Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Austin, John (1613-1669)
AUSTIN, JOHN (1613–1669), a catholic writer under the pseudonym of William Birchley, was born in 1613 at Walpole in Norfolk, and studied under Mr. Trevillian in the grammar school of Sleaford, Lincolnshire, for a year and a half before entering the university of Cambridge, where he was admitted a pensioner of St. John's College under Mr. Clerke. He remained at St. John's till about 1640, when, having embraced the catholic religion, he found it necessary to quit the university. He entered as a student at Lincoln's Inn, and there is reason to believe that he distinguished himself as a lawyer; but the turbulence of the times and his religious belief prevented him from continuing the practice of his profession as a means of livelihood. During the civil war he resided for some time as tutor in the family of Walter Fowler, Esq., of St. Thomas in Staffordshire. About 1650 he returned to London. In a postscript to one of his works, the second part of the 'Christian Moderator' (1652), Austin alludes to a mournful event, by which he was unexpectedly called into the country; and as, after this date, he was enabled to retire to private lodgings in the metropolis, it has been inferred that he had acquired some property by the death of a relative. His death occurred in Bow Street, Covent Garden, in the summer of 1669, and he was buried in the parish church of St. Paul.
The Rev. John Sergeant, in the epistle dedicatory to the second edition of Austin's 'Devotions' (Rouen, 1672), says of his deceased friend the author: 'He was a Gentleman, so far from retirement, that his Chamber was generally open to Multitudes, who either lov'd his friendly Affability, or needed his useful Advice or Charitable Assistance. His Conversation and outward behaviour were exceedingly cheerful and pleasant. He appear'd Severe in nothing but sincere Honesty, in nothing Singular but perfect Innocence consistent with so much Freedom. The Great Business of his Life, that concern'd Heaven, was transacted in the inmost recess of his Soul, and never disclos'd it self without reluctancy and constraint. He was a Traveller, and brought home from Foreign Countries all that could conduce to a Manly becomingness and wise carriage, leaving the Extravagancies and follies where he found them. He was well skill'd in the best of our European Languages, and an absolute Master of our own.' And Dodd (Church History, iii. 257) says: 'Mr. Austin was a gentleman of singular parts and accomplishments, and so great a master of the English tongue that his stile still continues to be a pattern for politeness. His time was wholly spent in books and learned conversation; having the advantage of several ingenious persons' familiarity, who made a kind of Junto in the way of learning — viz., Mr. Thomas Blount, Mr. Blackloe, Francis St. Clare [Christopher Davenport], Mr. John Serjeant, Mr. Belson, Mr. Keightley, &c., all men of great parts and erudition, who were assistants to one another in their writings.'
Austin's works are: 1. 'The Christian Moderator, or Persecution for Religion condemned; By the Light of Nature, Law of God, Evidence of our own Principles' [London], 1651, 4to, pp. 28. The postscript is signed William Birchley. This first part was reprinted in 'An Introduction to the Bishop of Bangor's Intended Collection of Authorities,' 1718. A second part appeared in 1652 'with an Explanation of the Roman Catholick Belief, concerning these four points: Their Church, Worship, Justification, and Civill Government.' A third part was published in 1653, entitled 'The Christian Moderator, or The Oath of Abjuration arraign'd by the Common Law and Common sence. Ancient and modern Acts of Parl., Declarations of the Army, Law of God and consent of Reformed Divines. And humbly submitted to receive Judgment from this Honorable Representative.' The anonymous author of The Beacon flaming with a Non obstante'(1652) asserts that the 'Christian Moderator' was written by Father Christopher Davenport, better known as Franciscus à Sancta Clara; but Anthony à Wood informs us that the Rev. John Sergeant assured him that it was the production of Austin, who was his particular friend, and formerly his contemporary at St. John's College, Cambridge. Dodd and Butler are of the same opinion. In this work Austin, assuming the disguise of an independent, shows that catholics did not really hold the odious doctrines vulgarly attributed to them, and makes an energetic appeal to the independents to extend to the adherents of the persecuted church such rights and privileges as were granted to other religious bodies. A violent reply to this plea for toleration was published in a book called 'Legenda Lignea,' by D. Y., 1652. 2. 'Reflexions upon the Oaths of Supremacy and Allegiance; or, The Christian Moderator, the fourth part. By a Catholick gentleman, an obedient son of the Church, and loyal subject of His Majesty,' 1661. 3. 'Devotions. First part, In the Antient Way of Offices. With Psalms, Hymns, and Pray'rs; for every day in the Week, and every Holiday in the Year,' second edition, corrected and augmented, Rouen, 1672, 8vo. This was a posthumous edition brought out by Sergeant, who remarks that Austin composed these 'Devotions,' which 'were long used by divers private friends, and transcripts of them so multiply'd, that they were already become half publick, ere he thought fit to let them be printed.' Sergeant adds that 'less then a year had vended the whole first impression;' but when or where the first edition was published is unknown. There was an edition at Paris in 1675, and a third volume of the work was written, but never published. Dodd mentions that the prayers were added to the work by Austin's friend, Mr. Keightley, 'which some have been pleased to quarrel with, upon a pretence that they favour'd Mr. Blackloe's opinion concerning the middle state of souls. A handsomely printed edition of the 'Devotions' was published at Edinburgh in 1789. In the preface it is stated that 'the "Devotions" were at first published in two volumes. The second, from what cause we know not, is now almost neglected. It consisted of the four gospels reduced to the form of lessons; besides which a third volume remains in manuscript.' Numerous editions of the 'Devotions' were published by the celebrated Dr. Hicks for the use of his protestant congregation, and consequently the book was commonly known among protestants as 'Hicks's Devotions.' 4. 'The Four Gospels in One,' in short chapters, with a verse and prayer at the end of each; mentioned by Butler, who gives no date nor imprint. This doubtless formed the second volume of the first edition of the 'Devotions.' A 'protestantized ' version of it was published under the title of 'The Harmony of the Holy Gospels, digested into one History, according to the order of time, done originally by the author of the Devotions by way of Offices, publish'd by Dr, Hicks. Reformed and Improved by James Bonnel,' London, 1705. 5. 'A Letter from a Cavalier in Yorkshire to a Friend.' 6. 'A Punctual Answer to Dr. John Tillotson's Book, called the Rule of Faith;' an unfinished work, only six sheets being printed. 7. Several anonymous pamphlets against the Assembly of Divines at Westminster.[MS. Addit. 5862 f. 9 b; Dodd's Church Hist. iii. 256; Wood's Athen. Oxon. ed. Bliss, iii. 149, 150, 1226, 1227; Mr. George Bullen, in Biog. Dict. Soc. D. U. K.; Life of Austin prefixed to his Devotions, Edinb. 1789; Butler's Hist. Memoirs of the English Catholics, 3rd ed. iv. 459.]