Rev. John Parkhurst (1728 - 1797) Biblical lexicographer

The Rev. John Parkhurst
The Rev. John Parkhurst
Image courtesy of Jeremy Harte, Curator, Bourne Hall Museum.

John Parkhurst had a retiring nature and much of the information in published biographies seems to have been derived from an obituary that appeared, after the death of his second wife [Millecent (sic) nee Northey deceased 27 April 1800] in the Monthly Magazine or British Register for January to July 1800. Details are given in a "sketch" reproduced below.

His importance in relation to local history arises from connections to a circle of high-church Anglicans, the "Hutchinsonians" (a school of English divines which arose in the 18th century, deriving its origin and name from a learned layman, John Hutchinson who died in 1737): four* of them are mentioned in the dedication of Parkhurst's work An Hebrew and English lexicon without points.

Following the death of Mrs Ricarda Parkhurst nee Dormer (John's widowed mother) in 1770, Epsom Court, the old manor house, with the great tithes and advowson of St Martin of Tours' Church descended to the Rev. John Parkhurst by family arrangement. In 1782, he appointed his Hutchinsonian friend, Rev. Samuel Glasse, Vicar of Epsom. The latter remained, however, Rector of St Mary's, Hanwell, intending that the living at Epsom should be passed on to his son, George Henry Glasse. Nevertheless, by 1784 moves were afoot to have Rev. Jonathan Boucher, another member of the group, installed there [as discussed in a companion piece about him] and suggestions that this was achieved "without solicitation" or favour are contradicted by surviving documentary evidence. On Boucher's demise in 1804 the office was filled until 1839 by John's nephew, the Rev. Fleetwood Parkhurst.

The following biography is taken from the Fifth edition of 'An Hebrew and English Lexicon to the Old Testament by John Parkhurst.'

A Brief Sketch of the Life of the Rev. John Parkhurst A.M.

An Hebrew and English Lexicon by John Parkhurst

The Rev. JOHN PARKHURST, the subject of this sketch, was the second son of John Parkhurst, Esq. of Catesby-house, in the county of Northampton, by Ricarda, the second daughter of Mr. Justice Dormer, and was born in June 1728. He received the earliest rudiments of his education at the school of Rugby, in the county of Warwick; -an education which, by intense mental labour, aided by a mind eminently gifted with sound judgment and deep penetration, he rendered perfect in itself, and beneficial to the world of letters, as well as to the cause of the Christian religion. The whole life of this truly excellent man and devout Christian was honourable to human nature; and his death a sublime example of faith and resignation. From Warwickshire he removed to Clare-hall, Cambridge, where he proceeded A.B. 1748, A.M. 1752, and was some time fellow of his college. Being a younger brother, he was intended for the church; but not long after his entering into holy orders, his elder brother died: this event made him the heir of two considerable estates, the one at Catesby in the county of Northampton and the other at Epsom in the county of Surrey: but as his father was still living, it was some years before he came into the full possession: of them and when he did, the acquisition of fortune produced no change in his habits or his pursuits. He continued to cultivate with ardour the studies becoming a clergyman; and from his family connexions, as well as from his piety and learning, he certainly had a great right to look forward to preferment in his profession ; but an early attachment to retirement and to a life of close and intense study, prevented him from seeking any. In the capacity of curate, but without any salary, he long officiated for a friend with exemplary diligence and zeal. When, several years after, it fell to his lot to exercise the right of presentation, he was unfashionable enough to consider church-patronage as a trust rather than a property; accordingly, resisting the influence of interest, favour, and affection, he presented to the vicarage of Epsom, in the county of Surrey,- the Rev. Jonathan Boucher. This gentleman was then known to him only by character; but having distinguished himself in America during the revolution, for his loyalty, and by teaching the unsophisticated doctrines of the Church of England to a set of rebellious schismatics, at the hazard of his life, Mr. Parkhurst thought, and justly thought, that he could not present to the vacant living a man who had given better proofs of his having a due sense of the duties of his office.

In the year 1754, Mr. Parkhurst married Susanna Myster, daughter of John Myster, Esq. of Epsom; this lady died in 1759, leaving him a daughter and two sons; both his sons have been dead some years, but his daughter survives him, and is the widow of the Rev. James Altham. In the year 1761, he was married a second time to Millecent Northey, daughter of Thomas Northey, Esq. of London, by whom he had one daughter, married, in 1791, to the Rev. Joseph Thomas. This lady, reared under the immediate inspection of her learned and pious father, by an education of the very first order, has acquired a degree of classical knowledge which is rarely met with in the female world; and those mental endowments are still more highly embellished by the exercise and example of every domestic virtue.

