Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Thomas Fuller

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FULLER, Thomas (16081661), the witty divine and historian, eldest son of a father of the same name who was rector of Aldwincle St Peter’s, Northamptonshire, was born at the rectory house of that country parish in the year 1608, and was baptized on 19th June in that year. Dr Robert Townson and Dr John Davenant, bishops of Salisbury, were his uncles and godfathers. The boy’s training was influenced by the position of these prelates and of other friends of his father, who was B.D., and had held the position of lector primarius in Trinity College, Cambridge. The youth studied under the care of the Rev. Arthur Smith, and of his cousin Dr Edward Davenant, the mathematician. According to Aubrey, Fuller was “a boy of pregnant wit.” At an early age he was admitted of Queen’s College, Cambridge, then presided over by Dr John Davenant. He was apt and quick in study; and in Lent 16245 he became B.A., and in July 1628 M.A. Being overlooked in an election of fellows of his college, he was removed by Bishop Davenant to Sidney Sussex College, November 1628. In 1630 he received from Corpus Christi College, in the same university, the curacy of St Benet’s, which he held for a short time, and where he had for a parishioner the celebrated carrier Hobson. Fuller’s quaint and humorous oratory, as displayed in his sermons on Ruth, soon attracted attention. He also attained a certain fame in the university as a writer of verses, and as the author of a poem, 1631, on the subject of David and Bathsheba. In June of the same year his uncle gave him a prebend in Salisbury, where his father, who died in the following year, held a canonry. The rectory of Broadwindsor, Dorsetshire, then in the diocese of Bristol, was his next preferment (1634); and 11th June 1635 he proceeded B.D. For about six years he devoted himself to his rustic flock, and meanwhile compiled The Holy War, being a history of the crusades (published in 1640), and The Holy and Prophane States, being a book of character biography (1642), both which deservedly popular works went through several editions. At this time Fuller was well known as a man of engaging manners, of good connexions, and of literary tastes. Being, moreover, a cordial lover of the Church of England, and of its discipline as fixed by the canons of 1603, he was in 1640 elected proctor for Bristol in the memorable convocation of Canterbury, which assembled with the Short Parliament. On the sudden dissolution of the latter, he united himself to those who urged that convocation should likewise dissolve as usual. That opinion was overruled; and the assembly continued to sit by virtue of a royal writ, and to frame, amongst its canons, the much-ridiculed Etcetera Oath. Fuller has left a valuable account of the proceedings of this synod, for sitting in which he was fined £200, but was never pressed to pay it. Meanwhile he preached in some of the “voiced pulpits” of London, and was followed for his excellent gifts. His first published volume of sermons appeared in 1640 under the title of Joseph’s parti-coloured Coat, 4to, which contains many of his quaint utterances and odd conceits. His grosser mannerisms of style, derived from the divines of the former generation, disappeared for the most part in his subsequent discourses. About 1640 he married Eleanor, daughter of Hugh Grove of Chisenbury co., Wilts. Their eldest child, John, baptized at Broadwindsor by his father, 6th June 1641, was afterwards of Sidney Sussex College, edited the Worthies of England, 1662, and became rector of Great Wakering, Essex, where he died in 1687. At Broadwindsor, early in the year 1641, Thomas Fuller, his curate Henry Sanders, the church wardens, and others, nine persons altogether, certified that their parish, represented by 242 grown-up male persons, had taken the Protestation ordered by the Speaker of the Long Parliament. Again Fuller is met with in London, interested in the coming strife. He is said to have foreseen whither the commotions were tending; and he directed his efforts, as events developed, in advocacy of peace and in preservation of the interests of his order. For a short time he preached with success at the Inns of Court, and thence removed, at the invitation of the master of the Savoy (Dr Balcanqual) and the brotherhood of that foundation, to be lecturer at their chapel of St Mary Savoy. Certain of the parishioners would have elected one Thomas Gibbs, whose claims were put forward in the House of Commons by Sir Robert Harley; but the greater number earnestly desired Fuller, whose better title was upheld in the House by Sir John Northcote, M.P. for Ashburton. Some of the best discourses of the witty preacher were delivered at the Savoy to audiences which extended into the chapel-yard. In one, he set forth with searching and truthful minuteness the hindrances to peace, and urged the signing of petitions to the king at Oxford, and to the parliament, to continue their care in advancing an accommodation. In his intercourse with persons of influence who attended upon his ministry, or who resided in the neighbourhood of his cure, Fuller, with all the earnestness of Lord Falkland in that direction, laboured to promote the same peaceful views. With these honourable efforts an historic circumstance of some significance connects itself. With Sir Edward Wardour, clerk of the pells, Dr Dukeson, and four or five others, Fuller