Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bower, Archibald

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BOWER, ARCHIBALD (1686–1766), author of the 'History of the Popes,' was born on 17 Jan. 1685–6 at or near Dundee; according to his own account, he was descended from an ancient family which had been for several hundred years possessed of an estate in the county of Angus in Scotland. In 1702 he was sent to the Scotch college at Douay; afterwards proceeded to Rome, and was there admitted into the Society of Jesus on 9 Dec. 1706. His own statement that he was admitted into the order in November 1705 is evidently untrue, as is shown by the entry in the register of the Roman province of the society. After a novitiate of two years he went in 1712 to Fano, where he taught classics till 1714, when he removed to Fermo. In 1717 he was recalled to Rome to study divinity in the Roman college, and in 1721 he was transferred to the college of Arezzo, where he remained till 1723, and became reader of philosophy and consultor to the rector of the college. He was next sent to Florence, and in the same year removed to Macerata, at which place he continued till 1726. Before the latter date he was probably professed of the four vows, his own account fixing that event in March 1722 at Florence (Full Confutation, p. 54), though, as he certainly was resident at Arezzo in that year, his profession was most likely made a year later. All his statements concerning himself must be received with extreme caution.

The turning-point in Bower's career was his removal from Macerata to Perugia, and his flight from the latter city to England in 1726. His enemies said that this step was taken in consequence of his having been detected in an amour with a nun, but he himself ascribes it to the 'hellish proceedings' of the court of the inquisition at Macerata, in which he says that he was counsellor or judge. He was greatly impressed with the horrible cruelties committed in the torture-chamber, particularly on two gentlemen, whose stories, as well as his own escape, he related in detail in an 'Answer to a Scurrilous Pamphlet' (1757). Another account had been previously published by Richard Baron [q. v.] in 1750, professing to contain the substance of the relation which Bower gave of his escape to Dr. Hill, chaplain to the archbishop of Canterbury (Six Letters from Bower to Father Sheldon, p. 3 n). The title of Baron's pamphlet is: 'A faithful Account of Mr. Archibald Bower's Motives for leaving his Office of Secretary to the Court of Inquisition; including also a relation of the horrid treatment of an innocent gentleman, who was driven mad by his sufferings, in this bloody Court; and of a Nobleman who expired under his tortures. To both which inhuman and shocking scenes the author was an eye-witness.' A third account of these occurrences is printed at the end of 'Bower and Tillemont compared' (1757). The narrative published by Bower thirty-one years after the date of his alleged 'escape' conflicts with the versions previously given by him orally, and is of doubtful veracity.

On his arrival in England in June or July 1726 he became acquainted with Dr. Edward Aspinwall, formerly a Jesuit, who received him kindly and introduced him to Dr. Clarke. After several conferences with these gentlemen, and some with Berkeley, dean of Londonderry (afterwards bishop of Cloyne), he withdrew himself from the communion of the Roman catholic church, took leave of the provincial, and quitted the Society of Jesus. He says that he formed a system of religion for himself and was for six years a protestant of no particular denomination, but at last he conformed to the church of England.

Through the kindness of Dr. Goodman (physician to George I) Bower obtained a recommendation to Lord Aylmer, who wanted a person to assist him in reading the classics. With Aylmer he continued for several years on terms of the greatest intimacy, and was introduced to all his patron's connections, one of whom—George (afterwards Lord) Lyttelton—remained his steady friend when he was deserted by almost every other person. While he resided with Lord Aylmer he wrote the 'Historia Literaria,' a monthly review, begun in 1730 and discontinued in 1734. During the following nine years (1735-1744) he was employed by the proprietors of the 'Universal History,' to which work he contributed the history of Rome. He also undertook the education of the son of Mr. Thompson, of Cooley, Berkshire, but ill-health did not allow him to continue more than a twelvemonth in that family, and upon his recovery Lord Aylmer secured his services as tutor to two of his children.

