Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Mead, Joseph
MEAD or MEDE, JOSEPH (1586–1638), biblical scholar, was born at Berden, Essex, in October 1586. His father, a kinsman of Sir John Mede of Lofts Hall, Essex, died about 1596; his mother married Gower of Nazeing, Essex. Mead was at school at Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, and Wethersfield, Essex. As a schoolboy his uncle, Richard Mede, a merchant, offered to adopt him; but he preferred study. On a visit to London he bought a copy of Bellarmin's ‘Institutiones Linguæ Hebraicæ,’ and, though discouraged by his schoolmaster, persisted in teaching himself Hebrew. He was admitted in 1602 at Christ's College, Cambridge; his tutors were Daniel Rogers, B.D., afterwards a noted nonconformist, and William Addison. He graduated M.A. in 1610, and was elected fellow in 1613, through the influence of Lancelot Andrewes [q. v.], then bishop of Ely. More than once he had been passed over, owing to a ‘very causeless’ suspicion on the part of the master, Valentine Cary [q. v.], that he ‘looked too much towards Geneva.’ Soon afterwards he was appointed to the Greek lectureship founded by Sir Walter Mildmay, which he held along with his fellowship till his death. In 1618 he proceeded B.D.
By the time he took his master's degree Mead was already a man of encyclopedic information. To his attainments in philology and history he had added mathematics and physics. He was an enthusiastic botanist and a practical anatomist, frequenting the dissections at Caius College. He was fond of astrology, and this took him to Egyptology and kindred topics, including the origin of Semitic religions. His philosophical reading had led him towards pyrrhonism; but he got no comfort from the doctrine that the mind has no cognisance of realities, dealing only with ideas of an external world which may be illusory. From ‘these troublesome labyrinths’ he escaped by an effort of will, and turned to physics as a reassuring study. But the earlier conflict left its traces on his mental development, and is accountable for some mystical elements which appear in his sacramental and millennial doctrines. Fuller calls him ‘most learned in mystical divinity.’ His method with his pupils was the encouragement of independent and private study. His powerful memory enabled him largely to dispense with notebooks. He laboured under a difficulty of utterance. Fuller says that ‘in private discourse he often smiled out his stammering into silence.’ But he preached ‘without any considerable hesitation.’
His character was singularly void of ambition. He declined the post of domestic chaplain to Andrewes, and twice refused the provostship of Trinity College, Dublin, for which Ussher was anxious to secure him, in March 1627 and in April 1630. Maintaining a constant converse with men as well as with books, he kept up an extensive correspondence, and he had a keen curiosity for ‘foreign intelligence,’ paying for weekly letters with news from abroad of the state of learning and religion. One of his agents in this matter seems to have been Samuel Hartlib [q. v.] The extracts from his own letters, printed by Heywood and Wright, are full of university gossip. Other letters, unprinted, show that he made digests of his foreign news for the use of friends. His literary friendships were catholic; his closest intimate was William Chappell [q. v.], a fellow of Christ's and afterwards bishop of Cork; Sir William Boswell [q. v.] introduced his writings to continental scholars. A communicative, he was never an assertive scholar, and declined mere controversy with pertinacious critics like Thomas Hayne [q. v.] His judgments of others were characteristically generous. A tenth of his income went in unostentatious charity.
Mead was no party man. ‘I never,’ he says, ‘found myself prone to change my hearty affections to any one for mere difference in opinion.’ His openness of mind is expressed in the maxim, ‘I cannot believe that truth can be prejudiced by the discovery of truth.’ But his loyal attachment to anglican doctrine and usage, as representing ‘the catholick consent of the church in her first ages,’ was disturbed by no scruples. On 6 Feb. 1636 he writes strongly to Hartlib against a puritan book, which is evidently one of the Latin treatises of John Bastwick, M.D. [q. v.] Against the presbyterian discipline, the institution of ‘lay-elders,’ and the use of the term ‘minister’ in place of presbyter or priest, he argues learnedly in his ‘Discourses.’ In the same strain are his historical arguments for the reverence due to sacred places, and for the view of the Eucharist as a sacrifice. With the puritans he held the pope to be antichrist; with the high churchmen he admitted that the Roman church teaches the fundamentals of the faith. The points at issue between Calvinists and Lutherans he did not take to be fundamental; but professed himself not ‘well versed in the subtilties of those controversies.’ He apprehended that the puritan arguments might make way for Socinianism, which would be ‘to undermine antichrist with a vengeance.’ His warm sympathies were with the object proposed by the unifying schemes of John Durie (1596–1680) [q. v.], with whom he corresponded; but he was not in love with Durie's plan, nor did he think it would commend itself to English acceptance. While inclined to simplify the essentials of communion, he expected better results from an alliance of mutual toleration between churches than from an attempt to frame new terms for a corporate union.
Mead's posthumous fame rests on his ‘Clavis Apocalyptica’ and kindred writings. He has the merit of perceiving that a thorough determination of the structural character of the Apocalypse must be a preliminary to any sound interpretation of it. He decides that its visions form a connected and chronological sequence; the key to the discrimination of an earlier and later chain of events he finds in Rev. xvii. 18; he makes no claim to write history in advance by help of prophecies which remain for fulfilment. Inferences opposed to his own principles were drawn by others from his apocalyptic writings; there is extant on this subject, from the pen of an anonymous admirer, ‘An Apologie, or a Defence of Joseph Mede against the Puritanes’ (Harl. MS. 6648).
