صور الصفحة
PDF
[blocks in formation]

Bentley as a scholar are appreciated more

impartially than by his contemporaries, that they have been injurious to the cause of sacred criticism. The great addition made about this time to the public library at Cambridge, by a present from the king of bishop More's books, which had been purchased for that purpose at the expence of six thousand pounds, induced the university to pass a decree for erecting a new senate-house, that a suitable place might be provided for the reception of his majesty's donation. This decree was accompanied with a vote for a new office in the university, that of principal librarian; which was conferred upon Dr. Middleton. Such a promotion was no more than was justly due to his literary merit; independently of the partiality in his favour which may be supposed to have arisen from his being considered as the zealous defender of the privileges and proceedings of the university. To shew how well qualified he was for that appointment, he published, in 1723, a little piece entitled, “Bibliothecae Cantabrigiensis ordinandae Methodus quaedam; quam Domino Procancellario Senatuique considerandam et perficiendam, officii et Pietatis ergo proponit,” in quarto. This performance is wiitten in elegant Latin, and the plan described

in it is allowed to be laid down with judgment; but in the dedication to the vice-chancellor, alluding to the contest between the university and Dr. Bentley, he incautiously made use of words amounting to a denial of the jurisdiction of the court of King's Bench, in controuling the authority of the university. These words gave great offence to the court; which made him apprehensive that he should receive a severe chastisement, particularly since he was already before them for a libel on Dr. Bentley. However, owing to the good offices of a nobleman of high rank, when the matter afterwards came before the court, he had the satisfaction of hearing the heinousness of his offence moderated, and himself dismissed with a very easy fine. Not Hong after this business was terminated, our author having lost his wife, and being in a very infirm state of health,

in consequence of the imprudent treatment of

himself in earlier life, to which we have already adverted, the celebrated Dr. Mead gave it as his opinion that it was necessary for him to remove into a warmer climate. §: by this opinion, and the state of the building designed for the public library giving him sufficient leisure, he formed the design of making the tour of Italy, and applied for leave of absence from the university. Having obtained a special grace for that purpose, though not without difficulty, he set out for the continent in company with lord Coleraine, a nobleman of considerable learning, especially in antiquities, who, upon their arrival at Paris, introduced him to the famous antiquary father Montfaucon. At this place our author separated from his lordship, and travelled by the most direct road to Rome; at which city he arrived early in the year 1724. Here he determined to maintain a style and manner of living, which should be creditable to his station at Cambridge; and, accordingly, hired a magnificent hotel, with all accommodations fit for the reception of persons of the first distinction at Rome, by whom he was visited and treated with particular respect. The expence which Dr. Middleton incurred by this mode of living, as well as by his indulgence to his taste for antiquities, occasioned him to break in a little upon his fortune: but any temporary inconvenience which this circumstance might create, was amply compensated by the improvement which he made in his travels. After residing at Rome about twelve months,

entirely to his satisfaction, Dr. Middleton re

turned through France to England, and arrived at Cambridge in the latter part of the year 1725. He had not long resumed his studies before he excited the attention of the learned world by publishing a tract, entitled, “ De Medicorum apud Romanos veteres degentium Conditione Dissertatio; qua, contra viros celeberrimos Jac. Sponium et Ric. Meadium M. D. D. servilem atque ignobilem eam fuisse ostenditur,” quarto. Dr. Mea i had just before published an Harveyan Oration, in which he had defended the dignity of the medical profession; and, in particular, endeavoured to vindicate it from the reproach of having been held in such low estimation by the ancient Romans, as to be left in the hands of slaves, and the meanest of the people. Our author's treatise, therefore, was considered by many of the faculty as intended to convey a tacit re}. on their order; notwithstanding that he

ad disclaimed all sinister views, and explained the motives for writing it. And because it directly controverted the opinion of Dr. Mead, the author was accused of impudence and presumption, and threatened with a severe literary castigation. Aster some time, an answer to him made its appearance, under the title of * Ad Viri Reverendi Con. Middletoni, S.T. P. de Medicorum apud Veteres Romanos degentium Conditione &c. Dissert. Reponsio.” This publication was anonymous; but well known to be the production of professor Ward, of Gresham college, who had been engaged to

write it by Dr. Mead, at whose expence it was .

