Born: March 22, 1745, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England.
Died: August 3, 1826, Handsworth, Warwickshire, England.
Buried: St. George in the Fields, Hockley, Birmingham, England.
Son of a Baptist minister, Proud served Baptist churches at Knipton, Fleet, and Norwich, England, before joining the Swedenborgian denomination in 1788.
He went on to pastor in Birmingham, Manchester, and London.
He published a volume of 300 hymns in 1790, and a small book of hymns for children in 1810. Many of his compositions are still used in Swedenborgian services.
Died, on the 3d of August last, at his house, at Handsworth, near Birmingham, the Rev. Joseph Proud, in the eighty-second year of his age. He was born on the 22d of March, 1745, at Beaconsfield, in Buckinghamshire.
His father was a tradesman of that place, who likewise acted as a preacher in the connection of General Baptists, in which capacity also the subject of this memoir began to exercise himself at a very early age.
At about the age of thirty, he was solemnly set apart to the office of the ministry, in that connection, by ordination
Of his history from this time till his reception of the doctrines of the New Church, we are not possessed of many particulars. They found him, however, in the year 1789, which time he was forty-four years of age, an extremely popular minister at Norwich; but at what time he went to reside in that city, or how long he remained at Wisbeach, where he had been previously stationed, we have not heard.
It is from this period, however, that the New Church is interested in him; and upon her progress in the world, his acceptance of her doctrines, had, undoubtedly, a very considerable influence.
The circumstances attending his embracing the truth were extraordinary in a high degree: we will relate then, as we have repeatedly heard them from his own mouth.
The Chapel of which he was minister at Norwich was built by the late Mr. Hunt, of whom we gave some account at p. 88 of our present volume. Mr. Hunt himself officiated in the ministry, in conjunction with Mr. Proud.
In the year above-mentioned, the late Mr. Ralph Mather, who had previously belonged to the Quaker-Denomination, and a gentleman still living, who had been one of Mr. Wesley’s preachers, having been brought to a knowledge of the truth in the doctrines of the New Church, and being inflamed with an ardent zeal to promote its diffusion, undertook, at their own expense, a missionary journey through England.
When they came to Norwich, Mr. Hunt gave them permission to preach in his chapel. On hearing then, Mr. Proud opposed their doctrines with the utmost vehemence, and made every effort in his power to prevent their success.
Mr. Hunt was more favorably inclined, and held with the strangers several conferences. This rendered Mr. Proud extremely uneasy; and one day, when he knew Mr. Hunt and the New Church Missionaries were together, he burst into the room, and exhorted Mr. H., in the most strenuous manner, tohave nothing to do with those men or their doctrines.
He used, we have heard him say, those very words. Immediately on his retiring (according to our recollection of the anecdote—though Mr. Madeley (see his Sermon) seems to have understood this occurrence to have been some time afterwards) he felt great agitation of mind: a doubt rushed upon him, that it might be possible he was opposing the truth: he retired into a room by himself, fell on his knees, and prayed devoutly that he might obtain divine direction, and be guided to a right decision.
He afterwards opened his Bible, when this passage met his eye:Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously; for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you(Hab. i. 5): the words struck him powerfully: he took them as a reproof of his incredulity and prejudiced opposition: he determined, therefore, to read the writings of the New Church with a candid mind: he did so and he was speedily convinced that the discoveries they contain are the work of the Lord indeed.
It is naturally to be supposed that this almost miraculous conversion of a popular preacher must have had a great effect on the rising fortunes of the New Church. Yet a prophet is seldom much honored in his own country; and Mr. Proud appears, at Norwich, to have met with little but opposition and ill usage.
When, however, a place of worship was built, and opened under flattering auspices, at Birmingham, and another, afterwards, in London, in each of which, successively, he was called to officiate, his talents found a sphere in which they could fully exert themselves: and it will easily be believed that talents for preaching such as he undeniably possessed, animated by the zeal, the hopes, the great expectations, which at that period filled all who had been brought to a knowledge of the truth, must have produced a powerful effect upon the public.
At Birmingham, whither he went in 1791—such was the acceptance with which he was heard, and such the multitudes who flocked to hear him—the prospect of success appeared at first unbounded: but it was overshadowed by extraneous circumstances: the Temple, as the building they had erected was, in our judgment, weakly and improperly denominated, fell, in two years, into the hands of strangers
A smaller one, however, was speedily erected, intended only as a temporary accommodation; in which Mr. Proud, after spending the interval, of only seven months, as joint minister with the late Mr. Cowherd at Manchester, resumed his duties, and attracted multitudes far beyond what the place would contain.
Indeed, such, while at Birmingham, was his celebrity, that to hearthe great New-Jerusalem preacherwas thought a matter of necessity by strangers visiting the token; and the society fully expected, had he remained, soon to be able to obtain as large and commodious a chapel as that which they had lost.
But in 1797 he was invited to the metropolis, where he might naturally think his opportunities of usefulness would be still greater; and there, also, be attracted great notice.
