Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Prideaux, Humphrey

1197229Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 46 — Prideaux, Humphrey1896Alexander Gordon

PRIDEAUX, HUMPHREY, D.D. (1648–1724), orientalist, third son of Edmond Prideaux, was born at Padstow, Cornwall, on 3 May 1648. His mother was a daughter of John Moyle (1592?–1661) [q. v.] After preliminary education at the local grammar schools of Liskeard and Bodmin, he proceeded to Westminster school under Richard Busby [q. v.] On 11 Dec. 1668 he matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, where he had obtained a studentship. He graduated B.A. 22 June 1672, M.A. 29 April 1675, B.D. 15 Nov. 1682, D.D. 8 June 1686. At the university he was distinguished for scholarship. John Fell, D.D. [q. v.], employed him in 1672 in annotating an edition of ‘Florus;’ he was asked to edit the chronicle of John Malelas, but thought it not worth his labour. In 1676 he issued an account of the Arundelian marbles, which secured him the patronage of Heneage Finch, first Earl of Nottingham [q. v.] In 1677 he obtained the sinecure rectory of Llandewy-Velfrey, Pembrokeshire. In 1679 Finch presented him to the rectory of St. Clement's, Oxford, which he held till 1696. He was appointed also, in 1679, Busby's Hebrew lecturer in Christ Church College. Finch gave him in 1681 a canonry at Norwich, and Sir Francis North in February 1683 presented him to the rectory of Bladon, Oxfordshire, which included the chapelry of Woodstock. He still retained his studentship at Christ Church, as he was acting as unsalaried librarian.

Prideaux left Oxford for Norwich on James II's appointment (October 1686) of John Massey [q. v.], a Roman catholic, as dean of Christ Church. He exchanged (1686) Bladon for the rectory of Saham-Toney, Norfolk, which he held till 1694. He at once engaged in controversy with Roman catholics, especially on the point of the validity of Anglican orders. As canon of Norwich his business capacity was very apparent; he improved the financial arrangements of the chapter, and put the records in order. In December 1688 he was made archdeacon of Suffolk by his bishop, William Lloyd (1637–1710) [q. v.], an office which he held till 1694. Though Lloyd became a nonjuror, Prideaux exerted himself at his archidiaconal visitation (May 1689) to secure the taking of the oaths; out of three hundred parishes in his archdeaconry only three clergymen became nonjurors. At the convocation which opened on 21 Nov. 1689 Prideaux was an advocate for changes in the prayer-book, with a view to the comprehension of dissenters. Subsequently he officially corrected a lax interpretation of the Toleration Act (1689), as though it exempted from the duty of attendance on public worship. Burnet consulted him (1691) about a measure for prevention of pluralities, and Prideaux drafted a bill for this purpose. Kidder consulted him in the same year about a bill for preventing clandestine marriages; Prideaux thought the existing law sufficient, and showed the difficulty of providing against evasion.

From 1689 to 1694 he resided at Saham. He declined in 1691 the Hebrew chair, vacated by the death of Edward Pococke [q. v.], a step which he afterwards regretted. Saham did not suit his health, and he returned to Norwich. In a letter written (28 Nov. 1694) just after receiving the news of Tillotson's death, he says that his ‘expectations of future advancement were all dead with the archbishop.’ Early in 1697 he was presented to the vicarage of Trowse, near Norwich, a chapter living, which he held till 1709. He succeeded Henry Fairfax (1634–1702) [q. v.] as dean of Norwich, and was installed on 8 June 1702. On the translation to Ely (31 July 1707) of John Moore (1646–1714) [q. v.], Prideaux was advised to make interest for the vacant see of Norwich; he thought himself too old, and heartily commended the appointment of Charles Trimnell, his fellow-canon.

