Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Calamy, Edmund (1671-1732)
, D.D. (1671–1732), biographical historian of nonconformity, the only son of Edmund Calamy the younger [q. v.], was born on 5 April 1671 ‘in a little house just over against the Conduit,’ in the parish of St. Mary Aldermanbury. He was baptised by his father, and makes a point of the fact that he had never been joined to the established church. Yet his baptism is entered in the parish register. As a child he was sickly and studious. His own account of his education is very interesting. As soon as she had taught him his catechism, his mother took him on Saturday afternoons to the public catechisings held at Dyers' Hall by Thomas Lye, M.A., the grammarian, ejected from Allhallows, Lombard Street, who had a wonderful gift with children, and had been Mrs. Calamy's own instructor. His first schoolmaster was Nelson, the curate of Aldermanbury; next, for the sake of country air, he was boarded at Epsom with Yewel, a harmless sort of fifth-monarchy man, and ‘no great scholar.’ He made better progress under Robert Tatnal, M.A., a pupil of Busby, ejected from the chapel of St. John Evangelist, who kept a very successful school in Winchester Street. As a schoolboy he was often made the bearer of gifts of money to imprisoned ministers, and was twice present when dissenting meetings for worship were broken up by the authorities. He liked the preaching of dissenters best, but went about to hear all the famous preachers in the established church. In 1682 he was boarded in the house of Thomas Doolittle, M.A., ejected from the rectory of St. Alphage, London Wall, who kept a theological academy at Islington. Calamy was too young for the special studies of the place; he had one companion in grammar learning and the advantage of the society of his elders. When Doolittle was compelled by a prosecution to remove his academy from Islington, Calamy seems to have been transferred to Walton's school at Bethnal Green, shortly afterwards broken up. On his father's death in 1685 he was sent, by the advice of his uncle Benjamin [q. v.], to Merchant Taylors' School, under Hartcliff, afterwards canon of Windsor. Here he had as companions William Dawes, afterwards archbishop of York, and Hugh Boulter, afterwards archbishop of Armagh [q. v.] Leaving Merchant Taylors' he read Greek for a few months with Walton, his old master, and was inclined to proceed for the study of divinity to New England under the escort of Charles Morton, ejected from Blisland, Cornwall, and afterwards vice-president of Harvard University. His mother objected, and in 1686 he entered the academy of Samuel Cradock, B.D., ejected from North Cadbury, Somersetshire, and now settled on his own estate at Wickhambrook, Suffolk. Here he took a two years' course in philosophy, keeping up his Greek by private application with a fellow-student, Thomas Goodwin, afterwards archbishop of Cashel. Returning for a few months to Doolittle, at St. John's Court, Clerkenwell, he was recommended by John Howe to pursue his studies at Utrecht. Obtaining his mother's consent he sailed for Holland in the middle of March 1688. At Utrecht he heard lectures in philosophy and civil law as well as divinity, and defended a thesis (afterwards published) against innate ideas. His pictures of university life in Holland, and of the colony of English students there, are very graphic. He had a knack of making friends, and formed many acquaintances which proved of service to him in after life. It was at Utrecht that he was a class-fellow of Charles Spencer, afterwards third earl of Sunderland, and Queen Anne's whig secretary of state. Another of his good friends was Spencer's tutor, Charles Trimnell, afterwards bishop of Winchester. William Carstares [q. v.], who was in Holland in 1691 looking out for suitable men to fill chairs in the Scottish universities, made several offers to Calamy. In May 1691 Calamy returned to London. He visited Baxter (whom he had never before seen) and heard him preach like one that had been in another world ‘and was come as a sort of an express from thence to make a report concerning it.’ Baxter encouraged him in his design of repairing to Oxford, which he carried out ‘a little after midsummer.’ Armed with introductions from Grævius of Utrecht, Calamy had no difficulty in obtaining permission to study at the Bodleian. His object was to go thoroughly into the whole range of questions at issue between conformists and nonconformists. Among modern writers none influenced him more than Chillingworth. During his stay of some nine months at Oxford Calamy mixed freely in university society. He was still under age when Joshua Oldfield, minister to the Oxford dissenters, put him into his pulpit. He preached at several places near Oxford, particularly at Bicester, and on one occasion at Casfield ‘in the public church.’ He was sought as their regular minister by the Andover dissenters, of whose differences he gives an amusing account. Almost simultaneously he received invitations from Bristol to become assistant to John Weekes (ejected from Buckland Newton, Dorsetshire), with a salary of 100l. a year, a house, and a horse's keep, and from Blackfriars, to assist Matthew Sylvester (ejected from Gunnerby, Lincolnshire) in his new meeting-house, with a ‘prospect of bare 40l. a year.’ His mother decided for him; he must settle in London to be near her. Accepting the call to Blackfriars in 1692, he joined Thomas Reynolds (assistant to John Howe) in a quiet lodging at Hoxton Square. The two young men soon (1694) thought of being ordained, and determined if possible to have a public ordination, a thing not yet attempted among the London dissenters since the Uniformity Act. They consulted Howe, who raised no objection, but suggested that as there was (since 6 April 1691) a nominal union between the presbyterian and congregational ministers, it would look better if Matthew Mead the independent were asked to preach. Calamy did not want Mead, or any ‘narrow, confining, cramping notions.’ He and Reynolds ‘insisted upon being ordained ministers of the catholic church,’ without reference to particular flocks or denominations. Mead, however, was applied to, but declined, lest the affair should give offence. Then Howe, after consulting Lord Somers, refused to take part unless the ordination were perfectly private. Calamy next resorted in vain to William Bates, D.D. By persistence Calamy secured the services of six ejected ministers, headed by Samuel Annesley, D.D. [q. v.], in whose meeting-house, near Little St. Helen's, the ordination took place on 22 June 1694. Seven were ordained; the proceedings lasted from before ten till past six. The candidates had gone through the previous ordeal of a strict examination in philosophy and divinity. Soon after this Calamy's mother found him a wife. In 1695 he rendered a service to Daniel Williams, against whose character certain malicious charges had been laid. Williams in gratitude offered him the post of assistant (on 60l. a year) at Hand Alley, Bishopsgate. As the Blackfriars people were really unable to support two ministers, at midsummer he made the move. He remained with Williams till June 1703, when he succeeded Vincent Alsop [q. v.] at Tothill Street, Westminster. John Lacy, who afterwards achieved notoriety as one of the ‘French prophets,’ was a member of this congregation and a very active mover in the election of Calamy. In the previous October Calamy had been chosen one of the Tuesday lecturers at Salters' Hall in the room of Nathaniel Taylor. Both these positions he held until his death. A new meeting-house for him was set on foot in 1719, and opened on 23 April 1721, in Long Ditch, afterwards called Princes Street. Calamy never legally qualified as a dissenting minister by subscribing the doctrinal articles of the church of England, according to the Toleration Act. He shrewdly calculated that no one would suspect him of neglecting this requirement, and had he not in 1713 privately recommended the same course to a young student (who bettered his instructions) his disqualification, unmentioned even in his autobiography, would never have become known (Fox's ‘Memoirs’ in Monthly Repos. 1821, p. 135). Calamy's peculiar case throws new light on his attitude towards the Salters' Hall conferences in 1719 [see Bradbury, Thomas], when his holding aloof disappointed both parties. It is now clear that he could not have gone with the subscribers, while the position of the nonsubscribers, as refusing on principle to give among themselves precisely the same kind of testimony to their orthodoxy which they were willing to tender to the government, must have appeared to him strangely illogical. Calamy's life, apart from his literary career, presents few incidents after his settlement at Westminster. His journey to Scotland in 1709, on the invitation of his friend Principal Carstares, while it afforded full scope for his powers of social observation and gave him an opportunity for preaching moderation in the leading pulpits of the north, confirmed his attachment to the methods of English dissent. He relished the claret of his hosts more than their ecclesiasticism. The proceedings of the Aberdeen synod struck him as ‘the inquisition revived.’ He was made a burgess of Edinburgh, and received the honours of M.A. (22 April) and D.D. (2 May) from the university of Edinburgh (his name stands first on the existing roll of graduates in divinity). King's College, Aberdeen (9 May), and Glasgow (17 May) followed suit. In 1713 he made a similar progress through the west of England, and, as he tells us, never ‘worked harder or fared better.’ Calamy was always something of a diplomatist. He had a courtly manner and an engaging way of taking people into his confidence, with plenty of address. He was at his ease in all companies, perfectly knew his own purpose, and pursued it with great tenacity. He understood the value of backstairs influence and the use of a silver key. But he was at his best when confronted with able men in church and state, and seldom failed to make them feel the strength of the case of dissent. Our knowledge of his weaker points is chiefly owing to the carefulness of his autobiographical revelations. His frank self-consciousness never displeases; his essential kindliness always attends him. He made no personal enemies. John Fox was told that he and Williams were rivals, but he appears to have been singularly free from the jealousies which often vex the mutual relations of ecclesiastical persons. He is almost the only divine for whom Fox has not a single bitter word.
