Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Howe, John (1630-1705)
HOWE, JOHN (1630–1705), ejected divine, son of John and Anne How, was born at Loughborough, Leicestershire, on 17 May 1630, and baptised at the parish church on 23 May. John How, the father (brother of Obadiah Howe, D.D. [q. v.]), formerly a pupil of Francis Higginson [q. v.], was usher (1627-32) of the school supported by Burton's charity, and curate (1628-34) to John Browne, rector of Loughborough. He was suspended from the ministry, as an `irregular curate,' on 6 Nov. 1634, by the high commission court, was imprisoned, and fined 500l. (reduced to 20l. on 19 Feb. 1635) for praying before sermon 'that the young prince might not be brought up in popery.' In 1635 he made his way to Ireland with his family; during the rebellion of 1641 his place of refuge (probably Coleraine) was for several weeks besieged. Returning to England, he settled in Lancashire, probably serving one of the chapelries dependent on Winwick, where his son was prepared for the university at the grammar school under Ralph Gorse, B.A.
Howe was admitted a sizar at Christ's College, Cambridge, on 17 May 1647; he graduated B.A. in 1648, according to Calamy, who ascribes his 'platonick tincture' to his knowledge of Cudworth and his lasting friendship with Henry More. In Michaelmas term 1648 he removed to Oxford, as bible-clerk of Brasenose; here he graduated B.A. on 18 Jan. 1650. In 1650 he was elected chaplain of Magdalen; he graduated M.A. on 9 July 1652, and was fellow of Magdalen probably from 1652 to 1655. He was admitted on 'catholic terms' to the president's 'church meeting' [see Goodwin, Thomas]. Shortly after graduating M.A. he was ordained at Winwick. This large parish was included in the fourth Lancashire classis; but Howe was ordained by Charles Herle [q. v.], the rector (whom he revered as a 'primitive bishop'), with his curates in the four chapelries.
About 1654 (perhaps earlier) he was appointed to the perpetual curacy of Great Torrington, Devonshire, a donative belonging to Christ Church, Oxford. He found the parishioners divided; his predecessor, Lewis Stukely, was an independent; he himself ranked with the presbyterians; but he drew parties together, and succeeded in establishing at Torrington a meeting of 'neighbouring ministers of different persuasions.' His labours were unremitting; on fast days he was engaged in the pulpit from nine till four with only a quarter of an hour's recess, during which the people sang. But his stay at Torrington was not long. In 1656 the perpetual curacy of St. Saviour's, Dartmouth, Devonshire, was vacant. The parishioners were equally divided between Howe and another candidate, Robert Jagoe. Thomas Boon, Howe's great friend at Dartmouth, made interest with Cromwell for his appointment. Cromwell insisted on hearing Howe preach at Whitehall, and gave him his text `while the psalm was singing' before sermon. Howe preached for two hours, and was turning the hour-glass for the third time when Cromwell signed to him to stop. In the event Cromwell made him his domestic chaplain. Howe took the office with reluctance, and was not easy in it. To his puritan strictness the life at Whitehall seemed `in so loose a way' as to give him small chance of usefulness. His parishioners at Torrington could not agree on his successor, and besought him to return. Baxter's influence prevailed with him to stay in London. He stipulated for leave to spend three months in the year at Torrington, and to appoint a substitute on full salary. One of these substitutes was Increase Mather [q.v.] Howe preached against fanatical notions current in the Protector's court; Cromwell heard with knitted brows, but did not remonstrate. Though occasionally employed in secret despatches, he did not take part in affairs of state, nor seek to advance his own interest. Religious men of all schools found in him a friend at court. Seth Ward, afterwards bishop of Salisbury, was indebted to his good offices, as was Fuller, the church historian.
