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With his Dissenting brethren Dr. Enfield was always on the best terms, especially with Mr. Newton and Mr. Kinghorn, the ministers of the Independent and Baptist congregations. The Presbyterian congregation, comprising many individuals of station and influence in the city, took the lead in every movement of the Dissenting body, who never appeared in a more united and honourable position than when Dr. Enfield was their acknowledged head.
The state of society at Norwich during Dr. Enfield's residence there was eminently suited to his tastes and habits. Exeter-Hall meetings and missionaries were then unknown, and the tribe of trading parsons, whose vocabulary is cant and whose vocation is plunder, had not then sprung into existence. I remember the men who then occupied the Church pulpits in Norwich, and I see what they are now. The successors of Parr, Peel, Walker, Howes, Smyth, and their contemporaries, are generally a set of vulgar fanatics, ignorant as bigoted, and insolent as they are really insignificant.* Parr was the Head Master of the Grammar-school, Potter was a Prebendary of the Cathedral, and Porson an occasional resident at his brother's-in-law, Mr. Hawes, of Coltishall, a village a few miles from Norwich.
Dr. Enfield was a welcome visitor at the Bishop's palace; for though Dr. Bagot had no political or religious sympathy with the minister of the Presbyterian congregation, he knew how to estimate his talents, his manners, and his admirable conversational powers. Among the residents in Norwich at this time with whom Dr. Enfield associated were Dr. Sayers, Mr. William Taylor, Mr. Hudson Gurney (afterwards M.P. for Newton and a Vice-President of the Society of Antiquaries), Dr. Rigby, Dr. Lubbock, Sir James Edward Smith, the Rev. John Walker (an accomplished scholar, and one of the
Minor Canons of the Cathedral), Mrs. Opie (then Miss Alderson), Mr. Bruckner, the minister of the Dutch and French Protestant congregations at Norwich, and others who, though unknown to the world as authors, were yet worthy associates in such a society.
At this time, also, Dr. Aikin was living at Yarmouth, and Mr. and Mrs. Barbauld, within the same distance of Norwich, at Palgrave.
Dr. Enfield's estimate of the character of society at Norwich is thus expressed in a letter to my father from Liverpool :
“ You will easily imagine the pleasure I feel in enjoying the society of my old friends here, especially that of Mr. Roscoe and Dr. Currie ; but, with these and a few other exceptions, I find more congenial associates at Norwich. For a man of literary tastes and pursuits, I can truly say that I know of no town which offers so eligible a residence."
The altered state of society at Norwich was thus truly depicted in an admirable paper in the Monthly Magazine for March, 1808, under the title of “Fanaticism, a Vision,” which was generally attributed to the pen of Sir James Edward Smith. It is hardly necessary to premise that the amiable Prelate here referred to was Dr. Bathurst.
“ You know the flourishing and happy state of this ancient city in the early
These epithets will not be thought inaccurate by those who have been accustomed to hear the platform harangues of many of the clergy in St. Andrew's Hall, to read the reports of them in the Norwich papers, or to remark the sort of language they use when addressing the public through the same channel.
part of your life, and particularly how peaceably and even harmoniously its inhabitants lived together on the score of religion. Christians of various denominations had each their churches, their chapels or their meeting-houses, and in the common intercourse of life all conducted themselves as brethren. The interests of humanity would even frequently bring them together on particular occasions to pay their devotions in the same temple. The Bishop treated as his children all who, though they disowned his spiritual authority, obeyed his Divine Master; while the Presbyterian, the Independent, the Catholic and the Quaker, partook of his hospitality, and repaid his benevolence with gratitude and respect. This state of society, worthy of real Christians, was broken up by those who wore that character only as a mask. A set of men, interested in promoting dissensions by which villany and rapacity might profit, and in decrying those genuine fruits of religion, that salutary faith and pure morals, which by comparison shamed their own characters, after long in vain attempting to exalt blind belief in general, and then particular dogmas, in preference to a useful and virtuous life, but too successfully obtained their end. On all the great truths of revealed religion, honest men could never be long at variance. On disputable points they had learned a salutary forbearance which enabled them, while they thought for themselves, to let others do the same.
The only resource of those who wish to stir up religious animosity is to bring forward something that no one can determine. The less mankind understand a subject, the more warmly do they debate and strive to enforce the belief of it."
Pendlebury Houghton, the only son of the Rev. John Houghton, was born in the newly-erected parsonage-house of Gee Cross, Hyde, Cheshire, in 1758. His father was afterwards minister of Nantwich, then of Elland, and lastly of Wem. His mother was the daughter of the Rev. W. Pendlebury, of Leeds.
