1781 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bp. Beilby Porteus

William Cole, Collectanea for Athenae Cantabrigienses, 1781 ca.; in Restituta or ... English Literature Revived 4 (1816) 416-18.



"When Dr. Porteus waited on his Majesty with his thanks for the honour of being nominated to the See of Chester, the King was pleased to tell him, That the dignity was conferred as a reward due to his merit, without the application of interest." Camb. Ch. Jan. 25, 1777.

It is inconceivable the clamour, uproar, and rage which the order from the Archbishop to observe decently Good Friday, in 1777, gave to the faction: for many weeks together the presbyterian newspapers were full of abuse and lies relating to Archbishop Cornwallis and his family; and when one expected it should have subsided, two months after the day was observed, out comes the following long and severe paragraph in the London Evening Post of May 29, 1777; a paper one would rather suppose to have been printed in the capital of New England, than at London, on the Bishop of Chester, who, as a docent and respectable man, on that score is an offence to the fanatical tribe. Probably what roused their spirit was an excellent sermon on the Bishop's predecessor, Archbishop Markham of York, who had told a few truths of them, that galled their old sores; for in the same paper is the first of a threatened suit of letters relating to that sermon. The paragraph relating to Bishop Porteus is this, in which the King is not spared.

"On the late announcing a sort of outlandish name, one Porteus, to an English Bishopric, I naturally asked what was become of all our old, learned, and venerable English clergy, of the best families, that they were all passed over with so much contempt and injustice? I was informed that the young Prelate was a man distinguished by his Majesty's own judgment, and exalted by his mere personal favour, as one of the most promising talents and disposition to fill the sacred office in a manner the most suitable to his own pious feelings and sentiments, and the mild and liberal plan of government adopted by him. A countenance and a character so clear of cynical and ecclesiastical pride and austerity could not escape the penetrating observation, and the generous sympathy of the royal Patron. A Charles has had his favourite Laud. Similar characters and principles will always attract each other. It has indeed been insinuated, that over and above the great merit of Scottish extraction and interest, he has distinguished himself as a ministerial writer in the public papers almost as much as by the stretch of church power and arrogance in shutting up the city shops on Good Friday; which, as a sanctified, hypocritical triumph over both reason and Scripture, the civil and religious right of Englishmen, could not but be highly acceptable to tyrants and hypocrites of every denomination, particularly at court. By this experiment on the tame and servile temper of the times, it is thought the Host and Crucifix may be elevated to prostrate crowds in dirty streets some years sooner than could have been reasonably expected. And when a Wedderburne shall be keeper of the King's conscience and seals, and a Porteus of the spiritual keys, as the alterius orbis papa, there is no doubt but our consciences, and our property too, will be effectually taken care of."

That firebrand, Lord Chatham, unhappily found himself well enough to come to the House of Lords just at this time, and proposed an immediate agreement with the rebels of America, in which he was abetted by our Chancellor, the Duke of Grafton, who took occasion to attack the Archbishop's sermon, who arose and told the Duke, that his Grace did not know what whiggism was, but that his conduct was founded on whiggism run mad; and that he would at any time meet the Duke and justify, defend and maintain, every tittle of his sermon. The Bishop of Peterborough, Hinchliffe, the Duke's shadow, rose up and endeavoured to draw off the attention from the sermon to the agreement with America, which he abetted, say these gentlemen, 'with an accuracy of language and elegance of composition rarely heard in either senate house.' Lord Shelburne also abetted Lord Chatham's motion, and reprobated the Archbishop's sermon.

On Monday, March 9 1781, Lord Ferrars having made a speech against the Roman Catholics, with a proposal for severe penalties to be laid on them, as they increased much in Cheshire, the Bishop got up and made an excellent answer, and the lay Lord withdrew his motion for a time. After the riot of last year, it was a piece of cruelty to begin to stir again such troubled waters, and shews the humanity of whiggism.

I have been told that Bishop Porteus, notwithstanding his present orthodoxy, was near being overset at one time by his junction with the Feathers Tavern petitioners, but had sagacity enough to observe the precipice, and suddenly left them: he has still, as I am informed, somewhat of the leaven, by reading — lectures in his Cathedral in the afternoon."