Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
Critical Introduction by J. H. Overton
Samuel Horsley (17331806)
[Samuel Horsley, bishop successively of St. Davids, Rochester, and St. Asaph, was born in the parish of St. Martins in the Fields, London, where his father was lecturer. He appears to have received a home education until his admission at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in 1751. When he received Holy Orders he became his fathers curate at Newington, and succeeded to the living on his fathers resignation in 1759. In 1767 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1768 he accompanied Heneage Finch, Lord Guernsey, to Christ Church, Oxford, as private tutor. In 1774 he was presented by his pupils father to the rectory of Albury, in Surrey, and in 1777 he became domestic chaplain to the Bishop of London, Dr. Lowth, and Prebendary of St. Pauls. In 1781 he was appointed Archdeacon of St. Albans and in 1777 he received through Lord Chancellor Thurlow a prebend at Gloucester. In 1788 he was raised to the Bench as Bishop of St. Davids, and in 1793 he was translated to Rochester, holding with that see, as several others had done, the Deanery of Westminster. In 1802 he returned to Wales as Bishop of St. Asaph. He was an energetic and useful prelate in both his Welsh dioceses, as well as in his English one. He was twice married, and left one son by his first wife, who became an eminent clergyman in the Episcopal Church of Scotland, in the measures for the relief of which Bishop Horsley took a leading part in the House of Lords. He died at Brighton, 4th October 1806.]
AS a master of English prose Samuel Horsley had few equals in his own day. The reputation he gained among his contemporaries and their immediate successors was quite out of proportion to the bulk of his writings, but not at all out of proportion to their merits. He was in fact regarded in the early part of the nineteenth century as, in point of abilities and attainments, far above all other writers and speakers on the side of the Church. Men of the most widely differing sentiments agree in this. Thus Bishop Jebb, the high churchman, calls him our ablest modern prelate; Dean Isaac Milner, the low churchman, the first Episcopal authority (if learning, wisdom, and knowledge of the Scriptures be any foundation for authority); Bishop John Milner, the Roman Catholic, the light and glory of the Established Church; and Samuel Taylor Coleridge the one red leaf, the last of its clan, with relation to the learned teachers of our Church. A perusal of Bishop Horsleys writings will quite bear out this testimony from different quarters. He writes in a remarkably pure, luminous, and dignified style; his matter is weighty, his argumentative power convincing, his learning profound, and his satire, though always kept within the bounds of decency and courtesy, most cutting. There is a robustness and manliness about his tone of mind which is reflected in his style; he takes a lofty line, which some might think supercilious, but it is certainly justified by his merits; it is that of a judge summing up, not that of an advocate pleading his cause. His sentiments are always those of the marked high churchman, and in many points he anticipates the men of the Oxford movement. His sermons are the finest specimens of pulpit eloquence which the age produced, and they are still unrivalled in their way. He was a most formidable antagonist in controversy, and completely demolished Dr. Priestley, though the latter was a very able man.Horsleys Charges, Remarks, and Letters, on the subject of Unitarianism, besides being a powerful defence of orthodoxy, are also fine specimens of English literature. To judge from the speeches which are found in the pages of Hansard, Bishop Horsley must have been even more effective as an orator than as a writer. His range of knowledge was by no means confined to theology; but his scientific and philosophical writings scarcely afford scope for the exhibition of his powers as a writer of English prose; and therefore the specimens here given are all drawn from his theological works.