Calamy's publications, as catalogued by Rutt, are forty-one in number. The majority are sermons, but no one reads Calamy's sermons. His place in literature is as the biographer of nonconformity. He began this work by editing Baxter's ‘Narrative’ (to 1684) of his life and times. Sylvester was Baxter's literary executor, and his name alone appears as responsible for the ‘Reliquiæ Baxterianæ,’ 1696, fol. But the expurgations, to which Sylvester was very reluctantly brought to consent, were Calamy's, as he minutely describes (Hist. Acct. i. 377). Calamy furnished also the ‘contents’ and index to the volume. His next step was the popularising of Baxter's life by an ‘Abridgment,’ 1702, 8vo, which is much better known than the original. It condenses Baxter's ‘Narrative,’ continues the history to the end of Baxter's life (1691), and summarises (in chap. x.) Baxter's ‘English Nonconformity … Stated and Argued,’ 1689, 4to. The most remarkable feature of the volume is chapter ix. (nearly half the book), headed ‘A Particular Account of the Ministers, Lecturers, Fellows of Colledges, &c., who were Silenced and Ejected by the Act for Uniformity: With the Characters and Works of many of them.’ The publication required some courage, and by many nonconformists was viewed as unseasonable, appearing as it did at the moment when the dissenters had ‘lost their firm friend’ (William III), and were not anxious to court the notice of ‘the high party’ that came in with the reign of Anne. When it appeared, ‘a dignified clergyman’ threatened one of the publishers with a censure of the book in convocation, who replied that he would willingly give ‘a purse of guineas’ for such an advertisement. It provoked at once a storm of angry pamphlets, aiming in various ways to shake the credit of the work. The caution with which Calamy had revised his materials is curiously shown in his own story of his going to Oxford, and by bribing a Dutch printer obtaining a sight of Clarendon's ‘History’ while in the press, in order to soften, if necessary, any ‘difference in matters of fact, between my Lord and Mr. Baxter.’ He read all that was published against him, and at once began to amend and enlarge for a new edition, which was called for immediately. The second edition was, however, not issued till 1713, 2 vols. 8vo. In the new ‘Abridgement’ the history was brought down to 1711; Baxter's ‘Reformed Liturgy’ was added (separately paged). The ‘Account of the Ministers, Lecturers, Masters and Fellows of Colleges and Schoolmasters who were Ejected or Silenced after the Restoration in 1660. By, or before, the Act of Uniformity’ (a more cautious title) now formed a distinct volume, and is properly quoted as an independent work. Next year appeared John Walker's ‘Attempt towards recovering an Account of the Numbers and Sufferings of the Clergy … who were Sequester'd, Harrass'd, &c. in the late Times of the Grand Rebellion: Occasion'd by the Ninth Chapter (now the Second Volume) of Dr. Calamy's Abridgment,’ &c., 1714, fol. Walker's is a work of great historical value, the fruit of marvellous industry (as his collections for it, now in the Bodleian, show) disfigured by a total want of dignity, and enlivened with a vitriolic humour. To the argumentative part of his huge folio Calamy replied in an octavo pamphlet, ‘The Church and the Dissenters Compar'd, as to Persecution,’ 1719. In dealing with Walker's mistakes he displayed contempt rather than severity, and he had the great advantage of a disposition to correct his own slips. Attacks never injured his temper, but simply made him anxious to improve his matter. In 1718 he penned with some sharpness his ‘Letter to Mr. Archdeacon Echard,’ who had aspersed his grandfather; but he was ready to discuss the points with Echard over a glass of wine, and told him ‘men of letters should not be shy of each other.’ He completed his biographical labours by publishing ‘A Continuation of the Account,’ &c. 1727, 2 vols. 8vo (paged as one), reprinting in the second volume his reply to Walker, and adding ‘Remarks’ upon Thomas Bennet's ‘Essay’ on the Thirty-nine Articles. As the ‘Continuation’ is really a series of emendations of the ‘Account,’ Calamy would have saved himself and his readers much trouble if he had chosen the course of bringing out a new edition. Among dissenters Calamy's dumpy volumes took the place of Clarke's ‘Lives,’ those folio treasures of the older puritan hagiology. Inferior to Clarke's collections in richness and breadth, they were well adapted for explaining the causes and justifying the spirit of the nonconformist separation. In choosing for his central figure Richard Baxter, whom some writers have strangely called a presbyterian, Calamy emphasised liberty of conscience as the keynote of nonconformity. He wrote three distinct lives of Baxter, the ‘Abridgment,’ a shorter life prefixed to Baxter's ‘Practical Works,’ 4 vols. 1707, fol., and a sketch in the ‘Continuation’ (p. 897), especially valuable for its dealing seriatim with the ‘chief accusations’ brought against Baxter. In 1775 Samuel Palmer condensed Calamy's four volumes into two, with the title of ‘The Non-Conformists' Memorial.’ An improved edition was issued in 3 vols. 1802–3, but an adequate edition of Calamy is still a desideratum. Palmer's arrangement is convenient, and his additions are of some service, but he is not a good compiler; he omits valuable matter, rarely reproducing the original documents which abound in Calamy, nor can his accuracy be trusted. Partly perhaps from failing eyesight, he makes some blunder or other in nearly every life. Even on the title-page of his first volume (1802) he not only commits himself to the number of ‘two thousand’ ejected, but gives 1666 as the date of the Uniformity Act (corrected in vols. ii. and iii.). This number of two thousand is rather a figure of rhetoric than of calculation. Calamy says it was ‘mention'd from the first’ (Account, pref. p. xx), and it probably originated as a counterpart to an assertion by Thomas Cartwright [q. v.] in one of his defences of Field and Wilcocks's ‘Admonition,’ 1572, to the effect that ‘two thousand preachers, which preached and fed diligently, were hard to be found in the church of England’ (Contin. pref. p. i). Calamy does not profess to give an exact enumeration, but he thinks two thousand under the mark. His own volumes mention 2,465 names, omitting duplicates, but counting those who afterwards conformed. Palmer's contain 2,480, including only 230 of the after conformists, but adding new names. Nor is this exhaustive; in Norfolk and Suffolk, to take an example, Calamy and Palmer give 182 names; Browne, the careful historian of nonconformity in these counties, while removing two (one ejected in another county), adds 14 on the evidence of ecclesiastical registers, so that Oliver Heywood may be right in estimating the gross total at 2,500. All the lists require more careful classification than they have yet received. Baxter is probably very near the mark when he fixes at 1,800 the number of the nonconforming clergy who entered upon active work in the dissenting ministry. Calamy's ‘Continuation’ concluded his historical labours. In the summer of 1729 his health was broken, and he spent ten weeks at Scarborough for the waters. He lived to deprecate, though not to take part in, the discussions (1730) on the decay of the dissenting interest, and preached on 28 Oct. 1731 the first sermon to ministers at Dr. Williams's library (he was one of the original trustees of Williams's foundations). In the following February he tried the Bath waters, but returned home to prepare for death. He died on 3 June, and was buried at Aldermanbury on 9 June, 1732.
Calamy was married, first, on 19 Dec. 1695, to Mary (d. 1713), daughter of Michael Watts, a cloth merchant and haberdasher (d. 3 Feb. 1708, aged 72); secondly, on 14 Feb. 1716, to Mary Jones (niece of Adam Cardonel, secretary to the great Duke of Marlborough), who survived him. He had thirteen children, but only six survived him, four of them, including Edmund (1697?–1755) [q. v.], being by the first wife.
Of the many engravings of Calamy, the best is that by G. Vertue, prefixed to the sermons on the Trinity (see below); less refined, but more genial, is that by Worthington from Richardson's painting, prefixed to his autobiography; that by Mackenzie, ‘from an original picture,’ prefixed to Palmer's work, shows a shapeless face with a squinting leer. Calamy's most important publications, in addition to those mentioned above, are: 1. ‘Defence of Moderate Nonconformity,’ 3 parts, 1703–5, 8vo, against Ollyffe and Hoadley. 2. ‘Inspiration of the Holy Writings,’ 1710, 8vo, dedicated by permission to Queen Anne. 3. ‘Thirteen Sermons concerning the Doctrine of the Trinity,’ 1722, 8vo, in which he vindicates the authenticity of 1 Jo. v. 7, and vouches for the orthodoxy of the generality of his dissenting brethren. George I, to whom the book was dedicated, received Calamy ‘very graciously’ when he came to present it, and charged him with a message to the London dissenting ministers, to use their ‘utmost influence’ at the coming election in favour of the Hanoverian candidates. 4. ‘Memoirs of the Life of the late Revd. Mr. John Howe,’ 1724, 8vo. Calamy's numerous funeral sermons are valuable for their biographical particulars. He was in the habit of furnishing similar particulars to other writers of funeral sermons, John Shower, for instance.[Calamy's gossiping autobiography, ‘An His- torical Account of my own Life, with some Reflections on the Times I have lived in,’ though quoted by Kippis, was first edited by John Towill Rutt in 2 vols. 1829, 8vo, 2nd ed. 1830, from two transcripts of Calamy's autograph, one of which, in three folio volumes, had been collated with the original by his son Edmund; Rutt, in his preface, speaks of having ‘endeavoured to exercise a discretion,’ which James (Hist. Litigation Presb. Chapels and Charities, 1867, p. 724) interprets as referring to omissions from the text; in point of fact there is one omission, referring to a family circumstance of no public interest; among the Calamy papers are three successive revisions of the autobiography, in Calamy's autograph, not seen by Rutt. Mayo's Funeral Sermon, 1732; Biog. Brit. 1784, iii. 140 (article by Dr. John Campbell, additions by Kippis); Hunter's Life of Oliver Heywood, 1842, p. 137, seq.; James, ut sup. p. 628; baptismal and burial registers of St. Mary Aldermanbury, per Rev. C. C. Collins; authorities quoted above.]