Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lardner, Nathaniel

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LARDNER, NATHANIEL, D.D. (1684–1768), nonconformist divine, biblical and patristic scholar, was born at The Hall House, Hawkhurst, Kent, on 6 June 1684. He was the elder son of Richard Lardner (sometimes written Larner, which seems to have been the pronunciation). The father, who was born on 28 May 1653 at Portsmouth, was grandson of Thomas Lardner, a cordwainer there; was educated at the academy of Charles Morton (1626–1698) [q. v.], and became an independent minister, being settled between 1673 and 1732 at Deal, London, Chelmsford, and elsewhere; he died on 17 Jan. 1740; he was 'a little man,' but 'a lively, masculine' preacher. Nathaniel's mother was a daughter of Nathaniel Collyer or Collier, a Southwark tradesman, 'citizen and grocer,' who in the plague year, 1665, had retired to Hawkhurst. He appears to have been at a grammar school, probably Deal, and thence went to the presbyterian academy in Hoxton Square, London, under Joshua Oldfield, D.D., assisted by John Spademan and William Lorimer [q.v.]. Towards the end of 1699 he went with Martin Tomkins [q.v.] to study at Utrecht. Daniel Neal [q.v.], the historian of the puritans, was among his fellow-students. In 1702 he removed to Leyden for the winter session; of the course of studies at Leyden he has given some account in his funeral sermon for Jeremiah Hunt, D.D. [q.v.].

In 1703 Lardner returned to London with Tomkins and Neal. He joined the independent church in Miles Lane, under Matthew Clarke the younger [q. v.]. For six years he gave himself to study. He preached his first sermon on 2 Aug. 1709 in Tomkins's pulpit at Stoke Newington. In 1713 he became domestic chaplain to Lady Treby, widow of Sir George Treby (d. 1702), chief justice of the common pleas. He was tutor to their youngest son, Brindley, and in 1716 travelled with him for four months in France and Holland, keeping a journal of the tour. In 1719 he was one of the non-subscribers at Salters' Hall [see Bradbury, Thomas]. He began to write about this time; his initial forms the last letter of the name ‘Bagweell,’ applied to the 'Occasional Papers,' 1716–19 [see Grosvenor, Benjamin]. By Lady Treby's death, at the beginning of 1721, he lost 'an agreeable situation,' and went to live with his father in Hoxton Square, acting as his assistant (till 1729) at Hoxton Square meeting-house. The death of his pupil Brindley Treby in 1723 greatly affected his spirits and health. He became very deaf; early in 1724 he writes that when at public worship he could neither hear the preacher's voice nor the congregation singing. He was at this time taking part in a course of Tuesday evening lectures at the Old Jewry, instituted in 1723. Late in that year he began a series of lectures on 'The Credibility of the Gospel History,' out of which grew his great work on that subject. He joined two clubs which met at Chew's Coffee-house, Bow Lane: a literary club on Monday evenings, and a small clerical club on Thursday evenings, to which his friend Hunt belonged. By the members of this latter club a subject-index to the bible was projected, the preparation of the first division embracing the topics of scripture; God, his works and providence, was assigned to Lardner, who seems to have made no progress with it.

In February 1727 he published the first two volumes of his 'Credibility,' which at once placed him in the front rank of Christian apologists. He sold the copyright in 1768 for 150l., 'a sum far less than he had laid out,' but this was the only work of which he disposed in like fashion. A dangerous fever attacked him in February 1728; his physicians despaired of his life, but called in Sir Edward Hulse, M.D. [q.v.], who cured him. On 24 Aug. 1729 he preached for William Harris, D.D. [q.v.], at the presbyterian meeting-house in Poor Jewry Lane, Crutched Friars, and was unexpectedly invited to become Harris's assistant as morning preacher. For Harris he had held 'a high esteem from his early youth,' and, accepting the invitation, entered on his duties on 14 Sept. His name henceforth disappears from the lists of congregational ministers, but he declined the pastoral care among presbyterians, and was never ordained. At this period he was in correspondence on theological topics with John Shute Barrington, first viscount Barrington [q.v.], to whom he addressed his letter on the Logos (see below).

Lardner's only brother, Richard, a barrister, died in April 1733. In November 1736 he was again prostrated by fever, and incapacitated for preaching till late in the spring of 1737. The death of his father, with whom he had continued to live, and of his colleague occurred in the same year, 1740. He was now urged to take a share in the pastorate, and consulted Joseph Hallett (1691?–1744) [q.v.], who tried (23 June) to meet his difficulties about ordination, deafness, and literary work. Ultimately he decided to remain as assistant, George Benson, D.D. [q.v.], being elected pastor in November 1740. Hallett's letter makes it probable that Lardner, who elsewhere describes himself as 'not forward to engage in religious disputes,' shrank from the ordeal of a theological examination and a detailed confession of faith. Early in 1745 he received the diploma of D.D. from the Marischal College, Aberdeen, and in June 1746 he was appointed a London correspondent of the Scottish Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. He retained his place as assistant till 1751; the smallness of the morning congregation was among his reasons for resigning; he preached his last sermon on 23 June. His want of popularity as a preacher was partly due to indistinct enunciation; he slurred his words and dropped his voice, defects to which his deafness rendered him insensible. From about 1753 'the only method of conversing with him was by writing,' and he amused himself when alone with looking over the sheets covered with the miscellaneous jottings of his visitors.

