Mudge, Zachariah (DNB00)
|←Mudge, William (1796-1837)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 39
MUDGE, ZACHARIAH (1694–1769), divine, was born at Exeter, of humble parentage, in 1694. His immediate ancestry has not been traced, but the family of Mugge or Mudge, though undistinguished, was of very old standing in Devonshire. A branch migrated to New England in the seventeenth century, and has borne many vigorous offshoots (see Alfred Mudge, Memorial of the Mudge Family in America, Boston, 1868). After attending Exeter grammar school Zachary was sent in 1710 to the nonconformist academy of Joseph Hallett III [q. v.] When still among his lesson-books he fell violently in love with a certain Mary Fox, whose refusal to give serious attention to his protestations drove him in despair to take the road for London, but he returned to Exeter after three weeks of severe experiences. In 1711 one George Trosse, whose high estimate of Zachary's abilities had led him to pay for his schooling, died, and left the young man half of his library. This included a number of Hebrew works, which gave Mudge an incentive to study that language. About 1713 he left Hallett's, and became second master in the school of John Reynolds, vicar of St. Thomas the Apostle in Exeter. John Reynolds's son Samuel, master of Exeter grammar school, was the father of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Mudge soon became the intimate friend of three generations of the family. In 1714 he married his former love, Mary Fox. In the winter of 1717–18 he left Exeter to become master of Bideford grammar school. While at Bideford he entered into a long correspondence with Bishop Weston of Exeter on the doctrines of the established church, which resulted in his relinquishing his purpose of joining the nonconformist ministry and joining the church of England. At the same time he remitted 50l. to the West of England Nonconformist Association to indemnify his former co-religionists for the expenses of his education. He was ordained deacon in the church of England on 21 Sept. 1729, and priest on the following day. In December of the same year he was instituted to the living of Abbotsham, near Bideford, on the presentation of Lord-chancellor King, and in August 1732 he obtained the valuable living of St. Andrew's, Plymouth. Mudge appears to have been virtually a deist, and his sound common sense and serenity of mind harmonised well with the unemotional form of religion that was dominant in his day. Boswell describes him as ‘idolised in the west both for his excellence as a preacher and the uniform perfect propriety of his private conduct.’ His sermons, though described by Dr. Johnson as too widely suggestive to be ‘practical,’ were greatly esteemed for fifty years after his death, were favourite reading with Lord Chatham, and were long prescribed for theological students at Oxford. He published a selection of them in 1739. One on ‘The Origin and Obligations of Government’ was reprinted by Edmund Burke in the form of a pamphlet in 1793, as being the best antidote against Jacobin principles. Another, separately published in 1731, was entitled ‘Liberty: a Sermon preached in the Cathedral Church of St. Peter, Exon, on Thursday, 16 Sept. 1731, before the Gentlemen educated in the Free School at Exeter under the Rev. Mr. Reynolds.’ It contained some reflections upon the nonconformists, which were answered in ‘Fate and Force, or Mr. Mudge's Liberty set in a true Light,’ London, 1732. According to John Fox (1693–1763) [q. v.], Mudge ‘had a great measure of contempt for all our [nonconformist] great men, both divines and philosophers; he allowed them indeed to be honest, but then he said they saw but a little way.’
Mudge was made a prebendary of Exeter in 1736. In 1744 he issued a work for which he had long been preparing, ‘An Essay towards a New English Version of the Book of Psalms from the original Hebrew,’ London, 1744, 4to. The translation is conservative of the old phraseology, and the rendering of particular psalms is often very happy. The punctuation was novel, the notes ‘more ingenious than solid;’ the conjectures as to the authorship of individual psalms are for the time enlightened. In 1759, after the last mason's work had been completed on the Eddystone lighthouse, and ‘Laus Deo’ cut upon the last stone set over the door of the lantern, Smeaton conducted Mudge, his old friend, to the summit of his ‘tower of the winds.’ There in the lantern, upon Mudge's lead, the pair ‘raised their voices in praise to God, and joined together in singing the grand Old Hundredth Psalm, as a thanksgiving for the successful conclusion of this arduous undertaking.’
