[From Feltham's Tour, 1798]
To the same.
I HAVE no doubt but you will receive much pleasure from the following brief epitome of the life of the late excellent Bishop Wilson, whose memory is held in great veneration by the people of the island to this day.
Bishop Wilson was born at Burton in Cheshire, Dec. 20, 1663, and entered at Trinity College, Dublin; from whence he was ordained in 1686. He was noticed by William Earl of Derby who made him his domestic chaplain, and preceptor to his son James Lord Strange, in 1692. In 1697, the Earl offered him the bishopric of the Isle of Man, which had been vacant ever since the death of Dr. Levintz, in 1693; but he declined so great a charge. At length the Archbishop of York complained to King William, that a bishop was wanting to fill the See of Man -that the nomination was with the lord of the isle, but that the approbation was with his majesty. The King sent for the Earl, and insisted on an immediate nomination, and that if delayed, the King would fill the vacancy himself . In consequence of this admonition, Lord Derby: insisted on his chaplain accepting the preferment, and accordingly Mr. Wilson was, to use his own expression, " forced into the bishopric." He took possession of his dignity in 1698, and was enthroned in the cathedral, in Peel Castle, April 11th. In 1698 he married Mary daughter of Thomas Patten, Esq. of Warrington: by this excellent woman he had four children, Mary, Thomas, and Alice, who died young; and Thomas, born August, 1703, who was chaplain to George II., a prebendary of Westminster, and rector of St. Stephents, Walbrook. He died 5th of April, 1784.
Bishop Wilson, with the assistance of Dr. Thomas Bray, founded parochial libraries throughout his diocese; and in 1703, he obtained the Act of Settlement, of so much consequence to the peace of the island; and also the Ecclesiastical Constitutions were confirmed in full convocation, and ratified at a Tynwald court.*1 Lord Chancellor King was so much pleased with these constitutions, that he said, "If the ancient discipline of the Church were lost, it might be found in all its purity in the Isle of Man."
In 1700 Mrs. Wilson died.
In 1707 he had the catechism translated, and printed in Manks and English.
In 1711 he went to London to settle some business relative to the Isle, and was taken great notice of by Queen Anne, before whom he preached *2 she offered him an English bishopric, which he waived, saying, that, with the blessing of God, he could do some good in the little spot that he then resided on; whereas, if he were removed into a larger sphere, he might be lost, and forget his duty to his flock and to his God. He could not be induced to sit in the House of Lords, though there is a detached seat for him within the bar-saying, "That the Church should have nothing to do with the State; Christ's kingdom is not of this world." The bishop has at present no vote; but if the island, as in case of treason, should become forfeited to the crown, the bishop, as holding his barony from the king, would then have a vote as well as a seat, de suo jure.
Bishop Levintz sat there in his episcopal robes.
It is remarkable that this worthy prelate was seized by Governor Horn, and imprisoned, with his two vicars-general, for two months, in Castle-Rushen, for censuring and refusing to take off the censure of certain persons; they were fined 901., and non-payment, these violent steps were taken; but the King and Council reversed all the proceedings of the officers of the island, declaring them oppressive, arbitrary, and unjust.
In 1739, in a letter to his son, he says, " I have been as well as ever I can expect to be at this age, 76; I was obliged the last Sunday to preach at Peele, ride thither and back again on a stormy day; and yet, I thank God, I am not the worse for it." Peel is about eight miles from Bishop's-Court.
In 1740 there was a great scarcity of corn in the Isle of Man, and but for the very great exertions of the Bishop and his son, in getting a supply, and charitably distributing large quantities, thousands would probably have perished.
In 1741 the Bishop printed his " Instruction for the Indians."
In 1743 he wrote a letter of thanks to George II. on the promotion of his son to a prebend of Westminster.
In 1744 was another scarce year of corn-the Bishop bought and sold to the poor at a cheap rate.
When Dr. Walker and himself were prisoners in the castle, they concerted a plan to translate the Testament into Manks, but the Bishop lived to see only the printing of St. Matthew; it was completed by Bishop Hildesley and the clergy, assisted by the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge.
The Bishop rode on horseback until 1749.
