Robert Gray

Robert Gray, Bishop of Bristol

Lord Bishop of Bristol

ETC, ETC, ETC.

(1762–1834)

AN accomplished scholar, whose youth was marked by a warm attachment to polite literature ; a pious and excellent divine, whose life has been passed in the exercise of truly christian acts and feelings ; enlightened and liberal ; a true son of the church, without bigotry or austerity ; a firm and consistent member of society, whose example, in all the various relations in which he has been placed in his progress to a mitre, might well be set forward for universal imitation; we have great satisfaction in presenting a portrait of the Bishop of Bristol to the public—the first which has appeared of that highly esteemed prelate.

Mr. GRAY formed an early wish for the clerical profession. After finishing his preparatory education at Eton, he was entered at St. Mary Hall, Oxford, where, in due course, he took the degrees of B.A. M.A. B.D. and D.D.

On leaving the University, Mr. Gray enjoyed the advantage of foreign travel, and performed a tour through Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, in the years 1791 and 1792; of which he published an account in 1794, one volume octavo, with Reflections on the Manners, Literature, and Religion of those Countries. At this period he had been preferred to the Vicarage of Faring-don, Berks ; and had previously illustrated his profound theological attainments, by giving to the world, "A Key to the Old Testament and Apocrypha ; or, an Account of their several Books, their Contents, and Authors, and of the Times in which they were respectively written ;" which went through many editions ;* and " Discourses on Various Subjects ; illustrative of the Evidence, Influence, and Doctrines of Christianity," which was also very favourably received.

* We have the ninth edition now before us, of this invaluable work, which does for the Old, what Dr. Percy, the Bishop of Dromore, had previously done for the New Testament. As a class-book, it is in constant use at both our Universities ; and the student of divinity finds it a treasure, and a guide to direct his studies, inform his mind, and regulate his opinions upon very important topics.

The date of the Tour will remind readers that it took place at a very interesting era, when, as the author says in his preface, the traveller beheld every where the track of armies, suspicion and mistrust, and the influence of evil principles in societies, where confidence and cheerfulness formerly prevailed ; of these, his descriptions are just and vivid, and his work one which, notwithstanding the hundreds of publications respecting the same countries, that have since issued from the press, may be referred to with gratification, both for amusement and information. Its classical and literary allusions and quotations render it, indeed, a most pleasant companion.

Mr. Gray's next production — published by Rivingtons, in 1796—was entitled, " Sermons on the Principles upon which the Reformation of the Church of England was established ; preached at the Bampton Lecture in 1796." These sermons, eight in number, and forming an octavo volume of three hundred and thirty-three pages, are distinguished for moderation and liberality of principle, yet they are fervent and zealous in the support of gospel truth. " Avowed incredulity," the preacher tells us, in language as impressive as the sentiments are just,—

"Avowed incredulity may be satisfied with palpable and convincing evidence ; the eager spirit, which even persecuteth, may be enlightened to discern its error ; but those who have heard and acknowledged a voice from heaven, who have 'seen, and felt,' and handled of the word of life,' and yet are not animated by a desire to proclaim their Lord, and to express their veneration for his cause, follow him but to violate his service, to deny or to betray him. They join in the hosannas of the multitude without dignity, celebrate where their praises are not heard, and shrink and retire where their testimony would be acceptable.

" An abhorrence of this cold and inanimate service, which Christ hath declared he will discard, is consistent with the most perfect moderation. Fidelity of attachment followeth in the course which is .prescribed to its
observance ; true zeal for religion operates by the illustration of its character. Respecting the end of the commandment, which is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of a faith unfeigned,' it perceiveth that those who take the sword but perish by its wounds, and considereth all violence as inconsistent with the Spirit, and disserviceable to the cause of religion ; as calculated but to provoke resistance, and confirm obstinacy. Even asperity in debate, and sharpness in controversy, which are the only weapons of intolerance in the print day, while they betray personal feelings rather than a regard to truth, never yet have promoted its advancement Vain is it to address the judgment while we irritate and offend the passions. Generally. as this is confessed, the indignation excited by controversy still mingles the bitterness of resentment with the refutation of argument The acrimony which formerly appeared in coarse and virulent abuse. now glides, it is true, under a cautious decorum. Still, however, is it equally incompatible with the genuine temper of Christianity; and the deliberate malevolence, which infuses its fruit by imperceptible drops, is more uncharitable in its preparation, and more severe in its tendency, than was the full stream of invective formerly poured out ; though it circulate through veins not easily to be traced, however discernible in the general colouring and complexion of the style.

" That deliberate misrepresentation should be exposed, and intentional falsehood rebuked with sharp and merited reproof, is certain; but the refutation of unintentional error, and the exposure of misguided ignorance, might be often more advantageously conducted, if less of personal pride and personal animosity appeared. The period will come, when the advocate of the faith will receive little praise, if it shall be found to have maintained its speculative doctrines by the violation of its moral laws. Truth is still too often disgraced by dictatorial petulance, and Christianity prejudiced in the eyes of many. by that overbearing pride which of late years has appeared in too many of its professors ; in the effusions of disgusting vanity, and in the assumption of that imperious authority, by which the individual, considering himself as it were the chief pillar of literature or of religion, dealeth out his peremptory decrees with a contemptuous disregard of others, which no distinction of talents can excuse, no pre-eminence of learning justify.

" Labouring for truth, which is established by inquiry, and confirmed by discussion, remember we, that though it is eternal in its nature, and universal in its obligation, it can be advanced only by gentle measures and persuasive influence.

