Thomas Fuller (1608-1661)A Great Reformed Preacher and Authoritative Historian
“Lord, be pleased to shake my clay cottage before You throw it down. Make it totter awhile before it tumbles. Let me be summoned before I am surprised.” – Thomas Fuller
Fuller was apparently one of the first authors to make an income by their pens. He says in the beginning of his ‘Worthies’ that ‘hitherto no stationer hath lost by me.’ It does not appear how much he made by the stationers. His works are:
- ‘David’s Hainous Sinne, Heartie Repentance, Heavie Punishment,’ 1631 (reprinted in 1869, and by Dr. Grosart in Fuller’s ‘Poems and Translations in Verse,’ 1868).
- ‘The History of the Holy Warre,’ 1639, 2nd edit. 1640, 3rd 1647, 4th 1651 (besides other reprints), reprinted 1840.
- ‘Joseph’s Party-coloured Coat,’ 1640 (a collection of sermons), reprinted 1867 with ‘David’s Hainous Sinne,’ &c.
- ‘The Holy State and the Profane State,’ 1642, also 1648, 1652, 1663 (reprinted in 1840 and 1841).
- ‘Truth Maintained, or Positions delivered in a sermon at the Savoy, . . . asserted for safe and sound,’ 1643.
- ‘Good Thoughts in Bad Times,’ 1645 and 1646.
- ‘Andronicus, or the Unfortunate Politician,’ 1646 (three editions) and 1649, also in second and later editions of ‘Holy and Profane State.’ In Dutch 1659.
- ‘The Cause and Cure of a Wounded Conscience,’ 1647, reprinted in 1810, 1812, 1815.
- ‘Good Thoughts in Worse Times,’ 1647, and with ‘Good Thoughts in Bad Times’ 1649, 1652, 1657, 1659, 1665, 1669, 1680; reprinted in 1810.
- ‘A Pisgah-sight of Palestine,’ 1650, 1652, 1668; reprinted in 1869.
- ‘A Comment on the Eleven First Verses of the 4th Chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel,’ 1652 (twelve sermons).
- ‘The Infant’s Advocate,’ 1652.
- ‘A Comment on Ruth,’ 1654.
- ‘The Triple Recounter,’ 1654.
- ‘The Church History of Britain,’ also the ‘History of the University of Cambridge since the Conquest ‘ and the ‘ History of Waltham Abbey,’ 1655; reprinted in 1837, edited by James Nichols, in 3 vols., and again 1840, 1842, and 1868, and edited by J. S. Brewer for the Oxford University Press, 1845. The ‘Histories’ of Cambridge and Waltham were reprinted in 1840, edited by James Nichols, with the ‘ Appeal of Injured Innocence.’
- ‘A Collection of [four] Sermons, together with Notes upon Jonah,’ 1656.
- ‘The Best Name on Earth, together with several other [three] sermons,’ 1657 and 1659.
- ‘The Appeal of Injured Innocence,’1659; reprinted in 1840 with the ‘Histories’ of Cambridge and Waltham Abbey.
- ‘An Alarum to the Counties of England and Wales’ (three editions), 1660.
- ‘Mixt Contemplations in Better Times,’ 1660; reprinted with former ‘Contemplations’ in 1830 and 1841.
- ‘A Panegyrick to His Majesty,’ 1660.
- ‘The History of the Worthies of England,’1662; reprinted in 1811 and 1840.
Fuller published several separate sermons, including ‘A Fast Sermon on Innocents’ Day,’ 1642; ‘A Sermon on the 27th March,’ 1643; ‘A Sermon of Reformation,’ 1643; and ‘A Sermon of Assurance,’ 1647. He contributed poems to Cambridge collections of verses in 1631 and 1633; a preface to the ‘Valley of Vision,’1651 (a collection of sermons attributed to Dr. Holdsworth); an ‘Epistle to the Reader,’ and some lives to the ‘Abel Redevivus,’ 1651; a preface to the ‘Ephemeris Parliamentaria,’1654; and a life to Henry Smith’s ‘Sermons,’ 1657. A minute and most careful account of the bibliography of all Fuller’s writings is given by Mr. Bailey.
