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In the year 1693, Soutb became involved in a controversy with Dr Sherlock, then Dean of Saint Paul's, which originated in a work written by the latter, on the subject of the Socinian heresy, entitled, “ A Vindication of the Holy and Ever Blessed Trinity."* The controversy was conducted with great skill and power of argument on both sides, but, like most controversies, it was mingled with more personality and bitterness than befitted the solemnity of the subject. South was generally admitted to have had the best of the discussion. It was only terminated, however, by the interposition of the royal authority, in a direction to the archbishops and bishops, that no preacher whatsoever, should, in his sermon or lecture, deliver any other doctrine concerning the Trinity, than what was contained in the Holy Scriptures, and was agreeable to the three creeds, and the thirty-nine articles. The controversy attracted much attention at the time, and the wit and ingenuity in which it was conducted led many to take an interest in it who certainly would not have been induced to do so by the abstract question which was involved in it. But in this strife of wits the interests of religion seem to have been endangered, as they ever must be, when its most sacred mysteries become the familiar themes for the exercise of intellectual ingenuity, and are mingled with passions purely secular. We see the effect in the following ballad, which acquired so great popularity at the time, that it was translated into various languages. 6. The Master of the Charter," spoken of in the fourth verse, was Dr Burnet, master of the Charter-house, who had recently published his Archæologia, in which he impugned the authenticity of the Pentateuch. The ballad was called,
THE BATTLE ROYAL. A dean and prebendary
That all the books of Moses Had once a new vagary,
Were nothing but supposes ; And were at doubtful strife, sir,
That he deserv'd rebuke, sir,
Who wrote the Pentateuch, sir ;
'Twas nothing but a sham, &c.
That as for father Adam, The dean he said, that truly,
With Mrs Eve his madam, Since bluff was so unruly,
And what the serpent spoke, sir, He'd prove it to his face, sir,
'Twas nothing but a joke, sir, That he had the most grace, sir,
And well-invented flam, &c.
Thus in this battle-royal,
As none would take denial, And roar'd out, 'Twas no wonder,
The dame for which they strove, sir, Since Gods the dean had three, sir,
Could neither of them love, sir,
Since all had giv'n offence, &c.
She therefore slyly waiting,
Left all three fools a prating, And in disputes engaging,
And being in a fright, sir, The master of the Charter
Religion took her flight, sir,
And ne'er was heard of since,
And ne'er was heard of since. The sarcasm contained in this ballad, though somewhat irreverently couched, is perhaps just. Man's anger is not God's glory. Angry controversy has shaken many a wavering faith, but it never made one Christian. South was of too ardent a temperament to conduct a controversy with prudence, as well as power. Wherever his sword fell, it carried the whole vigour of his arm, and in this matter he was too much in earnest, and indeed,
* Sherlock, in prosecuting his argument, however, had himself fallen into the grave heresy of Tritheism, It was to combat this doctrine that South entered the lists.
a regard to the high attainments of South. These were universally recognized, and ir. 1670 he was installed a canon of Christ Church, Oxford.
In 1667 he committed to the press a Latin poem, written in 1655, entitled, “ Musica Incunstans, sive Poema exprimens Musicæ vires, Jurenem in Insaniam adigentis, et Musici inde Periculum."
This juvenile effusion was highly applauded at the time, says a contemporary biographer, “ for the beauty of its language, and the quickness of its turns," a species of encomium, which seems to imply that it belonged to the metaphysical school of poetry. We have not seen the work, which has now become scarce, and is, no doubt, deservedly unknown. South himself regretted its publication “ as a juvenile and momentary performance." We readily credit such a man's disparagement of his own poetry.
