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DR JOSEPH BUTLER, a prelate of the most distinguished character and abilities, was born at Wantage, in Berkshire, in the year 1692. His father, Mr Thomas Butler, who was a substantial and reputable shopkeeper in that town, observing in his son Joseph * an excellent genius and inclination for learning, determined to educate him for the ministry, among the Protestant dissenters of the presbyterian denomination. For this purpose, after he had gone through a proper course of grammatical literature, at the free-grammar school of his native place, under the care of the Rev. Mr Philip Barton, a clergyman of the church of England, he was sent to a dis
* He was the youngest of eight children.
senting academy, then kept at Gloucester, but which was soon afterwards removed to Tewkesbury. The principal tutor of this academy was Mr Jones, a man of uncommon abilities and knowledge, who had the honour of training up several scholars, who became of great eminence, both in the established church and among the dissenters. At Tewkesbury, Mr Butler made an extraordinary progress in the study of divinity; of which he gave a remarkable proof, in the letters addressed by him, while he resided at Tewkesbury, to Dr Samuel Clarke, laying before him the doubts that had arisen in his mind, concerning the conclusiveness of some arguments in the Doctor's demonstration of the being and attributes of God. The first of these letters was dated the 4th November 1713; and the sagacity and depth of thought displayed in it, immediately excited Dr Clarke's particular notice. This condescension encouraged Mr Butler to address the Doctor again upon the same subject, which likewise was answered by him; and the correspondence being carried on in three other letters, the whole was annexed to the celebrated treatise before mentioned, and the collection has been retained in all the subsequent editions
of that work. The management of this correspondence was entrusted by Mr Butler, to his friend and fellow-pupil, Mr Secker, who, in order to conceal the affair, undertook to convey the letters to the post-office at Gloucester, and to bring back Dr Clarke's answers. When Mr Butler's name was discovered to the Doctor, the candour, modesty, and good sense with which he had written, immediately procured him the friendship of that eminent and excellent man. Our young student was not, however, during his continuance at Tewkesbury, solely employed in metaphysical speculations and enquiries. Another subject of his serious consideration was, the propriety of his becoming a dissenting minister. Accordingly, he entered into an examination of the principles of non-conformity; the result of which was, such a dissatisfaction with them, as determined him to conform to the established church. This intention was, at first, disagreeable to his father, who endeavoured to divert him from his purpose; and, with that view, called in the assistance of some eminent presbyterian divines; but finding his son's resolution to be fixed, he at length suffered him to be removed to Oxford, where he was admitted a commoner of
Oriel college on the 17th March 1714. At what time he took orders doth not appear, nor who the bishop was by whom he was ordained; but it is certain that he entered into the church soon after his admission at Oxford, if it be true, as is asserted, that he sometimes assisted Mr Edward Talbot in the divine service, at his living of Hendred, near Wantage. With this gentleman, who was the second son of Dr William Talbot, successively bishop of Oxford, Salisbury, and Durham, Mr Butler formed an intimate friendship at Oriel college; which friendship laid the foundation of all his subsequent preferments, and procured for him a very honourable situation when he was only twenty-six years of age. For it was in 1718 that, at the recommendation of Mr Talbot, in conjunction with that of Dr Clarke, he was appointed by Sir Joseph Jekyll to be preacher at the Rolls. This was three years before he had taken any degree at the university, where he did not go out bachelor-of-law till the 10th June 1721, which, however, was as soon as that degree could suitably be conferred upon him. Mr Butler continued at the Rolls till 1726 ; in the beginning of which year he published, in one volume octavo, Fifteen Sermons
preached at that Chapel." In the meanwhile, by the patronage of Dr Talbot, bishop of Durham, to whose notice he had been recommended (together with Mr Benson and Mr Secker) by Mr Edward Talbot, on his death-bed, our author had been presented first to the rectory of Haughton, near Darlington, and afterwards to that of Stanhope, in the same diocese. The benefice of Haughton was given to him in 1722, and that of Stanhope in 1725. At Haughton, there was a necessity for rebuilding a great part of the parsonage-house, and Mr Butler had neither money nor talents for that work. Mr Secker, therefore, who had always the interest of his friends at heart, and acquired a very considerable influence with Bishop Talbot, persuaded that prelate to give Mr Butler, in exchange for Haughton, the rectory of Stanhope, which was not only free from any such incumbrance, but was likewise of much superior value, being indeed one of the richest parsonages in England. Whilst our author continued preacher at the Rolls-chapel, he divided his time between his duty in town and country; but when he quitted the Rolls, he resided, during seven years, wholly at Stanhope, in the conscientious discharge of