Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stone, Francis
STONE, FRANCIS (1738?–1813), unitarian divine, son of Arthur Stone of the Middle Temple and Fleet Street, London, was born about 1738. His mother was Susanna, second daughter of Francis Fox [q. v.] He was but two years old when his father died. From the Charterhouse school, of which he was captain, he was elected scholar in 1755 at University College, Oxford, where he matriculated on 15 May 1755, aged 16, graduated B.A. 1759, and M.A. 1766. He studied Hebrew under Thomas Hunt (1696–1774) [q. v.] In 1760 he became curate at Crawley, Hampshire, to his mother's brother-in-law, Henry Taylor [q. v.], who made him an Arian. In 1762 he became curate of Worth, Sussex, having as neighbours William Hopkins (1706–1786) [q. v.] and John Bristed, rector of Slaugham, Sussex, both Arians. Bristed, a good Hebraist, of the school of Gregory Sharpe [q. v.], taught him to discard the Massoretic points. In 1765 he was presented by the governors of the Charterhouse to the rectory of Cold Norton, Essex (instituted 11 May).
A pamphlet by Stone, issued in 1768 under the name of ‘Tyro-Theologus,’ initiated the movement for a petition to parliament for relief from clerical subscription. Stone wrote avowedly in the interest of unitarians; the proposal was renewed on broader grounds (1771) by Francis Blackburne (1705–1787) [q. v.] The petition was promoted (1771–2) by William Robertson, D.D. [q. v.], and Theophilus Lindsey [q. v.] Stone's name was not put forward, but he acted as chairman of the ‘society of the petitioning clergy’ at the Feathers tavern in the Strand. The large number of names from Essex was greatly due to his activity. By 1784 he had got beyond Arianism, rejecting the doctrine of the miraculous conception. Meantime he was turning his attention to economic and social questions, and became a fellow of the Society of Arts. At length, on 8 July 1806, during a visitation held at Danbury by William Gretton [q. v.], archdeacon of Essex, he put forward his unitarian views in a sermon which he published, with the title ‘Jewish Prophecy the sole Criterion to distinguish between genuine and spurious Christian Scripture,’ 1806, 8vo (three editions). He offered the profits of the publication to the fund for widows of Essex clergy, but the offer was rejected ‘with disdain.’ For this sermon he was prosecuted in the bishop of London's consistory court. The trial took place on 13 May 1808 before Sir William Scott (afterwards Lord Stowell) [q. v.], who condemned Stone to deprivation unless he recanted. Failing to do this, he was deprived (20 May) by Beilby Porteus [q. v.], who died on 14 May 1809. Stone made a futile appeal to the court of arches. The loss of his living threw him into debt. The unitarians raised a subscription, from which they paid him 100l. a year, but from Michaelmas 1810 he was confined within the rules of the king's bench. It would appear that his eccentricity alienated his friends. He died at 30 Garden Row, London Road, Southwark, on 1 Nov. 1813. He married in 1761, and must have married a second time, as he left a widow and eight children, several of them young, and one born after 1809.
He published, besides sermons: 1. ‘A short and seasonable Application … in behalf of … a legal redress of … religious Grievances, by Tyro-Theologus, M.A.,’ 1768, 8vo. 2. ‘A New … Method of discharging the National Debt,’ 1776, 8vo (he suggests the appropriation of church property, after paying to all ecclesiastics a uniform stipend of 200l. a year). 3. ‘Political Reformation on a large scale,’ 1789, 8vo. 4. ‘An Examination of … Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France,’ 1792, 8vo. 5. ‘Thoughts in favour of the Abolition of the Slave Trade,’ 1792, 8vo. 6. ‘A Letter to … Dr. Beilby Porteus,’ 1807, 8vo. 7. ‘An Unitarian Christian Minister's Plea for Adherence to the Church of England,’ 1808, 8vo. To the ‘Monthly Repository,’ 1813, he contributed biographical notices of Henry Taylor and William Hopkins. His promised autobiography did not appear.[Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1888, iv. 1359; Morant's Essex, 1768, i. 350; Monthly Repository, 1806 p. 490, 1807 pp. 528, 565, 1808 pp. 274, 282, 518, 1809 pp. 404, 411, 1812 pp. 447, 752, 1813 pp. 133, 286, 425, 1818 p. 16; Gent. Mag. 1808 i. 455, 1813 ii. 508; P. A. Taylor's Account of the Taylor Family, 1875.]