A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Hooker, Richard

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Hooker, Richard (1554?-1600). -- Theologian, b. near Exeter, of a family the original name of which was Vowell. His ability and gentleness as a schoolboy recommended him to the notice of Bishop Jewel, who sent him to Corpus Christi Coll., Oxf., where he graduated and became a Fellow in 1577. His proficiency in Hebrew led to his appointment in 1579 as Deputy Prof. Two years later, 1581, he took orders, and soon thereafter advantage was taken of his simplicity to entrap him into an unsuitable marriage with a woman named Joan Churchman, whose mother had nursed him in an illness. As might have been expected, the connection turned out unhappily, his wife being a scold, and, according to Anthony Wood, "a silly, clownish woman." His fate may, however, have been mitigated by the fact that his own temper was so sweet that he is said never to have been seen angry. Some doubt, moreover, has been cast on some of the reported details of his domestic life. In 1584 he received the living of Drayton-Beauchamp, in Bucks, and in the following year was appointed Master of the Temple. Here he had for a colleague as evening lecturer Walter Travers, a man of mark among the Puritans. Though both men were of the finest moral character, their views on ecclesiastical questions were widely different, and as neither was disposed to conceal his opinions, it came to be said that in the Temple "the pulpit spake pure Canterbury in the morning and Geneva in the afternoon." Things developed into an animated controversy, in which H. was considered to have triumphed, and the Archbishop (Whitgift) suspended Travers. The position, however, had become intolerable for H. who respected his opponent in spite of their differences, and he petitioned Whitgift that he might retire to the country and find time and quiet to complete his great work, the Ecclesiastical Polity, on which he was engaged. He was accordingly, in 1591, presented to the living of Boscombe near Amesbury, and made sub-Dean and a minor Prebendary of Salisbury. Here he finished The Four Books of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity, pub. in 1594. The following year he was presented by Queen Elizabeth to the living of Bishopsbourne, Kent. Here the fifth book was pub. (1597), and here he d. in 1600. The sixth and eighth books were not pub. until 1648, and the seventh only appeared in 1662. The Ecclesiastical Polity is one of the greatest achievements alike in English theology and English literature, page 199a masterpiece of reasoning and eloquence, in a style stately and sonorous, though often laborious and involved. Hallam considered that no English writer had better displayed the capacities of the language. The argument is directed against the Romanists on the one hand and the Puritans on the other, and the fundamental idea is "the unity and all embracing character of law as the manifestation of the divine order of the universe." The distinguishing note of H.'s character was what Fuller calls his "dove-like simplicity." Izaak Walton, his biographer, describes him as "an obscure, harmless man, in poor clothes, of a mean stature and stooping ... his body worn out, not with age, but study, and holy mortification, his face full of heat-pimples ... and tho' not purblind, yet short, or weak, sighted." In his calling as a parish priest he was faithful and diligent. In preaching "his voice was low ... gesture none at all, standing stone-still in the pulpit." The sixth book of the Ecclesiastical Polity has been considered of doubtful authority, and to have no claim to its place, and the seventh and eighth are believed to have been put together from rough notes. Some of his MSS. were destroyed after his death by his wife's relatives. The epithet "judicious" attached to his name first appears in the inscription on his monument at Bishopsbourne.

Works, ed. by Keble (1836); new ed. revised by Church, etc. (1888). It includes the Life by I. Walton.