soothed the sorrows of declining nature, and received from him the most affecting and frequent expressions of gratitude. The state of his mind cannot be so well depicted as by himself in the following letter, one of the last he ever wrote, and addressed to a clergyman of the church of England, in the country:

“Dear Sir,

I am now drawing near my end, and am desirous to conclude my days in peace. I have outlived almost all my relations and all my acquaintance and I am desirous to exchange the most sincere and cordial forgiveness with those I have in any sort offended. I had once a great regard for you; why it was not continued I have forgotten. Indeed, a paralytic stroke has greatly destroyed my memory, and will soon destroy me. I take leave of my friends and acquaintance; among others I take leave of you. I greatly esteemed you and your worthy father, and I hope you will only remember what you saw commendable and good in me, and believe me very sincerely yours. D. W.”

It will readily be supposed that this letter brought the gentleman immediately to town; and his friendly offices of kindness contributed very much during the last two years to the comfort and consolation of his suffering friend, who breathed his last on Saturday morning, the 29th of June, 1816, and was interred the Saturday following, in St. Anne’s church, Soho, under this inscription:

David Williams, esq. aged 78 years;

Founder of the Literary Fund.

In the words of his friend, captain Thomas Morris, “The | distinguishing traits of Mr. Williams’s character were, a boundless philanthropy and disinterestedness; studious of every acquisition that forms the taste, but applying the strength of his genius to the arts of government and education as objects of the highest importance to the welfafe of nations and the happiness of individuals. In his dre&s elegantly plain; in domestic life attentive to the niceties of decorum; in public politely ceremonious; in all his manners dignified and distinguished; in conversation elevated; in his person tall and agreeable, having a commanding look softened with affability.

A review of the life and writings of this remarkably gifted man strongly illustrates the observation, that political and moral philosophy, theories of government and education, even when displayed with splendid ability, and enforced with the most engaging benevolence, and with the best and most earnest motives of doing good, are found by a painful experience to be wholly inadequate to the task of reforming mankind, if employed without the aid of Christianity; it is the Gospel alone that can reach the weak and erring heart of man, and found the reformation and im provement of societies upon the purity, the virtue, and the piety of individuals. But to this very necessary knowledge Mr. Williams was a stranger. In early life he appears to have formed himself on the model of the Voltaires, Rousseaus, D’Alemberts, and other French writers of a similar stamp. They unfortunately had to operate on weak minds, and produced incalculable mischief. David Williams, by bringing forward his opinions and his schemes in a country where genuine religion is understood, and at all times ably defended, sunk under the argument and ridicule which he had to encounter, and became a harmless visionary. 1

1 Gent. Mag. vol. LXXXVI.