was deputed to take an influential peace-petition to the king, emanating from the city of Westminster and the parishes contiguous to the Savoy. To carry it with fitting circumstance, a pass was granted by the House of Lords, 2d January 1643, for an equipage of two coaches, four or six horses, and eight or ten attendants. On the arrival of the deputation at Uxbridge, 4th January, officers of the Parliamentary army stopped the coaches and searched the gentlemen; and they found upon the latter “two scandalous books arraigning the proceedings of the House,” and letters with ciphers to Lord Viscount Falkland and the Lord Spencer. A message was then sent to acquaint the House of Commons with the matter, and it was complained that the Lords had given the pass. Ultimately a joint order of both Houses remanded the party; and Fuller and his friends suffered a brief imprisonment. The Westminster Petition, notwithstanding, reached the king’s hands; and it was published with the royal reply. When it was expected, three months later, that a favourable result would attend the negotiations at Oxford, Fuller preached a remarkable sermon in the old abbey of Westminster, 27th March 1643, on the text 2 Sam. xix. 30, the occasion being the anniversary of Charles I.’s accession, and the subject, his return to “our English Zion.” This loyal discourse, in accord with the loyal text, brought the preacher into disfavour in the city. Domestic trouble likewise overtook him in the death of his wife. On 19th April the Lords gave him a pass to and from Salisbury to carry her remains thither, to be buried, as it seems, amongst her own kin. He returned to London, and on Wednesday, 26th July, he preached on church reformation, satirizing the religious reformers, and maintaining that only the Supreme Power could initiate reforms. The storm which this sermon aroused in the metropolis, then well-nigh abandoned by the active royalists, brought about Fuller’s secret flight to Oxford, and the loss of all his preferments and property. He lived in a hired chamber at Lincoln College for 17 weeks. Thence he put forth a witty and effective reply to John Saltmarsh, who had attacked his views on ecclesiastical reform. Fuller subsequently published by royal request a fast sermon preached 10th May 1644, at St Mary’s, Oxford, before the king and Prince Charles, called Jacob’s Vow. In this discourse which, it is supposed, had relation to the king’s proposed restoration of the church lands, the preacher referred to some religious exercise then being observed every Tuesday by Charles I., all record of which has been omitted in the pages of history. The spirit of Fuller’s preaching, always characterized by calmness and moderation, gave offence to the high royalists, who charged him with lukewarmness in their cause. To silence unjust censures, he became chaplain to the regiment of the excellent Lord Hopton. For the first five years of the war, as he said, when excusing the non-appearance of his Church-History, “I had little list or leisure to write, fearing to be made a history, and shifting daily for my safety. All that time I could not live to study, who did only study to live.” After the defeat of Hopton at Cheriton Down, Fuller retreated to Basing House. He took an active part in its defence, and was once incited by the noise of the enemy’s artillery, which disturbed him at his books, to head a sally upon the trenches. His life with the troops caused him to be afterwards regarded as one of “the great cavalier parsons.” In his marches with his regiment round about Oxford and in the west, he devoted much time to the collection of details, from churches, old buildings, and the conversation of ancient gossips, for his Church-History and Worthies of England. His patriotism in the national crisis was evidenced in many ways. For the soldiers and the more religious of the royalist party he compiled, 1645, a small volume of prayers and meditations,—the Good Thoughts in Bad Times,—which, set up and printed in the besieged city of Exeter, whither he had retired, was called by himself “the first fruits of Exeter press.” It was inscribed to Lady Dalkeith, governess to the infant princess, Henrietta Anne, who was born at Exeter, 16th June 1644. Fuller was by the king placed in the household of the princess through the influence of Lady Dalkeith. In this city, as elsewhere, he attracted to himself a circle of friends. The corporation gave him the Bodleian lectureship, 21st March 16456, and he held it until 17th June following, soon after the surrender of the city to the Parliament. The Fear of losing the Old Light, 4to, 1646, was his farewell discourse to his Exeter friends. Under the Articles of Surrender Fuller made his composition with the Government at London, his “delinquency” being that he had been present in the king’s garrisons. In a characteristic petition to compound, dated 1st June 1646, he acquainted the committee that he was then lodging at “the Crown” in St Paul’s Church-yard (the sign of his bookseller, Williams); and the word Crown is written in large letters and designedly falls in the centre of the document, in which, moreover, there are traces of the disagreeable position in which he was placed. In a life of Andronicus, 1646, partly authentic and partly fictitious, he satirized the leaders of the Revolution; and more than one edition of this little book was called for. For the comfort of sufferers by the war he issued, 1647, a second devotional manual, entitled