[The anonymous life of Fuller, first published in 1661 (reprinted with Brewer’s edition of the ‘Church History’) is the original authority; Oldys’s Life in the Biog. Brit. (1750) is founded on this, with a painstaking examination of Fuller’s writings. Memorials of the Life and Works of Thomas Fuller, by Arthur J. Russell (1844), adds a little; but everything discoverable was first brought together in Mr. John Eglinton Bailey’s Life of Thomas Fuller, with Notices of his Books, his Kinsmen, and his Friends (1874). Life, Times, and Writings, by the Rev. Morris Fuller, 2 vols., 1884, is founded upon this. See also Lloyd’s Memoirs (1677), pp. 523-4.]
Biography of Thomas Fuller (1608-1661):
Thomas Fuller (1608–1661), divine, born June 1608, was the son of Thomas Fuller, rector of St. Peter’s, Aldwincle, Northamptonshire. Thomas Fuller the elder was a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. 1587-8, and M.A. 1591. He became rector of St. Peter’s in September 1602. About 1607 he married Judith, daughter of John Davenant, a London citizen, sister of John Davanant, afterwards bishop of Salisbury, and widow of Stephen Payne, by whom he had Thomas and six younger children. He appears to have been a steady clergyman of moderate principles. Thomas Fuller the younger was for four years at a school kept by Arthur Smith, in his native village, where he learnt little. He was afterwards taught more successfully by his father. Aubrey (Letters, 1803, vol. ii. pt. ii. 355) says that he was a boy of ‘pregnant wit,’ and often joined in the talk of his father and his uncle Davenant. When just thirteen years old he was entered at Queens’ College, Cambridge (29 June 1621). His uncle, who was at this time president of Queens’ College and Lady Margaret professor of divinity, had also just been nominated to the bishopric of Salisbury. The tutors of the college were Edward Davenant, the bishop’s nephew, and John Thorpe, whom Fuller calls his ‘ever honoured tutor.’ He graduated B.A. 1624-1625, M.A. 1628.
Bishop Davenant was a model uncle. He had appointed the elder Fuller to a prebendal stall at Salisbury in 1622, and had obtained the election of a nephew (Robert Townson) to a fellowship at Queens’. He wrote several letters in 1626 and 1627 to the master of Sidney Sussex (printed in Bailey’s Life from Tanner MSS. in the Bodleian) endeavouring to obtain a fellowship at that college for Fuller. Fuller, in spite of applications from the bishop, had been passed over at Queens’. According to his anonymous biographer, he had resigned his claim in favour of a more needy candidate from Northamptonshire, because two men from one county could not hold fellowships at the same time. He entered Sidney Sussex afterwards as a fellow-commoner, but he never obtained a fellowship. In 1630 he was appointed by Corpus Christi College to the perpetual curacy of St. Benet’s, Cambridge, taking orders at the same time. Here he buried the carrier Hobson, who died of the plague in the winter of 1630-1. He contributed to a collection of Cambridge verses on the birth of the Princess Mary (4Nov. 1631); and in the same year published his first book, ‘David’s Hainous Sinne, Heartie Repentance, Heavie Punishment,’ in which his characteristic conceits supply the place of poetry. It was dedicated to the three sons of Edward, first Lord Montagu, at Boughton, in the neighbourhood of Aldwincle, with whose family he had many friendly relations. Edward, the eldest son, was at Sidney Sussex, of which his uncle, James Montagu, had been the first master. On 18 June 1631 Fuller was appointed by his uncle to the prebend of Netherbury in Ecclesia in Salisbury (Appeal, i. 286). He calls it ‘one of the best prebends in England.’ His father died intestate about this time, administration of his effects being granted to the son 10 April 1632. On 5 July 1633 Fuller resigned his Cambridge curacy, and in 1634 was presented by his uncle to the rectory of Broadwindsor, Dorsetshire, then in the diocese of Bristol. In 1635 he took the B.D. degree (11 June), when four of his chief parishioners showed their respect by accompanying him to Cambridge (Life, p. 10). His hospitality on the occasion cost him 140l. He twice speaks of having resided seventeen years in Cambridge, which would imply some stay there until 1738 (Church History, ed. Brewer, lxiv. § 43; Appeal, pt. i. 28). Before January 1638 he was married to a lady whose Christian name was Ellen. Her surname is unknown. In the spring of 1639 he published the first of his historical writings, the ‘History of the Holy Warre,’ that is of the crusades. It shows much reading, and more wit, and was very popular until the Restoration.
