Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Perronet, Vincent

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PERRONET, VINCENT (1693–1785), vicar of Shoreham and methodist, youngest son of David and Philothea Perronet, was born in London on 11 Dec. 1693. His father, a native of Château d'Oex in the canton of Berne, and a protestant, came over to England about 1680, and was naturalised by act of parliament in 1708, having previously married Philothea Arther or Arthur, a lady of good family, whose paternal grandfather, an officer of the court of Star-chamber, lost a considerable estate near Devizes, Wiltshire, during the civil war. David Perronet died in 1717. One of his elder brothers, Christian, was grandfather of the celebrated French engineer Jean Rodolphe Perronet (1708–1794), director of the ‘ponts et chaussées’ of France, and builder of the bridge of Neuilly, and of the bridge ‘de la Concorde’ (formerly Pont Louis XVI) in Paris; he was a foreign member of the Royal Society, England, and of the Society of Arts, London.

Vincent Perronet, after receiving his earlier education at a school in the north of England, entered Queen's College, Oxford, whence he graduated B.A. on 27 Oct. 1718 (Cat. of Graduates); in later life he was described as M.A. On 4 Dec. 1718 he married Charity, daughter of Thomas and Margaret Goodhew of London, and having taken holy orders, became curate of Sundridge, Kent, where he remained about nine years; in 1728 he was presented to the vicarage of Shoreham in the same county. He was of an extremely religious temperament, believed that he received many tokens of a special providence, and wrote a record of them, headed ‘Some remarkable facts in the life of a person whom we shall call Eusebius’ (extracts given in the Methodist Magazine, 1799), wherein he relates certain dreams, escapes from danger, and the like, as divine interpositions. On 14 Feb. 1744 he had his first interview with John Wesley, who was much impressed by his piety (J. Wesley, Journal, ap. Works, i. 468). Both the Wesleys visited him and preached in his church in 1746. When Charles Wesley preached there a riot took place, the rioters following the preacher to the vicarage, threatening, and throwing stones, while he was defended by one of Perronet's sons, Charles. From that time both the Wesleys looked to Perronet for advice and support; he was, perhaps, their most intimate friend, and they respected his judgment no less than they delighted in his religious character. He attended the methodist conference of 15 June 1747. In April 1748 Charles Wesley consulted him about his intended marriage; in 1749 he wrote to C. Wesley exhorting him to avoid a quarrel with his brother John, to whom Charles had lately behaved somewhat shabbily, and a letter from him in February 1751 led John Wesley to decide on marrying (Tyerman, Life of J. Wesley, ii. 6, 104).

He wrote in defence of the methodists, was consulted by the Wesleys in reference to their regulations for itinerant preachers, in one of which he was appointed umpire in case of disagreement, and was called ‘the archbishop of methodism’ (ib. p. 230). Two of his sons, Edward and Charles, were among the itinerant preachers. His wife, who died in 1763, was buried by John Wesley, who also visited him in 1765 to comfort him under the loss of one of his sons. He encouraged a methodist society at Shoreham, headed by his unmarried daughter, ‘the bold masculine-minded’ Damaris, entertained the itinerant preachers, attended their sermons, and had preaching in his kitchen every Friday evening. He held a daily Bible-reading in his house, at first at five a.m., though it was afterwards held two hours later. In 1769 he had a long illness, and, when recovering in January 1770, received visits from John Wesley and from Selina, Countess of Huntingdon [see Hastings, Selina], who describes him as ‘a most heavenly-minded man’ (Life and Times of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, i. 317). In 1771 he upheld J. Wesley against the countess and her party at the time of the Bristol conference. When in his ninetieth year he was visited by J. Wesley, who noted that his intellect was little if at all impaired. In his last days he was attended by one of his granddaughters by his daughter Elizabeth Briggs. He died on 9 May 1785 in his ninety-second year, and was buried at Shoreham by Charles Wesley, who preached a funeral sermon on the occasion.

