A Letter to the Reverend Mr. Richard King.
Oates, July 23, 1703.
I CANNOT but think myself beholden to any occasion that procures me the honour of a letter from you. I return my acknowledgments for those great expressions of civility, and marks of friendship, I received in yours of the 8th instant; and wish I had the opportunity to show the esteem I have of your merit, and the sense of your kindness to me, in any real service.
The desire of your friend, in the enclosed letter you sent me, is what of myself I am inclined to satisfy; and am only sorry, that so copious a subject has lost, in my bad memory, so much of what heretofore I could have said concerning that great and good man, of whom he inquires . Time, I daily find, blots out apace the little stock of my mind, and has disabled me from furnishing all that I would willingly contribute, to the memory of that learned man. But give me leave to assure you, that I have not known a fitter person than he, to be preserved as an example, and proposed to the imitation of men of letters. I therefore wish well to your friend’s design, though my mite be all I have been able to contribute to it.
I wish you all happiness, and am, with a very particular respect,
Your most humble servant,
A Letter to * * * *
Oates, July 23, 1703.
I HAVE so great a veneration for the memory of that excellent man, whose life you tell me you are writing , that when I set myself to recollect what memoirs I can (in answer to your desire) furnish you with; I am ashamed I have so little in particular to say, on a subject that afforded so much. For I conclude you so well acquainted with his learning and virtue, that I suppose it would be superfluous to trouble you on those heads. However, give me leave not to be wholly silent upon this occasion. So extraordinary an example, in so degenerate an age, deserves, for the rarity, and, as I was going to say, for the incredibility of it, the attestation of all that knew him, and considered his worth.
The christian world is a witness of his great learning, that the works he published would not suffer to be concealed. Nor could his devotion and piety lie hid, and be unobserved in a college; where his constant and regular assisting at the cathedral service, never interrupted by sharpness of weather, and scarce restrained by downright want of health, showed the temper and disposition of his mind.
But his other virtues and excellent qualities, had so strong and close a covering of modesty and unaffected humility; that, though they shone the brighter to those who had the opportunities to be more intimately acquainted with him, and eyes to discern and distinguish solidity from show, and esteem virtue that sought not reputation; yet they were the less taken notice, and talked of, by the generality of those to whom he was not wholly unknown. Not that he was at all close and reserved; but, on the contrary, the readiest to communicate to any one that consulted him.
Indeed he was not forward to talk, nor ever would be the leading man in the discourse, though it were on a subject that he understood better than any of the company; and would often content himself to sit still and hear others debate matters which he himself was more a master of. He had often the silence of a learner, where he had the knowledge of a master; and that not with a design, as is often, that the ignorance any one betrayed might give him the opportunity to display his own knowledge, with the more lustre and advantage, to their shame; or censure them when they were gone. For these arts of triumph and ostentation, frequently practised by men of skill and ability, were utterly unknown to him. It was very seldom that he contradicted any one; or if it were necessary at any time to inform any one better, who was in a mistake, it was in so soft and gentle a manner, that it had nothing of the air of dispute or correction, and seemed to have little of opposition in it. I never heard him say any thing that put any one that was present the least out of countenance; nor ever censure, or so much as speak diminishingly, of any one that was absent.
He was a man of no irregular appetites. If he indulged any one too much, it was that of study, which his wife would often complain of, (and, I think, not without reason,) that a due consideration of his age and health could not make him abate.
Though he was a man of the greatest temperance in himself, and the farthest from ostentation and vanity in his way of living; yet he was of a liberal mind, and given to hospitality; which considering the smallness of his preferments, and the numerous family of children he had to provide for, might be thought to have out-done those who made more noise and show.
His name, which was in great esteem beyond sea, and that deservedly, drew on him visits from all foreigners of learning, who came to Oxford, to see that university. They never failed to be highly satisfied with his great knowledge and civility, which was not always without expence.
