Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Drew, Samuel

DREW, SAMUEL (1765–1833), metaphysician, born 6 March 1765, was the son of Joseph Drew, by his second wife, Thomasin Osborne. Joseph Drew made a hard living in a cottage near St. Austell, Cornwall, by streaming for tin and a little small farming. He had been impressed by a sermon from Whitefield and was one of the early Cornish methodists. Samuel was put to work in the fields at seven years old, his parents receiving 2d. a day for his labour. His mother died in 1774, when his father married again; and Samuel, finding home disagreeable, was apprenticed to a shoemaker at St. Blazey when between ten and eleven. He was a wild lad and joined in smuggling adventures, but was discouraged for a time (as he always asserted) by meeting one night a being like a bear with fiery eyes which trotted past him and went through a closed gate in a supernatural manner. Soon afterwards he ran away from his master, but was found at Liskeard and brought back to his father, who, after some difficulties, was now prospering as a farmer at Polplea, near Par. He afterwards worked for a time at Millbrook, Plymouth, and was nearly drowned in a smuggling adventure, from which he had not been deterred by any bogey. Returning to his home he became journeyman shoemaker in a shop at St. Austell in January 1785. The death of an elder brother, who had been a studious youth of religious principles, and the funeral sermon preached upon him by Adam Clarke [q. v.], had a great effect upon his mind, and he joined the Wesleyan society in June 1785. He took a keen interest in politics, began to read all the books he could find, and was much impressed by a copy of Locke's ‘Essay.’ He set up in business for himself in 1787. He became a class-leader and a local preacher in 1788; and though some accusation of heresy led to his giving up the class-leadership for many years, he continued to preach through life. On 17 April 1791 he married Honour Hills. He began to write poetry, always kept a note-book by the side of his tools, and used to write with his bellows for a desk. His first publication was ‘Remarks upon Paine's "Age of Reason,”’ caused by some controversy with a freethinking friend, which appeared in 1799 and was favourably noticed in the ‘Anti-Jacobin Review’ for April 1800. He made the acquaintance of the antiquary John Whitaker, the vicar of Ruan-Lanihorne, and of John Britton [q. v.] In July 1800 he published some ‘Observations’ upon R. Polwhele's ‘Anecdotes of Methodism,’ defending his sect against Polwhele's charges. Whitaker now encouraged him to complete a book upon which he had long meditated, which was finally published by subscription in 1802. It was entitled ‘Essay on the Immateriality and Immortality of the Soul.’ It had much success. After the first publication he sold the copyright to a Bristol bookseller for 20l. After four editions had appeared in England and two in America, he brought out a fifth with additions in 1831, which he sold for 250l. His old adversary Polwhele generously reviewed him with high praise in the ‘Anti-Jacobin’ for February 1803. He became famous as the ‘Cornish metaphysician,’ and made many friends among the clergy, though he declined to become a candidate for the orders of the church of England. He formed a close intimacy with Adam Clarke, through whose influence he was elected in 1804 a member of the Manchester Philological Society. Another friend was the Rev. Dr. Thomas Coke [q. v.], who was writing various books for the Wesleyan conference. He was also superintendent of the Wesleyan missions, and, being overwhelmed with work, employed Drew to write for him. The books appeared under the name of Coke, and were in fact from his notes, but it seems that Drew was the chief author, though he did not complain of the concealment of his name. In 1806 he was invited through Clarke to revise metaphysical works for the ‘Eclectic Review,’ but the connection did not last long. In 1809 he published an ‘Essay on the Identity and Resurrection of the Body,’ which attracted little notice, though it reached a second edition in 1822. About the same time he began to write an essay for the Burnett prize [see Burnett, John, 1729–1784], which, however, was adjudged in 1814 to J. L. Brown and J. B. Sumner. He published his essay in 1820; but it did not attract much notice.

In 1814 he undertook a history of Cornwall. Part of it had been written by F. Hitchins, on whose death the composition was entrusted to Drew. Though Drew is only described as editor, he wrote the greatest part. It is not more than a fair compilation.

In 1819 he moved to Liverpool, again through the recommendation of Clarke. He was to edit the ‘Imperial Magazine,’ started in March 1819, and superintend the business of the ‘Caxton Press.’ A fire destroyed the buildings at Liverpool, and the business was transferred to London, where Drew settled. Here he was employed in absorbing work, which seems to have tried his health. Hopes of making a provision for retirement to Cornwall were disappointed by pecuniary losses. He made short visits to Cornwall, during one of which his wife died at Helston, 19 Aug. 1828, at the house of a son-in-law. Drew rapidly declined in strength after this blow. He returned to his work in London, but died at Helston 29 March 1833, while staying with his son-in-law. He had seven children, of whom six survived him.

Drew's writings are interesting as those of a self-taught metaphysician, who seems to have read nothing on his first publication except Locke and Watts. It cannot be said, however, that his arguments show more than a strong mind, quite unversed in the literature of the subject. He appears to have been a very honourable and independent man, strongly attached to his family, and energetic as a preacher and writer.

[Life by his eldest son (2nd edit.), 1835; Autobiographical sketch prefixed to Essay on Identity, &c. 1809; Polwhele's Biographical Sketches of Cornwall, i. 96–103; Boase and Courtney's Bibliotheca Cornubiensis; Smiles's Self-Help.]

L. S.