Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Worthington, John

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WORTHINGTON, JOHN (1618−1671), master of Jesus College, Cambridge, was a native of Manchester, where he was born in February 1617−18. He was the son of Roger Worthington and Katharine Heywood his wife, both members of families of the corresponding names in the county palatine ofLancaster, and described as ‘persons of chief note and esteem in the town’ (Diary and Corresp. i. 2−3, ii. 372). On 31 March 1632 John was admitted a sizar of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and in the Michaelmas term,of 1635 was admitted B.A., his name and that of his friend Cudworth standing ninth and tenth in the ‘ordo senioritatis’ (Grace Book Z in registry). Benjamin Whichcote [q. v.] and Richard Clarke were successively his college tutors. He graduated M.A. in 1639. In 1641 he was appointed lecturer of the college for the year, and on 4 April 1642 was admitted a fellow, his election, which was attended with some difficulty, having taken place in the preceding year (Diary, p. 12). In June 1646 he was admitted into deacon's orders, and in the following October was appointed university preacher. He graduated B.D. in the same year, and proceeded D.D. in 1655. In 1649 he made, in conjunction with a friend, a tour of some of the south-western counties, and his diary contains some interesting notes of his observations (pp. 31−7).

On 14 Nov. 1650 Worthington was elected to the mastership of Jesus College, Cambridge. In March 1654 he found it necessary to petition the Protector respecting the nonpayment of ‘the augmentation’ annexed to his office, and represents that ‘he had constantly resided upon the place until the last year,’ but, not having received the augmentation, ‘he was in a manner necessitated to supply a place in that country for that summer quarter’ (State Papers, Dom. vol. lxviii. No. 56). In the following November he was presented to the rectory of Fen Ditton in Cambridgeshire, and on 13 Oct. 1657 was married by Dr. Whichcote (the uncle of the bride) to Mary, the daughter of Christopher Whichcote. In the following November he was elected vice-chancellor of the university, but filled the office for only one year. Along with his mastership he held other preferments. In November 1652 he was presented by the college to the rectory of Gravely in Cambridgeshire, and in April 1653 to the living of Horton in Buckinghamshire; the latter, however, he appears to have resigned in May 1654.

In October 1660 Worthington was displaced from his mastership of Jesus College in order to make way for the restoration of Dr. Richard Sterne [q. v.], who had himself been ejected from the post in 1644 to make way for the puritan Thomas Young (1587−1655) [q. v.] Writing to Sterne on the occasion, Worthington says: ‘I never had any ambitious desires to such a place, . . . for when I was brought in I could with as much cheerfulness have left it for you’ (Diary, i. 39). On his successor's arrival he received him with overflowing hospitality, and gratified his own enjoyment of music (in which he was himself a proficient) by an elaborate performance in his honour. He now retired to his living at Ditton, and from 1655 to 1662 carried on an interesting correspondence with Samuel Hartlib [q. v.], which contains some noteworthy illustrations of the tendencies of academic thought at Cambridge and elsewhere at this period. In 1663, however, he resigned the living of Ditton for that of Barking and Needham in Suffolk, and about the same time was collated to the sinecure living of Moulton All Saints in Norfolk. He was still far from affluent, and writing to a friend (28 Oct. 1664) he says: ‘Our expenses will be beyond our receipts, and yet we are as frugal, both for diet and apparel, as we can be’ (Diary, ii. 139). He was now appointed preacher at the church of St. Benet Fink in London, and removed to the city. Writing to Whichcote, he speaks of ‘tedious and lonesome journeys between London and Suffolk in winter’ and ‘painful and solitary livings at Gresham College.’ He continued throughout the plague faithfully to discharge the duties of his London cure; but in September 1666 his church and house were both burnt down in the great fire, and the record of his sufferings through that visitation is one of considerable interest. In the following November his friend Henry More (1614−1687) [q. v.] presented him to the rectory of Ingoldsby in Lincolnshire, on which occasion Worthington speaks of having been ‘kindly and nobly entertained’ by him at Ragley. To this preferment Archbishop Sheldon added the prebend of Asgarby in Lincoln Cathedral. About this time, however, his health began to fail, and the loss of his wife (August 1667), which he describes as making the ‘rural solitude more solitary and uncomfortable,’ determined him to accept the appointment of ‘lecturer’ at the parish church of Hackney, under its vicar Dr. Jameson, with the view of being nearer ‘friends and books.’ Sheldon also successfully exerted his influence to procure for him the lease of the rectory of St. Benet Fink; but before this could be carried into effect Worthington died. He was in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and was buried on 30 Nov. 1671 in the chancel of the church at Hackney. His funeral sermon was preached by Tillotson, who pronounced a high eulogium on his character and virtues – his peculiar merit, in the preacher's estimation, having been ‘his great zeal and industry to be useful, especially in those things which tended to the promoting of piety and learning.’

