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them. He was the author of a poetical piece entitled Sunday Thoughts, a translation of Professor Zimmerman's Excellency of the Knowledge of Jesus Christ, &c.
But Mr. Brown had a numerous family, and met with considerable trials in it; he too much resembled Eli in his indulgence of his children. He was also under the pressure of pecuniary difficulties, and had therefore accepted the chaplaincy of Morden College, Blackheath, while vicar of Olney. Mr. N. in these circumstances, undertook the curacy of Olney, in which he continued near sixteen years, previous to his removal to St. Mary Woolnoth, to which he was afterwards presented, by the late John Thornton, Esq.
As Mr. N. was under the greatest obligations to Mr. Thornton's friendship while at Olney, and had been enabled to extend his own usefulness by the bounty of that extraordinary man, it may not be foreign to our subject to give some general outline of Mr. Thornton's character in this place.
It is said of Solomon, that " the Lord gave him largeness of heart, even as the sand on the sea-shore:" such a peculiar disposition for whatever was good or benevolent was also bestowed on Mr. Thornton. He differed as much from rich men of ordinary bounty, as they do from others that are parsimonious. Nor was this bounty the result of occasional impulse, like a summer shower, violent and short; on the contrary, it proceeded like a river pouring its waters through various countries, copious and inexhaustible. Nor could those obstructions of imposture and ingratitude, which have often been advanced as the cause of damming up other streams, prevent or retard the course of this. The generosity of Mr. Thornton, indeed, frequently met with such hindrances, and led him to increasing discrimination; but the stream of his bounty never ceased to hold its course. Deep, silent, and overwhelming, it still rolled on, por ended even with his life.
But the fountain from whence this beneficence flowed, and by which its permanency and direction were maintained, must not be concealed. Mr. Thornton was a Christian. Let no one, however, so mistake me here, as to suppose, that I mean nothing more by the term Christian, than the state of one, who, convinced of the truth of revelation, gives assent to its doctrines--regularly attends its ordinances and maintains an external moral and religious deportment. Such a one may have a name to live while he is dead; he may have a form of godliness without the power of it; he may even be found denying and ridiculing that power-till at length he can only be convinced of his error at an infallible tribunal; where a widow, that gives but a mite, or a publican, that smites on his breast, shall be preferred before him.
Mr. Thornton was a Christian indeed; that is, he was alive to God by a spiritual regeneration. With this God he was daily and earnestly transacting that infinitely momentous affair-the salvation of his own soul; and, next to that, the salvation of the souls of others. Temperate in all things, though mean in nothing, he made provision for doing good with his opulence, and seemed to be most in his element when appropriating a considerable part of his large income to the necessities of others.
But Mr. Thornton possessed that discrimination in his attempts to serve his fellow-creatures, which distinguishes an enlightened mind; he habitually contemplated man, as one, who has not only a body, subject to want, affliction, and death, but also a spirit, which is immortal, and must be happy or miserable for
He therefore felt, that the noblest exertions of charity are those which are directed to the relief of the noblest part of our species. Accordingly, he left no mode of exertion untried to relieve man under his natural ignorance and depravity. To this end, he purchased advowsons and presentations, with a view io place in parishes the most enlightened, active and useful ministers. He employed the extensive commerce in which he was engaged, as a powerful instru. ment for conveying immense quantities of Bibles, prayer-books, and the most useful publications, to every place visited by our trade. He printed, at his own
sole expense, large editions of the latter for that purpose ; and it may safely be affirmed, that there is scarcely a part of the known world, where such books could be introduced, which did not feel the salutary influence of this single individual.
Nor was Mr. Thornton limited in his views of promoting the interests of real religion, with what sect soever it was connected. He stood ready to assist a beneficial design in every party, but would be the creature of none. General good was his object, and wherever or however it made its way, his maxim seemed constantly to be, "valeat quantum, valere potest."
