Kirkby, John (1705-1754) (DNB00)

KIRKBY, JOHN (1705–1754), divine, son of the Rev. Thomas Kirkby, is stated in the register of St. John's College, Cambridge, to have been born at ‘Lownsborough,’ i.e. Londesborough, Yorkshire, but he says himself that he was a native of Cumberland. He was educated at home by his father, and proceeded, 4 May 1723, aged 18, to St. John's College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. 1726 and M.A. 1745. According to his own account he began life as a poor curate in Cumberland. On 8 Dec. 1739 he was appointed vicar of Waldershare in Kent, and on 19 Nov. 1743 rector of Blackmanstone, Romney Marsh. ‘A Demonstration from Christian Principles that the present regulation of ecclesiastical revenues in the Church of England is contrary to the design of Christianity,’ which he published on behalf of the poorer clergy at Canterbury in 1743, is said to have excluded him from further preferment (cf. manuscript note in Brit. Mus. copy). To eke out his slender income he in 1744 became tutor to Edward Gibbon, then a boy of seven. He held, while at Putney with the Gibbons, some clerical appointment, but lost it by unluckily omitting the name of King George in the morning prayers, and so irritating his patron (Gibbon, ‘Memoirs’ in Miscell. Works, i. 20). Gibbon liked and respected him, says that he had thought much on the subjects of languages and education, and seems to have regretted his hasty departure. Kirkby died 21 May 1754.

Kirkby's chief works are: 1. ‘The Capacity and Extent of the Human Understanding, exemplified in the extraordinary case of Automathes, a young nobleman … accidentally left in his infancy upon a desert island,’ London, 1745, 12mo; an attempt to illustrate the growth of men's ideas in a state of nature. A second edition appeared at Dublin in 1746. Gibbon describes it as a poor performance, and as a plagiarism of well-known romances. It seems largely borrowed from the ‘History of Autonous’ (1736). It is reprinted in Weber's ‘Popular Romances’ (Edinb. 1812, pp. 583–638). 2. ‘The Impostor detected, or the Counterfeit Saint turn'd inside out,’ London, 1750; a bitter attack on ‘those diabolical seducers called Methodists.’ 3. ‘An Effectual and Easy Demonstration of the Truth of the coequal Trinity of the Godhead,’ London, 1752. An introduction of thirteen pages gives an account of a ‘new system of logic’ projected by Kirkby. Kirkby also published in 1734, under the title ‘The Usefulness of Mathematical Learning explained,’ a translation from the Latin of the mathematical lectures of Dr. Isaac Barrow, and Gibbon credits him with a Latin and English grammar (1746), of which he speaks highly. De Morgan mentions as by Kirkby ‘Arithmetical Institutions, containing a Compleat System of Arithmetic, Natural, Logarithmetical, and Algebraical,’ 4to (Arithmetical Books, pp. 67, 71).

[Hasted's Hist. of Kent, iii. 432, &c.; Kirkby's books; Notes and Queries, 6th ser. xii. 68, 177; information kindly supplied by R. F. Scott, esq., of St. John's College, Cambridge.]

R. E. A.