printed and published. . Of this work our author had just cause for complaining, that it contained perverse misrepresentations of his sentiments, as well as gross personal abuse. Thinking it, therefore, incumbent upon him to repel so injurious an attack, and at the same time to take some notice of other writers whohad embarked on the same side of the question, he soon sent into the world an able and spirited defence both of his character and argument, entitled, “Dissertationis de Medicorum Romae &c. Defensio,” quarto. This piece closed the debate on the part of our author. During the progress of the controversy, Dr. Middleton had constantly expressed a proper regard for Dr. Mead's real merit; and this literary altercation did not prevent them from living afterwards upon very good terms with each other. During the time that our author was at Rome, where he had the advantage of beholding popery in the full pomp and display of its pageantry, whenever he was present at any religious exercise in the churches, be could not

avoid remarking that all the ceremonies appeared plainly to have been copied from the rituals of primitive paganism; and that it was . more natural to fancy himself looking on at some solemn act of idolatry in old Rome, than assisting at a worship instituted on the principles, and formed upon the plan of christianity. This similitude of the popish and pagan religion struck his imagination so forcibly, that he resolved to examine it to the bottom, and to explain and demonstrate the certainty of it. With this view he made notes and observations while he was in Italy; and aster his return home kept up an epistolary correspondence: with his acquaintance there, particularly with Fontanini, an Italian arch-bishop, which furnished him with an opportunity of getting some particulars cleared up, where he found his notes either deficient or confused. From these materials he drew up, and published, in 1729, “A Letter from Rome, shewing an exact Conformity between Popery and Paganism: or, the Religion of the present Romans. derived from that of their Heathen Ancestors,” 8vo. This performance, which is executed in a masterly manner, and sufficiently establishes what is promised in the title, was so well received by the public, that it passed through three editions within a very few years. By the popish party, and the missionaries of Rome in England, as might be expected, it was zealously opposed, and charged with falsehood, and misrepresentation. When, therefore, the author published a fourth edition of it some years afterwards, he introduced it with an answer to the exceptions of a popish writer who had preferred those charges against it, in a work, entitled “The Catholic Christian Instructed, &c.;” and he also added to it a postscript, in which an opinion advanced by Mr. Warburton concerning the paganism of Rome, in the “ Divine Legation of Moses,” is particularly considered. But while our author was thus entitling himself to the thanks; of the protestant world, by exposing the corruptions and impostures of the Romish church, there were some, even of the church, of England, who took offence at his book; pretending, that he had attacked the popish miracles with a gaiety that seemed to contemn all miracles, and particularly those of our Saviour, by invalidating the force of certain rules: which had been established by some divines as: the criterion of true miracles. This futile ex-> ception, which was scarcely worthy of his serious notice, was diligently propagated by hio

enemies, with the design of creating prejudices against him; and it succeeded in producing on bigots and weak-minded men, those first impressions in his disfavour, which in the course of time were heightened to an amazing degree. In the year 1730, the appearance of Dr. Tindal's famous book, entitled, “ Christianity as old as the Creation,” which contained an artful and insiduous attack upon revealed religion, excited considerable attention, and proved ultimately beneficial to the cause of revelation, by giving rise to some of the most able and satisfactory vindications of it that have ever been published. Among others who undertook to refute this work was the celebrated Dr. Waterland; but in such a manner, that I}r. Middleton thought could not possibly do any service, but probably much harm to the cause which he was defending. On this account our author thought himself obliged, by a regard to truth and the real interests of Christianity, to discourage, as far as he was able, the progress of such a work. With this view he published “A Letter to Dr. Waterland, containing some Remarks on his ‘Vindication of Scripture, in answer to a Book, entitled, “ Christianity as old as the Creation;’ together with the Sketch or Plan of another Answer to the said Book,” octavo. By this publication Dr. Middleton drew down on himself the indignation and resentment of the orthodox clergy, both on account of the severity, not to say contempt, with which he had treated a person whom they reverenced as the great champion of their cause, and of the freedom with which he had delivered opinions “out of the road and train of popular thinking.” To this piece a “Reply” was published by Dr. Pearce, afterwards bishop of Rochester, charging the author with being a favourer of infidelity, and advancing falsehoods both in quotations and historical facts; which called forth from our author an able and spirited “Defence of the ‘Letter to Dr. Waterland,’ against the false and frivolous Cavils of the Author of the Reply,” 1731, octavo. To this “ Defence,” also, Dr. Pearce published a “Reply,” in which he still continued to treat the author as an infidel, or enemy to christianity in disguise; who, under the pretext of defending it in a better manner, was insidiously employing every means in his power to subvert it. The publieations which had appeared in this controversy were all anonymous; yet it was now known

