Nicholls, William (DNB00)
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NICHOLLS, WILLIAM (1664–1712), author and divine, the son of John Nicholls of Donington, now Dunton, Buckinghamshire, was born in 1664. He was educated at St. Paul's School, under Dr. Thomas Gale, and went up with an exhibition to Magdalen Hall, Oxford, where he matriculated as a commoner on 26 March 1680. He afterwards migrated to Wadham College, and graduated B.A. on 27 Nov. 1683. On 6 Oct. 1684 he was chosen a probationary fellow of Merton College, and proceeded M.A. 19 June 1688, B.D. 2 July 1692, and D.D. 29 Nov. 1695. Having taken holy orders about 1688, he became chaplain to Ralph, earl, afterwards duke of Montagu [q. v.], and in September 1691 rector of Selsey, near Chichester. He is also said to have been rector of Bushey, Hertfordshire, from 1691 to 1693, and in 1707 a canon of Chichester (Foster, Alumni Oxon. iii. 1070). On the revival of the anniversary festival of his old school he preached the sermon on St. Paul's day, 1697–8. Alluding to the destruction of St. Paul's by the great fire in 1666, he speaks of the cathedral—in a sermon on ‘The Advantage of a Learned Education’ (London, 1698, 4to)—as ‘the edifice where we remember to have played our childish pastimes among its desolate ruins.’ Much of his life was spent in literary labours, and he suffered from poverty in his later days. Writing to Robert Harley, earl of Oxford, on 31 Aug. 1711, from Smith Street, Westminster, he complained that he was ‘forced on the drudgery of being the editor of Mr. Selden's books for a little money to buy other books to carry on my liturgical work.’ His health also broke down under the toil of writing his ‘large work’ (the ‘Comment on the Book of Common Prayer’) without the help of an amanuensis. He was buried in the centre aisle of St. Swithin's Church in the city of London, 5 May 1712 (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. i. 493 n., and 710). A fine engraved portrait by Vandergucht is prefixed to the ‘Comment,’ and another, engraved by Basire after J. Richardson, to his ‘Defensio Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ.’
Nicholls's chief work was the ‘Comment on the Book of Common Prayer, and Administration of the Sacraments,’ London, 1710, fol., with a ‘Supplement’ published separately in 1711. This book was published by subscription, and dedicated to the queen, and all the copies were disposed of before the day of publication. The historical introductions display great research, but the effect of the paraphrase, which accompanies every part of the text commented on, is not always happy (cf. Harleian MS. No. 6827, f. 284).
Another of Nicholls's publications, the ‘Defensio Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ,’ London, 12mo, 1707 and 1708, was written and published in Latin. A translation by the author into English followed in 1715. The book was meant to invite the attention of foreign scholars, and learned members of other religious communions abroad, to the excellence of the formularies of the English church. With this object, Latin copies were sent by the author to the king of Prussia and to many eminent scholars on the continent. The result was a volume of interesting correspondence, chiefly in Latin, including letters from Daniel Jablonski, Pictet, Le Clerc, the Wetsteins, and many others. The collection was presented by Mrs. Catherine Nicholls, the widow, to the Archbishop of Canterbury, 28 Oct. 1712, and is now in the library at Lambeth (MS. No. 676). Nicholls's views were contested and answered by James Pierce in his well-known ‘Vindication of the Dissenters’ (London, 1718, 8vo).
Nicholls's other works included: 1. ‘An Answer to an Heretical Book, called the Naked Gospel,’ 4to, 1691. 2. ‘A Short History of Socinianism,’ printed with the preceding. 3. ‘A Practical Essay on the Contempt of the World,’ inscribed to his schoolfellow, Sir John Trevor, 8vo, 1694. 4. ‘A Conference with a Theist,’ in five parts, 8vo, 1696 (3rd edit., enlarged to 2 vols., in 1723). 5. ‘The Duty of Inferiours towards their Superiours, in five Practical Discourses,’ 8vo, 1701. 6. ‘A Treatise of Consolation to Parents for the Death of their Children’ (on the occasion of the Duke of Gloucester's death), 8vo, 1701. 7. ‘The Religion of a Prince’ (on the relinquishing of tenths and first-fruits by Queen Anne), 8vo, 1704. 8. ‘A Paraphrase on the Common Prayer …’ 8vo, 1708. 9. ‘Historiæ Sacræ Libri vii., opus ex Antonii Socceii Sabellici Eneadibus concinnatum,’ 8vo, 1710, and 12mo, 1711. 10. ‘A Commentary on the first fifteen and part of the sixteenth Articles of the Church of England,’ fol., 1712. 11. ‘A Defence of the Doctrine and Discipline of the Church of England’ (a translation of the ‘Defensio,’ mentioned above), 8vo, 1715. The last two were posthumous.[Nicholls's own Works; Nichols's Lit. Anecd., partly cited above, i. 489–93; Gibbs's Worthies of Buckinghamshire, p. 298; Gardiner's Admission Registers of St. Paul's School, p. 57; Knight's Life of Colet, p. 357; Brodrick's Memorials of Merton College, p. 298.]