Bull, William (DNB00)

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BULL, WILLIAM (1738–1814), independent minister, was born in 1738 near Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. His father, John Bull, belonged to a puritan family, but he fell into evil courses, and the children were taken under the roof of their grandfather. The third son of John Bull was William. He learned to read Hebrew with no help but an old Bible with Hebrew letters heading the sections of the 119th psalm. He also possessed Whiston's ‘Mathematics,’ and made such progress in this science as to become, while yet in his teens, a contributor to Martin's ‘Mathematical Magazine.’ A disordered state of health compelled him to give up his secular occupation, and he left his grandfather's house to reside with his elder brother John, who was settled in business at Bedford. He improved his knowledge of Latin under the direction of the Rev. Samuel Saunderson, and learned Greek with the assistance of the Rev. James Belsham, at that time pastor of the independent church at Newport Pagnel, but residing at Bedford. In 1759 Bull was admitted a student at the dissenters' academy at Daventry. Some of the students at that time had a leaning to Arianism; Bull was a decided Calvinist, and such he remained to the end of his days. In 1764 Bull succeeded Belsham as pastor of the church at Newport, and to increase his limited income he received pupils for instruction. Among his scholars were some who afterwards obtained good positions in the world, like Sir John Leach, master of the rolls [q. v.] In 1768 Bull married a daughter of Mr. Thomas Palmer of Bedford. Soon afterwards he formed an acquaintance with the Rev. John Newton of Olney, resulting in a lifelong intercourse and frequent correspondence. Bull occasionally preached at the great house at Olney, where Mr. Newton conducted his prayer meetings with the assistance of the poet Cowper. It was for these prayer meetings that Cowper composed some of the Olney hymns. Afterwards Bull became more intimately acquainted with Cowper, and through Bull's watchfulness several of Cowper's poems were preserved from destruction. He also induced Cowper to translate into English verse some of the poems of Madame Guyon. They were afterwards printed at Newport Pagnel with a preface by Bull. Cowper has extolled his faithful friend in both prose and verse. At Olney vicarage Bull met Mrs. Wilberforce, aunt to the celebrated statesman, and sister to the benevolent John Thornton. She invited Bull to visit her in London, and there she introduced him to her brother. About this time the evangelicals projected a new academy ‘to prepare young men for the ministry.’ Mr. Newton drew up a plan, and a proposal was made for Bull to superintend the arrangements, and thus turn Bull's school into an academy. In 1783 the academy commenced with two students; it soon increased its numbers, and continued for many years. From this institution about a hundred men were sent forth into the christian ministry. Mr. Thornton was the principal supporter, and behaved with princely generosity, supplying all Bull's needs, even to the day of his death. His acquaintance with Mrs. Wilberforce and his intercourse with the Thorntons brought Bull into the company of Mr. Zachary Macaulay, Mr. Thomas Babington, and their friends Colonel Makelcan and Major Handfield, names well known in the evangelical movement as the ‘Clapham Sect.’ Although he lived a long and busy life, Bull's health was never robust. In the opening of the year 1814 he became weaker, and died of his old complaint on 23 July in the seventy-seventh year of his age. Besides his academical duties at home, Bull frequently preached in London; and Lady Huntingdon's chapels all made great demands on his time and talents. He was occupied three or four years in writing an ‘Exposition of the Book of Psalms.’ The only thing mentioned as printed in a separate form is ‘Seasonable Hints,’ written while on a trip to Ireland. It was printed at Dublin, and freely distributed during the journey. It has probably disappeared.

[J. Bull's Memorials of the Rev. William Bull of Newport Pagnel, 1864. A portrait drawn by W. Harvey from the original accompanies the volume; a copy of this portrait was also inserted in the Evangelical Magazine (vol. xxiii.) with a memoir of Bull, and a different portrait of him appeared in the Christian's Magazine in 1792; Gent. Mag. 1815, part i. 650.]

J. H. T.