Though at the restoration of king Charles, when preferment rained down upon some men’s heads, his merits were so overlooked or forgotten, that he was barely restored to what was his before, without receiving any new preferment then, or at any time after; yet I never heard him take any the least notice of it, or make the least complaint in a case that would have grated sorely on some men’s patience, and have filled their mouths with murmuring, and their lives with discontent. But he was always unaffectedly cheerful; no marks of any thing that lay heavy at his heart, for his being neglected, ever broke from him. He was so far from having any displeasure lie concealed there, that whenever any expressions of dissatisfaction, for what they thought hard usage, broke from others in his presence, he always diverted the discourse; and if it were any body with whom he thought he might take that liberty, he silenced it with visible marks of dislike.
Though he was not, as I said, a forward, much less an assuming talker; yet he was the farthest in the world from being sullen or morose. He would talk very freely, and very well, of all parts of learning, besides that wherein he was known to excel. But this was not all; he could discourse very well of other things. He was not unacquainted with the world, though he made no show of it.
His backwardness to meddle in other people’s matters, or to enter into debates, where names and persons were brought upon the stage, and judgments and censure were hardly avoided; concealed his abilities, in matters of business and conduct, from most people. But yet I can truly say, that I knew not any one in that university, whom I would more willingly consult, in any affair that required consideration, nor whose opinion I thought it better worth the hearing than his, if he could be drawn to enter into it, and give his advice.
Though in company he never used himself, nor willingly heard from others, any personal reflections on other men, though set off with a sharpness that usually tickles, and by most men is mistaken for the best, if not the only seasoning of pleasant conversation; yet he would often bear his part in innocent mirth, and, by some apposite and diverting story, continue and heighten the good-humour.
I shall give you an instance of it in a story of his, which on this occasion comes to my mind; and I tell it you not as belonging to his life, but that it may give you some part of his character; which, possibly, the very serious temper of this good man may be apt to make men oversee. The story was this: There was at Corpus Christi college, when he was a young man there, a proper fellow, with a long grey beard, that was porter of the college. A waggish fellow-commoner of the house would be often handling and stroking this grey beard, and jestingly told the porter, he would, one of these days, fetch it off. The porter, who took his beard for the great ornament that added grace and authority to his person, could scarce hear the mention, in jest, of his beard being cut off, with any patience. However, he could not escape the mortal agony that such a loss would cause him. The fatal hour came; and see what happened. The young gentleman, as the porter was standing at the college-gate, with other people about him, took hold of his beard with his left hand, and with a pair of scissars, which he had ready in his right, did that execution, that the porter and by-standers heard the cutting of scissars, and saw a handful of grey hairs fall to the ground. The porter, on that sight, in the utmost rage, ran immediately away to the president of the college; and there, with a loud and lamentable outcry, desired justice to be done on the gentleman-commoner, for the great indignity and injury he had received from him. The president demanding what harm the other had done, the porter replied, an affront never to be forgiven; he had cut off his beard. The president, not without laughing, told him that his barber was a bungler, and that therefore he would do him that justice, that he should have nothing for his pains, having done his work so negligently; for he had left him, for aught he could see, after all his cutting, the largest and most reverend beard in the town. The porter, scarce able to believe what he said, put up his hand to his chin, on which he found as full a grown beard as ever. Out of countenance for his complaint for want of a beard, he sneaked away, and would not show his face for some time after.
The contrivance of the young gentleman was innocent and ingenious. He had provided a handful of white horse-hair, which he cut, under the covert of the other’s beard, and so let it drop; which the testy fellow, without any farther examination, concluded to be of his own growth; and so, with open mouth, drew on himself every one’s laughter; which could not be refused to such sad complaints, and so reverend a beard.
Speaking of the expedite way of justice in Turkey, he told this pleasant story; whereof he was an eye-witness at Aleppo. A fellow, who was carrying about bread to sell, at the turn of a street spying the cadee coming towards him, set down his basket of bread, and betook himself to his heels. The cadee coming on, and finding the basket of bread in his way, bid some of his under officers weigh it; (for he always goes attended, for present execution of any fault he shall meet with;) who finding it as it should be, left it, and went on. The fellow watching, at the corner of the street, what would become of his bread; when he found all was safe, returned to his basket. The by-standers asked him why he ran away, his bread being weight? That was more than I knew, says he; for though it be not mine, but I sell it for another; yet if it had been less than weight, and taken upon me, I should have been drubbed.