His old age was lonely. His brother-in-law, Daniel Neal, died in 1743. Hunt, his closest friend, and connection by marriage, who died in 1744, was to some extent replaced in his intimacy by Caleb Fleming, D.D. [q.v.], his neighbour in Hoxton Square. His only sister, Elizabeth, widow of Neal, died in 1748. His family affections were very strong; on his sister's death he writes, 'now all worldly friendships fade, and are worth little.' He lived by himself, and was sometimes 'made unhappy by his servants.' To Hawkhurst, where he kept The Hall House unoccupied, he paid an annual visit of a few days. For works of benevolence he was always ready; in 1756, and again shortly before his death, he exerted himself to procure contributions in aid of foreign protestants. His literary activity was continued to the last. Priestley, who often visited him, called upon him in 1767, and found his memory for persons failing. Letters written in the last year of his life show that he took an interest in liberal politics, but thought it unsafe 'to allow a free toleration to papists.'

In July 1768 he took his annual journey to Hawkhurst, accompanied by one of his nieces and her husband, William Lister (d. 16 March 1778, aged 62), independent minister at Ware. He reached Hawkhurst about 19 July in feeble health, but seemed to revive. On the 22nd an apothecary was called in, but though the end was near he did not take to his bed. He died at The Hall House, Hawkhurst, unmarried, on the evening of Sunday, 24 July 1768, having completed his eighty-fourth year, and was buried in his family vault in Bunhill Fields, about the middle of the north side; the tomb (restored about 1800 by Isaac Solly of Walthamstow, who married Elizabeth Neal, Lardner's great-niece) bears an inscription to his memory. His funeral was very simple. Fleming, Thomas Amory, D.D. [q.v.], Richard Price, D.D., and Ebenezer Radcliffe were present; the last named, his successor at Poor Jewry Lane, made a long oration at the grave, part of which is appended to the 'Life' by Kippis. A funeral sermon he had strictly forbidden. In 1789 an inscribed marble slab was erected to his memory in Hawkhurst Church by his great-nephew, David Jennings [see under Jennings, David, D.D.]. His library was sold in December 1768. Many books bearing his autograph are now in Dr. Williams's Library, Gordon Square, London. His 'Adversaria' and interleaved bible he ordered to be destroyed.

Lardner's apologetic works were especially planned for the benefit of the unlearned. He regarded the average reader as capable of judging for himself of the internal evidence for the historical character of the New Testament, and aimed at putting him in a position to form his own judgment respecting the external evidence, in place of relying on the authority of the learned. Without declaring any theory of inspiration, he undertook to show that all facts related in the New Testament are not only credible as history, but narrated without any real discrepancies, and largely confirmed by contemporary evidence. His method is thorough, and his dealing with difficulties is always candid. When he meets with a difficulty which he cannot remove, he exhibits much skill and cautious judgment, as well as ample learning, in his various expedients for reducing it, leaving always the final decision with the reader. Of greatest value is his vast and careful collection of critically appraised materials for determining the date and authorship of New Testament books. Here he remains unrivalled. He may justly be regarded as the founder of the modern school of critical research in the field of early Christian literature, and he is still the leading authority on the conservative side.

His style is not equal to his matter. Originating in sermon-lectures, his treatises have little literary form. His writing is plain, but bald, and, as he admits, often prolix, giving at its best an impression of quiet strength. Though in his text every citation is presented in an English dress, the copious apparatus of original authorities at the foot of his pages renders their appearance somewhat more inviting to the student than to a wider public. Hence Lardner has remained a mine for scholars, while the results of his labours have been popularised by Paley and others. He complained to Kippis that the dissenting laity did not patronise his books, and Kippis can only point to one exception, Thomas Hollis (1720–1774) [q.v.], who sent 20l. in 1764 as a subscription. From the dissenters, indeed, he had received no mark of favour, 'not so much as a trust'—alluding to his not being made a trustee of Dr. Williams's Library and other foundations. He was in intimate relations with Secker, exchanged letters with Edward Waddington, bishop of Chichester, and had a large literary correspondence with continental scholars, and with the divines of New England. Among his dissenting correspondents were John Brekell [q.v.], Samuel Chandler [q.v.], Philip Doddridge [q.v.], and Henry Miles [q.v.]. He corresponded also with Thomas Morgan [q.v.] the moral philosopher, who had written against revelation, but addressed himself to Lardner, thinking he 'could not talk to any man of greater impartiality and integrity.'

