This Prelate, whose exemplary conduct in the station he adorns may be held up for the imitation of future Bishops, is, we are informed, a native of the North of England. He was born, we conjecture, about the year 1731; and after receiving his school education under the Rev. Mr. Hyde, at Ripon, was sent to Christ's College, Cambridge, where he soon distinguished himself by his proficiency in Classical Learning. In 1752 he took the degree of B.A. and about the same time obtained one of the medals given by the Duke of Newcastle for the best Classical Performance of that year. On the 14th March 1754, he was chosen one of the Squire Beadles of the University, an office he resigned on the 3d July, 1755, and that year took the degree of Master of Arts. About this time, or perhaps sooner, he was chosen Fellow of his College, become Preacher at Whitehall, and in 1759 was a successful Candidate fro the Seaton Prize. The subject of the Poem was DEATH, and it exhibits proofs, that with due cultivation he might have claimed the honours due to a genuine Poet. As a specimen we shall produce the pathetic prayer at the conclusion, which will compel our readers to regret that our author so soon left what Mr. Pope calls, and sometimes with too much reason, "the Trade of Poetry."
—At Thy good time
Let Death approach; I reck not — let him but come
In genuine form, not with Thy vengeance arm'd,
Too much for Man to bear. O rather lend
Thy kindly aid to mitigate his stroke,
And at that hour when all aghast I stand
(A trembling candidate for Thy compassion)
On this world's brink, and look into the next;
When my soul starting from the dark unknown
Casts back a wishful look, and fondly clings
To her frail prop, unwilling to be wrench'd
From this fair scene, from all her 'custom'd joys
And all the lovely relatives of life,
Then shed Thy comforts o'er me, then put on
The gentlest of Thy looks. Let no dark crimes
In all their hideous forms then starting up
Plant themselves round my couch in grim array,
And stab my bleeding heart with two-edg'd torture,
Sense of past guilt, and dread of future woe.
Far be the ghastly crew! and in their stead
Let cheerful Memory from her purest cells
Lead forth a goodly train of virtues fair
Cherish'd in earliest youth, now paying back
With tenfold usury the pious care,
And pouring o'er my wounds the heavenly balm
Of conscious innocence. — But chiefly, Thou,
Whom soft-ey'd Pity once led down from Heaven
To bleed for man, to teach him how to live,
And, oh! still harder lesson! how to die,
Disdain not Thou to smooth the restless bed
Of Sickness and of Pain. Forgive the tear
That feeble Nature drops, calm all her fears,
Wake all her hopes, and animate her faith,
'Till my rapt soul anticipating Heaven
Bursts from the thraldom of incumbering clay,
And on the wing of Extasy upborn
Springs into Liberty, and Light, and Life.
In the next year, on the death of King George II. Mr. PORTEUS wrote the following Epitaph on him, which being the only specimen of his poetical talents except the Prize Poem already mentioned, we shall here introduce to our readers' notice.
This Marble boasts what once was truly great,
The friend of Man, the Father of his State.
To check Ambition in its wild career;
To wipe from Misery's eye the starting tear;
By well-plann'd laws Oppression to control;
By kindest deeds to captivate the soul:
Stern Justice' sword to guide with Mercy's hand,
And guard the Freedom of a glorious Land;
These were his arts — these Heaven approv'd, and shed
Unnumber'd blessings on his hoary head.
Forc'd into arms, he stretch'd his generous sway
Wide as the Sun extends his genial ray;
Yet saw (blest privilege) his Britons share
The smiles of Peace amidst the rage of War:
Saw to his shores encreasing commerce roll,
And floods of wealth flow in from either Pole:
Warm'd by his influence, by his bounty fed,
Saw Science raise her venerable head;
Whilst at his feet expiring Faction lay,
No contest left but who should best obey:
Saw in his offspring all himself renewed,
The same fair path of glory still pursued:
Saw to young GEORGE, AUGUSTA'S cares impart
Whate'er could raise or humanize the heart,
Blend all his Grandsire's Virtues with his own,
And form their mingled radiance for the Throne—
No further blessing could on earth be giv'n:
The next degree of happiness was — Heaven.
About this time a work made its appearance, entitled The History of the Man after God's own Heart; a performance which, however contemptible in point of argument to men thoroughly acquainted with the language of Scripture, was yet, by the boldness of its assertions, the vivacity of its humour, and the freedom of its remarks, extremely well calculated to seize the imagination of the gay, and impose on the credulity of the unexperienced. To repel this attack on the authority of the Sacred Writings, Mr. PORTEUS engaged in the fields of controversy, and preached on the 29th Nov. 1761, before the University of Cambridge, a Sermon, entitled, The Character of David King of Israel impartially stated, which he soon afterwards printed. It is probable this Sermon brought him to the notice of Archbishop Secker, who, in Sept. 1762, presented him to the Rectory of Wittersham in Kent, and at the same time appointed him one of his domestic Chaplains.
In March 1764 he was presented by the Archbishop to the Rectory of Bucking in Kent, and in October received from the same patron a Prebend in the Cathedral Church of Peterborough. On the 13th of May 1765, he was married by the Archbishop to Miss Hodgson of Parliament-street, and in the same year was presented to the Rectory of Hunton. On the 7th July 1767, the degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred on him, and in August, on the death of Dr. Denne, he became Rector of Lambeth, with which he also held the Rectory of Hunton. In the succeeding year, 1768, he lost his patron the Archbishop, who, by his will, entrusted to him and Dr. Stinton the revision and publication of his Lectures on the Catechism, his Manuscript Sermons, &c. This trust was executed in a very satisfactory manner; and prefixed to the Sermons published in 1770, was a very excellent account of the venerable and deservedly esteemed author. In 1776, if we recollect right, Dr. PORTEUS succeeded Dr. John Hoadley as Master of St. Cross, an option of Archbishop Secker. At length the time arrived in which our author was to be elevated to the Episcopal Bench. On the advancement of Dr. Markham, in January 1777 to the See of York, Dr. PORTEUS, by the interposition of the Queen, as it is reported, was promoted to the See of Chester; from whence, in 1787, on the death of Bishop Lowth, he was advanced to the See of London, which, for the welfare and advantage of the Church and State, every well-wisher to the English Constitution will wish him long to enjoy.
Besides the pieces already mentioned, Bishop PORTEUS is the Author of the following:
A Sermon preached before the House of Commons, Jan. 30, 1767. 4to.
A Sermon prefaced before the University of Cambridge, July 5, 1767. 4to.
Two Sermons preached at the Chapel Royal St. James's. 4to. 1772.
A Sermon preached in the Chapel of the Asylum for Female Orphans, May 19, 1773. 4to.
An Earnest Exhortation to the Religious Observance of Good Friday. In a Letter to the Inhabitants of Lambeth Parish. 8vo. 1776.
A Sermon preached at the Anniversary Meeting of the Clergy at St. Paul's, May 9, 1776. 4to.
A Sermon preached before the House of Lords at Westminster Abbey, Jan. 30, 1778. 4to.
A Sermon preached before the House of Lords on the Fast Day, Feb. 10, 1779. 4to.
A Brief Confutation of the Errors of the Church of Rome, extracted from Archbishop Secker's Five Sermons, 12mo. 1781.
Sermons on several Subjects. 8vo. 1783.
Essay on the Transfiguration of Christ. 8vo. 1788.
A Sermon preached at St. Paul's before his Majesty, and both Houses of Parliament, April 23, 1789, on the Thanksgiving Day. 4to.
Sermons on several Subjects, Vol. II. 8vo. 1792.
And some Charges and Admonitions to his Clergy, which have not been publically sold.