Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parsons, Benjamin

945462Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 43 — Parsons, Benjamin1895Bertha Porter

PARSONS, BENJAMIN (1797–1855), congregational minister, was born on 16 Feb. 1797 at Nibley in Gloucestershire. His father, Thomas Parsons (d. 1803), member of an old family of yeomen established at Uley in Gloucestershire, was pious and intelligent, but unsuccessful in business. His mother (d. 1812) was Anna Stratford, also of an old farmer family. After attending the parsonage school at Dursley and the grammar school at Wotton-under-Edge, he was apprenticed for seven years to a tailor at Frampton-on-Edge. During his apprenticeship he made himself a good Latin scholar, and in 1815 became a teacher at the Sunday-school then first established at Frampton. He joined the church in Lady Huntingdon's connection at Rodborough Tabernacle in 1821, and on 8 Sept. of the same year entered Cheshunt College. After occupying a pulpit in Swansea for nine months in 1825, and a short stay at Rochdale, he was ordained to the church at Ebley, near Stroud in Gloucestershire, in August 1826. Ebley was the principal scene of his labours for the rest of his life. A chapel had been built in 1797, but there was no school. Parsons at once energetically devoted his attention to the education of the people. He lectured to the men in the evening, established a night-school in a little chapel at Paken Hill, and started a provident fund in 1832. A day-school was opened in 1840. Great success attended his efforts, and he has been called the Oberlin of Gloucestershire. To support himself and his family he also kept a school of a higher class in the parsonage. He preached at Ebley for the last time, owing to ill-health, on 24 Oct. 1854. He died on 10 Jan. 1855, and was buried at Ebley. He married, on 3 Nov. 1830, Amelia, daughter of Samuel Fry of Devonport, by whom he had several children.

Parsons was essentially a gospel preacher, but he had the reputation of applying his pulpit to political purposes. He certainly strove to instil into his hearers what he judged to be just views of the anti-slavery cause and the repeal of the corn laws. But his three principal objects were the education of the people on the voluntary system, temperance, and the strict observance of the Sabbath. His writings exhibit considerable humour, and on occasion a scathing sarcasm. His letters to his wife and children are full of a deep affection.

He published: 1. ‘Why have you become a Pædobaptist? A Dialogue between Hezekiah Hastie, a baptist, and Simon Searche, a Pædobaptist’ (under the pseudonym John Bull), Stroud, 1835. 2. ‘Anti-Bacchus,’ London, 1840; New York, 1840 (edited by J. Marsh); London, 1843. 3. ‘The Wine Question Settled,’ London, 1841. 4. ‘The Mental and Moral Dignity of Women,’ London, 1842, 1849, 1856. 5. ‘Education, the Birthright of every Human Being,’ London, 1845; Leeds, 1864 (4th ed.). 6. ‘A Short Memoir of Elizabeth P. Parsons’ (his daughter), Stroud, 1845. 7. ‘Buy the Truth and sell it not,’ London, 1846. 8. ‘The Unconstitutional Character of the Government Plan of Education,’ London, 1847? 9. ‘Tracts for Fustian Jackets and Smock Frocks,’ Stroud, issued in penny numbers from the summer of 1847 to early in 1849. 10. ‘A Letter to the Clergy of the Borough of Stroud,’ Stroud, 1847? 11. ‘The Greatness of the British Empire,’ London, 1851 (the substance of lectures on English history delivered at Ebley, Stroud, and Cheltenham). 12. ‘A Letter to Richard Cobden on the Impolicy … of State Education,’ London, 1852. 13. ‘A Letter to the Earl of Derby on the Cruelty and Injustice of opening the Crystal Palace on the Sabbath,’ London, 1853.

[Hood's Earnest Minister, a record of the Life … of Benjamin Parsons, passim. A portrait is prefixed. London Cat. of Books; Evangelical Mag. 1856, p. 711; Allibone's Dict. of English Literature.]

B. P.