Mr. Parkhurst's second wife closed her well-spent life at the advanced age of 79, on the 27th of April, 1800, having survived him upwards of three years. Never were modest worth, unaffected piety, and every domestic virtue, more strongly illustrated than in the character of this most amiable and excellent woman. Her sweetness of temper, simplicity of manners, and charitable disposition, are seldom paralleled, and never excelled.

In the year 1753, Mr. Parkhurst began his career of authorship, by publishing, in 8vo, "A Friendly Address to the Rev. John Wesley, in relation to a principal Doctrine maintained by him and his Assistants." This work, however valuable, we may safely say, was of very little importance when compared with his next publication, which was " An Hebrew and English Lexicon, without Points; to which is added, a Methodical Hebrew Grammar, without Points, adapted to the Use of Learners," 1762, 4to.

To attempt a vindication of all the etymological and philosophical disquisitions which are scattered through this work, would be fruitless; but it is not perhaps too much to say, that we have nothing of the kind equal to it in the English language. Continuing to correct and improve this excellent work, he published a second edition, much enlarged, in 1778, and a third edition in 1792.

His philological studies were not confined to the Hebrew language; for he published "A Greek and English Lexicon to the New Testament; to which is prefixed a plain and easy Greek Grammar," 1769, 4to; a second edition, 1794; and, being desirous of making his literary labours more generally useful, he determined on publishing octavo editions of both Lexicons, still further enlarged and improved; for he continued to revise, correct, add to, and improve these works, till within a few days of his death. He had but just completed the copies, and received the first proof-sheet of the Greek Lexicon from the press, when it pleased the All-wise Disposer of human events to take this learned and excellent man to himself. Fortunately, the task of filial virtue devolved on his daughter, Mrs. Thomas, whose extensively cultivated mind enabled her to undertake the charge of completing her father's purpose; and this work was published in 1798. As, from their nature, there cannot be supposed to be any thing in Lexicons that is particularly attractive and alluring, the continued increasing demand for these two seems to be a sufficient proof of their merit.

In 1787, Mr. Parkhurst published "The Divinity and Pre-existence of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, demonstrated from. Scripture, in Answer to the First Section of Dr. Priestley's Introduction to the History of early Opinions concerning Jesus Christ; together with Strictures on some other Parts of the Work, and a Postscript relating to a late Publication by Mr. Gilbert Wakefield." This work was very generally regarded as performing all that the title-page promised; and accordingly the whole edition was soon sold off. The brief, evasive, and very unsatisfactory notice taken of this very able pamphlet by Dr. Priestley, in a "Letter to Dr. Horne," shewed only that he was unable to answer it.

Besides the above works, there is in the Gentleman's Magazine for August, 1797, a curious Letter of Mr. Parkhurst's, on the Confusion of Tongues at Babel.

Mr. Parkhurst was a man of very extraordinary independency of mind and firmness of principle. In early life, along with many other men of distinguished learning, it was objected to him, that he was an Hutchinsonian. Though Mr. Parkhurst continued to read Hutchinson's writings as long as he read at all, he was ever ready to allow that he was oftentimes a confused and bad writer, and sometimes unbecomingly violent. To have been deterred from reading the works of an author, who, with all his faults, certainly throws out many useful hints, for fear of being thought an Hutchinsonian, would have betrayed a pusillanimity of which Mr. Parkhurst was incapable. What he believed, he was not afraid to profess; and never professed to believe anything which he did not very sincerely believe. He was indeed a most earnest lover of truth. The study of the Scriptures was at once the business and the pleasure of his life; from his earliest to his latest years, he was a hard student; and, had the daily occupations.of every twenty-four hours of his life been portioned out, as it is said those of king Alfred were, into three equal parts, there is reason to believe that a deficiency would rarely have been found in the eight hours allotted to study.

What the fruits have been of a life so conducted, few theologians, it is presumed, need to be informed, it being hardly within the scope of a supposition, that any man will sit down to the study of the Scriptures without availing himself of the assistance to be obtained from his learned labours.