that Dr. Middleton was the author of the

“Letter to Dr. Waterland,” and the discovery produced a sudden and wonderful alteration in the behaviour of many, with whom he had lived in a long intercourse of friendly offices. The charge of being favourable to infidelity, however groundless and unsupported by any proof, was not repeated without effect; and so powerful was the prejudice created against him at Cambridge, that he was in danger of being deprived of his degrees, and of all his connections with the university. However, matters were prevented from being carried to extremity, by his publication of “Some Remarks on a Reply, &c. wherein the Author's Sentiments, as to all the principal Points in Dispute, are fully and clearly explained in the manner that has been promised,” 1732, octavo. This spirited and ably written treatise contains such answers to the objections of his antagonist, and such explanations of his own opinions, without in the least renouncing any of them, as had the effect of putting, an end to any design of proceeding against him, and he was left in the undisturbed possession of his academical honours and preferment. His creed, it is true, was suspected to be greatly deficient in point of soundness, and he was even reproached with apostacy by some of the bigotted clergy; particularly by one Venn, to whom he addressed an admirable “Letter,” which is preserved in his miscellaneous works. Sometime after this controversy was supposed to be at an end, Dr. Williams, public orator of the university, attempted to revive it, by publishing anonymous “Observations addressed to the Author of the Letter to Dr. Waterland;" which consisted of virulent and malignant invectives, and a weak attempt to prove that the author was an infidel, and that his book ought to be burnt, and himself banished. Such a performance would not have been deserving of any notice from Dr. Middleton, had it not afforded him an opportunity of explaining more clearly some points in which he still sound . himself misrepresented, and of exposing more distinctly to the public the pernicious persecuting spirit of his orthodox opponents. This he did in a very masterly manner, in “Remarks on some Observations,” &c. 1733, octavo. During the contest above mentioned with his clerical brethren, our author was appointed to the new professorship of physiology at Cambridge, which had been founded in pursuance of the will of Dr. Woodward, professor of physic at Gresham-college. With that gentleman he became acquainted soon after his

[ocr errors][merged small]

assisted him, as he did afterwards his executors, in settling the plan of that donation. Being nominated by the executors the first professor, in the year 1731, he delivered a Latin inaugural oration at his entrance upon the office, that did credit to their appointment. It was published during the following year, under the title of “Oratio de novo Physiologize explicandae munere ex celeberrimi Woodwardi Testamento instituto,” &c. quarto. The duties of this post Dr. Middleton discharged with fidelity and reputation till the year 1734, when he resigned it; not finding that the employment of preparing and reading lectures upon fossils was suited to his taste, or to the turn of his studies. Soon afterwards he married a second wife; and upon her death, which took place but a few years before his own, he married a third. In the year 1735, our author published “ A Tissertation concerning the Origin of Printing in England: shewing that it was first introduced and practised by our Countryman, William Caxton, at Westminster; and not, as is commonly believed, by a foreign Printer, at Oxford,” quarto. This hypothesis, though controverted by able English writers, has the support of some of the best judges on the subject, as we have already observed in our Life of Caxton. About this time Dr. Middleton was introduced to the celebrated lord Hervey, by whose advice and encouragement he undertook to write “The History of the Life of M. Tullius Cicero.” This great work, which was perfectly adapted to his taste, and for which he was admirably well qualified, employed so much of his time and attention, that it was not ready for publication before the year 1741, when it made its appearance in two volumes, quarto. On the suggestion of his friends it was published by subscription; and his proposals were so powerfully supported by lord Hervey, and other persons of rank and influence, that the profits arising from it cnabled him to purchase a small estate at Hildersham, about six miles from Cambridge, where he improved a rude farm into an elegant habitation, and, from that time, generally spent the summer season. This performance might not improperly have been called “The History of Cicero's Times;" since it presents us

[blocks in formation]

return from Italy, and in several interviews

events, and the dignity of the persons concerned in them, is by far the most interesting of any in the annals of Rome. His materials Dr. Middleton drew from the works of Cicero himself, which he justly pronounces to be “the most authentic monuments that remain to us, of all the great transactions of that age; being the original accounts of one, who himself was not only a spectator, but a principal actor in them.” When entering upon his task, he assures us that he endeavoured, as far as he was able, to divest himself of all partiality and prejudice in favour of his subject, and not to give a panegyric instead of a history. With all his care, however, his work is very far from being exempt from this blemish; and as he confesses that he sat down to it with the disposition of a friend, the reader will perceive that he too frequently endeavours to cast a shade over the failings of Cicero, to give the strongest colouring to his virtues, and to exalt the man into the hero. But notwithstanding this. imperfection, it is a performance replete with entertainment and improvement; and it is executed with such elegance and correctness, that it will probably continue to be held in repute, so long as a taste for polite literature shall subsist among us. Since the appearance of the first edition, it has been repeatedly printed in octavo, and once in quarto. While Dr. Middleton was employed on the Life of Cicero, a vacancy having taken place in the mastership of the Charter-house, he was mentioned for it, without any application on his part, by sir Robert Walpole, and some other great persons, and came to London on that business; but he had not been long in town before he perceived, that the duke of Newcastle had already secured that place for Mr. Mann. Upon this he returned into the country, with a few good words, as he says in one of his letters to Warburton, from those who could as easily give good things; and resumed the composition of his favourite work. In the progress of it, he made great use of the Letters of Cicero to Brutus, and of Brutus to Cicero, without entertaining the least shadow of suspicion respecting their genuingness, and even regarding them as most valuable remains of Roman antiquities of that kind. It was not, therefore, without surprize, that he saw their authenticity disputed in a Latin cpistle, addressed to himself by the learned Mr. Tunstall, orator of the university of Cambridge, who attempted to prove them to be the forgery of some sophist. Being sensible that