In 1751 he wrote a letter of congratulation to the new governor on his arrival.
In 1753 he consecrated a new chapel at Ramsay; his son preaching the sermon. He died in 1755.
In summing up the character of this truly good man, every part of his life affords a display of the most genuine charity and benevolence. He kept an open table, and his kitchen was crowded with the poor and needy, who were always kindly received. Be never interfered in temporal or political concerns, unless particularly called on by the inhabitants to serve them Queen Caroline was very desirous of keeping him in England; but he refused. One day as he was coming to pay his duty to the queen, when she had several prelates with her-she turned round to her levee, and said, "See here, my lords, is a bishop who does not come for a translation," " No, indeed, and please your majesty," said our good Bishop, " I will not leave my wife in my old age because she is poor."
He was buried in Kirk-Michael church-yard; over him is a square marble tomb, with this modest inscription, railed in with iron: " Sleeping in Jesus, here lieth the body of Thomas Wilson, D.D., Lord Bishop of this Isle, who died March 7, 1755, aged 93, and in the 58th year of his consecration." At the ends-" This monument was erected by his son Thomas Wilson, D.D., native of this parish; who, in obedience to the express commands of his father, declines giving him the character he so justly deserved,
" Let this island speak the rest !"
During the confinement of the Bishop in the dungeon of the castle, he lost the use of his fingers from the severities he endured.
" But oh ! the sad reverse of fate,
That neither spares the good nor great,
Not e'en can cherubs paint !
Lo! Envy brooding o'er the scene,
Dash'd with a cloud the bright serene,
And bore to Rushen's walls the persecuted saint.
" There, as immured, the good man lay,
Awhile to tyranny a prey, Sat Patience with calm eye !
And there too Faith who gives to flow,
Oh ! Innocence, thy robe of snow,
Op'd, through the vale of tears, a vista to the sky."
Cardinal Fleury wanted much to see him, and sent over on purpose to enquire after his health, his age, and the date of his consecration; as they were the two oldest bishops, and, he believed, the poorest in Europe; at the same time inviting him to France. The Bishop sent the Cardinal an answer, which gave him so high an opinion of him, that he obtained an order talk no French privateer should ravage the Isle of Man. And that the French still respect a Manksman, some recent instances confirm.
The Bishop one day gave a poor man, in rags, money to buy coat at the ensuing fair: the man expended the cash in strong liquors, and continued in rags as before; when by accident the Bishop seeing him, expressed his surprise, and asked how it came he was still in that condition-" Why, my Lord," answered he, " I have bought with the money a very warm lining; but I am in want of an outside yet."
The following answer of the Bishop, to a request from Lord Derby, will tend to show that his lordship regulated his actions by principle, and does honour to his character. I copy it from his own writing, with which I was favoured by the deemster of the northern district.
An action relating to Hango-hill estate (Mr. Lace, plaintiff, and the Trustees of the Academic School, defendants) having passed the course of the court of common law, Mr. Lace appealed from the judgment unto the lord, on which the lord sends certain queries to the Governor and Council to be resolved. The Governor, Bishop, and Council, however, were trustees; and the Bishop, on being required by the Governor to assist in council, (according to custom) upon these queries, he gave his answer in writing, as follows:-
" Mr. Deputy-I am of opinion that we of my lord's council, cannot regularly take upon us to answer these queries, for these reasons:-1st. Because we are all trustees, and consequently parties in this cause. 2nd. Because our most ancient and received laws do expressly provide, that when a doubt or question shall arise touching the sense of any statute or custom, the two Deemsters and twenty-four Keys shall expound the same, which, as I am informed, has been already done, and in a judicial way, with respect to the two statutes mentioned in the first of these queries. 3rd. For that a precedent of this kind may be of evil consequences, because a majority of the council being generally strangers, and for some time at least unacquainted with the laws and customs of this isle; if the lord should ground a judgment upon the answer of such a majority, he might unavoidably be led into an error in point of law or justice. Lastly; Because that in this as well as in most governments, such as are appointed to expound the laws, or to administer justice, are under an oath to do this faithfully. Now I do not understand that we are under any such oath or charge; therefore it is neither proper nor safe for us to undertake it.
