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ROBERT ROBINSON was born at Swaffham, county of Norfolk, on the eighth of October, 1735. His father was a native of Scotland, and an exciseman, of whom little needs be said, except that his humble sphere in life received no dignity from his understanding, and no brightness from his virtues. Mary Wilkin, the mother of Robert Robertson, was descended from a respectable family, and to the advantages of a good education she added the charms of a beautiful person, an amiable temper, and gentleness of manners. She was the daughter of a second marriage, and, as unnatural as it may seem, the affections of her father were centered in the children of his wife by a former husband. Mary was doomed to experience from him less of the tenderness of a parent, than of the austerity and unfeelingness of a severe master. He delighted to thwart her purposes; and on several occasions, through mere caprice, he rejected the overtures of worthy and respectable persons, who solicited his daughter's hand.
Disheartened by the severity of her father's treatment, and impatient to escape from it, she imprudently resolved on marrying without his consent. This step was a prelude to untried evils. She united herself to a man in all respects unworthy of her, possessing neither the qualifications for making her happy, nor the disposition to soften and conciliate her father.
They had three children, of whom Robert was the youngest. The elder son was apprenticed to a painter, and the daughter to a mantuamaker. Robert was put to school when six years old, and soon drew the attention of his teacher, as exhibiting more than usual promise. In the mean time, his father removed from Swaffham, and settled at Scaring. He soon after died, and left the destitute mother to provide for herself, and three children. At Scaring was a grammar school, where Lord Thurlow, and some other distinguished persons, received the rudiments of their education. Desirous of encouraging her son's predilection for learning, Mrs. Robinson made an effort to maintain him at this school, but her resources proved inadequate to the expense. So favourable an impression had he made, bowever, on his teacher, the Rev. Joseph Brett, and so much did this gentleman respect the motives and virtues of the mother, that he kindly offered to instruct his pupil without compensation.
On these terms he continued at school till he was fourteen years old, studied the French and Latin, and made rapid proficiency in most of the branches commonly pursued at such institutions. The time had now come when it was necessary to decide on his future destination. So many discouragements were in the way of his being a scholar, and so many difficulties to be encountered, that his mother resigned this hope, which she had suffered to rise and brighten for a time, and was only concerned to place him beyond the reach of want by providing for him an honest calling. His benevolent instructer, Mr. Brett, made interest to procure a situation suited to his capacity and inclination, but without success. He was finally bound an apprentice to a hairdresser in London.
To this new employment he at first devoted himself with commendable industry, received the approbation of his master, and was able to boast of a due proficiency in the mysteries of his trade.. But his thoughts were not to be chained, nor could nature be forced. His mind was too active to rest in vacuity, and his love of books too strong to be conquered by the routine of a barber's
shop. It was his custom to rise at four in the morning, and from that hour till called to his master's service, he was busy in reading such books as he could collect from the cheap stalls or borrow from his friends.
His thoughts early took a religious bias, and after going to London a constant attendance on public worship was among his greatest pleasures. Gill, Guise, Romaine, and Whitefield were his favourite preachers. His diary at this time indicates no small degree of reli gious enthusiasm, and proves him to have gradually attached himself to the Methodists. Whitefield, in short, was his adviser and friend, to whom he applied in all cases of spiritual difficulty, and with whom he familiar ly corresponded. On one occasion Whitefield read to his congregation at the Tabernacle two of Robinson's letters, while the writer was present. Encouraged by the favourable opinion of so distinguished a man, and moved by the advice of his friends, it is not a matter of surprise that he should begin to think himself destined to walk in a broader sphere, than the one on which he had entered.
So great, indeed, were the esteem and respect which he gained by his genius and good character, that his master was not reluctant to comply with the general voice, and give up his indentures. At the age of nineteen he commenced preaching among the Methodists. His youth, his amiable manners, his vivacity and native eloquence drew around him many hearers, and gave a charm to his preaching, which could not fail to please. His voice was clear and melodious, his elocution easy and distinct, his language flowing, and all his external accomplishments engaging. These advantages, heightened by a liberal degree of youthful enthusiasm, crowned his first efforts with success, and animated his future exertions. He spared no pains to cultivate the powers which nature had bestowed on him, and frequently declaimed by the hour in private, that he might acquirethe habit of a ready delivery, and a free use of language. In this practice the foundation was laid of his subsequent eminence as a public speaker. He thought no time misspent, which prepared him for winning the
ear and gaining the hearts of his audience, and thus more effectually discharging the duties of his sacred office.
Among the Methodists Mr. Robinson preached chiefly in Norwich, and different parts of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. While thus employed he resisted a temptation, which deserves to be recorded as a proof of his early integrity and strength of principle. He had been educated in the established church, and had not joined himself to the dissenters without examining the causes and nature of their dissent. When his talents and virtues had gained him a name in the world, some of his relations, who seem to have forgotten him before, made an attempt to bring him back to the episcopal church. The following incident is mentioned by Dr. Rees, the learned editor of the Cyclopædia, in his Sermon preached on the occasion of Mr. Robinson's death. "A rich relation, who had promised to provide liberally for him, and who had bequeathed him a considerable sum in his will, threatened to deprive him of every advantage which he had been encouraged to expect, unless he quitted his connexion with the dissenters; but the rights of conscience, and the approbation of God, were superior, in his regard, to every worldly consideration; he preserved his integrity, steadily maintained his principles, and persevered in his connexion with the dissenters, but forfeited the favour of his relation, and every advantage, which, living or dying, he had in his power to bestow."* This conduct was consistent with his character through life. A high-minded independence, conscientious regard for truth and liberty, and unyielding adherence to his religious impressions, were among the shining virtues, which never forsook him.
The causes leading to his separation from the methodists are not distinctly known, but he had not preached with them more than two years, when, at the head of a few persons associated for the purpose, he formed an independent society in Norwich. At this time he was a Calvinist, and constructed the confession of faith
* Dr. Rees's Sermon on the Death of Mr. Robert Robinson,