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Life and Correspondence of Samuel Johnson, D.D.
Missionary of the Church of England in Connecticut and First President of King's College, New York.

By E. Edwards Beardsley, D.D.

New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1874.

Chapter XV.


A. D. 1770-1772.

THOUGH the war of pamphlets was about over, and formal appeals from the clergy in this country were ended, yet Dr. Johnson could not cease to be interested in the effort to obtain American Bishops. He still felt that it was a want which must be supplied, and whenever he wrote to his English correspondents, which was not often now, he pressed it upon their attention. The Bishop of London, Dr. Terrick, appreciated his feelings, and expressed a willingness to favor the design on first coming to his London see. But objections were raised which he was not able to remove. They were the same which had hindered the attempts of his immediate predecessor, Bishop Sherlock, and deterred him from repeating his memorials to the throne upon the subject. They centered in the policy of statesmen, and gathered strength from the uneasiness and remonstrance of the Dissenters.

Dr. Berkeley, not always perhaps with the best discretion, was a strong advocate of the scheme so persistently opposed. At one time he seriously meditated a visit to America with his wife, and went so far as to take steps towards purchasing a farm in the colony of Connecticut. "I should much like," he wrote to the Rev. Dr. Johnson, from Cookham near Maidenhead, April 21, 1770, "to pass one year in a country for which I have inherited no slight affection from both my parents." In the same letter he mentioned: "Mr. Dalton is settled on a little farm near me, and enjoys very good health; he often talks of America with great regard." And then he added, with a mixture of playfulness and seriousness:--

If you Americans are not betrayed by your wives and daughters, you may transmit the invaluable blessing of liberty to your posterity; but if your females conspire with short-sighted merchants (who are too lazy to become farmers), you may in half a century be enslaved as the Irish are at this day, where the list of court-pensioners (mostly English) consumes more than ninety thousand pounds sterling annually; all of which money is granted without Parliament, by virtue of the Privy Seal. And after it has been so granted, Parliament is applied to for ways and means, which if the Irish Parliament should refuse to afford, the English Parliament would claim a privilege once surreptitiously obtained, and raise a revenue by taxation without representation.

The design of visiting America was relinquished, partly owing to a preferment which kept him at home, but his interest in the country continued. He was a warm friend of the American Church, and appears to have anticipated for it a great future. His intimacy with Dr. Johnson, the Colonial agent, increased with every year of his stay in England, and his regret at parting with him was deeper than words could express. That gentleman under date of Tuesday, June 11th, 1771, entered in his private journal: "Attended at the Cock-pit the final hearing of the Mohegan cause;" and having disposed of other trusts and business committed to him, and taken leave of his many friends, he bade adieu to London, and sailed from Gravesend for New York on Saturday, the 3d of August. Among the letters which he brought with him addressed to his father, was the following:--

CANTERBURY, Monday, July 29, 1771.

REVEREND AND DEAR SIR,--God grant that you may speedily receive these lines from the hands of your excellent and very amiable son. His deep distress at being thus long unavoidably detained from his worthy lady, yourself, and his beloved olive-branches, has sensibly impaired his health. We, who love and regret him, as he deserves, hope that the effect will cease with the cause.

I wrote to you a long letter immediately on the receipt of your last favor. In that letter I opened my mind to you with great freedom on some important subjects, and I have now reason to suspect that (by the carelessness of a servant) those breathings of my soul have miscarried. This accident would have been much more grievous to us if Dr. Johnson's return did not now anticipate my reflections on the state of learning, church discipline, and religion in America. Mr. Temple of Boston visited me here a few days ago; he styled his friend, Dr. Johnson, the flower of America.

My expectations of receiving one more visit from the beloved bearer of these lines are, alas! now to be given up. This morning, a person just arrived from London, has brought me a most unwelcome message from him, and my letter will be but barely in time.

It happens, by what we mortals call chance, that the Dean of this church is an amiable and religious man; he is to be elected Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry as soon as he shall have completed his thirtieth year, i.e., before the end of next week. Dr. North is much fitter for the office of a Bishop than any old man (without exception) that I remember to have seen appointed to that office. Your good son knows as much of the real political and ecclesiastical state of England as any man in it; I need not add, more than all the Americans I ever knew put together.

Mrs. Berkeley, your old acquaintance, and Mrs. George Berkeley, who would be very glad to become your acquaintance, join in every possible kind wish for you. May a long and happy life lead you, through Redeeming mercy, to a longer happiness!

