Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Neal, Daniel
NEAL, DANIEL (1678–1743), historian of the puritans, was born in London on 14 Dec. 1678. His parents dying when he was very young, he, the only surviving son, was brought up by a maternal uncle, to whose care he frequently in after life expressed himself as deeply indebted. On 11 Sept. 1686 he was sent to the Merchant Taylors' School, and became head scholar there. Thence he might have proceeded as exhibitioner to St. John's College, Oxford, but he declined the offer, preferring to be educated for the dissenting ministry. About 1696 he entered a training college for the ministry in Little Britain, presided over by the Rev. Thomas Rowe, to which Isaac Watts, Josiah Hort (afterwards archbishop of Tuam), and other distinguished men were indebted for their more advanced education. According to a family tradition, Neal was honoured at this time by the notice of William III, and was even allowed to use a private entrance into Kensington Palace in order to gain admittance with less ceremony. If such were the case, it may possibly have some connection with Neal's subsequent visit to Holland, whither he went about 1699, studying first at Utrecht for two years, in the classes of D'Uries, Grævius, and Burman, and subsequently for one year at Leyden. In 1703 he returned to England in company with two fellow students, Martin Tomkins [q. v.] and Nathaniel Lardner [q. v.] In 1704 he was appointed to act as assistant to Dr. John Singleton, pastor of an independent congregation in Aldersgate Street, and on Singleton's death was elected to succeed him, being ordained at Loriner's Hall on 4 July 1706. The congregation, increasing considerably under his ministrations, removed to a larger chapel in Jewin Street, and this became his sphere of labour for life. He was at once an indefatigable minister and student, preaching regularly twice on each Sunday, and visiting the members of his flock two or three afternoons every week, while all the time he could spare from these duties was devoted to literary research. In 1720 he published his first work, the ‘History of New England,’ and the favourable impression produced by the volume in America led to his receiving in the following year, from the university of Harvard, the honorary degree of M.A., ‘the highest academical degree they were able to confer.’ In the same year he published ‘A Letter to the Rev. Dr. Francis Hare, dean of Worcester, occasioned by his Reflections on the Dissenters in his late Visitation Sermon and Postscript.’ In 1722 Lady Mary Wortley Montagu [q. v.] was endeavouring to introduce the practice of inoculation into this country, but her efforts were strongly condemned by the majority of the medical profession, as well as by the clergy, and popular prejudice generally was roused to vehement opposition. Neal, however, had the courage to publish ‘A Narrative of the Method and Success of Inoculating the Small Pox in New England, by Mr. Benj. Colman; with a Reply to the Objections made against it from Principles of Conscience, in a Letter from a Minister at Boston. To which is prefixed an Historical Introduction.’ The ‘Introduction’ was from Neal's own pen, and in it he modestly disclaims all idea of dogmatising on the question, declaring that he has only ‘acted the part of an historian’ in order that the world might be enabled to judge ‘whether inoculation would prove serviceable or prejudicial to the service of mankind.’ On the appearance of the volume, the Princess Caroline sent for him in order to obtain further information on the subject. He was received by her in her closet, where he found her reading Foxe's ‘Martyrology.’ The princess made inquiries respecting the state of the dissenting body in England, and of religion generally in New England. The Prince of Wales also dropped in for a quarter of an hour. On 1 Jan. 1723, Neal preached at the request of the managers of the Charity School in Gravel Lane, Southwark, a sermon (Job xxix. 12–13), on ‘The Method of Education in the Charity Schools of Protestant Dissenters: with the Advantages that arise to the Public from them.’ The school in Gravel Lane is said to have been the first founded by the dissenting body. It numbered over one hundred children, who were taught gratuitously and instructed in reading and arithmetic and the assembly's catechism. They were required to attend public worship on Sundays. Neal urged on his audience that the surest foundation of the public weal was laid in the good education of children. In 1730 he preached (2 Thess. iii. 1) on ‘The Duty of Praying for Ministers and the Success of their Ministry.’ In his discourse he said, ‘Let us pray that all penal laws for religion may be taken away, and that no civil discouragements may be upon Christians of any denomination for the peaceable profession of their faith, but that the Gospel may have free course.’ In 1732 the first volume of the ‘History of the Puritans’ was published. The work originated in a project formed by Dr. John Evans [q. v.] of writing a history of nonconformity from the Reformation down to 1640, Neal undertaking to continue the narrative from that date, and to bring it down to the Act of Uniformity. Dr. Evans dying in 1730, Neal found it necessary himself to write the earlier portion, and in doing so utilised the large collections which Evans had already made. The first volume was favourably received by the dissenting public, and was followed in 1733 by the second. The third appeared in 1736, and was followed in 1738 by the fourth, bringing the narrative down to the Act of Toleration (1689). The whole work was warmly praised by Neal's party, but his occasionally serious misrepresentation or suppression of facts did not pass unchallenged. Isaac Maddox [q. v.], afterwards bishop of St. Asaph, published in 1733 ‘A Vindication of the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of the Church of England, established in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, from the Injurious Reflections of Mr. Neal's first Volume of the History of the Puritans.’ Neal replied in ‘A Review of the Principal Facts objected to in the first Volume of the History of the Puritans,’ and his party claimed that he had completely vindicated himself, and ‘established his character for an impartial regard to truth.’ A far more formidable criticism, however, was that which proceeded from the pen of Zachary Grey [q. v.], who in 1736, 1737, and 1739, published a searching examination of the second, third, and fourth volumes respectively. To these attacks Neal never replied, although it was asserted that he intended doing so, but was prevented by ill-health. They were to some extent met by Dr. Joshua Toulmin in his elaborate edition of Neal's ‘History’ in five volumes in 1797.
In 1735, alarmed at the marked advance of Roman catholic doctrines, he arranged, in concert with certain other dissenting ministers, to deliver a series of discourses against the errors and practices of the Roman church, the subject allotted to him being ‘The Supremacy of St. Peter and the Bishops of Rome, his successors.’ In his treatment of this topic Neal discussed the lawfulness of the papal claims, and pointed out the abuses with which they had been attended, concluding with the assertion that ‘an open toleration of the popish religion is inconsistent with the safety of a free people and a protestant government’ (Cochrane, Protestant's Manual, vol. i.).
Neal's close application to his studies, combined with too sedentary habits, eventually undermined his health and brought on paralysis. He died in his sixty-fifth year, 4 April 1743, and was buried in Bunhill Fields. He married Elizabeth, only daughter of Richard, and sister of his friend, Dr. Nathaniel Lardner, by whom he had one son, Nathanael, who was an eminent attorney and secretary to the Million Bank, and two daughters. One of these married Joseph Jennings, son of his friend, Dr. David Jennings; the other married William Lester of Ware, for some time Neal's assistant. Neal's widow died in 1748.
Many of Neal's letters are preserved in the collection of Doddridge's correspondence, published in 1790 by the Rev. Thomas Stedman, vicar of St. Chad's, Shrewsbury [see Doddridge, Philip]. His ‘History of the Puritans’ was translated into Dutch by Ross, and published at Rotterdam in 1752. Zachary Grey's copy of the work, interleaved and containing numerous notes by himself and some by Thomas Baker, is in the library of St. John's College, Cambridge. Grey animadverts with considerable severity on Neal's frequent practice of advancing statements reflecting on the church party without adducing his authorities. In a note to ii. 287 he says, ‘I am really unwilling to credit a Person without an authority, who is so apt when he has authorities to mistake or falsify them.’
Neal's portrait, an engraving by Ravenet, after Wollaston, is given in the quarto edition of his ‘History of the Puritans’ (1754), vol. i. It represents him with a full and somewhat sensual face, and black piercing eyes.[Life by Toulmin, compiled chiefly from Funeral Sermon by Dr. Jennings, and manuscript account by his son, Nathanael Neal, communicated by his grandson, Daniel Lister, esq., of Hackney; Wilson's Hist. of Dissenting Churches, iii. 90–102; Chalmers's Biog. Dict. xxiii. 41; information kindly supplied by Lady Jennings.]