As Christianity was first promulgated and spread abroad by humility, gentleness, exhortation, charity, so should it be promoted with temperate and conciliatory measures. Conscious that where its communications are not revered, existence is without an object, and life destitute of interest; integrity precarious, and the hope of immortality unassured ; seek we to diffuse the light which is mercifully imparted to us. Believing that the chief and essential principles of religion are established as the foundation of our Church, entreat we the Almighty, that as it is built on the faith, so it may be cemented by union, and strengthened by charity ; that he who ' hath in all ages shewed forth his power and mercy in its protection,' will continue to defend it; that every danger which shall arise, like preceding storms, may roll away ineffective; that, as it hath prospered, it may still prosper with the welfare of the country ; and that the Almighty God, who has built his Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being himself the corner-stone, may grant that we also should be joined together in unity of Spirit by their doctrine, that we may be made a holy temple, acceptable unto him, through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Soon after this, Mr. Gray obtained a prebend in Chichester cathedral, the gift of Dr. Buckner ; and about this time he received into his house the present Sir Thomas Clargess, at the request of the Bishop of Durham, to whom he was nephew. Shortly afterwards, he was presented, by the Bishop, to the rectory of Craike, in the county of Durham. In July, 1801, he preached the Visitation Sermon at Durham, which was immediately published from the University press at Oxford: it is a beautiful moral discourse ; and in 1803, a sermon at St. Paul's, at the yearly meeting of the children educated in the Charity Schools. His next publication was—" A Letter on Toleration and the Establishment, addressed to the Right Hon. Spencer Perceval; a copy of which we have not been able to obtain. This was followed, in 1808, by a little work in two 18mo. volumes, (in all about three hundred and forty pages, and without the author's name,) on " The Theory of Dreams ;" a delightful and very amusing inquiry, in which the most remarkable visions recorded in sacred and profane history are brought to bear upon the investigation of our mental powers and faculties.

The following year, Dr. Gray, who had now taken his degree of doctor in divinity, and held the living of Bishop Wearmouth, with prebends in Chichester and Durham, the latter having been conferred upon him by the Bishop of that diocese, published a Sermon upon the Anniversary of the Accession of George the Third, and his entrance into the fiftieth year of his reign. On the Assassination of Mr. Perceval, and on the Death of the Princess Charlotte, Dr. Gray also preached sermons at Bishop Wearmouth, all of which were deservedly committed to the press, for they are full of human feeling, mingled with christian application and consolation.*

* In 1826 and 1827, the only other single sermons published by the Bishop, of which we are aware, were preached, the first on the occasion of the death of Bishop Barrington ; and the last, on his own resignation of the rectory of the parish of Bishop Wearmouth : to which is annexed an address from the parishioners, expressive of their regret at his departure: but his Lordship has also printed an Address to Seceders, and other Tracts.

About this time, the country. we may say the world, had to thank Dr. Gray for being instrumental to the introduction of one of the most valuable of humane dis- coveries and improvements —we allude to the celebrated Safety Lamp of Sir Humphry Davy. The origin of this invention has been disputed, but there is no doubt that it rests with Sir H. Davy; and Dr. Gray has the merit of having called that distinguished philosopher's attention to the possibility of devising means for preventing accidents from explosion in mines, and of promoting, by his influence, the experiments in the mines of Durham, for that purpose.
Having discharged the arduous parochial duties of Bishop Wearmouth for upwards of twenty years with indefatigable zeal, and having (in co-operation with other benevolent and well-disposed individuals) promoted the building of an Infirmary, and enlarged the means of religious instruction by erecting schools and chapels in that populous parish, Dr. Gray was selected by Lord Liverpool (than whom a more disinterested and virtuous patron of church preferments never existed) for the see of Bristol, to which he was consecrated in 1827, and which he has ever since adorned by continued exertions in the service of learning, charity, and true religion.

Among these services, we may mention his Lordship having been several years a member of the Council of the Royal Society of Literature—one of the Society for promoting. Christian Knowledge—a promoter of the building of places of worship where most needed—and, as a peer in Parliament, distinguished for the
proper and judicious share he has taken in those discussions where the vital interests of the Protestant Church were concerned.

His Lordship married Miss Camplin, daughter of J. Camplin, Esq. of Bristol, by whom he has had a numerous family. Of several of these, including two married daughters, he has been bereaved ; five sons and two daughters remain.

In our enumeration of the Bishop of Bristol's works, we have omitted a very important publication, namely, " The Connection between the Sacred Writings and the Literature of Jewish and Heathen Authors, particularly that of the Classical Ages, illustrated principally with a view to evidence in confirmation of the truth of Revealed Religion." This excellent treatise was published in 1819 in two vols. 8vo.; and whether for its classic summaries, or their application to the object contemplated, it is a book of inestimable value to the old or young. In its pages, the scholar will have all his studious recollections revived; the Christian, his faith strengthened; the youthful, his mind stored with the best kind of knowledge. It is at once a lasting monument of the learning and the piety of its author.

To this concise sketch we have nothing to add, except it may become us, from personal observation, to bear our testimony to the unaffected virtues of the Bishop of Bristol. It is his happy lot to be able to look back on a long and well-spent life of worth, whether as a man, a clergyman, or a dignitary of the church; and we sincerely hope he may be spared for many years, to do yet more good in his enlarged sphere, and be a pattern of what is becoming and beneficial in the high station to which he has been so deservedly exalted.