Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Leland, John (1691-1766)

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LELAND, JOHN (1691–1766), divine, was born at Wigan, Lancashire, 18 Oct. 1691. His father, after failing in business at Wigan, settled in Dublin, where he found an opening in business, and brought over his wife and three sons. John, the second, had an attack of small-pox in his sixth year, and for a year afterwards lost his memory. On recovering he showed promise, which induced his parents to educate him for the nonconformist ministry. He became joint-pastor with Nathaniel Weld of a congregation in New Row, Dublin. He was afterwards pastor of the meeting in Eustace Row, Dublin, where he died 16 Jan. 1766. He was created M.A. and (in 1739) D.D. by the university of Aberdeen. In 1731 he married Ann, widow of Thomas Magnay, minister in Plunket Street. Their children died young. Leland is said to have been a man of great memory and learning. He became known by his writings against the deists. He attacked Tindal, Thomas Morgan [q. v.], author of the ‘Moral Philosopher,’ Henry Dodwell (d. 1784) [q.v.] , and Bolingbroke (see below); but his chief book was ‘A View of the principal Deistical Writers that have appeared in England during the last and present century,’ &c. (1754–6), which, though the argument is commonplace, is a contribution of some value to the history of English thought. After the publication of the first volume, a second was added upon the writings of Hume and Bolingbroke. A supplement, forming a third volume, and including ‘Reflections upon Bolingbroke's Letters on the Study of History,’ was separately published in 1753. The whole work was afterwards with some changes published in two volumes. It is written as a series of letters to a friend, explained in later editions to be Dr. Thomas Wilson, rector of St. Stephen's, Walbrook, and son of the famous Bishop of Sodor and Man. Wilson had encouraged Leland to write against Bolingbroke, and when the booksellers refused to offer more than 50l. for the copy of the ‘Deistical Writers,’ published it at his own expense. The book, after passing through several editions, was edited by William Laurence Brown [q. v.] in 1798, with ‘A View of the Present Times’ appended.

Leland's other works are:

  1. ‘Answer to a late book [by Matthew Tindal] entitled “Christianity as old as the Creation,”’ 1733.
  2. ‘The Divine Authority of the Old and New Testament asserted, against the unjust Aspersions and false Reasonings of a book [by Thomas Morgan] entitled “The Moral Philosopher,”’ 1739; and second volume, in answer to Morgan's reply, 1740; German translation in 1756.
  3. ‘A Defence of Christianity, in two parts’ (the first on reason and revelation, the second in reply to Tindal), 1740; second edition, 1753.
  4. ‘Remarks on [Dodwell's] Christianity not founded on Argument,’ 1744.
  5. ‘The Case fairly stated; or Inquiry how far the Clause lately rejected by … the House of Commons would … have affected the Liberties of the People of Ireland,’ 1754.
  6. ‘The Advantage and Necessity of the Christian Revelation, shown from the State of Religion in the Antient Heathen World …’ 1764; 3rd edition in 1819.
  7. ‘Discourses on various Subjects,’ 4 vols. 1768–9, with life by the Rev. Isaac Weld, who preached his funeral sermon.

An historical romance, called ‘Longsword, Earl of Canterbury,’ published anonymously in 1762, was reprinted in 1831 as ‘by John Leland, D.D.,’ but can hardly have been his work.

A portrait was engraved by Hall.

[Life by Weld, as above; British Biography, 1780, x. 227–34.]

L. S.