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MEMOIRS OF THE LIFE OF DR. JOHN MASON GOOD, ILLUSTRATED BY
VARIOUS EXTRACTS FROM HIS UNPUBLISHED WRITINGS, OR FROM THOSE THAT WERE PUBLISHED ANONYMOUSLY.
THE attempt to sketch the biography of a deceased friend is at once delightful and difficult. It is delightful to retrace those characteristics of mind and heart, which excited our admiration, and kept our affection alive: but it is difficult so to accomplish this as to avoid the charge of partiality; and an apprehension of this difficulty, experienced by one, who, whatever was his attachment to the deceased individual, wishes only to be just in his appreciation of character, occasions a feeling of restraint which is unfavourable to the due execution of the task he has undertaken.
In delineating, however, the intellectual and moral portrait of Dr. JOHN MASON Good, the subject of these memoirs, the difficulty to which I have here adverted is considerably diminished; because the papers, which have been preserved with unusual care, in a tolerably connected series, from his earliest youth, will furnish the principal materials for the picture;
and thus will free me in great measure from the temptation, either to overcharge the likeness, or to intercept its exhibition by placing myself before it.
If it be true, as has been often affirmed, that there has rarely passed a life of which a faithful and judicious narrative would not be interesting and instructive; it will surely not be unreasonable to hope that advantage may result from even an imperfect development of the circumstances that contributed to the formation of a character of no ordinary occurrence; one which combined successfully the apparently incongruous attributes of contemplation and of activity; where memory evinced with equal energy its faculties of acquisition, of retention, and of promptness in reproduction; and where, in consequence, the individual attained an extraordinary eminence, not merely in one department of literature or science, but in several; and proved himself equally expert in the details of practice, and in the researches of theory; allowing neither the fatigues of the one, nor the absorptions of the other, permanently to extinguish that thirst after the chief good which is the noblest characteristic of true greatness of mind.
In attempting this development, I shall not wander from the proposed point, if I commence with a short account of Dr. Good's family. This family was highly respectable, and had for several generations possessed property at Romsey, in Hampshire, and in the neighbouring parish of Lockerley. The shalloon manufacture, now greatly on the decline, had for ages been carried on to a considerable extent at Romsey, and the family of the Goods long ranked amongst the most successful and opulent of the proprietary manufacturers.
Inscriptions over the ashes of several of them, for two or three centuries back, may be seen in the aisles of the venerable abbey church, some with the cautious monumental designation of “gentleman and alderman of this town.” The grandfather of John Mason Good, who was actively engaged in this manufacture, had three sons, William, Edward, and Peter: of these the eldest devoted himself to the military profession, and died young; the second succeeded his father as a shalloon manufacturer, and possessed the family estates at Romsey and Lockerley; the third, evincing early indications of piety, was devoted to the ministry of the gospel among the Independent or Congregational class of Dissenters. To qualify him for this, he was first placed under the care of the Rev. W. Johnson, then the minister of a flourishing congregation at Romsey; from whom he was, after he had finished his preparatory studies, removed to the Congregational academy at Ottery-St. Mary, in Devonshire, then under the charge of a very eminent scholar, the Rev. Dr. Lavender. Here he made considerable proficiency in the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages, and acquired a love for general literature and its application to Biblical criticism and explication, which he never lost.
Having terminated his academical course, and established a reputation for learning and piety, he was invited to take the pastoral charge of an “Independent church and congregation” at Epping in Essex. His ordination took place on Thursday the 23d of September, 1760, and the celebrated John MASON “delivered the charge” on that occasion. It was an interesting and instructive composition, peculiarly characteristic of its author, which I have read with great pleasure,
in the Rev. Peter Good's common-place-book; though I believe it has never been published.*
About a year after his establishment at Epping, Mr. Good married Miss SARAH Peyto, the daughter of the Rev. HENRY Peyto, of Great Coggeshall, Essex, and the favourite niece of the Rev. John Mason. This Mr. Mason acquired a lasting and distinguished reputation, as the author of the universally known TREATISE ON Self-KNOWLEDGE;t and was the grandson
* The following “Certificate of Ordination," which I transcribe from the same common-place-book, will serve at least to shew that fasting, which has since, I believe, sunk into disuse on such occasions, was then practised.
“ Epping, Sept. 23d, 1760. “This is to certify, all whom it may concern, that the Rev. Peter Good was, this day and at this place, solemnly set apart to the office of the Christian Ministry among Protestant Dissenters, by Fasting, Prayer, and Imposition of hands, by, and in the presence of, us whose names are hereunto subscribed : viz.
“Thomas CAWDWELL, Hatfield Broad Oak.
John Nottage, Potter's Street.” They who take an interest in such inquiries, may be informed that Mr. Good's predecessor, at Epping, was the Rev. Zechariah Hubbard, afterwards of Long Melford, Suffolk; his immediate successor, the Rev. Samuel Saunders, who continued pastor of the church until his death in 1780.
+ He wrote and published several other valuable works. In one of them, “A Plain and Modest Plea for Christianity,” published in 1743, he completely exposed and refuted the pernicious sophistry, then producing a most baneful effect, diffused in a treatise entitled, “ Christianity not founded on Argument.”. Among his publications are, “The Student and Pastor; or Directions how to attain to eminence and usefulness in those respective characters;" an " Essay on the Power and Harmony of Prosaic Numbers ;" An“ Essay on the Power of Numbers and the Principles of Harmony in Poetical Compositions ;" An “ Essay on Elocution," which was long employed as a text-book at Oxford ; and four octavo volumes of sermons, published in 1754, under the title of The Lord's-Day Evening Entertainment.” Most of these still retain an undiminished reputation. Mr. Mason died in 1753, aged 58 years.
of another John Mason, rector of Water Stratford in Buckinghamshire, a man of great genius as well as piety, who died in 1694, and who left a little collection of devotional aphorisms, published by the recommendation of Dr. Watts, and entitled “ Select Remains of the Rev. John Mason, A. M.” This little book continues, most deservedly, to receive a wide circulation. It is constituted principally of short, but sententious and weighty reflections on the most momentous topics in reference to the Christian life; and it is defaced with fewer conceits than most works of the same age, devoted to a similar purpose.
Miss Peyto resided almost from her infancy with her uncle Mr. Mason, and derived, both with regard to the cultivation of her understanding and of her heart, all the advantages which, under the blessing of God, so enviable a situation could supply. At the time of her marriage she was noted for the elegance and solidity of her acquisitions, the soft and gentle fascinations of her manners, and for the most decided piety. *
Mr. Good and Miss Peyto were married in 1761 ; but their union was not of long continuance. She died on the 17th of February, 1766, at the early age of 29, four days after the birth of her youngest child. She left three children, William, born Oct. 19th, 1762; John Mason Good, the subject of these memoirs, born May 25th, 1764; and Peter, born Feb. 13th, 1766. William and Peter are still living, and reside, one at Bath, the other in London.
Within two years of the death of his first wife, the Rev. Peter Good married a second, the only daughter
* She early devoted herself to God, by a formal act, perpetuated by a written document still extant, which I shåll venture to preserve in a note at the end of this section.