But the nature and extent of his liberality will be greatly misconceived, if any one should suppose it confined to moral and religious objects, though the grandest and most comprehensive exertions of it. Mr. Thornton was a philanthropist on the largest scale—the friend of man under all his wants. His manner of relieving his fellow-men was princely; instances might be mentioned of it, were it proper to particularize, which would surprise those who did not know Mr. Thornton. They were so much out of ordinary course and expectation, that I know some wbo felt it their duty to inquire of him, whether the sum they had received was sent by his intention, or by mistake? To this may be added, that the manner of presenting his gifts was as delicate and concealed, as the measure was large.
Besides this constant course of private donations, there was scarcely a public charity, or occasion of relief to the ignorant or necessitous, which did not meet with his distinguished support. His only question was, “May the miseries of man, in any measure, be removed or alleviated ?" Nor was he merely distinguished by stretching out a liberal hand: his benevolent heart was so intent on doing good, that he was ever inventing and promoting plans for its diffusion at home or abroad.
He that wisely desires any end, will as wisely regard the means; in this Mr. Thornton was perfectly consistent. In order to execute his beneficent designs, be observed frugality and exactness in his personal expenses. By such prospective methods, he was able to extend the influence of his fortune far beyond those who, in still more elevated stations, are slaves to expensive habits. Such men meanly pace in trammels of the tyrant custom, till it leaves them scarcely enough to preserve their conscience, or even their credit, much less to employ their talents in Mr. Thornton's nobler pursuits. He, however, could afford to be generous; and, while he was generous, did not forget his duty in being just. He made ample provision for his children ; and though, while they are living, it would be indelicate to say more, I am sure of speaking truth when I say, they are so far from thinking themselves impoverished by the bounty of their father, that they contemplate with the highest satisfaction the fruit of those benefits to society which he planted, which it may be trusted will extend with time itself, and which, after his example, they still labour to extend.
But, with all the piety and liberality of his honoured character, no man had deeper views of his own unworthiness before his God. To the Redeemer's work alone he looked for acceptance of his person and services: he felt, that all he did or could do, was infinitely short of that which had been done for him, and of the obligations that were thereby laid upon him. It was this abasedness of heart towards God, combined with the most singular Jargeness of heart toward his fellowcreatures, which distinguished John Thornton among men.
To this common patron of every useful and pious endeavour, Mr. N. sent the Narrative, from which the former part of these Memoirs is extracted. Mr. Thornton replied in his usual manner; that is, by accompanying his letter with a valuable bank note; and, some months after, he paid Mr. N. a visit at Olney. A closer connexion being now formed between friends, who employed their distinet talents in promoting the same benevolent cause, Mr. Thornton left a sum of money with Mr. N. to be appropriated to the defraying his necessary expenses, and relieving the poor. “Be hospitable,” said Mr. Thornton, “and keep an
open house for such as are worthy of an entertainment: help the poor and needy: I will statedly allow you £ 200 a-year, and readily send whatever you have occasion to draw for more. Mr. N. told me, that he thought he had received of Mr. Thornton upwards of £ 3000 in this way, during the time he resided at Olney.
The case of most ministers is peculiar in this respect : some among them may be looked up to, on account of their publicity and talents; they may have made great sacrifices of their personal interest, in order to enter on their ministry, and may be possessed of the strongest benevolence; but, from the narrowness of their pecuniary circumstances, and from the largeness of their families, they often perceive, that an ordinary tradesman in their parishes, can subscribe to a charitable or popular institution much more liberally than themselves. This would have been Mr. N.'s case, but for the above-mentioned singular patronage.
A minister, however, should not be so forgetful of his dispensation, as to repine at his want of power in this respect. He might as justly estimate bis deficiency by the strength of the lion, or the flight of the eagle. The power communicated to him is of another kind; and power of every kind belongs to God, who gives gifts to every man severally as he will. The two mites of the widow were all the power of that kind which was communicated to her, and her bestowment of her two mites was better accepted than the large offerings of the rich man. The powers, therefore, of Mr. Thornton, and of Mr. N., though of a different order, were both consecrated to God; and each might have said, “Of thine own have we given thee."