Good Thoughts in Worse Times, abounding, like its predecessor and its successor, in fervent aspirations, and drawing moral lessons in beautiful language out of the events of his life, or the circumstances of the time. In grief over his losses which included his library and manuscripts (his “upper and nether millstone”), and over the calamities of the country, he wrote his work on the Wounded Conscience, 1647. It was prepared at Boughton House in his native county, where, in a penniless, feeble, and exiled position, he and his little son were entertained by Edward Lord Mountagu, his patron, and where, as he says, he was restored to his former self. For the next few years of his life, Fuller was mainly dependent upon his dealings with booksellers, of whom he asserted that none had ever lost by him. Amongst other minor productions of his pen at this time he seems to have made considerable progress in an English translation of the Annales of his friend Archbishop Ussher from the MS. of that great work. Amongst his benefactors it is curious to find Sir John Danvers of Chelsea, afterwards the regicide. Under the countenance of citizens whose names are perpetuated in the dedications in his books, Fuller in 1647 began to preach at St Clement’s, East Cheap, and elsewhere, in the capacity of lecturer. While at St Clement’s he was suspended; but speedily recovering his freedom, he preached wherever he was invited. His connexion with the church named has recently been recognized by the erection of a fine memorial window in which, clad in a doctor’s gown, he stands holding in his hand his best gift to the universal church. At Chelsea, where also he occasionally officiated, he covertly preached a sermon on the death of Charles I.,—an event which he deeply deplored. Amongst Fuller’s noble patrons was the earl of Carlisle, who made him his chaplain, and presented him to the curacy of Waltham Abbey. To this kind patron he dedicated his history of that foundation; and on the title-page placed the words

Patria est ubicunque est bene;
Bene vixit qui bene latuit.

His possession of the living was in jeopardy on the appointment of Cromwell’s “Tryers”; but he evaded the inquisitorial questions of that dreaded body by his ready wit. He had, however, the good sense to fortify himself under this ordeal with the counsel of the catholic-minded John Howe, to whom he went, saying, “Sir, you may observe that I am a pretty corpulent man, and I am to go through a passage that is very straight; I beg you would be so good as to give me a shove and help me through.” Nor was Fuller disturbed at Waltham in the “dangerous year1655, when the Protector’s edict prohibited the adherents of the late king from preaching. Moreover, Lionel, third earl of Middlesex, who lived in the parish, gave him what remained of the books of the lord treasurer his father; and through the good offices of the marchioness of Hertford, part of his own pillaged library was restored to him. Under such circumstances Fuller actively prosecuted his literary labours, producing successively, at great cost, his survey of the Holy Land, called A Pisgah-Sight of Palestine, 1650; and his Church-History of Britain, 1655, from the birth of Jesus Christ until the year 1648. These works were furthered in no slight degree by his connexion with Sion College, London, where he had a chamber, as well for the convenience of the press as of his city lectureships. The Church-History was angrily attacked by Dr P. Heylin, who, in the spirit of High-Churchmanship, wished, as he said, to vindicate the truth, the church, and the injured clergy. About 1652 Fuller married into the noble and loyal family of Roper. By his wife (Mary, youngest sister of Thomas, Viscount Baltinglass) he had several children. At the Oxford Act of 1657, the celebrated Robert South, who was Terræ filius, lampooned Fuller for his frequent puns and other peculiarities. He described him in this Oratio as living in London, ever scribbling, and each year bringing forth new folia like a tree. At length, continues South, the Church-History came forth with its 166 dedications to wealthy and noble friends; and with this huge volume under one arm, and his wife (said to be little of stature) on the other, he ran up and down the streets of London, seeking at the houses of his patrons invitations to dinner, to be repaid by his dull jests at table. This speech, although exaggerated, throws light upon the social qualities of Fuller, who had many kind friends amongst the nobility. His last and best patron was the Hon. George Berkeley of Cranford House, Middlesex, whose chaplain he was, and who gave him Cranford rectory, 1658. To this nobleman Fuller's reply to Heylin, called The Appeal of Injured Innocence, 1659, was inscribed. This remarkable and instructive book embraces, as its editor, Mr James Nichols, has remarked, “almost every topic within the range of human disquisition, from the most sublime mysteries of the Christian religion, and the great antiquity of the Hebrew and Welsh languages, down to The Tale of a Tub, and criticisms on Shakespeare's perversion of the character of Sir John Falstaff.” At the end of the Appeal is an elegant epistle “to my loving friend Dr Peter Heylin,” conceived in the admirable Christian spirit which characterized all Fuller's dealings with controversialists. “Why should Peter” he asked, “fall out with Thomas, both being disciples to the same Lord and Master? I assure you, sir, whatever you conceive to the contrary, I