In 1740 he invested his savings (1,100l.) in the Old South Sea annuities, and with this sum he resolved to purchase an annuity. In the disposition of this money he engaged in a negotiation which afterwards proved fatal to his reputation. Bower's own account of the transaction is that as none of his protestant friends cared to burden their estates with a life-rent, he left his money in the funds till August 1741, when being informed that an act of parliament had passed for rebuilding a church in the city of London upon life-annuities, at seven per cent., he went into the city, intending to dispose of his money in that way, but he found the subscription was closed. This disappointment he mentioned to a friend, Mr. Hill, whom he accidentally met in Will's coffee-house, and upon Hill's offering the same interest that was given by the trustees of the above-mentioned church the sum of 1,100l. was transferred to Mr. Wright, Mr. Hill's banker. Mr. Hill, Bower adds, was a jesuit, but transacted money matters as an attorney. Some time after Bower added 250l. to the sum already in Hill's hands, and received for the whole 94l. 10s. a year. He afterwards resolved to marry, and it was chiefly upon that consideration that he applied to Hill to know upon what terms he would return the capital. Hill agreed at once to repay it, only deducting what Bower had received over and above the common interest of four per cent, during the time it had been in his hands, and this was done. 'Thus,' Bower asserts, 'did this money transaction begin with Mr. Hill, was carried on by Mr. Hill, and with Mr. Hill did it end.'

By his opponents it is alleged with more probability that after a time he wished to return to the church he had renounced, and therefore, in order to recommend himself to his superiors, he desired effectually to prove his sincerity towards them. He proposed to Father Shireburne, then provincial in England, to give up to him, as representative of the Society of Jesus, the money he then possessed, on condition of being paid during his life an annuity at the rate of seven per cent. This offer was accepted, and on 21 Aug. 1741 he paid to Father Shireburne 1,100l., and on 27 Feb. 1741-2 he paid to the same person 150l. more upon the same conditions. Nor did his confidence rest here, for on 6 Aug. 1743 he added another 100l. to the above sums, now augmented to 1,350l., when the several annuities were reduced into one, amounting to 94l. 10s., for which a bond was given. This negotiation had the desired effect, and Bower was readmitted in a formal manner into the order of Jesus by Father Carteret at London some time before the battle of Fontenoy (30 April 1745).

Bower soon again grew dissatisfied with his situation. It has been suggested that he took offence because his superiors insisted on his going abroad, or that he had a prospect of advancing his interest more surely as an avowed protestant than as an emissary of the pope. Whatever motive may have impelled him, it seems certain that when he began his correspondence with Father Sheldon, the successor of Father Shireburne in the office of provincial, he had finally resolved to make a second breach of his vows. To accomplish that object he wrote the famous letters which occasioned a lively controversy. The correspondence answered his purpose, and he received his money back from the borrowers on 20 June 1747.

He received 300l. for revising and correcting the second edition of the 'Universal History,' but he performed the task in a slovenly and careless manner. On 25 March 1747 he issued the 'proposals' for printing by subscription his 'History of the Popes,' describing himself as 'Archibald Bower, esq., heretofore public professor of rhetoric, history, and philosophy in the universities of Rome, Fermo, and Macerata, and, in the latter place, counsellor of the inquisition.' He announced that he had begun the work at Rome some years previously, his original design being to vindicate the doctrine of the pope's supremacy, and that while prosecuting his researches he became a proselyte to the opinion which he had proposed to confute. He presented the first volume to the king 13 May 1748, and on the death of Mr. Say, keeper of Queen Caroline's library (10 Sept.), he obtained that place through the interest of his friend Lyttelton with the prime minister, Pelham. The next year (4 Aug. 1749) he married a niece of Bishop Nicolson and daughter of a clergyman of the church of England. This lady had a fortune of 4,000l. and a child by a former husband. He had been engaged in a treaty of marriage, which did not take effect, in 1745.

