Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kidder, Richard

KIDDER, RICHARD (1633–1703), bishop of Bath and Wells, was born at East Grinstead in Sussex in 1633. His father belonged to the class of yeomen or lesser gentry. His mother was a woman of great piety, of puritan sympathies. He was educated at a grammar school in the neighbourhood under the mastership of a Mr. Rayner Harman, of whom he speaks in the highest terms. He was sent to an apothecary at Sevenoaks to study medicine; but his friends raised a sum of money to send him to Cambridge, and in June 1649 he was admitted as a sizar at Emmanuel College. Samuel Cradock [q. v.], then a fellow of the college, directed his studies, encouraged him in a religious life, and helped him with money. He graduated B.A. in 1652, and in 1655 was elected fellow of Emmanuel. In 1658 he was ordained deacon and priest, in one day, by Dr. Brownrigg, the deprived bishop of Exeter. The ordination took place in a private house at Bury St. Edmunds. In 1659 the vicarage of Stanground, Huntingdonshire, which was in the gift of his college, fell vacant, and Kidder was appointed to it. In 1662 he was ejected by the Bartholomew Act, because he ‘did not think fit to subscribe to what he never saw,’ that is, of course, the amended Book of Common Prayer. He declares that he had ‘never taken the covenant or engagement, was entirely satisfied in episcopacy, and with a liturgy; had no hand in the late confusions, and was so far from it that he lamented them, and was deprived of his living only for not subscribing to a book that was not, as it ought to have been, laid before him.’ For a time he took chance duty in London and the country, but in 1664, having by that time ‘conformed,’ he was appointed by Arthur, earl of Essex, to the rectory of Raine (now spelt Rayne), near Braintree. He found the people ‘factious to the last degree,’ and used to call the ten years he spent among them ‘the lost part of his life.’ The great plague of London in 1665 spread to Essex, and added to his troubles; and he also lost (not through the plague) three children there. In 1674 he was offered the living of St. Helen's in London by Sancroft, then dean of St. Paul's, who had known him at Emmanuel College; but though he officiated there for a while, and was much pleased with the people, he would not be instituted on the terms of refusing the holy communion to those who would not kneel. He was appointed also in 1674 preacher at the Rolls by Sir Harbottle Grimston [q. v.], the master, and in the same year was presented by the Merchant Taylors' Company to the rectory of St. Martin Outwich, the next parish to St. Helen's. Soon afterwards he was also chosen to be a week-day lecturer at Blackfriars. In 1680 he lost three children by the small-pox. He was now a popular preacher, and was offered various preferments. In 1681 he was appointed to a prebend at Norwich by the lord chancellor, the Earl of Nottingham, and a few years later was twice chosen lecturer of Ipswich, but declined both times. In 1688 his old friend Sancroft, now archbishop of Canterbury, offered him the living of Sundridge, Kent, and he was also recommended by Robert Nelson to Tillotson, then dean of St. Paul's, for the living of Barnes, but he accepted neither preferment.

In 1689, soon after the accession of William and Mary, he was made one of the royal chaplains, without his knowledge, and was also appointed on the royal commission to consider such alterations in the liturgy, &c., as might give satisfaction to the dissenters in connection with the Comprehension Bill. He prepared a new version of the Psalms, but the commission had not time to examine it. In the same year, on the elevation of Dean Patrick to the see of Chichester, he was appointed by the crown dean of Peterborough, and finally, through the instrumentality of Tillotson, now archbishop of Canterbury, was offered the bishopric of Bath and Wells, of which Thomas Ken had been deprived. He says that he was very unwilling to accept the see, but after some days consented. He afterwards thought that he had not been wise; for ‘though he could not say that he had acted against his conscience, he did not consult his ease,’ and often repented. He was consecrated at Bow Church on 30 Aug. 1691, and ‘presently took up his residence at Wells.’ ‘I am sure,’ he says, ‘no man living could come into a place with a more hearty desire to do good than I did.’ But his position was most unfortunate, for the whole sympathies of the diocese were probably with his deprived predecessor, Ken. Ken himself greatly disliked the appointment, and spoke of Kidder as a ‘latitudinarian traditor,’ a ‘hireling,’ who, ‘instead of keeping his flock within the fold, encouraged them to stray,’ ‘a stranger ravaging his flock.’ Kidder seems to have been continually in trouble with the cathedral chapter; they refused to attend his ordinations, thinking that he ordained nonconformists without having properly ascertained that they had really become churchmen. The whole tone of his charges to the clergy, and also of his autobiography, shows his false position. Kidder and his wife were both killed in their bed in the palace at Wells by the falling of a stack of chimneys through the roof in the great storm of 26 Nov. 1703.

