Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 40.djvu/402

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


vinistic views of theology. Although a captain of slave-ships, he repressed swearing and profligacy, and read the Liturgy twice on Sunday with the crew.

From 1755 to 1760 Newton held, on the recommendation of Manesty, the post of surveyor of the tides at Liverpool. Shortly after his settlement there, Whitefield, whom he had already met in London, arrived in Liverpool. Newton became his enthusiastic disciple, and gained the nickname of ‘young Whitefield.’ At a later period Wesley visited the town, and Newton laid the foundation of a lasting friendship with him; while he obtained introductions to Grimshaw at Haworth, Venn at Huddersfield, Berridge at Everton, and Romaine in London. Still eagerly pursuing his studies, he taught himself Greek, and gained some knowledge of Hebrew and Syriac. He soon resolved to undertake some ministerial work; but he was undecided whether to become an independent minister or a clergyman of the church of England. In December 1758 he applied for holy orders to the Archbishop of York, on a title in Yorkshire, but received through the archbishop's secretary ‘the softest refusal imaginable.’ In 1760 he was for three months in charge of an independent congregation at Warwick. In 1763 he was brought by Dr. Haweis, rector of Aldwinkle, to the notice of Lord Dartmouth, the young evangelical nobleman; and on 29 April 1764 was ordained deacon, and on 17 June priest. His earliest charge was the curacy of Olney, Buckinghamshire, in Lord Dartmouth's patronage. In the same year he published an account of his life at sea and of his religious experiences, called ‘The Authentic Narrative.’ It reached a second edition within the year, and still holds a high place in the history of the evangelical movement.

Olney was a small market town occupied in the manufacture of straw plait and pillow lace, with a large poor population. Moses Browne [q. v.] was the vicar, but had recently ceased to reside, on his appointment to the chaplaincy of Morden College, Blackheath. Newton's stipend, which was only 60l. a year, was soon supplemented by the munificence of John Thornton the evangelical merchant, to whom he had sent a copy of ‘The Authentic Narrative.’ Thornton allowed him 200l. a year, enjoining him to keep ‘open house’ for those ‘worthy of entertainment;’ to ‘help the poor,’ and to draw on him for what he required further. Newton faithfully discharged the trust. The church became so crowded that a gallery was added. Prayer-meetings, at which his parishioners and his friends among the neighbouring dissenting ministers took part with him in leading the prayers, were held in the large room at Lord Dartmouth's old mansion, the Great House. Newton preached incessantly, not only in Olney, but in cottages and houses of friends far and near.

In October 1767 the poet Cowper and Mrs. Unwin settled at Olney. Their house at Orchard Side was only separated from the vicarage by a paddock. Cowper at once identified himself with the religious life of the village. He joined Newton in all religious services, in his preaching tours, and in his visits to the sick and dying. But in 1772–3 Cowper's religious madness returned, and he made a renewed attempt at suicide [see Cowper, William]. Cowper's mania ultimately took a Calvinistic tone; but it is more reasonable to attribute this fact to the fierce Calvinistic controversy which raged at the time in the religious world than to the influence of Newton, whose Calvinism was always moderate, and a latent rather than a conspicuous force. The extreme tension and emotional excitement of the life at Olney under Newton's guidance must, however, have been very dangerous to Cowper. Still more dangerous was the spirit of desolation and self-accusation which pervades all Newton's writings, and which is directly reflected in the hymns and letters written by Cowper while at Olney. Newton regarded spiritual conflict as the normal type of God's dealing with the awakened soul (see Omicron, Letters, letter xi), and hence was blind to the disastrous physical effects of Cowper's delusion. He throughout treated him with exquisite tenderness. For thirteen months Cowper and Mrs. Unwin lived with him at the vicarage. To the end of his life he had the deepest affection for Cowper, and they never ceased to correspond together. Two temporary breaches in their friendship—on the publication of the ‘Task’ and on Cowper's removal to Weston—were due to Newton's puritanical objections to every form of secular amusement, and to any sort of toleration for Roman catholicism—sentiments which Cowper only imperfectly shared. His letters had always the affectionate aim of removing Cowper's delusion as to the divine reprobation, but they generally deepened his gloom. They were, however, not always sombre. Newton, like Cowper, was capable at times of an easy, natural, and even playful epistolary style (see especially Southey, Life of Cowper, iv. 111), and sought to amuse Cowper by a display of a shrewd and quaint humour (see Bull, Life of John Newton, p. 250; cf. Overton, Evangelical Revival, p. 74; Cecil, Anecdotes; Newton, Letters to Bull of