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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

XV. Divines

§ 8. Thomas Sherlock

Returning from this interesting by-path, we find the main field of theology in possession of writers of scarcely a single literary merit. The Annual Register, when it commemorated Hoadly on his death, allowed him the virtue that, in all his controversies with his brethren (“and no one surely ever held more”), he never lost his equanimity of temper or descended to any railing accusation. In the same way, Thomas Sherlock, bishop of London, was praised in that

  • he too had his controversies, and those carried on with warmth and spirit, but without any injury to his temper, or any interruption to his thoughts and mind.
  • He was, indeed, an opponent of Hoadly even more persistent than Law. He was chairman of the committee of the lower house of convocation which considered the book that was the fons et origo mali; and, though, owing to the suspension of the sessions of convocation, the report was never published, its substance, no doubt, appeared in Remarks on the Bishop of Bangor’s treatment of the Clergy and Convocations, issued by him anonymously in 1717, and in other pamphlets. Sherlock’s politics, in early life, were, like those of his more famous father (master of the Temple and dean of St. Paul’s), not above suspicion with those in power: the wits compared the two thus:
  • As Sherlock the elder with jure divine
  • Did not comply till the battle of Boyne;
  • So Sherlock the younger still made it a question
  • Which side he should take till the battle of Preston.
  • But, in later life, he was a steady supporter of Walpole, and his politics even more than his preaching brought him to high place. He was appointed bishop of London in 1748, and it is said that he had declined even higher preferment. Before this, nearly all his important literary work had been done. He had engaged in the deist controversy in 1725, and his Trial of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus (1729) was a very notable apologetic, on quite modern lines, in answer to Woolston. Next to Butler, he was the most powerful opponent, and the most rational, whom the deists encountered. His last work, which enjoyed the popularity of a modern novel, was A Letter to the Clergy and People of London and Westminster on occasion of the late Earthquake (1750). Nichols, the bookseller, tells that 100,000 copies were sold in less than a month; and the trenchant vigour of its denunciation of vice and appeal for amendment make it still worthy of perusal.