Nalson, John (DNB00)
|←Naish, William (1785-1860)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 40
NALSON, JOHN (1638?–1686), historian and royalist pamphleteer, born about 1638, is said to have been educated at St. John's College, Cambridge, but his name does not appear in the list of admissions. He entered the church, and became rector of Doddington in the Isle of Ely. In 1678 he took the degree of LL.D. (Graduati Cantabrigienses, p. 336). Nalson was an active polemical writer on the side of the government during the latter part of the reign of Charles II. In a petition addressed to the king in 1682 he describes himself as having published 'a number of treatises for the vindicating of truth and his majesty's prerogative in church and state from the aspersions of the dissenters' (Tanner MSS. ciii. 247). The first of these was 'The Countermine,' published in 1677, which at once went through three editions, and was highly praised by Roger L'Estrange [q. v.] (Nichols, Illustrations of Literary History, iv. 69). Though published anonymously its authorship was soon discovered, and the parliament of 1678, in which the opposition, whom he had attacked, had the majority, resolved to call Nalson to account. On 26 March 1678 he was sent for on the charge of having written a pamphlet called 'A Letter from a Jesuit in Paris, showing the most efficient way to ruin the Government and the Protestant Religion,' a clumsy jeu d'esprit, in which the names of various members of parliament were introduced. After being kept in custody for about a month, he was discharged, but ordered to be put out of the commission of the peace, and to be reprimanded by the speaker (1 May). 'What you have done,' said the speaker, 'was beneath the gravity of your calling and a desertion of your profession ' (Commons Journals, ix. 572, 570, 592, 608; Grey's Debates, vii. 32, 103, 164- 167; Preface to the 4th edit. of The Countermine, 1684, pp. ii-ix). Nalson, however, undeterred by this experience, published several other pamphlets, undertook to make a collection of documents in answer to Rushworth (1682), and printed the 'Trial of Charles I' (1684), prefixing to his historical works long polemical attacks on the whigs. He estimated the value of his services very highly, and lost no chance of begging for preferment. 'A little oil,' he wrote to Sancroft, 'will make the wheels go easy, which truly hitherto without complaining I have found a very heavy draught. It is some discouragement to see others, who I am sure have not outstript me in the race of loyal and hearty endeavours to serve the king and church, carry away the prize ' (14 July 1683; Tanner MSS. xxxiv. 80). He asked on 14 Aug. 1680 for the mastership of Trinity College, Cambridge, which he justly terms 'preternatural confidence,' on 21 July 1680 for the deanery of Worcester, and to be given a prebend either at Westminster or Ely (ib. xxxiv. 79, 135, xxxvii. 117, ciii. 247). In 1684 he was at length collated to a prebend at Ely. He died on 24 March 1685-6, aged 48, and was buried at Ely. His epitaph is printed in Le Neve's 'Fasti Anglicani' iii. 75, in Bentham's 'Ely' p. 262, and in Willis's 'Cathedrals,' p. 388. His will is given in Chester Waters's 'Chesters of Chicheley,' i. 320.
Nalson married Alice Peyton, who married, after his death, John Cremer (d. 1703), of a Norfolk family, and was buried in Ely Cathedral in 1717. By Nalson she had ten children, seven of whom survived their father. The eldest son, Valentine (1683-1723), was a graduate of St. John's College, Cambridge (B.A. 1702 and M. A. 1711); vicar of St. Martin's, Conyng Street, York; prebendary of Ripon from 1713; and author of 'Twenty Sermons preached in the Cathedral of York,' ed. Francis Hildyard (London, 1724, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1737). Nalson's daughter Elizabeth married, in 1687, Peter Williams, her father's successor in the rectory of Doddington (cf. Nichols, iv. 865).