In June, 1677, South accompanied Mr Lawrence Hyde, the son of the Earl of Clarendon, and afterwards Lord Rochester, to Poland, on an embassy with which that gentleman was intrusted, to congratulate John Sobieski on his election to the Crown of Poland, and to carry presents to his daughter, the Princess Teresa, afterwards Electress of Bavaria, to whom Charles II. had some time before stood god-father by proxy. Mo Hyde, whose tutor Dr South had been, in which capacity he had greatly endeared himself to him, proposed that he should accompany the embassy as chaplain, to which the doctor readily agreed. It is easy to imagine that he should have gladly embraced this opportunity of becoming personally acquainted with a country to which the eyes of all Europe were then earnestly directed, and of seeing Sobieski, who was certainly the most remarkable man of his time. Sobieski had, only two years before, upon the death of the feeble and worthless Michael Wiezsnowiezky, been elected king by the unanimous voice of the Polish diet, and he had, since that period, signalized himself by beating back, with comparatively a handful of men, the overwhelming armies of Mahomet IV., which threatened destruction to the faith and liberties of Europe. The decisive struggle, which was to crush for ever the hopes of the Moslem, did not take place for seven years afterwards ; but Sobieski's achievements had ever then been such, as to be regarded by Europe more as miracles than as ordinary conquests, and to earn him, from the terrors of Turk and Tartar, the title of “ The Wizard King."
South has recorded his observations during his visit to Poland in a long and elaborate letter from Dantzic, dated 16th December, 1677, to Dr Edward Pococke, then Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford, and one of the Canons of Christ Church. This letter, which is distinguished by his usual shrewdness of observation, forms a very curious and interesting historical document. The following is his description of Sobieski:
“ This prince,” he says, “is a very well spoken prince, very easy of access, and extremely civil, having most of the qualities requisite to form a complete gentleman. He is not only well versed in all military affairs, but likewise, through the means of a French education, very opulently stored with all polite and scholastical learning. Besides his own tongue, the Savonian, he understands the Latin, French, Italian, German, and Turkish languages ; lie delights much in natural history, and in all the parts of physic; he is wont to reprimand the clergy for not admitting the modern philosophy, such as Le Grand's and Cartesius's, into the universities and schools, and loves to hear people discourse of those matters, and has a particular talent to set people about him very artfully by the ears, that by their disputes he might be directed, as it happened once or twice during this embassy, where he shewed a poignancy of wit on the subject of a dispute held between the Bishop of Posen, and Father De La Motte, a Jesuit, and his majesty's confessor, that gave me an extraordinary opinion of his parts.
“ As for what relates to his majesty's person, he is a tall and corpulent prince, large faced, and full eyes, and goes always in the same dress with his subjects, with his hair
cut round his ears like a monk, and wears a fur cap, but extraordinary rich with diamonds and jewels, large whiskers, and no neck-cloth. A long robe hangs down to his heels, in the fashion of a coat, and a waistcoat under that, of the same length, tied close about the waist with a girdle. He never wears any gloves ; and this long coat is of strong scarlet cloth, lined in the winter with rich fur, but in summer only with silk. Instead of shoes he always wears, both abroad and at home, turkey leather boots, with very thin soles, and hollow deep heels, made of a blade of silver bent hoopwise into the form of a half-moon. He carries always a large scimetar by his side, the sheath equally flat and broad from the handle to the bottom, and curiously set with diamonds."
This portrait, drawn from the life, must have been eagerly scanned by South's countrymen at the time it appeared. And it is of that kind, which loses none of its freshness or interest with time. The rest of the letter is of scarcely inferior interest.
Soon after South's return to England, he was presented by the Dean and Chapter of the Collegiate Church of Westminster, to the Rectory of Islip in Oxfordshire. It is recorded of him, that he applied the whole revenues of the benefice, which amounted to L.200, per annum, after setting aside one half to his curate, in educating and apprenticing the poorer children of his parish. He repaired the chancel which had fallen into disrepair, at his own cost, as appears from a Latin inscription over the entrance. sonage house having also fallen into decay, besides being unsuitable to a living of such importance, South purchased a piece of ground, and built a handsome mansion-house upon it, which he settled upon himself and his successors in the cure.