Perronet was a man of great piety, of a frank, generous, and cheerful temper, gentle and affectionate in disposition, and courteous in manner. His habits were studious; he at one time took some interest in philosophical works so far as they bore on religion, though he chiefly gave himself to the study and exposition of biblical prophecy, specially with reference to the second advent and the millennium (Methodist Magazine, 1799, p. 161). He owned a farm in the neighbourhood of Canterbury, and was in easy circumstances. By his wife Charity, who died on 5 Dec. 1763, in her seventy-fourth year, he had at least twelve children, of whom Edward is noticed below; Charles, born in or about 1723, accompanied C. Wesley to Ireland in 1747, became one of the Wesleys' itinerant preachers, was somewhat insubordinate in 1750, and deeply offended J. Wesley by printing and circulating a letter at Norwich contrary to his orders in 1754; he advocated separation from the church, and license to the preachers to administer the sacrament, against the orders of the Wesleys, and took upon himself to do so both to other preachers and some members of the society, being, according to C. Wesley, actuated by ‘cursed pride.’ He was enraged by the submission of his party, and afterwards ceased to work for the Wesleys, residing at Canterbury with his brother Edward, where he died unmarried on 12 Aug. 1776. Of the other sons, Vincent, born probably in 1724, died in May 1746; Thomas died on 9 March 1755; Henry died 1765; John, born 1733, died 28 Oct. 1767; and William, when returning from a residence of over two years in Switzerland, whither he had gone on business connected with the descent of the family estate, died at Douay on 2 Dec. 1781. Of Perronet's two daughters, Damaris, her father's ‘great stay,’ was born on 25 July 1727, and died unmarried on 19 Sept. 1782; and Elizabeth married, on 28 Jan. 1749, William Briggs, of the custom-house, the Wesleys' secretary (Gent. Mag. January 1749, xix. 44) or one of J. Wesley's ‘book-stewards’ (see Whitehead, Life of Wesley, ii. 261). Elizabeth and Edward alone survived their father. Of all Perronet's children, Elizabeth alone had issue, among whom was a daughter, Philothea Perronet, married, on 29 Aug. 1781, at Shoreham, to Thomas Thompson [q. v.], a merchant of Hull. From the marriage of Elizabeth Perronet to William Briggs was descended Henry Perronet Briggs [q. v.], subject and portrait painter.

Perronet published: 1. ‘A Vindication of Mr. Locke,’ 8vo, 1736. 2. ‘A Second Vindication of Mr. Locke,’ 8vo, 1738 [see under Butler, Joseph]. 3. ‘Some Enquiries chiefly relating to Spiritual Beings, in which the opinions of Mr. Hobbes … are taken notice of,’ 8vo, 1740. 4. ‘An Affectionate Address to the People called Quakers,’ 8vo, 1747. 5. ‘A Defence of Infant Baptism,’ 12mo, 1749. 6. ‘Some Remarks on the Enthusiasm of Methodists and Quakers compared’ (see under Lavington, George, and London Magazine, 1749, p. 436). 7. ‘An Earnest Exhortation to the strict Practice of Christianity,’ 8vo, 1750. 8. ‘Third Letter to the author of the Enthusiasm of Methodists’ (London Mag. 1752, p. 48). 9. ‘Some Short Instructions and Prayers,’ 8vo, 4th edit. 1755. 10. ‘Some Reflections on Original Sin,’ &c., 12mo, 1776. 11. ‘Essay on Recreations,’ 8vo, 1785.

Perronet's portrait was engraved by J. Spilsbury in 1787 (Bromley), and is given in the ‘Methodist Magazine,’ November 1799.

