The Gentleman's Magazine/Volume 63/November 1787/Some Account and Character of the late Robert Lowth, D.D. Lord Bishop of London
HIS family were originally from the county of Lincoln. His great grandfather was Mr. Simon Lowth, rector of Tylehurst, in the county of Berks; his grandfather William Lowth, an apothecary in the parish of St. Martin, Ludgate, and burnt out, with great loss, at the fire of London in 1666. His father was William Lowth, of St. John's College, Oxford, and chaplain to Dr. Mew, bishop of Winchester, in which church he had a prebend, and the living of Boniton, in the county of Hants, well known by his Commentaries on the prophetic writings, and other learned works. He died in 1732, leaving two sons, the late bishop of London, and Charles Lowth, an eminent hosier in Paternoster-row, F.A. S. 1756, and his collection of prints was sold after his death, 1770.
His Lordship was born in 1711. Winchester was the school which has the boast of breeding this very learned and virtuous man. From thence he was removed, on the same foundation, to New College, Oxford, where he proceeded M.A. 1737, and was created D.D. by diploma in 1754. His fame for classical accomplishments and Oriental literature was there soon and greatly established, and was never unaccompanied with credit, yet more enviable, of private worth, and manners at once delicate and brave. These were such recommendations as were sure to force their way with those who were themselves most commendable. The hereditary virtue of the Cavendishes is not more certain than their lineal readiness to distinguish the virtue of others. Mr. Lowth was chosen as the tutor of the Duke of Devonshire. He went abroad with him, and brought home such a return as was to be expected from kindred honour and well reciprocated use. When the duke became lord-lieutenant of Ireland, Dr. Lowth went with him, and, as first chaplain, had the first preferment which government there got in their disposal. That was no less than the bishoprick of Kilmore. But Lowth's mind at that time being set on objects even higher than mitres, many family and friendly charms, and some pursuits in literature, which particularly endeared the preference of his native country, an exchange was sought for, and, what very rarely happens, was no sooner sought for than found. There was at that time a Mr. Leslie, with the same eagerness to get into Ireland as Lowth had to get out of it. He agreed to accept Kilmore, Lowth succeeding to what he relinquished, a prebend of Durham and the rectory of Sedgefield. Butler was then Bishop of Durham; and when he collated Lowth to these preferments, he expressed a well-natured exultation on this double gratification of mutual wishes; and perhaps allowably, with a secret preference to superior talents. To this resistless plea who can help being partial? And how is the jurisdiction of a bishop to get more favourably distinguished than by all his ostensible favours being possessed by distinguished men? Such was the good effect of the first kindness from the Duke of Devonshire; but it was not the last. Merit, when to be rewarded by the meritorious, is sure of no penurious reward. In the administration formed by the late Duke of Cumberland, Lowth's friends participating largely, he was the first bishop that they made. On the bench of bishops, as every where else, the first step is the hardest. From thence each other advance follows with comparative ease, tho' his first bishoprick was St. David's, to which he was appointed in May, 1776, on the death of Bishop Squire. He went to Oxford on the September following, on the translation of Bishop Hume from thence to the fee of Salisbury; and in April 1777, when London lost Bishop Terrick, he was succeeded by Dr. Lowth. He entered on this high office with expectations singularly splendid. He brought with him a literary character of the first order, to decorate the diocese; and he promised to serve it as Terrick had done, with temper and discretion, both most exemplary; with the same amiable manners, with the same useful zeal. These expectations he did not disappoint. He was as good as his word. He could not be better. Not one of his predecessors ever had claim to more desert, and was more spontaneously devoted to the claims of deserving men. His patronage need have no more said about it, than that it provided for two such men as Dr. Horsley and Mr. Eaton. His literary character is better known from its own efforts than by any thing now to be said about it. Few men attempted so much, and with more success. A victory, and on the right side, over such an adversary as Warburton, is no small distinction. His triumphs in Hebrew learning were yet more gratifying. Witness his learned Prælections on its poetry, while he held the poetry professorship, from 1738 to 1748, at Oxford. They were published in 1763, and translated into English by Mr. Gregory in 1787. But perhaps the most enviable, as the most useful atchievements, are what refer to his own language; which owes to him what nothing said in it can ever pay, the First Institutes of Grammar, printed in 17..; and, in his Translation of Isaiah, the sublimest poetry in the world.
His obligations to the colleges where he received his education are admirably expressed in his judicious, complete, and learned Life of their Founder, 1758; reprinted, with additions, 1759. His gratitude to the university at large was not more finely worded in that elegant vindication of her in his letter to Bishop Warburton, p. 64.
His personal manners and opinions had in them nothing particular. That his morality was religious, and that his religion was Christian, need not be doubted. He conversed with lettered elegance, with very courtly suavity and ease.
His taste in the arts was highly refined, and of the objects in which the imagination loves to revel, landscape scenery appeared to interest him most.
His temper was quickly sympathetic, but more susceptible to sorrow than joy. On provocations that led to anger, his emotions were rather hasty; and it was to the praise of his discipline, rather than his nature, that they never held him too fast, nor hurried him too far. Through various struggles of duty and trial, no evidence of manhood could be finer, whether disaster was to be suffered or subdued. His lamentations on his daughter's tomb will be cherished every where, till pathetic elegance shall be no more. When his other daughter dropped in sudden death at his tea-table, and his eldest son, with all that scholarship and honour could do for him, was given prematurely to the grave, he exemplified the resources which God has given to man, when reason is invigorated by faith, and the spirit of man is “to sorrow not without hope." To glory in infirmity is, if not vain, boastful pre-eminence. Yet, if ever infirmity had such mitigation in their cause, they were those of the excellent person we now lament. His mental visitations arose, chiefly, from the extreme tenderness of his heart. His bodily ailments, Tissot can prove, were those which follow from being studious over-much. Such seems to be, on a summary view, the leading points of this very conspicuous object. Where an object brightens with such unusual lustre, it is not useless to admire. To imitate, would be very useful indeed.
Learning and benevolence equally characterised his Lordship; nor was he less distinguished for a fruitful and happy genius. The ardour of his mind never abated in his literary pursuits. He wrote in the purest Hebrew. Dr. Sharpe and his Lordship were both of opinion, that this was the language spoken in Paradise. We find, by this excellent and learned Prelate, that the true ancient Hebrew character is that which is found on the medals of Simon, commonly called the Samaritan medals, but which were really Hebrew medals, struck by the Jews, and not the Samaritans. His Lordship's “Observations on the Antiquity of the Hebrew Points” are deduced from grammar, testimony, and history.
Amongst his many elegant productions, there is one not yet mentioned, which affords an early specimen of his taste for poetry and divinity. It is a poem “On the Genealogy of Christ,” as it is represented on the east window of Winchester college chapel, and was written when he was a boy at Winchester school.
Eight of his sermons, preached on public occasions, have been published, and it is hoped will now be collected into a volume.
Having been much afflicted with the stone, his body was opened, and eight stones were taken away, one of very considerable magnitude.
On Monday the 12th of November, at noon, his Lordship's remains were privately but solemnly interred in a vaul at Fulham church, near those of his predecessor.