My time is short, and my spirits are depressed by the consideration of the loss I am to sustain. Dr. Johnson indeed was-so good as to come on purpose to Canterbury to take leave of us, but unfortunately I was then on a visit to my parishioners.

I am, with the truest respect, dear Doctor,
Your faithful and affectionate brother,


P.S. I have the comfort of being able to say that Dr. North is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ in his sermons; if there was a vacancy, I should be happy to see him our Metropolitan to-morrow.

Dr. Johnson reached his family in Stratford on the 1st of October, having been absent from the country for nearly five years. He found his aged father full of infirmities and bending to the grave, but ready to welcome him with a warm heart and a clear intellect. He had begun to feel that he might not live till his return, and therefore his joy was all the greater when he came and renewed with him the scenes through which he had passed, and the personal interviews with distinguished men, known to him hitherto only through the medium of their correspondence, their works, or their statesmanship.

His measure of earthly happiness was now full, and he had no more for which to look forward in this life. He continued a little longer to use his pen, and write to his friends; but his letters were those of one who seemed to be conscious that he was closing up his stewardship. The Bishop of London had sent him a brief communication by his son, which, though not inspiring him with any new hopes, was gratefully received and resolutely answered. Its burden was the old obstacles to the American Episcopate.

REVEREND SIR,--I cannot let your son leave this part of the world without taking the opportunity of writing a few lines to you in answer to your letter delivered to me by Mr. Marshall. [Rev. John R. Marshall, bred a merchant, and afterwards turning his attention to theology, pursued his studies under Dr. Johnson, and was licensed for Woodbury, Conn., by the Bishop of London, July 28, 1771. He received the degree of M. A. honoris causi, from King's College, N. Y., 1773] The Society, entirely satisfied with the testimonial he has brought with him, and with the assurances of a sufficient allowance from the inhabitants of Woodbury, has recommended him to me for orders. And, as I am always unwilling to keep the candidates from America longer than is necessary, especially as their stay is attended with expense, I shall lose no time in ordaining Mr. Marshall, provided he is found, as I trust he will [be], properly qualified for the profession. The character you give of him, with regard to his morals and behavior, will entitle him to some indulgence, if he has not made that progress in languages which we wish to find, though sometimes obliged to excuse, in our candidates.

I feel as sensibly as you can wish me to do, the distress of the Americans in being obliged, at so much hazard and expense, to come to this country for orders. But I own I see no prospect of a speedy remedy to it. They who are enemies to the measure of an Episcopacy, whether on your part of the globe or ours, have hitherto found means to prevent its taking place; though no measure can be better suited to every principle of true policy, none can be more consistent with every idea I have formed of truly religious liberty. We want no other motive for declaring our sentiments and wishes on the subject, but what arise from the expediency, I had almost said, the necessity of putting the American Church upon a more respectable plan by the appointment of a Bishop. But whatever are our sentiments or wishes, we must leave it to the discretion and wisdom of Government to choose the time for adopting that measure. Whether we shall live to see that day, is in the hands of God alone. We wish only that we could look forward with pleasure and enjoy the thought.

Accept, sir, my best wishes for everything which may contribute to your health and happiness, and assure yourself that I am, with great truth and sincerity,

Your affectionate brother,


FULHAM, July 22, 1771.

In replying to this letter, Johnson affirmed that no one could be more concerned than he that the Church should always, as far as possible, have a learned ministry; but in such a country as America then was, much learning could not ordinarily be expected. He was glad his Lordship felt so sensibly "the distress of Americans" on being without Bishops, and apologizing for the importunity of his brethren in Connecticut, who, contrary to his advice, had made another address for them, he asked: "Is the case incurable? Is there no remedy? Must we forever go a thousand leagues for every ordination? Can it be that the English Government should suffer such an encroachment upon Christian liberty to the English Church in any part of its dominions? I foresee," he continued, "fearful consequences, political as well as religious, that will inevitably follow it." If there was no prospect of relief, if all hope and dependence on England must be relinquished, he thought that a number of the clergy would be disposed to apply to some other Episcopal Church--perhaps the Moravian to give them Bishops, "being conscientiously persuaded that Episcopacy, such as it was in St. Cyprian's time, was the only form of government that the Apostles established in the Church."

The following reply to Dr. Berkeley, if not his last letter to England, was his last to that devoted friend of his son and of the American Church. It shows the depth of his feelings, and the great thought which ever rose in his mind as he turned to survey "the branch of God's planting" in this land.

November 10, 1771.