In the spring of 1640 Fuller was elected to the convocation as proctor for the diocese of Bristol. He gave an account of the proceedings in his ‘Church History’ and his ‘Appeal.’ Fuller’s sympathies were always in favour of moderation. He objected to the severity of a proposed ‘Canon for the restraint of Sectaries.’ After the dissolution of parliament, the convocation was continued as a synod. Fuller says that it was only by an oversight that he and others did not formally protest against the prolongation of their sittings. The minority, however, submitted; a benevolence was voted, and canons were passed. Heylyn states that ‘one of the clerks for the diocese of Bristol’ (Life of Laud, pp. 405-6; see Bailey, p. 191), probably meaning Fuller, proposed in committee a canon upon enforcing uniformity in ritual drawn up in ‘such a commanding and imperious style’ that every one disliked it except himself. The statement was made after Fuller’s death. Fuller felt bound to subscribe the canons, in spite of his disapproval of some parts of them, and they received the royal assent.
Fuller was probably not in the convocation which met with the Long parliament (3 Nov. 1640). The House of Commons passed a bill, which fell through in the House of Lords, imposing fines upon those who had subscribed the canons. Fuller was set down for 200l. His uncle, the bishop, died 21 April 1641. A son, John, who survived him, was baptised at Broadwindsor 6 June 1641; and his wife died towards the end of the year. He abandoned both his living and his prebend about the same time. He says that he was ‘never formally sequestered,’ but he ceased to officiate or to receive the income. He settled in London, where he preached for a time at the Inns of Court, and soon afterwards became curate of the Savoy. He had finished the ‘Holy and Profane State,’ the most popular and characteristic of all his books at the beginning of 1641. After being at press for a year it appeared in 1642. It was transcribed by the members of the community at Little Gidding [see Ferrar, Nicholas], The discovery of one such copy led Dr. Peckard to attribute the authorship to Ferrar (see Bailey, p. 229). Fuller was exceedingly popular as a preacher. His biographer says that he had two congregations, one in the church, the other listening through the windows. His hearers were chiefly royalists, and he fell under the suspicion of the parliamentary party. His position is indicated by the sermons published at the time. On 28 Dec. 1642, one of the fast-days appointed by the king to commemorate the Irish massacre, Fuller preached a sermon strongly exhorting both sides to peace, and proposed petitions to the king and to parliament. He states (Appeal, pt. ii. p. 46) that he was one of six who tried to carry a petition from Westminster to the king at Oxford. It is not quite certain whether this is to be identified with a petition (printed in Bailey, p. 267) presented to the king at Oxford by a ‘Dr. Fuller’ and others 18 Jan. 1643-4. Fuller was not then ‘doctor,’ and there were others of the name. On 27 March 1643, the anniversary of the king’s accession, Fuller preached another sermon, expressing hopes of peace from the negotiations then just renewed. On 17 June, after the discovery of Waller’s plot, parliament ordered that an oath should be generally tendered expressing abhorrence of the plot, and containing a promise not to join the royal forces. Fuller took the oath with certain reservations. On another fast-day, at the end of July, he preached a sermon upon ‘Reformation,’ condemning, among other things, Milton’s tract of 1641 on the same topic in the ‘Smectymnuus’ controversy. He sufficiently showed his discontent with the zealots of the puritan side, and it was possibly at this time that he undertook the position above mentioned. He incurred fresh suspicion, and was ordered to take the oath, without reservation, ‘in the face of the church,’ whereupon he withdrew to Oxford about August 1643.
