Disney, John (1746-1816) (DNB00)

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DISNEY, JOHN, D.D. (1746–1816), unitarian clergyman, third son of John Disney of Lincoln, was born 28 Sept. 1746. His grandfather, John Disney (1677–1730) [q.v.] , was rector of St. Mary's, Nottingham, but his remoter ancestors were zealous nonconformists. Disney was at Wakefield grammar school, under John Clark, and subsequently at Lincoln grammar school. He was intended for the bar, but his health broke down under the preliminary studies, and he turned to the church. He entered at Peterhouse in 1764 (admitted pensioner 15 June 1765), and after graduation was ordained in 1768; in 1770 he proceeded LL.B. His sympathies with the latitudinarian party were early shown; he appeared as a writer in April 1768 in defence of the ‘Confessional,’ by Francis Blackburne (1705–1787) [q. v.] Immediately after his ordination he was appointed honorary chaplain to Edmund Law [q. v.], master of Peterhouse and bishop of Carlisle. In 1769 he was presented to the vicarage of Swinderby, Lincolnshire, and soon afterwards to the rectory of Panton, in another part of the same county; he held both livings, residing at Swinderby.

Disney became an active member of the association formed on 17 July 1771 to promote a petition to parliament for relief of the clergy from subscription. The petition was rejected by the House of Commons on 6 Feb. 1772. Disney did not immediately follow the example of his friend Theophilus Lindsey [q. v.], who resigned his benefice in the following year. On his way to London in December 1773, Lindsey stayed for more than a week at Swinderby. Like some others, Disney accommodated the public service to suit his special views. The Athanasian Creed he had always ignored; he now omitted the Nicene Creed and the Litany, and made other changes in reading the common prayer. On 5 June 1775 the university of Edinburgh made him D.D., through the influence of Bishop Law with Principal Robertson; in 1778 he was admitted a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. For a time Disney found in secular duties and political action a sedative for his scruples. He was an energetic magistrate, and while staying at Flintham Hall, near Newark, the seat of his eldest brother, he joined in 1780 the Nottingham county committee for retrenchment and parliamentary reform. But in November 1782 he threw up his preferments, and offered his services as colleague to his friend Lindsey. At the end of December he came to London with his family, having been engaged at a stipend of 150l. In 1783 Disney became the first secretary of a unitarian Society for Promoting the Knowledge of the Scriptures. On the retirement of Lindsey from active duty in July 1793, Disney became sole minister. The services at Essex Street had been conducted by means of a modified common prayer-book, on the basis of a revision made by Samuel Clarke (1675–1729) [q. v.] In 1802 Disney introduced an entirely new form of his own composition; the congregation, on his retirement, immediately reverted to the old model. Disney's resignation of office was occasioned by a large bequest of property, which reached him in a curious way. Thomas Hollis (d. 1 Jan. 1774) left his estates in Dorsetshire to his friend Thomas Brand of the Hyde, near Ingatestone, Essex, who took the name of Hollis. T. Brand Hollis (d 2 Sept. 1804), by will dated 1792, left both estates, worth about 5,000l. a year, to Disney, who resigned his ministry on 25 March 1805, on the ground of ill-health, and in the following June left London and took up his residence at the Hyde. He was succeeded at Essex Street by Thomas Belsham [q. v.] The rest of his life was spent in literary leisure, but his most important publications belong to an earlier period. He amused himself with agriculture, and took part in the various applications to parliament which resulted in the act of 1813 ‘to relieve persons who impugn the doctrine of the Holy Trinity from certain penalties.’ Falling into declining health, he resided for a time at Bath. He died at the Hyde on 26 Dec. 1816, and was buried in the churchyard of Fryerning, Essex. He married, in 1774, Jane (d. October 1809), eldest daughter of Archdeacon Blackburne, and left three children, John [q. v.], Algernon, who entered the army, and Frances Mary, who married the Rev. Thomas Jervis. A valuable collection of controversial literature occasioned by the ‘Confessional,’ arranged by Disney in fourteen volumes, is deposited in Dr. Williams's library, Grafton Street, London, W.C., of which he had been a trustee from 1796 to 1806. Disney was a careful and exact writer, but not a man of much intellectual force. Of his publications Jervis enumerates thirty-two; to complete the list nine must be added, which are given in Watt, two more in ‘Living Authors’ (1816), and two added by Turner. The most important are: 1. ‘A Short View of the Controversies occasioned by the Confessional and the Petition to Parliament,’ &c., 1775, 8vo. 2. ‘Reasons for … quitting the Church of England,’ &c., 1782, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1783, 8vo. 3. ‘Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Arthur Ashley Sykes, D.D.,’ &c., 1785, 8vo. 4. ‘The Works … of John Jebb, M.D., with Memoirs,’ &c., 1787, 3 vols. 8vo. 5. ‘Arranged Catalogue of Publications on Toleration, Corporation, and Test Acts,’ &c., 1790, 8vo. 6. ‘Memoirs of the Life and Writings of John Jortin, D.D.,’ 1792, 8vo. 7. ‘Short Memoir of Bishop Edmund Law,’ 1800, 8vo. 8. ‘Short Memoir of Michael Dodson,’ 1800, 8vo (reprinted without the notes in Aikin's ‘Gen. Biog.;’ and in full, with additions by J. T. Rutt, in ‘Monthly Repos.’ 1818, p. 601 sq.; Dodson had made Disney his residuary legatee, on the death of his widow). 9. ‘Memoirs of Thomas Brand Hollis,’ 1808, 4to. 10. ‘Short Memoir of the late Rev. Robert Edward Garnham,’ 1814, 8vo (reprinted in ‘Monthly Repos.’ 1815, p. 13 sq.) 11. ‘Short Memoir of the Rev. William Hopkins,’ 1815, 8vo. Besides these separate memoirs he contributed a few others to various publications, including the memoir of his grandfather in the ‘Biographia Britannica’ (Kippis). Two volumes of Disney's ‘Sermons’ were published in 1793, 8vo; two others, in 1816, 8vo. Disney edited, with biographical preface, the ‘Discourses’ of his cousin, Samuel Disney, LL.B., 1788, 8vo; and, in conjunction with Charles Butler (1750–1832) [q. v.], he edited ‘A New Translation of the Book of Psalms,’ &c. 1807, 8vo, from the manuscript of Alexander Geddes, LL.D. [q. v.]

