Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Jebb, John (1736-1786)

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JEBB, JOHN, M.D. (1736–1786), theological and political writer, eldest son of John Jebb, D.D., dean of Cashel (d. 6 Feb. 1787), by Ann, daughter of Daniel Gansel of Donnyland Hall, Essex, was born in Ireland (Munk says in London) on 16 Feb. 1736. His father was an intimate friend of David Hartley, the philosopher. Samuel Jebb, M.D. [q. v.], was his uncle. Jebb was partly educated at Chesterfield, Derbyshire, and was admitted pensioner at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1753. On 9 Nov. 1754 he matriculated at Peterhouse, Cambridge, and graduated B.A. in January 1757, being second wrangler. In 1760 he proceeded M.A., and was elected fellow in 1761. He took holy orders (deacon 1762, priest 1763); in 1764 was instituted to the rectory of Ovington, Norfolk (a university living); and married on 29 Dec. of the same year (see ad fin.) He continued his connection with Cambridge as a lecturer on mathematics, and in January 1768 and again in 1770 he was an unsuccessful competitor for the chair of Arabic against his first cousin, Samuel Hallifax [q. v.] In November 1768 he began lectures on the Greek Testament, in which his unitarian views were soon manifested, and in 1770 the authorities of several colleges prohibited the attendance of undergraduates. Shortly afterwards he was instituted to the rectories of Homersfield and St. Cross and vicarage of Flixton, Suffolk. In 1771 he joined in efforts for the removal of subscription at graduation. He took an active part (1771–2) in promoting the ‘Feathers petition’ for the abolition of clerical subscription [see Blackburne, Francis, 1705–1787]. On two occasions (5 July 1773 and October 1774) he brought forward resolutions in the senate house for annual public examinations of all undergraduates. Paley and Edmund Law supported him, Samuel Hallifax strongly opposed; the grace for a committee was carried in 1773, but the plan was shelved; in 1774 it was rejected by a small majority. In September 1775 he resigned his preferments on conscientious grounds, and permission to continue his lectures on the Greek Testament was refused him. Theophilus Lindsey [q. v.] wished to secure him as his colleague at Essex Street Chapel, London. He decided, however, on the advice of his cousin, Sir Richard Jebb, bart., M.D. [q. v.], to take up medicine as a profession. He left Cambridge in September 1776; after visiting Blackburne at Richmond, Yorkshire, came to London; studied at St. Bartholomew's Hospital; attended the anatomical lectures of Charles Collignon, M.D. [q. v.]; obtained the degree of M.D. from St. Andrews on 18 March 1777; and was admitted licentiate by the London College of Physicians on 25 June 1777.

He began practice in London in February 1778 at Craven Street, Strand, and succeeded very well, though his radical politics stood in the way of his election as physician to a London hospital. As a Westminster elector he canvassed for Fox in 1780, but ceased to be one of his followers after the coalition with North in 1782. He worked with John Cartwright (1740–1824) [q. v.] for parliamentary reform and universal suffrage. He deserves remembrance as a prison philanthropist. He held Priestley's views on the person of our Lord and on ‘philosophical necessity,’ and helped to found in September 1783 a society ‘for promoting the knowledge of the scriptures.’ Jebb wrote the prospectus, obtained the adhesion of his father, and of Edmund Law, then bishop of Carlisle, and contributed to the society's two volumes of ‘commentaries and essays.’ He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society on 25 Feb. 1779. During his last illness he studied Anglo-Saxon. He died of decline on 2 March 1786, and was buried in Bunhill Fields. He married, on 29 Dec. 1764, Ann, eldest daughter of James Torkington, rector of Ripton-Kings, Huntingdonshire, by Lady Dorothy, his wife, daughter of Philip Sherard, second earl of Harborough, but had no issue. Paul Henry Maty [q. v.], who had undertaken to write Jebb's life, describes him as ‘the most perfect human being’ he had known. His portrait was painted by Hoppner, and an engraving by J. Young forms the frontispiece to his work on prisons (vide infra).

His ‘Works,’ 1787, 3 vols. 8vo, were edited, with ‘Memoirs,’ by John Disney, D.D. [q. v.] The following are his chief pieces: 1. ‘A Short Account of Theological Lectures … a New Harmony of the Gospels,’ &c., 1770, 8vo. 2. ‘The Excellency of … Benevolence,’ &c., 1773, 8vo. 3. ‘A Proposal for … Public Examinations in the University of Cambridge,’ &c., 1774, 8vo. 4. ‘A Short Statement of … Reasons for … Resignation,’ &c., 1775, 8vo. 5. ‘Select Cases of … Paralysis,’ &c., 1782, 8vo. 6. ‘Letters … to the Volunteers of Ireland on … Parliamentary Reform,’ &c. [1782], 8vo. 7. ‘Thoughts on the Construction and Polity of Prisons,’ &c., 1786, 8vo (portrait). In conjunction with Thorpe and Wollaston he edited ‘Excerpta quædam e Newtoni Principiis,’ &c., 1765, 4to. The notes signed ‘J.’ in Priestley's ‘Harmony of the Evangelists,’ 1780, 8vo, are by Jebb.

Ann Jebb, wife of the above, whose maiden name was Torkington, born on 9 Nov. 1735 at Ripton-Kings, shared all her husband's interests and wrote ably on his side. Under the signature of ‘Priscilla’ she contributed to the ‘London Chronicle’ (1772–4) a series of letters which Samuel Hallifax [q. v.] tried to stop, and which drew from Paley the remark, ‘The Lord hath sold Sisera into the hand of a woman.’ She was very small in stature, and her complexion was ‘pale and wan,’ but she was an animated talker, and her tea-parties were famous. She died on 20 Jan. 1812, and was buried beside her husband.

[Memoirs, by Disney, 1787; Munk's Coll. of Phys. 1878, ii. 309 sq.; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. viii. 114, 571, ix. 659; Rutt's Memoirs of Priestley, 1832, i. 165, 204, ii. 109; Belsham's Memoirs of Lindsey, 1812, pp. 135 sq., 177; Dyer's Hist. of Univ. of Cambridge, 1814, i. 124 sq.; Monthly Repository, 1836, p. 474; Turner's Lives of Eminent Unitarians, 1840, ii. 82 sq.; Spears's Record of Unitarian Worthies, 1877, pp. 281 sq.; Memoirs of Mrs. Jebb, by G. W. M. (George William Meadley), in Monthly Repository, 1812, pp. 597 sq., 661 sq.]

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