Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sykes, Arthur Ashley

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SYKES, ARTHUR ASHLEY (1684?–1756), latitudinarian divine, son of Arthur Sykes of Ardeley, near Stevenage, Hertfordshire, was born in London about 1684. He was educated at St. Paul's school, whence he went with an exhibition to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He was admitted on 15 April 1701, and in the following year was elected to a scholarship. He graduated B.A. in 1705, M.A. in 1708, and D.D. in 1726.

On 7 Feb. 1713 he was presented by Archbishop Tenison to the vicarage of Godmersham, Kent, which he resigned in 1714, and on 12 April 1714 to the rectory of Dry Drayton, Cambridgeshire. While at Dry Drayton, which was near Cambridge, Sykes took an active interest in the affairs of the university, and was a vigorous partisan of Bentley in his controversy with Conyers Middleton. He resigned Dry Drayton in 1718, on being presented (in November of that year) to the rectory of Rayleigh in Essex, where he remained till his death. In December 1718 he was appointed to the afternoon preachership at King Street Chapel, Golden Square (a chapel-of-ease to St. James's, Westminster, of which his friend, Dr. Clarke, was rector), and in 1721 to the morning preachership there. In January 1724 Sykes was made prebendary of Alton Borealis in the cathedral church of Salisbury, of which in 1727 he became precentor, and in April 1725 he was appointed assistant preacher at St. James's, Westminster. His other preferments were the deanery of St. Burien, Cornwall, in February 1739, and a prebendal stall at Winchester, through the favour of Bishop Hoadly, on 15 Oct. 1740. Sykes died from paralysis, at his house in Cavendish Square, London, on 23 Nov. 1756, and was buried on the 30th in St. James's Church, Westminster. He married Mrs. Elizabeth Williams, a widow of Bristol, but left no children. She died in 1763. The bulk of his fortune, which was considerable, Sykes left to her for life, with remainder to his brother George, who succeeded him in the rectory of Rayleigh. In 1766 the latter left by will the sum of 1,000l. to the master and fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in trust for the foundation of four exhibitions (now consolidated into one) for scholars from St. Paul's school. A portrait of him was painted by Wills.

Sykes was a voluminous controversial writer of the school of Hoadly. The catalogue of his works, chiefly pamphlets, prefixed to Disney's ‘Memoirs’ of him, fills fourteen octavo pages, and there are over eighty entries in his name in the ‘British Museum Catalogue.’ ‘His whole life,’ writes a critic in the ‘Monthly Review,’ ‘was a warfare of the pen, first in the Bangorian controversy, next in the Arian, then in the dispute about Phlegon, and afterwards in the Inquiry concerning the Demoniacs.’ He naturally incurred the resentment of Warburton, and, as Lowth puts it, was whipped by him at the cart's tail, in the notes to the ‘Divine Legation,’ ‘the ordinary place of his literary executions.’ One of his pieces, ‘An Essay on the Nature, Design, and Origin of Sacrifices,’ 1748, was translated by Semler into German, 1778.

[Memoirs of the Life and Writings … by John Disney, D.D., 1785 (this is chiefly a survey of his writings); Masters's Hist. of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, 1831, p. 251; Gardiner's Admission Registers of St. Paul's School; Sloane MS. (Brit. Mus.) No. 4319, ff. 70–91, containing letters from Sykes to Dr. Birch; Addit. MS. (Brit. Mus.) No. 32556, ff. 154, 241, letters of Sykes to Dr. Cox Macro; Monthly Review, lxxiii. 207–16 (a review of Disney's Memoirs); Gent. Mag. 1785, pp. 369–71; Maty's New Review, 1786, p. 17; Monk's Life of Bentley, 1833, i. 427, ii. 66–73; Perry's Hist. of the Church of England, iii. 301; Nichols's Illustrations of Lit. ii. 826.]

J. H. L.