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John Earle (1601–1665)

A Member of the Westminster Assembly.
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“A serious divine is one who knows the burden of his calling.”

Biography of John Earle:

John Earle (1601–1665), bishop of Salisbury, son of Thomas Earle or Earles, registrar of the archbishop’s court at York, was born at York in or about 1601. His parents were in easy circumstances, and in 1619 their son was sent to Oxford. There can be no doubt that he is the ‘John Earles,’ a Yorkshireman, aged 18, who matriculated as a commoner at Christ Church 4 June 1619 (Oxford Univ. Reg. (Oxford Hist. Soc.), ii. pt. ii. p. 375). But according to Wood’s ‘Fasti’ (ed. Bliss, i. 350), he took the degree of B.A. as a member of Merton College 8 July 1619, and in the same year obtained a fellowship at Merton College (Brodrick, Memorials of Merton College (Oxford Hist. Soc.), p. 282). The difficulty of reconciling these dates is obvious, and no satisfactory explanation can be given. Earle took the degree of master of arts in 1624, and in 1631 served the office of proctor for the university, about which time he was also appointed chaplain to Philip, earl of Pembroke, then chancellor of Oxford. He was incorporated M.A. of Cambridge in 1632. The first thing known to have been written by Earle seems to have been a poem on the death of Francis Beaumont the dramatist in 1616 (not published till 1640 in Beaumont’s ‘Poems’), which was followed by a short poem on Sir John Burroughs, who was killed in the unsuccessful expedition to the Isle of Ré (August 1626). He also wrote lines on the return of the prince from Spain (Musæ Anglicanæ, i. 286). All these verses have very considerable merit, and are not disfigured by the conceits common at that period. While a fellow of Merton he wrote a well-known Latin poem, ‘Hortus Mertonensis,’ first printed in Aubrey’s ‘Nat. Hist. of Surrey,’ iv. 166–71 (1716). In 1628 there came out the very remarkable work, which gives Earle his literary fame. It was entitled ‘Microcosmographie, or a Peece of the World discovered in Essayes and Characters.’ This was published anonymously by Edward Blount [q. v.], but was soon known to be Earle’s work. Every sentence is full of wit and humour. The ‘characters’ are inimitably drawn, and the sketches throw the greatest light upon the social condition of the time. It was highly appreciated, and ran through three editions in the year of its publication (1628). Of the fourth edition (1629?) no copy is known. A fifth appeared in 1629, a sixth in 1630 (reprinted in 1633), a seventh in 1638, and others in 1642, 1650, and 1664. Fifty-four ‘characters’ appeared in Blount’s first edition. The fifth of 1629 was ‘much enlarged’ to seventy-six, the sixth ‘augmented’ to seventy-eight. Later editions are dated respectively 1669, 1676, 1732, and 1786. The best edition was edited by Dr. Bliss in 1811. Professor Arber issued a reprint in 1868. A manuscript of the work, dated 14 Dec. 1627, is among the Hunter MSS, in Durham Cathedral Library. It contains forty-six ‘characters,’ of which three appear nowhere else. This version was carefully collated with the printed editions, from which it often widely differs, by the Rev. J. T. Fowler in 1871 (Notes and Queries, 4th ser. viii. and ix.)

In 1630 Earle wrote a short poem on the death of William, third earl of Pembroke, the elder brother of Earl Philip, chancellor of Oxford University. This clever elegy may have been the means of recommending him to the chancellor, whose patronage proved valuable. As his chaplain Earle had a lodging at the court about 1631. In 1639 the earl presented him to the rectory of Bishopston in Wiltshire, in succession to William Chillingworth [q. v.] Meanwhile his fame as an author, according to Clarendon, acquired for him ‘very general esteem with all men.’ Anthony à Wood says that ‘his younger years were adorned with oratory, poetry, and witty fancies.’ It is evident that his manners were attractive and pleasing. Clarendon describes his conversation as ‘so pleasant and delightful, so very innocent, and so very facetious, that no man’s company was more desired and more loved.’ The king formed a high opinion of him, and appointed him tutor to his son Charles, in succession to Dr. Duppa, who was raised to the bishopric of Salisbury in 1641. From this time to his death Earle was more closely attached to the fortunes of the second Charles than perhaps any other English divine, and was more highly valued by him than any other man of his cloth. Earle was one of those who were in the habit of meeting at Lord Falkland’s house at Great Tew before the civil wars. ‘He would frequently profess,’ says Clarendon, ‘that he had got more useful learning by his conversation at Tew than he had at Oxford.’ Clarendon, writing to Earle 10 March 1647, asks him to forward ‘that discourse of your own which you read to me at Dartmouth in the end of your contemplations upon the Proverbs in memory of my Lord Falkland.’ Nothing further is known of this work. On 10 Nov. 1640 Earle took the degree of D.D. at Oxford, and in 1643, to his own great astonishment, he was appointed one of the Westminster Assembly of Divines. His loyalty and attachment to the church did not permit him to act in this capacity, but his appointment testifies to the general estimation in which he was held. On 10 Feb. 1643–4 Earle was elected chancellor of the cathedral of Salisbury, but of this appointment, as well as of the living of Bishopston, he was soon afterwards deprived as a ‘malignant.’ During the earlier part of the civil war Earle lived in retirement, and occupied himself in translating into Latin Hooker’s ‘Ecclesiastical Polity,’ and afterwards the ‘Eikon Basilike.’ The latter was published in 1649; the former, written chiefly at Cologne, was ‘utterly destroyed by prodigious heedlessness and carelessness’ (Letter from Smith to Hearne, 13 Sept. 1705, in Bodleian Library).