Providence seems to have appointed Mr. N.'s residence at Olney, among other reasons, for the relief of the depressed mind of the poet Cowper. There has gone forth an unfounded report, that the deplorable melancholy of Cowper was in part, derived from his residence and connexions in that place. The fact, how ever, is the reverse of this; and as it may be of importance to the interests o true religion to prevent such a misrepresentation from taking root, I will presen the real state of the case, as I have found it attested by the most respectable liv ing witnesses ; and more especially as confirmed by a MS., written by the poet himself, at the calmest period of his life ; with the perusal of which I was favoured by Mr. N.
It most evidently appears, that symptoms of Mr. Cowper's morbid state began to discover themselves in his earliest youth. He seems to have been at all times disordered, in a greater or less degree. He was sent to Westminster school at the
age of nine years, and long endured the tyranny of an elder boy, of which he gives a shocking account in the paper above-mentioned; and which“ produced," as one of his biographers observes, who had long intimacy with him, "an indelible effect upon his mind through life.” A person so naturally bashful and depressed as Cowper, must needs find the profession of a barrister a farther occasion of anxiety: the post obtained for him by his friends in the House of Lords, overwhelmed him; and the remonstrances which those friends made against his relinquishing so honourable and lucrative an appointment, (but which soon after actually took place,) greatly increased the anguish of a mind already incapacitated for business. To all this were added events, which of themselves have been found sufficient to overset the minds of the strongest ; namely, the decease of his particular friend and intimate, Sir William Russel; and his meeting with a disappointment in obtaining a lady upon whom his affections were placed.
But the state of a person, torn and depressed, not by his religious connexions but by adverse circumstances, and these meeting a naturally morbid sensibility long before he knew Olney, or had formed any connexion with its inhabitants will best appear from some verses which he sent at this time to one of his femal relations, and for the communication of which we are indebted to Mr. Hayley :
"Doom'd, as I am, in solitude to waste
Depriv'd of every joy I valued most -
, still I mourn, with each returning day,
All ihat delights the happy-palls with me? That any man, under such pressures, should at first turn his mind to those resources, which religion alone can afford, is both natural and rational. But Mr. Cowper was like a person looking from a high tower, who perceives only the danger of falling, but neither the security nor prospect it presents; and therefore it is no wonder, with so melancholy, morbid, and susceptible a mind, that his unhappiness should be increased. And yet this very mind of Cowper, when put under the care of Dr. Cotton, of St. Alban's (a physician as capable of administering to the spiritual as to the natural maladies of his patients, received the first consolation it ever tasted, and that from evangelical truths. under the care of this physician, that Mr. Cowper first obtained a clear view of those sublime and animating truths, which so distinguished and exalted his future strains as a poet. Here also he received that settled tranquillity and peace, which he enjoyed for several years afterwards. So far, therefore, was his constitutional malady from being produced or increased by his evangelical connexions, either at St. Alban's or at Olney, that he seems never to have had any settled peace but from the truths he learned in these societies. It appears, that among them alone he found the only sunshine he ever enjoyed through the cloudy day of his afflicted life.
It appears also, that, while at Dr. Cotton's, Mr. Cowper’s distress was, for a long time, entirely removed, by marking that passage in Rom. iii. 25: “Him hath God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past.” In this scripture he saw the remedy, which God provides for the relief of a guilty conscience, with such clearness, that, for several years after, his heart was filled with love, and his life occupied with prayer, praise, and doing good to his needy fellow-creatures.
Mr. N. told me, that from Mr. Cowper's first coming to Olney, it was observed he had studied his Bible with such advantage, and was so well acquainted with its design, that not only his troubles were removed, but that to the end of his life he never had clearer views of the peculiar doctrines of the gospel than when he first became an attendant upon them; that (short intervals excepted) Mr. Cowper enjoyed a course of peace for several successive years ; that, during this period, the inseparable attendants of a lively faith appearer!, by Mr. Cow per's eserting himself to the utmost of his power in every benevolene service he could render to his poor neighbours; and that Mr. N. used to consider him as a sort of curate, from his constant attendance upon the sick and afflicted, in that large and necessitous parish.
