Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lewis, John (1675-1747)

LEWIS, JOHN (1675–1747), author, born in the parish of St. Nicholas, Bristol, on 29 Aug. 1675, was the eldest son of John Lewis, wine cooper, of that city. Francis Lewis, vicar of Worth Matravers, Dorset, was his paternal grandfather. His mother was Mary, eldest daughter of John Eyre, merchant, of Poole. He received an excellent education, first under Samuel Conant, rector of Lichet-Matravers, next at Wimborne grammar school, under John Moyle and afterwards under John Russel in the grammar school at Poole. He acted as assistant to Russel, who, after his removal to Wapping, obtained for Lewis admission to the free school of Ratcliff Cross, belonging to the Coopers' Company. On leaving school he became tutor to the sons of Daniel Wigfall, a Turkey and lead merchant, and afterwards, 30 March 1694, was admitted a batler of Exeter College, Oxford, under the tuition of George Verman, a friend of Conant, his first instructor. In order to supplement his slender means while at the university he became assistant in the free school of Poole in 1696. After graduating B.A. on 14 Oct. 1697 he returned to his old friend Russel at Wapping, and shortly afterwards was ordained deacon.

In April 1698 he became curate of Acrise, Kent, and was collated to the rectory of the parish on 4 Sept. 1699. In 1702, Archbishop Tenison having ordered the sequestration of the rectory of Hawkinge, near Dover, licensed Lewis to serve the cure, and in 1705 presented him to the vicarage of St. John the Baptist, Margate (Hasted, Kent, iv. 359). The archbishop collated him to the rectory of Saltwood, with the chapel of Hythe, and to the desolate rectory of Eastbridge in 1706, and subsequently removed him to the vicarage of Minster, to which he was instituted on 10 March 1708–9. Lewis was appointed to preach at the archiepiscopal visitation on 28 May 1712, when his whiggish and low-church views excited the open hostility of his hearers. He commenced M.A. in 1712 as a member of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (Masters, Hist. of Corpus Christi Coll. ii. 340). In 1714 he offended a former friend, John Johnson ‘of Cranbrook’ [q. v.], by attacking, in his ‘Bread and Wine in the Holy Eucharist not a proper Material Propitiatory Sacrifice,’ Johnson's ‘Unbloody Sacrifice & Altar Unvailed,’ which presented the high-church position. Archbishop Tenison, Dr. Waterland, and Dr. Bradford approved Lewis's reply, and when he re-enunciated his views in Canterbury Cathedral on 30 Jan. 1717, Archbishop Wake rewarded him with the mastership of Eastbridge Hospital, Canterbury. From this time until his death he was engaged in numerous works on biography and topography. Dying on 16 Jan. 1746–7, he was buried in the chancel of his church at Minster, where he had been vicar for upwards of thirty-seven years. Archbishop Wake characterised him as ‘vir sobrius, et bonus prædicator.’ He composed more than a thousand sermons, but he ordered his executor to destroy them, ‘lest they might contribute to the laziness of others.’

He married the youngest daughter of Robert Knowles of Herne, Kent. She died in 1720, leaving no issue.

Lewis is chiefly known by his biographies of Wiclif, Caxton, Pecock, and Bishop Fisher, in all of which his strong protestant bias is apparent. They are tedious compilations, but contain the result of much original research. The earliest was:

  1. ‘The History of the Life and Sufferings of … John Wicliffe. … With a Collection of Papers relating to the said History, never before printed,’ Lond. 1720 and 1723, 8vo; new edit., corrected and enlarged by the author, Oxford, 1820, 8vo. The original manuscript of the last revision is in the Bodleian (Rawlinson Collection, C. 979).
  2. ‘The Life of Mayster Wyllyam Caxton, of the Weald of Kent, the first Printer in England. In which is given an Account of the Rise and Progress of the Art of Prynting in England during his time, till 1493,’ was first published, Lond. 1737, 8vo. In this work he was assisted by Sir Peter Thompson and Joseph Ames. The major part of it is inserted by Dibdin in his edition of Ames's ‘Typographical Antiquities.’ It has been completely superseded by William Blades's ‘Biography of Caxton.’ Collections for a history of printing by Lewis, dated 1741, are in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 20035.
  3. ‘The Life of Reynold Pecocke, Bishop of St. Asaph and Chichester; … being a sequel of the Life of Dr. J. Wiclif, in order to an introduction to the history of the English Reformation,’ appeared in 1744, 8vo; new edit. Oxford, 1820, 8vo. The original manuscript is in the Bodleian (Rawl. C. 413).
  4. ‘The Life of Dr. John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester. With an Appendix of illustrative Documents and Papers,’ was first printed in 2 vols. in 1855, from the original autograph manuscript dated 1730–1, and now Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 28650. With an introduction by T. Hudson Turner.

Lewis also edited Roper's ‘Life of More,’ 1729, 8vo, and he left in manuscript lives of Servetus (written in answer to Sir Benjamin Hodges's biography, Lond. 1724, and formerly in Sir Peter Thompson's possession); of John Wallis, 1735 (copies of which are in Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 32601, and in Bodl. MS. Rawl. C. 978); of George Hickes [q. v.], 1744–5 (formerly belonging to Sir P. Thompson); of John Johnson of Cranbrook (formerly belonging to Thompson). None of these have been printed. Part of an autobiography by Lewis, which he continued till near his death, is extant in a copy transcribed for Thompson. This transcript, which only brings the narrative down to 1738, forms Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 28651. The original manuscript belonged to Joseph Ames in 1752.

