Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Robinson, Robert (1727?-1791)

ROBINSON, ROBERT, D.D. (1727?–1791), eccentric divine, was born about 1727. He was educated for the dissenting ministry at Plaisterers' Hall, London, under Zephaniah Marryat (d. 1754), and John Walker. As a student he abandoned Calvinism, but remained otherwise orthodox. His first settlement was at Congleton, Cheshire, in 1748. He removed to the Old Chapel, Dukinfield, Cheshire, where his ministry began on 12 Nov. 1752, and ended on 26 Nov. 1755. He appears to have been subject to outbreaks of temper; his ministry at Dukinfield terminated in consequence of his having set the constable to whip a begging tramp. At the end of 1755 he became minister at Dob Lane chapel, near Manchester. Two sermons which in 1757–8 he preached (and afterwards printed) on the artificial rise in the price of corn gained him the ill-will of interested speculators. His arianising flock found fault with his theology, as well as with his political economy. His congregation fell away; he lived in Manchester, and did editorial work for R. Whitworth, a local bookseller. Whitworth projected an edition of the Bible, to be sold in parts, and thought Robinson's name on the title-page would look better with a degree. Accordingly, on application to Edinburgh University, he was made D.D. on 7 Jan. 1774. It is said that the authorities mistook him for Robert Robinson (1735–1790) [q. v.] of Cambridge. On 14 Dec. 1774 he received from the Dob Lane people what he calls a ‘causeless dismissal,’ signed by ‘18 subscribers and 18 ciphers.’ He wrote back that he had been in possession twenty years, and intended to remain ‘to August 1st, 1782, and as much longer as I then see cause.’ Fruitless efforts were made, first to eject, and then to buy him out. He held the trust-deeds, locked the doors of the chapel and graveyard (hence interments were made in private grounds), and for three years seems to have preached but once, a fast-day sermon against the politics of dissent. Resigning some time in 1777, he applied in vain for episcopal ordination. He bought the estate of Barrack Hill House at Bredbury, near Stockport, and spent his time there in literary leisure.

He died at his son's house in Manchester on 7 Dec. 1791, and, by his own directions, was buried, on 15 Dec. at 7 A.M., in a square brick building erected on his property. A movable glass pane was inserted in his coffin, and the mausoleum had a door for purposes of inspection by a watchman, who was to see if he breathed on the glass. His widow died at Barrack Hill House on 21 May 1797, aged 76. He published, among other discourses, ‘The Doctrine of Absolute Submission … the Natural Right claimed by some Dissenters to dismiss their Ministers at pleasure exposed,’ &c. 1775, 8vo (dealing with his Dob Lane troubles), and in the same year he advertised as ready for the press ‘A Discourse in Vindication of the true and proper Divinity of our Lord,’ &c., with appendices. In the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ (1789, ii. 843) is a Latin poem, ‘The Rev. Dr. Robinson's Advice to a Student on Admission into the University;’ in the same magazine (1790, i. 12, 165, and 1791, ii. 451) are translations by him from Latin poetry.

[Gent. Mag. 1791 ii. 755, 1165, 1232, 1797 i. 447; Monthly Repository, 1823, p. 683 (paper by William Hampton, incorrect); Cat. Edinburgh Graduates, 1858, p. 244; Urwick's Nonconformity in Cheshire, 1864, pp. 329 sq. (follows Hampton); Manchester City Notes and Queries, 19 and 26 Jan., 9 and 16 Feb. 1884; Head's Congleton, 1887, p. 254; Nightingale's Lancashire Nonconformity, 1893, v. 44 sq.; Gordon's Historical Account of Dukinfield Chapel, 1896, pp. 50 sq.; Dukinfield Chapel treasurer's accounts (manuscript).]

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