New Church Worthies
Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bayley
MR. WILLIAM COOKWORTHY,
of Plymouth, The first Translator, in conjunction with Rev. T. Hartley, Rector of Winwick, Northamptonshire, of Swedenborg's works, The Doctrine of Life, Treatise on Influx, and Heaven and Hell
THE memoir of this admirable servant of the Lord is so well given by Mr. Clowes (Intellectual Repository, 1825), from a manuscript submitted to him, that I cannot do better than, with some unimportant abbreviations, present it to the reader:
Mr. William Cookworthy was born as one of the Society of Friends, at Kingsbridge, in Devonshire, in the year 1704, and was the son of William and Erith Cookworthy, who had six other children, three sons and three daughters, all younger than himself.
At the age of fourteen he lost his father, who was engaged in the weaving business, and, though an industrious man, left his family with but a slender provision for their maintenance.
On that event, young William was bound an apprentice to a chemist and druggist in London, and pursued his course to the metropolis on foot. So scanty were his means, that he had only a camlet coat for Sunday wear, and, as a poor apprentice boy, was but little noticed, except in being occasionally invited to the house of a distant relative. Yet was his heart thankful, having had early religious impressions from his excellent mother, a woman whose tenderness of spirit commanded, not merely the respect of her neighbours of fortune and influence, but their cordial aid in her zealous efforts to do good. On recurring in after years to this period of separation from his family, and contrasting the comforts he then enjoyed with the solitude and privations of his apprenticeship, his heart would be repeatedly melted with gratitude for the over-ruling care of Him who is the Father of the fatherless. On such occasions he was wont to exclaim, with the patriarch Jacob, "Oh, GOD of my father Abraham, and GOD of my father Isaac, the LORD which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast showed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan, and now I am become two bands."
From the termination of his apprenticeship to the time of entering on the duties of married life, little is remembered. It is, however, known that he enriched his mind with the stores of science and polite literature, for both of which his relish was keen, and his capacity well adapted. Thus qualified, his company was eagerly sought in the most accomplished society. He was well acquainted with, and was himself one of the literati who, at that time, flourished at Plymouth. Northcote, a bookseller, father of the painter, the celebrated Dr. Huxham; Mudge, father of the late Col. Mudge, and others of the same cast, constituted a society, intercourse with whom must have been a highly intellectual treat.
Soon after his thirtieth year he was married, to his heart's content, to Sarah Berry, the youngest daughter of a respectable Somersetshire family, of the same religious persuasion. The issue of the family were five daughters, the two youngest of whom were twins, who were deprived of their mother when only a year old.
On his wife's death, which occurred in his 41st or 42nd year, he withdrew from Plymouth, and lived in seclusion at Lowe for twelve months. Still his character maintained its lofty fearlessness and courteous integrity. On his return to Plymouth he met his old acquaintance as usual, and again resorted to the meetings of that little knot of literary friends with whom he had before associated. Indeed, so far were his new habits from secluding him from the rest of the world, that he cultivated an intimate acquaintance with some of the first gentlemen and most scientific men of the day. Smeaton, the engineer, was a regular inmate of his house, while engaged in erecting the Eddystone lighthouse; Captain Cook, Dr. Solander, and Sir Joseph Banks were his guests, before they sailed from Plymouth on the Captain's first voyage to the Southern Sea; and to Thomas Pitt, afterwards the first Lord Camelford, and to the gallant Jervis, afterwards Earl St. Vincent, he was united by the closest ties of friendship.
By one of these two accomplished men, probably the latter, it was observed that whoever was in Mr. Cookworthy's company never came out of it without being the better or the wiser for having been in it. Such were the charms of his conversation that when his mouth was opened all were listeners; and though his fondness for chemical subjects would lead him occasionally into details interesting only to persons skilled like himself, yet even then his object was to improve others, or promote science, and not to display his own superiority in the discussion of such subjects.
The effect produced on his mind by the writings of Swedenborg was, beyond all question, salutary. As an acknowledged minister, and as what is technically termed a consistent friend, he could scarcely be expected to be altogether free from the esprit du corps which, in past times, was more prevalent in the religious society to which he belonged; a society which, whatever may be said of it in other respects, has undoubtedly made rapid advances of late years in the exercise of an enlarged and liberal spirit. Under such circumstances, a temper naturally ardent and hasty would occasionally break out into petty acts of assault on the caps of his daughters, all of whom inherited their father's relish for good society, and some had no ambition to appear more forbidding than their neighbours. Not that his hostility to a smart cap bore any resemblance in degree or kind to the church prostrating wrath of a John Knox; yet it is nevertheless certain that, now and then, a propensity to destroy had the upper hand in him. But after he had imbibed the doctrines of Swedenborg this propensity subsided; Christian forbearance prevailed; his temper was in every respect purified and sweetened; and of faith, hope, and charity, all which graces he possessed in abundance, he fully verified the Apostolic declaration that "charity is the greatest."
