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Thomas Young (1587–1655)

A Member of the Westminster Assembly

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His Works:

  1. Dies Dominica, sive Succincta narratio ex S. Scripturarum (1639) by Thomas Young
  2. Hopes incouragement pointed at in a sermon, preached in St. Margarets Westminster (1644) by Thomas Young
  3. The Lords-day. Or, A succinct narration compiled out of the testimonies of H. Scripture and the reverend ancient fathers (1672) by Thomas Young


Biography of Thomas Young:

Thomas Young (1587–1655) master of Jesus College, Cambridge, born in 1587 at Luncarty in Perthshire, was the son of William Young, minister of the parishes of Luncarty and Redgorton, and one of those who signed the protest (1 July 1606) against the introduction of episcopacy into Scotland. His mother’s name was Rebecca, but of her family nothing is known. The son was educated at the grammar school at Perth, whence he was sent to St. Leonard’s College in the university of St. Andrews. His name appears in the college registers as ‘Thomas Junius,’ and he was one of eighteen students styled ‘minus potentes magistrandi’ (i.e. of the poorer class) who obtained the degree of M.A. in July 1606.

In 1612, or soon after, he appears to have settled in London, where he supported himself by assisting puritan ministers and also by teaching. In this latter capacity he was appointed by the father of John Milton, about the year 1618, to superintend his son’s education at the time that the latter was living with his family in Cheapside. The engagement appears to have lasted for at least two years after the time when Milton was sent to St. Paul’s school in 1620, but in 1622 Young was appointed chaplain to the English merchants resident at Hamburg (Masson, Life of Milton, i. 72). Three years later, the poet, writing from London (26 March 1625), acknowledges the present of a Hebrew bible, which Young may probably have sent in anticipation of his former pupil’s removal to the university; but the writer is, at the same time, under the necessity of apologising for a silence of ‘more than three years,’ although he expresses ‘boundless and singular gratitude’ to his old tutor, whom he regards ‘in the light of a father’ (ib. i. 147). Two years later, in the long vacation of 1627, another letter from Milton, in Latin elegiacs, deplores the fact that their correspondence had again been interrupted by a long silence; the poet pictures to himself the manner in which Young may be endeavouring to beguile his thoughts amid the distractions caused by the conflict between the imperialists and the protestant league—turning over the massive tomes of the fathers and the pages of holy scripture—and predicts his early return to England.

Young returned in the following year, when he was presented (27 March 1628) by John Howe to the vicarages of St. Peter and St. Mary in Stowmarket, the ancient county town of Suffolk. The living was worth 300l. a year, and in the following July Young invited Milton to visit Stowmarket. The poet in replying (21 July 1628) compliments his old tutor, whom he describes as ‘living on his little farm, with a moderate fortune but a princely mind.’ Mr. Laing considers that we may safely assume that the old intercourse between the two was now renewed, and maintained ‘by occasional visits’ (on Milton’s part) ‘to the vicarage as well as by correspondence.’

From 1629 to 1637 Young appears to have been generally resident at Stowmarket, but his signature to the vestry accounts is wanting for 1632 and 1635, and from 1637 to 1652 ceases altogether. Hollingsworth infers that during this latter period the duties were discharged by a curate. In 1639 Young published his best known work, the ‘Dies Dominica,’ on the observance of the Sabbath. In the prefatory address, to ‘the orthodox church of Christ,’ he describes it as his design ‘to benefit chiefly thy natural sons that sojourn in Germany, which I love upon many accounts.’ The volume bears no date nor name of place, but is evidently printed abroad. In the following year the appearance of the ‘Humble Remonstrance’ of Joseph Hall, bishop of Norwich, gave rise to the memorable controversy in which the author consequently found himself involved with ‘Smectymnuus,’ a name in which the letters T and Y stand for Thomas Young. According to the author of the ‘History of Jesus College,’ Young was the ringleader of the five contributing divines (Shermanni Historia, p. 40). Milton, in his ‘Reason of Church Government,’ rallied to the defence of his old tutor, whose reputation was undoubtedly enhanced by the share he had taken in the above work; for we find that when in 1641 the subject of recruiting and encouraging their ablest divines and preachers came before the general assembly at Edinburgh, the moderator set forth ‘the expediencie of calling home one Mr. Thomas Young from England, the author of the “Dies Dominica” and of the “Smectymnias” for the most part’ (Baillie, Letters and Journals, i. 366). In 1643 Young was nominated a member of the assembly of divines at Westminster, and, according to the same authority, he was one of those who ‘reasoned for the divine institution of the office of ruling elder,’ and also ‘took an active part in preparing the portion of the directory for reading of the scriptures and singing of psalms’ (ib. ii. 110, 117–18; Laing, p. 12). About this time he received the appointment of preacher at St. James’s, Duke Place, in succession to Herbert Palmer, and in 1644 was made master of Jesus College, Cambridge, in place of the ejected Richard Sterne The Earl of Manchester, who appointed him, was present at his installation in the college chapel on 12 April 1644.

Young was, however, unable to accept the Engagement, and was even supposed to be the author of a manifesto, ‘The Humble Proposals of sundry Learned and Pious Divines … concerning the Engagement,’ &c. (London, 1649, 4to). His refusal to comply with the new test was followed by his deprivation of his mastership in 1650. From this time he appears to have lived in retirement at Stowmarket, where he died (28 Nov. 1655) in his fifty-eighth year. He was buried in the parish church by the side of his wife Rebecca, who predeceased him in April 1651. His eldest son Thomas, ‘M.A. and president of Jesus College,’ it is stated in the epitaph, was also interred in the same grave.

His portrait, preserved at the vicarage, represents him preaching; a copy in photozincography is prefixed by Laing to his interesting volume.

[David Laing’s Biographical Notices of Thomas Young, Edinburgh, 1870; Clarke’s Lives (ed. 1667); Hollingsworth’s Hist. of Stowmarket; Masson’s Life of Milton, vol. i.]


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