1814 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. James Scott

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 84 (December 1814) 601-03.



Dec. 10. 1814. Died at his house in Somerset-street, Portman-square, in the 81st year of his age, the Rev. Dr. Scott, Rector of Simonburn. His father, James Scott, was Fellow of University college, Oxford; afterwards Minister of Trinity Church in Leeds, and Vicar of Bardsey in Yorkshire; and was Domestic Chaplain to Frederick Prince of Wales. He married a lady or the name of Wickham, who was grand-daughter to John Wickham, Dean of York, and lineally descended from William Wickham, Bishop of Winchester, who married one of the daughters of William Barton, Bishop of Chichester, of whom the following remarkable circumstance is recorded in Camden: that he had five daughters all married to English Bishops.

Dr. Scott was born at Leeds in 1733, was educated at Bradford school, and admitted pensioner of Catharine-hall, Cambridge, in 1752, but afterwards removed to Trinity college. He took the degree of B.A. in 1757, and was chosen Fellow the next year. His first employment in the Church was the lectureship of St. John's, Leeds, which he held till he took his degree of M.A. in 1760. There his oratorical powers were first displayed. He had accustomed himself to composition in College; and immediately after his degree, he devoted his time to the study of Divinity: he was therefore enabled to write his sermons; and with so much care did he apply himself to the task, that he preached, after some corrections and additions, some of those sermons in the latter part of his life, which he had written at the earliest clerical age. His mind and heart were in his profession; for no sooner had he preached one sermon than he began to prepare another. The young encouraged his zeal with their applauses; the old gladdened his heart with their prayers. In 1768 he took the degree of S.T.B. And in 1775 that of S.T.P. He served the Curacy of Edmonton from 1760 to 1761, after which he resided in College. He frequently occupied the University pulpit, and whenever he preached, St. Mary's was crowded: the parts of the Church appropriated to the University were filled. Noblemen, Bishops, Heads of houses, Professors, Tutors, Masters of Arts, Undergraduates, all attended St. Mary's to hear this celebrated preacher. The inhabitants of the town expressed the same eagerness; for in bearing Mr. Scott, their understandings were informed, and their affections interested. The discourses addressed to the University are in general uninteresting beyond what can be conceived; the matter studiously abstruse, and the delivery unimpassioned and lifeless. Mr. Scott, therefore, deviated altogether from the usual mode of preaching: the subjects of his discourses attracted attention, the discussion of them awakened the feelings, and the elocution of the preacher captivated and fascinated the hoary sage, the ingenuous youth, and the unlettered Christian. He once displeased the undergraduates by preaching against gaming: they manifested their disapprobation by scraping with their feet, and interrupting him in the delivery of his discourse. The next time he preached, he chose for his text, "Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, &c." "which he no sooner pronounced than the galleries were in an uproar; but the interposition of the University officers producing silence, he delivered a discourse so eloquent, appropriate, and impressive, as to extort universal approbation." (See Mr. Clapham's 3d vol. of Selected Sermons, Life of Goddard.)

About the year 1764, Dr. Scott resided partly in London, and formed habits of intimacy with the father of the late Earl of Sandwich, the Earl of Halifax, and with other public characters. who were connected with Mr. Grenville's Administration. Under their patronage he wrote in 1765 the letters signed Anti-Sejanus, which were published in the Public Advertiser, and were so popular that they raised the sale of the Paper from 1500 to 3000 a day. These letters unfortunately were never collected, but many of them were published in 1767 in a work called A Collection of interesting Letters. His intention in writing those Letters was not so much to serve a party, as to expose the mischief of favouritism. He chose therefore the signature of Anti-Sejanus, Sejanus having been the great favourite of Tiberius, who advanced him to the highest situation in Government. There are likewise some others, signed Philanglia, written by Dr. Scott.

In 1768 the Church of St. John's in Leeds became vacant, which, as well as Trinity Church, was built and endowed by an ancestor of Dr. Scott, who left the nomination to the Mayor, the three senior Aldermen, and the Vicar. For this preferment he was a candidate, and lad the votes of two of the senior Aldermen: he might have obtained the Mayor's vote also, but it must have been at the expence of truth and honour; in consequence of which he lost the living of St. John's, endowed by his ancestor with lands now worth upwards of 600 per annum. Being the popular candidate, although his opponent was a man of extensive learning and exemplary character; and the whole of that populous town, including the Dissenters of every denomination, feeling a personal interest in his success; apprehensions were entertained that serious commotions would take place. Happily the general indignation subsided. To compensate in some measure for the grievous disappointment the town sustained, Dr. Scott was urgently requested to preach at his father's Church in the afternoon, when a very munificent subscription was made for the purpose. One inconvenience, however, arose from this new appointment, which was not foreseen. All the principal inhabitants at that time went to Trinity Church, his father having been popular as a preacher; but, that they might get to their seats, they were obliged, in consequence of the vast crowds which uniformly attended, to go when the doors were first opened, and to sit nearly an hour before the service began. An assembly so crowded by both rich and poor, by Churchmen and Dissenters of every denomination, so eager to hear, and so edified in hearing, is seldom witnessed. He continued the lectureship only one year. In his farewell sermon, which was printed, he pathetically addressed his hearers, whilst tears were trickling from every eye, "God is my record that I have wished for nothing so earnestly, have prayed for nothing so fervently, have laboured for nothing so abundantly, as the salvation of your souls."