am cordial to the cause of the English Church, and my hoary hairs will go down to the grave in sorrow for her sufferings.” The only other important works issued by Fuller in his lifetime were connected with the Restoration. The revived Long Parliament, December 1659, proposed an oath of fealty to the Commonwealth, and the abjuration of Charles II. and his family. The matter was much debated; and in an able letter published in February 1660, which went into a third edition, called An Alarum to the Counties of England and Wales, Fuller discussed the proposal. His arguments tended to swell the cry for a free and full parliament,—free from force, as he expressed it, as well as from abjurations or previous engagements. In anticipation of the meeting of the new parliament, 25th April, and as if foreseeing the unwise attitude of those in power in relation to the reaction, Fuller put forth his Mixt Contemplations in Better Times, 1660, dedicated to Lady Monk. It tendered advice in the spirit of its motto, “Let your moderation be known to all men: the Lord is at hand.” There is good reason to suppose that Fuller was at the Hague immediately before the Restoration, in the retinue of Lord Berkeley, one of the commissioners of the House of Lords, whose last service to his friend was to interest himself in obtaining him a bishopric. A Panegyrick to His Majesty on his Happy Return was the last of Fuller's verse efforts. On 2d August, by royal letters, he was admitted D.D. at Cambridge, as a scholar of integrity and good learning, who had been hindered in the due way of proceeding to his degree. His former preferments were restored to him. At the Savoy Pepys heard him preach; but he preferred his conversation or his books to his sermons. Fuller's last promotion was that of chaplain in extraordinary to Charles II. In the summer of 1661 he visited the west in connexion with the business of his prebend, and upon his return he was seized with a kind of typhus-fever called the “new disease.” On Sunday, 12th August, while preaching a marriage sermon at the Savoy, he was disabled from proceeding; and at the close of the service he was carried home in a sedan to his new lodgings in Covent-Garden, where he expired, Thursday, 16th August, aged 54. On the following day 200 of his brethren attended his corpse to its resting place, in the chancel of Cranford Church, where Dr Hardy preached a funeral sermon. A mural tablet was afterwards set up on the north side of the chancel with an epitaph, which, though perhaps longer than Fuller’s essay on tombs might allow him to approve, contains a conceit worthy of his own pen, to the effect that while he was endeavouring (viz., in The Worthies) to give immortality to others, lie himself attained it. It is said that the thought of that unfinished work troubled him upon his deathbed, and that he often incoherently called out to his attendants for pen and ink, as if to complete it.

Dr Fuller was in stature somewhat tall, “with a proportionable bigness to become it,” and his gait was graceful. He was of a sanguine temperament, and had a ruddy countenance and light curled hair. Some of these features are pleasingly depicted in his portrait at Cranford House. His personal character was admirable. The charm of his manners was felt by all, his deportment being “according to the old English guise.” His disposition was genial, leading him to embrace goodness wherever he found it. To these fine qualities of mind he added prudence. “By his particular temper and management,” said the historian Echard, “he weathered the late great storm with more success than many other great men.” He had many of the peculiarities of scholars. He was known as “a perfect walking library.” The strength of his memory was proverbial, and some amusing anecdotes are connected with it.

His writings were the product of a highly original mind, and their moral tone was excellent. He had a fertile imagination and a happy faculty of illustration. His diction in the main was elegant, and more idiomatic than that of Taylor or Browne. Antithetic and axiomatic sentences abound in his pages, embodying literally the wisdom of the many in the wit of one. He was “quaint,” and something more. “Wit,” said Coleridge, in a well-known eulogy, “wit was the stuff and substance of Fuller’s intellect. It was the element, the earthen base, the material which he worked in; and this very circumstance has defrauded him of his due praise for the practical wisdom of the thoughts, for the beauty and variety of the truths, into which he shaped the stuff. Fuller was incomparably the most sensible, the least prejudiced, great man of an age that boasted a galaxy of great men.” This opinion was formed after the perusal of the Church-History. That work and The Worthies of England are unquestionably Fuller’s greatest efforts. They embody the collections of an entire life; and since his day they have been the delight and the solace of their readers, and the incentive which has directed or allured many English scholars into historical and topographical studies. The Holy State has taken rank amongst the best books of characters. Fuller’s works, according to Charles Lamb, were, in the early portion of this century, scarcely perused except by antiquaries; but since that time, mainly through the appreciative criticisms of Coleridge, Southey, Crossley, and others, they have received more general attention; and nearly the whole of his extant writings have been reprinted of late years.