The rewards of learning are so often bestowed upon those who are not entitled to them, that it will rather appear surprising, to find one who is indebted to merit alone for his preferment, than that many should linger out their lives in expectation of emoluments which are more generally heaped on the profligate, the idle, or the ignorant retainers of power. Of those who have been advanced to preside in the Church, what numbers are indebted to base arts for their good fortune, to one who relies solely on desert! It is, however, no unpleasing consideration to remark, that a few names are still to be found, which will always reflect honour upon the age; and of these Dr. HURD, Bishop of Litchfield and Coventry, will ever stand in a distinguished point of view.
To his virtues and talents this Gentleman owes the elevated situation in which he now appears. His birth and family, if we are not misinformed, were calculated rather to receive from, than confer honour upon him. He appears to have been educated at the Grammar-school of Breewood, in Staffordshire, under the Rev. Mr. Budworth, whose memory he has preserved in a Dedication, which this mark of gratitude ought to exempt from the general and deserved fate of such kind of productions, though some of them (it must he with shame acknowledged) claim for their Authors the first names in the literary world.
From school Dr. HURD went to the University of Cambridge, and was entered a Member of Emanuel College, of which society he afterwards became a Fellow. The first performance which is known to have been written by him was a Copy of Verses on the Peace of Aix la Chapelle. It was printed in the Collection published on that occasion, and affords no promise of those excellencies which soon afterwards burst through the obscurity of an academical life, and rendered the Author famous beyond the bounds of the University.
In 1749 he published Horace's Art of Poetry, with an English Commentary and Notes; and, in the Preface to it took occasion to compliment Dr. Warburton in a style that procured him the patronage of that Author. Speaking of the manner in which his work was executed, he says, "I chuse therefore to rest on the single authority of a great Author, who hath not disdained to comment a like piece of a late critical Poet. What was indeed the amusement of his pen, becomes, it must be owned, the labour of inferior writers. Yet, on these unequal terms, it can be no discredit to have aimed at some resemblance of one of the least of these merits which shed their united honours on the name of the illustrious friend and commentator of Mr. Pope." This eulogium was returned by the Bishop some time afterwards, in his Edition of Mr. Pope's works, wherein he speaks of this work in terms of the highest estimation, though not more than its merit entitled it to: indeed it may be assumed that it found as many admirers as readers.
During the succeeding year (1750) the University was disturbed by internal divisions, occasioned by an exercise of the power of discipline against some of its members, who had been wanting in respect to those who were intrusted with authority. A punishment having been inflicted on some delinquents, they refused to submit to it, and appealed from the Vice-Chancellor's jurisdiction. The rights of the University, and those to whom their power was delegated, by this means becoming the subject of debate, several pamphlets appeared; and amongst others who signalized themselves upon this occasion, Dr. HURD has been suspected. Two pieces, one entitled The Opinion of an eminent Lawyer concerning the Right of Appeal from the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge to the Senate, supported by a short, historical Account of the Jurisdiction of the University, By a Fellow of a College, 8vo, 1751, which passed through three editions, and having answered in another performance, was defended in A Letter to the Author of a further Inquiry, in 8vo, 1752, have been ascribed to Dr. HURD.
At this period he had entered into holy orders, and been appointed one of the Preachers at Whitehall. On the 29th of July, 1752, he preached a sermon on the mischiefs of Enthusiasm and Bigotry, at the cathedral church of Norwich, which sermon was afterwards printed. In 1753 he became Minister of St. Andrews the Little in Cambridge, and, on March 28, preached a sermon at Trinity Church, which was afterwards printed for the benefit of the charity-school of the town. A second edition of the Art of Poetry, with the Epistle to Augustus, and two Dissertations on the Provinces of the several Species of Dramatic Poetry, and on Poetical Imitation, appeared about the same time.
The friendship which had taken place between Dr. Warburton and Dr. Hurd, had from its commencement continued to increase by the aid of mutual good offices. In 1755, an opportunity offered for the latter to shew the warmth of his attachment to his patron. Dr. Jortin having spoken of the former with less deference and submission than the claims of an overbearing and confident superiority seemed to demand, was called to account for it in a pamphlet, entitled, The Delicacy of Friendship, a seventh Dissertation, addressed to the Author of the Sixth, 8vo, 1755. This was universally ascribed to Dr. HURD; and the sense which the person in whose favours the attack was made, had of the service, may be seen in the following extract of a letter to Dr. Lowth: The Author (i.e. of the Delicacy of Friendship) "is a man of very superior talents of genius, learning, and virtue; indeed, a principal ornament of the age he lives in: so that was I to wish a blessing to the man I was most obliged to, I could not wish him a greater, and the friendship of such a person. And I not only hold myself highly honoured and obliged to him, for this mark of his good will towards me, but think the discourse very serviceable to men of letters, if they would condescend to make a proper use of it. He tried, in the finest irony in the world, to shame them out of that detestable turn of mind, which either out of low envy is unwilling to give merit its due, or out of mean and bare apprehensions dare not do it, for fear of its being unacceptable to their superiors."