Conservative in the results of his biblical criticism, Lardner is conservative also in his undoubting acceptance of the miraculous element in the biblical narrations. His treatment of demoniacal possession is rationalistic, but it stands alone. All the more remarkable is his independence of mind in relation to dogmatic theology. Christianity he makes 'a republication of the law of nature, with the two positive appointments of baptism and the Lord's Supper' (Memoirs, p. 81). As a nonsubscriber at Salters' Hall in 1719 he had agreed to a statement utterly disowning the Arian doctrine, and expressing sincere belief in the doctrine of the Trinity. 'For some while,' probably under the influence of his friend Tomkins (dismissed from his congregation for Arianism in 1718), he 'was much inclined' to the modified Arianism adopted by Samuel Clarke (1675–1729) [q.v.] in the establishment, and by James Peirce among dissenters. In his reply to Woolston, published towards the end of 1729, he clearly accepts this view. The perusal of an unpublished correspondence between two writers whose names are only given as 'Eugenius,' an Arian, and 'Phileleutherus,' a Socinian, led him to re-examine his position. In 1730, as his letter on the Logos shows, he had decided for what he calls the Nazarene doctrine (as distinct from the Ebionite, which rejected the miraculous conception). This opinion he taught from the pulpit as early as 1747, but did not publish it till 1759, and then anonymously. He was not indebted to Socinian writers, nor had he acquainted himself with them; his guides to the interpretation of scripture were the commentaries of Grotius and his own patristic studies.

In person Lardner was of slender build and middle height. His portrait, taken between 1713 and 1723, and engraved by T. Kitchin, is prefixed to his 'Memoirs;' it shows a frank, intelligent face, but is not otherwise striking. All accounts speak of the cheerfulness of his temper and the civility of his deportment. His controversial manner is a model of calm courtesy. 'All authors,' he says, 'should write like scholars and gentlemen, at least like civilised people.' His sermon on 'Counsels of Prudence' is a reflex of his own character. He preserved an antiquated spelling, 'historie,' 'enemie,' 'godlinesse,' &c.

He published:

  1. 'The Credibility of the Gospel History,' &c., pt. i., 1727, 2 vols.; 2nd edition, 1730; 3rd edition, 1741; pt. ii. vol. i. 1733; vol. ii. 1735; vol. iii. 1738; vol. iv. 1740; vol. v. 1743; vol. vi. 1745; vol. vii. 1748; vol. viii. 1750; vol. ix. 1752; vol. x. 1753; vol. xi. 1754; vol. xii. 1755; supplement, 1753, 2 vols.; vol. iii. 1757, all 8vo. A new edition, of which only two volumes appeared, was begun in 1847, 8vo. The first part was translated into Dutch (1730) by Cornelius Westerbaen of Utrecht, and into Latin (1733) by John Christopher Wolff of Hamburg. The work, as far as part ii. vol. iv., was translated into German (1750–1) by various hands.
  2. 'A Vindication of Three of our Blessed Saviour's Miracles … in answer to … Woolston,' &c., 1729, 8vo; translated into German, 1750. In his 'Memoirs' is his letter of 7 March 1730 to Viscount Barrington dealing further with difficulties about the raising of Jairus's daughter.
  3. 'Counsels of Prudence, for the use of Young People,' &c., 1737, 8vo; a sermon on Matt. x. 16.
  4. 'A Caution against Conformity to this World,' &c., 1739, 8vo; two sermons on Rom. xii. 2.
  5. 'A Sermon occasioned by the Death of … William Harris, D.D.,' &c., 1740, 8vo.
  6. 'The Circumstances of the Jewish People: an Argument for … the Christian Religion,' &c., 1748, 8vo; three sermons on Rom. xi. 11; translated into German 1754.
  7. 'A Sermon … on occasion of the Death of … Jeremiah Hunt, D.D. … with brief Memoirs,' &c., 1744, 8vo.
  8. 'The Case of the Dæmoniacs,' &c., 1745, 8vo; four sermons on Mark v. 19, 'preached to a small but attentive audience in 1742;' translated into German 1760.
  9. 'A Letter to Jonas Hanway,' &c., 1745, 8vo (anon.; objects to the term 'Magdalen house' as based on an error respecting Mary of Magdala; in this letter he quotes himself as an authority).
  10. 'Sermons upon Various Subjects,' &c., 1750, 8vo; vol. ii. 1760, 8vo.
  11. 'A Dissertation upon the two Epistles ascribed to Clement of Rome … published by … Wetstein, … shewing them not to be genuine,' &c., 1753, 8vo.
  12. 'An Essay on the Mosaic Account of the Creation and Fall of Man,' &c., 1753, 8vo (anon.; takes the account in the literal sense, but denies the inheritance of a corrupted nature, and maintains that human virtue, reared amid temptation, may 'exceed the virtue of Adam in Paradise,' or 'of an angel;' nearly the whole edition of this tract was lost, owing to the 'misfortunes' of the publisher).
  13. 'A Letter … concerning … the Logos,’ &c., 1759, 8vo (anon.; postscripts deal with the positions of Robert Clayton [q.v.], bishop of Clogher); reprinted 1753, 8vo, 1793, 12mo, 1833, 12mo (this tract made Priestley a Socinian about 1768; see Rutt, Memoirs of Priestley, 1831, i. 69, 93, 99, where extracts are given from Lardner's correspondence with John Wiche, general baptist minister at Maidstone).
  14. 'Remarks upon the late Dr. [John] Ward's Dissertations upon … passages of the … Scriptures,' &c., 1762, 8vo (deals with demoniacs, &c.).
  15. 'Observations upon Dr. [James] Macknight's Harmony,' &c., 1764, 8vo (anon.).
  16. 'A Large Collection of Ancient Jewish and Heathen Testimonies to the Truth of the Christian Religion,' 1764, 8vo; vol. ii. 1765, 8vo; vol. iii. 1766, 8vo; vol. iv. 1767, 8vo (extends to writers of the fifth century, with minute criticism of doubtful passages).