After Cromwell's death, Howe remained at Whitehall as chaplain to Richard Cromwell. He was present (not as a member) at the Savoy conference in October 1658, when the Westminster confession was re-edited on congregational principles. Soon afterwards he visited Torrington, staying there till the spring of 1659. In the advertisement of his first publication (a sermon before parliament, 1659, no copy known) he is described as 'preacher at Westminster;' he held a lectureship at St. Margaret's. Of Richard Cromwell's ability, as well as of his patriotism, Howe spoke always in high terms, defending him warmly from the charge of weakness. Immediately upon Richard's deposition (May 1659) Howe resumed the charge of Torrington. For alleged sedition in sermons preached there on 30 Sept. and 14 Oct. 1660, he was tried, first before the mayor (14 Nov.), and again at the following spring assize; on neither occasion was there any evidence to sustain the charge. In 1662 he was ejected from Torrington by the operation of the Uniformity Act. Wilkins, afterwards bishop of Chester, wondered at his nonconformity, as he thought him a man of latitude; he answered that his latitude made him a nonconformist. To his own bishop, his old friend Seth Ward (then of Exeter), before whom he was soon cited for private preaching, he specified the requirement of re-ordination as an insuperable bar to his conforming. Of the process against him Ward took no notice. Calamy had heard that in 1665 Howe was imprisoned for two months in the Isle of St. Nicholas, off Plymouth; the story may be doubted. In 1666 he took the oath prescribed by the Five Miles Act, which came into effect 25 March 1666. He was thus free to choose his residence, and being let alone by his bishop (neither Ward nor Sparrow interfered with him) he preached about at the houses of the western gentry, and in 1668 published a volume of his Torrington sermons.
In April 1670 Howe left London for Dublin to become domestic chaplain to John, second viscount Massereene, of Antrim Castle. While in attendance on Lord Massereene at his Dublin residence, he preached at the presbyterian meeting-house in Cooke Street. The date of his arrival in Antrim was at least some weeks prior to his dedicatory letter to John Upton, dated `Antrim, April 12, 1671.' At Antrim he officiated on Sunday afternoons in the parish church, of which the presbyterians had part use, by Lord Massereene's permission. His best known work, 'The Living Temple,' was written at Antrim. He was a member of the Friday conferences known as the 'Antrim meeting,' a precursor of the presbyterian organisation of the north of Ireland. In conjunction with Thomas Gowan [q.v.] he took some part (in 1675) in a training school for presbyterian divines, probably teaching theology. At the end of this year he was called to London to succeed Lazarus Seaman, D.D., in the co-pastorship of the presbyterian congregation in Haberdashers' Hall, Staining Lane, Wood Street, Cheapside. A visit to London ended in his removing thither, by way of Liverpool, in 1676.
Next year a controversy on predestination arose out of the publication (1677) of a tract written by Howe at the instance of Robert Boyle. Theophilus Gale [q.v.] attacked it in the concluding part of his 'Court of the Gentiles.' The criticism was pursued, after Gale's death, by Thomas Danson [q.v.] Howe was defended by Andrew Marvell. His position has been incorrectly described as Arminian. The protestant feeling excited by the so-called 'Popish plot' led in 1680 to a renewed effort for the comprehension of nonconformists. Lloyd, then bishop of St. Asaph, consulted Howe about terms. A strong sermon (11 May 1680) against schism, by Stillingfleet, then dean of St. Paul's, met with a reply from Howe, written, as Stillingfleet owned, 'like a gentleman.' In the same year occurred his expostulation with Tillotson, when, according to Calamy's account, based on Howe's own statement, Tillotson was moved to tears 'as they were travelling along together in his chariot.' The period 1681-5 was one of much anxiety to nonconformists; Howe's hearers were arrested, and his health suffered from an indoor life, it not being safe for him to appear in the streets. In 1681 his colleague Daniel Bull [q.v.] disgraced himself. In 1685 Howe addressed an able letter (anonymous) on the prosecution of nonconformists to Thomas Barlow [q.v.], bishop of Lincoln.
In August 1685 Howe went abroad with Philip, fourth baron Wharton. His journey was kept so quiet that his congregation did not hear of it till he was gone; he wrote them a farewell letter from the continent. After travelling about he settled at Utrecht in 1686. He took a house and had boarders, among whom were George, fifteenth earl of Sutherland, and his countess. With Matthew Mead [q. v.] and two others he took turns in preaching at the English church. Gilbert Burnet [q. v.], when in Utrecht (1687), preached in the same church. In May 1687, shortly after James's declaration for liberty of conscience, Howe returned to his London flock, having consulted William of Orange in regard to this step. Though pressed by James himself, Howe resisted every attempt to give nonconformist sanction to the royal exercise of a dispensing power. Calamy says that William Sherlock, then master of the Temple, asked Howe what he would do if offered the mastership. He replied that he would take the place, but hand the emolument to the legal proprietor; whereupon Sherlock 'rose up from his seat and embrac'd him.' At the revolution Howe headed the London nonconformist ministers in an address of welcome to William. He had not lost hope of a policy of comprehension, and was in communication with the ecclesiastical commissioners appointed with that view. When toleration was granted (1689) he addressed a remarkable paper 'to conformists and dissenters,' recommending mutual forbearance.