" I pray that these reasons may be accepted, at least for my particular declining this affair; they are such as oblige me in point of conscience, and I hope will justify me to our honourable lord; who, I do presume, would not have put this cause upon this issue, had his honour been thoroughly acquainted with the constitution and laws of this government.
"(Signed) T. S. M.
"Aug. 25, 1709."
Bishop Wilson was succeeded by Dr. Mark Hildesley, whose various good qualities are spoken of with esteem; the following are his sentiments on his succeeding to the See of Man:
" Although I know it is sometimes said, that a person succeeds with disadvantage to an office which has been filled by a predecessor of remarkably eminent qualities, I must take leave to think the reverse, as nearer the truth; at least with respect to the instance I am about to refer to, viz. my coming after the great and good Dr. Wilson to this See of Man; forasmuch as I find many excellent things done and established to my hands, in regard to the government of the Church, besides the example, which by the traces he has left, his lordship still lives to show, and which I endeavour, as far as I am able, to follow, though I am sensible it is, and must be, non passibus equis."
When Bishop Hildesley was at Scarborough in 1764, the following lines were stuck up in the Spa room, and were taken down by him; and after his death, found (in 1773) by his sister among his Scarborough bills, with this memorandum, that he preserved it only on surmise that it was done by way of banter.
" If to paint Folly, till her friends
And Virtue till her foes would fain be wise;
If angel-sweetness-if a godlike mind
That melts with Jesus over all mankind;
If this can form a bishop-and it can,
Tho' Lawn was wanting-Hildesley's the man."
Under which was written by the Bishop-:From vain-glory in human applause, Deus me liberet et conservet.*
It was usual to approach the bishops on the knee, but this I was told, was abolished by the present diocesan, for the same reason that Frederick the Great of Prussia assigned, when, in 1783, he published a rescript, signifying that kneeling in future should not be practised in honour of his person, declaring that this act of humiliation was not due but to the Divinity.
To conclude:-As the particulars of Bishop Wilson's life and character may be seen at length in the Rev. C. Cruttwell's edition of his works, to whose politeness I am much indebted, I shall refer you to it, where you will find the concurring testimony of many learned and pious minds exhibiting, in the most energetic language, their exalted opinion of this venerable and worthy man.
His son, the Rev. Dr. Wilson, who was the great patron of Mrs. Macaulay, the historian, died at Bath, and was conveyed to London in great pomp, and interred in St. Stephen s church, Walbrook, of which he was the rector, as well as the prebendary of Westminster.*4
As the connexion that subsisted beween Dr. Wilson and Mrs. Macaulay, was a topic of much conversation at that time; a connexion that, however, did them both much honour; I am happy to have it in my power to illustrate the grounds of that attachment, by the following letters from both, to my much valued and lamented friends, Mr. and Mrs. Northcote, of Honiton in Devonshire; whose affectionate attentions I experienced for many years, and whose names I can never think of but with the most poignant grief.
From Dr. Wilson to Mr Northcote.
"Clifton, July 16,1776.
"I received the favour of yours, and soon after wrote to Mr. Dilly, that Mrs. Macaulay would be very glad if you would take us in your way home, but I find you had left London. I know it will give Mrs. N. and you great pleasure to have it under both our hands, that from a high esteem and regard I have for that dear and amiable lady, I have made her perfectly easy, not only while I live, but after my death, by adopting her as my daughter; and consistent with former engagements to my relations, she will have such a share of my fortune, as, with her own, will set her above the world; and I can assure you that no words can express the joy I feel in having it in my power to remove all anxieties from a breast which ought never to have been ruffled. This ought to have been done long ago by persons of opulent fortune, who in words expressed their high veneration for her exalted character as an historian; but Providence reserved that honour for me. Besides, I have the happiness of knowing that she has all those great qualities of mind, necessary to complete the character of a faithful, disinterested and affectionate friend.
" She has been pleased for some time past to favour me with her company at this place, and I awn happy to tell you that she has received great benefit by exercise on horseback, and the fine air and waters of this place; and my charming granddaughter improves every day in health, and every other accomplishment of mind and body. T. W."
On the same paper from Mrs. M.