When Charles II was obliged to fly from England, Earle accompanied him, or rather preceded him, as he is said to have been the first to salute him on his arrival at Rouen. The king now appointed him chaplain and clerk of the closet. During the period of the Scotch expedition Earle appears to have resided at Antwerp with Dr. Morley in the house of Sir Charles Cotterell [q. v.] He was called from this place to heal some of the troubles which were existing in the household of the Duke of York at Paris, and he probably remained at Paris till the Restoration. He assisted the king with money in his necessities, and was engaged with Morley, Barwick, and others in working at schemes to bring about his return. In the midst of the intrigues, which developed great bitterness and rancour, Earle maintained his popularity. ‘He was among the few excellent men,’ says Clarendon, ‘who never had, and never could have, an enemy.’ On the Restoration Earle was preferred to the deanery of Westminster (June 1660). On 25 March 1661 he was nominated a commissioner to review the prayer-book; on 28 March he preached at court, and on 23 April assisted at the coronation. At Westminster he had the opportunity of first practically showing that he cherished no bitter feeling against the nonconformist divines. It was thought good policy at first to conciliate the leading men of these views, and Richard Baxter [q. v.] was appointed to preach at the abbey (June 1662). The dean, finding him unprovided with clerical vestments, offered him a ‘tippet’ (used in place of a hood) to wear over his gown. Baxter turned rather abruptly away. Upon this it was reported that he had refused the clerical dress, and some indignation was excited. Baxter wrote to Earle to explain that he had thought the ‘tippet’ the mark of a doctor in divinity, and not having that degree he had simply refused it on that ground. Upon this Earle wrote him a most kind and friendly letter, in the margin of which Baxter noted, ‘O that they were all such!’ Earle was one of the church commissioners at the Savoy conference, and his moderation in this great controversial duel is again noted by Baxter. On 30 Nov. 1662 he was consecrated bishop of Worcester in succession to Dr. Gauden, and on 28 Sept. 1663, on the promotion of Dr. Henchman to the see of London, he was translated to Salisbury. In the administration of his diocese Earle dealt very tenderly with the nonconformists, and in his place in parliament opposed to the utmost of his power persecuting and vindictive measures. The first Conventicle Act was altogether distasteful to him, but to the persecuting clauses of the Five-mile Act he was still more strongly opposed. The court and parliament had been driven by the plague to Oxford, and thither Earle had accompanied the king, and occupied rooms in University College. He was struck with grievous illness, but with his last breath he protested against the act which was then being fabricated against the nonconformists, and which was said by many to be a revenge suggested by the clergy on account of the superior devotion shown by the nonconformists during the plague. The bishop died in University College 17 Nov. 1665, and was buried with much state in Merton College Chapel 25 Nov. His grave was near the high altar, and in the north-east corner of the chapel a monument was erected to him with a highly laudatory Latin inscription. Perhaps Burnet’s words afford the strongest testimony to the beauty and purity of the character of Earle: ‘He was a man of all the clergy for whom the king had the greatest esteem. He had been his sub-tutor, and followed him in all his exile with so clear a character that the king could never see or hear of any one thing amiss in him. So he, who had a secret pleasure in finding out anything that lessened a man esteemed for piety, yet had a value for him beyond all the men of his order.’ Calamy the nonconformist wrote that Earle ‘was a man that could do good against evil, forgive much out of a charitable heart.’

[Earle’s Microcosmography, or a Piece of the World discovered, ed. Bliss, London 1811; Wood’s Athenæ Oxon., ed. Bliss, iii. 716–19; Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion, and Life, Oxford, 1843; Clarendon State Papers; Conformists’ First Plea for the Nonconformists; Burnet’s Own Time, London, 1838.]


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