Thomas Newton, Bishop of Bristol and Dean of St. Paul's, was born at Litchfield on the 21st of December, 1703, O.S. (January 1, 1704, N.S. ), and died the 14th of February, 1782, in the seventy-ninth year of his age. A few days before his death he finished the memoirs of his own life, which have been prefixed to an edition of his posthumous works, first published in quarto, and since (1787) re-published in six volumes octavo.
Pp. 173, 174. 'Some books were published in 1781, which employed some of the Bishop's leisure hours, and during his illness. Mr. Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire he read throughout, but it by no means answered his expectation; for he found it rather a prolix and tedious performance, his matter uninteresting, and his style affected; his testimonies not to be depended upon, and his frequent scoffs at religion offensive to every sober mind. He had before been convicted of making false quotations, which should have taught him more prudence and caution. But, without examining his authorities, there is one which must necessarily strike every man who has read Dr. Burnet's Treatise de Statû Mortuorum . In vol. iii, p. 99, Mr. Gibbon has the following note: —
EXTRACT FROM MR. GIBBON'S COMMONPLACE BOOK
"Burnet (de S. M., pp. 56-84) collects the opinions of the Fathers, as far as they assert the sleep or repose of human souls till the day of judgement. He afterwards exposes (p. 91) the inconveniences which must arise if they possessed a more active and sensible existence. Who would not from hence infer that Dr. Burnet was an advocate for the sleep or insensible existence of the soul after death? whereas his doctrine is directly the contrary. He has employed some chapters in treating of the state of human souls in the interval between death and the resurrection; and after various proofs from reason, from scripture, and the Fathers, his conclusions are, that human souls exist after their separation from the body, that they are in a good or evil state according to their good or ill behaviour, but that neither their happiness nor their misery will be complete or perfect before the day of judgement. His argumentation is thus summed up at the end of the fourth chapter
Ex quibus constat prime, animas superesse extincto corpore; secundo, bonas bene, malas male se habituras; tertio, nec illis summam felicitatem, nec his summam miseriam, accesauram esse ante diem judicii."
(The Bishop's reading the whole was a greater compliment to the work than was paid to it by two of the most eminent of his brethren for their learning and station. The one entered upon it, but was soon wearied, and laid it aside in disgust: the other returned it upon the bookseller's hands; and it is said that Mr. Gibbon himself happened unluckily to be in the shop at the same time.)
Does the Bishop comply with his own precept in the next page ? (p. 175)
` Old age should lenify, should soften men's manners, and make them more mild and gentle; but often has the contrary effect, hardens their hearts, and makes them more sour and crabbed.' — He is speaking of Dr. Johnson.
Have I ever insinuated that preferment-hunting is the great occupation of an ecclesiastical life (Memoirs passim)? that a minister's influence and a bishop's patronage are sometimes pledged eleven deep (p. 151)? that a prebendary considers the audit week as the better part of the year (p. 127)? or that the most eminent of priests, the pope himself, would change their religion, if anything better could be offered them (p. 56)? Such things are more than insinuated in the Bishop's Life, which afforded some scandal to the church, and some diversion to the profane laity.
None of the attacks from ecclesiastical antagonists were more malignant and illiberal than some strictures published in the English Review , October, 1788, etc., and afterwards reprinted in a separate volume, with the signature of John Whitaker, in 1791. I had mentioned them to Mr. Gibbon, when first published, but so far was he from supposing them worth his notice, that he did not even desire they should be sent to him, and he actually did not see them till his late visit to England a few months before his death. If Mr. Whitaker had only pointed his bitterness against Mr. Gibbon's opinions , perhaps no inquiry would have been made into the possible source of his collected virulence and deliberate malignity.
I have in my possession very amicable letters from the Reverend Mr. Whitaker to Mr. Gibbon, written some time after he had read the offensive fifteenth and sixteenth chapters of the Decline and Fall . When Mr. Gibbon came to England, in 1787, he read Whitaker's Mary Queen of Scots , and I have heard him VERY incautiously express his opinion of it. Some good-natured friend mentioned it to Mr. Whitaker. It must be an extraordinary degree of resentment that could induce any person, of a liberal mind, to scrape together defamatory stories, true or false, and blend them with the defence of the most benign religion, whose precepts inculcate the very opposite practice. Religion receives her greatest injuries from those champions of the Church who, under the pretence of vindicating the Gospel, outrageously violate both the spirit and the letter of it.
Mr. Whitaker affects principally to review the fourth, fifth, and sixth volumes, but he has allotted the first month's review to an attack on the first three volumes, or rather on the first, which had been published twelve years and a half before it occurred to him that a review of it was necessary. — Lord Sheffield
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