Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lewis, Thomas (1689-1749?)

LEWIS, THOMAS (1689–1749?), controversialist, son of Stephen Lewis, vicar of Weobly and rector of Holgate, Shropshire, was born at Kington, Herefordshire, on 14 March 1688–9. He was educated at Hereford ‘Free Schole’ under a Mr. Traherne, was admitted a Bible clerk at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, whence he matriculated 3 July 1704, graduated B.A. in 1711, does not appear to have proceeded M.A., but was ordained priest in 1713 at Worcester. Four years later he established a periodical publication entitled ‘The Scourge, in vindication of the Church of England.’ This sheet, which appeared every Monday, was characterised by violent and trenchant abuse of dissenters, broad churchmen, and papists alike. On 15 July 1717 the writer denounced Hoadly from the text, ‘Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defie the Armes of the Living God?’ Six weeks later he headed an attack on Scottish presbyterianism with the words, ‘Every beast loveth his like.’ Such high-flying sentiments being little to the taste of the party in power, his paper was presented by the grand jury of Westminster as the work of a libeller and an embroiler of the nation, and Lewis, who promptly absconded, was ordered to stand his trial for sedition at the king's bench. In the meantime there appeared ‘The Scourge Scourged, or a short Account of the Life of the Author of the Scourge,’ full of violent and obscene abuse of Lewis and his ‘weekly excrement.’

From his hiding-place Lewis defiantly issued ‘The Danger of the Church Establishment of England from the Insolence of the Protestant Dissenters, wherein it appears from their late writing that they have attempted to subvert the Liturgy, the Canons, Articles and the whole Discipline of the Church of England, to Ruin the Reputation of the Universities and the Episcopal Clergy, and to inflame the minds of the People against the Established Form of Church Government in this Kingdom. In a Letter to Sir John Smith [his accuser in the matter of the “Scourge.”] “Heu pietas, heu prisca fides,”’ London, 1718. This epistle, which included a bitter attack upon Hoadly, rapidly passed through two editions, and was shortly answered by a comparatively moderate, though anonymous, pamphlet entitled ‘A brief Answer to a long Libel.’ Lewis had the last word in the controversy with his ‘Anatomy of the Heretical Synod of Dissenters at Salter's Hall,’ 1719. Lewis's remaining writings, enumerated below, are less acrimoniously controversial; all alike are supported by much erudition and ingenuity. About 1720 Lewis appears to have been acting as curate at St. Clement Danes. In 1735 he writes from Hampstead, where he kept for several years a private boarding-school. Leaving Hampstead in 1737 he settled at Chelsea, whence he sent an account of his life to Rawlinson on 12 Sept. 1737. The date of his death does not appear to be known, but he is probably the ‘Rev. J. Lewis’ whose death took place at Chelsea, according to the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ on 8 Sept. 1749.

He wrote, besides the works already noticed: 1. ‘An Historical Essay upon the Consecration of Churches,’ 1719. 2. ‘The Nature of Hell-Fire, the Reality of Hell-Fire, and the Eternity of Hell Torments explain'd and Vindicated,’ 1720. 3. ‘The Obligation of Christians to beautify and adorn their Churches, shewn from the authority of the Holy Scriptures, from the Practice of the Primitive Church, and from the Discipline of the Church of England Established by Law,’ London, 1721. 4. ‘Seasonable Considerations on the Indecent and Dangerous Custom of Burying in Churches and Church Fields,’ 1721. 5. ‘The History of Hypatia. A most impudent School-Mistress of Alexandria. Murdered and torn to pieces by the Populace. In defence of Saint Cyril and the Alexandrian Clergy from the Aspersions of Mr. Toland,’ 1721: a reply to the third section of Toland's ‘Tetradymus’ (1720). 6. ‘Origines Hebrææ. The Antiquities of the Hebrew Republick, in 4 books, designed as an exposition of every branch of Levitical Law and all the Ceremonies of the Hebrews, both civil and sacred,’ London, 1724, 8vo. This laborious compilation from the most distinguished writers, Jewish and Christian, was reprinted at the Clarendon press in 1834, 3 vols. 8vo. A summary of the contents is given in Darling's ‘Cyclopedia,’ col. 1835. 7. ‘Churches no Charnel Houses,’ a reiteration of the arguments used in No. 4. 8. ‘The History of the Parthian Empire … contained in a succession of twenty-nine Kings, compiled from the Greek and Latin Historians and other Writers,’ 1728. 9. ‘An Enquiry into the Shape, the Beauty, and Stature of the Person of Christ and of the Virgin Mary offered to the consideration of the late Converts to Popery,’ 1735; a learned and acute disquisition, in which, after comparing and carefully discounting the evidence for and against the personal beauty of Jesus, he concludes that the latter was in appearance rather mean and ill-favoured. It is dedicated to the Bishop of London. He also edited a translation of Bishop Sanderson's ‘Casus Conscientiæ,’ under the title ‘A Preservation against Schism and Rebellion,’ 1722, 8vo.

[Rawl. MS. (Bodl.), J, fol. 4, pp. 33–6; notes kindly supplied by Mr. G. G. Smith of Edinburgh, Mr. Wheeler of the Bodleian, and the Rev. the President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford; Lewis's Works in the British Museum Library; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Watt's Bibl. Brit. p. 603; Darling's Cycl. Bibl. 1834.]

T. S.