In 1685, Dr South, who was by this time one of his majesty's chaplains in ordinary, preached his sermon entitled, — “ All contingencies under the direction of God's providence," in presence of the king. Speaking of the train of mischievous consequences which often spring from trivial beginnings, and the unexpected advancement of persons of the lowest grade to fortune and power, South illustrates his argument by the following passage, which is little creditable to his temper or taste, considering the circumstances in which it was spoken, - Who,” he says, * “ that had beheld such a bankrupt, beggarly fellow as Cromwell, first entering the parliament-house with a threadbare torn cloak, and a greasy hat, (and perhaps neither of them paid for,) could have suspected that in the space of a few years, he should, by the murder of one king, and the banishment of another, ascend the throne, be invested in the royal robes, and want nothing of the state of a king, but the changing of his hat into a crown ?" On hearing this, the king is said to have burst into a violent fit of laughter, and turning to Lord Rochester, to have exclaimed, “ Ods fish, Lory, your chaplain must be a bishop; therefore put me in mind of him at the next death.” It was from no sycophantish motive, however, that South indulged in such intemperate and misplaced railing at the protector and his party ; for although a bishopric was repeatedly offered to him during the remaining part of Charles's reign, he uniformly declined these offers, saying, that he was amply provided with the means for maintaining the dignities which he already held in the church, and for upholding the charities which he had already settled, or had in contemplation.
Similar offers were made to him during James's reign, and in like manner declined. South was a determined enemy to the Roman Catholic religion, and strongly disapproved of the measures adopted by James for its restoration. He is said to have assisted by his advice in a controversy conducted in presence of the king between Fathers Giffard and Tilden on the one side, and Drs Jane and Patrick on the other, which ended in the defeat of the advocates of the Romish church, who were dismissed by the king with the remark,
* See page 63, postea.
it was at no time his practice, to cast about for holiday terms in speaking of his opponent.
Surely,” he says, writing some years after the controversy was closed, “surely it would be thought a very odd way of ridding a man of the plague, by running him through with a sword; or of a lethargy, by casting him into a calenture — a disease of a contrary nature indeed, but no less fatal to the patient, who equally dies, whether his sickness, or his physic, the malignity of his distemper, or the method of his cure, despatches him. And in like manner must it fare with a church, which, feeling itself struck with the poison of Socinianism, flies to Tritheism for an antidote."
During the latter years of South's life his health was completely broken. His ailments were of a painful and irritating kind, but he preserved his sprightliness and vivacity in his intercourse with his friends, who were few and well chosen. By many he was charged with moroseness and sullenness of temper, the necessary fate of a man of earnest habits of thought, gifted with keen observation of life, and a natural play of witty expression. So far was he, however, from deserving the character thus attributed to him, says a contemporary biographer, who knew him well, “ that whosoever was once in his company, went off with such a relish of his wit and good humour, as to covet the coming into it, though at the expense of bearing a part in the subject of his raillery. So that what was said of Horace, might, on as just grounds, be worked into his character,
Ridentem Flaccus amicum
Tangit, et admissus circum præcordia ludit.'” During the greater part of Queen Anne's reign he was in a state of inactivity, the infirmities of age growing fast upon him, and almost preventing him from performing the duties of his ministerial office. So early as 1709, his infirmities were such, that the eyes of eager expectants were turned to him in hopes of a speedy vacancy in his prebend's stall, and rectory. Swift, in a letter to the Earl of Halifax, dated the 13th January of that year, * in which he presses his suit for preferment, adds in a postscript, “ Pray, my Lord, desire Dr South to die about the fall of the leaf, for he has a prebend of Westminster, which will make me your neighbour, and a sinecure in the country, both in the queen's gift, which my friends have often told me would fit me extremely." Halifax, answering this letter on 6th October, 1709, says, “ Dr South holds out still, but he cannot be immortal.” South continued, however, to hold out longer than Swift's patience, and on the 13th of November, in the same year, the latter again wrote Lord Halifax, “ If you think this gentle winter will not carry off Dr South, or that his reversion is not to be compassed, your lordship would please to use your credit that, as my Lord Somers thought of me, last year, for the bishoprick of Waterford, so my Lord President may now think of me for that of Cork, if the incumbent dies of the spotted fever he is now under.” The infirm old man weathered the “gentle winter," and even outlived by a year the Earl of Halifax himself, who died in 1715.