Few men were more obnoxious to high churchmen than Kidder, but it is hardly fair to charge him, as he has been charged, with being a mere time-server. He refused many offers of preferment, including at least one bishopric, that of Peterborough; and his literary work, if nothing else, certainly pointed him out for advancement. A story is told, much to his credit, that in 1696–7 it was intimated to him that he must go up to the House of Lords and vote for the attainder of Sir John Fenwick, and upon his replying that he must wait to know the merits of the case, he was asked, ‘Don't you know whose bread you are eating?’ To which he replied, ‘I eat no man's bread but poor Dr. Ken's,’ and, to show his principles, went up and voted against the bill. The story that he made the deprived bishop an allowance from the see is apocryphal.

Kidder was a most industrious and, in many respects, valuable writer. His first work of any importance was entitled ‘Convivium Cœleste: a Plain and Familiar Discourse concerning the Lord's Supper.’ It was published in 1674, but was a reprint of what he had preached to his recalcitrant parishioners at Raine some years before. In 1684 he published the first part of his ‘Demonstration of the Messias.’ Other parts were published at different times, and the whole was not completed until 1700. In 1693 he was appointed Boyle lecturer, and he inserted the substance of the lectures he then delivered in the ‘Demonstration.’ It was intended in the first instance to promote the conversion of the Jews, and his knowledge of Hebrew and the oriental languages well qualified him for the task; but it was also directed against the arguments of the deists. In 1684 he undertook the translation of Dr. Lightfoot's works into Latin. In 1694 he published ‘A Commentary on the Five Books of Moses, with a Dissertation concerning the Author of the said Books, and a general Argument to each of them,’ 2 vols. This was part of a joint work which was to be executed by London clergymen for the use of families. It was to have embraced the whole of the Old and New Testaments, but the scheme fell through because the attention of the writers was diverted to the Roman controversy. In 1692 he published ‘A Charge to the Clergy of his Diocese at his Primary Visitation begun at Oxbridge June 2, 1692.’ In 1698 appeared his ‘Life of Anthony Horneck’ [q. v.] His last work was a posthumous one, ‘Critical Remarks upon some Difficult Passages of Scripture, in a Letter to Sir Peter King,’ 1719 and 1725. Kidder also published a vast number of sermons, tracts, and fugitive pieces. Of the sermons the first was entitled ‘The Young Man's Duty; a Discourse showing the necessity of seeking the Lord betimes,’ &c., which was published as early as 1663, and became so popular that it reached a tenth edition in 1750; ‘The Christian Sufferer Supported,’ 1680, a sermon preached at Guildhall Chapel on 16 July 1682; a funeral sermon on Mr. W. Allen, a London citizen who wrote in defence of the church of England, on 17 Aug. 1686; another on Thomas Pakeman in 1691; one ‘On the Resurrection,’ 1694; ‘Twelve Sermons preached upon several occasions,’ 1697; and ‘A Discourse concerning Sins of Infirmity and Wilful Sins,’ and another ‘Of Restitution,’ which were to be distributed among the poor of his diocese, and were sent to the press a very short time before his death. His ‘Tracts against Popery’ include ‘A Second Dialogue between a new Catholic Convert and a Protestant, shewing why he cannot believe the Doctrine of Transubstantiation’ (1686); ‘An Examination of Bellarmine's Thirteenth Note of the Church, Of the Confession of Adversaries’ (1687); ‘The Judgment of Private Discretion in Matters of Religion Defended’ (1687) (this was originally preached as a sermon at St. Paul's, Covent Garden, 1686); ‘Texts which the Papists cite for proof of their Doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass examined’ (1686); ‘Reflections on a French Testament printed at Bordeaux in 1686; pretended to be translated out of the Latin into French by the Divines of Louvain’ (1690). Among his tracts on other subjects were ‘Charity Directed, or the Way to give Alms to the greatest advantage, in a Letter to a Friend’ (1677); ‘A Discourse of the Sacraments,’ with some heads of examination and prayers (1684); ‘Help for Children's understanding the Church Catechism’ (undated). He also collected a number of Hebrew proverbs, which were published in an appendix to Ray's ‘Collection of Proverbs.’ Some Latin letters passed between him and Le Clerc on the meaning of Genesis xxxvi. 31. Both Le Clerc and Du Pin had a high opinion of Kidder's powers.

[Autobiography of Bishop Kidder, first published in Cassan's Lives of the Bishops of Bath and Wells; Dean Plumptre's and other biographies of Bishop Ken; Hunt's Religious Thought in England; Kidder's own writings.]

J. H. O.