1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Thomas Fuller

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 1:411-12.



A conspicuous place in the prose literature of this age is due to DR. THOMAS FULLER (1608-1661), author of various works in practical divinity and history. Fuller was the son of a clergyman of the same name settled at Aldwinkle, in Northampton: he and Dryden thus were natives of the same place. A quick intellect, and uncommon powers of memory, made him a scholar almost in his boyhood; his studies at Queen's college, Cambridge, were attended with the highest triumphs of the university, and on entering life as a preacher in that city, he acquired the greatest popularity. He afterwards passed through a rapid succession of promotions, until he acquired the lectureship of the Savoy in London. Meanwhile, he published his History of the Holy War. On the breaking out of the civil war, Fuller attached himself to the king's party at Oxford, and he seems to have accompanied the army in active service for some years as chaplain to Lord Hopton. Even in these circumstances, his active mind busied itself in collecting materials for some of the works which he subsequently published. His company was at the same time much courted, on account of the extraordinary amount of intelligence which he had acquired, and a strain of lively humour which seems to have been quite irrepressible. The quaint and familiar nature of his mind disposed him to be less nice in the selection of materials, and also in their arrangement, than scholarly men generally are. He would sit patiently for hours listening to the prattle of old women, in order to obtain snatches of local history, traditionary anecdote, and proverbial wisdom. And these he has wrought up in his work entitled The Worthies of England, which is a strange melange of topography, biography, and popular antiquities. When the heat of the war was past, Fuller returned to London, and became lecturer at St Bride's church. He was now engaged in his Church History of Britain, which was given to the world in 1656, in one volume folio. Afterwards, he devoted himself to the preparation of his "Worthies," which he did not complete till 1660. Meanwhile, he had passed through some other situations in the church, the last of which was that of chaplain to Charles II. It was thought that he would have been made a bishop, if he had not been prematurely cut off by fever, a year after the Restoration. This extraordinary man possessed a tall and handsome person, and great conversational powers. He was of kind dispositions, and amiable in all the domestic relations of life. He was twice married; on the second occasion, to a sister of Viscount Baltinglass. As proofs of his wonderful memory, it is stated that he could repeat five hundred unconnected words after twice hearing them, and recite the whole of the signs in the principal thoroughfare of London after once passing through it and hack again. His only other works of the least importance are The Profane and Holy States, and A Pisgah View of Palestine.

The principal work, the "Worthies," is rather a collection of brief memoranda than a regular composition, so that it does not admit of extract for these pages. While a modern reader smiles at the vast quantity of gossip which it contains, he must also be sensible that it has preserved much curious information, which would have otherwise been lost. The eminent men whose lives he records, are arranged by Fuller according to their native counties, of which he mentions also the natural productions, manufactures, medicinal waters, herbs, wonders, buildings, local proverbs, sheriffs, and modern battles. The style of all Fuller's works is extremely quaint and jocular; and in the power of drawing humorous comparisons, he is little, if at all, inferior to Butler himself. Bishop Nicolson, speaking of his "Church History," accuses him of being fonder of a joke than of correctness, and says that he is not scrupulous in his inquiry into the foundation of any good story that comes in his way. "Even the most serious and authentic parts of it are so interlaced with pun and quibble, that it looks as if the man had designed to ridicule the annals of our church into fable and romance." These animadversions, however, are accounted too strong. Fuller's "Holy and Profane States" contains admirably drawn characters, which are held forth as examples to be respectively imitated and avoided; such as the Good Father, the Good Soldier, the Good Master, and so on. In this and the other productions of Fuller, there is a vast fund of sagacity and good sense, frequently expressed in language so pithy, that a large collection of admirable and striking maxims might easily be extracted from his pages.