[Memoir (dated 1 Jan. 1817) in Monthly Repository, 1817, p. 55 sq., by G. W. M. (George Wilson Meadley of Sunderland); Funeral Sermon, by T. Jervis, 1817; the biographical part with catalogue of his works is reprinted in Monthly Rep. 1817, p. 257 sq.; see also p. 54 for Elegy by Jervis; Turner's Lives of Eminent Unitarians, 1843, ii. 178 sq. (based on the foregoing, with additional particulars from Mrs. Jervis and Mr. Disney); Univ. Theol. Mag. December 1804, p. 342; Belsham's Memoirs of Lindsey, 1812, pp. 47, 53, 92, &c. (an interleaved copy, in the possession of L. M. Aspland, LL.D., has manuscript notes by Disney, throwing light on his own biography, and showing strong animus against Mrs. Lindsey, his wife's half-sister, and Belsham, his successor at Essex Street); T. M. Harris's Sermon on Christian Sensibility, 1811, preface, gives a pleasing view of Disney's life at the Hyde; Rutt's Memoirs of Priestley, 1831, i. 84, 365, 394; Nichols's Illustrations, 1831, vi. 478 sq.; Williams's Memoirs of Belsham, 1833, p. 541 sq.; Murch's Hist. Presb. and Gen. Bapt. Churches in West of Eng., 1835, p. 362; Catalogue of Graduates of Edinb. University, 1858; Jeremy's Presbyterian Fund, 1885, pp. 129, 177.]

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