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LAW'S EARLY YEARS.
WILLIAM LAW was born, in 1686, at King's Cliffe, a large village in the north of Northamptonshire, about seven miles from Stamford. His father, Thomas Law, was a grocer ; but his social standing was different from that of an ordinary village tradesman in the present day.' The Laws are a family of high respectability and of good means. We find the head of the family, so far back as three generations earlier than the subject of this biography, technically described as George Law, Gentleman.' Thomas Law married Margaret Farmery, a Lincolnshire lady. The name of Farmery was evidently much thought of in the Law family, for it reappears over and over again as a Christian name of various members. Eight sons and three daughters were the issue of this marriage, viz., George, Thomas, Giles, William, Nathaniel, Benjamin, Farmery, Christopher, Isabel, Margaret, and Ann. If there be any truth in the tradition that the Paternus' of the Serious Call’ was William Law's own father, and the 'Eusebia ' his widowed mother, he must have been singularly blessed in his parents. At any rate, it is plain that they brought up their large family well, for none of them appear to have given their
Professor Fowler, in his Life of Locke (* English Men of Jetters ') rightly remarks that there was not so marked a distinction between the lesser gentry and the tradesmen in the seventeenth century as there is at the present day.
His Early Piety.
parents any trouble. William Law tells us himself that up to the time of his leaving Cambridge, he ‘had hitherto enjoyed a large share of happiness, and in a short account of his life prefixed to an American edition of the 'Serious Call’we are told that “his education and early years of his life were very serious.' That this was the case is evident from a document found among his papers in his own handwriting, which is entitled “Rules for my Future Conduct,' and which was probably drawn up by him on entering the University. As these rules throw light upon his character in his youth they are worth quoting :
I. To fix it deep in my mind that I have but one business upon my hands—to seek for eternal happiness by doing the will of God.
II. To examine everything that relates to me in this view, as it serves or obstructs this only end of life.
III. To think nothing great or desirable because the world thinks it so; but to form all my judgments of things from the infallible Word of God, and direct my life according to it.
IV. To avoid all concerns with the world, or the ways of it, but where religion requires.
V. To remember frequently, and impress it upon my mind deeply, that no condition of this life is for enjoyment, but for trial ; and that every power, ability, or advantage we have, are all so many talents to be accounted for to the Judge of all the world.
VI. That the greatness of human nature consists in nothing else but in imitating the divine nature. That therefore all the greatness of this world, which is not in good actions, is perfectly beside the point.
VII. To remember, often and seriously, how much of time is inevitably thrown away, from which I can expect nothing but the charge of guilt; and how little there may be to come, on which an eternity depends.
VIII. To avoid all excess in eating and drinking.
IX. To spend as little time as I possibly can among such persons as can receive no benefit from me nor I from them.
See Notes, &c., for a Biography of William Law, printed for private circulation.
His Diligence at Cambridge.
X. To be always fearful of letting my time slip away without some fruit.
XI. To avoid all idleness.
XII. To call to mind the presence of God whenever I find myself under any temptation to sin, and to have immediate recourse to prayer.
XIII. To think humbly of myself, and with great charity of all others.
XIV. To forbear from all evil speaking.
XV. To think often of the life of Christ, and propose it as a pattern to myself.
XVI. To pray privately thrice a day, besides my morning and evening prayers.
XVII. To keep from as much as I can without offence.
XVIII. To spend some time in giving an account of the day, previous to evening prayer : How have I spent the day? What sin have I committed? What temptations have I withstood ? Have I performed all my duty?
