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Puritan Memoirs - Mr. Hugh Broughton

Puritan Memoirs - The Life and Death of Some Reformed Ministers

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The life and death of Mr. Hugh Broughton.

THIS laborious literarian, and celebrated writer, was born at Oldbury in Shropshire, bordering on Wales, in 1549, and descended of an ancient family. He was educated in grammar learning under the famous Bernard Gilpin, at Houghton in the Spring, near Durham, who sent him to Christ college, Cambridge, where he was afterwards chosen fellow. He was also elected one of the taxers of the university, preferred to a prebend in the church of Durham, and chosen reader of divinity in the same place. In 1579, after having enjoyed his fellowship several years, he was deprived of it by the vice-chancellor and others, not for want of learning, or any blemish in his character, but for some trivial irregularity in his admission, or in the execution of his office. He was a man of celebrity, and had many friends, who, at this juncture, pled his cause, and gave high commendations of his character. The bishop of Durham became his zealous advocate, and wrote a letter, dated December 14th, 1579, to lord Burleigh, chancellor of the university, warmly soliciting that Mr. Broughton might still continue to hold his fellowship, notwithstanding his preferment at Durham. In consequence of this, and a letter jointly addressed to the chancellor, by the earls of Huntingdon and Essex, in which they speak in high commendation of his learning, obedience, and circumspection. The chancellor wrote to the vice-chancellor and the master of the college, in which he warmly expresses his disapprobation of their conduct, and that of the fellows, on their unjust treatment of Mr. Broughton. Accordingly, after much opposition, he was again admitted to his fellowship by an order of the chancellor. In the meantime, he generously resigned the office of taxer for the university. It does not appear, however, that he returned any more to the college.

Some time after this he removed to London, where he had many worthy friends, amongst whom were the earls already mentioned, with Sir Walter Mildmay and others. About the same time he entered on the ministerial function, but still pursued his studies with inflexible perseverance, usually spending fourteen or sixteen hours a day in the most intense application. In his sermons he commonly chose a text from the old, and another from the New Testament; and after discoursing pretty largely upon them, in their connection, he concluded with a short, but close application of the doctrine. Thus, in a short time, his preaching became extremely popular, particularly amongst the more learned; but that which, more than any thing else, rendered him known to the world, was the publication of his book, entitled, “A Consent of Scriptures.” This was a kind of scripture chronology and genealogy, designed to show the chronological order of events from Adam to Christ, and harmonize the apparently jarring passages. It was the fruit of immense labor and study, and was published in 1588. The famous John Speed superintended the press. It was dedicated to queen Elizabeth, and presented to her majesty, by his own hand, in 1689. In his dedication, he says, “The whole hook of God, most gracious sovereign, is so harmonious in itself, that every part thereof may be seen to breathe the same spirit. The prophecies briefly told, the events fully recorded, the temple, the altar, the sacrifices, all pointing to one center, shows, that by Christ, the great propitiatory, the Son eternal, we are made heirs of the heavenly inheritance. To these truths all other, Hebrews and profane Greeks, bear ample testimony, even against themselves. These helps are stars in the story; and all this •framework, coupling of joints, and proportion of body, will allure to study, when it is seen, that this one work, religion, and God’s way of salvation, has occupied all families, countries, and ages, in building or pulling down.”

