Saturday 10 Aug 1816 (p. 4, col. 3-4)
MEMOIR OF DR. WATSON.
This prelate was born in 1737, at Eversham, near Kendal. His father was a clergyman, and master of the Free Grammar School in the latter town, where the son received the whole of his education till he removed to the University of Cambridge, whither he carried with him a considerable stock of classical learning, a spirit of persevering industry, and an obstinate provincial accent. He was admitted of Trinity College, where he distinguished himself by close application to study. His talents soon procured him a fellowship and a college tutorship; and his conduct was such as to gain the esteem not only of his own society, but of the University at large. To this effect, a spirited opposition which he made to an improper recommendation of the Duke of Grafton, as chancellor of the university, not a little contributed. This circumstance redounded equally to the credit of Dr. WATSON and the Duke, who, convinced of the propriety of the resistance of his opponent sought his acquaintance, and from that time they were cordial friends. In 1762 Dr. W. was elected professor of chemistry, though totally ignorant of the first principles of that science. He soon made up, however, by diligence, for the want of preparatory acquirements, passing whole days, and sometimes nights, in the laboratory, assisted by a good practical chemist. In their first experiments they destroyed numerous retorts, endangered their lives, actually blew themselves up, and at length did the same to their workshop; but our professor had a spirit not to be intimidated by these discouraging circumstances. He succeeded in establishing his chemical character, and his lectures, which were crowded with auditors, acquired him high reputation. In 1771 he was nominated to the regius professorship of divinity, on the death of the learned Dr. RUTHERFORTH, proceeded to the degree of D. D. and about the same time married. Dr. WATSON very early distinguished himself in the career of politics, by his attachment to opposition principles, which, after his elevation to the mitre, no doubt, contributed to prevent his removal from the poorest see in the kingdom. In 1776 he printed the sermon preached by him before the university on the anniversary of the Restoration, under the title of "The Principles of the Revolution vindicated," which, for the degree of attention which it attracted, was exceeded only by Bishop HOADLEY's famous sermon on the Kingdom of Christ. In the same year he published another discourse in the same spirit, delivered on the anniversary of the King's accession. His "Apology for Christianity, in a series of letters addressed to Edw. GIBBON, Esq." which appeared soon afterwards, gave more satisfaction to the religious world, and gained greater applause from the public at large. This work raises the author's reputation high, both as a controversialist and a polite writer. The deistical historian declined entering into a discussion of the disputed points with the professor, but wrote him a very polite letter, to which he received as polite a reply, as may be seen in the remains of GIBBON, printed by Lord Sheffield. Dr. WATSON printed another political sermon, preached on the fast-day, Feb. 1, 1780, which is of the same complexion as those already mentioned. In 1761 he published a volume of Chemical Essays, addressed to his pupil, the Duke of Rutland, which was received with such deserved approbation as to induce the author to give the world at different times four additional volumes of equal merit with the first. In the preface, to the last of these volumes, he introduces the following interesting observations:—"When I was elected professor of divinity in 1771, I determined to abandon for ever the study of chemistry, and I did abandon it for several years; but the veteris vestigia flammæ
still continued to delight me, and at length seduced me from my purpose. When I was made a bishop in 1782, I again determined to quit my favourite pursuit; the volume which I now offer to the public is a sad proof of the imbecility of my resolution. I have on this day, however, offered a sacrifice to other people's notions, I confess, rather than to my own opinion of episcopal decorum
. I have destroyed all chemical manuscripts. A prospect of returning health might have persuaded me to pursue this delightful science; but I have now certainly done with it for ever—at least I have taken the most effectual step I could to wean myself from an attachment to it; for with the holy zeal of the idolators of old, who had been addicted to curious arts—I have burned my books
." Dr. WATSON's first clerical preferment of any importance was the archdeaconry of Ely; but in 1782 the recommendation of the Duke of Rutland procured him a seat on the episcopal bench, on the translation of the present bishop of Durham from the see of Landaff to Salisbury. In consequence of the smallness of the revenue of the former, Dr. WATSON was allowed to hold with it the archdeaconry of Ely, his rectory in Leicestershire, and the divinity professorship, to which is annexed the valuable living of Somersham. Another of his pupils, the late Mr. LUTHER, of Ongar, in Essex, who died in 1786, displayed his gratitude in a still more conspicuous manner, by bequeathing to his tutor the sum of £20,000. Soon after his elevation to the mitre, Bishop WATSON again attracted general notice as the advocate of ecclesiastical reform, in "A Letter addressed to the Archbishop of Canterbury," in which he insisted on the hardships endured by the inferior clergy, and the necessity of an equalisation of church preferments. Though his arguments were strong, and the facts which he had stated incontrovertible, yet many friends to the proposed measure thought him too precipitate and irregular in bringing forward his sentiments on the subject. This letter drew upon the writer some very severe strictures from the pen of the late Mr. CUMBERLAND, who, however was far from manifesting a commendable degree of temper. In 1786 his lordship published at Cambridge, "A Collection of Theological Tracts," in six volumes, designed for the use of students in divinity. This compilation, comprising pieces on the most interesting subjects in sacred literature by different writers, displays extensive reading, candour, and judgment, and forms a valuable library of divinity for every candidate for holy orders. At the time of the King's illness in 1788, Bishop WATSON was one of the three prelates who supported the claim of the Prince of Wales to the unqualified assumption of the Regency. From the very commencement of the discussions on the slave trade, his lordship always stood forward as a strenuous advocate for its abolition; and though in the earlier years of the eventful contest with France which speedily succeeded, he in general recommended pacific measures, yet before its conclusion he became convinced of the necessity of prosecuting the war with vigour. Accordingly, in a seasonable and animated "Address to the People of Great Britain," published in 1798, he exhorted his countrymen to make strenuous exertions and great sacrifices. Such a tract from so distinguished a character was not likely to pass unnoticed: several replies appeared; but so intemperate were his lordship's antagonists, that two of them subjected themselves to legal prosecutions. One of the best services which this prelate rendered to society was in counteracting the poisonous principles of the author of "The Age of Reason," by his "Apology for the Bible, in a series of letters addressed to Thomas PAINE," 1796. This work has doubtless been of great service in supporting the cause of truth, as it is written in a popular manner, and with a dignity of expression and power of argument calculated to produce conviction. In 1806 he reprinted this tract, together with his Apology for Christianity, in an 8vo. volume. His last publication was a collection of "Miscellaneous Tracts on Religious, Political, and Agricultural Subjects," two volumes 8vo. 1815. Besides the works enumerated in this memoir, the bishop gave to the world many sermons, charges, &c. a complete list of which may be seen in the Biographical Dictionary of Living Authors
. On his admission into the Royal Society, he enriched the volumes of that learned body with many valuable communications, most of which he afterwards incorporated into his Chemical Essays. There are also some articles from his pen in the Transactions of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, of which he was one of the earliest members. His lordship was an excellent public speaker, both in the pulpit and in the senate; his action graceful, his voice full and harmonious, and his delivery chaste and correct. As far as his influence extended, he was invariably the patron of merit. During the last years of his life he resided almost entirely at Calgarth Park, near the lakes, a retreat which he had not only adorned and improved, but in some measure created. His plantations here were very extensive, and in 1789 gained him the gold medal of the Society of Arts. Reproduced with kind permission of British Newspaper Archives