Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Clayton, Robert (1695-1758)
CLAYTON, ROBERT (1695–1758), Irish bishop, born at Dublin in 1695, was a descendant of the Claytons of Fulwood, Lancashire, whose estates came to him by inheritance. He was the eldest of eight children of Dr. Robert Clayton, minister of St. Michael's, Dublin, and dean of Kildare, and Eleanor, daughter of John Atherton of Busie. Zachary Pearce [q. v.] privately educated him at Westminster School. He entered Trinity College, Dublin, became B.A. 1714, a fellow the same year, M.A. 1717, LL.D. 1722, and D.D. 1730. He made the tour of Italy and France, and on his father's death in 1728 came into possession of a good estate and married Catharine, daughter of Lord Chief Baron Donnellan. He gave his wife's fortune to her sister, and doubled the bequest, under his father's will, to his own three sisters.
A gift of 300l. to a distressed scholar recommended to him by Samuel Clarke (1675-1729) [q. v.] brought him the intimate friendship of Clarke. Clayton embraced Clarke's doctrines and held to them through life. Queen Caroline, hearing from Dr. Clarke of Clayton's remarkable beneficence, had him appointed to the bishopric of Killala and Achonry in 1729-1730. In 1735 he was translated to that of Cork and Ross, and in 1745 to that of Clogher. His first literary production was a letter in the 'Philosophical Transactions,' August 1738, on a French refugee, in Cork, suckling a child, with an account of a remarkable skeleton. In 1739 he published 'The Bishop of Corke's Letter to his Clergy,' Dublin, 8vo, and 'A Sermon preached before the Judges of Assize,' Cork, 4to, and in 1740 ' The Religion of Labour,' Dublin, 4to, for the Society for Promoting English Protestant Schools in Ireland. In 1743 he published ' A Replication . . . with the History of Popery,' &c., Dublin, 4to, directed against the author of 'A Brief Historical Account of the Vaudois.' In 1747 appeared 'The Chronology of the Hebrew Bible vindicated ... to the Death of Moses,' London, 4to, pp. 494. In 1749 he published ' A Dissertation on Prophesy . . . with an explanation of the Revelations of St. John,' Dublin, 8vo; reprinted London, 8vo. This work aimed at reconciling Daniel and Revelation, and proving that the ruin of popery and the end of the dispersion of the Jews would take place in A.D. 2000. Two letters followed, printed separately, then together, 1751, London, 8vo, 'An Impartial Enquiry into the Time of the Coming of the Messiah.' In 1751 appeared the remarkable work written by him, though often asserted to be that of a young clergyman of his diocese, 'Essay on Spirit . . . with some remarks on the Athanasian and Nicene Creeds,' London, 1751, 8vo. This book, full of Arian doctrine, led to a long controversy. It was attacked by William Jones, Warburton (who described it as 'the rubbish of old heresies'), Nathaniel Lardner, and many others. The Duke of Dorset, the lord-lieutenant, refused on account of this work to appoint him to the vacant archbishopric of Tuam. Several editions appeared in 8vo and 12mo, 1752, 1753, and 1759. In 1752 a work having appeared called ' A Sequel to the Essay on Spirit,' London, 8vo, Clayton published 'The Genuine Sequel to the Essay,' &c., Dublin, 8vo. His next work was 'A Vindication of the Histories of the Old and New Testament, in answer to the Objections of . . . Bolingbroke,' pt. i., Dublin, 1752, 12mo. The same year he was made fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, having some years before been elected a fellow of the Royal Society. In 1753 he published 'A Journey from Grand Cairo to Mount Sinai, and back again. In Company with some Missionaries de propaganda Fide,' &c., translated from a manuscript which had been mentioned by Pococke in his 'Travels.' The chief interest lay in the account of the supposed inscriptions of the Israelites in the Gebel el Mokatab. The work was addressed to the Society of Antiquaries, and the author offered to give 500l., spread over five years, to assist an exploration in Mount Sinai, but the society took no steps in the matter. Mr. Wortley Montagu, however, was induced to visit the spot and give an account of the inscriptions. The same year Clayton published 'A Defence of the Essay on Spirit,' London, 8vo. His next work was 'Some Thoughts on Self-love, Innate Ideas, Freewill,' &c., occasioned by Hume's works, London, 1754, 8vo. The same year he brought out the second part of the 'Vindication of ... the Old and New Testament,' Dublin, 8vo, adorned with cuts. This produced Catcott's attack on his theories of the earth's form and the deluge. In 1756 appeared 'Letters which passed between . . . the Bishop of Clogher and Mr. William Penn concerning Baptism,' London, 8vo, in which he asserted the cessation of baptism by the Holy Ghost. Clayton's friend Bowyer obtained a copy of the correspondence and published it. Clayton proposed, 2 Feb. 1756, in the Irish House of Lords, that the Athanasian and Nicene creeds should be expunged from the liturgy of the church of Ireland. His speech, taken in shorthand, was afterwards published, and passed through several editions. Some editions have appeared as late as Evesham, 1839, 12mo, and London, 1839, 12mo. It is also given in Sparke's 'Essays and Tracts on Theology,' vol. vi. 12mo, Boston, U.S., 1826. No proceedings were taken against him until the publication of the third part of the 'Vindication of ... the Old and New Testament,' Dublin, 1757, 8vo, when he renewed his attack on the Trinity and advanced so many doctrines contrary to the Thirty-nine Articles that the government was compelled to order a prosecution. A meeting of Irish prelates was called at the house of the primate, and Clayton was summoned to attend. Before the appointed time the bishop was seized with a nervous fever, and died 26 Feb. 1758. On being told that he would probably lose his bishopric, he replied that he should never survive the blow.
Clayton's temper was amiable, his spirit catholic, his beneficence unbounded, and many of his gifts secret till after his death. As a member of the linen board he managed to get steady employment for the poor of his diocese of Clogher. His writings are fanciful, though not without ability.
Dr. Bernard, afterwards dean of Derry, who married Clayton's niece, and was his executor, had several of his works in manuscript, but they have never been published. He gave copyright of all Clayton's works for England to the learned printer Bowyer, who issued the three parts of the 'Vindication' and the 'Essay on Spirit,' with additional notes and index to the scripture texts, in 1 vol. 8vo, London, 1759, pp. 504.[Clayton's Works; Boulter's Letters, i. 340, ii. 127, 134; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ii. 231, 241, 245; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. iv. 733; Burdy's Life of Philip Skelton, pp. 84, 98; Warburton's Letters, 4to edit. p. 68.]