Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Palmer, Samuel (1741-1813)

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PALMER, SAMUEL (1741–1813), nonconformist biographer, was born at Bedford in 1741. He was educated at the Bedford grammar school, and studied for the ministry (1758–62) at the Daventry academy under Caleb Ashworth, D.D. [q. v.] In 1762 he became afternoon preacher to the independent (originally presbyterian) congregation at Mare Street, Hackney, and was ordained on 21 Nov. 1763. From 10 June 1763 he occasionally assisted William Langford, D.D. (1704–1755), at the Weigh-house Chapel, Little Eastcheap, and was the regular morning preacher there from 20 June 1765 to 28 Dec. 1766. He then succeeded William Hunt as morning preacher at Mare Street, and remained in charge of the congregation, which removed in 1771 to St. Thomas's Square, till his death. For some years, from about 1780, he had a boarding-school. He was a quiet, instructive preacher, with little animation but some pathos, his theological views being closely allied to those of his friend, Job Orton [q. v.] As a pastor he was exemplary; his influence on younger men was great; and he early adopted the Sunday-school institution in connection with his church. Henry Foster Burder [q. v.] was his assistant from October 1811; but Palmer remained active in his charge to the last, preaching with vigour on the Sunday previous to his death. He died on 28 Nov. 1813, and was interred on 6 Dec. in the burial-ground at St. Thomas's Square. His funeral sermon was preached by Thomas N. Toller of Kettering, Northamptonshire. He left a numerous family. His son Samuel entered Daventry academy in 1786, and became a schoolmaster at Chigwell, Essex.

Palmer's reputation rests on his ‘Protestant Dissenters' Catechism’ and his ‘Nonconformist's Memorial.’ The catechism was undertaken at the request of several ministers, who wanted a supplement to the Westminster assembly's ‘Shorter Catechism,’ giving the grounds of dissent. The manuscript was revised by Philip Furneaux [q. v.] and Job Orton, and published in 1772, 12mo. Its two sections deal with the history and principles of nonconformity. It was immediately successful, reaching a third edition in 1773, and it has been constantly reprinted, with additions and revisions by various editors; the twenty-ninth edition was published in 1890, 8vo. A translation into Welsh was first published in 1775, 12mo. An edition adapted for Irish presbyterians was published at Belfast, 1824, 12mo. As it was too long for its original purpose, Palmer issued ‘The Protestant Dissenters' Shorter Catechism … a Supplement to the Assembly's,’ &c., 1783, 12mo.

At Orton's suggestion Palmer undertook an abridgment of the ‘Account of the Ministers … Ejected,’ &c., 1713, 8vo, by Edmund Calamy, D.D. [q. v.], incorporating the ‘Continuation,’ &c., 1727, 8vo, 2 vols., and rearranging the county lists of livings alphabetically. The work was published in parts, as ‘The Nonconformist's Memorial,’ &c., 1775–8, 8vo, 2 vols.; an enlarged edition, with inferior portraits, was published in 1802–3, 8vo, 3 vols. Palmer should be consulted for his additions; otherwise he does not supersede Calamy. He took pains with his work, and created fresh interest in the subject; but his corrections of Calamy are inadequate, he omits important documents, his bibliography is slovenly, and his typographical errors are vexatious. His projected additional volumes on the lives of the earlier puritans, and ‘an account of the principal dissenting ministers since the ejectment,’ were never executed.

He published funeral sermons for Samuel Sanderson (1776), Caleb Ashworth, D.D. (1775), Samuel Wilton, D.D. (1778), John Howard (1790), Habakkuk Crabb (1795), and other separate sermons (1774–90); also: 1. ‘The Calvinism of the Protestant Dissenters asserted,’ &c., 1786, 8vo. 2. ‘A Vindication of the Modern Dissenters,’ &c., 1790, 8vo, against William Hawkins (1722–1801) [q. v.] 3. ‘An Apology for the Christian Sabbath,’ 1799, 8vo. 4. ‘Memoirs of … Hugh Farmer’ [q. v.], &c., 1804, 8vo (anon.). 5. ‘Memoirs of … Matthew Henry,’ 1809, 4to, prefixed to ‘Henry's Miscellaneous Works;’ also separately. 6. ‘Dr. Watts no Socinian,’ &c., 1813, 8vo. He edited, with notes, Johnson's ‘Life of Watts,’ 1785, 8vo, and Orton's ‘Letters to Dissenting Ministers,’ &c., 1806, 8vo, 2 vols., with memoir. He contributed to the ‘Protestant Dissenter's Magazine’ and ‘Monthly Repository.’ His life of Samuel Clark, the Daventry tutor, is in the ‘Monthly Repository,’ 1806; that of Caleb Ashworth, D.D. [q. v.], is in the same magazine, 1813.

[Funeral Sermon, by Toller, 1814; Monthly Repository, 1814 p. 65, 1822 pp. 164, 286; Orton's Letters, 1806, ii. 127, 129, 133, 143; Wilson's Dissenting Churches of London, 1808, i. 186 sq.]

A. G.