Many things of this nature, worth notice, would often drop from him in conversation; which would inform the world of several particularities; concerning that country and people, among whom he spent several years. You will pardon me, if on the sudden my bad memory cannot, after such a distance of time, recollect more of them. Neither perhaps had this now occurred, had I not, on an occasion that revived it in my memory some time since by telling it to others, refreshed it in my own thoughts.
I know not whether you find amongst the papers of his, that are, as you say, put into your hands, any Arabic proverbs, translated by him. He has told me that he had a collection of 3000, as I remember; and that they were for the most part very good. He had, as he intimated, some thoughts of translating them, and adding some notes, where they were necessary to clear any obscurities; but whether he ever did any thing in it before he died, I have not heard. But to return to what I can call to mind, and recover of him.
I do not remember that, in all my conversation with him, I ever saw him once angry, or to be so far provoked as to change colour or countenance, or tone of voice. Displeasing actions and accidents would sometimes occur; there is no help for that; but nothing of that kind moved him, that I saw, to any passionate words; much less to chiding or clamour. His life appeared to me one constant calm.
How great his patience was in his long and dangerous lameness (wherein there were very terrible and painful operations) you have, no doubt, learnt from others. I happened to be absent from Oxford most of that time; but I have heard, and believed it, that it was suitable to the other parts of his life.
To conclude, I can say of him, what few men can say of any friend of theirs, nor I of any other of my acquaintance; that I do not remember I ever saw in him any one action that I did, or could in my own mind blame, or thought amiss in him.
Sir, if I had been put upon this task soon after his death, I might possibly have sent you a paper better furnished than this is, and with particularities fitter for your purpose, to fill up the character of so good and extraordinary a man, and so exemplary a life. The esteem and honour I have still for him would not suffer me to say nothing; though my decaying bad memory did ill second my desire to obey your commands. Pray accept this, as a mark of my willingness, and believe that I am
Your most humble servant,
A Letter to the Reverend Mr. Richard King.
Oates, 25 Aug. 1703.
YOURS of the 4th instant I received; and though I am conscious I do not deserve those advantageous things, which your civility says of me in it; yet give me leave to assure you, that the offers of my service to you, which you are pleased to take notice of, is that part, which I shall not fail to make good on all occasions.
You ask me, “what is the shortest and surest way, for a young gentleman to attain a true knowledge of the christian religion, in the full and just extent of it?” For so I understand your question; if I have mistaken in it, you must set me right. And to this I have a short and plain answer: “Let him study the holy scripture, especially the New Testament.” Therein are contained the words of eternal life. It has God for its author; salvation for its end; and truth, without any mixture of errour, for its matter. So that it is a wonder to me, how any one professing christianity, that would seriously set himself to know his religion, should be in doubt where to employ his search, and lay out his pains for his information; when he knows a book, where it is all contained, pure and entire; and whither, at last, every one must have recourse, to verify that of it, which he finds any-where else.
Your other question, which I think I may call two or three, will require a larger answer.
As to morality, which, I take it, is the first in those things you enquire after; that is best to be found in the book that I have already commended to you. But because you may perhaps think that the better to observe those rules, a little warning may not be inconvenient, and some method of ranging them be useful for the memory; I recommend to you the “Whole Duty of Man,” as a methodical system; and if you desire a larger view of the parts of morality, I know not where you will find them so well and distinctly explained, and so strongly enforced, as in the practical divines of the church of England. The sermons of Dr. Barrow, archbishop Tillotson, and Dr. Whichcote, are masterpieces in this kind; not to name abundance of others, who excel on that subject. If you have a mind to see how far human reason advanced in the discovery of morality, you will have a good specimen of it in “Tully’s offices;” unless you have a mind to look farther back into the source from whence he drew his rules; and then you must consult Aristotle, and the other Greek philosophers.