Fuller settled at Lincoln College. He complains that ‘seventeen weeks’ at Oxford cost him more than seventeen years at Cambridge, even all that he had (Church History, bk. iv. 43). This, though it has been differently understood, seems clearly to refer to the losses consequent upon his flight, not to the actual expense of living. He lost many of his books, and was deprived of his income. He was welcomed by the royalists, and preached before the king. But his position was not agreeable. His sermons on reformation produced a smart controversy with John Saltmarsh, who accused him of popish tendencies. Fuller replied in ‘Truth Maintained,’ published at Oxford, with supplementary letters to several persons, and to his ‘dear parish, St. Mary Savoy.’ Though Fuller was opposed to the puritans, he was regarded as lukewarm by the passionate loyalists of Oxford. Isolated and impoverished, he accepted (about December 1643) a chaplaincy to Sir Ralph Hopton, one of the most moderate and religious of the king’s generals. Fuller followed the general’s movements for a few months, amusing himself, it is said, even in the midst of campaigning, by antiquarian researches; but he was at Basing House early in 1644, and his biographer states that he encouraged the garrison in their sallies on some occasions. The dates, however, are confused. He was preaching at Oxford 10 May 1644. Later in the year he followed Hopton to the west. By the autumn he was at Exeter, where the queen’s fourth child, the Princess Henrietta, was born 16 June 1644. The king was at Exeter, after the surrender of Essex’s army (1 Sept. 1644), and appointed Fuller chaplain to the new-born infant. He further pressed upon Fuller a presentation to a living in Dorchester. Fuller, however, declined an offer which could hardly have been carried into effect. He gave up his chaplaincy to Hopton and stayed quietly at Exeter as a member of the princess’s household. He preached and worked at his ‘Worthies,’ and wrote his ‘Good Thoughts in Bad Times,’ published at Exeter in 1645. In the winter of 1645-6 the town was invested by Fairfax. On 21 March 1645-6, Fuller was appointed to a lectureship founded at Exeter by Laurence Bodley. On 9 April following the town surrendered to Fairfax under honourable articles. Fuller went to London, and on 1 June sent in a petition (facsimile in Bailey, p. 376), claiming the protection granted by the articles upon composition for his estate. He could not obtain terms which would permit of his being ‘restored to the exercise of his profession.’ He employed himself in writing his ‘Andronicus,’ published in the autumn. He had many influential friends who served him during the troubled times following so as to place him in a better position than most of the ejected clergy. Edward, lord Montagu (son of the first lord, who died 1644), had taken the parliamentary side. In the winter of 1646-7 he hospitably received his old college friend at Boughton House. Montagu was one of the commissioners who in February 1647 received the king at Holmby House. Fuller about the same period became intimate with Sir John Danvers, in whose house at Chelsea he was a frequent guest. The intimacy continued until Danvers’s death in 1655, although Danvers was one of those who signed the death-warrant of Charles. Fuller, it is said by his biographer, was so affected by the king’s death as to throw aside the composition of the ‘Worthies;’ he preached a sermon on ‘The Just Man’s Funeral,’ evidently referring to it; but he did not break with Danvers, one of the most regular judges at the trial. He was meanwhile leading an unsettled life, finding time to publish a few sermons and books of contemplation and occasionally preaching. In March 1647 he was lecturing in St. Clement’s, Eastcheap, although from the preface to a sermon published in that year it appears that he was prohibited from preaching until further order. In 1648 or 1649 he was presented to the perpetual curacy of Waltham Abbey by the second Earl of Carlisle, who had come over to the parliament in March 1644 and compounded for his estate. Carlisle also made Fuller his chaplain. At Waltham, Fuller finished his ‘Pisgah-sight of Palestine,’ which appeared in 1650, after much delay due to the preparation of the plates. Book v. of Fuller’s ‘Church History’ is dedicated to the third Earl of Middlesex, who lived at Copt Hall, near Waltham. The earl presented to Fuller ‘what remained’ of the library of his father, the first earl [see Cranfield, Lionel]. Fuller was constantly at Copt Hall, and speaks of the ‘numerous and choice library’ (Appeal, iii. 617). He was also frequently in London during his curacy at Waltham. He had access