With these excellent rules for his conduct, Law entered as a Sizar at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1705. He took his B.A. degree in 1708, was elected Fellow of his College and received holy orders in 1711, and took his M.A. in 1712. With his strong sense of duty, it is scarcely necessary to say that Law was a diligent student in his University days. He told his friend Dr. Byrom that he was very diligent in reading Horace &c. at Cambridge ;' 2 and when Dr. Trap upbraided him for his want of taste for ‘his Virgil's, Horace's, and Terence's,' he replied, 'I own when I was about eighteen, I was as fond of these books as the Doctor can well be now, and should then have been glad to have translated the Sublime Milton, if I had found myself able. But,' he adds, this ardour soon went off.' 3
1 The following is the register (not an original one) of Mr. Law's entry at Emmanuel, kindly supplied to me by the present librarian, Dr. Pearson : • June 7, 1705, Lawe, Wm. S. (sizar). N. ton. Soc.; A.B. 1708, A.M. 1712; a celebrated enthusiast.'
2 Byrom's Journal, ii. 366.
The only other allusion, so far as I am aware, which Law ever made to his early days in his printed works, occurs in the same treatise, where, referring to the bigotry of party spirit, he says : 'When I was a young scholar at the University I heard a great religionist say in my father's house, that if he could believe the late King of France to be in heaven, he could not tell how to wish to go there himself. This was exceeding shocking to all that heard it.''
Besides the classics, Law appears to have studied philosophy and also the so-called mystic writers, of whom in later days he became so ardent an admirer. Law also possessed some knowledge of Hebrew, which he learnt at the University from his Hebrew master, old Eagle,' 3 and his MSS. notes in the library at King's Cliffe show that he had some knowledge of mathematics ; his acquaintance with the modern languages was probably made at a later date, with the exception of French, which he certainly learned in his youth. There is a tradition that he acted as curate of Fotheringhay for a short time, but there is no direct evidence of the fact ; while there is evidence that after his election to the Fellowship he resided at Cambridge and took pupils.
Law's tenure of his Fellowship, however, was not destined to be of long duration. It is well known that the last four years of Queen Anne's reign (1710–1714) were marked by a vigorous revival of those doctrines which had led many conscientious men twenty years earlier to demur to the Revolution Settlement. The old watchwords of
| Apjcal to all thai Doubt &c., Law's 'Works,' vol. vi. p. 278.
? See Byrom's Journal, vol. i. part i. p. 23, which shows Law's early acquaintance with the mystic philosopher Malebranche.
s Ibid. for January 31, 1730.
• Ibid. Letter from John Byrom to Mrs. Byrom, vol. i. part ii. p. 512. • I was to-day,' writes Byrom, to call on Dr. Richardson, the clergyman ;... he was pupil to Mr. Law at Cambridge.'
His Tripos Speech.
'divine, hereditary, indefeasible right,'' passive obedience,' and non-resistance, began again to be heard. The logical result of such doctrines was, of course, antagonistic to the Protestant succession ; but all those who held them were not prepared to follow out their principles to the logical result. There were undoubtedly many, who, without going the whole length of the Vicar of Bray, were inclined to adopt the policy of a contemporary ballad :
We moderate men do our judgment suspend
'Twill be Hoadly the high and Sacheverell the low.' William Law, however, was not one of these moderate men, whose principles went as the times varied,' and, as he was the last man in the world to conceal his principles, they brought him into trouble. In the first mention which Byrom, in his amusing Journal,' makes of his future mentor, he tells us, there is one Law, a M.A. and Fellow of Emmanuel, has this last week been degraded to a Soph., for a speech that he spoke on a public occasion, reflecting, as is reported, on the Government. All I could learn of the matter is of some queries that he asked the lads in the middle of his speech, to such effect as these, viz. : Whether good and evil be obnoxious to revolution ? Whether, when the earth interposes between the sun and the moon, the moon may be said to advocate herself? Whether, when the children of Israel had made the golden calf the object of their worship, they ought to keep to their God de facto, or return to their God de jure? and such like. He is much blamed by some and defended by others; has the character of a vain, conceited fellow.'? Byrom wrote this, April 27,
i Quoted in Mr. Wordsworth's interesting work on University Life in the Eighteenth Century, p. 34.
2 Byrom's Journal, vol. i. part ii. p. 20, 21.