Posthumous were:

  1. 'Sermons on Various Subjects,' 1769, 8vo (appended to 'Memoirs').
  2. 'The History of the Heretics of the Two First Centuries,' &c., 1780, 4to (unfinished; edited from his manuscripts by John Hogg, then minister at Mint Meeting, Exeter, afterwards banker).
  3. 'Two Schemes of a Trinity considered, and the Divine Unity asserted,' &c., 1784, 8vo (anon.; four sermons on Philipp. ii. 5–11, preached in 1747, and edited by John Wiche).

Lardner edited the posthumous 'Select Sermons,' 1745, 8vo, of Kirby Reyner, presbyterian minister of Tucker Street Chapel, Bristol. In conjunction with Chandler and others he edited the posthumous 'Tracts,' 1753, 8vo, of Moses Lowman [q.v.]; and in conjunction with Caleb Fleming he edited, supplying the preface, 'An Inquiry into … our Saviour's Agony,' &c., 1757, 8vo, by Thomas Moore, a Holywell Street woollen-draper. In 1761 and 1762 he contributed four critical letters to Kippis's periodical, 'The Library.' He revised, at Fleming's request, the manuscript of 'The Peculiar Doctrines of Revelation relating to Piacular Sacrifices,' &c., 1766, 4to, 2 vols., by James Richie, M.D.; and of 'The True Doctrine of the New Testament,' &c., 1767, 8vo, by Paul Cardale [q.v.]. His letter (1762) to Fleming on the personality of the Holy Spirit was first printed as an appendix to Cardale's posthumous 'Enquiry,' 1776, 8vo.

Lardner's 'Works' were collected in 1788, 8vo, 11 vols., with 'Life' by Kippis, who was not the editor of the work. They have been reprinted 1815, 4to, 5 vols.; 1829, 8vo, 10 vols.; 1835, 8vo, 10 vols.

[Memoirs of Lardner were published anonymously in 1769; they were drawn up by Joseph Jennings, son of David Jennings, D.D. When Kippis was bringing out his Life of Lardner (1788) he received a letter from David Jennings, Lardner's grandnephew, who wrote strongly objecting to the publication, not only on his own account, but on that of Richard Dickens, LL.D., prebendary of Durham, and his mother (Kippis erroneously says his wife), Margaret, daughter of Lardner's brother Richard, who married Samuel Dickens, D.D. Kippis's Life does not supersede the Memoirs, and adds little of biographical moment. See also London Directory of 1677, reprinted 1878 (for Nathaniel Collier); Protestant Dissenter's Magazine, 1797, pp. 434 sq. (account of Lardner's last days; reprinted with additions in Monthly Repository, 1808, pp. 364 sq., 485 sq.); Wilson's Dissenting Churches of London, 1808, i. 88 sq., ii. 303 sq.; Rutt's Memoirs of Priestley, 1831, i. 37 (compare Priestley's Works, xxi. 243); Turner's Lives of Eminent Unitarians, 1840, i. 126 sq.; Davids's Evang. Nonconformity in Essex, 1863, p. 467; James's Hist. Litig. Presb. Chapels, 1867, pp. 688, 713, 716; Hunt's Religious Thought in England, 1873, iii. 238; Urwick's Nonconformity in Herts, 1884, p. 720; Lightfoot's Essays on Supernatural Religion, 1889, p. 40; extracts from family papers kindly furnished by Lady Jennings.]

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