Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gambold, John
GAMBOLD, JOHN (1711–1771), bishop of the Unitas Fratrum, was born on 10 April 1711 at Puncheston, Pembrokeshire. He received his early education from his father, William Gambold, a clergyman, and in 1726 entered as a servitor at Christ Church, Oxford. His taste was for poetry and the drama, but his father's death in 1728 preyed upon his spirits, and for a couple of years he abandoned himself to religious melancholy. In March 1730 he introduced himself to the acquaintance of Charles Wesley, his junior by two years, who had entered at Christ Church in the same year. Charles brought him under the influence of John Wesley, who admitted him to the society of the Oxford methodists, the ‘Holy Club,’ as it was called. Gambold's account (written in 1736) of the customs and pursuits of this society is of considerable historical value. He was much indebted to Wesley, but was ‘slow in coming into his measures,’ his turn being towards quietism rather than evangelistic activity. He shut himself up to the study of the earlier Greek fathers, and was captivated by their mysticism.
In September 1733 he was ordained by John Potter, bishop of Oxford, and in 1735 was instituted to the vicarage of Stanton-Harcourt, Oxfordshire. Here his sister kept house for him, and for about two years (1736–8) Keziah Wesley (youngest surviving sister of his friend) was a member of his household. Gambold attended to the duties of his small parish, but spent much time in retirement. He was working his way out of mysticism; John Wesley, on his return from Georgia (February 1738), found him ‘convinced that St. Paul was a better writer than either Tauler or Jacob Behmen.’ Wesley introduced him to the Moravian missionary, Peter Boehler, who gave addresses at Oxford in Latin, Gambold acting as interpreter. Next year he met Count Zinzendorf, and was much impressed by him; at a later date he was the interpreter of Zinzendorf's German addresses. His religious musings found expression in a dramatic piece, the most important of his poems, written in 1740. In December of that year he had a visit from his younger brother, who gave him an account of the London Moravians; he was attracted by the homely warmth of their fellowship. Accompanying his brother to London (1741) he came under the influence of Philip Henry Molther. On 2 July 1741 he broke with Wesley. He preached before the university of Oxford on 27 Dec. 1741 a sermon of rather high church tinge. In October 1742 he resigned his living, having been for some little time with the Moravians in London. He was admitted a member of their society in November, while teacher in a boarding-school at Broadoaks, Essex. On 14 May 1743 he married Elizabeth, (b. 7 Dec. 1719, d 13 Nov. 1803), daughter of Joseph Walker of Littletown, Yorkshire, and went to live in Wales, keeping a school at Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire.
In November 1744 Gambold returned to London and became a stated preacher at Fetter Lane. In December 1745 Wesley found him unwilling to renew their former intercourse; they met again in 1763, but Gambold was still shy, yet Wesley spoke of him to the last (1770) as one of the most ‘sensible men in England.’ Gambold took part, in March 1747, in a synod of the brethren at Herrnhaag in the Rhine provinces. In 1749 he addressed a letter to Zinzendorf, proposing the formation of an ‘Anglican tropus,’ a plan for the admission, as Moravian brethren, of persons who should still remain members of the church of England. Gambold was willing to concede that an Anglican prelate should exercise some supervision in Moravian affairs, and assist at their ordinations; also that the common prayer-book should be adopted in their assemblies. The latter provision was not carried out; but, at a synod in London in September 1749, Wilson, the aged bishop of Sodor and Man, was chosen ‘antistes’ of the ‘reformed tropus’ (with liberty to employ his son as substitute), and accepted the office.
