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John Hacket (1592-1670)

A Puritan minister, Episcopalian, and member of the Westminster Assembly.

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Biography of John Hacket (1592-1670):

John Hacket (1592-1670), bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, was born in St. Martin’s, Strand, 1 Sept. 1592. His father, Andrew Hacket, a prosperous tailor of Scottish extraction, was a senior burgess of Westminster, and was noted for a strong attachment to the church of England. Young Hacket, being a promising youth, obtained a nomination on the foundation of Westminster School under Mr. Ireland. He soon came to be regarded as one of the leading pupils of the school, and attracted the notice of Lancelot Andrewes [q. v.], then dean of Westminster. At the age of seventeen (1608) he passed to Trinity College, Cambridge. Immediately on taking his degree he was elected to a fellowship, and at once began to be a popular private tutor. Going to spend a vacation with Sir John Byron, one of his pupils, at Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire, Hacket occupied his spare time in composing the Latin comedy of ‘Loyola,’ which was afterwards twice acted before James I. This youthful performance is both coarse and tedious. Its only merit is a certain dexterity in the application of the Latin language to a strange and awkward plot. It satirises at once the Jesuits, the friars, and the puritans as grossly immoral hypocrites. It was printed at London, 1648, 12mo.

Hacket was ordained by John King, bishop of London, 22 Dec. 1618, still continuing his tuition work at Cambridge. The reputation which he enjoyed as a scholar attracted the notice of Lord-keeper Williams, who invited him to become his chaplain. This was a sure road to promotion. On 20 Sept. 1621 he was instituted to the rectory of Stoke Hammond, Buckinghamshire; on 2 Nov. in the same year to that of Kirkby Underwood; 23 Feb. 1623 he was elected proctor for the diocese of Lincoln; and in the same year was made chaplain to King James. He frequently preached before the king, who appreciated his lively and incisive style, and upon one occasion he was called upon to handle the difficult topic of the Gowrie conspiracy. In 1624 his great patron, the lord keeper, presented him to the living of St. Andrew’s, Holborn, and in the same year to that of Cheam in Surrey. The one, he was told, was given him for wealth, the other for health. Hacket divided his time between these two benefices, residing in London during the winter, and in Surrey during the summer months.

Hacket proved himself a very active parish priest in the large parish of St. Andrew’s and became a very popular preacher. His church was always crowded, and among his auditory were many leading lawyers. Sir Julius Cæsar, it is said, always sent him a broad piece after hearing him preach. His patron, Bishop Williams, continued to be mindful of him. In 1623 he had given him the valuable prebend of Aylesbury in Lincoln Cathedral, and in 1631 he nominated him Archdeacon of Bedford. Hacket was very anxious to procure the rebuilding of the church of St. Andrew, and by great efforts gathered a large sum of money for this purpose. But this money was confiscated at the time of the civil war. More clear-sighted than some of his brethren, Hacket endeavoured to induce Archbishop Laud not to proceed with the canons which were enacted in the convocation of 1640. He also greatly lamented the attempt to force the liturgy upon Scotland. The disgrace into which his patron had now fallen prevented his influence having much further effect ; but very soon after the opening of the Long parliament, and the rise of the temporary popularity of Williams, Hacket became very prominent. He was a member of the committee for religion appointed by the House of Lords on the motion of Archbishop Williams, 15 March 1641, the object of which was to reconcile the puritans by making large concessions both in the services and the discipline of the church. Hacket, in his ‘Life of Williams,’ speaks very contemptuously of the objections urged against the prayer-book by the puritans in the committee. They were, he says, ‘petty and stale, older than the old Exchange.’ No effect was produced by this committee, but in the discussions which took place Hacket appears to have distinguished himself, as he was soon after requested by the whole of the churchmen on the committee to represent the church at a very important crisis in the House of Commons. On 20 May 1641 the so-called ‘root and branch’ bill was brought into the House of Commons by Sir Edward Dering [q. v.] for the abolition of bishops and all officers connected with the episcopal form of government in the church. Leave was given for an advocate to appear in the house to plead for deans and chapters, and Hacket, at the request of the committee for religion, undertook the duty. He had only a day given him to prepare his speech, but it shows considerable tact and knowledge of his auditory. He begins by acknowledging that cathedral music needs reform, and the doing away with ‘fractious and affected exquisiteness,’ and that more sermons ought to be preached in cathedrals. He defends these institutions on the ground of their being useful for the superintendence of grammar schools, for holding out prizes for learning, for furnishing a council to the bishop, for keeping up the magnificent structures belonging to them. He shows that to abolish the chapters would cause the ruin of a great many persons connected with the churches, of the cathedral towns, and of the holders of leases. He points out that the cathedrals have furnished refuges for distinguished foreign divines, as Saravia, Isaac and Meric Casaubon, Primrose, Vossius, Peter Moulin. The effect of his speech was considerable, and the commons voted that the revenues of the chapters should not be taken away. A little later (15 June) they reversed this vote and agreed that deans and chapters, archdeacons, &c., should be utterly abolished. Hacket was closely interested in the bill, as he was not only an archdeacon and canon in the diocese of Lincoln, but had been just appointed residentiary canon of St. Paul’s.

