JAMES HERVEY, an English divine of exemplary piety and virtue, was born at Hardingstone, a village about a mile from Northampton, on Feb. 26, 1713-14. His father was minister of the parish of Collingtree, within two miles of Hardingstone. He received his early education at the free grammar-school of Northampton, where he attended for nearly ten years, learning the Latin and Greek languages; and would have made a much greater progress if he had not been impeded by the caprice of his master, who, it is said, would not suffer any of his boys to learn faster than his own son. At the age of seventeen he was entered of Lincoln-college, Oxford, and resided in the university about seven years, but without proceeding farther than his bachelor's degree. His time, however, was not mispent. Besides a very considerable stock of learning which he accumulated here, he imbibed those habits of regularity and principles of piety which gave a colour to his future life and writings, and made him one of the most useful and popular preachers of his time.
His liberality and independence of mind began to appear while at Oxford, where he had a small exhibition of twenty pounds a year; but when his father, after he entered the church, urged him to take some curacy in or near Oxford, and to hold his exhibition, he would by no means comply, as he thought it unjust to detain it, after he was in orders, from some other person who might want it to promote their education. He then, in 1736, left Oxford, and became his father's curate, and afterwards went to London; but, after a short stay, accepted the curacy of Dummer in Hampshire. Here he continued about a year, until he was invited to Stokes Abbey in Devonshire, the seat of his worthy friend Paul Orchard, esq. with whom he lived upwards of two years. It was to this gentleman's son that he dedicated the second volume of his Meditations.
From 1738 to 1743, he resided either at Stokes abbey or at Biddeford; and during this period he planned and probably wrote a considerable part of his Meditations. An excursion to Kilkhampton in Cornwall occasioned him to lay the scene of the Meditations among the Tombs in that church. In 1743 he returned to Weston-Favel, and officiated as curate to his father till 1750, when his health became so much impaired by his study and duty, that his friends conveyed him to London for change of air and scene. The purpose was not, however, answered, for he was seized in April 1753 with a severe illness, which nearly proved fatal. On his recovery, and his father's death, which happened about the same time, he returned to Weston, where he constantly resided the remainder of his life, having accepted the two livings of Weston-Favel and Collingtree.
His labours both in the ministerial office and in his study were pursued by him as long as possible; but his constitution, originally weak, and greatly injured by his late illness, soon exhibited the usual symptoms and concomitants of rapid decay, attended with a hectic cough, which proved fatal on Christmas-day, 1758, in the forty-fourth year of his age. His death, throughout the district over which he extended his services, was deemed a public loss. By the poor it was felt to be so in every sense. In the exercise of his charity he was unbounded, but he was also judicious. He chose to clothe the poor rather than to give them money, and intrusted some friend to buy linen, coarse cloth, stockings, shoes, &c. for them at the best hand, alleging that the poor could not purchase on such good terms what they wanted at the little shops and with small sums of money. But when money promised to be serviceable to a family distressed by sickness or misfortune, he would frequently give five or more guineas at a time, taking care that it should not be known whence the money came. It would be endless to enumerate the personal virtues of Mr. Hervey. He was the father, the instructor, the guide, and the friend of all to whom kindness or instruction was necessary. His piety was constant, ardent, and sincere. It appears in all his writings, but not in them more than in his life and conversation. He viewed every object of art or nature only as it made part of the great Creator's works, and was ever ready to give such a turn to common incidents or appearances as might suggest some pious reflection or useful hint.
His learning was of the superior kind, Greek was almost as familiar to him as his native language. He was master of the classics, and in the younger part of his life had written some verses, which shewed no contemptible genius for poetry, but these he afterwards suppressed. His Meditations are indeed a species of poetical composition as far as respects imagery and fancy. He had, too, a critical knowledge of the Hebrew tongue, and delighted in those studies which tend to explain the sacred text. His Life is prefixed to his Letters, 2 vols. 8vo.
His writings are, 1. Meditations and Contemplations: containing Meditations among the Tombs; Reflections on a Flower-garden; and a Descant on Creation, 1746, 8vo. He sold the copy, after it had passed through several editions; which sale, and the profits of the former impressions, amounted to about £700. The whole of this he gave in charity; saying, that as Providence had blessed his attempt, he thought himself bound to relieve his fellow-creatures with it. 2. Contemplations on the Night, and Starry Heavens; and a Winter Piece, 1747, 8vo. Both these have been turned into blank verse, in imitation of Dr. Young's Night Thoughts, by Mr. Newcomb. 3. Remarks on Lord Bolingbroke's Letters on the Study and Use of History, so far as they relate to the History of the Old Testament, &c. in a letter to a lady of quality, 1753, 8vo. 4. Theron and Aspasio; or, a Series of Dialogues and Letters on the most important subjects, 1755, 3 vols. 8vo. Some of the principal points which he endeavours to illustrate in this work, are: the beauty and excellence of the Scriptures; the ruin and depravity of human nature; its happy recovery founded on the atonement, and effected by the Spirit of Christ. But the grand article is, the imputed righteousness of Christ; his notion of which has been attacked by several writers. He introduces most of his dialogues with descriptions of some of the most delightful scenes of the creation. To diversify the work, short sketches of philosophy are also occasionally introduced, easy to be understood, and calculated to entertain the imagination, as well as improve the heart. 5. Some Sermons, the third edition published after his death, 1759. 6. An edition of Jenks's Meditations, 1757, with a strong recommendatory preface. 7. A recommendatory preface to Burnham's pious Memorials, published in 1753, 8vo. 8. Eleven Letters to Wesley. 9. Letters to Lady Frances Shirley, 1782, 8vo. All these are included in the genuine edition of his works, 6 vols. 8vo, printed for Messrs. Rivington, whose predecessor published all Mr. Hervey's works. In 1811 appeared, for the first time, what may be considered as seventh volume, entitled Letters elegant, interesting, and evangelical, illustrative of the author's amiable character, and many circumstances of his early history not generally known. It is somewhat singular that they were dedicated by the editor colonel Burgess to Paul Orchard, esq. the same gentleman to whom sixty-four years before Mr. Hervey had dedicated his Meditations.