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"Mr. Firmin's diversion, in this part of his life, was gardening; for which purpose he cultivated a piece of ground at Hoxton, not a mile from London; where he raised flowers, and, in time, attained no small skill in the art of gardening, in the culture of flowers, herbs, greens, and fruit-trees of all sorts. I have often borne in company to his garden; but either going or coming back he used often to visit the poor and sick. This was one of Mr. Bidle's lessons,-that it is a duty not only to relieve, but to visit, the sick and poor, because they are hereby encouraged and comforted, and we come to know of what nature and degree their straits are; and that some are more worthy of assistance than others; and their condition being known, sometimes we are able to assist them by our counsel or our interest much more effectually than by the charity we do or can bestow upon them.
"Before I pass to the next scene of Mr. Firmin's life, I am obliged to take notice, that by his first wife he had a son and a daughter; the former lived to man's estate, but died a batchelor about seven years before his father. The mother of these two children died while Mr. Firmin was (occasionally) at Cambridge, managing there some affairs of his trade: her death was accompanied with this remarkable circumstance. Mr. Firmin dreamed at Cambridge, that he saw his wife breathing her last; whereupon early in the morning he took horse for London; but on the way thither he met the messenger who was sent to give him notice of her decease.
"Another necessary remark belonging to this part of his life is, that though hitherto his wealth was no more than a competence, considering his liberal humour, and the multitude of his acquaintance; yet he was even then a most kind brother, uncle, and kinsman: of which the reader may take account in this following transcript, being the copy of a paper written by one of his nearest relations, and who hath lived with him above thirty years, and was a great part of that time his partner; being a person of great sobriety, diligence, integrity, and prudence. 'He had many relations, of several degrees, who stood in need of his care and help; to whom he was a very kind brother, uncle, and kinsman: besides, the great pains he took to promote them, as it lay in his way or power: his loss by some of them, for whom he advanced money, and his disbursements for others of them, amounted to very considerable sums; a good part of which was not long after his first beginning in the world; which was the greater prejudice to him, because then his own circumstances required money to carry on his trade with ease and advantage. Be sure, he had then more occasion for his money, than when he was arrived to a very considerable estate, which he did not till about seventeen years before his death. His estate at about seventeen years before his decease, was three times greater than when he died, though then considerable. He might easily have increased it as much as he diminished it, had he set his heart on riches; but, those he never valued in comparison with doing good: and I have often heard him say, he would not die worth more than five thousand pounds.'
It will have been perceived by those who know any thing of the history of Unitarianism, that Mr. Firmin belonged to that class of Christians; and we believe that he is esteemed by them one of the most conspicuous ornaments of their persuasion. This sect has always been viewed with jealousy by the believers in the more orthodox creeds; and even in these more liberal times, Unitarianism is a heresy to which toleration is extended with a more niggardly hand, than to any other of the more remarkable deviations from the received faith. In the days of Mr. Firmin, however, whether a more tolerant spirit really and practically prevailed, or whether the character of the man disarmed even theological wrath, we find him associating with the most celebrated characters of the Established Church, as a friend whom they esteemed and respected, and whose labours of charity and benevolence they delighted to join. There are many parts of the following passage which will not be read in the present day without lively feelings of surprise.
"During the imprisonment of Mr. Bidle at Scilly, Mr. Firmin was settled in Lombard Street, where, first Mr. Jacomb, then Dr. Outram, was minister with these two, being excellent preachers, and learned men, he maintained a respectful and kind friendship; which was answered as affectionately and cordially on their parts. Now, also, he grew into intimacy with Dr. Whichcot, Dr. Worthington, Dr. Wilkins, Mr. Tillotson: Dr. Wilkins was afterwards Bishop of Chester, Mr. Tillotson (for he was not yet made Doctor) Archbishop of Canterbury; but in their dignity, and to the very last, Mr. Firmin had the same place and degree in their esteem and friendship, that at any time formerly he had. While Dr. Tillotson preached the Tuesday's lecture at St. Lawrence, so much frequented by all the divines of the town, and by a great many persons of quality and distinction; when the Doctor was obliged to be at Canterbury, where he was dean, or was out of town, either for diversion or health; he generally left it to Mr. Firmin to provide preachers for his lecture, and Mr. Firmin never failed to supply his place with some very eminent preacher; so that there never was any complaint on the account of Dr. Tillotson's absence; and this Mr. Firmin could easily do, for now there was hardly a divine of note, whether in London, or in the country that frequented London, but Mr. Firmin was come acquainted with him. Which thing helped him much to serve the interests of many hopeful young preachers and scholars; candidates for lectures, schools, cures, or rectories; for whom he would solicit with as much affection and diligence, as other men do for their sons, or near relations.