In 1769, after vacating the lectureship, he was earnestly importuned to resume his political pen, which he did under the signature of Old Slyboots, and several others. These Essays were collected and published by Richardson and Urquhart, in a small octavo volume, which is now out of print. Dr. Scott has often declared upon his word as a clergyman and a gentleman, that he never, during his whole political warfare, received the smallest emolument, either pecuniary or of any other kind. He had promises in abundance from Lord North, but they were none of them fulfilled.

In 1771, after being presented to the Rectory of Simonburn, in Northumberland, he married Anne, daughter of Henry Scott, esq.: they had three children, who died young; she survives to lament the painful separation. The living of Simonburn was obtained for him by Lord Sandwich, who was then first Lord of the Admiralty. It was Dr. Scott's misfortune to succeed a clergyman who was so totally negligent of his temporal affairs, that although he had held the living upwards of 52 years, it produced less to him at his decease, than it did at his induction. A number of surreptitious moduses had crept in, which his long incumbency established; and the parishioners had been so accustomed to pay to the Rector just what they pleased, that they looked upon his demands as oppressive and illegal; they therefore threatened him that they would lay all their corn-lands down with grass, if he would not take what they were disposed to give him for their tithes, and he then should have no corn-tithe at all. After his arguments were disregarded, his persuasions ridiculed, and his proposals rejected, he was reduced to the necessity of claiming the tithe of agistment for barren and unprofitable cattle; and he accordingly filed a bill in the Court of Exchequer in 1774, to substantiate his claim. He had two decrees in his favour, and several submissions in Court; notwithstanding which his parishioners would not concede to his demands, which he prosecuted for more than 20 years, at the expence of near 10,000. The litigation at length was closed upon the following conditions: — The Rector was to give up the tithe of agistment during his incumbency, reserving the right to his successors; and the farmers were to pay the costs of the suit, amounting to upwards of 2400; from which concession it is evident that they felt the ground under them to give way. The agistment tithe has been estimated at 2000 per annum: the parish is 34 miles long, about 14 broad, and 103 round.

Dr. Scott was, as may be supposed, pursued with the utmost rancour and malevolence during his litigation with his parishioners; all which he bore with the utmost composure, until a desperate attempt was made upon his life. He then left Simonburn, and went to London, where he resided in Park-street, Grosvenor-square, and preached frequently at St. George's, Hanover-square; at Park street and Audley Chapels. Many applications were made to him to preach occasional and charity sermons; and when he was solicited to do a favour of whatever kind consistent with his principles, he was never known to refuse. In summer he lived at the pleasant village of Thornton, in the district of Craven, in Yorkshire; the living of which the late Sir John Kaye was so kind to him as to give to his Curate, that he might be accommodated with a house to dwell, and a church to preach in. In the parish of Thornton there are many Sectaries, who had an idea that a Clergyman had not the gift of preaching, as their ministers did, "extempore;" he therefore preached to them "memoriter" for many years. But this indeed may be said to have been his usual mode of preaching. He generally took his sermon into the pulpit, but seldom looked at it; for, being short-sighted, it was of little use to him; he on that account invariably repeated it; some previous labour was certainly requisite, but the effect was astonishing.

Dr. Scott published ten occasional Sermons, and printed one for the benefit of his parishioners on the necessity of receiving the Holy Sacrament. He also published three Seatonian Prize Poems, &c. which exalt him high as a Poet. When he left school, he was an admirable classical scholar; and during his whole life he continued to read the principal Greek and Latin Authors, thereby improving his knowledge, and refining his taste. He devoted the last three years to the revisal of some of his sermons for the press, intending to publish two volumes; one of which will, it is presumed, be printed in the Spring. As a public speaker he had scarce an equal: his voice was loud and harmonious; his action solemn and dignified: there was no appearance of vanity, no lure for applause; the glory of his Master, and the salvation of his auditors, seemed alone to engross his mind; it is no wonder, therefore, that in declaring the promises and denouncing the terrors of the Gospel, he produced in an unusual degree the corresponding emotions of comfort and alarm in the breasts of his hearers. These objects have by some been ascribed to the manner rather than the matter, to vehement declamation father than to genuine pathos. But the occasional sermons which he published evince the fallacy of this criticism. A sermon preached for the Lunatic Asylum at York, is conclusive evidence. That discourse is to be found in Mr. Clapham's third volume of Selected Sermons; and it may be said without offence to that gentleman, whose labours are very meritorious, and without injury to the characters of those excellent authors whose works he has selected, that Dr. Scott's sermon, as an oratorical composition, stands pre-eminently superior to the whole of the collection. Mr. Clapham says, "His elocution is, I think, greatly superior to what I have ever heard either in the pulpit or the senate; and his sermons, whether considered as elegant compositions or persuasive exhortations, will, when published, be esteemed, I doubt not, superior both to those of Blair and Porteus. From his occasional sermons I could select many passages which would abundantly justify the character I have given of his discourses."

In private life he shewed himself influenced by the principles of the religion he so powerfully recommended in his public addresses. His fortune being considerable, and his preferment large, he lived in a manner becoming his distinguished station, exercising the utmost hospitality, and singularly happy when he had his friends around him, whilst his hands were always open to public charities and to private distress. His manners were refined and polished; and his conversation, beyond that of most other men, was entertaining, interesting, and instructive. Such was Dr. Scott! Whether he may be considered as a polite scholar and possessed of very extensive learning, as a powerful speaker, and an eloquent writer, a chosen instrument in the hands of Providence to turn many to righteousness, or an amiable member of society, and an exemplary Christian, the Church has lost one of its brightest ornaments.