Though prudence be reckoned among the cardinal virtues, yet I do not remember any professed treatise of morality, where it is treated in its full extent, and with that accuracy that it ought. For which possibly this may be a reason, that every imprudent action does not make a man culpable “in foro conscientiæ.” The business of morality I look upon to be the avoiding of crimes; of prudence, inconveniencies, the foundation whereof lies in knowing men and manners. History teaches this best, next to experience; which is the only effectual way to get a knowledge of the world. As to the rules of prudence in the conduct of common life, though there be several that have employed their pens therein; yet those writers have their eyes so fixed on convenience, that they sometimes lose the sight of virtue; and do not take care to keep themselves always clear from the borders of dishonesty, whilst they are tracing out what they take to be, sometimes, the securest way to success; most of those that I have seen on this subject having, as it seemed to me, something of this defect. So that I know none that I can confidently recommend to your young gentleman, but the son of Sirach.
To “complete a man in the practice of human offices,” (for to that tend your inquiries,) there is one thing more required; which, though it be ordinarily considered, as distinct both from virtue and prudence, yet I think it so nearly allied to them, that he will scarce keep himself from slips in both, who is without it. That, which I mean, is good breeding. The school, for a young gentleman to learn it in, is the conversation of those who are well-bred.
As to the last part of your inquiry, which is after “books that will give an insight into the constitution of the government, and real interest of his country;” to proceed orderly in this, I think the foundation should be laid in inquiring into the ground and nature of civil society; and how it is formed into different models of government; and what are the several species of it. Aristotle is allowed a master in this science, and few enter upon the consideration of government, without reading his “Politics.” Hereunto should be added, true notions of laws in general; and property, the subject matter about which laws are made. He, that would acquaint himself with the former of these, should thoroughly study the judicious Hooker’s first book of “Ecclesiastical Polity.” And property I have nowhere found more clearly explained, than in a book intitled, “Two Treatises of Government.” But not to load your young gentleman with too many books on this subject, which require more meditation than reading; give me leave to recommend to him Puffendorf’s little Treatise, “De Officio Hominis & Civis.”
To get an insight into the particular constitution of the government of his own country, will require a little more reading; unless he will content himself with such a superficial knowledge of it as is contained in Chamberlayne’s “State of England:” or Smith “De Republica Anglicana.” Your inquiry manifestly looks farther than that; and to attain such a knowledge of it, as becomes a gentleman of England to have, to the purposes that you mention, I think he should read our ancient lawyers; such as Bracton, “Fleta,” “The Mirror of Justice,” &c. which our cousin King can better direct you to, than I; joining with them the “History of England under the Normans,” and so continuing it down quite to our times; reading it always in those authors who lived nearest those times; their names you will find, and characters often, in Mr. Tyrrel’s “History of England.” To which if there be added a serious consideration of the laws made in each reign, and how far any of them influenced the constitution; all these together will give him a full insight into what you desire.
As to the interest of any country, that, it is manifest, lies in its prosperity and security. Plenty of well employed people, and riches within, and good alliances abroad, make its strength. But the ways of attaining these comprehend all the arts of peace and war; the management of trade; the employment of the poor; and all those other things that belong to the administration of the public; which are so many, so various, and so changeable, according to the mutable state of men, and things, in this world; that it is not strange, if a very small part of this consists in book-learning. He, that would know it, must have eyes open upon the present state of affairs; and from thence take his measures of what is good, or prejudicial, to the interest of his country.
You see how ready I am to obey your commands, though in matters wherein I am sensible of my own ignorance. I am so little acquainted with books, especially on these subjects relating to politics, that you must forgive, if perhaps I have not named to you the best in every kind. And you must take it as a mark of my readiness to serve you, that I have ventured so far out of what lay in my way of reading, in the days that I had leisure to converse with books. The knowledge of the bible and the business of his calling, is enough for an ordinary man; a gentleman ought to go farther.
Those of this place return their service and thanks, for the honour of your remembrance.
I am, &c.
To the same.
