The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

VII. Historical and Political Writers

§ 15. Jeremy Collier

A more stirring life and literary activity was that of Jeremy Collier, to whose combative spirit it is due that he should already, in a very different connection from that of historical writing, have appeared on the scene of this work. Born in 1650, he had fulfilled clerical duties of divers kinds before, in 1685, he was appointed lecturer at Gray’s inn; but, with the revolution of 1688, “the public exercise of his functions became impracticable.” In other words, he was henceforth a nonjuror. He at once entered into controversy with Burnet, and, in 1692, was for a short time in prison on an accusation of secret correspondence with the Pretender, having scrupulously surrendered in discharge of his bail. When he next came before the public, it was on the occasion of his absolving two Jacobite gentlemen on the scaffold. In his subsequent retreat, he was left unmolested; and in 1697 he quietly put forth his Essays, which were published in several editions, and which, divided into four parts, fill three volumes. Many of these Essays are in the form, still popular, of dialogues, between Philotimus and Philalethes, and other pairs of speakers. The subjects discussed are partly ethical, partly social and partly a mixture of both, such as Duelling, and the well-known Office of a Chaplain, which contends that a chaplain in a family is not a servant, and that servility on his part and arrogant treatment on that of the patron are alike to be deprecated. There is some acceptable plain speaking in this as well as in other of the Essays—notably in that Of Lying; but there is also an occasional lack of urbanity in the way of conveying the truth, or what seems such to the writer. In many instances, the maxims propounded are reinforced by passages translated from the Fathers.

Collier’s principal occupation during his years of retirement seems, however, to have been the preparation of his Historical Dictionary, based on Le Grand Dictionnaire historique of Louis Moréri, which after its first appearance in 1674, went through a large number of editions, and to which Bayle’s famous work had originally been intended as a supplement. Of Collier’s Dictionary the first two volumes appeared in 1701, and the third and fourth, under the respective titles of a Supplement and an Appendix, in 1705.