REVEREND AND MOST DEAR SIR,--I am most intensely thankful to our good God that he hath so graciously preserved my dear son to me and his family, and us to him through his long absence and many dangers, and at length restored him to us and given us to rejoice together in all the great goodness of his kind Providence both towards him and us. And now I return my most affectionate thanks to your very excellent mother and lady and dear sons for the great kindness and affection wherewith you have treated him in his absence from us. May my God abundantly reward all your goodness and beneficence.

I was much grieved for the miscarriage of your kind answer to my last letter, wherein you opened your mind with so much freedom. I thank you for it, though I had it not, and I could wish you yet to give me a short recapitulation of it. I am unwilling to give up all hopes of seeing you in America, at least of your being our first Bishop, for then I could trust that we should set out upon the foot of true, genuine, primitive Christianity; and if you be not yourself the man, I beg of you through your whole life strongly to interest yourself in our affairs, and so far as is possible to influence that we may have one or more Bishops, and that they be true, primitive Christians; otherwise, if they are mere men of this world, we are indeed better without them.

I rejoice and bless God that there is one such in these abandoned times as Bishop North, and he so young, too, and that of a noble family. Such an one is a phoenix indeed. I desire you, if you think proper, to give my dutiful compliments to him, and let him know that, as I am the oldest of the clergy here, I humbly beg he would pity our deplorable condition in being obliged to go a thousand leagues for every ordination, and use all the influence in his power without ceasing, till we are provided with a Bishop to ordain and govern the clergy here. I earnestly pray God to bless you, my dear sir, and that worthy lady your mother, together with your lady and dear offspring, with all the blessings of this life, and that we may all at length be happy together in a better world, I am, etc.

Nearly forty years before, when Dean Berkeley was promoted to the see of Cloyne, Johnson wrote to a London friend, expressing his joy at the appointment, but regretting that it had not been an English Bishopric, for then, he said, "he would have been in the way of being more useful to the Church in these parts of the world." The zealous son was untiring in his efforts to prosecute what the father could really do nothing towards accomplishing, and, at a later day, was of personal service to Dr. Seabury in securing his consecration to the Apostolic office from a church north of the Tweed, where there were no State oaths to hamper the little college of bishops, and no silken cord binding together the crown and the crosier. [Rev. Samuel Seabury, D. D., was publicly consecrated Bishop of Connecticut at Aberdeen, on Sunday, the 14th of November, 1784.]

The waning year brought peace and quietness to Johnson. He left his parochial duties chiefly to the care of his assistant, and while he lived in the scenes and recollections of the past rather than in the distractions and political uncertainties of the present, he did not forget the nearness of the end, much less contemplate it with indifference. He often wished for a peaceful exit, and prayed that his death might resemble that of his good friend, Bishop Berkeley. Though apparently little indisposed, yet finding his strength to be failing him, on the morning of January 6, 1772, he conversed calmly with his family upon the subject of his departure, said that he was "going home," and then sank to rest quietly, so as the "Lord giveth his beloved sleep." An extract from the letter which his son wrote to Bishop Lowth a week after the event, furnishes a good description of his last moments.


MY LORD,--I did myself the honor to write your Lordship a short letter on my arrival in this country, acknowledging the honor of your favor of the 29th of June, from Cuddesden, which I received just as I left London; and presenting to your Lordship mine and my good father's duty.

I have now the misfortune to inform your Lordship of the departure of my father, who left us the morning of the Epiphany full of faith and hope, and we doubt not has entered into the joy of our Lord. He died as he had lived, with great composure and serenity of mind, and had just such a transition as one would wish for his best friend. He often wished, and repeated it the morning of his departure, that he might resemble in his death his friend, the late excellent Bishop Berkeley, whose virtues he labored to imitate in his life, and Heaven heard his prayer; for, like him, he expired sitting up in his chair, without a struggle or a groan. It would be very inexcusable in me to trouble your Lordship with this minute account, were it not also my duty to acquaint your Lordship, that from the great satisfaction and improvement he had received from your writings, my father had often assured me since my return that he had the greatest respect, veneration, and esteem for your Lordship, of any man now living. That respect and esteem, give me leave to say, will live in his family and among all his acquaintance, upon whom he sought to inculcate it. .

