Spencer, Thomas (1791-1811) (DNB00)

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SPENCER, THOMAS (1791–1811), independent divine, second son of a worsted-weaver, was born at Hertford on 21 Jan. 1791. He lost his mother at the age of five. He had to leave school and help his father in his business when thirteen, but had already learnt the rudiments of Latin. Some eighteen months later he was apprenticed for a short time to a glover in the Poultry, London. While here he was introduced to Thomas Wilson, treasurer of the Hoxton Dissenters' Training College for Ministers. He was admitted there in January 1807, after a year's preparation at Harwich, during which he studied Hebrew, and made an abridgment of Parkhurst's ‘Hebrew Lexicon.’ In June 1807 he first preached in public at Collier's End, near Hertford, being then only sixteen. The sermon excited so much attention that he was invited to preach in the neighbouring villages and at Hertford. When barely seventeen he was allowed to appear in the pulpit at Hoxton by the entreaties of the people, though it was contrary to a standing order of the institution. He soon became a popular preacher in the neighbourhood of London, and in December 1808 preached at Lady Huntingdon's chapel at Brighton. On 10 Jan. 1809 he addressed ‘an immense congregation’ from Rowland Hill's pulpit in Surrey Chapel. Having visited Liverpool in the summer of 1810, he on 26 Sept. accepted an offer of the pastorate of Newington chapel there. He entered on his duties at Liverpool in February 1811, and on 27 June was ordained in the chapel in Byrom Street. His qualifications as a preacher included a melodious voice, a tenacious memory, and a fluent delivery. He at first preached from sixty-five to seventy-five minutes, but afterwards, under medical advice, limited his discourses to three-quarters of an hour. So great was his popularity that a new chapel, with accommodation for two thousand people, had to be built for him. The foundation-stone was laid on 15 April. But his promising career was prematurely closed. He was drowned while bathing near the Herculaneum Potteries on 5 Aug. 1811, and was buried on the 13th at Liverpool. Many funeral sermons and elegies were published. An elegy by James Montgomery was appended to the ‘Memoirs’ of Spencer by his successor at Liverpool, Thomas Raffles.

A portrait, engraved by Scriven from a miniature taken in 1810 by N. Branwhite, is prefixed to Raffles's ‘Memoirs,’ and an engraving, by Blood, accompanies four ‘Poems’ (1811) on his death by Ellen Robinson. They represent a youth of delicate appearance with deep-set eyes.

‘Twenty-one Sermons’ by Spencer were published in a duodecimo volume by the Religious Tract Society in 1829, an octavo edition following in 1830. An American edition (18mo), with introduction by Alfred S. Patton, appeared in 1856. A volume of tracts by Spencer also appeared in 1853.

[Raffles's Memoirs of the Life and Ministry of Rev. Thomas Spencer of Liverpool, founded partly on autobiographical notes, contains extracts from Spencer's correspondence and specimens of his sermons. It reached a sixth edition in 1827, and was reprinted at Philadelphia (1831) and at New York (1835) in vol. i. of the Christian Library. See also Waddington's Congregational History (1800–50), p. 182; Funeral Sermons; Allibone's Dict. Engl. Lit. ii. 1527, 2201; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. Le G. N.