I AM sorry to find, that the question, which was the most material, and my mind was most upon, was answered so little to your satisfaction, that you are fain to ask it again. Since therefore you ask me a second time, “what is the best method to study religion?” I must ask you, “what religion you mean?” For if it be, as I understood you before, the “christian religion in its full extent and purity;” I can make you no other answer but what I did, viz. that “the only way to attain a certain knowledge of that, is the study of the holy scripture.” And my reason is, because the christian religion is a revelation from God Almighty, which is contained in the bible; and so all the knowledge we can have of it must be derived from thence. “But if you ask, which is the best way to get the knowledge of the Romish, Lutheran, or reformed religion, of this or that particular church, &c.” each whereof intitles itself to be the true christian religion, with some kind of exclusion or diminution to the rest; that will not be hard to tell you. But then it is plain that the books, that best teach you any one of these, do most remove you from all the rest; and in this way of studying, you pitch upon one as the right, before you know it to be so: whereas that choice should be the result of your study of the christian religion, in the sacred scriptures. And the method I have proposed would, I presume, bring you the surest way to that church, which, I imagine, you already think most conformable to the word of God.
I find the letter you last honoured me with contains a new question, and that a very material one, viz. “what is the best way of interpreting the sacred scripture?” Taking “interpreting” to mean “understanding,” I think the best way for understanding the scripture, or the New Testament, (for of that the question will here be in the first place,) is to read it assiduously and diligently; and, if it can be, in the original. I do not mean, to read every day some certain number of chapters, as is usual; but to read it so, as to study and consider, and not to leave till you are satisfied that you have got the true meaning.
To this purpose, it will be necessary to take the assistance of interpreters and commentators; such as are those called the critics, and Pool’s “Synopsis Criticorum;” Dr. Hammond on the New Testament, and Dr. Whitby, &c.
I should not think it convenient to multiply books of this kind, were there any one that I could direct you to, that was infallible. But you will not think it strange, if I tell you, that after all, you must make use of your own judgment; when you consider that it is and always will be, impossible to find any expositor, whom you can blind-fold rely upon, and cannot be mistaken in following. Such a resignation as that is due to the holy scriptures alone; which were dictated by the infallible spirit of God.
Such writings also as Mr. Mede’s and Dr. Lightfoot’s are very much conducing to lead us into a true sense of the sacred scriptures.
As to the method of reading them, order requires that the four Evangelists should, in the first place, be well studied, and thoroughly understood. They all treating of the same subject do give great light to one another; and, I think, may, with the greatest advantage, be read in harmony. To this purpose, Monsieur Le Clerc’s, or Mr. Whiston’s “Harmony of the four Evangelists,” will be of use, and save a great deal of time and trouble, in turning the bible. They are now both in English, and Le Clerc’s has a paraphrase. But if you would read the Evangelists in the original, Mr. Le Clerc’s edition of his “Harmony” in Greek and Latin will be the best.
If you find that, by this method, you advance in the knowledge of the gospel; when you have laid a foundation there to your satisfaction, it will not be hard to add what may help you forwards, in the study of other parts of the New Testament.
But I have troubled you too much already, for which I beg your pardon; and am, &c.
To the same.
Oates, 20 January, 1703-4.
THE small acknowledgments I was able to make, for the honour of your visit, and enjoyment of your company here, left the debt on my side, and deserve not the notice you are pleased to take of them.
In your obliging letter of the 13th, you do me favours, and you thank me too. If you intend by this a perfect acquisition of so inconsiderable a thing as I am, your worth and virtue dispose me to be as much at your service as you please; I wish I found any thing in myself that might promise you any usefulness from me. That defect I shall endeavour to make up the best I can, with a perfect esteem, and a readiness of will; which must supply the want of abilities of doing.
I thank you for the printed paper you sent me , and am very glad to see such a spirit raised, for the support and enlargement of religion. Protestants, I think, are as much concerned now, as ever, to be vigorous in their joint endeavours for the maintenance of the reformation. I wish all, that call themselves so, may be prevailed with by those, whom your paper intimates, to imitate the zeal, and pursue the principles of those great and pious men, who were instrumental to bring us out of Roman darkness and bondage. I heartily pray for good success on all such endeavours.
If I may guess at the intention of the society, by the only man you let me know of it, I may be confident that the glory of God, and the propagation of true religion, is the only aim of it. May God eminently prosper all endeavours that way, and increase the number of those who seriously lay it to heart.
Sir Francis , my lady, and the rest of this family, return you their humble service. I am, &c.