The funeral of Dr. Johnson took place at Stratford two days after his decease, and the clergy from the neighboring towns were present; one of whom, the Rev. Jeremiah Leaming of Norwalk, delivered a sermon in commemoration of his acquirements and Christian character. His long tried and particular friend, the Rev. John Beach of Newtown, had been selected for this office, but want of health prevented his attendance at the funeral, though the sermon which he prepared was afterwards preached and published. It dwelt largely upon the wisdom of diverting the stream of our thoughts from this visible world to eternal things, and contained tributes to the memory of the great man, which were neither fanciful nor undeserved. "With much satisfaction," said he, "and the recollection of many advantages I have received, I call to mind the acquaintance which I have had with this excellent divine for more than fifty-five years; and without an hyperbole, I may say it, I know not that ever I conversed with him without finding myself afterwards the better for it. He had from his youth devoted himself to the sacred ministry, and the studies which qualify for it he followed with unwearied application, which a firm constitution enabled him to pursue even in old age." He closed a description of his intellectual attainments with these words: "The sum is this; he was the most excellent scholar, and most accomplished divine, that this colony ever had to glory in, and what is infinitely more excellent, he was an eminent Christian."

Other memorial sermons were preached, one by the Rev. Mr. Inglis in Trinity Church, New York, where his name was held in grateful remembrance for services rendered to the parish, and to the college with which the parish was in a measure identified. The loss of such a guiding light was felt by the depressed Church of England in this country, especially in the Northern colonies, and no pen of equal zeal, ability, and influence, was ready to take up the correspondence which he had so long conducted with British minds interested in the progress of Christianity on the American continent. The times grew more eventful, and soon the troubles which produced the Revolution interrupted communication, and sadder than all the days before were those which came to the supporters of Episcopacy.

"As to Dr. Johnson's person," says Chandler, "he was rather tall, and, in the latter part of his life, considerably corpulent. There was something in his countenance that was pleasing and familiar, and that indicated the benevolence of his heart; and yet, at the same time it, was majestic, and commanded respect. He had a ruddiness of complexion, which was the effect of natural constitution, and was sometimes farther brightened by a peculiar briskness in the circulation of his spirits, brought on by the exercise of the benevolent affections." [Life of Johnson, p. 126.] Frequent reference has been made in this volume to his autobiography, which he began in the seventieth year of his age, and completed after the return of his son from England. It was written in the third person, and is entitled, "Memoirs of the Life of the Rev. Dr. Johnson, and several Things relating to the state both of Religion and Learning in his Times." This manuscript with other papers was confided to the Rev. Dr. Chandler of Elizabethtown, and liberty given him to use them freely in preparing a more elaborate account of the life and character of his ever honored friend and patron. The colonial disturbances thickened, and even before the work was ready for the press, the son wrote to Dr. Chandler expressing his fears about publishing: "I am at a loss what to say upon the subject. On the one hand, I should be extremely glad to have anything published which would subserve the general interest of the Church of England, and tend to do honor to the memory of my father, and I know you will render whatever you publish as perfect and unexceptionable as possible. On the other hand, the age is so captious and so glutted with publications of every kind, and we have so many malicious adversaries working and watching for every circumstance of which they may take advantage, and upon which to ground a controversy or excite a clamor, that I am sometimes in doubt whether it be best to publish anything of this kind or not."

Prudent friends advised delay,--among them Mr. Beach of Newtown, who, in September 1774, wrote to the hesitating son, who had placed the manuscript in his hands, and asked his opinion: "I should think that it might be obvious to the slightest observer, that this day of rage and madness is not the most favorable for publications of this nature." [See History of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, vol. i. pp. 296, 297.]

He had full liberty to communicate this opinion to Dr. Chandler, and in doing so he expressed his own concurrence in it, and added: "I am further confirmed in this idea from the insolent spirit which is lately excited against the professors of the Church of England, particularly throughout New England, from an apprehension that we are not sufficiently zealous in the cause of American liberty. A publication of this kind would on that account, I have no doubt, be particularly obnoxious at this juncture, and had better be postponed to some more favorable opportunity. For these reasons, I have not read the papers with a view to any corrections or additions, as I should have done, had I conceived it advisable, to publish. As you proposed to transcribe the work again, I have returned the original memoir." Dr. Chandler was soon after forced by the outbursts of popular fury' to quit his parish, and with Dr. Cooper of New York sailed for England. Probably he never found time to transcribe his manuscript, and the wonder is how it escaped the many perils to which it was subjected on his journeys. [See Appendix B.] It fell at length into the hands of his son-in-law, [Rt. Rev. John Henry Hobart, D. D., third Bishop of New York.] who published it more than thirty years after its preparation, in a small duodecimo volume of one hundred and fifty pages, besides an appendix containing a few letters; and he took care to mention in his preface that "however humble may be the early annals of his country, they should be interesting to every American, and whatever tends to throw light on them should be deemed worthy of preservation."