Mr. Houghton entered the Warrington Academy in Sept. 1773, and after remaining there one year as assistant Classical Tutor, he settled at Dob Lane, near Manchester. In 1781, he became the minister of the Presbyterian congregation at Shrewsbury; and in 1787, accepted an invitation from the Norwich congregation to succeed Mr. Alderson as joint pastor with Dr. Enfield. His father removed to Norwich with him, and they opened a classical school there in their joint names.
The principal labour devolved on the elder Mr. Houghton, who was esteemed a sound scholar, as he certainly was a severe disciplinarian.*
In 1797, on the death of Dr. Enfield, Mr. Houghton was invited to become the sole minister of the congregation, and continued to be so till 1808. In 1799, he was married to Barbara, widow of John Stuart Taylor, and daughter of John Burks, for many years chief proprietor of the Norwich Mercury. She died in 1802, leaving an only daughter, who was the constant care of her surviving parent. In the January of the preceding year, the congregation had presented him with a purse of fifty guineas, accompanied by a letter expressive of “their esteem, and of the great satisfaction they derived from his professional exertions," as well a hope that the connection between them might be long continued.” In July, 1808, Mr. Houghton intimated his wish to
* Among his pupils were Mr. R. H. Gurney, afterwards M.P. for Norwich ; Mr. Marsham Elwin, many years Chairman of the Quarter Sessions for Norfolk ; Mr. W. F. Drake, afterwards one of the Minor Canons of the Cathedral ; Mr. Henry Cooper, afterwards a leading barrister on the Norfolk circuit; and Mr. J. W. Robberds, author of "The Life of William Taylor, of Norwich," and an
Essay on the Geology of Norfolk."
be relieved from some part of his duty, both on account of his health, and that he might be at liberty to visit his friends in other parts of the kingdom. The congregation at once acceded to his wish, and the Rev. Joseph Hunter, then completing his studies at York, was invited to supply for him during the months of July and August. This was regarded only as a temporary measure, and the Rev. James Lyons, of Hull, was on the 7th of August invited to be joint pastor with Mr. Houghton. Mr. Lyons's previous engagement to the Chester congregation, however, prevented his acceptance of the invitation.
In Nov. 1808, Mr. Houghton. notwithstanding the earnest solicitation of his congregation that he would still continue his labours among them (expressed in a very numerously signed letter to that effect), thought fit to accept an invitation to succeed Mr. Jervis as minister of Princes-street chapel, Westminster, alleging as his reason for so doing, that “while the warm affections of his heart had bound, and ought to bind, him to this congregation, yet in his deliberate judgment the time was come when he must resolve to relinquish a situation, too arduous and destitute of occasional assistance to be long held without hazard and anxiety by himself alone; yet which, in his firm conviction, were far better filled by one competent minister than by more.”
In January, 1809, the Rev. Theophilus Browne, who had offered himself as a candidate, came to Norwich and preached three Sundays on approbation. On the third Sunday he was unanimously elected. With regard to this gentleman's character, the congregation had instituted no previous inquiry. It would have been well if they had: but, knowing him to have been a Fellow and Tutor of Peterhouse, Cambridge, to have quitted the Church for conscience sake, and to be at the time of his visit to Norwich the Mathematical Tutor at York College, there could be little doubt of his zeal, his integrity or his attain
With regard to other points, they thought they could judge for themselves. His pulpit services were acceptable, and he was elected. He came to Norwich at the end of the York session, and was cordially welcomed by his new flock. But he had not been long settled among them before it began to be apparent that, although he had quitted the Establishment, he retained all its notions of the priestly office. With the principles of Nonconformity he had no sympathy; and he quitted the Church more because he disliked its creeds and articles, than from any dislike to creed-making or creed-imposing. He certainly “magnified his office," —not only claiming and exercising a right to rebuke publicly and privately every deviation from his own standard of faith and practice, but endeavouring to exert the same authority in the private affairs of families.
“New Presbyter was but old Priest writ large." Such conduct produced its natural effect, an alienation between pastor and people which widened every day. They contrasted his conduct and his talents with those of their former ministers, -his priestly arrogance with Dr. Enfield's polished and courteous manners; his cold and saturnine temper with George Morgan's cheerful and social disposition; and, as to talent, they could not but feel that he was inferior to all, and far indeed inferior to some of his predecessors. In and out of the pulpit, he was a different man when a candidate and
when a minister. The congregation fell off. Some of its most regular attendants habitually absented themselves from the chapel. This appeared to give Mr. Browne little concern, and he announced his deter. mination to keep possession of the pulpit if he preached to the bare walls. “ He was secure," he said, “ of what endowment there was.” It became necessary either to try this question with him, to leave him in possession of the “bare walls,” or to negotiate with him for a retirement. The latter mode was adopted, and the arrangement was concluded.
Mr. Browne was afterwards chosen minister of the Presbyterian congregation at Warminster, where he continued a few years, and then removed to Bath, where he died.