Lewis's topographical works are of higher value. They deal mainly with Kent. The chief are:

  1. ‘The History and Antiquities, Ecclesiastical and Civil, of the Isle of Tenet in Kent,’ Lond. 1723, 4to; 2nd edit., with additions, 2 pts. Lond. 1736, 4to.
  2. ‘The History and Antiquities of the Abbey and Church of Favresham, in Kent, of the adjoining Priory of Davington, and Maison-Dieu of Ospringe, and Parish of Bocton subtus le Bleyne,’ 2 pts. [Lond.] 1727, 4to.
  3. ‘A little Dissertation on the Antiquities of the two ancient Ports of Richborough and Sandwich, by the Isle of Tenet in Kent. Printed verbatim from the original MS.,’ Lond. 1851, 12mo, being No. 13 of a ‘Series of Tracts on British Topography’ (sixty copies printed). Gough ascribes to Lewis ‘The History and Antiquities of the cathedral church of Rochester,’ Lond. 1717, 8vo, by Richard Rawlinson [q. v.]

Lewis also made some important contributions to religious history and bibliography. Pursuing his study of Wiclif he published in 1731 ‘The New Testament, translated out of the Latin Vulgat by John Wiclif, S.T.P., about 1378: to which is præfixt a History of the Translations of the Bible and New Testament, &c. into English,’ Lond. fol. A copy, interleaved, with manuscript additions by Lewis, and some notes by Sir Peter Thompson, fetched 10l. 10s. at the sale of Heber's library. The ‘History of Translations’ was issued separately with additions as ‘A Complete History of the several Translations of the Holy Bible and New Testament into English, both in MS. and in print,’ 2nd edit., with large additions, Lond. 1739, 8vo; 3rd edit., with an appendix drawn from Newcome's ‘Historical View of English Biblical Translations,’ Lond. 1818, 8vo. In 1738 appeared ‘A brief History of the Rise and Progress of Anabaptism in England; to which is prefixed some account of Dr. John Wicliffe, with a Defence of him from the false Charge of his denying Infant Baptism,’ Lond. 8vo. The author's copy, with large manuscript additions for a new edition, is in the Bodleian Library (Rawl. C. 409–12). A ‘Reply’ to the work, by Thomas Crosby, is dated 1738. Lewis pursued the subject in ‘A Vindication of the Ancient Britons and the Pighards of Bohemia from the false accusation of being Anabaptists,’ Lond. 1741, 12mo. Richard Chilton published ‘Some Observations’ on this work, 1743, 8vo.

Lewis wrote very many tracts on theological and antiquarian topics. The principal are:

  1. ‘The Church Catechism explain'd by way of question and answer, and confirm'd by Scripture proofs,’ Lond. 1700, 12mo, frequently reprinted. It has been translated into Irish and Welsh.
  2. ‘An Apology for the Clergy of the Church of England, in a particular examination of a book [by Matthew Tindal] entituled “The Rights of the Christian Church,” and its second Defence,’ Lond. 1711, 8vo.
  3. ‘The Agreement of the Lutheran Churches with the Church of England, shewn from the publick Confessions of the several Churches,’ Lond. 1715, 8vo.
  4. ‘Two letters in defence of the English Liturgy and Reformation,’ a reply to Thomas Bisse [q. v.], 2nd edit., with additions, 2 pts. Lond. 1717, 8vo. A manuscript history of the English Liturgy by Lewis, dated 1723, once belonged to Edmund Calamy.
  5. ‘Historical Essay upon the Consecration of Churches,’ Lond. 1719, 8vo.
  6. ‘A Specimen of the Errors in the second volume of Collier's “Ecclesiastical History,” being a Vindication of Bishop Burnet's “History of the Reformation,”’ 1724, 8vo.
  7. ‘A Dissertation on the Antiquity and Use of Seals in England,’ Lond. 1736, 4to.
  8. ‘A brief Discovery of the Arts of the Popish Protestant Missioners in England, to pave the way for the restitution … of Popery,’ Lond. 1750, 8vo.
  9. ‘An Essay towards an account of Bishops suffragan in England’ printed in Nichols's ‘Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica,’ 1790, vol. vi.
  10. ‘Of the Books used in Churches and Monasteries here in England before the Reformation,’ printed in Gutch's ‘Collectanea Curiosa,’
  11. 165 (from Rawl. MS. in the Bodleian, C. 412).

Many of Lewis's tracts remain unprinted. Among Rawlinson's MSS. are: ‘Popish Cruelty exemplified in the persecution of the English Lollards from 1382 to 1507;’ and three tracts on the Eucharist.

A catalogue of Lewis's manuscripts sold by Abraham Langford [q. v.] of Covent Garden, December 1749, is copied with the prices in Addit. MS. 28651, f. 46.

A portrait, engraved by G. White, is prefixed to the ‘History of Thanet,’ (2nd edit.); and a mezzotint print by Vertue to the edition of Wiclif's New Testament.

[Manuscript Autobiography; Addit. MS. 15521; Archæologia, iv. 29; Boase's Register of Exeter College, p. 253; Brydges's Restituta, i. 67, 69, 73; Dibdin's Bibliomania; Evans's Portraits, n. 18386; Gent. Mag. 1731 359, 1747 41, 47; Gutch's Collect. Curiosa, ii. 165; Hasted's Kent, iii. 348, 410, 435; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn); Macray's Cat. of the Rawlinson MSS.; Masters's Hist. of Corpus Christi Coll. pp. 256, 320, 323, 337, 364, 370, App. p. 102; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. viii. 66; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ix. 73, 420, 599; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Watt's Bibl. Brit.]

T. C.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.182
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
187 ii 6 Lewis, John: for Rochester' read the Cathedral Church of Rochester'
7 for 1723 read 1717 and after 8vo insert by Richard Rawlinson [q. v.]