His millennial speculations are based on the theory that the ‘day’ of judgment is a period of a thousand years, preceded by the resurrection of martyrs and their admission to heaven. He describes it as a period of ‘most blissful peace’ for the church on earth, but expressly rejects a terrestrial reign of Christ. In reference to the Sabbath question Mead maintains the hallowing of ‘one day of seven’ to be alone of divine obligation. The last day of the week was fixed by the choice of the Jews, and was not their original choice; the first day is fixed by the choice of Christians. Mead has been regarded as the originator of the rationalistic view of demoniacal possession. It is true that he admits of no distinction between demoniacs and maniacs, but he leaves it, to say the least, an open question whether all maniacs are not possessed. As an expositor of scripture in general, Doddridge well says that Mead ‘has a good many original thoughts not to be found anywhere else.’
Till his last year Mead enjoyed strong health. He died on 1 Oct. 1638, and was buried in the inner chapel of his college on 2 Oct. A memorial sermon was preached at St. Mary's on 1 Feb. 1639 by John Alsop, fellow of Christ's and his executor. A Latin epitaph for him by ‘G. D.,’ ‘a reverend person sometime of Cambridge,’ is given in the 1672 edition of his ‘Works.’ He was tall and swarthy, originally spare, but afterwards portly and of a handsome presence, with a sparkling eye. By his will, executed on the day of his death, he left 100l. to the poor of Cambridge, smaller sums to his sisters, their children, and a pupil, and the residue, amounting to 300l., besides his books, to his college. Throughout his correspondence (1620–31) he writes his name ‘Mead,’ occasionally with a flourish which has been mistaken for a final e; his handwriting is remarkably firm and distinct. He latinised his surname into ‘Medus;’ hence, perhaps, the very general adoption of the form ‘Mede’ by his editors.
He published: 1. ‘Clavis Apocalyptica ex innatis et insitis Visionum characteribus,’ &c., Cambridge, 1627, 4to, for private circulation, and extremely rare; reprinted, 1632, 4to, 1642, 4to; translated, ‘The Key of the Revelation,’ &c., 1643, 4to, by Richard More [q. v.], preface by Twisse; another translation, 1833, 8vo, by R. Bransby Cooper. 2. ‘In Sancti Joannis Apocalypsin Commentarius,’ &c., 1632, 4to, an application of the method explained in the ‘Clavis,’ with ‘Appendix’ in reply to Daniel Lawen, a Dutch divine; reprinted and translated with No. 1. 3. ‘Of the Name Altar, or Θυσιαστήριον. … A Chappel Commonplace, An. 1635,’ &c., 1637, 4to (anon.). 4. ‘Churches … Places for Christian Worship, both in and ever since the Apostles times,’ &c., 1638, 4to (Latin dedication to Laud). 5. ‘The Reverence of God's House,’ &c., 1638, 4to, sermon at St. Mary's, Cambridge, 24 Feb. 1636. Posthumous were: 6. ‘The Apostacy of the Latter Times,’ &c., 1641, 4to, preface by Twisse; 2nd edit. 1644, 4to; later editions, 1836, 8vo, introduction by Tresham D. Gregg; 1845, 18mo, introduction by J. R. Birks. 7. ‘A Paraphrase and Exposition of the Prophesie of Saint Peter,’ &c., 1642, 4to (on 2 Peter iii.). 8. ‘Daniel's Weekes,’ &c., 1643, 4to. 9. ‘Diatribæ Discourses on divers texts,’ &c., 1643, 4to; with part ii. 1648, 4to; pt. iii. 1650, 4to; pt. iv. 1652, 4to, with ‘Epistles’ and ‘Short View of the Author's Life.’ 10. ‘Opuscula Latina,’ &c., 1652, 4to. 11. ‘Dissertationum Ecclesiasticarum Triga,’ 1653, 4to. His ‘Works’ were first collected 1648, 4to, 2 parts; enlarged edit. by John Worthington, D.D., 1663–4, fol. 2 vols.; further enlarged by Worthington, with anonymous ‘Life,’ 1672, fol.; reprinted 1677, fol. Two volumes of his autograph letters, principally to Sir Martin Stutevile, are in Harl. MSS. 389, 390.
[Short View, 1652, of little moment; Life, 1672, the facts are drowned in eulogy; more valuable, so far as they go, are ‘Some Additionals,’ by another hand; Fuller's Hist. of the University of Cambridge, 1655, p. 92; Fuller's Worthies, 1662, pp. 334 sq.; Middleton's Biographia Evangelica, 1784, iii. 73 sq.; Doddridge's Works, 1804, v. 476; Brook's Lives of the Puritans, 1813, ii. 429 sq.; Neal's Hist. of the Puritans (Toulmin), 1822, ii. 310 sq.; Heywood and Wright's Cambr. Univ. Trans. 1854, ii. 305 sq., 557; Cox's Lit. of the Sabbath Question, 1865, i. 154 sq.; Hunt's Religious Thought in England, 1870, i. 167 sq.; Church's Miraculous Powers, 1750, Preface; information from the master of Christ's College; the Berden parish register does not begin till 1707.]