1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Thomas Fuller

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 15:168-76.



THOMAS FULLER, an English historian and divine, was the son of the rev. Thomas Fuller, minister of St. Peter's, in Aldwincle, in Northamptonshire, and born there in 1608. The chief assistance he had in the rudiments of learning was from his father, under whom he made so extraordinary a progress, that he was sent at twelve years of age to Queen's-college, in Cambridge; Dr. Davenant, who was his mother's brother, being then master of it, and soon after bishop of Salisbury. He took his degrees in arts, that of A.B. in 1624-5, and that of A.M. in 1628, and would have been fellow of the college; but there being already a Northamptonshire man a fellow, he was prohibited by the statutes from being chosen, and although he might have obtained a dispensation, he preferred removing to Sidney-college, in the same university. He had not been long there, before he was chosen minister of St. Bennet's, in the town of Cambridge, and soon became a very popular preacher. In 1631, he obtained a fellowship in Sidney-college, and at the same time a prebend in the church of Salisbury. This year also he issued his first publication, a work of the poetical kind, now but little known, entitled "David's Hainous Sin, Heartie Repentances, and Heavie Punishment," in a thin 8vo.

He was soon after ordained priest, and presented to the rectory of Broad Windsor, in Dorsetshire; in 1635 he came again to Cambridge, and took his degree of B.D. after which, returning to Broad Windsor, he married about 1638, and had one son, but lost his wife about 1641. During his retirement at this rectory, he began to complete several works he had planned at Cambridge; but growing weary of a country parish, and uneasy at the unsettled state of public affairs, he removed to London; and distinguished himself so much in the pulpits there, that he was invited by the master and brotherhood of the Savoy to be their lecturer. In 1640, he published his "History of the Holy War;" it was printed at Cambridge, in folio, and was so favourably received, that a third edition appeared in 1647. On April 13, 1640, a parliament wag called, and then also a convocation began at Westminster, in Henry VII.'s chapel, having licence granted to make new canons for the better government of the church; of this convocation he was a member, and has amply detailed its proceedings in his "Church History." During the commencement of the rebellion, and when the king left London in 1641, to raise an army, Mr. Fuller continued at the Savoy, to the great satisfaction of his people, and the neighbouring nobility and gentry, labouring all the while in private and in public to serve the king. To this end, on the anniversary of his inauguration, March 27, 1642, he preached at Westminster-abbey, on this text, 2 Sam. xix. 30: "Yea, let him take all, so that my lord the king return in peace;" which being printed, gave great offence to those who were engaged in the opposition, and brought the preacher into no small danger. He soon found that he must expect to be silenced and ejected, as others had been;, yet desisted not, till he either was, or thought himself unsettled. This appears from what he says in the preface to his " Holy State," which was printed in folio that same year at Cambridge. This is a collection of characters, moral essays and lives, ancient, foreign, and domestic. The second edition of 1648, contains "Andronicus, or the unfortunate politician," originally printed by itself in 1646, 12mo.

In 1643, refusing to take an oath to the parliament, unless with such reserves as they would not admit, he was obliged in April of that year to convey himself to the king at Oxford, who received him gladly. As his majesty had heard of his extraordinary abilities in the pulpit, he was now desirous of knowing them personally; and accordingly Fuller preached before him at St. Mary's church. His fortune upon this occasion was very singular. He had before preached and published a sermon in London, upon "the new-moulding church-reformation," which caused him to be censured as too hot a royalist; and now, from his sermon at Oxford, he was thought to be too lukewarm; which can only be ascribed to his moderation, which he would sincerely have inculcated in each party, as the only means of reconciling both. During his stay here, he resided in Lincoln college, but was not long after sequestered, and lost all his books and manuscripts. This loss, the heaviest he could sustain, was made up to him partly by Henry lord Beauchamp, and partly by Lionel Cranfield, earl of Middlesex, who gave him the remains of his father's library. That, however, he might not lie under the suspicion of want of zeal or courage in the royal cause, he determined to join the army; and therefore, being well recommended to sir Ralph Hopton, in 1643, he was admitted by him in quality of chaplain. For this employment he was quite at liberty, being deprived of all other preferment. And now, attending the army from place to place, he constantly exercised his duty as chaplain; yet found proper intervals for his beloved studies, which he employed chiefly in making historical collections, and especially in gathering materials for his "Worthies of England," which he did, not only by an extensive correspondence, but by personal inquiries in every place which the army had occasion to pass through.