Smeaton was only one of a number of distinguished friends by whom Mudge was greatly esteemed. Johnson was introduced to him by Reynolds in 1762. Edmund Burke, when informing Malone that it was to Mudge that Reynolds owed his disposition to generalise and ‘his first rudiments of speculation,’ goes on to say: ‘I myself have seen Mr. Mudge at Sir Joshua's house. He was a learned and venerable old man, and, as I thought, very conversant in the Platonic philosophy, and very fond of that method of philosophising.’ Sir Joshua always used to say that Mudge was the wisest man he had met in his life. It was his definition of beauty as the medium of form that Reynolds adopted in his ‘Discourses,’ and he often spoke of republishing Mudge's sermons, and prefixing a memoir from his own pen. Mudge's shrewdness and foresight are well illustrated by his retort to his son John, when the latter remonstrated with him for exhibiting no elation upon the news of Wolfe's victory at Quebec: ‘Son, son, it will do very well whilst the Americans have the sea on one side and the French on the other; but take away the French, and they will not want our protection.’ Mudge died at Coffleet, Devonshire, on the first stage of his annual pilgrimage to London, on 2 April 1769. He was buried by the communion table of St. Andrew's, Plymouth, and his funeral sermon was preached by John Gandy, his curate for many years, who also (as Mudge had desired) succeeded to the vicarage. Dr. Johnson drew his character in the ‘London Chronicle’ for 2 June in monumental terms. ‘His principles both of thought and action were great and comprehensive. By a solicitous examination of objections and judicious comparison of opposite arguments he attained what inquiry never gives but to industry and perspicuity—a firm and unshaken settlement of conviction; but his firmness was without asperity, for knowing with how much difficulty truth was sometimes found, he did not wonder that many missed it. … Though studious he was popular, though argumentative he was modest, though inflexible he was candid, and though metaphysical he was orthodox.’
By his first wife, Mary, Mudge had four sons—Zachariah (1714–1753), a surgeon, who died on board an Indiaman at Canton; Thomas [q. v.]; Richard (1718–1773), who took orders, and was distinguished locally for his compositions for, and performances on, the harpsichord; and John [q. v.]—and one daughter, Mary. Mudge married, secondly, in 1762, Elizabeth Neell, who survived him many years, and died in 1782. The first Mrs. Mudge is said to have been of a parsimonious disposition. At Dr. Johnson's eighteenth cup of tea she on one occasion hazarded, ‘What another, Dr. Johnson!’ ‘Madam, you are rude!’ retorted her guest, who proceeded without interruption to his extreme limit of five and twenty.
Mudge was painted on three several occasions by Sir Joshua Reynolds, in 1761, 1762, and 1766 respectively. The third portrait is the most noteworthy, being, as Leslie says, ‘a noble head, painted with great grandeur, and the most perfect truth of effect.’ The chin rests on the hand, and Chantrey, who carved the whole composition in full relief for St. Andrew's, Plymouth, stated that, when the marble was placed in the right light and shadow, the shape of the light falling behind the hand and on the band and gown was exactly the same in the bust as in the picture. So great indeed was his admiration for the painting that he offered to execute the bust without charge if he might retain the picture.[Mr. S. R. Flint's Mudge Memoirs; Boswell's Johnson, ed. G. B. Hill, i. 378, iv. 77, 79, 98; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. viii. 675, 676; Account of the Life of Reynolds by Edmund Malone, xxxiii, xcviii; Northcote's Life of Reynolds, 1818, i. 112–15; Conversations of James Northcote, 1830, pp. 85–9; J. B. Rowe's Ecclesiastical Hist. of Old Plymouth, p. 37; Chalmers's Biog. Dict. xxii. 493–4; Darling's Cycl. Bibl. col. 2131; Horne's Introduction to Critical Study of Scripture, v. 321, and Psalms, Preface; Orme's Bibl. Biblica, 1824, p. 323.]