A year or two from the present time, all London was in motion to witness the talents of the celebrated Mr. Irving, at the Caledonian Chapel, in Cross Street, Hatton Garden that same chapel was the scene of Mr. Proud’s first ministrations in London.
And we can state, for we continually witnessed it, that the crowds which then pressed to obtain a hearing of Mr. Proud were not fewer than those which have more recently flocked after Mr. Irving.
Of the matter of his discourses, a judgment may be formed from those which are in print: as compositions, they were by no means faultless; but they presented the leading doctrines of the New Church in a very striking and convincing manner; and exposed the opposite errors with great strength and energy; while in pressing home moral considerations they were powerfully persuasive.
But his delivery, at the time of which we are speaking, notwithstanding some provincialism of accent, certainly did possess an extraordinary charm: his voice, look, action, and whole manner, were strongly calculated to rivet attention, and to send home what he said look to the understandings and the hearts of his hearers.
The consequence was, that many who came to hear him became affectionate and steady receivers of the doctrines of the New Church; though it must also be confessed, that the attachment of many others was more to the man than the doctrines, whence, after a while they fell away.
In 1799 Mr. Proud removed from the Temple, as it also was called, in Cross Street, to the still larger and more elegant chapel in York Street, St. James’s Square; where also he was attended by large congregations, especially in the evening; when, except in the middle of the summer, there seldom were fewer than 1000 persons in the chapel.
Here he continued fourteen years; and though during the latter part of the time the congregations were not so numerous as at first, they always were very considerable.
But at the expiration of that period, a greater rent being demanded in case of a renewal of the lease than it was thought possible: to pay, the Society removed to the small place in Lisle Street, Leicester Square; a measure which proved imprudent; for the consequent diminution of numbers and of income became more than commensurate with the diminution of the expenditure: in consequence of which, difficulties arising, Mr. Proud determined upon retiring once more to Birmingham an event which took place in the year 1814.
Great expectations were entertained by the Society in that town, of regaining, by his return, all their former prosperity; but these hopes were singularly disappointed. Mr. Proud was now in the seventieth year of his age, and, though not infirm, he had no longer the power of attraction which he once possessed.
Thus the Society at Birmingham, instead of increasing under his care, grew weaker: and Mr. Proud growing weaker also, and unable to preach above once a day, and frequently not at all, for some time before be entirely retired, it dwindled nearly to the point of extinction; till its present minister was providentially sent to its aid, by whose exertions it has again recovered a great share of its ancient prosperity, and is now steadily on the increase.
In the years 1816 and 1817, Mr. Proud exerted a portion of his remaining strength in visiting, under the auspices of the Manchester Missionary Society, a number of the Societies of the New Church; and was made an instrument of edification to multitude.
At Derby, in particular, his preaching was highly beneficial: and from only a very few individuals, meeting with children in a Sunday school, a considerable body of affectionate receivers of the doctrines arose, and grew into respectable Society.
Great must have been the trial, to a man long accustomed to popularity, like Mr. Proud, on experiencing the contrast between the little success which attended him on his last settling at Birmingham and the almost idolatry with which he was followed when he exercised his ministry there before: but the resignation with which he bore it does him the highest honor, and evinces that his main object has not his own glory, but that of his Heavenly Father.
Placed in extraordinary situations, it is not to be wondered at, if, like the Apostle of old, he passed through evil report and good report. Many, we know, expected to find him a model of more than human perfection and it is not surprising if, on being disappointed in their unreasonable expectations, some underrated his real merits. In his private character he was always irreproachable; and the sincerity of his religious feelings is evinced abundantly by the manner of his conversion to the truth, as related above.
He embraced it also, when he had no prospect of any results from it but distress and persecution: he knew loot but that by dissolving his connection with the Baptists he should lose his very means of subsistence; and such, for a time, threatened to be the result.
Though always of frugal habits, he had been able to make but little provision for his old age—£300. In the four per cents, and the small house in which he lived, forming the whole of his property. But for further statements respecting his personal character, see our extracts above from Mr. Madeley’s Sermon, and the Sermon itself.
Mr. Proud was the author of many publications, some of them of a very useful character. At the head of these is his Hymn-book, which, considered as the work of one man, and produced in a very short period (the Sermon says, only three months!) is a truly extraordinary performance.
His last work, The Aged Minister’s Last Legacy, is, in our judgment, the least valuable: it exhibits, in no small degree, the weakness of old age. Had he had more advantages from education, he had native talents which would have made him as eminent as a writer as he was as a speaker.
He was twice married, and had by his first wife thirteen children; most of whom died young, and the one or two that remained were not comforts to him. His second wife, to whom he had been united, we believe, about forty years, survives him, but in a state of great infirmity.
The immediate cause of his removal was an attack of cholera morbus, which carried him off after an illness of only between three and four days.
He was called, like the Apostle Paul, and almost as miraculously, from a state of opposition to the New Church to be one of her most eminent promoters. Many living have reason to bless his name, and will have in eternity. To eternity he is gone, where, only, he can have his reward.
Intellectual Repository, October 1826, p. 347