After the battle at Cheriton-Down, March 29, 1644, lord Hopton drew on his army to Basing-house, and Fuller, being left there by him, animated the garrison to so vigorous a defence of that place, that sir William Waller was obliged to raise the siege with considerable loss. But the war hastening to an end, and part of the king's army being driven into Cornwall; under lord Hopton, Fuller, with the leave of that nobleman, took refuge at Exeter, where be resumed his studies, and preached constantly to the citizens. During his residence here he was appointed chaplain to the infant princess Henrietta Maria, who was born at Exeter in June 1643; and the king soon after gave him a patent for his presentation to the living of Dorchester in Dorsetshire. He continued his attendance on the princess till the surrender of Exeter to the parliament, in April 1646; but did not accept the living, because he determined to remove to London at the expiration of the war. He relates, in his "Worthies," an extraordinary circumstance which happened during the siege of Exeter; "When the city of Exeter, he says, was besieged by the parliament forces, so that only the south side thereof towards the sea was open to it, incredible numbers of larks were found in that open quarter, for multitude like quail, in the wilderness; though, blessed be God, unlike them in the cause and effect; as not desired with man's destruction, nor sent with God's anger, as appeared by their safe digestion into wholesome nourishment. Hereof I was an eye and mouth-witness. I will save my credit in not conjecturing any number; knowing that herein, though I should stoop beneath the truth, I should mount above belief. They were as fat as plentiful; so that being sold for two-pence a dozen and under, the poor who could have no cheaper, and the rich no better meat, used to make pottage of them, boiling them down therein. Several causes were assigned hereof, &c. but the cause of causes was the Divine Providence; thereby providing a feast for many poor people, who otherwise had been pinched for provision." While here, as every where else, he was much courted on account of his instructive and pleasant conversation, by persons of high rank, some of whom made him very liberal offers; but whether from a love of study, or a spirit of independence, he was always reluctant in accepting any offers that might seem to confine him to any one family, or patron. It was at Exeter, where he is said to have written his "Good Thoughts in Bad Times," and where the book was published in 1645, as what he calls "the first fruits of Exeter press." At length the garrison being forced to surrender, he came to London, and met but a cold reception among his former parishioners, and found his lecturer's place filled by another. However, it was not long before he was chosen lecturer at St. Clement's, near Lombard-street; and shortly after removed to St. Bride's, in Fleet-street. In 1647 he published, in 4to, "A Sermon of Assurance, fourteen years agoe preached at Cambridge, since in other places; now, by the importunity of his friends, exposed to public view." He dedicated it to sir John Danvers, who had been a royalist, was then an Oliverian, and next year one of the king's judges; and in the dedication he says, that "it had been the pleasure of the present authority to make him mute; forbidding him till further order the exercise of his public preaching." Notwithstanding his being thus silenced, he was, about 1648, presented to the rectory of Waltham, in Essex, by the earl of Carlisle, whose chaplain he was just before made. He spent that and the following year betwixt London and Waltham, employing some engravers to adorn his copious prospect or view of the holy Land, as from mount Pisgah; therefore called his "Pisgah-sight of Palestine and the confines thereof, with the history of the Old and New Testament acted thereon," which he published in 1650. It is an handsome folio, embellished with a frontispiece and many other copper-plates, and divided into five books. As for his "Worthies of England," on which he had been labouring so long, the death of the king for a time disheartened him from the continuance of that work: "For what shall I write," says he, "of the Worthies of England, when this horrid act will bring such an infamy upon the whole nation as will ever cloud and darken all its former, and suppress its future rising glories?" He was, therefore, busy till the year last mentioned, in preparing that book and others; and the next year he rather employed himself in publishing some particular lives of religious reformers, martyrs, confessors, bishops, doctors, and other learned divines, foreign and domestic, than in augmenting his said book of "English Worthies" in general. To this collection, which was executed by several hands, as he tells us in the preface, he gave the title of "Abel Redivivus," and published it in 4to, 1651. In the two or three following years he printed several sermons and tracts upon religious subjects. About 1654 he married a sister of the viscount Baltinglasse; and the next year she brought him son, who, as well as the other before-mentioned, survived his father. In 1655 notwithstanding Cromwell's prohibition of all persons from preaching, or teaching school, who had been adherents to the late king, he continued preaching, and exerting his charitable disposition towards those ministers who were ejected by the usurping powers, and not only relieved such from what he could spare out of his own slender estate, but procured many contributions for them from his auditories. Nor was his charity confined to the clergy; and among the laity whom he befriended, there is an instance upon record of a captain of the army who was quite destitute, and whom he entirely maintained until he died. In 1656 he published in folio, "The Church History of Britain, from the birth of Jesus Christ to the year 1648;" to which are subjoined, "The History of the University of Cambridge since the conquest," and "The History of Waltham Abbey in Essex, founded by king Harold." His Church History was animadverted upon by Dr. Heylin in his "Examen Historicum;" and this drew from our author a reply: after which they had no further controversy, but were very well reconciled. About this time he was invited, according to his biographer, to another living in Essex, in which he continued his ministerial labours until his settlement at London. George, lord Berkeley, one of his noble patrons, having in 1658 made him his chaplain, he took leave of Essex, and was presented by his lordship to the rectory of Cranford in Middlesex. It is said also that lord Berkeley took him over to the Hague, and introduced him to Charles II. It is certain, however, that a short time before the restoration, Fuller was re-admitted to his lecture in the Savoy, and on that event restored to his prebend of Salisbury. He was chosen chaplain extraordinary to the king; created doctor of divinity at Cambridge by a mandamus, dated August 2, 1660; and, had he lived a twelvemonth longer, would probably have been raised to a bishopric. But upon his return from Salisbury in August 1661 he was attacked by a fever, of which he died the 15th of that month. His funeral was attended by at least two hundred of his brethren; and a sermon was preached by Dr. Hardy, dean of Rochester, in which a great and noble character was given of him. He was buried in his church at Cranford, on the north wall of the chancel of which is his monument, with the following inscription:

"Hic jacet Thomas Fuller, e collegio Sydneiano in academia Cantabrigiense, SS. T. D. hujus ecclesiae rector; ingenii acumine, memoriae felicitate, morum probitate, omnigena doctrina (historia praesertim) uti varia ejus summa aequanimitate composita testantur, celeberrimus. Qui dum viros Angliae illustres opere posthumo immortaliti consecrare meditatus est, ipse immortalitem est consecutus, Aug. 15, 1661."

In 1662 was published in folio, with an engraving of him prefixed, his "History of the Worthies of England." This work, part of which was printed before the author died, seems not so finished as it would probably have been if he had lived to see it completely published: yet it certainly did not deserve the heavy censures of Nicolson. Whatever errors may be found in it, as errors undoubtedly may be found in all works of that nature, the characters or memorials there assembled of so many great men, will always make it a book necessary to be consulted.

Besides the works already mentioned in the course of this memoir, Fuller was the author of several others of a smaller nature; as, 1. "Good Thoughts in bad times" 2. "Good Thoughts in worse times." These two pieces printed separately, the former in 1645, the latter in 1647, were published together in 1652, and have very recently been reprinted by the rev. Mr. Hinton, of Oxford. He afterwards published, in 1660, 3. "Mixt Contemplations in better times." 4. "The Triple Reconciler; stating three controversies, viz. whether ministers have an exclusive power of barring communicants from the sacrament; whether any person unordained may lawfully preach; and whether the Lord's Prayer ought not to be used by all Christians, 1654," 8vo. 5. "The speech of birds, also of flowers, partly moral, partly mystical, 1660," 8vo. A work entitled "T. Fuller's Triana; or three-fold Romanza of Mariana, Paduana, and Sabina," 1662, 12mo, is attributed to him in some catalogues. He published also a great many sermons, separately and in volumes.

Dr. Fuller was in his person tall and well-made, but no way inclining to corpulency; his complexion was florid; and his hair of a light colour and curling. He was a kind husband to both his wives, a tender father to both his children, a good friend and neighbour, and a well-behaved civilized person in every respect. He was a most agreeable companion, having a great deal of wit, which he could not suppress in his most serious compositions, but it suited the age he lived in, and however introduced, was always made subservient to some good purpose. All his facetiae, however, must not be referred to the age of James I. and Charles. Fuller has left enough to convince us that he would have been admitted a legitimate wit in any age. He had all the rich imagery of bishop Hall, but with more familiarity and less elegance.

Of the powers of his memory, such wonders are related as are not quite credible. He could repeat five hundred strange words after twice hearing, and could make use of a sermon verbatim, if he once heard it. He undertook, in passing from Temple-bar to the farthest part of Cheapside, to tell at his return every sign as it stood in order on both sides of the way, repeating them either backwards or forwards: and he did it exactly. His manner of writing is also reported to have been strange. He wrote, it is said, near the margin the first words of every line down to the foot of the paper; then, by beginning at the head again, would so perfectly fill up every one of these lines, and without spaces, interlineations, or contractions, would so connect the ends and beginnings, that the sense would appear as complete, as if he had written it in a continued series after the ordinary manner. This, however, he might sometimes do to amuse his friends; it never could have been his practice.

It was sufficiently known how steady he was in the interests of the church of England, against the innovations of the presbyterians and independents; but his zeal against these was mixed with greater compassion than it was towards the papists: and this raised Him up many adversaries, who charged him with puritanism. He used to call the controversies concerning episcopacy, and the newfangled arguments against the church of England, "insects of a day;" and carefully avoided polemical disputes, being altogether of sir Henry Wotton's opinion, "disputaudi pruritus, ecclesiae scabies." The fact was, that he loved pious and good men of all denominations, and it is this candour which has given a value to his works superior to those of his opponents. For the many errors which occur in his histories, it is surely easy to find an apology in this single circumstance, that the whole of them were compiled and published within about twenty years, during which he was obliged to remove from place to place in quest of literary leisure, and freedom from the cruel seventies of the times. His "Church History" is the most incorrect of all his works, and Strype has pointed out a great many errors in the transcription of historical documents, to which perhaps Fuller had not the easiest access. His "Worthes" was a posthumous publication, by his Son, and although less perfect than he could have made it, had his life been spared a few years longer, with the opportunities which the return of peace might have afforded, yet it contains many interesting memorials; and he was the second (see SAMUEL CLARKE) who published what may be called English biography. This work has for many years been rising in price and estimation, and the public has lately been gratified by a new edition, in 2 vols. 4to, edited by Mr. Nichols, with many improvements and additions, from the communications of his literary friends.