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JAY, WILLIAM (1769–1853), dissenting minister, the son of a stonecutter and mason, was born at Tisbury, Wiltshire, on 8 May 1769. In 1783 he was apprenticed to his father, and worked with him in the erection of Fonthill Abbey for William Beckford. On the recommendation of the presbyterian minister of Tisbury, who noticed his studious disposition, Cornelius Winter, a dissenting minister of Marlborough, received him as a pupil. Jay studied with much earnestness, and when about sixteen was sent by his master to preach in the neighbouring villages. On leaving Marlborough in 1788 he preached a series of discourses for the Rev. Rowland Hill at Surrey Chapel, London, when large crowds came to hear ‘young Jay, the boy preacher.’ He ministered for some time at Christian Malford, near Chippenham, and then removed to the Hotwells, Clifton, where he officiated in Hope Chapel, which belonged to Lady Maxwell. On 30 Jan. 1791 he was ordained pastor of Argyle Independent Chapel at Bath, and held the office for the remainder of his life. In Bath his popularity as a preacher grew very great. His style was simple, his manner earnest, and his voice remarkably good. For many years he supplied the pulpit of Surrey Chapel, London, for six weeks at a time. Some of his writings had a large circulation. ‘The Mutual Duties of Husbands and Wives,’ 1801, ran to six editions; ‘Morning Exercises in the Closet,’ 1829, went to ten editions; and ‘Evening Exercises,’ 1831, was also well received. He resigned his pastorate on 30 Jan. 1853, and by unwise interference in the choice of his successor caused a disruption in his congregation. On 27 Dec. 1853 he died at 4 Percy Place, Bath, and was buried in Snow Hill cemetery on 2 Jan. 1854. He married, first, on 6 Jan. 1791, Anne, daughter of the Rev. Edward Davies, rector of Batheaston; she died 14 Oct. 1845. His second marriage, at the age of seventy-seven, on 2 Sept. 1846, was to Marianna Jane, daughter of George Head of Bradford; she died 4 Feb. 1857, aged 76.

John Foster calls Jay the prince of preachers; Sheridan styles him the most natural orator whom he had ever heard; Dr. James Hamilton speaks of hearing him ‘with wonder and delight,’ and Beckford describes his mind as ‘a clear, transparent stream, flowing so freely as to impress us with the idea of its being inexhaustible.’ Between 1842 and 1848 Jay published a collected edition of his writings in 12 vols. His principal separate publications, other than those mentioned, were: 1. ‘A Selection of Hymns for Argyle Chapel,’ 1797. 2. ‘Sermons,’ 1802–3, 2 vols. 3. ‘Short Discourses to be read in Families,’ 1805, 2 vols. 4. ‘An Essay on Marriage,’ 1806. 5. ‘Memoirs of the Rev. Cornelius Winter,’ 1808. 6. ‘A Selection of Hymns,’ 1815. 7. ‘The Domestic Minister's Assistant, or Prayers for Families,’ 1820. 8. ‘The Christian contemplated in a Course of Lectures,’ 1826. 9. ‘Sermons preached at Cambridge,’ five parts, 1837. 10. ‘Final Discourses at Argyle Chapel,’ 1854. Jay also printed upwards of thirty single sermons, besides contributing prefaces and recommendations to many works.

[The Pulpit, by Onesimus, 1809, i. 223–31; European Mag. January 1819, pp. 5–8, with portrait; The Pulpit, 1824, i. 436, 455, with portrait; The Jubilee Memorial, 1841; Dyer's Sketch of Life of W. Jay, 1854; Autobiography of W. Jay, ed. by G. Redford and J. A. James, 1854, with portrait; Wallace's Portraiture of W. Jay, 1854; Recollections of W. Jay by his son, Cyrus Jay, 1859, with two portraits; Wilson's Memoir of W. Jay, 1854, with portrait; Taylor's National Portrait Gallery, iv. 107–8, with portrait; Couling's History of Temperance Movement, 1862, pp. 314–15; Major's Notabilia of Bath, 1879, pp. 64, 196; Congregational Year-Book, 1855, pp. 219–21.]

G. C. B.