Methodist bookseller, born on 31 August 1746 at Wellington, Som. He began life as an apprentice shoemaker in Taunton, where he first heard the Methodist preachers and was converted. His early years were characterized by poverty and hardship. Moving to Bristol, he heard John Wesley at the New Room and married a Methodist wife, Nancy, in 1770, who died in 1775. In 1773 he went to London almost penniless, but received a legacy of £10 from his grandfather that year. He opened his first bookshop in Featherstone Street, south of Old Street, in June 1774, then moved to Chiswell Street. With a £5 loan from the Foundery Lending Stock he became a highly successful London bookseller on the principle of 'small profits and quick returns', calling the impressive premises in Finsbury Square, to which he moved in 1789, the 'Temple of the Muses'. But in prosperity and under the influence of a 'Mr. Davies' and other infidels, he turned his back on Methodism, which he dismissed contemptuously in his Memoirs (1791; enlarged and reprinted many times until 1827).
A further change of heart resulted from his reading of Paley's Evidences of Christianity, Jenkins's Reasonableness and Certainty of the Christian Religion, Butler's Analogy of Religion and Whitehead's Life of Wesley. Following the republication of his Memoirs without his consent, he wrote his Confessions (1803), repudiating his infidelity. He regretted that his criticisms of Methodism had 'wounded the Church of England and attacked the whole of evangelical piety' and acknowledged the beneficial influence of the Methodists on him. He retired in 1798 to Thornbury, Glos., returning to his native Taunton in 1806, and finally settled at Budleigh Salterton because of his health. He built three Methodist churches, each named 'The Temple': at Thornbury (1803), at Taunton (1808) and at Budleigh Salterton (1812), where he died on 22 November 1815. The successor to his 1812 church at Budleigh Salterton, built In 1904, now has a blue plaque in his memory.
'After all my investigations, although I assent to the truths of those doctrines [i.e. such 'mysteries' as the divinity of Christr, the doctrine of the Trinity and the atonement made by Christ] I do not pretend to comprehed them. I only believe them, because I think they are taught in the Old Testament, and by Christ and his Apostles in the New Testament...
'I also think that I should not have endeavoured to render the whole of those people [the Methodists] ridiculous, as by doing so I have grieved many who are sincerely worshipping God, and, as they think, in the best way and manner it is possible to worsdhip him. I still think that some of their tenets are wrong, and that they are led to believe some absurdities; yet it must be acknowledged that they have been the means of reclaiming and civilizing many ignorant, hardened and notorious wretches, in whom it were hard to say whether the devil or brute most predominate: yet such as these have by them been induced ever after to live pious, sober industrious members of society.'
(James Lackington, Confessionspp.133, 147)