Howe was a leading spirit in the efforts now made for the amalgamation of the presbyterians and congregationalists into one body. As early as 1672 they had combined in establishing the merchants' lecture on Tuesdays at Pinners' Hall; Howe became one of the lecturers in 1677, succeeding Thomas Manton, D.D. [q. v.] In 1689 the two bodies originated a common fund for educating students and aiding congregations; Howe was one of the projectors. A union of the two bodies in London was effected in 1690; the 'heads of agreement' (published 1691), which were largely Howe's work, were accepted by all but a few congregationalists, and formed the basis of similar unions throughout the country. This 'happy union' was broken in London by a controversy arising out of the publication (1690) of the work of Tobias Crisp, D.D. [q. v.] Howe and others had attested the genuineness of this publication in a declaration pre-fixed to the volume. Baxter at once assailed Crisp's antinomian tendency in a pamphlet which Howe prevailed upon him to suppress, promising that the certificate of genuineness should be explained as implying no approval of Crisp's writings. This was done in a declaration prefixed to 'A Blow at the Root,' by John Flavel (1630?-1691) [q. v.] Crisp's views were now attacked by Daniel Williams, D.D., in 'Gospel Truth' (1691) and the controversy became general, Crisp's opponents being accused of Arminian and even Socinian leanings. Among other healing measures Howe published (1693) his merchants' lectures on 'Christian Contention.' But in 1693 the common fund was divided; in 1694 Williams was excluded from the merchants' lectureship, and Howe with three others withdrew; a new lecture was established at Salters' Hall. In June 1694 Calamy, who wished to be publicly ordained, asked Howe to take part; after consulting Lord-keeper Somers he declined. His congregation, in December 1694, removed to a new meeting-house in Silver Street, Wood Street, Cheapside.
In 1694 and 1695 Howe published one or two tracts, orthodox but cautious, in the Socinian controversy, then dying out. His controversy with Defoe on 'occasional conformity' began in November 1700. Howe had always been in favour of the practice of friendly resort by nonconformists to the parish churches, both for worship and sacraments, and was opposed to the abortive bill introduced in the first year of Anne (4 Nov. 1702) for preventing such interchanges. Sir Thomas Abney (1640-1722) [q. v.], a prominent 'occasional conformist' during his mayoralty in 1701, was a member of Howe's congregation. It was probably in reference to this question that William III, shortly before his death, sent for Howe for 'some very private conversation,' in the course of which William 'ask'd him a great many questions about his old master Oliver.'
Howe was now past seventy and 'began to be weary of living.' In Watts's elegy on Gouge, who died in January 1700, he speaks of Howe as having survived his equals, 'a great but single name,' and `ready to be gone.' He laboured under several diseases, but was always cheerful, though extremely sensitive to pain; he remained in harness to the end. In his last illness Richard Cromwell paid him a farewell visit. 'A very few days before he died 'he expressed entire concurrence in the scheme of non-synodical presbyterianism contained in Calamy's 'Defence of Moderate Nonconformity' (1704). He died, 'quite worn out,' on 2 April 1705, at St. John Street, Smithfield, and was buried on 6 April in the church of Allhallows, Bread Street. On 8 April his colleague John Spademan preached his funeral sermon. He married, first, on 1 March 1655, Katherine, daughter of George Hughes, B.D. [q. v.], and had issue (1) George, M.D. [q. v.], (2) John, living in 1705 and married; (3) Obadiah, baptised at Torrington, 21 April 1661, died before 1705; (4) Philippa, baptised at Torrington, 4 Jan. 1666, married Matthew Collett; (5) James, a barrister of the Middle Temple, who married Mary Saunders, and died 12 April 1714. He married, secondly, Margaret (the date and surname are unknown), who died at Bath between 20 and 26 Feb. 1743, aged nearly 90.