"See here a trader, who knew no Latin or Greek, no logic or philosophy, compassed about by an incredible number of learned friends, who differed so widely in opinion from him, and were continually attacking him for his supposed errors; yet could they never remove him from the belief of the unity of God, nor did their importunities, or his resistance, break off, or so much as lessen the friendship between them;
certain arguments of the extraordinary wit and good address of our friend.
"Her late majesty Queen Mary of most happy memory, having heard much of Mr. Firmin's usefulness in all public designs, especially those of charity, and that he was heterodox in the articles of the Trinity, the divinity of our Saviour, and the satisfaction; she spoke to Archbishop Tillotson, and earnestly recommended it to him, to set Mr. Firmin right in those weighty and necessary points. The Archbishop answered, that he had often endeavoured it; but Mr. Firmin having so early and long imbibed the Socinian doctrine, was not now capable of a contrary impression. However, his Grace published his Sermons, formerly preached at St. Lawrence's, concerning those questions, and sent Mr. Firmin one of the first copies from the press. Mr. Firmin not convinced by his Grace's reasonings, or his arguments from Holy Scripture, caused a respectful answer, (although some have stretched one expression too far) entituled, Considerations on the Explications and Defences of the Doctrine of the Trinity, to be drawn up and published, himself giving to his Grace a copy of it. I must not omit to do the Archbishop right against those who pretend, that the Archbishop, notwithstanding those sermons, was in his heart a Unitarian. For Mr. Firmin himself told me, shortly after the Archbishop had published those sermons, that going to Lambeth, and the Archbishop happening to dine in private, he sent for Mr. Firmin to him, and said to this effect; that the calumnies of people had obliged him to publish his sermons, some time since preached at St. Lawrence's, against the te nets of Socinus; that he had sincerely preached, as he then thought, and continued still to think of those points; that, however, no body's false imputations should provoke him to give ill language to persons who dissented conscientiously, and for weighty reasons. That he knew well this was the case of the Socinians, for whose learning and dexterity he should always have a respect, as well as for their sincerity and examplariness. Afterwards, when Mr. Firmin gave him a copy of the Considerations; after he had read it, he only said, my Lord of Sarum shall humble your writers. Nor did he afterwards at any time express the least coldness on the account of the answer made to him, but used Mr. Firmin as formerly, enquiring, as he was wonted, how does my son Giles? so he called Mr. Firmin's son, by his second wife."
We may also quote this paragraph, as shewing the way in which the Unitarians esteemed themselves in relation to the Established Church. The author is speaking of the persecution of the Unitarians in Poland.
"A toleration or liberty of religion, once tapped, will soon run all out; for break it but in one instance, or party, and you have disannulled the whole reason of it, and all the pleas for it. The malice of any whomsoever against the English Unitarians, comes now too late; they less dissent from the church (if they are at all dissenters) than any other denomination of dissenters, therefore let those dissenters
look to it, who have promoted a bill, in name and pretext, against immorality and blasphemy, in truth and real design against the Unitarians. I said King Charles granted a brief for the Polonian Protestants, who had assisted in banishing the Polonian Unitarians; this brief Mr. Firman promoted as much as in him lay: I find he received of nine dissenting congregations, £110: 16s. 10d. And in another book I find the sum of £568: 16s. Oğd. collected on the same
We will now collect some anecdotes of the benevolence and the other remarkable traits of character in this excellent
"In the year 1665 was a great plague, of which there died in that one year, in London only, near 100,000 persons: most of the wealthier citizens removed themselves and children into the country; so did Mr. Firmin, but left a kinsman in his house, with order to relieve some poor weekly, and to give out stuff to employ them in making such commodities as they were wont. He foresaw that he should be hard put to it, to dispose of such an abundance of commodities as these poor people would work off, in so long time, for him only: but when he returned to London, a wealthy chapman (who was greatly pleased with his adventurous charity) bought an extraordinary quantity of those goods; so that he incurred no loss, at that time, by employing the poor.