On his first opening one of Swedenborg's works, the book was soon thrown down in a fit of disgust. From some cause or other, not now remembered, he was induced to make another trial; and, whether the inspiration of the heavenly nature of conjugial love was congenial to his own feelings; or the doctrine concerning heaven, as a kingdom of active usefulness, appeared rational and scriptural; or, above all, the unfolding of the true nature and attributes of the sole object of Divine worship flashed conviction on his mind; it is certain that, from that time forward, he became gradually more and more convinced of the soundness of the views which the Swedish theologian had taken of scriptural truths. Whether he gave full credence to all the Memorable Relations is not known with equal certainty. Possibly he might adopt a remark which has been made by another reader: "What I do understand, I find to be excellent; therefore what I do not understand I conclude to be so too."
So convinced, however, did he become of the truth and utility of the works, that he translated from the original Latin two smaller works, and then prepared for publication the treatise on Heaven and Hell, under the revision of Thomas Hartley, a pious clergyman of the Church of England, in Northamptonshire.
Hartley was a man of the same affectionate disposition, and the same enlarged views of religion; yet, from a nervousness of constitution, more inclined to shrink from society and discussion. They corresponded for some time before they were personally acquainted, until the repeated interchange of sentiment had produced such a union of soul that, when they met for the first time, they flew into each other's arms as if they had been old acquaintances.
Shortly before Swedenborg's death they both visited him at his lodgings in Clerkenwell. The interview must have been interesting, but the particulars of it are not recorded, except that it was impossible to avoid noticing the remarkable innocence and simplicity of Swedenborg, and how, on inviting him to dine with them, he politely excused himself, adding that his dinner was already prepared, which proved to be a simple meal of bread and milk.
The new views of religion which opened on Mr. Cookworthy's mind did not relax the ties of affection which bound him to the Society of Friends. This was also the case with Mr. Leadbeater, of Chester, who published an edition of the True Christian Religion, in three volumes; and Dr. Abbot, of Blackburn, and many others of the Society of Friends who received the doctrines.
He did not confine himself within that narrow pale which his more rigid, though perhaps equally conscientious, but less enlightened brethren might deem essential; and when in London his valued acquaintance at the west-end of the town had as strong attractions for him as those of a more sombre cast.
At all times he entered fully into the lively sallies and innocent enjoyments of youth; and preserving to the last the cheerfulness, and the fresh and warm feelings of his younger days, he was a happy illustration of what has been aptly termed "a green old age."
The closing scene of his life has been frequently related; but as it is desirable that things should be twice told rather than that one circumstance of importance should be forgotten, it may be proper to mention that when Dr. Gasking called on him one day as a professional man, as well as a friend, and asked him how he was, he replied: "I'll tell thee how I am, Gasking—no doubts—no fears—but a full and certain assurance that I am going where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest." On Dr. Gasking's return to the parlour, the usual enquiry took place, "How do you find my father?" "Find him," said the doctor, "So as I would give all I am worth in the world to change places with him."
During the early part of his life he had looked at death with something like dread, not from a fear of bodily suffering, but from the awfulness of that great change; but when the hour arrived which was evidently to remove him from things terrestrial, and when his hands and feet were already cold, he said to one of his daughters who was in attendance on him, "And is this death, which I so long dreaded? This great, this mighty change! What is it? Why, ceasing to breathe, that is all!"
In the course of the preceding day he asked his medical attendant how long he thought he could live? After a pause, the apothecary replied, "Why, sir, I should hope you might live four-and-twenty hours." "Hope, dost thou say?" was his answer, "and is that a subject worth a hope?"
With his family round his death-bed, he is stated to have expressed himself to the following effect: "I must say, with the Apostle, 'Little children, love one another,' hate everything that is in the least contrary to love in your life and in your conduct to one another. What shall I say to mankind? That if they feared God they would be happy. Tell them your father did not love 'dying sayings,' yet this you may add, that he says the Lord God Almighty is love, and nothing but love to His whole creation."
Near his close he said "death was like putting off an old coat to put on a new one." He passed away quietly, in his own house, on the 17th October, 1780. His funeral was attended by marks of public respect. All the shops were shut in the streets through which the procession passed, and the principal gentlemen of Plymouth, after the immediate relatives and friends, followed the body to the grave.
His candour marked itself by an immediate acknowledgment of error or mistake. He considered it beneath a man to hold an opinion with obstinacy, when convinced of its incorrectness; and therefore, when so convinced, he gave up his own as willingly as he first embraced it.
After an interview with Cookworthy, Captain Jervis one day returned to his ship, and going to the cabin of the chaplain, his intimate friend, called to awake him, saying, "Gardener, you must awake, for I have had such a day with Mr. Cookworthy as you must hear of before I can sleep." He then began, in animated language, to describe the delight he had felt, when Gardener (who related the circumstance) began to enlarge on the pleasure of a life dedicated to religion and virtue. "Hold your tongue," said the Captain abruptly, "If I delight in hearing Mr. Cookworthy's instruction, I did not come to receive a sermon from you; I came to make you participate in my pleasure."
To sum up all in a few words—as a minister, he was clear, pathetic, engaging, persuasive, beyond all language, and indefatigably assiduous; as a man and a Christian, he excelled in literature, still more in science, and most of all in religion.
Through heavenly meekness, conscious innocence, and integrity, he bore unmerited censure with the greatest contentment. Steady and indefatigable in the prosecution of laudable and religious purposes, he seldom failed of success.