" MY DEAR FRIENDS,
"Dr. W. has been so full on the subject of my present situation, that he has left me little to tell you, but that my happiness is at present complete in the benevolent protection of the most affectionate, the most indulgent, and the most generous of friends, &c."
Trusting that I have hitherto attached myself to my subject with all possible precision, and have waked extraneous remarks, or the adoption of a luminous and polished diction, to the exclusion of a plain recital of facts; I venture to solicit indulgence in obeying the impulse I here feel, of introducing some sentiments expressive of the high regard those distinguished characters above mentioned held for my friends Mr. and Mrs. Northcote, whom Mrs. M. visited at Honiton, and to whom she presented her whole-length portrait, sitting in her library, by Falconet; which is since in possession of Joseph Haskins, Esq.
In a letter to them, dated Bath, 1775, she observes, " A variety of grievous feelings, from the strange inclemency of the weather, have hitherto prevented my acknowledging dear Mr. and Mrs.Northcote's congratulatory letter; I do not know whether Dr. Wilson, who has not yet finished his journey, has had time to write to you, but he was charmed with your sentiments on the occasion, and wrote to me on the subject as follows:-
" ' I can hardly express the pleasure good Mr. N's letter gave me. I beg, at your leisure, you will answer it, and tell them both how much I am obliged to them for the regard they show to you: they speak from the heart: such friends are worth
"These, my dear friends, were the sentiments of good Dr. Wilson, on your expressions in my favour. Hearts who are capable of exulting at the good fortune of others, are formed of the best materials.-Adieu."
*1 These Constitutions are printed in the Bishop's Life.
*2 On Holy Thursday the sermon is the seventy-third in the octave edition of Bishop Wiison's Sermons, vol. iii.
*3 Some notices of him may be seen in the Life of
Bishop Wilson, by the Rev. Mr Cruttwell
Bishop Wilson's Life was translated into French, by the Rev.Mr. Bourdillon, but was not published. His works were first published in 2 vols. 4to. Then in 2 vols. folio, in numbers. Then in 8 vols. 8vo. The Sermons have had six editions His complete works four editions; out of every edition of the works complete twenty pounds are paid by direction of the late Rev. Dr. Wilson, to the fund for supporting the widows of the clergy. These works may be had in the following
In eight volumes 8vo. his Works complete, with his Life, compiled from his own MSS. and other authentic papers, by the Rev. C. Cruttwell. Price 21. 8s. in boards
The four volumes of Sermons, each containing 26 Discourses, may be had, price 1l. 4d in boards
The Bishop's Life and Tracts may also be had in
Vol. I. The Bishop's Life, and History of the Isle of Man.
VoL II. Instruction for the better understanding of the Lord's Supper, and
Vol III The Knowledge and Practice of Christianity made easy to the meanest Capaclties; Observations for reading the Historical Books of the Old Testament,
Vol. IV. Parochialia; or Instructions for the Clergy; Maxims of Piety and Christianity &c.
In two volumes 12mo. Thirty-three Sermons of Bishop Wilson, selected by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
Also in three vols. royal 4to. A most elegant edition of The Holy Bible, with e notes of Bishop Wilson; and the variations of all the English translations, collected by the Rev. C. Cruttwell.
In separate Tracts.
1. Sacra Privata;-The Private Meditations and
Prayers of Bishop Wilson accommodated to general use.
2. Parochialia, or, Instructions for the Clergy in the Discharge of their Duty.
3. Maxims of Piety and of Christianity, alphabetically arranged. And reprinted for the Use of Sunday Schools.
4 The Prinoiples and Duties of Christianity; being a further Instruction for such as have learned the Church Catechism, &c
*4 Inscriptions in St. Stephens Church, Walbrook:-
To the memory of Mrs. Mary Wilson the beloved and much lamented wife of Thomas Wilson, D.D. She died Nov.4 1772, aged 79 years, in the 40th year of their happy marriage.
To the memory of Thomas Wilson, D.D., citizen of London and rector of this parish upwards of 46 years. He died April 16th, 1784, aged 80 years; only son of Thomas Wilson, late Lord Bishop of Sodor and Man.