The little volume embraced the substance of the autobiography, and is at best but a meagre sketch which did slender justice to the intellectual eminence and personal worth of Johnson. Had he lived in these times, he would have been distinguished among men of learning, and recognized by them as an honest and patient lover of truth and justice. That he attained to such excellence under all the disadvantages of the period in which he was a conspicuous actor, is remarkable. He dared to think for himself, and if his keen penetration discovered defects in theological and philosophical systems, he was careful not to accept any new views until he had fairly examined the opposing arguments and tested them by the strongest proofs within his reach. It was in this way that he "gradually exchanged the principles of the old philosophy for those of the Newtonian system," that he relinquished the rigid predestinarian tenets for what appeared to be more rational and Scriptural doctrines, and that he gave in his adhesion to the Church of England while there were many worldly motives leading him to cling to "the provincial standard of orthodoxy."

As a preacher, Dr. Johnson, in the golden prime of his years, had attractive qualities. He himself said to his grandson towards the end of his days, that if he had been eminent for anything, it was for his eloquence. But eloquence has different forms of expression, and may not necessarily consist in studied rhetoric and passionate declamation. The power to interest and edify an audience, to move the heart and produce conviction, is a high intellectual quality, and the divine who possesses it, is in the truest sense of the word, eloquent. With a mind rich in theological lore, with clearness of method and plainness of speech, and with an earnest desire to promote the salvation of souls, Johnson was a minister in the Church of Christ whom neither the learned nor the unlearned could hear without pleasure and profit. The people followed him for the Word's sake, and it is upon record that at Christmas and other high festivals, his house was thronged for successive days with worshippers from the adjacent towns, who came to Stratford to enjoy the benefit of his public and private ministrations.

If he was great in pulpit eloquence and parochial duties, he was greater in his library and as an educator in systematic divinity and the laws of ecclesiastical polity. The Church in the northern portion of this country is largely indebted to him for training a generation of clergymen, who, with rare exceptions, adorned their vocation, and left the impress of their characters upon the communities in which they were appointed to labor. It is something to be thankful for, that in its headless condition there was one who knew so well how to instruct and guide the young candidates for Holy Orders, and to send them forth with his own passport on their perilous voyage across the Atlantic. He had a profound sense of the grandeur of the profession of a clergyman, and felt rightly enough that he could not be mistaken in educating those who came under his care, never to forget how their names were to become historic as pioneers of the Church in a new country, where all models of Christian character that did not approach the perfect ONE, would be despised or discredited.

It was a frequent expression of his to speak of the age as "abandoned and apostatizing." He used it in reference to the tendency of the times to infidelity, and seemed to have no patience with those who were ready to exchange the beauty of the Christian life and the vitality of the Christian faith for the cold dreams and theories of men of reprobate minds. Up to his decease, there had been no writers against Divine Revelation in this country worthy of note, but there had been large importations of skeptical books, and not a little mischief had been wrought by their circulation. He made it his business to acquaint himself with all publications of this nature, that he might know how to disarm the enemy and meet the demand for unreasonable and impossible conditions of belief. The brightest minds among the Dissenters, however much they might differ from him on doctrinal points and questions of ecclesiastical polity, made common cause with him in the defense of the foundations of our faith, and shared his anxiety to clear away the clouds of infidelity. They respected him for his learning and logical skill, and welcomed his system of philosophy as a most commendable effort in the interests and direction of the truth.

A century has passed by and the new atheism of this day needs to be met with something besides the older works on Christian evidence. Bishop Butler, who spoke to the mind of the English nation, in his celebrated "Analogy," has never been answered, nor have the testimonies collected by Leland and Leslie; but they are little read now, for modern infidelity addresses itself not so much to men of culture and refinement, as to the popular imagination, weaving itself into a miscellaneous literature, and at best presenting a masked portraiture of Christianity to blind the eyes of the unwary.

Dr. Johnson trusted firmly in the Divine promises, and did not believe that "the motley crew of Deists, Socinians, Arians, and factious unbelievers" of his time, as the son of Bishop Berkeley termed them, could demolish what is founded on a rock. He defended the faith heroically, and trained others to imitate himself, and be ready to "banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's word." His name will ever have an important place in American history, and the more his character is studied, the more it will be seen how he applied his learning and Christian philosophy to the good of his country, and the advancement of the "one Catholic and Apostolic Church," in whose bosom the Lord "has promised his blessing and life forevermore."

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