To the last, South refused to be made a bishop, although the honour was repeatedly pressed upon him, during Queen Anne's reign. When the see of Rochester and deanery of Westminster, vacant by the death of Dr Sprat were offered to him, his answer was, " that such a chair would be too uneasy for an old infirm man to sit in, and he held himself much better satisfied with living upon the eaves-droppings of the church, than to fare sumptuously by being placed at the pinnacle of it," – alluding to his house, which adjoined the Abbey. His zeal for the welfare of his beloved church lost none of its ardour, and we are not surprised to find that among the last acts of his public life was his interesting himself on behalf of the notorious Dr Sacheverell.
* See “ Original Letters of Eminent Literary Men. London, 1843.” Printed by the Camden Society, p. 340.
South continued to enjoy his mental faculties to the last amid the increasing infirmities of advanced age, and ended his long and useful life on the 8th of July, 1716, at the age of eighty-three. He was buried in Westminster-Abbey, near the grave of his old master, Dr Busby, where the inscription on his tomb-stone records he had desired that his re.. mains should be laid. A monument, with his figure in a recumbent posture, marks the spot, and fixes the attention by the peculiar uneasiness of the position in which the sculptor has chosen to place his subject, as if to prevent the natural exclamation of the thoughtful passer by, — "after life's fitful fever he sleeps well!” An elaborate epitaph records the virtues of him that sleeps beneath. It is too long; but it possesses this rarer characteristic of such records, that it is true.
Throughout life South shewed bimself a man of warm attachments ; his friendships were firm and lasting ; his dislikes the same. He was conspicuous for his charities, for the simplicity and integrity of his life, and for his energetic devotion to the duties of his high calling. His sincerity cannot be doubted, less because he uniformly declined preferment, than because he feared not to stigmatize vice, and to preach the high duties of Christianity to an unprincipled monarch and a dissolute court, whom his theories of political government led him to look up to with feelings of reverence. He was of a frank, fearless nature, and what he felt strongly, he gave utterance to without reserve.
The same characteristics are conspicuous in his sermons. He speaks from his heart, He has no reserves ; his thoughts, feelings, animosities, and predilections animate his words with the warmth of the source that nursed them. In the ardour of his own sentiments he often forgets to make allowance for those of other men, and in matters of political faith or ecclesiastical rule, we find him intolerant and bigoted beyond all measure. He was an enthusiastic advocate of passive obedience, and the divine right of kings, and maintained them by arguments, enforced with the hot-headed warmth by which these principles have ever been maintained. He regarded the Church of England royalists as “the best Christians, and the most meritorious subjects in the world.” With these views it was to be expected that his fiercest opposition should be directed against the sectarians, with which the country was overrun the preachers of the tub and the barn, who held all human learning in contempt, and placed at defiance all decency and propriety of language. “ Never had man," it has been well said, * "a subject to exert his ingenuity on, more congenial to his temper, and never were poor heretics so assailed with invective and ridicule. He dwelt with delight on their meagre, mortified faces, their droning and snuffling whine, their sanctimonious hypocritical demeanour ; but in the midst of his pleasantry, he shot some shafts dipped in the bitterest gall, and pointed by the most inveterate hatred. With a proud consciousness of superior learning, and perhaps a pharisaical conceit of superior integrity ; with the keenest sarcasm and the most undisguised contempt, he held up to the detestation of mankind these impudent pretenders to the gifts of the Spirit.” “We have thus a picture of a singular race of men exhibited in the most striking, but yet the darkest colours, by the hand of a master; for the painter himself was a bigot, and a declared foe to those whom he portrayed. It is, however, useful to have the portrait drawn even by an enemy: we must look elsewhere for the more pleasing lights and colours."
As matters of history, and with reference to our estimate of the man himself, those parts of his sermons which relate to these topics are not devoid of interest. But they form the smallest part of the attraction which these noble monuments of intellect and piety present. South knew mankind well. There is no "pleasant vice," no self-gratulating hypocrisy, no evasion of duty under a complacent admission of its claims, that can escape
Retrospective Review, vol. iv. page 295.