In 1753 the Moravian community was weakened by the secession of Benjamin Ingham [q. v.] and his following. Gambold exerted himself to repair the loss. At a synod held at Lindsey House, Chelsea, he was consecrated a ‘chorepiscopus’ in November 1754 by Bishops Johannes de Watteville, John Nitschmann, and David Nitschmann the younger. Till 1768 his home was in London, but his duties often took him on his travels. He had much to do with the reorganisation of Moravianism at the synod of Marienborn in July and August 1764, four years after Zinzendorf's death. In 1765 he founded the community at Cootehill, co. Cavan. His health failed in 1768, owing to a ‘dropsical asthma,’ and he retired in the autumn to Haverfordwest. There he continued his ministrations until five days before his death, which occurred on 13 Sept. 1771. He left a son and daughter. His portrait was painted by Abraham Louis Brandt, a Moravian minister; from this there is a fine mezzotint (1771) by Spilsbury, a reduced and inferior copy drawn by Hibbart (1789), and a small engraving by Topham (1816). His contemporaries were struck by his likeness ‘in person and in mien’ to Dr. Johnson (Gentleman's Magazine, 1784, p. 353).
Gambold never had an enemy, but he made few friends. The hesitations of his career are in part to be explained by the underlying scepticism of his intellectual temperament, from which he found refuge in an anxious and reclusive piety. This appears in his poems, e.g. ‘The Mystery of Life,’ his epitaph for himself, in which occurs the line, ‘He suffered human life—and died,’ and still more in his letters. His very remarkable ‘Letter to a Studious Young Lady,’ 1737, contains a curious argument to show that any absorbing pursuits will elevate the mind equally well. In an unpublished letter (15 April 1740) to Wesley he writes: ‘I hang upon the Gospel by a mere thread, this small unaccountable inclination towards Christ.’ He draws his own picture in the character of Claudius, the Roman soldier of his drama. His verse is often striking, and never conventional; many of his hymns have become widely known.
He published: 1. ‘Christianity, Tidings of Joy,’ &c., Oxford , 8vo (university sermon). 2. ‘Ἡ καινὴ διαθήκη,’ &c., Oxford, 1742, 12mo (Mill's text, Bengel's divisions; Gambold's name does not appear). 3. ‘Maxims … of Count Zinzendorf,’ &c., 1751, 8vo. 4. ‘A Modest Plea,’ &c., 1754, 8vo. 5. ‘A Collection of Hymns,’ &c., 1754, 8vo, 2 vols. (to this collection, edited by Gambold, he contributed eleven translations and twenty-eight original hymns; he had previously contributed to collections of Moravian hymns, printed in 1748, 1749, and 1752; a hymn-book for children is said to have been printed by his own hand at Lindsey House). 6. ‘The Reasonableness and Extent of Religious Reverence,’ &c., 1756, 8vo. 7. ‘A Short Summary of Christian Doctrine,’ &c., 1765, 12mo; 2nd edit. 1767, 12mo (catechism, in which the answers are entirely in the language of the Book of Common Prayer). Posthumous was 8. ‘The Martyrdom of St. Ignatius,’ &c., 1773, 8vo (written 1740; edited by Benjamin La Trobe). He assisted in editing the ‘Acta Fratrum Unitatis in Anglia,’ &c., 1749, 8vo; edited an edition of Lord Bacon's ‘Works,’ 1765, 4to, 5 vols.; revised the translation of Cranz's ‘History of Greenland,’ 1767, 8vo, 2 vols., and contributed prefaces, &c., to many Moravian publications from 1752 onward. He is said to have translated Rees Pritchard's ‘Divine Poems’ from Welsh into English. His works were first published at Bath in 1789, 8vo, with anonymous ‘Life’ by La Trobe. Thomas Erskine of Linlathen (1788–1870) [q. v.] re-edited them, Glasgow, 1822, 12mo; 2nd edit. 1823, 12mo. His ‘Poetical Works’ (not including the hymns) were published in 1816, 12mo (preface dated ‘Darlington, 17 April’).[Life by La Trobe, 1789; Cranz's Hist. of the Brethren (trans. by La Trobe), 1780; Nichols's Anecdotes of W. Bowyer, 1782; Klinesmith's Hist. Records relative to the Moravian Church, 1831; Tyerman's Oxford Methodists, 1873; Gambold's Works; his manuscript letters among the large collection of unpublished documents formerly in the hands of Henry Moore, one of John Wesley's literary executors, now in the possession of J. J. Colman, esq., M.P.; information from Rev. S. Kershaw.]