to the library at Sion College, where he had a chamber for some time; and he made acquaintance with merchants, many of whom are mentioned among the numerous recipients of his dedications. He was again lecturer at St. Clement’s, where he preached every Wednesday, and he was lecturer at St. Bride’s in 1655-6, and, it is said, at St. Andrew’s, Holborn (Lloyd, Memoirs, p. 524). He is mentioned as preaching in various London churches (Bailey, pp. 527-8) during the following years. About the end of 1651 he married his second wife, Mary, daughter of Thomas Roper, viscount Baltinglasse, and granddaughter of James Pilkington, bishop of Durham. In March 1655 appeared his ‘Church History,’ which he had been preparing for many years. He had decided, after some hesitation, to bring the history down to his own time; and though necessarily written under constraint, the passages on which he speaks as a contemporary have a special value. His account of his authorities is given in the ‘Appeal.’ The book is divided into sections dedicated to a great number of patrons. This practice, adopted also in the ‘Pisgah-sight,’ was a rude form of the later method of publishing by subscription. It was ridiculed at the time by his opponent Heylyn, and by South, who pronounced the ‘Terræ Filius’ oration at Oxford in 1657 (printed in his ‘Opera Posthuma Latina,’ by Curll, 1717), where Fuller is described as running round London with his big book under one arm, and his little wife under the other, and recommending himself as a dinner guest by his facetious talk. This spiteful caricature had probably a grain of likeness. John Barnard (d. 1683), editor of Heylyn’s ‘Tracts’ (1681), gives a similar account, which, though equally coloured by spite, gives some confirmation. The rising under Penruddock in 1655 caused a proclamation from Cromwell forbidding the exercise of their ministry to the ejected clergy. Fuller still preached under sufferance, and was helpful to less fortunate fellow-sufferers. Some time afterwards he was summoned before the ‘triers,’ when he succeeded in satisfying them, owing, as it seems, to the judicious management of John Howe (Calamy, Memoirs of Howe, 1724, pp. 20, 21). In March 1658 he was presented to the rectory of Cranford, near Hounslow, by George Berkeley (1628-1698), first earl Berkeley, whose chaplain he also became. In 1659 Heylyn published his ‘Examen Historicum,’ the first part of which attacks Fuller’s ‘Church History.’ He discovered 350 faults in Fuller’s book; he condemned the ‘scraps of trencher-jests interlaced in all parts’ of the book; he ridiculed the multitude of dedications, and he was severe upon Fuller’s tolerance of sectaries. Fuller replied with characteristic candour and good temper, though not without some smart retorts, in his ‘Appeal for Injured Innocence.’ An appended letter to Heylyn courteously proposes an amicable agreement to differ. Heylyn answered in the appendix to his ‘Certamen Epistolare, or The Letter-combate.’ They had afterwards a personal interview at Heylyn’s house at Abingdon and parted on friendly terms.
In February 1660 Fuller published a pamphlet by ‘a lover of his native country’ in support of the demand for a free parliament, which went through three editions, the third with Fuller’s name. Soon afterwards he published his ‘Mixt Contemplations in Better Times,’ dedicated to Lady Monck, from ‘Zion College, 2 May 1660.’ Fuller appears to have accompanied Lord Berkeley to meet Charles II at the Hague, and celebrated 29 May by a loyal ‘Panegyrick’ in verse (Worthies, Worcestershire, i. 84). He judiciously promises in the ‘Worthies’ to write no more poetry. Fuller, with some other divines, was created D.D. in August 1660 by letter from the king. He resumed his old lectureship at the Savoy, where his friend Pepys, who heard him, records on 12 May 1661 a ‘poor dry sermon.’ He also resumed his possession of the prebend at Salisbury, the income of which would, as he hoped, enable him to publish his ‘Worthies.’ At Broadwindsor he found one John Pinney in possession. Fuller, having heard him preach, allowed him to remain in the charge, apparently as curate. Pinney, however, was dismissed before January 1662. Fuller was also appointed ‘chaplain in extraordinary’ to the king, and further preferment was anticipated. In the summer of 1661 he went to Salisbury, and, soon after his return, was attacked by a fever. It was probably typhus (Bailey, p. 689); he was bled profusely; and died at his lodgings in Covent Garden 16 Aug. 1661, crying out, as one account says, ‘for his pen and ink to the last.’ He was buried next day in the church at Cranford. His wife was buried in the same church 19 May 1679.