Worthington had five children. John (b. 18 June 1663), his only son and heir, was educated at Eton and at Jesus College, Cambridge, whence, after taking his M.A. degree, he migrated to Peterhouse. He declined to take the oaths at the Revolution, and appears subsequently to have resided in London. He died in 1737, and was buried in St. John's, Hackney. Of the daughters, Damaris (b. 2 April 1661) married Nathaniel Turner, a linendraper of Fleet Street, by whom she had nine children; Anne married Meshach Smith, formerly of Jesus College, Cambridge, and afterwards vicar of Hendon in Middlesex; the other two died in infancy.

By his contemporaries Worthington was generally regarded as an Arminian; but his sympathies were rather philosophical than theological, and he shared with the school of the Cambridge Platonists (to which he stood in close relation) their dislike to dogmatic intolerance. A warm admirer of Colet and Erasmus, his teaching was directed towards the development of a liberal Christian spirit rather than to ‘opinions and extra-essentials.’ But, while averse from a too rigid interpretation of doctrine, he was distinguished by his care and exactness in his literary labours, and his edition of the works of the ‘incomparable’ Joseph Mede [q. v.] the father, in some respects, of the Cambridge movement was referred to by Tillotson as ‘a monument likely to stand so long as learning and religion shall continue in the world’ (pref. to the Miscellanies, 1704 edit.) His like labours on his edition (London, 1660) of the ‘Select Discourses’ of John Smith (1618−1652) [q. v.] of Queens' preserved them from the oblivion into which, notwithstanding their high merit, they would otherwise have fallen. His translation of the ‘De Imitatione’ of Thomas à Kempis, published under the title of ‘The Christian's Pattern,’ first appeared in 1654, and went through numerous editions. Of that of 1654 no copy is known to exist. The edition of 1677 was the basis of John Wesley's edition, although he appears to have adopted it in ignorance of the fact that he was building on the labours of Worthington (Bibliography, pp. 15−17).

A ‘Bibliography of Works written or edited’ by Worthington, compiled by Chancellor R. C. Christie, was published by the Chetham Society (new ser. vol. xiii.) in 1885, in which the following are enumerated as his own writings: 1. ‘Ὑποτύπωσις ὑγιεινῶν τῶν λόγων. A Form of Sound Words: Or a Scripture Catechism; shewing what a Christian is to believe and practise in order to Salvation,’ London, 1673, 1674, 1676, 1681, &c., 8vo, 1723, 12mo. 2. ‘The Great Duty of Self-Resignation to the Divine Will,’ London, 1675, 8vo. This also went through numerous editions and was translated into German. 3. ‘The Doctrines of the Resurrection and the Reward to come, considered as the grand Motives to an Holy Life,’ London, 1690, 8vo. 4. ‘Charitas Evangelica: a Discourse of Christian Love,’ London, 1691, 8vo (published by his son). 5. ‘Forms of Prayer for a Family,’ London, 1693, 1721, 12mo. This was also translated into German. 6. ‘Miscellanies . . . also a Collection of Epistles; with the Author's Character by Archbishop Tillotson,’ London, 1704, 8vo. 7. ‘Select Discourses . . . with the Author's Character,’ London, 1725, 8vo. The edition of 1826, ‘to which is added a Scripture Catechism,’ contains 1, 2, 3, and 4.

[Diary and Correspondence, edited by James Crossley and R. C. Christie for the Chetham Society, 2 vols.; Autobiography of Simon Patrick; MSS. Baker, vols. vi. xviii. and xxviii.; Brydges's Restituta, vol. i.; Robinson's Memorials of Hackney, ii. 70; Nichols's Leicestershire, iii. 73; Tulloch's Rational Theology in England, ii. 426−33.]

J. B. M.