Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Scott, Thomas (1747-1821)

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SCOTT, THOMAS (1747–1821), commentator on the Bible, son of John Scott (d. 1777), grazier, was born at Braytoft, Lincolnshire, on 4 Feb. 1747. He was the tenth of thirteen children. After seven years' schooling, latterly at Scorton, Yorkshire, he was apprenticed in September 1762 to a surgeon and apothecary at Alford, Lincolnshire, but was dismissed in two months for some misconduct. His father then set him to the ‘dirty parts’ of a grazier's work, and his health permanently suffered from exposure to weather. Having passed some nine years in menial employment, he learned that the land on which he laboured was bequeathed to one of his brothers. He turned again to his ‘few torn Latin books,’ and at length, in 1772, left home in anger at his father's harshness. He applied to a clergyman at Boston on the subject of taking orders. The archdeacon of Lincoln (Gordon) gave him some encouragement, and he went up to London as a candidate for ordination, but was sent back for want of his father's consent and sufficient testimonials. He returned to a herdsman's duties; but having at length fulfilled the required conditions, he was ordained deacon at Buckden on 20 Sept. 1772, and priest in London on 13 March 1773, by John Green [q. v.], bishop of Lincoln. Appointed to the curacies of Stoke Goldington, and Weston Underwood, Buckinghamshire, at 50l. a year, he taught himself Hebrew, and became a diligent student of the scriptures in the original tongues. He exchanged the Stoke curacy for that of Ravenstone in 1775. At a visitation in May 1775 he had made the acquaintance of John Newton (1725–1807) [q. v.], whom in 1781 he succeeded as curate of Olney, Buckinghamshire.

He had published on 26 Feb. 1779 a narrative of his religious development, under the title of ‘The Force of Truth.’ Cowper the poet revised the book ‘as to style and externals, but not otherwise.’ A more impressive piece of spiritual autobiography has rarely been written. With attractive candour it details the process by which a mind of singular earnestness, though of somewhat restricted compass, made its way from a bald rationalistic unitarianism to the highest type of Calvinistic fervour. Little by little Scott came, reluctantly enough at the outset, to share his friend Newton's absorbing religiousness, and with it the scheme of belief which was penetrated by so powerful a flame of piety.

At Christmas 1785 he removed to London to become joint-chaplain at the Lock Hospital, along with Charles Edward de Coetlogon [q. v.] at a salary of 80l.; he held a lectureship at St. Mildred's, Bread Street, which added 30l.; and every other Sunday, at six in the morning, he preached in St. Margaret's, Lothbury, at ‘7s. 6d. a time.’ His preaching was not to the taste of his hearers, who thought his insistence on practical points had an Arminian savour; and the intensity of his conscientiousness made him angular.

On the proposal of Bellamy, the publisher, he agreed to write a commentary on the Bible, in a hundred weekly numbers, for which he was to receive a guinea a number. Scott began his task on 2 Jan. 1788; the first number was published on 22 March following. After the fifteenth number he was told that the continuance of the work must depend on his finding money to carry it on. This he endeavoured to do, with the result that, the commentary having been finished (2 June 1792) in 174 numbers, Bellamy became bankrupt, while Scott lost all he had, and was saddled with a debt of 500l. The printer who took over the work rendered no account of profits till compelled by a chancery suit. The sale of the second edition barely set Scott straight. He then sold the copyright, only to become involved in a second chancery suit, directed unsuccessfully against the arrangements for publishing the third edition (1810). Apparently he had discharged his liabilities and realised something under 1,000l. His calculations were deceived; in 1813 he had to meet a claim of 1,200l. For the first time he sought the aid of friends in the disposal of his stock. Charles Simeon [q. v.] and others came generously forward; in a few months his dues were paid, and he was master of some 2,000l.

Apart from pecuniary anxieties, the state of his health and the methods of his work made the preparation of his commentary a perpetual struggle with difficulties, painfully overcome by indomitable tenacity of purpose. According to his theory of exegesis, the sense of scripture is to be learned only from scripture itself; hence the enormous labour which he devoted to the examination and collation of passages. His workmanship is often clumsy, and sometimes hurried, but always bears the marks of an impressive sincerity of aim. The limitations of his achievement are obvious, yet Sir James Stephen does not hesitate to speak of it as ‘the greatest theological performance of our age and country.’

In 1801 his health compelled Scott to discontinue his services at St. Margaret's, Lothbury. On 22 July of that year he was instituted to the rectory of Aston Sandford, Buckinghamshire, a living which, deducting the outlay required for a new parsonage, yielded less than 100l. a year. He was promoted on 25 March 1802 to be sole chaplain at the Lock; but in the spring of 1803 he removed finally to Aston Sandford. Here in 1807, at the instance of the Church Missionary Society, he undertook the training of missionaries, mastering for this purpose the Susoo and Arabic languages, and continuing this labour till 1814, when his health gave way. In 1807 he had received a diploma of D.D., forwarded from the ‘Dickensonian College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, by persons whose names I never before heard.’

In a well-known passage of his ‘Apologia’ (1864, pp. 60–1), Newman has recorded that while an undergraduate he thought of visiting Aston Sandford to see a man ‘to whom (humanly speaking) I almost owe my soul.’ Scott's ‘Essays’ had ‘first planted deep’ in Newman's mind ‘that fundamental truth of religion,’ the doctrine of the Trinity. He signalises Scott's ‘bold unworldliness and vigorous independence of mind’ which, combined with ‘the minutely practical character of his writings,’ prove him ‘a true Englishman;’ he sums the spirit of his life in the maxims ‘Holiness before peace’ and ‘Growth is the evidence of life.’

