SOUTH, ROBERT (1634–1716), English divine, was born at Hackney, Middlesex, in September 1634. He was educated at Westminster school and at Christ Church, Oxford. Before taking orders in 1658 he was in the habit of preaching as the champion of Calvinism against Socinianism and Arminianism. He also at this time showed a leaning to Presbyterianism, but on the approach of the Restoration his views on church government underwent a change; indeed, he was always regarded as a time-server, though by no means a self-seeker. On the 10th of August 1660 he was chosen public orator of the university, and in 1661 domestic chaplain to Lord Clarendon. In March 1663 he was made prebendary of Westminster, and shortly afterwards he received from his university the degree of D.D. In 1667 he became chaplain to the duke of York. He was a zealous advocate of the doctrine of passive obedience, and strongly opposed the Toleration Act, declaiming in unmeasured terms against the various Nonconformist sects. In 1676 he was appointed chaplain to Lawrence Hyde (afterwards earl of Rochester), ambassador-extraordinary to the king of Poland, and of his visit he sent an interesting account to Edward Pococke in a letter, dated Dantzic, 16th December, 1677, which was printed along with South’s Posthumous Works in 1717. In 1678 he was presented to the rectory of Islip, Oxfordshire. Owing, it is said, to a personal grudge, South in 1693 published with transparent anonymity Animadversions on Dr Sherlock’s Book, entitled a Vindication of the Holy and Ever Blessed Trinity, in which the views of William Sherlock (q.v.) were attacked with much sarcastic bitterness. Sherlock, in answer, published a Defence in 1694, to which South replied in Tritheism Charged upon Dr Sherlock's New Notion of the Trinity, and the Charge Made Good. The controversy was carried by the rival parties into the pulpit, and occasioned such keen feeling that the king interposed to stop it. During the greater part of the reign of Anne South remained comparatively quiet, but in 1710 he ranked himself among the partisans of Sacheverell. He declined the see of Rochester and the deanery of Westminster in 1713. He died on the 8th of July 1716, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
South had a vigorous style and his sermons were marked by homely and humorous appeal. His wit generally inclines towards sarcasm, and it was probably the knowledge of his quarrelsome temperament that prevented his promotion to a bishopric. He was noted for the extent of his charities. He published a large number of single sermons, and they appeared in a collected form in 1692 in six volumes, reaching a second edition in his lifetime in 1715. There have been several later issues; one in two volumes, with a memoir (Bohn, 1845). His Opera posthuma latina, including his will, his Latin poems, and his orations while public orator, with memoirs of his life, appeared in 1717. An edition of his works in 7 vols. was published at Oxford in 1823, another in 5 vols. in 1842. See also W. C. Lake, Classic Preachers of the English Church (1st series, 1877). The contemporary notice of South by Anthony Wood in his Athenae is strongly hostile, said to be due to a jest made by South at Wood’s expense.