The learned author has taken great pains in showing, that the heathen chronology is full of contradictions and inconsistencies; while the sacred records are clear of these imperfections. The book, however, was no sooner published than it was opposed. The archbishop at first disliked the performance to that degree, that he would have called the author to account for some sentiments therein expressed; and Mr. Broughton, apprized of Whitegift’s intention, fled into Germany, which greatly increased the clamor against the book; but bishop Aylmer, in commending the work, declared, that one good scholar would prove all its enemies to be foolish and ignorant declaimers. Nevertheless, Dr. Rainolds of Oxford, and Mr. Lively of Cambridge, both learned professors of these “universities, read publicly against it. Mr. Broughton used to call this work his little book of great pains, for it cost him many years study; and when completed and published, it cost him a great deal of trouble in defending it. By permission of the queen and council, he entered on its defense in public lectures in St. Paul’s church, where the lord mayor, some of the most learned of the bishops, and other people of distinction, were of his audience. Others of the bishops, however, could not endure these lectures, calling them conventicles dangerous to the estate of the church; and entering complaints on this ground, had his lectures put down. He and his friends, after this, convened at various places in the city as opportunity offered. He mostly resided at the house of Mr. William Cotton, whose son, afterward Sir Rowland, he instructed in the Hebrew language. His young pupil obtained such a proficiency in the language, that at the age of seven or eight years he could translate almost any chapter of the bible into English, and converse in Hebrew with the greatest ease. Mr. William Cooper, afterwards bishop of Gallway, was another of his pupils. Mr. Broughton’s method of instruction was singular; he had his young pupil constantly with him, and invariably required him to speak, both to himself and others acquainted with the Hebrew, in that language. He also drew up a vocabulary, in which he fixed upon some place or thing, then named ~all the particulars belonging to it; such as heaven, angels, sun, moon, stars, clouds, etc. or a house, doors, windows, parlors, etc. a field, grass, flowers, trees, etc. Mr. Broughton, before setting out for Germany, wrote a letter to his friend lord Burleigh, dated March 27th, 1590, desiring permission to travel, particularly with a view to make use of king Casimer’s library; and he no doubt obtained the favor. He was always firm, and a determined defender of what he considered to be the truth; on which account he sometimes brought himself into awkward situations, by openly exposing the errors of popery. He had a public disputation with Rabi Elias, a learned Jew, in the synagogue at Frankfort. They disputed under an oath or imprecation, that God might immediately strike him dead, who, on that occasion, should speak contrary to the dictates of his conscience. In the conclusion, the Jew departed, desiring to be farther instructed by his writings. An account of this disputation reached Constantinople, where it excited a very considerable sensation amongst the Jews in that city. Two Italian Jews, who had seen Mr. Broughton’s works, particularly what he had written on Daniel, believed, and were baptized at Zurich. “Another (says he) is now in England, as I understand, who, by my means, embraced the gospel.” In 1591 Mr. Broughton returned from the continent, for the purpose of settling the controversy between himself and Dr. Rainolds. He had an anxious, but absurd, desire to have it adjusted by public authority. In one of his letters to the queen, he says, speaking of himself and his antagonist, “His fame for learning, and my more confident resistance, may induce many to think that the scriptures are difficult to be understood, when two men labor so long without deciding, in one way or other, the point in dispute. The fault is intolerable either in him or me, and the faulty should be forced to yield, that none may think amiss of the word of God.” He earnestly solicited the queen to command the archbishops and both universities to determine the points in contest between him and his learned antagonist. The controversy, however, was at last decided by the arbitration of Whitegift and bishop Aylmer; and though a reconciliation could not be fully effected, the result was greatly in favor of Broughton, The following year he again set out for Germany. The archbishop was his powerful adversary at court, and hindered the queen from preferring him, as, it is said, she intended. It has oven been positively asserted, that he laid wait for him, and offered a sum of money for his apprehension. During his abode in Germany, he formed an acquaintance with the learned Scaliger, Rephelengius, Junius, Beza, and other celebrated scholars. He was particularly favored by the archbishop of Mentz, to whom he dedicated his translation of the prophets into Greek. He was highly esteemed by many of the learned Jesuits; and though a bold and inflexible enemy to popery, he was offered a cardinal’s cap.