In the succeeding troubles Hacket does not seem to have fared so badly as some of his brethren. He was appointed a member of the Westminster Assembly of divines, but soon ceased to attend the meetings of that body, as the episcopal divines had no weight in their deliberations. On 13 Dec. 1645 his living of St. Andrew’s, Holborn, was sequestered, and all his church building fund confiscated; but he was allowed, eventually, though not without considerable perils, to retain the little benefice of Cheam. Here he continued, at some risk, to officiate according to the Book of Common Prayer. On one occasion a soldier entering his church presented a pistol at his breast and ordered him to stop. Hacket replied that he would do what became a divine, let the other do what became a soldier; and continued the service. He is said to have carefully committed the burial service to memory that he might use it without offending the puritans. He was at one time taken prisoner by the army of Essex and carried with them. Lord Essex used much persuasion to lead him to join the parliamentary side, but Hacket remaining obdurate, he ordered him to be dismissed. At Cheam Hacket remained during the whole period of the rebellion and protectorate occupied in learned studies. After the death of Archbishop Williams in 1650, Hacket composed an elaborate biography under the title of ‘Scrinia Reserata: a Memorial offered to the Great Deservings of John Williams, D.D.’ This work was not printed till 1693; abridgments appeared in 1700 (by Ambrose Philips) and 1715. It displays great learning and much wit, but has the common biographical defect of defending too indiscriminately the many questionable passages in the lord keeper’s life; nevertheless, it remains one of the best biographies in the English language. Coleridge, in his ‘Table Talk,’ credits it with giving the most valuable insight into the times preceding the civil wars of any book he knew. After the execution of the king, Hacket declared that he would never again set foot in London, but broke his resolution so far as to attend Lords Holland and Norwich when they were condemned to death. Some letters written about this time by Hacket to Dr. Dillingham, and preserved among the Sloane MSS., represent him as a ‘sickly old man’ who had fallen into bad health through grief of mind. He always appears, however, full of faith and courage, and with a firm belief in the certainty of the coming of the restoration.

On the return of Charles II, Hacket at once took a prominent place. He preached before the commissioners of the Savoy conference at Croydon, and frequently before the king during 1660. He also occupied the pulpit at St. Paul’s, where he had been appointed a residentiary before the troubles. In 1660 he was offered the bishopric of Gloucester, but refused to accept it; however, on 4 Nov. 1661 he was nominated to the see of Lichfield and Coventry, void by the translation of Accepted Frewen to York, and was consecrated on 22 Dec. by Bishops Sheldon, King, Henchman, and Morley. The following spring he went to reside in his diocese, receiving an enthusiastic reception from the gentry and clergy. Nothing had yet been done for the restoration of the cathedral of Lichfield, which lay a heap of ruins. The bishop applied himself to the work of restoration with the utmost energy. His own horses were employed in carting away the rubbish, and a body of workmen was at once set to work at his own cost. He appealed earnestly to the laity of the diocese and succeeded in raising a sum of 20,000l., of which 3,500l. came from himself and 1,000l. from the chapter. The dean (Wood) would contribute nothing, and steadily opposed the bishop in all his work. So contumacious did he become that the bishop was driven to excommunicate him openly in the church. The rebuilding of the cathedral occupied eight years. The whole of the roof from end to end was renewed, the timber being given by the king. On Christmas Eve, 1669, the work was sufficiently advanced to allow the bishop to dedicate the renovated church with a solemn ceremonial. On this occasion he exercised a bountiful hospitality, holding a great feast for three days. On the first day he entertained all the clergy and others connected with the church; on the second, the mayor and aldermen ; on the third, the gentry of the county, male and female. Hacket also drew up a body of statutes for the cathedral, which were confirmed 23 Feb. 1693. The bishop’s benefactions were very liberal. He gave 1,200l. to Trinity College, Cambridge, for the rebuilding of Gerard’s hostel, the rents of which were to be paid to the library of the college. He also bequeathed all his books to the university library. He was a far richer man (according to his son’s sworn testimony) when he succeeded to the see than at his death. The bishop was taken ill on St. Luke’s day (18 Oct.) 1670, and died on the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude next following (28 Oct.), aged 78.

In addition to the Latin play of ‘Loyola’ and his great work on the life of Archbishop Williams, a small work entitled ‘Christian Consolations’ (1671, republished 1840) has been incorrectly attributed to Hacket. ‘A Century of Sermons on several remarkable subjects’ was edited, with a memoir, by Thomas Plume in 1675. In company with Ben Jonson he translated Bacon’s ‘Essays’ into Latin. His skill in using the Latin tongue was considerable, and his reading was varied and extensive. His biographer admits that he was of a hasty and choleric temper, but very quickly reconciled to any who had offended him. His quarrel with Dean Wood, who afterwards succeeded him as bishop, and was suspended for simoniacal practices, caused, according to Pepys, considerable scandal, but the bishop enjoyed high estimation in the opinion of all good men. He married Elizabeth, daughter of W. Stebbing of Soham, Suffolk ; and after her death in 1638, Frances, daughter of Mr. Bennet of Cheshire, and widow of Dr. Bridgman, prebendary of Chester. He had several children. His eldest son, Andrew, was knighted, and was a master in chancery; he erected a recumbent effigy to his father’s memory in Lichfield Cathedral. There is an engraving of this tomb and also of a portrait of Hacket in ‘A Century of Sermons.’

[Plume’s Life of Hacket, reprinted with additions by Mackenzie Walcot, B.D., London, 1865; Tanner MSS., Bodleian Library, vols. xxxv. cxxxi.; Walker’s Sufferings of the Clergy, London, 1714; Diary of Samuel Pepys, vol. iii., London, 1858; Serinia Reserata (Life of Archbishop Williams), London, 1693 ; Baker’s Biog. Dram. i. 305-7.]


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