Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Mill, John (1645-1707)

MILL, JOHN (1645–1707), principal of St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, was born at Hardendale, in the parish of Shap, Westmoreland, in 1645. His father, Thomas, son of John Mill or Milln, of Banton, near Shap, was a weaver. The son was known until 1673 as Milne. Mill matriculated in the university as ‘pauper puer’ on 14 Oct. 1661, and entered Queen's College, Oxford, in Michaelmas term, on 18 Oct. 1661, as a batler. On 23 June 1663 he was elected tabardar of the college, to be admitted as soon as possible. He proceeded B.A. on 3 May 1666, M.A. 1669, B.D. 1680, D.D. 1681, and his distinction in classics led to his selection as speaker of the ‘Oratio Panegyrica’ at the opening of the Sheldonian Theatre on 9 July 1669. He was elected fellow of his college on 17 Oct. 1670. During 1670 he was ordained and became tutor. He was also for some time chaplain to Sir William Palmer of Warden in Bedfordshire, whose daughter Priscilla, he married at Westminster Abbey on 6 May 1684. Her surname does not appear on the register; that of her mother (daughter of Sir John Bramston, 1577–1654 [q. v.]) was substituted in error. In 1676 he was chosen by Dr. Thomas Lamplugh [q. v.], on his promotion to the see of Exeter, to be his chaplain; on 29 Oct. 1677 he was made prebendary of Exeter; in August 1681 was presented by his college to the rectory of Bletchington, Oxfordshire, and about the same time became chaplain in ordinary to Charles II. Mill was a benefactor to his parish. In 1686 he was instrumental in restoring to their proper use the funds and lands of a local charity, which had been misappropriated for some years by the lord of the manor. He drew up an account of the land (glebe and other), rates, and advowson of his parish, with a copy of the original grant to the provost and scholars of Queen's College by Edward III. His manuscript is still preserved by the rector of Bletchington.

Mill vacated his fellowship at Queen's College towards the end of 1682. On the removal of Thomas Crosthwait he was elected principal of St. Edmund Hall, and was admitted on 5 May 1685. He was not popular there, and his duties were chiefly performed by his vice-principal. His political vacillations gained him the nickname of ‘Johnny Wind-Mill.’ Although upholding the doctrine of passive obedience and non-resistance, he disliked the practical inconveniences of turning nonjuror, and he became the subject of a jingle, sung by the children in the streets of Oxford:

Wilt thou take the oaths, little Johnny Mill?
No, no, that I won't, Yes but I will.

In 1694 he was proctor for the clergy of the diocese of Canterbury, in the lower house of convocation. On 14 Aug. 1704 he obtained the fourth prebend at Canterbury, and on 1 Aug. 1705 he resigned his prebend at Exeter.

Mill was seized with apoplexy on the evening of Saturday, 21 June 1707, and, without recovering consciousness, died about 7 a.m. on Monday, 23 June, exactly a fortnight after the appearance of his great work on the New Testament (cf. Gibson MSS. 933, f. 42, in Lambeth Palace; Gent. Mag. 1801, p. 587). He was buried in the chancel of Bletchington Church, where monuments to his memory and to that of his wife (who had predeceased him on 1 April 1685) are still preserved.

While principal of St. Edmund Hall, Mill continued to prosecute with diligence the great work of his life, his edition of the New Testament in Greek. To this his attention had been first directed by the Savilian professor, Dr. Edward Bernard [q. v.], in 1677; and Dr. John Fell [q. v.], who had previously recognised his abilities, placed all his own notes at Mill's disposal. The printing of the work was commenced at Fell's expense, but on his death in 1686 only fifteen sheets were completed, and the burden of carrying on the work fell on Mill, who also refunded all that Fell had laid out. Hearne at a later date gave Mill some assistance. After thirty years of labour, the work was given to the world on 9 June 1707. It was dedicated to the queen in somewhat fulsome terms, but was the most beautiful edition (fol.) that had hitherto appeared. The text, that of Stephens of 1550, was left untouched, and the various readings were added at the bottom of each page. Mill had collated many valuable manuscripts in England, and procured collations of the principal ones on the continent; the result was a masterpiece of scholarship and critical insight. Prefixed are valuable ‘Prolegomena,’ divided into three parts; the first treating separately of each book of the New Testament, the second containing the history of the text from the time of the apostles, and the third giving a review of his own labours.

Mill was the first editor of the New Testament who attempted to give a clear and accurate description of the manuscripts used, and was also the first to draw up a genealogy of the editions of the Greek text. The edition met with much adverse criticism. His small acquaintance with the oriental languages was the most fruitful source of error. For references to the Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic, he had recourse, as he avows (Proleg. 1707, p. clxii), to the Latin translations in Walton's ‘Polyglott.’ His extracts from the Coptic and Anglo-Saxon, on the contrary, were taken partly from the papers of Thomas Marshall [q. v.], and partly from the communication of Ludovicus Piques, and may be regarded as authentic.

The most famous attack on Mill was that by Dr. Daniel Whitby, who, in his ‘Examen variantium lectionum J. Millii,’ London, 1709, sought to show that the great number of readings (amounting it is said to over thirty thousand) endangered the authority of the printed text. This view was eagerly taken up by Anthony Collins [q. v.] in his ‘Discourse of Free Thinking.’ pp. 87–90. Bentley, under the pseudonym ‘Phileleutherus Lipsiensis,’ vigorously defended his friend Mill in ‘Remarks upon a Late Discourse.’ Mill's labours on 1 John v. 7, supplied a mass of material for the well-known controversy respecting the authenticity of that text (Burgess, Annotationes Millii; Emlyn, Full Enquiry).