The article of our Savior’s descent into hell began about this time to be, called in question. It had hitherto been the received doctrine of the church of England, that the soul of Christ, being separated from his body, descended into hell; that as he had already conquered death and sin, ho might triumph over Satan. However, Broughton, the very Rabi of the age, succeeded in convincing the world, that the word Hades, as used by the fathers for the place where Christ went after his crucifixion, did not mean hell, or the place of the damned, but the state of the dead, or the invisible world. He was the first of our countrymen who gave this explication; but his opinion, now generally and justly received, met with great opposition at the time. Mr. Broughton was so celebrated for his knowledge in all kinds of Hebrew learning, that he was invited to Constantinople to instruct the Jews in the Christian religion. And king James of Scotland invited him to become a Hebrew professor in one of the Scotch universities.

Mr. Broughton directed his elaborate studies chiefly to a minute examination of the scriptures in their original languages. He found the authorized version of the bible very defective, and used his utmost endeavors to obtain a new translation. Anxious to accomplish this desirable object, he addressed a letter to Sir William Cecil, lord high treasurer, wherein he says, “That sundry lords, some bishops, besides doctors, and other inferiors of all sorts, have requested me to bestow my long studies, in Hebrew and Greek writings, in clearing up the translation of the bible. They judged rightly that it stands in want of amendment; but in what points I judge it improper to tell till the tiling be accomplished, lest it should throw the present translation into disgrace. That it is susceptible of much improvement, every person of understanding and conscience must allow; besides, it is long since this motion was made to the queen, who sent a message to Sir Francis Walsingham to take the matter into consideration; but other weighty affairs have hitherto prevented. In the meantime, I have been at much trouble and expense in preparing for that business and have likewise solicited soma who appeared fittest and worthiest to be contributors to the expense; and your lordship I consider one of the worthiest to be a contributor, for the maintenance of some six of us, who have been the longest students of the languages in question, to join together in. the work. Not to alter any thing where amendment is unnecessary, nor to pass any thing where it is; by which means Job and the prophets may be brought to speak far better than they do at present. Where all may have short notes, with geographical maps, and chronological tables, to which, if it please your lordship to be a ready helper, your example will stir up others to lend their hand to a more needful concern than the repairing of the temple in the days of king Josiah.” This generous proposal was, nevertheless, attended with insurmountable difficulties; and however willingly the treasurer would have patronized the laudable design, it could not be undertaken at the time. Mr. Broughton’s second return from the continent was when the plague was raging in London; and his friends were not a little surprised to see him returned during so great a national calamity. He was, however, cheerful, and quite unalarmed with respect! to the distemper. His conversation savored much of heaven and he spoke greatly to the comfort and edification of his friends. In 1603 he preached before prince Henry of Oatlands. He did not continue long, however, in his native country, but went a third time to the continent, and was chosen preacher to the English congregation at Middleburg. During his abode in this place, he sent the following petition to king James, now of England.


Your majesty’s most humble subject, Hugh Broughton having suffered many years persecution, for publishing your right, and God’s truth, by your unlearned bishops, who spent, two impressions of libels to disgrace their Scottish mist; which libels their stationers declare they never sold. He requesteth your majesty’s favor for a pension fit for his age, studies, and past travel, bearing always a most dutiful heart to your majesty.

Your most humble Servant,


From Middleburg, August 1604

While residing at Middleburg, besides the care of his congregation, he published his smart discourse against Archibald Boncraft, and sent the whole impression to Mr. William Cotton, younger brother to Sir Rowland, then residing in London, requesting him, if he durst venture, to deliver a copy into the hands of the archbishop. Mr. Cotton was not without his apprehensions; but could not think of refusing to answer the request of his friend. Accordingly, he waited on the archbishop; and having made the requisite apology, he delivered a copy of the book into his hand, very politely asking his grace’s pardon for the boldness he had taken. Boncraft treated him with all the civility that could have been desired. He was no sooner dismissed, however, than the archbishop’s officers came to his lodgings; and seizing all the copies of the book they could possibly find, carried them away. This the archbishop found to be the easier, and by far the shortest way, to answer the charges and arguments of his learned antagonist.