Edward Perronet (1721–1792), hymn-writer, son of Vincent and Charity Perronet, was born in 1721. He was John Wesley's companion on his visit to the north in 1749, and met with rough treatment from the mob at Bolton. He became one of Wesley's itinerant preachers, was on most friendly terms with both John and Charles Wesley, who spoke of him as ‘trusty Ned Perronet,’ and seems to have made an unfortunate suggestion that led John Wesley to marry Mrs. Vazeille (Tyerman, ii. 104). Yet even by that time his impatience of control had caused some trouble to John Wesley, who, in 1750, wrote to him that, though he and his brother Charles Perronet behaved as he liked, they either could not or would not preach where he desired (ib. p. 85). In 1754–5 Perronet, in common with his brother Charles, urged separation from the church and the grant of license to the itinerants to administer the sacraments. He was at that date living at Canterbury (see above) in a house formed out of part of the old archiepiscopal palace. His attack on the church in the ‘Mitre’ in 1756 caused the Wesleys deep annoyance; they prevailed on him to suppress the book, but he appears to have given some copies away to his fellow-itinerants, after promising to suppress it. Charles Wesley wrote a violent letter to his brother John on the subject on 16 Nov. of that year, speaking of the ‘levelling, devilish, root-and-branch spirit which breathes in every line of the “Mitre,”’ declaring that Perronet had from the first set himself against them, and had poisoned the minds of the other preachers; that he wandered about from house to house ‘in a lounging way of life,’ and that he had better ‘go home to his wife’ at Canterbury. Among Perronet's offences noted in this letter, the writer says that on a late visit to Canterbury he had seen his own and his brother's ‘sacrament hymns’ so scratched out and blotted by him that scarcely twenty lines were left entire (ib. p. 254). By 1771, and probably earlier, he had ceased to be connected with Wesley; he joined the Countess of Huntingdon's connexion, and preached under her directions at Canterbury, Norwich, and elsewhere, with some success. The countess, however, remonstrated with him for his violent language about the church of England, and he therefore ceased to work under her (Life of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, ii. 134–5), and became minister of a small chapel at Canterbury with an independent congregation. He died on 8 Jan. 1792, and was buried in the south cloister of the cathedral of Canterbury, near the transept door. Unlike his father, he seems to have been hot-headed, uplifted, bitter in temper, and impatient of all control. In old age he was crusty and eccentric. In 1892 nonconformists at Canterbury held a centenary festival to commemorate his work in that city. From the letter of C. Wesley referred to above, it would seem that he had a wife in 1756. There is, however, a strong belief among some of the descendants of Vincent Perronet that Edward never married. It is possible that the wife spoken of by C. Wesley was one in expectancy, and that the marriage never took place; he certainly left no children.

His published works are: 1. ‘Select Passages of the Old and New Testament versified,’ 12mo, 1756. 2. ‘The Mitre, a sacred poem,’ 8vo, printed 1757 (a slip from a bookseller's catalogue gives the date 1756, with note ‘suppressed by private authority;’ it was certainly printed in 1756, but a new title-page may have been supplied in 1757; see copy in the British Museum, with manuscript notes and corrections, and presentation inscription from the author, signed E. P. in monogram); it contains a dull and virulent attack on the Church of England. It was published without the author's name. In one of the notes the author says, ‘I was born and am like to die a member of the Church of England, but I despise her nonsense.’ 3. ‘A Small Collection of Hymns,’ 12mo, 1782. 4. ‘Occasional Verses, moral and sacred,’ 12mo, 1785; on p. 22 is Perronet's well-known hymn, ‘All hail the power of Jesu's name,’ which first appeared in the ‘Gospel Magazine,’ 1780, without signature.

[Life of V. Perronet in Methodist Mag. vol. xxii. January-April 1799; Tyerman's Life of J. Wesley, 2nd edit.; Whitehead's Life of Wesley; J. Wesley's Journal, ap. Works, 1829; Jackson's Journal, &c., of C. Wesley; Life and Times of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon; Gent. Mag. January 1749 xix. 44, July 1813 lxxxii. 82; Day of Rest, new ser. (1879), i. 765; W. Gadsby's Companion to Selection of Hymns; J. Gadsby's Memoirs of Hymn-writers, 3rd edit.; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. ix. 263; Julian's Dict. of Hymnology, art. ‘Perronet, Edward,’ by Dr. Grosart; family papers and other information from Miss Edith Thompson.]

W. H.