Fisher, John (1748-1825) (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

FISHER, JOHN, D.D. (1748–1825), bishop of Salisbury, the eldest of the nine sons of the Rev. John Fisher, successively vicar of Hampton, Middlesex, vicar of Peterborough, rector of Calbourne, Isle of Wight, and prebendary of Preston in the cathedral of Salisbury, was born at Hampton in 1748. His father became chaplain to Bishop Thomas, the preceptor of George III, on his appointment to the see of Peterborough in 1747, and was by him presented to the incumbency of St. John the Baptist in that city. The son received his early education at the free school at Peterborough, whence at the age of fourteen he was removed to St. Paul's School, of which Dr. Thicknesse was then head-master. In 1766 he passed to Peterhouse, Cambridge, on a Pauline exhibition. Dr. Edmund Law, afterwards bishop of Carlisle, was then head of the college, and Fisher became the intimate friend of his two distinguished sons, afterwards respectively Lord-chief-justice Ellenborough and Bishop of Elphin. He took his degree of B.A. in 1770, appearing as tenth wrangler, and being also eminent for his classical attainments. In 1773 he became M.A., and in the same year was appointed to a Northamptonshire fellowship at St. John's, of which college he was chosen tutor, the duties of which office, we are told, 'he fulfilled to the great advantage of his pupils, being distinguished not only for his various talents, but for the suavity of his manners and the peculiarly felicitous manner in which he conveyed instruction.' Fisher then became private tutor to Prince Zartorinski Poniatowski, and to the son of Archbishop George of Dublin, and spent some time with Sir J. Cradock, governor of the Cape, but 'deriving no great benefit from these connections,' he undertook parochial work, as curate of his native parish of Hampton. In 1780 he became B.D., and on the recommendation of Bishop Hurd he was appointed preceptor to Prince Edward, afterwards Duke of Kent, father of Queen Victoria, and became royal chaplain and deputy clerk of the closet. This appointment he held five years, until in 1785 his royal pupil vent to the university of Göttingen. On this Fisher visited Italy, where he became known to Mrs. Piozzi, who describes him in one of her letters as 'a charming creature, generally known in society as "the King's Fisher"' (Whalley, Correspondence, ii. 367). The following year, 14 July, he was recalled from Naples by his nomination by the king to a canonry at Windsor, where he took up his residence, and in September of the next year he married Dorothea, the only daughter of J. F. Scrivener, esq., of Sibton Park, Suffolk, by whom he had one son and two daughters. The refined simplicity and courteousness of his manners and the amenity of his temper rendered Fisher a favourite with George III, whose esteem he also gained by his unaffected piety and his unswerving fidelity to him. The king, we are told, treated him rather as a friend than as a subject, and reposed in him almost unlimited confidence. In 1789 he took the degree of D.D. From 1793 to 1797 he held the vicarage of Stowey, in the gift of the chapter of Windsor. When the bishopric of Exeter became vacant by the death of Bishop Courtenay, Fisher was chosen by the king to be his successor, and was consecrated in Lambeth Chapel, 16 July 1803. In 1805 George III appointed him to superintend the education of the Princess Charlotte of Wales. He fulfilled the duty, we are told, 'with exemplary propriety and credit.' The autobiography of Miss C. Knight and other contemporary memoirs give some glimpse of the difficulties of this post, which he would have thrown up but for his respect for his sovereign. His union of gentleness, firmness, and patience carried him through. His chief concern, we are told, was to train the princess in the self-command naturally foreign to her. At the outset of his charge a correspondence sprang up between him and Hannah More, who had published anonymously 'Hints towards Forming the Character of a Princess.' An interview took place, and Hannah More records that 'the bishop appeared to have a very proper notion of managing his royal pupil, and of casting down all high imaginations' (H. More, Correspondence, ed. Roberts, iii. 230). Fisher was no favourite with Miss C. Knight, who narrates that he used to come three or four times a week to 'do the important ;' his great point being to arm the princess against popery and whiggism, 'two evils which he seemed to think equally great ;' she adds, what is contradicted by all other estimates of his character, that 'his temper was hasty, and his vanity easily alarmed.' His 'best accomplishment,' in this lady's opinion, was 'a taste for drawing, and a love of the fine arts' (Miss C. Knight, Autobiography, i. 232 sq.) Dr. Parr gives the following estimate of his character :-

Unsoiled by courts and unseduced by zeal,
Fisher endangers not the common weal.

In 1804 he accepted the office of vice-president of the British and Foreign Bible Society. In 1807, on the death of Bishop Douglas, Fisher was translated from Exeter to Salisbury, where he won general respect and affection by his faithful and unobtrusive performance of his episcopal duties. His mode of life was dignified, but unostentatious. He was very liberal in works of charity, devoting a large portion of his episcopal revenues to pious and beneficent uses, leaving his bishopric no richer than he came to it, his personal estate amounting at his death to no more than 20,000l. In 1818 Fisher, under a commission from Bishop North, visited the Channel Islands for the purpose of holding confirmations and consecrating a church, being the first time, since the islands were placed under the jurisdiction of the see of Winchester, that they had enjoyed episcopal visitation (Ann. Reg. lx. 92, 104). He died in Seymour Street, London, after long protracted sufferings borne with exemplary patience, 8 May 1825, aged 76, and was buried at Windsor. He published nothing beyond his primary charge as bishop of Exeter, and two or three occasional sermons, which were given to the world under pressure. In his charge he declared himself against intolerant treatment of Roman catholics, but expressed his opinion that bare toleration was all that peaceable and conscientious dissenters from the established church had any claim to. In the same charge he repudiated the alleged Calvinism of the church of England, which he said was flatly contradicted by the articles of the church. Fisher was a generous patron both of authors and of artists, whom he is recorded to have treated with liberality and unaffected kindness. A portrait of him hangs in the dining-room of the palace at Salisbury. Fisher's only published works are: 1. 'Charge at the Primary Visitation of the Diocese of Exeter,' Exeter, 1805, 4to. 2. 'Sermon at the Meeting of the Charity Children in St. Paul's, 3 June 1806,' London, 1806, 4to. 3. 'Sermon preached before the House of Lords, 25 Feb. 1807, on the occasion of a General Fast, on Is. xl. 31,' London, 1807, 4to. 4. 'Sermon in behalf of the S. P. G. on Is. lx. 5,' London, 1809, 4to. 5. 'Sermon preached at the Consecration of St. James's Church, Guernsey, on Col. i. 24,' Guernsey, 1818.

[Baker's St. John's College, ed. Mayor, p. 731; Annual Register, 1825, also lvi. 218, lx. 92-104; Imperial Mag. August 1825; Gent. Mag. 1825, ii. 82; Sandford's Thomas Poole, pp. 65, 170, 241.]

E. V.