Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Simeon, Charles
SIMEON, CHARLES (1759–1836), divine, the fourth son of Richard Simeon (d. 1784) of Reading, by Elizabeth Hutton, was born at Reading on 24 Sept. 1759. On his father's side Simeon was descended from the Simeons of Pyrton, Oxfordshire, the house from which John Hampden took his wife in 1619. His mother was of the same family as Matthew Hutton, archbishop of York (1595), and the later Matthew Hutton, who became archbishop of York in 1747. His elder brother was Sir John Simeon [q. v.], first baronet. Simeon was educated at Eton (Harwood, Alumni Eton. s. a. 1778), and went thence with a scholarship to King's College, Cambridge. As schoolboy he was mainly distinguished for a love of dress and of athletics. But he traced his first religious impressions to the American war fast day of 1776, kept while he was at Eton. On going up to Cambridge in January 1779 he was still further influenced by finding that attendance at the holy communion was expected of him. After some three months of anxiety (which was stimulated by reading the ‘Whole Duty of Man’) he settled down to habits of faith and devotion, which, though at first interrupted by a lapse as serious as drunkenness, remained with him through life. Simeon soon became known for his religious convictions; he sought to influence his friends, instructed his servants, and looked forward to the ministry as his calling. His scholarship at King's was duly succeeded by a fellowship (January 1782), and with this as his title Simeon was ordained deacon by the bishop of Ely on 26 May 1782. Shortly afterwards he made the acquaintance of John Venn, and through him of his father, Henry Venn [q. v.], by whom he was influenced to no small extent. In the following year he was ordained priest and graduated B.A. Simeon worked first in the parish of St. Edward's, Cambridge, but the living of Holy Trinity, Cambridge, falling vacant, Simeon (at his father's request) was appointed to it. His first sermon here was preached on 4 Jan. 1783; and here he remained until his death. The parishioners of Holy Trinity, who had wished for another incumbent, were at first hostile to Simeon, and his reputation for piety provoked unfavourable comment from the junior members of the university. His parishioners locked up their pews, undergraduates disturbed the services; he was insulted in the streets; even his curates, though men of distinction like James Scholefield [q. v.], were hooted in the streets (Memoir of Professor Scholefield, p. 27). In the meantime Simeon pursued his parish work with unflagging energy. Dr. Corrie (master of Jesus College) was told, on going up to Cambridge, that he would find Simeon ‘either in the stable with his horses or by the sick beds of his parishioners’ (Moule, Charles Simeon, p. 55). This activity gradually wore down opposition, and Simeon's benevolence during the famine of 1788 helped to conciliate his critics. His official position in his college also helped him. Simeon was thrice one of the deans of King's; he was second bursar from 1798 to 1805, and vice-provost from 1790 to 1792. But his tenacious grasp of distinctive principles made him known beyond Cambridge, and he became an acknowledged leader among evangelical churchmen. In 1788 a memorial from Charles Grant (1746–1823) [q. v.] and other Indian civilians drew his attention to openings for mission work in India. When Grant became a director of the East India Company, Simeon was his confidential adviser in the appointment of chaplains. Simeon induced some of his most capable curates to take up this work, Henry Martyn among them (George Smith, Henry Martyn, p. 42). Henry Kirke White was also among those who owed help or guidance to Simeon. Simeon was one of the founders of the Church Missionary Society in 1797, and befriended the British and Foreign Bible Society in the days when it was viewed with suspicion by many churchmen. In later life he became an object of something like veneration, and exerted at Cambridge an influence still recognised more than half a century after his death. Bishop Charles Wordsworth (Annals of my Early Life, p. 335) says that Simeon ‘had a large following of young men—larger and not less devoted than that which followed Newman—and for a much longer time.’ The gentle autocracy which he exercised is disclosed in A. W. Brown's ‘Recollections of Simeon's Conversation Parties’ (1862). The interesting appreciation of Simeon given in the early portion of Mr. Shorthouse's ‘Sir Percival’ indicates the impression left by him upon undergraduate life at Cambridge. His influence upon evangelical thought was rendered the more lasting by his foundation of a body of trustees for acquiring church patronage, and administering it in accordance with his own views. He died on 13 Nov. 1836, and was buried in the chapel of his college. A memorial tablet was subsequently erected in the chancel of his parish church. Simeon's attitude towards his church has been widely misunderstood. His own letters and autobiographical fragment show that he was firmly attached to the church of England, to her distinctive doctrines, and to her liturgy.
A portrait painted about 1808 is at King's College, Cambridge, and a bust, executed after his death by Samuel Manning [q. v.], is in the Cambridge University Library.
Simeon's chief work was a collection of outlines for sermons on the whole Bible, entitled ‘Horæ Homileticæ; or discourses digested into one continued series, and forming a commentary upon every book of the Old and New Testament.’ This appeared in a long series of successive volumes, of which the first was published in 1796; the whole was first collected in 1819–20 in 11 vols. 8vo; with an appendix in 1828 in 6 vols. 8vo. An edition edited by Thomas Hartwell Horne [q. v.] appeared in 1832–3, and was often republished. The entire works of Simeon, including his translation of the Huguenot Jean Claude's ‘Essay on the Composition of a Sermon,’ were published in 21 vols. 8vo, London, 1840; a selection was issued in Bohn's series, 2 vols. 1854. Of the 5,000l. which he received for the copyright of the ‘Horæ Homileticæ’ Simeon appropriated upwards of three-fifths to missionary purposes.[The Memoirs of the Life of Charles Simeon, together with a selection from his writings and correspondence, was edited by the Rev. William Carus (1804–1891), Simeon's intimate friend, curate and successor at Trinity Church, Cambridge (London, 1847, 8vo); see also Moule's Charles Simeon, 1892 (in English Leaders of Religion), with portrait; Close's Brief Sketch of the Character and Last Days of Charles Simeon, 1836; Christian Observer, 1837; Williamson's Brief Memoir of the Rev. Charles Simeon, 1848; Notes and Queries, 9th ser. i. 163.]