Mr. Parkhurst's character may be collected with tolerable accuracy even from this imperfect sketch of his life. His notions of church patronage do him honour; and as a farther instance of the high sense he entertained of strict justice, and the steady resolution with which he practised it on all occasions, an incident which occurred between him and one of his tenants may be here mentioned. This man falling behind-hand in the payment of his- rent, which was £500 per annum, it was represented to his landlord that it was owing to his being over-rented. This being believed to be the case, a new valuation was made: it was then agreed that, for the future, the rent should not be more than £450. Justly inferring, moreover, that if the farm was then too dear, it must necessarily have been always too dear; unasked and of his own accord, he immediately, struck off £50 from the commencement of the lease; and instantly refunded all that he had received more than, £450 per annum.

Mr. Parkhurst was in his person rather below the middle size, but remarkably upright and firm in his gait. He was all his life of a sickly habit; and his leading so sedentary and studious a life (it having, for many years, been his constant practice to rise at five, and in winter to light his own fire) to the very verge of David's limits of the life of man, is a consolatory proof to men of similar habits, how much, under many disadvantages, may still be effected by strict temperance and a careful regimen. He also gave less of his time to the ordinary interruptions of life than is common. In an hospitable, friendly, and pleasant neighbourhood, he visited little; alleging, that such a course of life neither suited his temper, his health, nor his studies. Yet he was of sociable manners; and his conversation always instructive, often delightful: for his stores of knowledge were so large, that he has often been called a walking library. He belonged to no clubs; he frequented no public places: and there are few men, who, towards the close- of life, may not, on a retrospect, reflect with shame and sorrow, how much of their precious time has thus been thrown away, or perhaps, worse than thrown away. Like many other men of infirm and sickly frames, Mr. Parkhurst was also irritable and quick, warm and earnest in his resentments, though never unforgiving. But whether it be or be not a matter of reproach to possess a mind so constituted, it certainly is much to any man's credit to counteract and subdue it by an attention to the injunctions of religion. This Mr. Parkhurst effectually did: and few men have passed through a long life more at peace with his neighbours, more respected by men of learning, more beloved by his friends, or more honoured by his family. The subject of this biographical sketch serenely closed a life of study and of virtue, far removed from the din of senseless pleasures and the follies of trivial society, after a most painful and lingering illness of ten months, on the 21st of February, 1797, at Epsom in Surrey, where for many years he had resided. Mr. Parkhurst's remains now repose in his family vault at Epsom, and in the church there is an exquisitely beautiful monument, (executed by that distinguished sculptor Flaxman,) raised by conjugal affection and filial piety to the memory of the kind husband, the indulgent parent, and the enlightened preceptor. It bears the following inscription written by Mr. Parkhurst's valued and learned friend, the late Rev. William Jones, of Nayland, in Suffolk

Sacred to the Memory

Of this Parish,

And descended from the Parkhursts of Catesby, in Northamptonshire
His Life was distinguished
Not by any Honours in the Church
But by deep and laborious Researches
Into the Treasures of Divine Learning
The Fruits of which are preserved in two invaluable Lexicons
Wherein the original Text of the Old and New Testament is interpreted
With extraordinary Light and Truth.

Reader ! if thou art thankful to God that such a Man lived,
Pray for the Christian World,
That neither the Pride of false Learning,
Nor the Growth of Unbelief,
May so far prevail

AS to render his pious Labours in any degree ineffectual
He lived in Christian Charity;

And departed in Faith and Hope
On 21st Day of February, 1797
In 69th Year of his Age

As noted above, John's daughter, Millecent Parkhurst, had married Rev. Joseph Thomas (1765 - 1811), of Camberwell, "late chaplain of the Vanguard man of war", on 22 September 1791. They resided at Abele Grove on the Dorking Road, Epsom, in some style although Joseph had no church benefice. He became a connoissseur, patron of William Blake, and friend of the Flaxmans. In 1797, Rev. Thomas paid for his father in law's monument and, although the inscription has been credited to Rev William Jones ["Jones of Nayland" b. 30 July 1726 d. 6 January 1800], another of the Hutchinsonian fraternity, Millecent is reported to have contributed to the wording. The Rev. Joseph Thomas died at Abele Grove ** [by 2009, converted into The Haywain] on 22 March 1811 but his widow, Millecent, lived on until 20 February 1831 when she expired at Cosgrove, Northamptonshire, aged 67.

** Abele Grove, once the residence of Sir William Parsons, and then a place of much grandeur. At his death it became the property of Mr. Bowles, who allowed the house to remain in a ruinous condition for a long time. It subsequently belonged to Mr Price, by whom it was sold to the Rev. Mr. Thomas, on the decease of whose widow it was purchased by John Pugh, Esq., who greatly improved the house, in which his widow continued to reside many years.

Brian Bouchard © 2009
Member of Leatherhead and District Local History Society

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