Calamy, Benjamin (DNB00)

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CALAMY, BENJAMIN, D.D. (1642–1686), prebendary of St. Paul's, was the second son of Edmund Calamy the elder [q. v.], and eldest son by his second wife, Anne Leaver. He was born in London on or before 8 June 1642. His mother, according to Tillotson, was a strong presbyterian. His education was begun at St. Paul's School. His father sent him, before 1660, to Catharine Hall, Cambridge, where he fully sustained the family reputation. At the Restoration, which his father had been active in promoting, Benjamin Calamy, with his younger brother James, adhered to the national church as re-established. The ejectment of his father and elder brother occurred while he was still an undergraduate, but his writings show that if he was alarmed into conformity, it was the sectarianism of the nonconformists, rather than their sufferings, which alarmed him. He graduated B.A. in 1664, M.A. in 1668, was elected fellow, and became ‘an ornament to the college’ (Echard). Among his pupils was James Bonnell [q. v.] On 25 April 1677 he obtained the preferment from which his father had been ejected, the perpetual curacy of St. Mary Aldermanbury, in succession to Simon Ford, D.D. This appointment he owed to the interest of the notorious George Jeffries, then a leading man in the parish. He was soon appointed one of the king's chaplains in ordinary, and took his D.D. in 1680. In 1683 the publication of his ‘Discourse about a Doubting [the second edition has ‘Scrupulous’] Conscience,’ dedicated to Jeffries, made a great noise. He had already preached it twice with great applause, once to his own parishioners, and again at Bow Church. His text (Luke xi. 41) gave occasion for expounding his habitual thesis, that the best church is the one which leads men to subordinate everything else to humble and practical piety. The sting of the sermon lay in Calamy's quotations from Baxter and from his own father; the former having declared that ‘thousands are gone to hell,’ the latter that ‘all our church calamities have sprung’ from forsaking the parish churches. Calamy's sermon was accepted as a challenge to nonconformists by a baptist schoolmaster, Thomas de Laune [q. v.], who brought out ‘A Plea for the Nonconformists,’ 1683, a pithy and trenchant performance. Its publication cost its author his liberty, and indeed his life. Although Calamy did not choose to answer the letters which De Laune wrote to him from Newgate, he made interest in his behalf, and his failure to obtain De Laune's release ‘was no small trouble to him,’ as his nonconformist nephew testifies. For his ‘scrupulous conscience’ sermon Calamy was rewarded in 1683 by the dean and chapter of St. Paul's with the vicarage of St. Lawrence Jewry, with St. Mary Magdalene, Milk Street, annexed. On 18 June 1685 he was installed in the prebend of Harleston in St. Paul's, vacated by the death of John Wells, D.D. His nephew thinks he now had ‘a fair prospect of the utmost preferment.’ But in the autumn of this year occurred the lamentable affair of Alderman Henry Cornish [q. v.], executed on 23 Oct., nominally for conspiracy, but really for the part he had taken in the discovery of the alleged ‘popish plot.’ Cornish was Calamy's parishioner; on his trial Calamy stood by him, and in the interval before his execution repeatedly pressed Jeffries to intercede for him. Jeffries is reported to have told Calamy at last that ‘a mine of gold as deep as the monument is high, and a bunch of pearls as big as the flames at the top of it,’ would not save Cornish. Up to the morning of his execution Calamy was in attendance upon the condemned man; he could not trust himself to accompany him to the scaffold. His nephew, who met him on his way from his last interview with Cornish, thought he ‘would have sunk down’ as he told the sad story. There can be little doubt that this business preyed upon Calamy's spirits and caused his death. In less than two months he was seized by a pleurisy, under which he sank, ‘when a little turned of forty years of age,’ says his nephew, somewhat underestimating his years. He was buried on 7 Jan. 1686 at St. Lawrence Jewry, the sermon at his funeral being preached by his co-prebendary, William Sherlock. He left a widow, to whom his parishioners made a ‘generous present.’ Calamy was on the best of terms with his nonconformist brother and nephew, and ‘exceeding kind’ to the latter after his father's death. He declares that could he find any church ‘that did lay greater stress upon a pure mind and a blameless life, and less upon voluntary strictnesses and indifferent rites and ceremonies than we do, I would very soon be of that church, and even entice all I could to it’ (Sermons, 4th edition, 1704, p. 75). According to Ned Millington, the auctioneer who valued his library, none of his books were so much thumbed and marked as the works of the puritan William Perkins, particularly his ‘Cases of Conscience.’

He published seven separate sermons, enumerated in ‘Biographia Britannica,’ the earliest being a sermon at Guildhall, from Tit. iii. 8, 9, 1673, 4to. In 1690 his brother James edited an 8vo volume, dedicated to the parishioners of St. Lawrence and St. Mary Magdalene, and containing thirteen of Calamy's sermons, all preached on special occasions; prefixed is his likeness, engraved by Vander Gucht, and appended is Sherlock's sermon at his funeral, originally published 1686, 4to. The volume went through several editions, and was to have been followed by another, which James Calamy could not be prevailed upon to bring out. One of his sermons is reprinted in ‘British Pulpit Eloquence,’ 1814, 8vo, vol. i. Granger mentions two other prints of Benjamin Calamy.

[Biog. Brit. 1784, iii. 137 (life by John Campbell, LL.D., a few additions by Kippis); Birch's Life of Tillotson, 2nd ed. 1753, p. 388; Calamy's Hist. Acct. of my own Life, 1830, i. 57 sq., 74; Granger's Biog. Hist. of Eng., 1824, v. 32; extract from parish register of St. Mary Aldermanbury, per Rev. C. C. Collins.]

A. G.