Adams, Thomas (fl.1612-1653) (DNB00)

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ADAMS, THOMAS (fl. 1612–1653), a divine who was pronounced by Robert Southey to be ‘the prose Shakespeare of puritan theologians . . . scarcely inferior to Fuller in wit or to Taylor in fancy,’ has left only the most meagre personal memorials behind him. His many title-pages and epistles dedicatory seem to be almost the sole sources of information now available. From these we ascertain that he was in 1612 ‘a preacher of the Gospel at Willington’ in Bedfordshire, between Bedford and St. Neots. Here he is found in 1614, and from this sequestered rural parish issued his ‘Heaven and Earth Reconciled,’ ‘The Devil's Banquet,’ and other of his quaintly titled sermons. On 21 Dec. 1614 he became vicar of Wingrave, Bucks, which he is said to have held until 1636. From 1618 to 1623 he held the preachership of St. Gregory's under St. Paul's Cathedral, and during the same period preached occasionally at St. Paul's Cross and Whitehall. He was likewise ‘observant chaplain’ to Sir Henrie Montague, lord chief justice of England. To Montague he dedicated, in 1618, ‘The Happiness of the Church; or a description of those Spiritual Prerogatives wherewith Christ hath endowed her considered in contemplations upon part of the twelfth chapter to the Hebrews; being the sum of divers sermons preached in St. Gregorie's, London, by Thomas Adams, preacher there.’ Throughout these and later years his epistles dedicatory and incidental references show that he lived on friendliest and most intimate terms (‘inward’ is his word) with the foremost men in state and church: William, Earl of Pembroke, Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Ellesmere, and others are addressed as personal friends rather than mere nobles or patrons. In 1629 he collected into a massive folio his numerous occasional sermons, which, in contrast with Henry Smith's small duodecimos, had been printed in small quartos. John Bunyan was then only two years old, but it seems certain that the Bedfordshire preacher's quartos and great folio came to be known and devoured by the ‘immortal dreamer.’ His ‘Sermons’ as thus collected he dedicated to the ‘parishioners of St. Bennet's, near to Paul's Wharf, London,’ and to Lords Pembroke and Manchester. In 1638 appeared a vast Commentary on the ‘Second Epistle of St. Peter’ (folio), dedicated to Sir Henrie Marten, Knt. In 1653, in a pathetic little epistle before ‘God's Anger and Man's Comfort’—two sermons first recovered by the present writer—he addresses ‘the most honourable and charitable benefactors, whom God hath honoured for His almoners, and sanctified to be His dispensers of the fruits of charity and mercy, in this my necessitous and decrepit old age.’ Newcourt and Walker enter him as ‘sequestered,’ but neither adduces authority or proof, and there is little probability in the statement. Adams's vehement and courageous denunciation of popery offended Laud, and there is to be sought the secret of his later neglect. He must have died before in the Restoration.

Thomas Adams stands in the forefront of our great English preachers. He is not so sustained as Jeremy Taylor, nor so continuously sparkling as Thomas Fuller, but he is surpassingly eloquent and brilliant, and much more thought-laden than either. He lays under contribution the spoils of an omnivorous learning and recondite reading; nor less noticeable is the vigour with which a ‘character’ is dashed off, in the style of Overbury or Earle, and a ‘portrait’ taken outmatching John Bunyan. It is impossible to overstate his convincing fervour and his resistless impressiveness of appeal, in spite of faults of sudden incongruity and lapses of taste. His works have been republished in Nichol's ‘Puritan Divines’ (3 vols, 8vo, 1862), edited by the Rev. Dr. Thomas Smith, and with a life by Professor Angus, and his ‘Commentary on the Second Epistle of St. Peter’ by Sherman.

[Works as above; Lipscomb's Buckinghamshire, iii. 536; Newcourt's Repertorium, i. 302; Walker's Sufferings of the Clergy, part ii. p. 164; Life by Dr. Angus, as above.]

A. B. G.