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THE IMPERIAL MAGAZINE.
MEMOIR OF THE RIGHT REV. BEILBY PORTEUS, D.D.
LATE BISHOP OF LONDON.
(With a Portrait.)
This eminent prelate was born at York, on the 8th of May, 1731, and was the youngest but one of nineteen children. His parents were natives of Virginia, in North America, but removed to England, in order to give their children greater advantages of education, though at considerable injury to their fortune--an instance of disinterestedness, which was amply repaid to them by the future elevation of the subject of this memoir. After having been for several years at a small school at York, Mr. Porteus was placed at Ripon, under the care of Mr. Hyde, of whose character he has often spoken in terms of great respect. At an earlier age than is common in the present day, he was removed to the University of Cambridge, and entered as a sizer at Christ's College, where he applied with such diligence to mathematical studies, as to obtain the honour of tenth wrangler in 1752, when he took his Bachelor of Arts degree. His attention, however, was not directed solely to these pursuits ; for having shortly after become a candidate for one of the gold medals instituted by the Duke of Newcastle, to reward eminence in classical literature, he obtained the second, after a long and severe examination.
In the spring of the same year, Mr. Porteus was elected fellow of his college, and shortly afterwards succeeded Mr. (afterwards Sir James) Burroughs, as esquire beadle. This office he kept but for two years, preferring to increase his income by means more agreeable to himself; namely, that of taking 'private pupils, whom his rising eminence easily obtained for him. Among them was Lord Grantham, who was afterwards Secretary of State, and Ambassador to Spain.
Having deliberately chosen the profession of the church, he was ordained at the age ofʻtwenty-six by the Bishop of Lincoln, and afterwards by Archbishop Hutton, at York, where he preached the ordination sermon. In the midst of these engagements, however, he was not negligent of politer studies, and gave some attention to the cultivation of poetry. Of his success in this latter pursuit he soon after gave ample evidence, by obtaining Seaton's prize for the best English poem on a sacred subject. The subject selected was Death ; and it was one which was the more consonant with his feelings, from the fact of his having but lately lost his respected and excellent father, “ Undoubtedly," says his biographer, 2D. SERIES, NO. 43.-VOL. IV.
187.- VOL. XVI.
“as a private performance there are few superior ; for it displays a correctness of taste, combined with a sublimity of thought, and a power and justness of expression, which have seldom been exhibited in the first effusions of poetry.”
Mr. Porteus's reputation was now rapidly increasing, and was still further promoted by the publication of an excellent sermon, preached at the University church, as a reply to a profane pamphlet which had recently appeared, entitled, “ The History of the Man after God's own Heart.” Its object was to bring discredit upon the Christian religion by ridiculing the character of the Jews, and of David in particular. It is scarcely necessary to add, that Mr. Porteus succeeded not only in controverting the particular statements of the work, but also in exposing the utter fallacy of the principles upon which its arguments proceeded.
In 1762, he was appointed, by Archbishop Secker, one of his domestic chaplains, and quitted college to reside at Lambeth. The associations into which he was led by this preferment had a most important influence on his future character, as appears from his own words. He describes the Archbishop as a man “endowed with superior talents, which he had highly cultivated; of a strong and sound understanding; of extensive and profound erudition, more particularly in Hebrew literature, and every branch of theology; an admired and useful preacher; of unblemished purity of manners, unaffected piety, unbounded benevolence, and exemplary in the discharge of all his various functions, as a parochial clergyman, a bishop, and a metropolitan.” “ He was,” he adds, “to me a most kind friend, and a bountiful benefactor : but, far beyond all the other benefits I derived, was that invaluable one of enjoying his conversation, of being honoured with his direction and advice, and of living under the influence of his example: these were advantages indeed ; and although I did not profit by them so much as I ought, yet to them, under Providence, I ascribe whatever little credit I have attained in the world, and the high situation I have since arrived at in the church.”
