Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 60.djvu/31
pation of a dignitary of the church. The ‘Chemical Essays’ reached a seventh edition in 1800. The most notable essays are (1) On ‘the Degrees of Heat at which Water … Boils’ (1781), describing an experiment on the boiling of water in a closed flask nearly free from air, which has become classical; (2) ‘On Pit-coal’ (1781), suggesting the condensing of the volatile products from coke-ovens, an operation which has recently become of great industrial importance; (3) on ‘the smelting of Lead Ore’ (1782), suggesting the condensation of lead fume, and of the sulphurous acid produced in the roasting of sulphide ores; (4) ‘On Zinc’ (1786). In 1787 government consulted him about improvements in gunpowder; his advice is said to have resulted in a saving of 100,000l. a year.
On entering upon the duties of the divinity chair, Watson frankly admits that he ‘knew as much of divinity as could reasonably be expected of a man whose course of studies had been directed to, and whose time had been fully occupied in, other pursuits.’ Neglecting systematic and historical theology, he devoted himself to biblical studies, recognising no authority but the New Testament. His professorship connected him officially with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel; he refused to contribute to it, believing its agents ‘more zealous in proselytising dissenters to episcopacy than in converting heathens to christianity’ (Letter to Maseres, 11 Oct. 1777). To the agitation for relief of the clergy from subscription, promoted by Francis Blackburne (1705–1787) [q. v.] and Francis Stone [q. v.], he did not give his name. He printed, however, ‘A Letter … by a Christian Whig’ (1772, 8vo), demurring to the expediency of exacting any subscription beyond a declaration of belief in the scriptures, and placed a copy in the hands of every member of the House of Commons on 5 Feb. 1772, the day before the debate on the clerical petition. ‘A Second Letter … by a Christian Whig’ (1772, 8vo), dealing with the subscription at graduation, was inscribed to Sir George Savile [q. v.], the advocate of the clerical petition, whom Watson did not personally know. The two letters were not acknowledged as his till 1815. Apart from expediency, he defended the right of every church to require uniformity of doctrinal profession, in ‘A Brief State of the Principles of Church Authority’ (1773, 8vo, anon.). This he repeated as a charge at Llandaff in June 1813. He felt more confidence in his views when he found they were those of Benjamin Hoadly (1676–1761) [q. v.]
At the end of 1773 he was presented to ‘a sinecure rectory’ in the diocese of St. Asaph, which he exchanged early in 1774 for a prebend at Ely, owing both pieces of preferment to the good offices of Augustus Henry Fitzroy, third duke of Grafton [q. v.], then chancellor of the university. His university sermon on 29 May 1776, on ‘The Principles of the Revolution Vindicated’ (Cambridge, 1776, 4to; several editions), gave lasting offence at court, and interfered, Watson thought, with his just promotion. John Dunning (afterwards first Baron Ashburton) [q. v.] said ‘it contained just such treason as ought to be preached once a month at St. James's.’ Several pamphlets appeared in reply. Watson was told the sermon prevented his appointment as provost of Trinity College, Dublin, but this is chronologically impossible [see Hely-Hutchinson, John, (1724–1794)].
Later in the year he published his ‘Apology for Christianity … letters … to Edward Gibbon’ (1776, 12mo), the result of ‘a month's work in the long vacation,’ undertaken to meet the challenge of Sir Robert Graham (1744–1836) [q. v.] He sent Gibbon a copy before publication; courteous letters (2 and 4 Nov.) passed between them, and in Gibbon's ‘Vindication’ (January 1779) Watson is mentioned with marked respect, as ‘the most candid of adversaries.’ As a popular antidote to Gibbon's fifteenth chapter, the ‘Apology’ was widely welcomed, and has been constantly reprinted.
On 18 Oct. 1779 he was collated archdeacon of Ely, by his bishop, Edmund Keene [q. v.], and in August Keene gave him the rectory of Northwold, Norfolk (Cole's manuscript Athenæ Cantabr. Add. MS. 5883, p. 171). In February 1781 Charles Manners, fourth duke of Rutland [q. v.], who had been his pupil, and whose party he had aided in the Cambridgeshire election of 1780, presented him to the valuable rectory of Knaptoft, Leicestershire. He then resigned Northwold. A fever which attacked him in 1781 was attended with complications which left his health permanently impaired. In July 1782 the see of Llandaff was vacant by the translation of Shute Barrington [q. v.] Grafton and Rutland made interest with William Petty (then Lord Shelburne, afterwards first Marquis of Lansdowne) [q. v.], and Watson was appointed. He was consecrated on 20 Oct. 1782. Owing to the meagreness of the revenues of the see, he was allowed to retain his other preferments (except the archdeaconry); he reckoned his whole emoluments at 2,200l. a year.
He at once drew up proposals for a redis-