Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bolton, Robert (1572-1631)
BOLTON, ROBERT (1572–1631), puritan, was the sixth son of Adam Bolton, of Brookhouse, Blackburn, Lancashire. The history of his family has been carefully traced in the 'Genealogical and Biographical Account of the Family of Bolton in England and America. By Robert Bolton, A.M. New York, 1868.' The most trustworthy source of information as to Robert Bolton is the 'Life and Death of Mr. Bolton,' by his friend E[dward] B[agshawe] [q. v.], which is prefixed to the successive editions of Bolton's 'Four Last Things.'
Bolton was born 'on Whitsunday, anno Dom. 1572.' Fuller says of his family at the time: 'Though Mr. Bolton's parents were not overflowing with wealth, they had a competent estate, as I am informed by credible intelligence, wherein their family had comfortably continued a long time in good repute' (Worthies, ed. Nuttall, ii. 207). Adam Bolton was one of the original governors of Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School (1567) at Blackburn, and there his son was educated, under one Yates, until his twentieth year. Young Bolton 'plied his bookes so well that in short time he became the best scholler in the schoole.'
In 1592 he proceeded to Oxford, being entered of Lincoln College, 'under the tuition of Mr. Randall, a man of no great note then, but who afterwards became a learned divine and godly preacher of London' [q. v.] 'In that colledge,' continues Bagshawe, 'he fell close to the studies of logicke and philosophie, and by reason of that groundwork of learning he got at schoole, and maturity of yeares, he quickly got the start of those of his owne time, and grew into fame in that house.' 'In the middest of these his studies [in 1593] his father died, and then his meanes failed; for all his father's lands fell to his elder brother.' No longer able to buy books, Bolton borrowed them from Randall and the libraries, and crammed endless notebooks with carefully made and classified extracts on the whole range of his studies. Greek was his favourite study, and, according to Wood, he 'was so expert that he could write it and dispute in it with as much ease as in English or Latin.' His notebooks witness that his Greek and Hebrew caligraphy was as exquisite as that of John Davies of Hereford.
He removed from Lincoln College to Brasenose, 'with a view to a fellowship therein,' as being of Lancashire. He proceeded B.A. on 2 Dec. 1596 (Wood, Fasti, i. 272). He found in his poverty a warm patron and helper in a fellow Grecian, Dr. Richard Brett, 'a noted giver' and eminent scholar of Lincoln College. In 1602 he became fellow of Brasenose, and passed M.A. on 30 July of the same year (Wood Fasti, i. 296). On James I's visit to the university in 1605, he was appointed to hold a disputation in the royal presence on natural philosophy, and his majesty was loud and frank in laudation of Bolton. He was also appointed lecturer in logic and moral and natural philosophy.
Up to this date Bolton had lived profligately, and about this time a schoolfellow at Blackburn, a zealous Roman catholic, and so distinguished for his eloquence as to have won the classic name of 'golden-mouthed Anderton,' persuaded him to accompany him to one of the papal seminaries in Flanders; but the plan fell through. Immediately afterwards he made the acquaintance of Thomas Peacock, B.D.—whose funeral sermon he afterwards preached, and whose 'Last Visitation, Conflict and Death,' as his 'familiar friend and spiritual father,' he prepared for the press and published in 1660. Wood (Fasti) says doubtfully he was his tutor, but it undoubtedly was Peacock who brought about his conversion. He proceeded B.D. in 1609 (Wood, Fasti, i. 334), haying resolved to become a clergyman in the church of England. In 1610, being in his thirty-eighth year, he was presented by Sir Augustine Nicolls to the rectory of Broughton, Northamptonshire. 'For the better settling of himself in house-keeping upon his parsonage,' says Bagshawe, ' he resolved upon marriage, and took to wife Mrs. Anne Boyse, a gentlewoman of an ancient house and worshipful family in Kent, to whose care he committed the ordering of his outward estate, hee himselfe onely minding the studies and weighty affaires of his heavenly calling.' Their issue were five children, one son and four daughters. This son was the afterwards celebrated Dr. Samuel Bolton, prebendary of Westminster and chaplain in ordinary to Charles II, a man 'of extraordinary ability and great integrity,' who died 11 Feb. 1668 (Chester, West. Register).