But the malady, which seemed to be subdued by the strong consolations of the gospel, was still latent; and only required some occasion of irritation to break out again, and overwhelm the patient. Any object of constant attention, that shall occupy a mind previously disordered, whether fear, or love, or science, or religion, will not be so much the cause of the disease, as the accidental occasion of exciting it. Cowper's Letters will show us how much his mind was occupied at one time by the truths of the Bible, and at another time by the fictions of Homer; but his melancholy was originally a constitutional disease, a physical disorder, which, in
deed, could be affected either by the Bible or by Homer, but was utterly distinct in its nature from the mere matter of either. And here I cannot but mark this necessary distinction, having often been witness to cases where religion has been assigned as the proper cause of insanity, when it has been only an accidental occasion, in the case of one already affected.* Thus Cowper's malady, like a strong current, breaking down the banks which had hitherto sustained the pressure and obliquity of its course, prevailed against the supports be had received, and precipitated him again into his former distress.
I inquired of Mr. N. as to the manner in which Mr. Cowper's disorder returned, after an apparent recovery of nearly nine years continuance: and was informed that the first symptoms were discovered one morning, in his discourse, soon after he had undertaken a new engagement in composition.
As a general and full account of this extraordinary genius is already before the public, such particulars would not have occupied so much room in these Memoirs, but with the view of removing the false statements that have been made.
Of great importance also was the vicinity of Mr. N.'s residence to that of the Rev. Mr. Scott, then curate of Ravenstone and Weston Underwood, and now rector of Aston Sandford ; a man whose ministry and writings have since been so useful to mankind. This clergyman was nearly a Socinian: he was in the habit of ridiculing evangelical religion, and laboured to bring over Mr. N. to his own sentiments. Mr. Scott had married a lady from the family of a Mr. Wright, a gentleman in his parish, who had promised to provide for him. Mr. Scott's objections to subscription arose so high, that he informed his patron it would be in vain to attempt providing for him in the Church of England, as he could not conscientiously accept a living on the condition of subscribing its Liturgy and Articles. " This,” said Mr. N., “gave me hopes of Mr. Scott's being sincere, however wrong in his principles."
But the benefit which Mr. Scott derived from his neighbour, will best appea in his own words :
"I was," says he, "full of proud self-sufficiency, very positive, and very obstinate; and being situated in the neighbourhood of some of those whom the world calls Methodists I joined in the prevailing sentiment; held them in sovereign contempt; spoke of them with derision ; declaimed against them from the pulpit, as persons full of bigotry, enthusiasm, and spiritual pride; laid heavy things to their charge; and endeavoured to prove the doctrine, which I supposed them to hold (for I had never read their books,) to be dishonourable to God, and destructive of morality; and though in some companies I chose to conceal part of my sentiments, and in all affected to speak as a friend to universal toleration, yet scarcely any person could be more proudly and violently prejudiced against both their persons and principles than I then was.
" In January 1174, two of my parishioners, a man and his wife, lay at the point of death. I had heard of the circumstance, but, according to my general
* I have been an eve-witness of several instances of this kind of misrepresentation, but will detain the reader with mentioning only one. I was called to visit a woman whose mind was disorderetl, and on my observing, that it was a case which required the assistance of a physician rather than that of a cleryyman, her husband replied : “Sir, we sent to you, because it is a religious me-her mind has been injured by constantly reading the Bible.” “I have known many instances," said I, " of persons brought to their senses by reading the Bible ; but it is possible, that too intense an application to that, as well as to any other subject, may have disordered your wife." "There is every proof of it,” said he; and was proceeding to multiply his proofs, till his brother interrupted him by thus addressing
“Sir, I have no longer patience to stand by and see you imposed on. The truth of the matter is this: my brother has forsiken his wife, and been long connected with a loose woman. He had the best of wives in her, and one who was strongly attached to him: but she has seen his heart and property given to another, and in her solitude and distress, went to the Bible, as the only consolation leti her. Her health and spirits at length sunk under her troubles; and there she lies distructed, not from read. ing her Bible, but from the infidelity and cruelty of her husband.” Does the reader wish to know what reply the husband inade to this? He made no reply at all, but left the room with confusion of face.
Scott's Force of Truth, p. 11, fifth edition.