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Henry Gauntlett, the lamented author of these volumes, was born at Market Lavington, Wilts, on the 15th of March, 1762. He was the eldest of eleven children. His father was descended from an ancient and respectable family in the county, and maintained through life an irreproachable character for integrity and moral worth. Although the doctrines of Christianity were, at this period, but imperfectly understood by the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood of Lavington, his mother was anxious to train up her children to the best of her ability, and to the extent of her knowledge, in morality and religion. She carefully instructed them in the holy scriptures, and the catechism of the church, and enforced a regular attention to prayer. Naturally of a reserved disposition, she seldom made her own feelings or sentiments the subject of conversation. For a period, her view of religious truth might be described as neither "clear nor dark, but at evening time it" was "light." She lived to hail the dawn and progress of spiritual illumination in the minds of most of her children, and died in the faith of the Son of God; looking for the Vol. i. a
glory that shall be revealed, and exemplifying the truth of the assurance, that "if any man will do the will of God, he shall know of the doctrine."
Beyond the few anecdotes of his childhood and youth, occasionally related by my father to his family, little is known of the early part of his life. When he was about six years of age, the small-pox was prevalent in the neighbourhood of Lavington, where it spread with fatal virulence; and he narrowly escaped falling a victim to the practice of inoculation, then so generally adopted. Shortly after his recovery, he met with a severe affliction in the death of a favourite sister about three years of age. It was acutely felt by him; and he recurred to this first opening of the fount of sorrow, but a few days before his own lamented departure. The relation of a similar event in the life of Mr. Crabbe, reminded him of his own grief; and he entered with much feeling into the lines :—
"But it was misery stung me in the day
His parents placed him, at an early age, at the grammar school at West Lavington, then under the superintendence of the Rev. Mr. Marks, who rewarded the diligence of his pupil by his efforts to promote his advancement in learning. Several of his schoolfellows were subsequently distinguished for eminent talent; among whom may be mentioned General Le Marchant and Sir Thomas Lawrence. Of the latter my father would occasionally relate some anecdotes, and speak of the genius displayed in the life-like sketches with which he covered the blank leaves of his school books.
The principal amusement of his childhood (and it was a predilection my father retained to the close of life) was the natural history of birds. With their haunts, instincts, and habits, he was well acquainted; to which was added, an acute perception of the characteristic melodies of their various tribes. His friends have often heard him relate an incident, which, to some readers, may appear almost incredible. Among his captive birds was a favourite goldfinch, whose wild melody he considered the most perfect he had ever heard: being, however, in company with some canaries, it introduced into its song a foreign note. Its owner then gave it to a lady of his acquaintance, who had often expressed a wish for it. Shortly afterwards, when rambling in the wood which was his favourite resort, he heard the same goldfinch singing in a tree near him. My father did not for a moment doubt the identity of the bird, though he wondered very much how it could be there. On his return to the town, he called at the lady's. "So, ma'am, you have lost your goldfinch," he said. To this the lady assented; and asked, in some surprise, how he could have known the circumstance, as the bird had only made its escape that morning. "O," replied he, "I heard it singing in the wood as I came along." This little anecdote may serve to illustrate the delicacy of his musical ear, for which he was remarkable. With little assistance, he became conversant with the theory of music, and proceeded some way in composing a catechism upon its principles.
After my father left school, he spent a large portion of his time for several years at ** Hall, the seat of Colonel **, situated at a short distance from Lavington. Here he shared in the studies and amusements of this gentleman's sons; with whom a mutually strong attachment and friendship was formed; and it continued to the termination of life, notwithstanding the dissimilarity of their subsequent career. This family, hospitable, generous, and benevolent, in a high degree, was not at this time governed by the principles of pure and undefined religion; and the young people were suffered to occupy in amusements, too much of the time bestowed as a precious talent to be faithfully improved, until the great Master shall require an account of its disposal. Such at least was my father's opinion, when he used to say that, from the age of fifteen to five-and-twenty, he was a slave to the pleasures and sports of the field.
During his education and early youth, he had no particular profession in view; but when arrived at the age of twenty-one, he began in earnest to contemplate his prospects for the future. His friend, Colonel **'s lady, proposed his entering the church; as in her view most consonant with his disposition, and suitable to his talents, of which she had formed a good opinion. Upon this occasion he consulted the Rev. Dr. (afterwards Sir James) Stonhouse,* with whom he had some acquaintance. This acquaintance ripened into a friendship, which was characterized by a regard almost parental on one side, and a truly grateful and affectionate esteem on the other. Dr. Stonhouse encouraged his young friend in his design of entering the ministry, and recommended him to apply to the Bishop of Salisbury, for direction how to proceed in his purpose. Some time after, when recurring to this period, my father writes—" He (Sir James Stonhouse) was one of the links in the chain of providence, by which I was led to be a minister of
• The Rev. Sir James Stonhouse, Bart., graduated in medicine, at St. John's College, Oxford, and practised for some time a'i a physician at Northampton; where he became acquainted with Mr. Hervey, of Weston Favel, Dr. Doddridge, and some other eminent characters. He afterwards took holy orders; and was presented to the rectory of Great and Little Cheverel, in the county of Wilts. He was likewise the Lecturer of All-Saints, Bristol, where he resided part of the year. This venerable and excellent man, died Dec. 8, 1795, in the eightieth year of his age; and was buried in the Wells' Chapel, where is an elegant monument to his memory, with the following epitaph written by his friend H annah More.
"Here rests awhile in happier climes to shiup,
"You, whose awakened hearts his labours blessed,
"One spirit rescued from eternal woe,