Furneaux, Philip (DNB00)

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FURNEAUX, PHILIP (1726–1783), independent minister, was born in December 1726 at Totnes, Devonshire. At the grammar school of that town he formed a life-long friendship with Benjamin Kennicott (1718–1770) [q. v.] In 1742 or 1743 he came to London to study for the dissenting ministry under David Jennings, D.D., at the academy in Wellclose Square. He appears to have remained at the academy till 1749, probably assisting Jennings, whose ‘Hebrew Antiquities’ he afterwards ably edited (1766). After ordination he became (1749) assistant to Henry Read, minister of the presbyterian congregation at St. Thomas's, Southwark. On the resignation of Roger Pickering, about 1752, he became in addition one of the two preachers of the Sunday evening lecture at Salters' Hall (not the more famous ‘merchants' lecture’ at Salters' Hall on Tuesday mornings). Retaining this lectureship, in 1753 he succeeded Moses Lowman in the pastorate of the independent congregation at Clapham. His discourses were weighty and well composed, and in spite of an unpleasing delivery and a habit of ‘poring over his notes,’ he drew a large congregation, and kept his popularity as long as he was able to preach. He received the degree of D.D. on 3 Aug. 1767, from the Marischal College, Aberdeen. From October 1769 to January 1775 he was relieved of the afternoon service on his lecture evenings by Samuel Morton Savage, D.D. As a leading member of the Coward Trust he had much to do with the revised plan of academical education adopted by the trustees on Doddridge's death. He was also from 1766 to 1778 a trustee of Dr. Williams's foundations.

Furneaux distinguished himself by his exertions in behalf of the rights of nonconformists. His name is closely associated with the progress of the ‘sheriff's case,’ which was before the courts for nearly thirteen years (1754–67). It arose out of an expedient adopted in 1748 by the corporation of London to raise money for building the Mansion House by fining nonconformists who declined to qualify for the office of sheriff in accordance with the Sacramental Test Act. Some 15,000l. had been thus obtained when, in 1754, three nonconformists resisted the imposition. The case reached the House of Lords in 1767, and in February of that year was decided in favour of the nonconformists. It was on this occasion that Lord Mansfield delivered the speech in which occurs the often-cited remark that the ‘dissenters' way of worship’ is not only lawful but ‘established.’ This speech was reported, without the help of a single note, by Furneaux, who possessed an extraordinary memory; he had, however, the assistance of another hearer of the speech, Samuel Wilton, D.D., independent minister of the Weighhouse, Eastcheap. Mansfield, who revised the report, found in it only two or three trivial errors.

In 1769 appeared the fourth volume of Blackstone's ‘Commentaries,’ in which, under the head of ‘Offences against God and Religion,’ nonconformity is treated as a ‘crime.’ Priestley was the first to animadvert on this opinion; Blackstone replied in a small pamphlet (2 Sept. 1769). In the following year Furneaux published his ‘Letters to Mr. Justice Blackstone,’ in which the moral argument against enforcing religious truths by civil penalties is presented with remarkable power.

Furneaux was present on 6 Feb. 1772 in the gallery of the House of Commons with Edward Pickard, presbyterian minister of Carter Lane, when the clerical petition for relief from subscription, known as the ‘Feathers' petition,’ was under discussion. The speeches of Sir William Meredith and Sir George Savile in favour of the petition were reported by Furneaux from memory. In the course of the debate the remark was made by Lord North, who opposed the petition, that if similar relief were asked by the dissenting clergy there would be no reasonable objection to it. Acting on this hint Furneaux and Pickard procured a meeting of nonconformist ministers of the three denominations, who adopted an application to parliament (prepared by Furneaux) for relief from doctrinal subscription. A relief bill passed the commons on 3 April 1772 without a division; on 18 May it was rejected in the lords. In support of a second bill to the same effect Furneaux published his ‘Essay on Toleration’ (1773). Relief was at length granted (1779), but not, as Furneaux desired, without a test. The new subscription, in which the Holy Scriptures were substituted for the Anglican articles, was devised by Lord North, and carried by the eloquence of Burke.

By this time Furneaux was incapable of taking any part in affairs. In 1777 he was seized with hereditary insanity, and remained under this affliction till his death on 27 Nov. 1783. He was unmarried, and no portrait of him is known. On the outbreak of his malady a considerable fund was raised for his support, Lord Mansfield being among the contributors. The fund accumulated after his death, and is still in existence. In accordance with a scheme approved by the charity commissioners its income (the principal being over 10,000l.) is divided between two institutions maintained by unitarians, Manchester New College and the ‘Ministers' Benevolent Society.’

He published: 1. ‘Letters to the Honourable Mr. Justice Blackstone concerning his Exposition of the Act of Toleration,' &c., 1770, 8vo; 2nd edition, 1771, 8vo, has additions, and Mansfield's speech as appendix; reprinted, Philadelphia, 1773, 8vo. 2. 'An Essay on Toleration,' &c., 1773, 8vo. Also sermon on education (1755), a fast sermon (1758), funeral sermon for Henry Miles, D.D. (1763), sermon at ordination of Samuel Wilton (1766), ordination charge to George Waters and William Youat (1769), and sermon to the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge in the Highlands (1775). In 1771 Furneaux was engaged in transcribing and editing the biblical annotations of Samuel Chandler, D.D. [q. v.], but the work was never published.

[Memoir by J. T. (Joshua Toulmin) in Protestant Dissenters' Magazine, 1798, p. 128 sq.; Wilson's Dissenting Churches, 1808, i. 199, 323, ii. 5, iv. 315; Belsham's Memoir of Lindsey, 1812, pp. 56, 57, 62 sq. (needs correction of dates); Chalmers's Gen. Biog. Dict., 1814, xv. 183 sq.; Rutt's Memoir of Priestley, 1831, i. 73, 137, 164, 169, 170, 318 sq.; Bogue and Bennett's Hist. of Dissenters, 1833, ii. 597 sq.; Jeremy's Presbyterian Fund, 1885, p. 157 sq.; information from the Registrar of Aberdeen University.]

A. G.