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At this school he remained till he was seventeen years old, and learned the Latin and Greek languages; in which his genius and memory would have enabled him to have made a much earlier progress, if it had not been prevented by his schoolmaster, who would not suffer him, or any other of his scholars, to learn faster than his own son. Whilst Mr Hervey was at school, though he showed a remarkable dexterity at the innocent games usual among children, yet he had a perfect indifference for the acquisitions he made by his skill in these games, which he practised only for exercise and amusement.
In the year 1731, at the age of seventeen, he was sent by his father to the university of Oxford, and entered of Lincoln college there, under the tuition of the Rev. Mr Hutchins, now Doctor, and rector of that college. He resided in the university seven years, and took the degree of Bachelor of Arts. The first two or three years were spent by him with some degree of indolence, or rather less application to his studies than he afterwards used. But in 1733, about his nineteenth year, becoming acquainted with some persons who began to distinguish themselves by their serious impressions of religion, and their zeal for the promotion of it, he was engaged by their influence in a stricter attachment both to piety and learning. He made himself master of Dr James Keill's Anatomy, Dr Durham's Physico-theology and Astro-theology, the Spectacle de la Nature (Nature Displayed) as translated by Mr Humphreys; which last work he read with a peculiar satisfaction. Nor was he less delighted by the Essay on Pope's Odyssey, written by the Rev. Mr Spence, now prebendary of Durham; to which elegant and judicious discourse Mr Hervey often acknowledged, that he owed more of his improvement in style and composition, than to any other which he had ever read.
In 1754, at the persuasion of a much valued friend, he began to learn the Hebrew language without any teacher, by the Westminster Grammar itself; but
soon found that Grammar too concise and difficult for the instruction of a learner; and therefore then despaired of ever attaining a competent knowledge of the Hebrew, though he afterwards made himself so thorough a master of that sacred language.
It appears from his letters to his sister in 1733 and 1734, that though he then shewed a pious and serious turn, yet these letters either speak a language different from free grace, for which we find he was afterwards so powerful an advocate, or at least they treat very confusedly of it. The truth is, he was then a stranger to, and had strong prepossessions against, the doctrine of justification by faith in imputed righteousness; and he acknowledges, in a note on his Descant upon Creation, that Mr Jenks's excellent treatise, entitled, Submission to the Righteousness of God, was the instrument of removing his prejudices, and reducing him to a better judgment.
He entered into holy orders as soon as his age and the canons of the church would allow; and though the precise time of his taking orders cannot be ascertained, yet it appears to have been in the end of the year 1736, or beginning of 1737; at least it appears from one of his letters, that he had a curacy in the beginning of the latter year. Whilst he was at Oxford, he had a small exhibition of about L.20 a-year; and, when he was ordained, his father pressed him very much to take some curacy in or near Oxford, and to hold his exhibition; but this he would by no means comply with, thinking it an injustice to detain it, after he was in orders, from another person who might more want the benefit of that provision. On his leaving Oxford in 1736, he went to his father, and became his curate. He afterwards went to London; and, after staying some time there, became curate at Dummer. Here he continued about twelve months; and upon his leaving that curacy, in the year 1738, he was invited and went to Stoke-Abbey, in Devonshire, the seat of his worthy friend, the late Paul Orchard, Esq. Here he lived upwards of two
years, in great esteem and friendship with that wor thy gentleman, who valued him very much for his piety. A remarkable proof of the great regard he had for him on that account, he shewed on the following occasion:-When his eldest son, the present Paul Orchard, Esq. to whom the second volume of the Meditations is dedicated, was to be baptized, he insisted that Mr Hervey should be one of his godfathers, that he might have an eye to his Christian education; and this he did in preference to many gentlemen of large estates in the neighbourhood, who would have thought themselves honoured to have stood sponsors for Mr Orchard's son.
