Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Clowes, John

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1319672Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 11 — Clowes, John1887Charles William Sutton

CLOWES, JOHN (1743–1831), Swedenborgian, whom De Quincey called the 'holiest of men whom it had been his lot to meet,' was born at Manchester on 31 Oct. 1743. He was the fourth son of Joseph Clowes, barrister-at-law, and his wife Catherine, daughter of the Rev. Edward Edwards, rector of Llanbedr, near Ruthin. Clowes was only seven years old when his mother died, but she laid the foundation of his religious education, which was continued by his father and strengthened by the Rev. John Clayton, to whose academy in Salford he was sent at an early age. At the age of eighteen, in 1761, he was admitted a pensioner of Trinity College, Cambridge. In January 1766 he graduated B. A. and was eighth wrangler. During the next three years, while engaged in the work of a private tutor, he took two prizes for Latin essays, and was elected fellow of Trinity. Abandoning his original idea of entering his father's profession, he prepared himself for holy orders, and was ordained in 1767 by Bishop Terrick. He proceeded to his degree of M. A. in 1769, in which year he became the first incumbent of St. John's Church, Manchester, then recently built by his kinsman Mr. Edward Byrom. He was at that time in delicate health, and in other ways felt himself unprepared for his vocation. In this diffident state of mind he one day, while engaged in arranging his father's library, met with a copy of William Law's 'Christian Perfection.' The perusal of this work had a marked effect on his mind, and led to the study of Law's other books, as well as the writings of sundry English, French, and German mystics. In 1773 he was introduced to the writings of Emanuel Swedenborgby Mr. Richard Houghton of Liverpool, through whom he became acquainted with the Rev. T. Hartley, rector of Winwick, Northamptonshire, and the earliest translator into English of any of Swedenborg'a works. Once entered upon the study of these works they had for him a fascination that was as lasting as it was intense. In obedience to what he recognised as a 'call from above' he digested well the numerous publications of the Swedish divine and spent many years in translating them. His first translation was the 'Vera Christiana Religio' (1781, 2 vols. 4to.), followed by the 'Arcana Coelestia' (1782-1806, 12 vols.), 'De Telluribus in Mundo nostro Solari' (1787), 'Amor Conjugialis' (1792), and 'Doctrina Vitæ pro Nova Hierosolyma.'

Soon after his adoption of Swedenborg's views he consulted Mr. Hartley as to the consistency of his continuing a beneficed clergyman of the church of England, but the latter 'warmly urged upon him the duty of remaining in the line of occupation which Providence had marked for him.' Clowes followed the advice and remained rector of St. John's, in spite of occasional opposition. Several pamphlets were published against him, and finally an appeal was made, in 1792, to his bishop, Dr. B. Porteus. The bishop dealt very gently with Clowes, dismissing him with a friendly caution to be on his guard against his adversaries (Autob. p. 27 ; Pure Evang. Religion Revealed, chap, vii.) In later years he was assailed by John Grundy (unitarian), W. Roby (independent), and other dissenting ministers. About 1780 a weekly lecture was established at St. John's, and from these meetings there sprang up in the towns and villages around Manchester many societies having for their object the promulgation of the New Jerusalem doctrines. At the same date Clowes founded a printing society (which still exists) for the purpose of printing and circulating the writings of Swedenborg and tracts on his teachings. In 1787 the followers of Swedenborg resolved to establish distinct places of worship, and in 1792 the New Jerusalem church in Peter Street, Manchester, was opened. This action was taken against Clowes's wish, but it did not prevent his continuing to hold communion with his fellow-believers. When the Hawkstone Park meetings were instituted, in 1806, he became closely associated with them, and continued his attendance at the reunions until a few years before his death. In 1804 he declined a seat on the episcopal bench offered to him by William Pitt on the recommendation of Baron Graham. High testimonies of the influence of his character and conversation are given by De Quincey and by Mrs. Fletcher of Edinburgh. The fiftieth anniversary of his induction to St. John's (1818) was commemorated by the erection in that church of a basso-relievo tablet, sculptured by John Flaxman, and the painting of an oil portrait, by John Allen, which is placed in the vestry.

His declining years were spent at Leamington and Warwick, where he employed himself in literary labours. He died at Leamington on 29 May 1831, hi his eighty-eighth year, and was buried at St. John's, Manchester, on 9 June. A marble monument to his memory, designed by R. Westmacott, was subsequently placed in the church.

He contributed frequently to the pages of the 'Intellectual Repository' and issued a large number of separatepublications. Among his more important works are: 1. 'A Letter to a Member of Parliament on the Character and Writings of Baron Swedenborg,' 1799, 8vo (pp. 370). 2. ' An Affectionate Address to the Clergy on the Theological Writings of the Hon. Emanuel Swedenborg,' 1802. 3. 'Sermons on the Call and Deliverance of the Children of Israel,' 1803. 4. 'The Gospel according to Matthew, translated from the original Greek,' 1805 ; followed in later years by the three other gospels. 5. 'On Science, its Divine Origin,' &c., 1809. 6. ' Pure Evangelical Religion Restored,' 1811. 7. 'Twenty-four Sermons on the Marriage of the Kingston,' 1812. 8. 'On Mediums,' 1813. 9. ' On the Two Worlds, the Visible and the Invisible,' 1818. 10. 'The Two Heavenly Memorialists,' 1818. 11. ' A Treatise on Opposites,' 1820. 12. ' The Twelve Hours of the Day,' 1822. 13. ' On Delights,' 1823. 14. 'Letters on the Human Soul,' 1825. 15. 'Letters on the Human Body,' 1826. 16. 'The Psalms : a new Translation from the Hebrew (begun by Clowes and finished by others after his death), 1837. Several volumes of collected sermons and tracts were published both before and subsequent to his decease. His translation of Swedenborg's treatise' On the Worship and Love of God,' originally brought out by him in 1816, was republished, with an introduction by the Rev. T. M. Gorman, in 1885.

[Memoir by himself, Manchester, 1834, 2nd edit. 1848; Life and Correspondence, edited by Theodore Compton, Lond. 1874; De Quincey in Tait's Mag. February 1837, pp. 65-8, and Autobiographic Sketches, 1862, p. 131; Autob. of Mrs. Fletcher, 1875. pp. 40-4; John Evans's manuscript Memorials of St. John's, Manchester, and his communication to Papers of Manchester Literary Club, v. 113; Page's Thomas De Quincey, 1877, i. 65-70. The manuscript of Clowes's Autob. is in the Chetham Library, Manchester.]

C. W. S.