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Watson, Richard

WATSON, RICHARD (1737-1816), English divine, was born in August 1737 at Heversham in Westmorland. His father, a schoolmaster, sent him to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was elected a fellow in 1760. About the same time he had the offer of the post of chaplain to the factory at Bencoolen, in the Straits Settlements. " You are too good," said the master of Trinity, " to die of drinking punch in the torrid zone "; and Watson, instead of becoming, as he had flattered himself, a great orientalist, remained at home to be elected professor of chemistry, a science of which he did not at the time possess the simplest rudiments. " I buried myself," he says, " in my laboratory, and in fourteen months read a course of chemical lectures to a very full audience." One of his discoveries led to the black-bulb thermometer. Not the least of his services was to procure an endowment for the chair, which served as a precedent in similar instances. In 1771 he was appointed regius professor of divinity, but did not entirely renounce the study of chemistry. In 1768 he had published Inslitutiones metallurgicae, intended to give a scientific form to chemistry by digesting facts established by experiment into a connected series of propositions. In 1781 he followed this up with an introductory manual of Chemical Essays. In 1776 he answered Gibbon's chapters on Christianity, and had the honour of being one of the only two opponents whom Gibbon treated with respect. The same year he offended the court by a Whig sermon, but in 1779 became archdeacon of Ely. He had always opposed the American War, and on the accession of Lord Shelburne to power in 1782 was made bishop of Llandaff, being permitted to retain his other preferments on account of the poverty of the see. Shelburne expected great service from him as a pamphleteer, but Watson proved from the ministerial point of view a most impracticable prelate. He immediately brought forward a scheme for improving the condition of the poorer clergy by equalizing the incomes of the bishops, the reception of which at the time may be imagined, though it was substantially the same as that carried into effect by Lord Melbourne's government fifty years later. Watson now found that he possessed no influence with the minister, and that he had destroyed his chance of the great object of his ambition, promotion to a better diocese. Neglecting both his see and his professorship, to which latter he appointed a deputy described as highly incompetent, he withdrew to Calgarth Park, in his native county, where he occupied himself in forming plantations and in the improvement of agriculture. He also frequently came forward as a preacher and as a speaker in the House of Lords. His advice to the government in 1787 is said to have saved the country 100,000 a year in gunpowder. In 1796 he published, in answer to Thomas Paine, an Apology for the Bible, perhaps the best known of his numerous writings. Watson continued to exert his pen with vigour, and in general to good purpose, denouncing the slave trade, advocating the union with Ireland, and offering financial suggestions to Pitt, who seems to have frequently consulted him. In 1798 his Address to the People of Great Britain, enforcing resistance to French arms and French principles, ran through fourteen editions, but estranged him from many old friends, who accused him, probably with injustice, of aiming to make his peace with the government. Though querulous because of his non-preferment, De Quincey tells us that " his lordship was a joyous, jovial, and cordial host." He died on the 2nd of July 1816, having occupied his latter years in the composition and revision of an autobiography (published in 1817), which, with all its egotism and partiality, is a valuable work, and the chief authority for his life.

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

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