During his residence at Norwich, the congregation invited the Rev. J. G. Robberds to become his colleague; but that gentleman having at the same time received an invitation to Manchester, he decided upon accepting it.
Mr. Browne having left Norwich, the society was again without a minister. The Rev. Thomas Madge, who had recently settled at Bury St. Edmund's, and who had come over to Norwich on a visit to some friend, was requested to occupy the pulpit. The effect of his public services, as well as his intercourse with many members of the congregation, induced a general wish to obtain his services as its minister. At the same time, a recollection of the long connection between Mr. Houghton and the society, admiration of his pulpit talents and the ties of friendship, led to a desire to renew the connection which he had dissolved. It was known to his more intimate friends at Norwich that he would not be disinclined once more to occupy his old station; and, in January, 1811, a letter was addressed to him inviting him back to Norwich. In the course of the following month he returned a letter of acceptance : and about the same time Mr. Madge also acceded to the wish of the congregation, and, at the termination of his connection with the society at Bury, settled at Norwich as co-pastor with Mr. Houghton. Every thing seemed to promise a season of peace and prosperity to the church. There had been no difference of opinion in the late proceedings. Both the ministers had been unanimously invited, and both entered on their duties with the cordial good-will of their flock.
In the August of the following year, Mr. Houghton made known his intention of taking a journey which would imply an absence for two months. In the latter end of November he was elected minister of Paradise-street chapel, Liverpool, as colleague to the Rev. Mr. Yates; which election, having taken place without any previous intimation to the Norwich congregation, was a cause of much regret to his friends.
Thus, a second time, and finally, terminated Mr. Houghton's connection with the Norwich congregation. He remained at Liverpool till 1823, when he removed to Geldestone, in Norfolk, in consequence of his daughter having married Henry Dowson, Esq., of that place. He died April 3rd, 1824, and was buried in Geldestone churchyard, “a favourite scene of his evening meditations, and a resting-place peculiarly suited to his quiet and contemplative life." (Robberds's Memoir).
Nature had qualified Mr. Houghton for the situation he long occupied. His appearance was striking, his voice musical and capable of the nicest inflections. His articulation was clear and his recitation admirable. His father was an excellent teacher of elocution, and he had fully profited by his instructions. His style was pure-sometimes eloquent. But it might be said of Mr. Houghton, as of Mr. Worthington, that those who merely read his sermons would but imperfectly judge of their effect in delivery. Controversy of all kinds he disliked. I don't remember ever having heard him preach on a debated point in religion. His father probably thought this feeling carried too far, for he gave a course of lectures on the Evidences of Christianity to the members of his son's congregation; and when he occasionally officiated, this was his usual topic. He published, in 1790, a volume of Sermons, and some time afterwards a single one, which he preached for the benefit of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. After his death, in 1825, two more volumes of Sermons were published, to which was prefixed a Memoir of him, by the Rev. J. G. Robberds, of Manchester; besides a volume of “Prayers and Practical Lessons for the use of Families," which has met with an extensive circulation.
The absence of every thing of a disputable nature from Mr. Houghton's sermons, had the effect of obtaining him hearers of very different opinions. He made no hesitation in saying that one of his aims was to offend nobody: and I have no doubt this, his practice, was the result partly of temperament, and partly of sincere conviction that thus he could most successfully fulfil his pulpit duties. Hence several members of the Establishment were among his regular hearers,* some of whom expiated the offence of attendance at the meeting-house by occasionally receiving the Sacrament at church. They were secure of never being annoyed by attacks on Establishments or on any of the doctrines of the Church. These quitted the congregation when Mr. Houghton left it.
In 1801, it was determined to erect an organ in the chapel, and the requisite sum was promptly raised.
The singing had always been respectable from the time of Dr. Taylor, who published a Collection of Tunes (one of the earliest that was made for the express use of a Dissenting congregation), with an elementary work on Singing prefixed. Six or eight boys were selected from the school belonging to the chapel, and taught from this work to sing from notes, together with such young members of the congregation as wished to join the choir. My brother chard and myself were among the number. At the time above mentioned, our choir had attained a degree of excellence which I have never yet heard rivalled. As one proof of it, as well as an evidence of the friendly terms on which we stood with the clergy of the city, I may mention that at the annual oratorio in the cathedral, for the benefit of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, the members of the chapel choir were accustomed, not only with the consent, but at the wish of the Minor Canons (most of whom were excellent singers), to take at least an equal share of what is called the“ principal business" with them. And when I state that on one of these occasions, one of its members (my friend Mr. John W.
The Rev. Dr. Middleton, afterwards Bishop of Calcutta and author of the Doctrine of the Greek Article," was at this time minister of St. Peter's, Norwich, and I have several times seen him among Mr. Houghton's hearers. VOL. IV.