On the 13th of May, 1765, Mr. Porteus married Margaret, eldest daughter of Brian Hodgson, Esq. of Ashbourne, in Derbyshire, and in the course of the same year was presented by the Archbishop to the two small livings of Rucking and Wittersham in Kent: these, however, he soon resigned for the rectory of Hunton, in the same county, which he enjoyed in addition to a prebend at Peterborough, that had been previously given him by his Grace. Upon the death of Dr. Denne, in 1767, he obtained the rectory of Lambeth, and soon after this took his degree as Doctor in Divinity, on which occasion he preached his commencement sermon.
In 1768, Archbishop Secker died, after a severe illness; and Dr. Porteus, in accordance with the feelings which had possessed him during the life of his excellent patron, paid a last tribute to his memory in a “Review of the Archbishop's Life and Character," a masterly performance, and a very happy specimen of biographical composition. In the following year he was appointed chaplain to his Majesty, and master of the hospital of St. Cross, near Winchester.
In the year 1763, Dr. Porteus entered on an undertaking which, whatever may be thought of its policy, certainly reflects upon him infinite credit for manly integrity and independence of mind. His own account of it is as follows:-"* At the close of the year 1772, and the beginning of the next, an attempt was made by myself and a few other clergymen, among whom were Mr. Francis Woolaston, Dr. Percy, now Bishop of Dromore, and Dr. Yorke, now Bishop of Ely, to induce the Bishops to promote a review
of the Liturgy and Articles, in order to amend in both, but particularly the latter, those parts which all reasonable people agreed stood in need of amendment. "The plan was not in the smallest degree connected with the petitioners at the Feather's Tavern, but, on the contrary, was meant to counteract that and all similar extravagant projects; to strengthen and confirm our ecclesiastical establishment; to repel the attacks which were at that time continually made upon it by its avowed enemies; to render the 17th article on predestination more clear and conspicuous, and less likely to be wrested by our adversaries to a Calvinistic sense, which has been so unjustly affixed to it; to improve true Christian piety amongst those of our own communion, and to diminish schism and separation, by bringing over to the national church all the moderate and well-disposed of other persuasions. On these grounds we applied to Archbishop Cornwallis, requesting him to signify our wishes, (which we conceived to be the wishes of a very large proportion of the clergy and laity,) to the rest of the Bishops, that every thing might be done, which could be prudently and safely done, to promote these important and salutary purposes."
But these were not the days of reformation, and the only answer that they received from the Archbishop was as follows :—“I have consulted severally my brethren the Bishops; and it is the opinion of the bench in general, that nothing can in prudence be done in the matter submitted to our consideration."
On the 20th of December, 1776, Dr. Porteus kissed the King's hand on his appointment to the see of Chester; a preferment, on his own part unsolicited, and entirely unexpected. In consequence of it, he immediately resigned the living of Lambeth, which he was permitted to retain, though from various causes of delay it was not until July in the following year, that he entered upon the functions of his new office. In addition to the sedulous discharge of his official duties, Dr. Porteus employed himself in various affairs of general interest at the time. The principal of these were the Protestant Association against Popery, the civilization of the Negroes, and the establishment of Sunday-schools. With respect to the alleged increase of Popery, from which the Protestant Association had its origin, the Bishop's own words are indicative at once of his high estimation of what he conscientiously believed to be the truth, and of his enlightened liberality towards those who differed with him. Undoubtedly,” he says, “we ought to be on our guard against the arts and industry of those who profess to teach the tenets of popery; we ought to combat their manifold errors as occasions offer, both in the pulpit and from the press; and we should, in an especial manner, instil carefully into the minds of the young the true principles of Protestantism. But, on the other hand, admitting the fact, as represented, to be true; if it appears that the schools and masshouses, so much complained of, are frequented only by persons of the Roman Catholic persuasion; if the priests and their congregations take the prescribed oath; if no undue endeavours are used to make proselytes, and no doctrines are taught hostile to the government of the country; I do not see how, on the principles of toleration and Christianity, any other opposition can be made to them than that of argument and persuasion, and increased activity and zeal, on our part, in guarding those entrusted to our care, against the superstition and error of the church of Rome.
In 1787, on the death of Bishop Lowth, Mr. Pitt recommended Dr. Porteus to his Majesty as a fit person to succeed to the diocese of London; and his Majesty having expressed his entire concurrence, he was accordingly installed. Here he prosecuted, with augmented zeal, the same