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Law at King's Cliffe.



It will be remembered that we left William Law in London at the close of the year 1739, in a very unsettled condition. Owing to the death of Mr. Gibbon and the consequent breaking up of the establishment at Putney, his occupation was gone. I do not suppose that he either felt or anticipated the pressure of poverty. He had inherited a little property ; possibly, Mr. Gibbon had left him a small legacy. His books were popular, and were selling well ; and he might easily have made an arrangement with his publishers which would have secured him at least a moderate competency. But writing with the intense earnestness of purpose that Law did, with no other motive than to do good, he would have regarded it as a prostitution of his pen to write simply for bread and cheese. A ripe scholar of Law's reputation and experience might easily have gained his living by tuition ; but his failure with young Gibbon had probably disgusted him with that mode of life, for which he was really not adapted. Other men, again, in Law's circumstances, would have turned their thoughts to matrimony. It is true that Law was now past the prime of life, being fifty-three years of age ; but he was wonderfully young and vigorous for his years; he was a personable, and, when he chose, a remarkably agreeable man, and would have had no difficulty in finding a wife. There was one lady, at any rate, with a fortune of her own, who would, we

Law on Clerical Celibacy.


may be quite sure, have lent a favourable ear to his suit, Miss Hester Gibbon. But this resource was quite out of the question. Law never swerved one single inch from what he believed to be right. Given Law's opinions, and you might be absolutely certain what his conduct would be, for from the very beginning to the end of his career, it would be impossible to find a single instance of his acting on the principle

Video meliora proboque,

Deteriora sequor. Now, no hermit in his cell ever held stricter views on the subject of clerical celibacy than William Law did ; and at the very time of which we are speaking, he expressed those views in print with remarkable vigour. When,' he wrote in 1739,'a clergyman excuses himself from any Heights of the Ministerial Service, by saying, “he has married a wife, and therefore cannot come up to them," it seems to be no better excuse than if he had said, “ he had hired a farm," or bought five yoke of oxen." It was true that the Reformation had allowed Priests and Bishops, not only to look out for wives, but to have as many as they pleased, one after another, but from the beginning it was not so.' The sight of Reverend Doctors in Sacerdotal robes, making love to women,' was an abomination to him. He introduces one of those pictures at which one hardly knows whether to smile or be serious. John the Baptist came out of the wilderness burning and shining, to preach the Kingdom of Heaven at hand. Look at this great saint, all ye that desire to preach the Gospel. Now, if this holy Baptist, when he came to Jerusalem, and had preached a while upon Penitence, and the Kingdom of Heaven at hand, had made an offering of his Heart to some fine young Lady of great accomplishments, had not this put an end to all that was burning and shining in his character ?' And surely


Law retires to King's Cliffe.

'those clergy who date their mission from Jesus Christ Himself, who claim being sent by Him as He was by His Father, to stand as His representatives, &c. &c., should look upon Love-addresses to the Sex, as unbecoming, as foreign, as opposite to their character, as to the Baptist's. Were not Our Blessed Lord's own words' (Matt. xix. 12) more than a volume of human eloquence in praise of the Virgin State. And had not St. Paul done everything to hinder a Minister of Jesus Christ from entering into marriage, except calling it a sinful state? Did not the apologists in primitive times appeal to the members of both sexes consecrated to God in a Virgin Life, as one great Proof of the Divinity of the Christian Religion. But when such arguments as these were used to set forth the glory of the Gospel, need anyone to be told that it must have been highly shameful in those Days for a Priest of such a Religion, to be looking out for a wife?' And so he goes on for several pages. Holding such opinions as these, and always having the courage of his opinions, Law certainly was 'not a marrying man.

At the close, therefore, of 1740, he quietly retired to King's Cliffe, his native village, where both his parents were buried, where his eldest, and apparently most beloved, brother George still resided, and where he himself owned a house. Here he lived alone for nearly three years, occasionally paying visits to London, for a letter from him to Mr. Spanaugle is preserved by Dr. Byrom, dated April 1742, in which Law says that he is about to leave town,' and in another entry in his 'Journal' (May 1743), Byrom describes a visit which he paid to King's Cliffe, when Law received a letter [from London) while I was with him, and said he should have gone that day but for me. As this entry gives us the only glimpse which we can catch of Law in his solitude, a short extract from it is worth insert

Law in his Solitude.


ing. I went,' writes Byrom, 'to Wansford on Sunday night, and on Monday morning to King's Cliff, where I light at the Cross Keys, and understanding that Mr. Law was at his house by the church, and his brother very ill of the stone, I went to him. Mr. Law rid out with me over his brother's grounds; I dined and supped with him and lay at the Cross Keys.' Then follows a full report of Mr. Law's conversation which need not be recorded ; but we learn from it that Law had all his books around him, for Byrom mentions that Law pointed out to him a passage in Bertot, and showed him a German book of distiches upon Behmenish principles,' and that 'Rusbrochius lay upon his table in folio.' We may gather, therefore, what was the course of Law's studies at this period.

His solitude, however, was not destined to last long. In 1740 Mr. Archibald Hutcheson died. In his last illness he was visited by Mr. Law, to whom he expressed his desire that his widow should lead a retired and religious life; he expressed the same wish to the lady herself, and added that he knew no one so well suited to help her to carry out the pious plan as his friend Mr. Law, if she could take up her residence within reach of his society. Mrs. Hutcheson at once determined to accede to her dying husband's wishes, and upon his death consulted Mr. Law on the subject. Mr. Law, who was always very careful in his relations with the other sex, appears to have shrunk from undertaking the spiritual guidance of a rich widow, lest his motives should be misinterpreted. But there was another lady who was also left desolate, and who had for many years been taught to look up to Mr. Law with the deepest reverence and admiration. This was Miss Hester Gibbon ; and it was probably on Mr. Law's suggestion that Mrs. Hutcheson proposed to her that they should live together, and partake jointly of the benefits of Mr. Law's spiritual direction. The


Mrs. Hutcheson and Miss Gibbon.

proposal was accepted, and a house was taken for them by Mr. Law at Thrapstone. There they took up their abode in the summer of 1743. Their joint income amounted to nearly 3,000l. a year, more than two-thirds of which belonged to Mrs. Hutcheson; and their intention was to carry out literally the counsel of the 'Serious Call,' and to devote the whole of their fortune, after the supply of their own necessary wants, to the relief of the poor. But Thrapstone was not a suitable place for their purpose ; it was then, as now, a very small place, and did not furnish sufficient scope for their benevolence. Moreover, at Thrapstone, they must have been at an inconvenient distance from their spiritual director, King's Cliffe being ten miles away, a serious matter in those days of bad roads. King's Cliffe contained many more poor, and Mr. Law had on his hands there a very suitable house for the ladies; he therefore proposed that they should remove. thither, and, on their consent, fitted up the house for their accommodation. Whether this was ‘Mr. Law's house by the Church' at which Byrom found his friend in May 1743, we need not stop to enquire; but as King's Cliffe was undoubtedly his residence during the whole of the remainder of his life, it may be interesting to the reader to know what sort of a place it was and still is.

King's Cliffe is probably not very much changed since the days of Law. The houses are for the most part old; and as the village lies off the main high road, and has not until the present year been invaded by the railway, it has been little affected by modern alterations. Nevertheless, it is a place of some importance in its way, and was comparatively more so in Law's time. It is the capital of the East Bailiwick of the Forest of Rockingham, which originally included fifteen parishes. The pilgrim whose respect for Law's memory may lead him to Cliffe will not be disap

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