w

such an hypothesis affected the credit of his own work, as well as that of the letters in question, Dr. Middleton considered it to be particularly incumbent upon him to vindicate their genuineness and real antiquity. This he did in the following work, published in 1742: * The Epistles of M. T. Cicero to M. Brutus, and of Brutus to Cicero, with the Latin Text in the opposite Page, and English Notes to each Epistle: together with a Prefatory Dissertation, in which the Authority of the said opistles is vindicated, and all the Objections of the Rev. Mr. Tunstall particularly considered and confutcd,” octavo. The next work which our author published was entitled, “Germana quaedam antiquitatis eruditæ monumenta, quibus Romanorum veterum Ritus varii tam sacri tam profani, tum Græcorum atque Afgyptiorum nonnulli illustrantur, Romæ olim maxima ex parte collecta, ac Dissertationibus jam singulis instructa,” quarto. This work, consisting of figures of those curious remains of antiquity which he had purchased at Rome and other places, with a dissertation to each, was followed, in 1747, by “ A Treatise on the Roman Senate, in two Parts,” octavo. The first part of this performance contains the substance of several letters, formerly written to lord Hervey, concerning the manner of creating senators, and filling up the vacancies of that body in old Rome; which letters have been since published at large, from the original MSS. together with those of lord Hervey in the same correspondence, in a quarto volume. The second part of this treatise presents us with a distinct account of the power and jurisdiction of the senate, of the right and manner of convoking it, of the places in which it was usually assembled, &c. With the piece last mentioned Dr. Middle. ton's labours in profane literature terminated, and he now proceeded to the publication of a treatise which laid the foundation of another fierce controversy with his clerical brethren. It made its appearance in 1747, and was entitled, “An introductory Discourse to a larger Work, designed hereafter to be published, concerning the Miraculous Powers which are suposed to have subsisted in the Christian Church rom the earliest Ages, through several successive Centuries; tending to shew, that we

have no sufficient Reason to believe, upon the

Authority of the primitive Fathers, that an such Powers were continued to the ë. after the Days of the Apostles,” &c. quarto. At the time when this piece was sent abroad

into the world, the author's larger work was actually prepared for the press; but, considering the great importance of the subject, and that he had undertaken to controvert an opinion. generally prevalent among Christians, he thought it most prudent to give out, in the first place, some sketch or general plan of his main design. By so doing he gave to all, who were disposed to examine it, notice and leisure to enquire into the grounds of it, and to qualify themselves for forming a proper judgment of the evidence which he might afterwards produce in its defence. He hoped also, by this method, to draw out those sentinents from others, which might serve either to confirm his own opinion, or to induce him to change it, should any new light or better information be afforded him. This publication of our author, as he might easily foresee, soon excited a multitude of adversaries, some of whom by writing, and others by preaching, or by noise aud clamour, endeavoured to refute it, or to hold up the work and its parent to popular odium, Among the writers who attacked it, the most eminent were the doctors Stebbing and Chapman: the former of whom perpetually insinu. ated, that it was dangerous to the authority of the gospel; while the latter chiefly employed himself in vindicating the character and authority of the ancient fathers from the exceptions of Dr. Middleton. In reply to the strictures of these antagonists, our author published, in 1748, “Remarks on two Pamphlets lately published, against Dr. Middleton's Introductory Discourse,” &c. octavo, But, notwithstanding the attacks upon our author's work, from the press, the pulpit, and noisy declaimers, its favourable reception, both among the clergy and the laity, by those whose opinion and judgment he chiefly valued, encouraged him to proceed in the prosecution of his argument, as being of the greatest importance to the true interests of the protestant cause, and of genuine rational religion. He, therefore, published, in 1749, the larger work which he had promised, under the title of “A free Enquiry into the Miraculous Powers, which are supposed to have subsisted in the Christian Church from the earliest Ages, through several successive Centuries,” &c., quarto, In this work he opens all the particular proofs, which induced him finally to embrace this general conclusion, that there is no sufficient reason to believe, from the teatimony of antiquity, that any miraculous Fo cro did ever actually subsist in any age of the

« السابقةمتابعة »