When the Bishop of London (Dr. King) learned that Bolton had been presented to Broughton, he thanked the patron, but added, 'Sir, you have deprived the university of its brightest ornament.' He was 'a comely and grave person,' says Bagshawe, and 'commanding in all companies . . . ever zealous in the cause of Christ, yet so prudent as to avoid being called in question for those things in which he was unconformable to the ecclesiastical establishment.' Bolton died, after a lingering sickness of a quartan ague, on Saturday, 17 Dec. 1631, being then in his sixtieth year. He was buried 19 Dec. in the chancel of his own church (St. Andrew's, Broughton). Against the chancel-wall his stately monument still survives. It consists of a half-length figure of Bolton within an alcove, his hands placed in the attitude of prayer, and his arms resting upon an open bible. His funeral sermon was preached by the eminent Nicholas Estwick, B.D., and was published in 1635, entitled 'A Sacred and Godly Sermon, preached on the 19th day of December, A.D. 1631, at the Funerall of Mr. Robert Bolton, Batchelour in Divinity.' An original portrait of him, on panel, is in the Chetham Library, Manchester. It was engraved for Bagshawe's work by John Payne, with Latin lines below.
Bolton's works had a very wide and sustained popularity. Their titles are:— 1. 'A Discourse about the State of true Happinesse, delivered in certaine Sermones in Oxford and in St. Paul's Crosse, 1611' (7th ed. 1638). 2. 'Some generall Directions for a comfortable Walking with God; delivered in the Lecture at Kettering' (1625, 5th ed. 1638). 3. 'Meditations on the Life to Come,' 1628. 4. 'Instructions for a right Comforting afflicted Consciences,' 1631 (3rd ed. 1640). 5. 'Helps to Humiliation,' 1631. Posthumously there were these: 6. 'Mr. Bolton's Last and Learned Worke of the Foure Last Things : Death, Judgment, Hell, and Heaven. With his Assize Sermon and Notes on Justice Nicolls his Funerall,' 1632 (3rd ed. 1641). 7. 'Assize Sermons and other Sermons,' 1632. 8. 'The Carnal Professor; or the Woful Slavery of Man guided by the Flesh,' 1634. 9. 'A Three-fold Treatise, containing the Saint's sure and perpetuall Guide, Selfe-enriching Examination, and Soule-fatting Fasting; or Meditations concerning the Word, the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, and Fasting,' 1634. 10. 'The Saint's Soule-exalting Humiliation,' 1634. 11. 'A Short and Private Discourse with MS. concerning Usury,' 1637. 12. 'Devout Prayers upon Solemn Occasions,' 1638. 13. 'A Cordiall for Christians in the Time of Affliction,' 1640. 14. 'The Last Visitation, Conflict, and Death of Mr. Thomas Peacock, B.D. ,' 1646 and 1660. The collective 'Workes' of 'the reverend, truly pious, and judiciously learned Robert Bolton, B.D. ... as they were finished by him in his lifetime,' including Bagshawe's life and Estwick's funeral sermon, make three thick quartos, dated from 1638 to 1641.
Anthony à Wood pronounces Bolton to have been 'a most religious and learned puritan, a painful and constant preacher, a person of great zeal for God, charitable and bountiful : and so famous for relieving afflicted consciences, that many foreigners resorted to him, as well as persons at home, and found relief.' Fuller says: 'He was one of a thousand for piety, wisdom, and steadfastness' (Abel Redevivus, p. 591), and again in his 'Worthies,' an authoritative preacher, who majestically became the pulpit.' Echard, who no more than Wood was in sympathy with Bolton, describes him as 'a great and a shining light of the puritan party, justly celebrated for his singular learning and piety' (Hist. of Engl. ii. 98). A seventeenth century diarist (Rev. John Ward,, vicar of Stratford-on-Avon) writes of him: 'What was Nazianzen's commendation of Basil might bee Bolton's; hee thunder'd in his life and lightned in his conversation.' The biographer of Joseph Alleine writes: 'Reverend Mr. Bolton, while walking in the streets, was so much cloathed with majesty, as by the notice of his coming, in the words "Here comes Mr. Bolton," was as it were to charm them [the populace] into order when vain or doing amiss.' Finally, in the preface to his 'Usury' (1637), it is said: 'It is observed of this holy and reverend man that he was so highly esteemed in Northamptonshire, that his people who beheld his white locks of hair would point at him and say, "When that snow shall be dissolved, there shall be a great flood," and so it proved; for there never was a minister in that county who lived more beloved or died more lamented. Floods of tears were shed over his grave.'[Much more than quoted will be found in Bagshawe's Life; Abram's Blackburn; Bolton's Genealogical and Biographical Account in this his will in extenso, and a woodcut of his birthplace; Brook's Puritans; Churton's Nowell, p. 7; Neal's Puritans, ii. 229; Morton's Monuments of the Fathers and Reformers, 1706; Bridges's Hist. of Northamptonshire, ii. 87; Baines's Lancashire; Bolton's Works; an autograph letter to Hildersam, Catalogue of Ayscough, 2728, No. 4221 in British Museum; letter from Rev. W. E. Buckley, Middleton Cheney.]