It is proposed in this chapter to make Robert Nelson the central figure, and to group around him some of the most distinguished of his Juror and Nonjuror friends. A special charm lingers around the memory of Bishop Ken, but his name can scarcely be made prominent in any sketch which deals only with the eighteenth century. He lived indeed through its first decade, but his active life was over before it began. Nelson, on the other hand, though he survived him by only four years, took an active part throughout Queen Anne’s reign in every scheme of Church enterprise. He was a link, too, between those who accepted and those who declined the oaths. Even as a member of the Nonjuring communion he was intimately associated with many leading Churchmen of the Establishment; and when, to his great gratification, he felt that he could again with an easy conscience attend the services of his parish church, the ever-widening gap that had begun to open was in his case no hindrance to familiar intercourse with his old Nonjuring friends.
Greatly as Robert Nelson was respected and admired by his contemporaries, no complete record of his life was published until the present century. His friend Dr. Francis Lee, author of the ’Life of Kettlewell,’ had taken the work on hand, but was prevented by death from carrying it out. There are now, however, three or four biographies of him, especially the full and interesting memoir published in 1860 by Mr. Secretan. It is needless, therefore, to go over ground which has already been completely traversed; a few notes only of the chief dates and incidents of his life may be sufficient to introduce the subject.
Robert Nelson was born in 1656. In his early boyhood he was at St. Paul’s School, but the greater part of his education was received under the guidance of Mr. Bull, afterwards Bishop of St. Davids, by whose life and teaching he was profoundly influenced. The biography of his distinguished tutor occupied the labour of his last years, and was no doubt a grateful offering to the memory of a man to whom he owed many of his best impressions. About 1679 he went to London, where he became intimate with Tillotson, then