1793 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Henry Felton

John Nichols, "Memoirs of Dr. Henry Felton" Gentleman's Magazine 63 (June 1793) 506-08.



The following particulars in the life of an eminent scholar will answer the queries of more than one of your correspondents; and may possibly suggest some hints to the editors of the Biographia Britannica; whose Fifth Volume, I am happy to inform you, is on the eve of publication.

Henry Felton, eldest son of John Felton, and grandson to Timothy Felton, esq. of Northumberland (afterwards seated at Ovington, in Essex, and related to those of the name in Suffolk), was born Feb. 3, 1679, in the parish of St. Martin in the Fields; educated first at Cheyneys, in Buckinghamshire; afterwards successively at Westminster (under Dr. Shirley), the Charter-house (under Dr. Walker) and Edmund-hall, Oxford (where his tutor was Dr. Mills, afterwards Bishop of Waterford). Whilst a member of that hall, he took the degree of M.A. June 5, 1702; was ordained deacon that year, Dec. 6, at Whitehall, by Bp. Lloyd: and priest, June 11, 1704. In 1708, he had the care of the English church at Amsterdam; and, soon after his return into England, took the degree of B.D. June 11, 1709, being then a member of Queen's-college, Oxford. He was domestic chaplain to the Duke of Rutland at Belvoir castle, where he continued chaplain to three successive dukes; and to the third of them, whilst Lord Roos, addressed his excellent Dissertation on reading the Classicks, and forming a just Style. He published, in 1711, The Hope of Christians an Argument of Comfort for their Death; a Sermon preached at the Funeral of His Grace the Duke of Rutland, who was interred at Bottesford, Feb. 23, 1710-11. By Henry Felton, B.D. of Queen's College, Oxford. In a Dedication to his Grace's son and successor in his honours and estate, Mr. Felton expresses his acknowledgements for the favours he had received from the illustrious family of the Duke, by whom he was, in 1711, presented to the rectory of Whitwell, in Derbyshire. He took the degree of D.D. July 4, 1712; in April 1722, on the death of Dr. Pearson, was admitted principal of Edmund hall; and on Easter Monday, 1725, preached before the University a sermon, which he printed under the title of The same numerical body, and its Re-union to the same Soul. A Discourse concerning the Universality and Order of the Resurrection; being a Sequel to that wherein the Personal Identity is asserted, 8vo; and, in 1733, The Common People taught to defend their Communion with the Church of England against the Attempts and Insinuations of Popish Emissaries. In a Dialogue between a Popish Priest and a plain Countryman, 8vo. To each of the three beforementioned tracts is prefixed a Dedication to Bp. Chandler. By the king, as duke of Lancaster, Dr. Felton was presented, in 1736, to the valuable living of Berwick, otherwise Berewicke, in Elmer, Yorkshire, through the interest of his noble pupil, who had become chancellor of the dutchy of Lancaster in 1727. He published eight sermons at Lady Moyer's lecture, 1738; and seven other single sermons. In October, 1739, he was seized with a rheumatic disorder, and, after a long confinement, was so well recovered, that he thought himself able to officiate in his church at Berwick on Christmas-day, when he preached his last sermon; and, though he was greatly weakened by his long illness, he exerted himself in his discourse, and spoke with his usual fervour and affection. Having taken cold, he was soon disordered with a defluxion, attended with a violent fever. He was very sensible of his approaching change, made the necessary preparation for it, and behaved, under his long and painful sickness, with a resignation and piety becoming a Christian; and, when he was too weak for utterance, it was visible that he was continually lifting up his heart to God. He had before signified by writing, that his last prayers would be to commend his spirit unto God; and desired others, upon the approach of his change, to pray for the safe and happy departure of his soul. Thus he died in the faith, March 1, 1739, being a few weeks advanced into the 61st year of his life. He was interred in the chancel of the church of Berwick, within the communion-rails. According to his desire, there is no epitaph or inscription upon his grave. A posthumous volume of Sermons on the Creation, Fall, and Redemption, of Man, was published by his son, William Felton, M.A. in 1748; with a Preface, whence the greater part of these particulars is extracted. Dr. Felton composed these sermons about the year 1730, and preached them in his parish-church at Whitwell in that and the following year; and, in 1733, enlarged them, and delivered them again in the same church. In 1736, being removed to the rectory of Berwick, he transcribed and preached them there in that and the following year. They were written at a time when his judgement was in full maturity, and his mind improved by a long acquaintance with the best authors; and are not unequal to the rest of his performances, nor inferior to the style and spirit with which he wrote in his younger years.

He gave them to his son during his last illness, and had before frequently declared his intention that they should be published. Those which he had left upon the Resurrection he did not think of sufficient merit to be collected; nor any others which he had preached before the University.

As Dr. Felton has happily delineated the character of some of the most eminent English writers, it may be amusing to your readers, Mr. Urban, to peruse a character of himself, drawn up by the pen of filial piety:

"Authors, as well as men, are imperfect; and no one was ever more sensible of his imperfections than this author, or a more candid judge of the writings of others, or a more kind interpreter of their actions. He was the farthest from expressing any thing which might look like rudeness or incivility; his language was, on all occasions, polite and agreeable, and always shewed that good manners which is the mark of good breeding and sense, and Christian courtesy. He hath shewed a perfect mastery of the English tongue both in the force and purity of his diction; and his style was always suitable to his subject. He managed the argumentative part with the greatest clearness and accuracy, and propriety of expression; his sentences were plain and grave, where ornament was not required; and upon proper occasions he rose into a majesty of style, and was elevated with his subject, especially when he discoursed upon the sublime topicks of Scripture. He wrote with the greatest ease, freedom, and fluency, was, at the same time, correct, perspicuous, and happy, in his expressions: he had a command of his subject, and of proper words to cloath his thoughts in: he had the art of forming the several parts of his discourse in the most natural order, and easy connexion, and finished the whole with elegance, strength, and spirit. His elocution in the pulpit was grave and harmonious, and wanted not a just energy; and his subjects were so well chosen and important, that his sermons carried a wight and authority which became a preacher of the Gospel. He was a zealous defender of the truth of Christianity, and of its sound doctrines, against those who either meant to overthrow or corrupt it; and he answered their objections and their scoffs with superior force of argument and wit. I must not omit to mention, that he read payers in the most proper manner, and delighted to perform that office. He read with such graceful solemnity and devotion as set off the beauty of our excellent Liturgy, and expressed the spirit of piety with which it is animated. During the whole course of his studies in divinity, he particularly applied himself to the great subject of the Resurrection; and he hath drawn out the pure and genuine doctrine from the Scriptures, and vindicated and illustrated it with the clearest arguments; and he shewed at last, that his hope was, like his reasonings, full of immortality."