Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parsons, James (1799-1877)

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PARSONS, JAMES (1799–1877), preacher, second son of Edward Parsons (1762–1833) [q. v.], was born in Leeds on 10 April 1799. After attending the school of the Rev. William Foster of Little Woodhouse, Leeds, he was articled, in 1814, to the firm of Tottie, Richardson, & Gaunt, solicitors, in Leeds. In 1818 he accompanied one of the partners to London, where he studied literature and practised oratory at debating societies. In January 1820, on the death of his mother, he abandoned the law, and, resolving to become a minister, entered in the autumn the academy at Idle (afterwards Airedale College, and in 1886 combined with Rotherham Academy to form the United College, Bradford). During his course of study, which, in his case, was limited to two years on account of his proficiency in literature and classics, he preached not only in the neighbouring villages, but also at the Finsbury Tabernacle and Tottenham Court Chapel in London. In 1822 he accepted a call to Lendal Chapel, York. His sermons attracted large congregations. Since no further enlargements were possible to Lendal Chapel, the new Salem Chapel was erected and was opened on 25 July 1839. In 1870, when his eyesight began to fail him, he retired from Salem Chapel and settled at Harrogate, where he took occasional pulpit duties. In 1873 he was elected the first president of the Yorkshire Congregational Union and Home Missionary Society. He died on 20 Oct. 1877, and was buried at York on the 26th. He married, in 1828, Mary Mullis, daughter of John Wilks (attorney in London, and for many years M.P. for Boston in Lincolnshire) and granddaughter to Matthew Wilks [q. v.] By her he had one son, who died young, and four daughters, who survived him. Portraits of him are in vol. xxv. of the ‘Pulpit,’ and in Evans and Hurndall's ‘Pulpit Memorials,’ p. 343.

‘James Parsons of York’ was the most remarkable pulpit orator of his time. Trained for the law, he spoke like a special pleader, and addressed his congregation as an eloquent barrister would a jury. His power of holding his hearers enthralled was rarely equalled. His sermons, always most carefully prepared, were perfect in method and arrangement, and manifested minute acquaintance with the Scriptures. But the most tender pleadings and solemn warnings invariably found place in his oratory. His sermons have been repeatedly appropriated by other preachers (cf. the Pulpit for 1839, p. 161, with that for 1869, p. 249).

His published works include: 1. ‘Excitements to Exertion in the Cause of God,’ York, 1827, 3rd edit. 2. ‘Sermons, Critical and Explanatory,’ London, 1830; 1837, 4th edit. Many of his sermons, chiefly preached at the Tabernacle, Tottenham Court Chapel, and Surrey Chapel, were published in the ‘Pulpit’ between 1824 and 1864. Selections from them were reprinted in 1849 and 1867.

[Miall's Congregationalism in Yorkshire, p. 389; York Herald, 22 Oct. 1877; Leeds Mercury, 22 Oct. 1877; Congregationalist, 1877, pp. 748–753; Congregational Magazine, 1831, pp. 229– 240; Eclectic Review, 1831, p. 237; Notice by J. W. Williams in Evans and Hurndall's Pulpit Memorials, pp. 343–80; Pulpit, xvi. 250–2, 365. The best account of his powers as a preacher are by H. R. Reynolds, D.D., ‘In Memoriam,’ in the Evangelical Magazine, 1877, pp. 726–7, and by Paxton Hood, ‘Our Pulpit Models,’ in the Preacher's Lantern, 1871, pp. 1–11, 69–75; information from Miss Parsons of Harrogate.]

B. P.