Prideaux's literary reputation rests on his ‘Life of Mahomet’ (1697) and his ‘Connection’ (1716–18). Of each of these the story has been told that the bookseller to whom he offered the manuscript said he ‘could wish there were a little more humour in it.’ No sign of humour was ever shown by Prideaux, except in his proposal (26 Nov. 1715) for a hospital in each university, to be called ‘Drone Hall,’ for useless fellows and students. The ‘Life of Mahomet’ was in fact pointed as a polemical tract against the deists. As a biography it is valueless from the point of view of modern knowledge. Some of its errors were noted by Sale in the discourse and notes to his translation of the ‘Koran,’ 1734. Prideaux had thought of writing a history of the Saracen empire, but turned instead for his next historical subject to the interval between the Old and New Testaments. The ‘Connection,’ which Lardner well calls ‘learned and judicious’ (Works, 1815, i. 216), was a better piece of work than the ‘Life of Mahomet,’ and, though now out of date, it supplied for a long time a real want, and stimulated further study. It led to a friendly controversy between Prideaux and his cousin, Walter Moyle [q. v.] Le Clerc wrote a critical examination of it, which was published in English in 1722.

In 1721 Prideaux gave his collection of oriental books (over three hundred volumes) to Clare Hall, Cambridge, through his son, who had been there educated. From about 1709 he had suffered severely from the stone, which prevented him from preaching. An operation, ill-managed, was the source of much discomfort. Attacks of rheumatism and paralysis further reduced his strength. He died on 1 Nov. 1724, at the deanery, Norwich, and was buried in the nave of the cathedral, where there is a stone to his memory, with an epitaph composed by himself. He married (16 Feb. 1686) Bridget, only child of Anthony Bokenham of Helmingham, Suffolk, and left a son Edmund.

A portrait of Prideaux, formerly belonging to Sir E. S. Prideaux, bart., is ascribed to Kneller; another by E. Seeman was engraved by Vertue.

He published, besides some pamphlets and a sermon: 1. ‘Marmora Oxoniensia,’ &c., Oxford, 1676, fol. (the numerous typographical errors laid the foundation of Aldrich's opinion of Prideaux as ‘an unaccurate, muddy-headed man;’ they are ascribed to the carelessness of Thomas Bennet (1645?–1681) [q. v.], corrector of the press. 2. ‘De Jure Pauperis et Peregrini,’ &c., Oxford, 1679, 4to (the Hebrew of Maimonides, with a Latin version and notes). 3. ‘A Compendious Introduction for Reading … Histories,’ &c., Oxford, 1682, 4to. 4. ‘The Validity of the Orders of the Church of England,’ &c., 1688, 4to. 5. ‘A Letter to a Friend relating to the present Convocation,’ 1689, 4to (anon.; dated 27 Nov.; has been erroneously assigned to Tillotson). 6. ‘The Case of Clandestine Marriages,’ &c., 1691, 4to (anon.; published by Kidder). 7. ‘The True Nature of Imposture fully display'd in the Life of Mahomet,’ &c., 1697, 8vo; two editions same year; often reprinted (French translation 1698). 8. ‘Directions to Churchwardens,’ &c., Norwich, 1701, 4to; 7th edition, 1730, 4to. 9. ‘The Original and Right of Tithes,’ &c., Norwich, 1710, 8vo; reprinted 1713, 8vo; 1736, 8vo. 10. ‘Ecclesiastical Tracts,’ &c., 1716, 8vo (reprints Nos. 4 and 9, with other tracts on ecclesiastical law). 11. ‘The Old and New Testament connected, in the History of the Jews and Neighbouring Nations … to the Time of Christ,’ 1716–18, fol., 2 vols.; also, with title, ‘The Connection,’ &c., 1716–1718, 8vo, 6 vols.; very frequently reprinted; 1845, 8vo, 2 vols. (edited by Alexander M'Caul [q. v.]); in French, ‘Histoire des Juifs,’ &c., Amsterdam, 1722, 12mo, 5 vols.; in German, 2 vols. 4to, 1726. His letters (1674–1722) to John Ellis (1643?–1738) [q. v.] were edited for the Camden Society in 1875 by Sir E. Maunde Thompson, K.C.B. They exhibit him as a man of more frankness than refinement of mind.

[The Life, 1748, is probably by Birch, being based on information supplied to Birch in 1738 by Edmund Prideaux; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iv. 656; Wood's Fasti (Bliss), ii. 331, 348, 384, 400; Birch's Life of Tillotson, 1753, pp. 193, 371; Monthly Repository, 1811, p. 112; Norfolk Tour, 1829, pp. 1041, 1063; Letters to Ellis (Thompson), 1875; Foster's Alumni Oxon.]

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