In the year 1740, he undertook the curacy of Biddeford, fourteen miles from Stoke-Abbey, where he lived greatly beloved by his people. His congregation was large, though his stipend was small; his friends, therefore, made a collection yearly for him, which raised his income to L.60 a-year, so highly did they esteem him. At Biddeford he was curate about two years and a half; and remained so until there was a new rector of that church, who dismissed Mr Hervey from his curacy, against the united requests of his parishioners, who offered to maintain him at their own expense. During the time that Mr Hervey lived in the west, viz. from 1738 till the latter end of 1743, his family heard very little of him, by reason of the great distance he was from them; though he laboured diligently in the service of his Master. Here it was that he planned his Meditations, and probably wrote some part of them. He says, in his first volume of Meditations, that it was on a ride to Kilkhampton, in Cornwall, that he went into the church, where he lays the scene of his Meditations among the Tombs.
In August 1743, or thereabouts, he returned from Biddeford to Weston-Favel, leaving behind him many disconsolate friends, and officiated as curate to his father. Here he paid the greatest attention to his duty, and faithfully preached the gospel of Christ.
The first of his writings which raised the attention of the public, was his Meditations among the Tombs, Reflections on a Flower-garden, and a Descant upon Creation, published in February 1745-6. Of this kind of writing, we had before an example from no less a man than the great philosopher Mr Boyle, in his Occasional Reflections on several subjects, written in his younger years.
Mr Hervey's performance was so well received by the public, that it has already passed through about twenty editions in London, besides many surreptitious ones in Scotland and Ireland. A second volume, containing Contemplations on the Night and Starry Heavens, and a Winter-Piece, was published in December 1747.
In June 1750, his health being much impaired by his great attention to duty, and his family and friends judging that the change of air might be of benefit to him, they formed a design, which they executed, of conveying him to London, under a pretence of his riding a few miles in a friend's post-chaise who was going thither; and of which he pleasantly complains in a letter, dated June 28, 1750, to a friend, upon his arrival there.
He staid in London until April or May 1752; during which time he was visited with a severe sickness, which had well nigh put a period to his life. But he recovered; and, upon his father's death in 1752, he returned to Weston, where he constantly resided till his death.
Mr Hervey took his degree of Master of Arts at Cambridge in 1752, when he entered at Clarehall; and as he was of sufficient standing at Oxford, he staid only the few days required by the statutes to perform the university exercise.
It may be thought strange, that he who had refused to hold his exhibition at Oxford along with a curacy, should, upon his father's death, accept of the two livings of Weston-Favel and Collingtree, and hold them during his life. It was very far from being his
choice, and it was what he had for a long time refused to do. He was determined against being a pluralist; and notwithstanding his father kept him at Oxford, with a design that he should take his degree of Master of Arts, and constantly urged him to do it, yet he could not be persuaded to yield to such a request, though he was of a sufficient standing to have taken the same, looking upon that step as a qualification intended for his future holding both his father's livings. When his father died, he remained determined to have Weston-Favel only; and this he frequently declared to his family and friends, and refused to accept of Collingtree, or to qualify himself for the same; insomuch that it was in danger of lapsing to the bishop. But at length, through the earnest and constant entreaties of his family, and of his friends, who, unknown to him, had sent to and procured from Oxford the necessary certificates of his being a Bachelor of Arts, in order to his taking his Master's degree at Cambridge, he was, after much importunity, prevailed on to comply with their requests, hoping that he might be thereby enabled to do so much the more good; and, when he waited upon Dr Thomas, the then bishop of Peterborough, for institution to Collingtree, which was near six months after he had been inducted to Weston-Favel, he said to him," I suppose your Lordship will be surprised to see James Hervey come to desire your Lordship to permit him to be a pluralist; but I assure you, I do it to satisfy the repeated solicitations of my mother and my sister, and not to please myself."
In November 1752 he published his Remarks on Lord Bolingbroke's Letters on the Study and Use of History, so far as they relate to the History of the Old Testament, and especially to the case of Noah denouncing a curse upon Canaan; in a letter to a Lady of Quality.
The year following, having been called upon to preach, on the 10th of May, the sermon at the visitation of the Rev. Dr John Browne, archdeacon of