Though Dr. HURD'S reputation as a man of learning and genius had been long fully established, we do not find that his merit had attracted the notice of the Great, or that any disposition had appeared at this time to advance his fortune. He still continued to reside at Cambridge, in learned and unostentatious retirement. In December 1756 he became, on the death of Mr. Arnald, intitled to the living of Thurcaston, in Leicestershire, as Senior Fellow of Emanuel College. To this place he accordingly retired, perfectly satisfied with his situation, as we learn from the following lines, written three years afterwards by Mr. Mason, who, speaking of him, says,
Whose equal mind could see vain Fortune shower
Her many favours on the fawning crew;
While in low Thurcaston's sequester'd bower,
She fix him distant from Promotion's view:
Yet shelter'd there by calm Contentment's wing,
Pleas'd he could smile, and with sage Hooker's eye,
See from his mother Earth God's blessings spring,
And eat his bread in peace and privacy.
In 1757 he published Remarks on Mr. David Hume's Essay on the Natural History of Religion, addressed to Dr. Warburton, 8vo; a work said to be composed from the notes of the person to whom it was inscribed. Of this performance Mr. Hume speaks with much anger, as being written, to use his own words, with all the illiberal petulance, arrogance, and scurrility which distinguish the Warburtonian school. His next performance was, A Letter to Mr. Mason on the Marks of Imitation, 8vo. 1757, which in the same year was added to the 3d edition of the Epistles of Horace.
The leisure which the living of Thurcaston had given to its possessor, soon appeared to have been not idly spent. In 1759 a volume of Dialogues, Moral and Political, was published in 8vo; it contained the first Six Dialogues, and was followed in 1762 by his Letters on Chivalry and Romance. Two Dialogues on the Use and Abuse of Foreign Travel succeeded in 1764; and next year he was called, probably by Bishop Warburton's interest, to the Preachership of Lincoln's-Inn. By the same assistance he seems to have procured the appointment of Archdeacon of Gloucester in August 1767. The abilities of Dr. Warburton began about this time to decline. His friendship had, however, procured a new and more powerful patron for Dr. HURD in the person of Lord Mansfield, through whose assistance in 1774 the Mitre was placed, as it always ought to be, on the head of Genius and Learning. In that year Dr. HURD was elevated to the See of Litchfield and Coventry, and consecrated 12th February, 1775.
In 1772 were published Twelve Sermons on the Prophecies concerning the Christian Church, preached at Lincoln's-Inn; and in 1773 a Selection from the Works of Cowley, in 2 vols. 8vo. Since this period other volumes of Sermons have been printed, which will not lessen the reputation which their Author had before acquired.
On a change which took place in the Royal domestic oeconomy a few years since (the cause of which is still unexplained to the World), Dr. HURD was called to superintend the education of the Heir to the Crown. In this important office he has continued ever since; and as he possesses every qualification necessary for so weighty a situation, we do not doubt but his labours will be crowned with success. His removal to the See of Worcester in expected to be speedily announced in the London Gazette; and from every appearance he has not yet reached the last step in the ladder of Preferment.
Of Dr. HURD'S character little need be said. Where Calumny has not even ventured to insinuate a fault, and where Respect and Reverence are the constant attendants on any person, surely it will be unnecessary to expatiate on his good qualities. Were any evidence wanting, the testimony of Mr. Mason would be sufficient. It was long ago said by that Gentleman, That though his Friend was graced with every liberal art, yet that in morals and in the virtues of the heart he had still more excellence. As a Writer, his taste, learning, and genius, are universally confessed. His Sermons are read with more advantage than they are delivered, his manner being cold and unanimated, not calculated to make much impression on his hearers. With his friends and connexions he has obtained the best eulogium, their constant and warm attachment; and with the World in general a kind of veneration, which, in times like the present, could neither be acquired nor preserved but by the exercise of great virtues.
Besides the pieces already mentioned, Dr. HURD has been suspected of being the Author of some anonymous performances; particularly Discord: A Satire, 4to. 17—; a republication of Dr. Jeremy Taylor's — Moral Demonstration of the Truth of the Christian Religion, 8vo, 1776; and he has also published a Charge to the Clergy of his Diocese, and some single Sermons.