Baker, Richard (1568-1645) (DNB00)

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BAKER, Sir RICHARD (1568–1645), religious and historical writer, was born about 1568. His father, John Baker, is stated to have been the elder son of Sir John Baker [q.v.], of Sisinghurst, near Cranbrook, Kent, who was chancellor of the exchequer and privy councillor in the reign of Henry VIII. His mother was Catherine, daughter of Reginald Scott, of Scots Hall, near Ashford, Kent. His father was disinherited, according to recent accounts, in favour of his younger brother, Richard, the head of the family in the historian's youth. This Richard Baker entertained Queen Elizabeth at the family seat of Sisinghurst in 1573, was soon afterwards knighted, acted as high sheriff of Kent in 1562 and 1582, and died on 27 May 1594. Care must be taken to distinguish between the uncle and nephew. Henry, a grandson of the elder Sir Richard Baker, and second cousin of the younger, was created a baronet in 1611.

Sir Richard Baker, the writer, became a commoner of Hart Hall (afterwards Hertford College), Oxford, in 1584, where he shared rooms with Sir Henry Wotton. He left Oxford without graduating, and studied law in London. His education was completed by a foreign tour, which extended as far as Poland (Baker's Chron. sub anno 1583). On 4 July 1594 the university conferred on him the degree of M.A. (Wood's Fasti (Bliss), i. 268). In 1603 he was knighted by James I at Theobalds, and was then residing at Highgate. In 1620 he was high sheriff of Oxfordshire, where he owned the manor of Middle Aston. Soon afterwards Baker married Margaret, daughter of Sir George Mainwaring, of Ightfield, Shropshire, and good-naturedly became surety for heavy debts owed by his wife's family. He thus fell a victim to a long series of pecuniary misfortunes. In 1625 he was reported to be a debtor to the crown, and his property in Oxfordshire was seized by the government (cf. Cal. State Papers (Dom. 1628-9), p. 383). On 17 Oct. 1635 Sir Francis Cottington desired of the exchequer authorities 'particulars' of the forfeited land and tenements, which were still 'in the king's hands.' Fuller writes that he had often heard Baker complain of the forfeiture of his estates. Utterly destitute, Sir Richard had, about 1635, to take refuge in the Fleet prison. There he died on 18 Feb. 1644-5, and was buried in the church of St.Bride's, Fleet Street. Several sons and daughters survived him. Wood reports that one of his daughters, all of whom were necessarily dowerless, married 'Bury, a seedsman at the Frying Pan in Newgate Street;' and another, 'one Smith, of Paternoster Row.' Smith is credited with having burned his father-in-law's autobiography, the manuscript of which had fallen into his hands.

'The storm of [Baker's] estate,' says Fuller, 'forced him to flye for shelter to his studies and devotions.' It was after Baker had taken up residence in the Fleet that he began his literary work. His earliest published work, written in a month, when he was sixty-eight years old, was entitled 'Cato Variegatus, or Catoes Morall Distichs. Translated and Paraphrased with variations of Expressing in English Verse, by Sr Richard Baker, Knight ,' London, 1636. It gives for each of Cato's Latin distichs five different English couplets of very mediocre quality, and is only interesting as the work of the old man's enforced leisure. In 1637 Baker's 'Meditations on the Lord's Prayer' was published. In 1638 he issued a translation of 'New Epistles by Moonsieur D'Balzac,' and in 1639 he began a series of pious meditations on the Psalms. The first book of the series bore the title of 'Meditations and Disquisitions upon the Seven Psalmes of David, commonly called the Penitentiall Psalmes, 1639.' It was dedicated to Mary, countess of Dorset, and to it were appended meditations 'upon the three last psalmes of David,' with a separate dedication to the Earl of Manchester. In 1640 there appeared a similar treatise 'upon seven consolatorie psalmes of David, namely, the 23, the 27, the 30, the 34, the 84, the 103, the 116,' with a dedication to Lord Craven, who is there thanked by the author for 'the remission of a great debt.' The last work in the series, 'Upon the First Psalme of David,' was also issued in 1640, with a dedication to Lord Coventry. (These meditations on the Psalms were collected and edited with an introduction by Dr. A. B. Grosart in 1882.) In 1641 Baker published a reasonable 'Apologie for Laymen's Writing in Divinity, with a short Meditation upon the Fall of Lucifer,' which was dedicated to his cousin, 'Sir John Baker, of Sissingherst, baronet, son of Sir Henrv Baker, first baronet.' In 1642 he issued 'Motives for Prayer upon the seauen dayes of ye weeke,' illustrated by seven curious plates treating of the creation of the world, and dedicated to the 'wife of Sir John Baker.' A translation of Malvezzi's 'Discourses upon Cornelius Tacitus' was executed by Baker in 1642 under the direction of a bookseller named Whittaker.