Mr. Broughton having a dangerous complaint settled on his lungs, and desirous to breathe his last in his native country, he returned the third and last time to England, where he landed in November 1611. He told his friends that he was come to leave his bones in his native country, and that, if it was the will of God, he wished to die in Shropshire, the place of his birth., Sir Rowland Cotton, his former pupil, was anxious to gratify his old master in all his desires, and supply his wants, and for this purpose had suitable accommodations prepared for him at his own house in Shropshire. He continued in London, however, during the winter; and in the spring following, removed to an agreeable situation in the vicinity. During his confinement under his present affliction, he gave his friends many pious and profitable exhortations. He often urged them to the exercise of practical religion, saying, “Study your bibles, labor for the edification of one another; be peaceable, mind your own affairs. Some judgment will assuredly come upon this kingdom; but popery you have no reason to fear, it will never again overspread the land; but the course the bishops are taking will unavoidably fill the country with atheism; but keep your hands clean, and keep clear of the quarrel.” As he drew towards his latter end, he said, “Satan has been assaulting me; but the Son of God hath rebuked him, and spoken comfortable things to my soul.” A little before his death he became speechless; and some of his friends asking, Whether they should pray with him? He signified his warmest approbation, by holding up both hands; and soon after the prayer was ended, he breathed his last, on the 4th of August 1612 and in the sixty-third year of his age. His remains were interred in St. Autholin’s church, London, with great funeral solemnity. His funeral sermon was preached by Mr. Speght, from John xi. 8.; but the bishops would not suffer it to be printed.

Mr. Broughton was a student of indefatigable application, and a most celebrated scholar and linguist. His temper was, however, remarkably tinged with austerity. Amongst friends, however, he was affable and affectionate. In opposing error and impiety he was bold and severe, and would not fail to reprove sharply whatever it might cost him. He was free, easy, and communicative to such as wished to learn; but apt to lose his temper when his scholars could not comprehend the directions he was giving them. As a writer, his style is rough and obscure; and in our times, he would be considered too vain, and much too severe to his literary opponents.

The greatest, the most worthy, and even the most popular of men have had their enemies; nor has Mr. Broughton been singular in this respect. He has been charged by Mr. William Gilpin with ingratitude, and that he endeavored to supplant the very man who supported him both at school and the college, even the patron who raised him up. Of this, however, Mr. Gilpin has neglected to bring forward any evidence; which, in a matter of this importance, he certainly ought to have done, especially after Mr. Broughton was gone, and could no longer defend himself. Gilpin, moreover, charges him with paying a servile court to the vulgar, in the capacity of a popular preacher. It would, however, appear from the tenor of his life and manners, that servility was no part of his character.

Mr. Gilpin has likewise said concerning him, that he outlived his credit, and became the jest of the stage; but Gilpin might have said the same, with equal propriety, of the famous Socrates, who was represented on the Athenian theatre as the man in the clouds; besides, the numerous authentic testimonies of his character, given in the foregoing narrative, sufficiently repels the ungenerous assertion. The learned Dr. Lightfoot, who wrote his life, declares himself, compared to this great master of Hebrew and Rabinical learning, but a child. Mr. Strype also asserts, that in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and all talmudical literature, Mr. Broughton was certainly the greatest, scholar in Europe.

Most of his works were collected in 1662, and printed in London, in one large folio, divided into four tomes, with his life prefixed by Dr. Lightfoot, and his funeral sermon, preached by Mr. Speght, inserted towards the end of the work, with the following title: “The works of the great Albionian divine, renowned, in many nations, for his rare skill in the languages of Salem and Athens, and for his familiar acquaintance with all Rabinical learning, Hugh Broughton.” There are many manuscripts of his own hand writing still preserved in the British museum; some of them are on literary subjects, others on controversy, and a number miscellaneous; these are thirty-five in all, and bound in one volume quarto; besides which, there is also the Manuscript of his Harmony of the Bible.

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