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ALTHOUGH Whitby's life was lengthened to nearly a century, yet very few facts concerning him are found recorded, except such as may be gleaned from his own writings. And these exhibit little more, so far as he is personally concerned, than a history of his opinions. Biographers have too often been compelled to repeat the remark, that the life of a scholar is seldom fruitful of incidents; but rarely, in the annals of literature, has the truth of this remark been more evident, than in the instance of Whitby.
Thirty years before his death, Anthony Wood, in the Athena Oxonienses, wrote a brief account of his life and writings up to that period ; and this has served as the basis, and sometimes has furnished the materials of the entire structure, for succeeding biographers. To the second edition of Whitby's Last Thoughts, printed after his death, Dr Sykes prefixed a short notice of the author, which contained little else, than a repetition of Wood's account, and the titles and dates of all Whitby's works. The same was again repeated without any essential addition in the Biographia Britannica. The supplement to Moreri's Dictionary comprises a few other particulars, collected from notices of some of Whitby's publications, as inserted from time to time in Le Clerc's Bibliothèque. The French compiler of the article in Moreri seems not to have been over-curious to know much of Whitby, but contented himself with expressing his amazement and horror at his heretical and antipapistical opinions. In Chauffepie's Continuation of Bayle, the article on Whitby in the Biographia Britannica is translated, but without any thing new, except a few remarks on his writings. From all these sources, and from some others of minor consequence, it is not possible to collect materials, which can be put together in the shape of a memoir, or connected narrative. A short analysis of some of the author's principal works is all that will be attempted.
DANIEL WHITBY was born at Rushden, Northamptonshire, 1638. His father was a clergyman of that place, and a man of some eminence as a scholar and divine. Under his guidance the son made rapid progress in his early studies, and at the age of fifteen was admitted a commoner of Trinity College, Oxford. He took the degree of Master of Arts in 1660, and four years after was elected fellow of the same college. He was appointed chaplain to Dr Ward, Bishop of Salisbury, and in 1668 was made prebendary of Yatesbury. In 1672 he took the degree of Doctor of Divinity, was admiited chantor of the Cathedral Church in his bishop's diocess, and raised to the rectorship of St Edmund's church, Salisbury. He was appointed prebendary of Taunton Regis in 1696, and to the duties of some or all of these stations he seems to have been devoted during the remainder of his life.
While Whitby was at the university, the popish controversy ran high in England, and his early publications were on that subject. As an author he first came before the public about the time, that he was advanced to his fellowship; and during the fifteen years following, he published six different treatises, chiefly in confutation of some of the peculiarities of the Romish church, or in reply to opponents.
He also found leisure to write concerning the laws, both ecclesiastical and civil, which ignorance, or power, or prejudice, or bigotry, had made in different ages of the church against heretics; and he exposed in their true colours the wickedness and folly of persecution.
One of his most celebrated works, the Protestant Reconciler, was published in 1683. The title is a significant indication of the author's design. His project was to bring all protestants together, and especially the protestants of England, in the bonds of Christian union and love. He first pleads for condescension on the part of the established church towards dissenters, in things indifferent and unnecessary; and among these he reckons some of the ceremonies of the church, to which the dissenters had always been strenuously, and no doubt conscientiously, opposed. He took the ground, that whatever is indifferent, or whatever may be changed without violating the laws of God, ought not to be imposed by superiors as absolute terms of communion. By relaxing the rigour of established forms on these points, and admitting all persons to church fellowship, whose faith and conduct rendered them worthy, he flattered himself that the barriers of separation might be demolished, and a method provided for reconciliation and peace.
But the sequel proved, that he little knew in what dreams he was indulging. A host of adversaries instantly sprung up, like the harvest from the dragon's teeth sown by Cadmus, and attacked the author without moderation or mercy, accusing him of treasonable purposes, and of being a secret instigator of what was then called the Presbyterian Plot. Because he had modestly expressed his opinion, that the surplice, the sign of the cross in baptism, and the kneeling posture at the communion, which were so offensive and shocking in the eyes of the dissenters, might be safely dispensed with for the sake of peace and charity, he was assailed as one, who aimed at nothing less, than the overthrow of the church, the ruin of its governors. The press was immedi