Howe was of fine presence, tall and graceful, with an air of dignity and a piercing eye. His portrait, in long fair wig, engraved by James Caldwall [q. v.], from a painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller, is in Palmer's 'Nonconformist's Memorial,' first edition, 1775, i. 409; the original painting is in Dr. Williams's Library, Gordon Square, W.C. Another painting, by John Riley, showing Howe in his own dark hair, was exhibited in the third exhibition of National Portraits, 1868; it has been engraved by Trotter. The earliest engraved portrait is by White, reproduced by J. Pine. Howe delivered his sermons without his notes; Thoresby, who heard him on 19 May 1695, says he 'preached incomparably.' His writings show an original mind, contemplative rather than profound, with considerable power of discrimination, and some warmth of fancy. His spirit is superior to his style; his diction rarely rises to the elevation of his thought; his sentences are negligent, and his punctuation seems devised for the ruin of perspicuity. He shines at his best in his consolatory letters (the anonymous one to Lady Russell in 1683 is well known), which are full of pathos and calm wisdom. He was not without humour; there is the story of his asking a courtier to permit him to swear the next oath. On his deathbed he made his son George burn all his papers, except sermon-notes, 'stitch'd up in a multitude of small volumes.' Few of his letters are preserved; most of these will be found in Rogers. An undated letter (p. 572, 1st edit., p. 536, 2nd edit.), which puzzles Rogers, refers to the schismatic action of Thomas Bradbury [q. v.] at Newcastle in 1700.
Howe's 'Works' were collected in 1724, fol. 2 vols.; an enlarged edition was issued in 1810-22, 8vo, 8 vols., also 1848, 8vo, 3 vols., and 1862-3, 12mo, 6 vols. Middleton (followed by Wilson) enumerates thirty-three of his publications, besides prefaces, and five volumes of posthumous sermons, printed between 1726 and 1744 from short-hand reports. Among them are:
- 'On Man's Creation,' &c., 1660, 4to (sermon on 1 Thess. iv. 18).
- 'A Treatise on the Blessedness of the Righteous,' &c.,1668, 8vo.
- 'A Treatise of Delighting in God,' &c., 1674, 12mo.
- 'The Living Temple of God,' &c., 1675, 8vo.
- 'The Reconcileableness of God's Prescience,' &c., 1677, 8vo.
- 'Annotations,' &c., 1685, fol., on the three Epistles of St. John, in the continuation of Poole's 'Annotations.'
- 'The Carnality of Christian Contention,' &c., 1693,4to.
- 'A Calm and Sober Inquiry concerning the possibility of a Trinity,' &c.,1694, 4to.
- 'Some Consideration of a Preface to an Inquiry concerning … Occasional Conformity,' &c., 1701, 4to.
- 'A Second Part of the Living Temple,' &c., 1702, 8vo (criticises Spinoza).
- 'A Discourse on Patience,'&c.,1705,8vo.
[Calamy's Memoirs of Howe, prefixed to Works, 1724. also issued separately, are the main authority for his life; the Life by Henry Rogers, 1836 (portrait), reprinted 1879, is an expansion of Calamy, with additions from Howe's manuscript letters; there are lives by Hunt, prefixed to Works, 1810, by Dunn, 1836, by Urwick, 1846, and by Hewlett, prefixed to Works, 1848; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1634-5, pp. 314, 318, 559, &c.; Spademan's Funeral Sermon, 1705; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iii. 780, 834, &c., iv. 589, &c., Fasti, ii. 120, 171; Calamy's Abridgement, 1713, pp. 576 sq.; Calamy's Account, 1713,pp.235 sq., p. 634; Calamy's Continuation, 1727, pp. 250, 257; Calamy's Own Life, 1830, i. 322 sq., 344 sq., ii. 31 sq.; Nelson's Life of Bull, 1714, pp. 257 sq.; Birch's Life of Tillotson, 1753, pp. 63 sq.; Middleton's Biographia Evangelica, 1786, iv. 126 sq.; Palmer's Nonconformist's Memorial, 1802, ii. 81 sq. (portrait engraved by Ridley); Wilson's Dissenting Churches of London, 1810, iii. 19 sq.; Granger's Biographical History of England, 1824, iv. 65; Armstrong's Appendix to Martineau's Ordination Service, 1829, p. 86; Humphreys's Correspondence of Doddridge, 1830, iv. 212; Urwick's Nonconformity in Cheshire, 1864, p. 232 (letter by Howe); Beamont's Winwick, 1876, p. 78; Witherow's Hist. and Lit. Memorials of Presb. in Ireland, 1879, i. 54; Bloxam's Register of Magdalen, 1853-85; Jeremy's Presbyterian Fund, 1885, p. ix; Killen's Hist. Congr. Presb. Church in Ireland, 1886, p. 16; extracts from parish register at Loughborough, per the Rev. W. G. D. Fletcher, F.S.A.]