Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Burn, Edward

BURN, EDWARD (1762–1837), polemical writer, born on 29 Nov. 1762, was educated for the ministry at the Countess of Huntingdon’s college at Trevecca, and, after taking orders and obtaining a Birmingham curacy, he entered at St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, and graduated B.A. on 20 Feb. 1790, M.A. on 22 June 1791. In 1785 he became curate and lecturer at St. Mary’s Chapel, Birmingham, and was ‘justly celebrated for extemporary oratory.’ He retained this position till his death. In 1830 he is mentioned as minister of St. James’s Chapel, Ashted, Birmingham, and at the time of his death he held, with St. Mary’s, the rectory of Smethcott, Salop. His first appearance as an author was in opposition to Dr. Priestley, with whom he was personally acquainted (see curious anecdote in Greenwood), but their controversy, which took the form of letters to each other, dissolved the friendship. The initiative was with Burn, who received the thanks of Beilby Porteus, bishop of London. Burn’s later judgment (1820) was ‘that the doctor handled him much too roughly.' This applies particularly to their subsequent encounter in reference to the Birmingham riots of 14 July 1791. Priestley’s ‘Appeal to the Public,' 1792, though amply provoked by what had occurred, was not quite in the strain of his famous sermon on the ‘Duty of Forgiveness of Injuries,' 1791. Burn, as he grew older, became a liberal in politics, and was willing to act with unitarians on the local committee of the Bible Society. He was one of the founders of the Birmingham Association of the Church Missionary Society, and its first secretary. It is greatly to his honour that in October 1825 he went out of his way to express regret (at the Birmingham low bailiffs' annual dinner) for his asperity against Priestley. Burn died at Birmingham 20 May 1837 and was followed to the grave by ministers of all persuasions. He married and left issue. He published:

  1. ‘The Fact; or instance of demoniacal possession improved,’ 1788, 8vo.
  2. ‘Letters to Dr. Priestley on the Infallibility of the Apostolical Testimony concerning the Person of Christ,’ 1790, 8vo, two editions, same year (replied to by Priestley in ‘Letters to the Rev. E. Burn,’ 1790, 8vo).
  3. ‘Letters to Dr. Priestley, in Vindication, &c.,’ 1790, 8vo (replied to by Priestley in ‘Familiar Letters, addressed to the Inhabitants of Birmingham,’ 1790, 8vo, letter xviii.)
  4. ‘A Reply to the Rev. Dr. Priestley's Appeal to the Public on the subject of the Riots at Birmingham,’ 1792 8vo (replied to by John Edwards, Priestley’s colleague, in ‘Letters to the British Nation,’ part iv. [1792], 8vo, and by Priestley in ‘Appeal,’ part ii, 1792, 8vo).
  5. ‘Pastoral Hints or the Importance of a Religious Education,’ 1801, 8vo.
  6. ‘Serious Hints &c. to the Clergy at this momentous crisis,’ Birmingham, 1798, 8vo (sermon on Is. i. 9, before the university of Oxford, 4 Feb. 1798); and other sermons and tracts, including a mission sermon in London. 1806.

[Anything; or, From Anywhere: otherwise Some Account of the Life of the Rev. Secretary Turnabout, the great high priest, Birm., [1792], a scurrilous piece, to which there is a Reply, 1794; Concise Hist. of Birmingham, 5th edition (18l7?). p. 54; Birmingham Journal, 29 Oct. 1825; Hist. and Description of Birmingham, 1830, p. 130; Rutt's Life of Priestley, 1832, ii. 58; Chr. Reformer, 1837. p. 581, 1847, pp. 170 seq.; Miscellaneous Writings of F. W. P. Greenwood, D.D., Boston U.S. 1846, 8vo, p. 44 seq. (Journal kept in England in 1820-1); Catalogue of Oxford Graduates, 1851; memorial tablet at St. Mary’s, Birmingham; information from Rev. J. S. Owen., Birmingham.]

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