Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Davison, John

DAVISON, JOHN (1777–1834), theological writer, was born in 1777 at Morpeth, where his father was a schoolmaster, but brought up at Durham, to which city his father had removed soon after his birth. He was educated at the cathedral school, and in 1794 proceeded thence to Christ Church, Oxford, where he obtained a Craven scholarship in 1796, and was elected fellow of Oriel in 1800. In 1810 he became one of the tutors of Oriel, and in 1817 was presented by Lord Liverpool to the vicarage of Sutterton, near Boston in Lincolnshire. His subsequent preferment was to the rectory of Washington, Durham, in 1818, and in 1826 to that of Upton-upon-Severn. For a few years he held the prebend of Sneating in St. Paul's Cathedral, and in 1826, on the recommendation of Lord Liverpool, he was made a prebendary of Worcester. His health appears to have been habitually delicate. He died 6 May 1834 at Cheltenham, to which he had gone in hope of improvement; he was buried in the chancel of Worcester Cathedral.

Davison thoughout his whole life bore a high character for solid christian excellence. He practised and urged upon his pupils and his parishioners obedience to a rigid code of duty. In theology he was a conservative. In one of his parochial charges he was disconcerted by the propagation of radical and infidel views on political questions, and opposed them in a tract entitled ‘Dialogue between a Christian and a Reformer.’

Davison's most important work was his Warburtonian lectures on prophecy. The title of his book is ‘Discourses on Prophecy, in which are considered its Structure, Use, and Inspiration.’ It marks an advance on the view of prophecy simply as a collection of predictions, giving stress to the moral element contained in it, and to the progressive character of its revelations. The next in importance of his writings is entitled ‘An Inquiry into the Origin and Intent of Primitive Sacrifice, and the Scripture Evidence respecting it; with observations on the opinions of Spencer, Bishop Warburton, Archbishop Magee, and other writers on the same subject. And some reflections on the Unitarian Controversy,’ 1825. It has sometimes been represented that in this treatise Davison disputes altogether the divine origin of all sacrifice. ‘Its conclusions,’ says the writer of the preface prefixed to his ‘Remains and Occasional Publications,’ ‘amount to this: that sacrifices, eucharistical and penitentiary, might be, and probably were, of human origin, though presently sanctioned by divine approbation; but that the idea of expiatory sacrifice was clearly supernatural.’

Davison was an occasional contributor to the ‘Quarterly Review,’ where the following papers from his pen appeared: ‘Review of Replies to the Calumnies of the “Edinburgh Review” against Oxford,’ 1810; ‘Remarks on Edgeworth's Essays on Professional Education,’ 1811; ‘Review of Sir Samuel Romilly's Observations on the Criminal Law of England,’ 1812; ‘Remarks on Baptismal Regeneration,’ 1816. Another of his publications was entitled ‘Considerations on the Poor Laws.’ He maintained that the law according relief to able-bodied poor should be gradually repealed. He felt very strongly that even the best changes in a law might become the sources of grievous ills to the poor when too rapidly introduced. His proposal was that the law should cease to be operative in ten years, and that then a voluntary contribution should be made for cases of great need.

‘Some Points on the Question of the Silk Trade stated,’ in a letter to Mr. Canning, proceeded on a similar view, the writer being greatly distressed at the misery caused by the sudden collapse of that branch of English industry. A few sermons preached on public occasions are the only other productions which Davison gave to the press.

[Prefatory notice prefixed to Remains and Occasional Publications of the late Rev. John Davison, B.D., Oxford, 1840.]

W. G. B.