Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Collier, Arthur

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

COLLIER, ARTHUR (1680–1732), metaphysician, was born 12 Oct. 1680 at Langford Magna, Wiltshire, a family living which had been held by his great-grandfather. His grandfather, Henry Collier, succeeded and was ejected under the Commonwealth (Walker, Sufferings of the Clergy, ii. 227). Two of Henry Collier's sons were transported to Jamaica for their share in Penruddocke's rising at Salisbury. The rector returned upon the Restoration, and, dying in 1672, was succeeded by his son Arthur. Arthur's third and eldest surviving son, also named Arthur, was entered at Pembroke College, Oxford, in July 1697, and on 22 Oct. 1698 migrated to Balliol, of which his younger brother William became a member at the same time. Their father had died 10 Dec. 1697; the living was held for a time by Francis Eyre, brother of Chief-justice Eyre, until Arthur Collier, having taken priest's orders, was instituted upon his mother s presentation in 1704. He held it until his death.

Arthur and his brother William had been deeply interested in metaphysical studies. William had carefully analysed Descartes, Malebranche, and Norris of Bemerton, whose 'Theory of the Ideal World' (1701-4) is highly praised by Collier. Collier at an early age reached a conclusion in striking coincidence with Berkeley's doctrine. In 1713 he published his 'Clavis Universalis, or a new Inquiry after Truth, being a demonstration of the non-existence or impossibility of an external world.' Collier's statement (Clavis, p. 1) that he had waited for ' ten years ' before publishing, and the existence of a manuscript essay dated January 1708, prove his independence of Berkeley, whose 'Theory of Vision 'appeared in 1709. Collier's treatise is by comparison dry and jejune. It was translated into German by Eschenbach in 1756, privately printed at Edinburgh in 1836, and is reprinted in the ' Metaphysical Tracts ' (1837) prepared for the press by Samuel Parr. Collier, like Berkeley, brought his opinions before Samuel Clarke, and received a 'learned and civil answer' (Benson, p. 40). He remained unknown, however, though he took a keen interest in the controversies of the time and wrote letters to Waterland, Hare, afterwards bishop of Chichester, Courayer, and other eminent men. He was an original and ingenious disputant, sympathising with the high-church party in which he had been educated, but led by his peculiar turn of mind across the limits of orthodoxy. He wrote letters to the Jacobite ' Mist's Journal ' in 1719, attacking Hoadly's theory of the innocence of sincere errors. His theological writings are a curious parallel to Berkeley's ' Siris,' showing the same tendency to a mystical application of his metaphysics, but working out his theories in more technical and scholastic fashion. He was inclined to Arianism, or, as he said, to a doctrine which reconciled the Arians and the orthodox, and fell into the heresy of Apollinaris in regard to the Incarnation. His theories upon these abstruse questions are given in 'A Specimen of True Philosophy . . . not improper to be bound up with the Clavis Universalis' (1730 at p. 114 occurs his only reference to Berkeley reprinted in 'Metaphysical Tracts,' pp. 101-28); and in his very rare 'Logology, a treatise on the Logos or Word of God in seven sermons on St. John's Gospel, chap. i. verses 1, 2, 3, and 14' (1732; an analysis by Parr in 'Metaphysical Tracts,' pp. 129-41). Collier corresponded for a time with William Whiston, and invited him to Salisbury (Benson, pp. 133-7). He was, however, disgusted by the intrusions into theology of his Salisbury neighbour, Thomas Chubb [q.v.], and made a collection of Chubb's letters on business in order to expose his ignorance (Memoirs of Chubb, 1747, p, 20).

Collier's first child was born 13 Oct. 1707.

His wife, Margaret, was daughter of Nicholas Johnson, by a sister of Sir Stephen Fox. Fox was an executor of Johnson's will and guardian of his children. In that capacity he was accused by Collier of not properly accounting for the Johnsons' estate. A dignified letter from Collier to Fox (10 Oct. 1710) is printed by Benson. A chancery suit followed, the issue of which does not appear. Mrs. Collier is said to have been extravagant. Collier got into difficulties; he obtained leave in 1716 to take lodgings in Salisbury, his parsonage being too handsome for his means; he applied vainly to his wife's aunt, Lady Fox, probably alienated by the previous quarrel, for tier interest to obtain a prebend; and at last he sold the advowson of Langford to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, for sixteen hundred guineas. He died in 1732, and was buried at Langford 9 Sept. His brother William became rector of Baverstock in 1713, took an interest in metaphysics and horseracing, and also died in 1732. Arthur Collier's wife and four children survived him. One son, Arthur, became a civilian, and died in 1777; Charles entered the army; Jane wrote 'The Art of Tormenting,' 1753, republished in 1804 as 'The Art of ingeniously Tormenting;' the other daughter, Mary or Margaret, appears to have accompanied Fielding on his voyage to Lisbon (Benson, p. 162). Letters from the two sisters are in Richardson's 'Correspondence.' Collier's papers were discovered at a house in Salisbury, and a memoir founded upon them was published soon afterwards by Robert Benson (1797–1844) [q. v.] in 1837.

[Benson's Memoirs of the Life and Writings of A. Collier; Fraser's Berkeley, iv. 62, 63.]

L. S.