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In order adequately to describe the life and character of a person so eminent as the late Bishop of Durham, his biographer should be one of almost a like spirit and elevation : he should have been nearly his contemporary and associate, and be somewhat resembling him in dignity and power of mind. The writer of the following Memoir is painfully sensible to his want of these necessary qualifications. Having always felt himself comparatively young in years, and been prevented by remoteness of situation, and a retiring disposition, from enjoying many opportunities of converse with his revered Relative, or with other public men, he cannot but feel an incompetency to the honourable office which he has undertaken, and would gladly have left it for an abler hand. In consequence, however, of a strong appeal, and an assurance that probably no one else could be induced to undertake the work, he has thought it incumbent on him to attempt it. Whatever the result may be, certain it is that the reputation of the deceased Prelate depends not on the unworthy efforts of his pen: although dead, he yet speaketh for himself, both by his writings, and by works of piety and generosity, which will probably endure, and perpetuate a grateful remembrance of him, even to the years of many generations.
Most of the writings which follow this Memoir have already been separately published. A few Sermons are added, which the Author had selected and marked, during
his life-time, towards preparing another volume for the press. It is trusted, that, though perhaps less accurately finished than if he had been spared further to revise them, they will be found full of sound religion and piety, and in no respect unworthy of their Author, or injurious to his bigh literary reputation.
OF THE AUTHOR.
WILLIAM VAN MILDERT was born of parents in the middle class of society. His name denotes him to have been of Dutch extraction. The family of Van Mildert or Meldert was originally from a town so called in Dutch Brabant. Nothing more, however, is remotely known of it, than that one of the name was a statuary, a native of Antwerp, and appears to have executed, at nearly the beginning of the 17th century, some pieces of architectural sculpture in and about the great church of Notre Dame, at that place. The great grandfather of the late Bishop was Daniel, son of David Van Mildert of Amsterdam. He was naturalized in England probably in the reign of William the Third, and lived at Homerton, near Hackney, as a gentleman; tradition says, in rather a splendid style. He had a fine collection of natural curiosities, which went into the possession of Sir Hans Sloane, and is now in the British Museum. His son Abraham Van Mildert, born December 1680, married December 1709 Ann Wittenoom, daughter of Dirck Cornelius Wittenoom, a Dutch merchant settled in London. He also was a merchant, living first in Thames street, then in Great St. Helen's, where he died. His issue were eleven children, most of whom died young, and unmarried. Only three of the sons are known to have reached mau's estate, and of them, two, namely, Daniel and Dirck, left no male offspring. The third, whose name was Cornelius, married Martha, only daughter of William Hill, esq. of Vauxhall; by whom he had six daughters, and three sons, namely, Cornelius, (who died in the 11th year of his age,) Dirck, (who died in infancy,) and WILLIAM. Of the daughters, Martha, the eldest, was married to the late Rev. Thomas Etherington, of Stockwell, Surry; and Ann, the second, to Cornelius Ives, esq. of Bradden house, Northamptonshire: both these have lately died, leaving children: the others died early in life, except the youngest, who still survives, the last, it is supposed, of the name in England. The residence, during forty-four years, of Cornelius Van Mildert, and the birthplace, accordingly, of his children, was in Blackman street, where he carried on the business of a distiller. He began with no more than about three hundred pounds, and acquired only a respectable competency. His health was weak, his habits rather contemplative than active, and his temper remarkably placid and unambitious. Hence, although he obtained the esteem of all who knew him, as a man highly moral and religious, he never formed an extensive or lucrative connexion ; and having retired, perhaps sooner than he had proposed, on account of some new excise regulations, which he knew not how conscientiously to observe, he removed to Newington place, where he died, A.D. 1799, in the 79th year of his age : his widow survived him more than nineteen years.
In Blackman street, then, William Van Mildert, the third son of Cornelius and Martha Van Mildert, was born, on the 6th of November, 1765; and on the 8th of the following month he was baptized by the celebrated Dr. Samuel Horsley, afterwards bishop of St. Asaph, who was rector of Newington parish at that time.
When about eight years of age, he was put to school. The first school worthy of notice which received him, was that of St. Saviour's, then kept by a Mr. Jennings, under whose tuition he soon began to shew himself a boy of no mean ability. It is related of him, by one who was his associate at this period, that on returning home after school hours, he invariably took the first time to prepare his tasks, with a view afterwards to amuse himself the more freely, and that, by the combined quickness and perfectness which he displayed, he innocently deceived both his parents and his master; the former being led to suppose him superficial and inattentive; the latter, to imagine him remarkably diligent, and intent on learning. While at this school, he gained an honorary medal, which is still preserved. On one side of it is a head of Queen Elizabeth, with an inscription that the school was founded in her reign, 1562; on the other side is an elevation of the building, surrounded with the words “ Sigillum hoc “puero optimè merenti detur;" and on a shield underneath is engraved “Gul. Van Mildert, ætat. XI. “MDCCLXXVI.”