Nalson's only important work is the 'Impartial Collection of the Great Affairs of State, from the beginning of the Scotch Rebellion in the year 1639 to the murder of King Charles I.' The first volume was published in 1682, and the second in 1683, but the collection ends in January 1642. Its avowed object was to serve as an antidote to the similar collection of Rush worth, whom Nalson accuses of misrepresentations and suppressions intended to blacken the memory and the government of Charles I. Some letters addressed to Nalson on the subject of Rushworth's demerits are printed in the 'Old Parliamentary History,' which contains also Nalson's scheme for the next volume of his work (xxiii. 219-42). As the work was undertaken under the special patronage of Charles II, the compiler was allowed free access to various repositories of state papers. From the documents in the office of the clerk of the parliament 'he was apparently allowed to take almost anything he pleased, although in June 1684 the clerk of the house wrote for a list of the books in his possession belonging to the office. He also had access to the Paper Office, though there he was apparently allowed only to take copies' (Report on the MSS. of the Duke of Portland, Preface, p. i). Finding that the paper office contained very few documents on the Irish rebellion he applied to the Duke of Ormonde, and obtained permission to copy some of the papers (Tanner MSS. xxxv. 56; Report on the Carte and Carew Papers, 1864, p. 9). Lord Guilford communicated to him extracts from the memoirs of the Earl of Manchester, and he hoped to obtain help from the Earl of Macclesfield, one of the last survivors of the king's generals (Old Parliamentary History, xxiii. 232; Collections, ii. 206). By these means Nalson brought together a great body of manuscripts illustrating the history of the period between 1638 and 1660, to form the basis of the documentary history which he proposed to write. Had it been completed it would have been a work of the greatest value, in spite of the prejudices of the editor and the partiality of his narrative. On the death of Nalson both the manuscripts which should have been returned to the clerk of the parliament and the transcripts which he had made himself remained in the possession of his family. The collection was gradually broken up, and passed into various hands. Its history is traced in Mr. Blackburne Daniel's preface to the manuscripts of the Duke of Portland (Hist. MSS. Comm. 13th Rep. pt. i.) Some of the Irish transcripts came into the hands of Thomas Carte, and a considerable number of the parliamentary papers were abstracted by Dr. Tanner. These portions of the collection are in the Bodleian Library. Of the rest twenty-two volumes are in the possession of the Duke of Portland, were discovered at Welbeck Abbey by Mr. Maxwell Lyte in 1885, and are calendared in the report mentioned above. Four volumes were purchased by the British Museum in 1846, and four others are still missing. Some documents from Nalson's collection were printed by Dr. Zachary Grey in his answer to Neal's ' History of the Puritans' (1737-9), and others by Francis Peck [q. v.] in his 'Desiderata Curiosa' (1735). Nalson's only other historical work was 'A True Copy of the Journal of the High Court of Justice for the Trial of K. Charles I ... with a large Introduction, by J. Nalson, D.D.,' folio, 1684.
He was also the author of the following pamphlets : 1. 'The Countermine, or a short but true Discovery of the Dangerous Principles and Secret Practices of the Dissenting Party, especially the Presbyterians, showing- that Religion is pretended, but Rebellion intended,' 1677, 8vo. 2. 'The Common Interest of King and People, showing the Original, Antiquity, and Excellency of Monarchy, compared with Aristocracy, and Democracy, and particularly of our English Monarchy,' &c., 1677, 8vo. 3. 'The True Liberty and Dominion of Conscience vindicated from the Usurpations and Abuses of Opinion and Persuasion,' 1677, 8vo. 4. ' A Letter from a Jesuit in Paris,'1678. 5. 'The Project of Peace, or Unity of Faith and Government the only expedient to procure Peace, both Foreign and Domestic, by the Author of "The Countermine," ' 1678, 8vo. 6. 'Foxes and Firebrands, or a Specimen of the Danger and Harmony of Popery and Separation,' 4to, 1680, published under the pseudonym of 'Philirenes.' It was republished in 1682 and 1689, with a second and a third part added by Robert Ware. 7. 'The Present Interest of England, or a Confutation of the Whiggish Conspirators' Antinomian Principles,' 1683, 4to, by N. N. (attributed to Nalson in the Bodleian and British Museum catalogues).
Nalson translated from the French: 1. Maimbourg's 'History of the Crusades,' folio, 1686. 2. 'A Short Letter of Instruction shewing the surest way to Christian Perfection, by Francis de la Combe' (Rawlinson MS. C. 602, Bodleian Library).
Some letters from Roger L'Estrange to Nalson concerning his pamphlets are printed by Nichols, iv. 68-70, and a series of news-letters addressed to him by John Brydall, together with letters from Nalson himself to Sancroft and others, are among the Tanner MSS. in the Bodleian Library.[A brief life of Nalson is given in Athenae Oxon. ed. Bliss, iv. 283, under 'Rushworth.' See also Nichols's Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century, iv. 68, 865; Lit. Anecd. ii. 549, viii. 415; Waters's Chesters of Chicheley, pp. 320-1; other authorities mentioned in the article.]