Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 01.djvu/20

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Abbot
Abbot
6

son; their eldest was Robert, bishop of Salisbury; their sixth and youngest son, Maurice, became an eminent London merchant (Fuller’s Abel Redivivus, p. 539). Singularly successful as were the careers of this ‘happy ternion of brothers,’ it was on George alone that the hopes of his family were from the first unmistakably set. Before his birth his mother had a curious dream, long remembered in his native town, prognosticating a great career for him, and news of the vision brought ‘the best inhabitants of Guildford ... to the christening of the child’ (Aubrey, Miscellanies, ed. 1857, p. 58). Abbot received his early education at the free grammar school at Guildford, and was ‘there bred up a scholar’ (ibid.). When sixteen years old he entered Balliol College, Oxford, in 1582 took the degree of B.A., and became a probationer fellow of his college on 29 Nov. 1583. In 1585 he proceeded M.A., and at the same time took holy orders. During eight succeeding years Abbot devoted himself to the study of theology, and to tutorial work in the university. In 1593 he received the degree of B.D., and four years later that of D.D.

Abbot rapidly won an academical reputation as a powerful preacher and efficient lecturer. His sermons at St. Mary’s drew large congregations. In 1594 he began a course of lectures on the book of Jonah, continued at intervals for many years ‘both winter and summer on Thursday mornings early,’ and in 1597, presumably when he took the degree of D.D., he read publicly in the theological school at Oxford six theses, which were published in the following year. The book was entitled ‘Quæstiones sex totidem prælectionibus in Schola Theologica Oxoniæ pro forma habitis discussæ et disceptatæ anno 1597, in quibus e sacra Scriptura et Patribus, quid statuendum sit definitur,’ and it was deemed worthy by Abraham Scultetus of republication at Frankfort in 1616. In this volume, as in all his published works, Abbot’s theological position was forcibly enunciated. He had inherited from his parents a strong affection for the reformed faith; Oxford, as he knew it in his undergraduate days, was a puritan stronghold, and its tutors were steeped in the theology of Calvin and St. Augustine. It was thus that Abbot became ‘stiffly principled’ in puritan doctrines, and his views, cast in a dangerously narrow mould, took from his habitually gloomy and morose temperament a fanatical colouring. A natural horror of disorder distinguished him from the extreme section of the puritans, and made the separatists detestable to him. In questions of church government he was content to stand by episcopacy, but he saw in bishops a superintending pastorate and no separate order of the ministry. He always forcibly advocated reasonable obedience to the crown and all duly constituted authority, but whenever the demands of loyalty conflicted with his sense of duty he did not hesitate to act in accordance with the latter.

Abbot’s vehement support of the puritan position soon attracted the admiration of Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, ‘a special maintainer of the true religion,’ who became chancellor of the university in 1591, and appointed Abbot his private chaplain soon afterwards. Five years later Oxford confirmed this mark of esteem. On 6 Sept. 1597, at the comparatively early age of thirty-five, Abbot was elected master of University College. According to Clarendon’s unfriendly judgment, University was at the time ‘one of the poorest colleges in Oxford,’ and the ‘learning sufficient for that province’ small (History, i. 125, ed. 1849). But of Abbot’s own learning there can be no genuine doubt, and the appointment gave him many opportunities of exhibiting its quality with effect. It was quickly followed by his nomination to the deanery of Winchester, in which he was installed on 6 March 1599–1600, and before the year was out Abbot was chosen vice-chancellor of the university. To Lord Buckhurst, who succeeded Lord Burghley as lord high treasurer in 1599, Abbot ascribed all these preferments, and he did not delay the expression of his gratitude. Writing to him on 10 Oct. 1600, Abbot spoke of his ‘desire to let men understand with how honorable a regard your lordship hath been pleased now for diverse yeares to looke upon me, and of your lordship’s owne disposition at every first occasion so to think on my preferment, as I had no reason in my conceit to looke for or in any way expect’ (Dedication to Jonah, 1600). In 1603 and in 1605 he was twice reappointed to the vice-chancellorship.

Abbot put all his energy into his rapidly increasing work at Oxford. Although a strict disciplinarian his pupils remembered him with affection in after life. With a ‘very towardly one’ of them. Sir Dudley Digges, he remained on terms of the closest intimacy until his death. ‘He calleth me father,’ wrote Abbot in 1627, ‘and I term his wife my daughter. His eldest son is my godson, and their children are in love accounted my grandchildren.’ Another of his pupils, Sir George Savile, who married a sister of Sir Thomas Wentworth, afterwards Earl of Strafford, left his son on his death to Abbot’s guardianship. In 1599 he wrote for his pupils a useful geographical treatise — ‘a briefe description of the whole world’ — which