Page images
[ocr errors]

In the mean time, and in every event, I rejoice in the opportunity here afforded me, of testifying the sense I entertain of your Lord. ship's conduct, and of a notice which I regard as the most flattering distinction of my life.

With sentiments of gratitude and respect,

Your Lordship's faithful
And most obliged servant,


I am,



OF WILLIAM PALEY, whose writings have ex: erted no inconsiderable influence on the moral and theological opinions of the more enlightened part of the English community, no life has yet appeared that is worthy of the subject, or that gives us a full and satisfactory insight into his character. Though he was known to so many scholars, and had enjoyed a rather enlarged intercourse with the world, but few particulars of his conduct, his manners, and habits, have been detailed, and but few of his sayings recorded. Yet there are few men whose conversation was more varied and instructive; and as he always expressed himself with cogency and perspicuity, our regret is increased that we possess such scanty details of his familiar hours, when the internal state of his mind was exhibited without disguise, when he spoke what he felt, and felt what he spoke.

The best account of Mr. Paley's life, with which we have been hitherto favoured, is by Mr. Meadley, who had not known him till late in life ; and who, if he had known him longer and earlier, was hardly capable of analyzing his mind, or of estimating his character Mr. Meadley was a man neither of very enlarged mind. very refined taste, nor very ample information. What he knew he could relate ; but he did not know enough to enable him to give much vivacity to his narrative, or to exhibit in his memoirs the living identity of the writer to whom we are indebted for some of the best moral and theological productions of the last century.

But whatever may be the scantiness of Mr. Meadley's information, his narrative is the most copious which we possess; and as we are not likely soon to be furnished with a richer store, we must be

contented with taking his memoirs for our principal guide in the present biographical sketch. We make no boast of novelty. All that we can do is to give a new form to old materials.

William Paley was born at Peterborough, in July, 1743. His father was a minor canon in that cathedral ; but he relinquished this situation upon being appointed head-master of the grammar school at Giggleswick, in Craven, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Here the family had long resided on a small patrimonial estate. His mother is described as a woman of strong and active mind. At school young Paley soon surpassed the other boys of his age, by superior diligence and abilities. A mind, like his, could not but profit of the opportunities which he possessed for acquiring classical knowledge: but he appears to have been at all times more ambitious of enriching himself with knowledge of other kinds. He was curious in making inquiries about mechanism, whenever an opportunity occurred. His mind was naturally coniemplative; and he mingled intellectual activity with corporeal indolence. He never excelled in any of those boyish pastimes which require much dexterity of hand or celerity of foot. But he appears to have imbibed an early taste for the amusement of fishing; and this taste remained unimpaired, or rather invigorated, to a late period of his life. In one of his portraits he is represented with a fishing rod and line. His cheerfulness and drollery are said to have made him a favourite with his schoolfellows. Before he left school he one year attended the assizes at Lancaster, where he is said to have been so much interested by the judicial proceedings he had witnessed, that he introduced them into his juvenile games, and presided over the trials of the other boys.

In November 1758, Paley was admitted a sizer of Christ's College, Cambridge He proceeded to the University on horseback, in company with his father; and in after-life he thus described the disasters that befell him on the way.

“ I was never a good horseman," said he," and when I followed my father on a poney of my own, on my first journey to Cambridge, I fell off seven

times : I was lighter then than I am now; and my falls were not likely to be serious: my father, on hearing a thump, would turn his head half aside, and say- Take care of thy money, lad.'”

Young Paley did not become a resident member in the University till the October in the year after his matriculation. His father is said to have anticipated his future eminence, and to have remarked, with parental delight, the force and clearness of his intellectual operations.

Mr. Paley took with him to the University such a considerable share of mathematical science, that the mathematical tutor, Mr. Shepherd, excused his attendance at the college lectures with the students of his own year. But he was regularly present at Mr. Backhouse's lectures in logic and metaphysics.

Whatever might be his assiduity in those studies which the discipline of the Uuniversity required, he had little of the appearance, and none of the affectation, of a hard student. His room was the common resort of the juvenile loungers of his time; but it must be remembered that Mr. Paley, possessed the highly desirable power of concentrating his attention in the subject before him; and that he could read or meditate in the midst of noise and tumult with as much facility as if he had been alone. During the first period of his undergraduateship, he was in the habit of remaining in bed till a late hour in the morning, and as he was much in company during the latter part of the day, many wondered how he found leisure for making the requisite accession to his literary stores.

But the mind of Paley was so formed that, in reading he could rapidly select the kernel and throw away the husk. By a certain quick, and almost intuitive process, he discriminated between the essential, and the extraneous matter that were presented to his mind in the books that he perused ; and, if he did not read so much as many, he retained more of what he read.

The hilarity and drollery, which Mr. Paley had manifested at school, did not desert him when he entered the University. Thus his company was much sought; and the cumbrousness of his man

ner, and the general slovenliness of his apparel, perhaps contributed to increase the effect of his jocularity.

When he made his first appearance in the schools, he surprised the spectators by a style of dress, very different from his ordinary habiliments. He exhibited his hair full dressed, with a deep ruffled shirt, and new silk stockings.

When Paley kept his first act, one of the theses in support of which he proposed to dispute was, that the eternity of punishments is contrary to the Divine Attributes. But finding that this topic would give offence to the master of his college (Dr. Thomas,) he went to Dr. Watson, the moderator, to get it changed. Dr. Watson told him that he might put in non before contradicit. Mr. Paley, therefore, defended this proposition, that "Æternitas pænarum non contradicit Divinis Attributis ;" or that the eternity of punishments is not contrary to the Divine Attributes. As he had first proposed to argue against the eternity of future punishments, we may suppose that that was his undissembled opinion; and therefore, it would have been more honourable to his candour, to have taken an entirely new question, rather than to have argued in opposition to his real sentiments.Through the whole course of his life, Dr. Paley seemed too willing to support established doctrines; and to find plausible reasons for existing institutions; even in cases in which he must have felt those doctrines to be at variance with truth, and those institutions in opposition to the best interests of mankind. His great and vigorous mind ought to have disdained the petty subterfuges of disingenuous subtlety and interested sophistication.

Mr. Paley acquired no small celebrity in the University by the ability which he displayed in keeping his first act ; and the schools were afterward uniformly crowded when he was expected to dispute. He took his degree of bachelor of arts in January, 1763; and was the senior wrangler of

After taking his bachelor's degree he became second usher in an academy at Greenwich. Here his office was to teach the Latin language. Du

[ocr errors]

the year.

« PreviousContinue »