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SKETCH OF THE LIFE
REVEREND MATHER BYLES, D. D.
EW departments of literature are more
instructive than biogra
phy; yet the task of writing the histories of the lives of the most celebrated men is seldom performed by those, who have the best opportunities of knowledge, and are endowed with the greatest accuracy of observation. The memoirs of literary and professional gentlemen commonly consist of dates only, and we are not often told of them much more, than where they were born, what schools and colleges admitted them to their honours, where they liv. ed, whom they married, and when they died. The progress of the mind in strength and knowledge, the formation of habits, and the gradual acquisition of character, are seldom delineated; and although we are sometimes made well acquainted with the author and the
publick man, we are rarely introduced to the (perhaps more important) knowledge of the private individual, his peculiar habits, propensities, talents, amusements, prejudices, opinions, and conduct in the ordinary occurrences of life. The writer of this short sketch in particular, who was not contemporary with its subject, regrets that he has not materials to fill up and complete the outline he has formed.
The Rev. MATHER BYLES was descended from a respectable family, and was born in Boston on the fifteenth day of March, 1706, O. S. His father was a native of England, and died within a year after the birth of his By his mother's side he descended from the Rev. Richard Mather of Dorchester, and the Rev. John Cotton of Boston. The Rev. Dr. Increase Mather was his maternal grandfather.
In early life Mr. Byles discovered a taste for literature, and after passing reputably through the common schools, was admitted into Harvard University, and in the year 1725 received the Bachelor's degree at that seminary.
After leaving college, Mr. Byles selected the profession of Divinity for the employment of his life, and divided his time between the studies of theology and literature. In the month of December in the year 1732, he was ordained to the pastoral care of a new church in Hollisstreet in Boston.
About this time Mr. Byles, besides his professional eminence, was distinguished by the
publication of several pieces in prose and verse, many of which were reprinted in England, and some of the poems were afterwards collected and published in a volume in this town. He also wrote a number of essays, which were printed in the New-England Weekly Journal. His signature was one of the letters composing the word CELOIZA.
Mr. Byles was favoured by the Muses, and his poetical talents have often amused and delighted his friends. Ease, harmony, and wit were the characteristicks of his verse. He however esteemed his poetical talents only as instruments of innocent amusement, and never permitted them to withdraw his attention from more serious and profitable objects. He never attempted any great production in verse, but sounded his lyre only as inclination prompted or occasion seemed to require.
The fame of Mr. Byles's professional and literary character extended to Europe; and in the year 1765 the King's College at Aberdeen conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Divinity.
The abundance of his wit in common conversation, and the smartness of his repartees, some of which are almost daily repeated in our social circles, had contributed to the spreading of his fame; and were it proper in this place, many instances might be produced of the fertility and quickness of his fancy, and the severity and justness of his satire. Wit is a dangerous instrument; its exercise is pecul
iarly agreeable; but its pleasures are short and fleeting, while its wounds are seldom forgiven, and are never forgotten. It usually makes many enemies where it delights one friend; and it has been said that Dr. Byles was too sensible of its pleasures and did not always sufficiently regard its consequences. But to this it may be replied, that many things have been attribu ted to him, which were not his productions, and perhaps his reputation has suffered more for what he did not say, than for any thing said by him.
The literary merit of Dr. Byles introduced him to the acquaintance of many men of genius in England, and the celebrated names of Pope, Landsdowne and Watts, among others, are found among his correspondents. From the former he received a copy of an elegant edition of the Odyssey in quarto. Dr. Watts also sent him copies of his works as he published them; and the family have in their possession a Letter, purporting to be from Lord. Landsdowne, a copy of which we will insert, leaving the. reader to judge of its merits and of the courtly politeness and complimentary talents of the En glish Nobleman.
To the Reverend Mr.
Your Letter dated from Boston, NewEngland, Dec. 15, 1730, is but this moment come
London, July 1, 1731.