The ‘Worthies’ was published posthumously, with a dedication to Charles by John Fuller, the author’s son, who had been admitted at Sidney Sussex College in 1657, and became a fellow in 1663.
The most authentic portrait of Fuller was engraved for Mr. Bailey’s work, from the original in possession of Lord Fitzhardinge at Cranford House. An engraving prefixed to the ‘Worthies,’ and frequently reproduced, is apparently from another original. An engraving (showing a very different face) is in a few copies of the ‘Abel Redevivus.’ Another was prefixed to the anonymous ‘Life.’ Fuller is described as tall and bulky, though not corpulent, well made, almost ‘majestical,’ with light curly hair, rather slovenly in dress and often absent-minded, and careless ‘to seeming inurbanity’ in his manners. He was sparing in diet and in sleep. He seldom took any exercise except riding. His powers of memory were astonishing, and gave occasion for many anecdotes. He could, it was said, repeat five hundred strange names after two or three hearings, and recollect all the signs after walking from one end of London to the other. His anonymous biographer declares that he used to write the first words of every line in a sheet and then fill up all the spaces, which Mr. Bailey thinks ‘not a bad method.’
Fuller’s modern critics have generally confined themselves to simplifying Coleridge’s phrase, ‘God bless thee, dear old man!’ He has been called ‘dear Thomas,’ and ‘quaint old Tom Fuller,’ with a rather irritating iteration. His power of fascinating posthumous as well as contemporary friends is easily explicable. His unfailing playfulness, the exuberant wit, often extravagant, rarely ineffective and always unforced, is combined with a kindliness and simplicity which never fails to charm. If not profound, he is invariably shrewd, sound-hearted, and sensible. He tells a story admirably, as Lamb observed, because with infectious enjoyment. His humour is childlike in its freedom from bitterness. His quick sense of the ridiculous, combined with a calm and cheerful temperament, made fanaticism impossible. It tempered his zeal instead of edging his animosities. Moderation was therefore his favourite virtue, or ‘the silken chain running through the pearl-string of all the virtues’ (Holy State, p. 201). He distinguishes it from ‘lukewarmness,’ of which he cannot be fairly accused. But it can hardly be said that he was quite free from the weakness of the moderate man. It is intelligible that Heylyn accused him of ‘complying with the times,’ and called him a ‘trimmer.’ Moderate men are ‘commonly crushed,’ he says himself, ‘between extreme parties on both sides,’ whereas he was patronised by both sides, and beloved both by Charles I and by a regicide. The truth seems to be that his perfectly genuine moderation enabled him to accommodate himself rather too easily to men of all parties. His many dedications seem to escape flattery by their witty ingenuity, and his popularity implies a certain share of the wisdom of the serpent. He steered rather too skilful a course, perhaps, through a revolutionary time; but he really succeeded in avoiding any really discreditable concessions, and never disavowed his genuine convictions. Coleridge’s remarks upon Fuller are in his ‘Literary Remains,’ 1836, ii. 381-390; Lamb’s ‘Selections,’ with comments, published in his ‘Essays,’ first appeared in Leigh Hunt’s ‘Reflector,’ No. 4 (1811); the essay by James Crossley in the ‘Retrospective Review,’ iii. 50-71, and the essay by Henry Rogers (originally in the ‘Edinburgh Review,’ January 1842), prefixed to a volume of selections in Longman’s ‘Travellers’ Library,’ 1856, may also be noticed.