Scott died at Aston Sandford on 16 April 1821, and was buried there on 23 April. His funeral sermon was preached by Daniel Wilson (1778–1858) [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Calcutta, at Haddenham (the next parish) church, that of Aston being too small for the occasion. Scott married, first (5 Dec. 1774), Jane Kell (d. 8 Sept. 1790), by whom he had issue John (see below), Thomas (see below), Benjamin (see below), and other children. He married, secondly (March 1791), a lady named Egerton, who survived him.

He published, besides single sermons and tracts: 1. ‘The Force of Truth: an authentic Narrative,’ &c., 1779, 12mo (many subsequent editions; the received text is that of 1798, 12mo). 2. ‘The Holy Bible, with … Notes,’ &c., 1788–92, 4to, 4 vols. (plates); the first volume is dated 1788, the remaining three 1792; of the first volume only there is a ‘second edition,’ dated 1792; 2nd edit. (not so called), 1809, 4to, 4 vols. (no plates); 3rd edit. 1810, 4to, 5 vols. (no plates); 4th edit. (not so called), 1812, 4to, 6 vols. (no plates); many subsequent reprints, and translations in Welsh and Swedish; a selection from Scott's commentary, and from the ‘Exposition’ of Matthew Henry [q. v.], was edited by G. Stokes, 1831–5, 8vo, 6 vols., and is known as Henry and Scott's Bible. 3. ‘Essays on the most important Subjects in Religion,’ &c., 1793, 12mo. 4. ‘Sermons on Select Subjects,’ &c., 1797, 8vo. 5. ‘Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, with Notes, and … Life,’ &c., 1801, 8vo. 6. ‘Four Sermons on Repentance,’ &c. 1802, 8vo. 7. ‘Chronological Tables to the Bible,’ &c., 1811, 4to. 8. ‘Remarks on the Bishop of Lincoln's [George Pretyman Tomline] Refutation of Calvinism,’ &c., 1812, 8vo, 2 vols. 9. ‘The Articles of the Synod of Dort … translated,’ &c., 1818, 8vo. Posthumous was 10. ‘Village Discourses, composed from Notes,’ &c., 1825, 12mo.

His ‘Theological Works’ were collected, Buckingham, 1805–8, 8vo, 5 vols.; also 1823–5, 8vo, 10 vols., edited by his son and biographer, editor also of his ‘Letters and Papers,’ 1824, 8vo. His ‘Tracts’ were edited, Glasgow, 1826, 8vo, with a prefixed essay by Thomas Chalmers, D.D. [q. v.]; a selection from his works was published, Edinburgh, 1830, 8vo (portrait).

John Scott (1777–1834), eldest son of the above, born April 1777, was educated at Magdalene College, Cambridge, graduating B.A. 1799, M.A. 1803. His preferments were: curate of St. John's, Hull (1799), master of Hull grammar school (1800), vicar of North Ferriby, Yorkshire (1801), also vicar of St. Mary's, Hull (1816). He died on 16 Oct. 1834, leaving a widow and family. He published ‘Five Sermons on Baptism,’ &c., 1809, 12mo, and some other religious pieces, but is best known as the author of the ‘Life,’ 1822, 8vo, of his father, an ill-constructed book, incorporating an autobiographical narrative of the highest interest.

Thomas Scott (1780–1835), younger son of the commentator, born on 9 Nov. 1780, was educated at Queens' College, Cambridge, graduating B.A. 1805, M.A. 1808. His preferments were: curate of Emberton, Buckinghamshire (1805), first perpetual curate of Gawcott Chapel, near Buckingham (1806), rector of Wappenham, Northamptonshire (1833). He died on 24 Feb. 1835. He married (1806) Euphemia, only daughter of Dr. Lynch of Antigua, and had thirteen children, of whom nine survived him. Thomas, his eldest son, succeeded him as rector of Wappenham. He published some sermons and other pieces. A posthumous volume of his ‘Sermons,’ 1837, 8vo, was edited, with a brief ‘Memoir,’ by Samuel King.

Benjamin Scott (1788–1830), the youngest son, born 29 April 1788, was educated at Queens' College, Cambridge, graduating B.A. 1810, M.A. 1813. He began life as curate to Edward Burn [q. v.], and in 1828 became vicar of Bidford and of Priors Salford, Warwickshire. He died on 30 Aug. 1830, at Llandegley, Radnorshire, and was buried in the churchyard there. A posthumous volume of his ‘Sermons,’ 1831, 8vo, was edited by his brother Thomas.

[Life … including a narrative drawn up by himself, seventh edit., 1825 (with engraved portrait); Scott's Works; Stephen's Essays in Ecclesiastical Biogr. 1860, pp. 413 sq.; Funeral Sermon for Anne Scott, 1829; Funeral Sermon for Benjamin Scott, 1830; Memoir of Benjamin Scott, 1831; Gent. Mag. 1835, i. 103 sq., ii. 669; King's Memoir of Thomas Scott, 1837; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. xii. 344.]

A. G.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.243
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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75 i 37 Scott, Thomas (1747-1821): for 18 Oct. read 16 Oct.