In the Bodleian Library is a copy of Mill's Testament, with his own manuscript additions, and some by Hearne. Many of these have been printed in Griesbach's ‘Symbolæ criticæ’ (i. 245–304).

In 1710 Mill's New Testament was republished in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in 1723 at Leipzig, and again, in 1746, at Amsterdam, under the supervision of Kuster. Kuster added the readings of thirteen fresh manuscripts, supplied a preface, and inserted Le Clerc's letter on Mill's work to ‘C. Junius Optimianus,’ which had appeared in vol. xvi. of the ‘Bibliothèque Choisie.’ The first Dutch edition was regarded by Hearne as ‘downright knavery,’ but Kuster kept his own notes separate from those of Mill, and some of his collations are more complete. The ‘Prolegomena,’ with observations by Salthen, were reissued at Königsberg in 1733–4 and 1752.

To Mill are assigned ‘Dissertatio de Nilo et Euphrate terræ Sanctæ Terminis,’ published in Ugolino's ‘Thesaurus Antiquitatum Sacrarum’ (Venice, 1744), and the preface to Benson's ‘Anglo-Saxon Vocabulary’ (Hearne); the latter is often attributed to Thwaites. He supervised the edition of Malala's ‘Chronicle,’ published at Oxford in 1690, and thus became the recipient of Bentley's famous ‘Letter to Mill,’ printed with the ‘Chronicle.’ Prefixed to a copy of Simon Ford's ‘Conflagration of London,’ in the Bodleian Library, are some deplorable manuscript verses addressed by Mill, when a young man, to Dr. Thomas Barlow. A large number of Mill's notes for his Greek Testament, together with letters to and from eminent men of the time, are preserved in the library of Queen's College, Oxford. Letters from Mill to H. Wanley, Dr. Covel, and Dr. Hickes, are in the British Museum (Harl. MS. 3780, ff. 97, 98, 156, 157; Addit. MSS. 4253, f. 7, 22, 910, ff. 251, 256), and one from Grabe to Mill is among the Rawlinson MSS. in the Bodleian Library (C. 851, f. 39).

Hearne, who frequently comments on Mill, gives an unpleasing impression of him as a man, though anxious to do him justice as a scholar and generous patron of scholars. According to Kennet (Lansdowne MS. 987, f. 187), he was ‘a ready extemporare preacher,’ but he only published one sermon (1676). Kennet also states that ‘he talked and wrote the best Latin of any man in the University, and was the most airy and facetious in conversation—in all respects a bright man.’

Portraits of Mill are in the dining hall of St. Edmund Hall, and in the common room gallery of Queen's College. The painting by P. Berchet has been engraved by Vandergucht. There is a representation of him presenting his Greek Testament to Queen Anne in the ‘Oxford Almanack’ for 1747, engraved by Vertue.

[Nicolson and Burn's Westmorland and Cumberland, i. 481; Wood's Athenæ (Bliss), vol. iv. cols. 528, 757–8; Wood's Fasti (Bliss), vol. ii. cols. 289, 308, 374, 382; Wood's Antiq. Univ. Oxon. (Gutch), vol. ii. pt. ii. p. 801; Wood's Colleges and Halls (Gutch), p. 665; Hook's Eccles. Biog.; Hearne's Remarks and Collections (Doble, Oxford Hist. Soc.), passim; Le Neve's Fasti (Hardy), i. 425, iii. 594; Chamberlayne's Angliæ Notitia, 1694, p. 145; Hasted's Kent, iv. 610; Biog. Brit.; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. iv. 142; Le Neve's Monumenta Anglicana, 1680–99 p. 65, 1650–1718 (Suppl.) p. 219; Coxe's Cat. of MSS. in Colleges and Halls; Bromley's Cat. of Engraved Portraits. Contemporary notices of the editions of 1707 and of 1710 of the Greek Testament are in Bibliothèque Choisie, vols. xvi. xxi.; Journal des Sçavans (Suppl.), 1708 pp. 255–67, 1711 pp. 18–24; Leipzig Acta Eruditorum, 1708 pp. 1–12, 1710 pp. 421–4; Pfaff's Dissertatio Critica, 1709, pp. 113 et seq.; Nouvelles de la République des Lettres, 1710, pp. 243–53; Trevoux's Mémoires, 1710, pp. 785–807. Accounts of Mill's work are numerous: the best are Pritz's Introductio in lectionem Novi Testamenti, pp. 288–92; Budæus's Isagoge, pp. 1505–6; Hichtel's Exercitatio … contra Millium; Bengel's Apparatus Criticus (in his Greek Testament, 1734), pp. 880–1; Walch's Bibliotheca Theologica, iv. 25–8; Le Long's Bibliotheca Sacra, i. 235–239; Scrivener's Introd. to the Criticism of the New Test. pp. 374, 447–80; Michaelis's Introduction (trans. by Marsh), passim; Michaelis's Curæ in Versionem Syriacum, pp. 80–159 (with reference to Mill's errors in oriental versions); see also Bode's Pseudocritica Millio-Bengeliana; Registers of Queen's College, Oxford, kindly communicated by the provost; information from the Rev. R. F. Dale of Bletchington.]

B. P.