Baker's principal work was a 'Chronicle of the Kings of England from the time of the Romans' Government unto the Death of King James,' 1643. The author describes the book as having been 'collected with so great care and diligence, that if all other of our chronicles were lost, this only would be sufficient to inform posterity of all passages memorable, or worthy to be known.' The dedication was addressed to Charles, Prince of Wales, and Sir Henry Wotton contributed a commendatory epistle to the author. The 'Chronicle ' was translated into Dutch in 1649. It reached a second edition in 1653. In 1660 a third edition, edited by Edward Phillips, Milton's nephew, continued the history till 1658. Fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth editions, with continuations, appeared in 1665, 1670, 1674, 1679, and 1684 respectively. 'The ninth impression, freed from many errors and mistakes of the former edition,' appeared in 1696. An edition continued 'by an impartial hand' to the close of George I's reign was issued in 1730, and was reprinted in 1733. An abridgment of the 'Chronicle' was published in 1684. The account of the restoration given in the fourth and succeeding editions is attributed to Sir Thomas Clarges, Monck's brother-in-law. Phillipps and the later anonymous editors of the book omit many original documents, which are printed in the two original editions.

Baker's 'Chronicle' was long popular with country gentlemen. Addison, in the 'Spectator' (Nos. 269 and 329), represents Sir Roger de Coverley as frequently reading and quoting the 'Chronicle,' which always lay in his hall window. Fielding, in 'Joseph Andrews,' also refers to it as part of the furniture of Sir Thomas Booby's country house. But its reputation with the learned never stood very high. Thomas Blount published at Oxford in 1672 'Animadversions upon Sr Richard Baker's "Chronicle," and its continuation,' where eighty-two errors are noticed, but many of these are mere typographical mistakes. The serious errors imputed to the volume are enough, however, to prove that Baker was little of an historical scholar, and depended on very suspicious authorities. Daines Barrington, in his 'Observations on the Statutes,' writes that 'Baker is by no means so contemptible a writer as he is generally supposed to be; it is believed that the ridicule on this "Chronicle" arises from its being part of the furniture of Sir Roger de Coverley's hall' (3rd ed. p. 97, quoted in Granger); but the only claim to distinction that has been seriously urged in recent times in behalf of the 'Chronicle' is that it gives for the first time the correct date of the poet Gower's death.

Sir Richard Baker was also the author of 'Theatrum Redivivum, or the Theatre Vindicated,' a reply to Prynne's 'Histrio-Mastix,' published posthumously in 1662. There are interesting references here to the Elizabethan actors, Tarlton, Burbage, and Alleyn (p. 34), and much good sense in the general argument. A reprint of the book under the title of 'Theatrum Triumphans' is dated 1670.

A portrait of Sir Richard appears in the frontispiece to the early editions of the 'Chronicle.' Baker's library is said to have been purchased by Bishop Williams, the lord keeper, in behalf of Westminster Abbey (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. xi. 384).

Among the Sloane MSS. (No. 881) is an incomplete unpublished work by one Richard Baker, entitled, 'Honour, Discours'd of in the Theory of it and the Practice, with Directions for a prudent Conduct on occurrences of Incivility and Civility.' Dr. Grosart assigns this long-winded treatise to Sir Richard Baker, the chronicler, and the religious spirit in which it is written may for a moment support the theory. But the fact that the dedication, undoubtedly written by the author, is addressed to Henry [Compton] bishop of London, proves that the work was not completed until after 1675, the date of Compton's appointment to the see of London. And at that date Sir Richard Baker had been dead for more than thirty years.

[Wood's Athenae Oxon. (Bliss), iii. 148-51; Biog. Brit. (Kippis); Granger's Biog. Hist. (1775), ii. 321; Baker's Meditations on the Psalms, ed. Grosart, pp. i-xl; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. ii. 67, 244, 507, vi. 318 (where an account of a legend connected with the elder Sir Richard Baker, of no historical importance, is fully discussed), 2nd ser. ii. 509, iii. 76. 3rd ser. ii. 275, 475.]

S. L. L.