"The year after the sickness came the fire, by which the city of London sustained the damage of £10,000,000 sterling. Mr. Firmin, with his neighbours, suffered the loss of his house in Lombard-street, and took (thereupon) a house and warehouse in Leadenhall-street. But now his fine spirit and generous way of trading were so well known, that in a few years he so improved his stock, that he rebuilt his house, and built also the whole court (excepting two or three houses) in which he lived. And having now provided sufficiently for himself and family, he began to consider the poor.
"His first service to them, or rather to God in their persons, was the building a warehouse by the water-side, for the laying up corn and coals, to be sold to the poor in scarce and dear times, at moderate and reasonable rates, at the rates they had been purchased, allowing only for loss (if any should happen) by damage of the goods while kept.
"He went on with his trade in Lombard-street till the year 1676, at which time I estimate he was worth about £9,000. If we consider, that this estate was raised from a beginning of about £100, in an ordinary way of trade, and in about twenty years' time, to what a mighty wealth would it have grown, in the hands of such a manager, in his remaining twenty or one and twenty years', had not his ingenit liberality, great mind, and zeal of serving the Divine Majesty, turned his endeavours a contrary way, to support and to raise others, while he lessened and impaired himself? For this year he erected his warehouse in Little Britain, for the employment of the poor in the linen manufac
ture. Let us hear what Archbishop Tillotson (then but Dean Tillotson) says of this design of Mr. Firmin, in his funeral sermon on Mr. Gouge, Anno 1681: He (Mr. Gouge) set the poor of St. Sepulchre's parish (where he was minister) to work, at his own charge. He bought flax and hemp for them to spin; when spun, he paid them for their work, and caused it to be wrought into cloth, which he sold as he could, himself bearing the whole loss. This was a very wise and wellchosen way of charity; and in the good effect of it a much greater charity, than if he had given to those very persons (freely and for nothing) so much as he made them to earn by their work; because, by this means he rescued them from two most dangerous temptations, idleness and poverty. This course so happily devised, and begun by Mr. Gouge, gave, it may be, the first hint to that useful and worthy citizen, Mr. Tho. Firmin, of a much larger design; which has been managed by him, some years in this city, with that vigour and good success, that many hundreds of poor children, and others who lived idle before, unprofitable both to themselves and the public, now maintain themselves, and are also some advantage to the community. By the assistance and charity of many excellent and well disposed persons, Mr. Firmin is enabled to bear the unavoidable loss and charge of so vast an undertaking; and by his own forward inclination to charity, and unwearied diligence and activity, is fitted to sustain, and go through the incredible pains of it. Sermon on Mr. Gouge, p. 62,
Many details are given with respect to the management of this great spinning or work house; but we can only afford space to make the following quotation respecting it.
Concerning this workhouse and the spinners, Mr. Firmin would often say that 'To pay the spinners, to relieve 'em with money begged for 'em, with coals, and shirting, was to him such a pleasure as magnificent buildings, pleasant walks, well cultivated orchards and gardens, the jollity of music and wine, or the charms of love or study, are to others.' I am persuaded, he said no more than the truth; for Mr. James, who was his apprentice, journeyman, and partner, upwards of thirty years, gives this account of his uncle's expence on this and other charities: Comparing and balancing his expences and losses with his gains, he might have left an estate behind him of at least £20,000, if he had not given and spent it in public and private charities, buildings, and other good works; whereas now his estate amounts to no more than a sixth part of that sum. But it was his settled resolution not to be richer: he told me but little before he died, that were he now worth £40,000 he would die but very little richer than he then was; 1 incline to think he would have died much poorer;' for such a sum would have engaged him in such vast designs for his province, the poor, that probably, he would have gone beyond the expence he intended at first for them. I have heard his physician blame him sometimes that he did not allow himself competent time for his dinner, but hastened to Garraway's Coffee House about his affairs.