The second volume of the 'History of the Popes' appeared in 1751, and in the same year Bower published, by way of supplement to this volume, seventeen sheets, which were delivered to his subscribers gratis. Towards the end of 1753 he produced a third volume, which brought down his history to the death of Pope Stephen in 757. In April 1754 his constant friend Lyttelton appointed him clerk of the buck-warrants. It was in this year that the first serious attack was made upon him on account of his 'History of the Popes' in a pamphlet by the Rev. Alban Butler, published anonymously at Douay under the title of 'Remarks on the two first volumes of the late Lives of the Popes; in letters from a Gentleman to a Friend in the Country.' Meanwhile the letters addressed by Bower to the provincial of the Jesuits had fallen into the hands of Sir Henry Bedingfield, a Roman catholic baronet, who made no secret of their contents. He asserted that the letters clearly demonstrated that while their writer was pretending to have the liveliest zeal for the protestant faith, he was in fact a member of the Roman church, and in confidential correspondence with the head of that body. Bower maintained that these letters were infamous forgeries, designed to ruin his credit with his protestant friends, and brought forward by the Jesuits in revenge for his exposure of the frauds of the priesthood. At this juncture the Rev. John Douglas (afterwards bishop of Salisbury), who had already detected the frauds of Lauder in regard to Milton, determined to expose the duplicity of Bower's conduct, and published in 1756 a pamphlet entitled 'Six Letters from A——d B——r to Father Sheldon, provincial of the Jesuits in England; illustrated with several remarkable facts, tending to ascertain the authenticity of the said letters, and the true character of the writer.' In this tract Douglas proved the genuineness of the letters; showed that want of veracity was not the only defect in Bower's character, but that he was as little remarkable for his chastity as for his love of truth; and brought forward the attestation of Mrs. Hoyles. Bower had converted this lady to Roman Catholicism, and her statement leaves no cause to doubt the historian's zeal to support in secret the church which, for self-interested ends, he was publicly disowning. Douglas's pamphlet elicited a reply from Bower, or one of his friends, under the character of a 'Country Neighbour.' Douglas then published his second tract, 'Bower and Tillemont compared' (1757), in which he demonstrates that the 'History of the Popes,' especially the first volume, is merely a translation of the work of the French historian. In 1757 Bower brought out three large pamphlets, in which he laboured to refute the charges made against his moral, religious, and literary character. Douglas followed with 'A Full Confutation of all the Facts advanced in Mr. Bower's Three Defences' (1757), and 'A Complete and Final Detection of A——d B——r' (1758). To the last two pamphlets were attached certificates and other documents obtained from Italy, clearly establishing Bower's guilt and imposture. In the course of this embittered controversy, Garrick, who had formerly been his friend, threatened to write a farce in which Bower was to be introduced on the stage as a mock convert and to be shown in various situations, so that the profligacy of his character might be exposed (Davies, Memoirs of Garrick, ed. 1808, i. 306). From this period Bower's whole time was spent in making ineffectual attacks upon his enemies, and equally vain efforts to recover the reputation of himself and his 'History of the Popes.' Before the controversy had ended he published his fourth volume, and in 1757 an abridgment of the first four volumes of his work was published in French at Amsterdam. In 1761 he seems to have assisted the author of 'Authentic Memoirs concerning the Portuguese Inquisition, in a series of letters to a friend;' and about the same time he produced the fifth volume of his 'History of the Popes.' To this volume he annexed a summary view of the controversy between himself and the Roman catholics. The remainder of his history did not appear till just before the author's death, when the sixth and seventh volumes were published together, but in so hasty and slovenly a manner that the whole period from 1600 to 1758 was comprehended in twenty-six pages. The 'History of the Popes' has been reprinted with a continuation by Dr. Samuel Hanson Cox, in 3 vols., Philadelphia, 1844-5, 8vo.

Bower died on 3 Sept. 1766, and was buried in Marylebone churchyard. The epitaph on his tomb describes him as 'a man exemplary for every social virtue, justly esteemed by all who knew him for his strict honesty and integrity, a faithful friend, and a sincere christian.' He bequeathed all his property to his wife, who, some time after his death, attested that he died in the protestant faith (London Chronicle, 11 Oct. 1766).

His portrait has been engraved by J. M'Ardell and T. Holloway from a painting by G. Knapton; and by J. Faber from a painting by Reynolds.

[The principal authorities are the twenty-two pamphlets published during the Bower controversy, and a series of articles, probably by Bishop Douglas, in the European Magazine for 1794, xxv. 3, 133, 209, 261, xxvi. 32. These articles were reprinted without acknowledgment in the General Biog. Dict. (1798), ii. 528, and thence transferred by Alexander Chalmers (but with the omission of the references) to his edition of that work. Consult also Birch MS. in Addit. MS. Brit. Mus. 4234; Gent. Mag. lx. 1187, lxi. 118, lxxi. 509; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. ii. 134; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 477, ii. 42, 394, 554, 565, iii. 507, iv. 95, vi. 463, 467, viii. 269; Milner's Life of Bishop Challoner, 29–31; Bromley's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, 383; Oliver's Jesuit Collections, 40; Foley's Records, vii. 882; Cat. of Birch and Sloane MSS. 713, 717; Lysons's Environs, iii. 263, 264; Edinburgh Mag. (1785), i. 284; Memoirs of George Psalmanazar, 2nd edit. 277; Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, 1212, 1213; Macdonald's Memoir of Bishop Douglas, 28–36; C. Butler's Life of Alban Butler (1800), 9.]

T. C.