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Collier, Jeremy

COLLIER, JEREMY (1650-1726), English nonjuring divine, was born at Stow-with-Quy, Cambridgeshire, on the 23rd of September 1650. He was educated at Ipswich free school, over which his father presided, and at Caius College, Cambridge, graduating B.A. in 1673 and M.A. in 1676. He acted for a short time as a private chaplain, but was appointed in 1679 to the small rectory of Ampton, near Bury St Edmunds, and in 1685 he was made lecturer of Gray's Inn.

At the Revolution he was committed to Newgate for writing in favour of James II. a tract entitled The Desertion discuss'd in a Letter to a Country Gentleman (1688), in answer to Bishop Burnet's defence of King William's position. He was released after some months of imprisonment, without trial, by the intervention of his friends. In the two following years he continued to harass the government by his publications: and in 1692 he was again in prison under suspicion of treasonable correspondence with James. His scruples forbade him to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the court by accepting bail, but he was soon released. But in 1696 for his boldness in granting absolution on the scaffold to Sir John Friend and Sir William Parkyns, who had attempted the assassination of William, he was obliged to flee, and for the rest of his life continued under sentence of outlawry.

When the storm had blown over he returned to London, and employed his leisure in works which were less political in their tone. In 1697 appeared the first volume of his Essays on Several Moral Subjects, to which a second was added in 1705, and a third in 1709. The first series contained six essays, the most notable being that "On the office of a Chaplain," which throws much light on the position of a large section of the clergy at that time. Collier deprecated the extent of the authority assumed by the patron and the servility of the poorer clergy.

In 1698 Collier produced his famous Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage.... He dealt with the immodesty of the contemporary stage, supporting his contentions by a long series of references attesting the comparative decency of Latin and Greek drama; with the profane language indulged in by the players; the abuse of the clergy common in the drama; the encouragement of vice by representing the vicious characters as admirable and successful; and finally he supported his general position by the analysis of particular plays, Dryden's Amphitryon, Vanbrugh's Relapse and D'Urfey's Don Quixote. The Book abounds in hypercriticism, particularly in the imputation of profanity; and in a useless display of learning, neither intrinsically valuable nor conducive to the argument. He had no artistic appreciation of the subject he discussed, and he mistook cause for effect in asserting that the decline in public morality was due to the flagrant indecency of the stage. Yet, in the words of Macaulay, who gives an admirable account of the discussion in his essay on the comic dramatists of the Restoration, "when all deductions have been made, great merit must be allowed to the work." Dryden acknowledged, in the preface to his Fables, the justice of Collier's strictures, though he protested against the manner of the onslaught; [1] but Congreve made an angry reply; Vanbrugh and others followed. Collier was prepared to meet any number of antagonists, and defended himself in numerous tracts. The Short View was followed by a Defence (1699), a Second Defence (1700), and Mr Collier's Dissuasive from the Playhouse, in a Letter to a Person of Quality (1703), and a Further Vindication (1708). The fight lasted in all some ten years; but Collier had right on his side, and triumphed; his position was, moreover, strengthened by the fact that he was known as a Troy and high churchman, and that his attack could not, therefore, be assigned to Puritan rancour against the stage.

From 1701 to 1721 Collier was employed on his Great Historical, Geographical, Genealogical and Poetical Dictionary, founded on, and partly translated from, Louis Moréri's Dictionnaire historique, and in the compilation and issue of the two volumes folio of his own Ecclesiastical History of Great Britain from the first planting of Christianity to the end of the reign of Charles II. (1708-1714). The latter work was attacked by Burnet and others, but the author showed himself as keen a controversialist as ever. Many attempts were made to shake his fidelity to the lost cause of the Stuarts, but he continued indomitable to the end. In 1712 George Hickes was the only survivor of the nonjuring bishops, and in the next year Collier was consecrated. He had a share in an attempt made towards union with the Greek Church. He had a long correspondence with the Eastern authorities, his last letters on the subject being written in 1725. Collier preferred the version of the Book of Common Prayer issued in 1549, and regretted that certain practices and petitions there enjoined were omitted in later editions. His first tract on the subject, Reasons for Restoring some Prayers (1717), was followed by others. In 1718 was published a new Communion Office taken partly from Primitive Liturgies and partly from the first English Reformed Common Prayer Book,... which embodied the changes desired by Collier. The controversy that ensued made a split in the nonjuring communion. His last work was a volume of Practical Discourses, published in 1725. He died on the 26th of April 1726.

Bibliography. - There is an excellent account of Collier in A. Kippis's Biographia Britannica, vol. iv. (1789), where some sensible observations by the editor are added to the original biography. A full list of Collier's writings is given by the Rev. Wm. Hunt in the article in the Dictionary of National Biography. For particulars of Collier's history as a nonjuring bishop, see Thomas Lathbury, A History of the Nonjurors ... (1845). There is an excellent account of the Short View and the controversy arising from it in A. Beljame's Le Public et les hommes de lettres en Angleterre au XVIIIe siècle (2nd ed., 1897), pp. 244-263.

[1] "He is too much given to horse-play in his raillery, and comes to battle like a dictator from the plough. I will not say, 'the zeal of God's house has eaten him up'; but I am sure it has devoured some part of his good manners and civility." (Dryden, Works, ed. Scott, xi. 239).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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