Home  »  Volume VII: English CAVALIER AND PURITAN  »  § 10. Thomas Fuller

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

X. Antiquaries

§ 10. Thomas Fuller

Thomas Fuller, a curious contemporary, complement and contrast to Browne, was born three years later, in 1608, at the village of Aldwinkle, afterwards the birthplace of Dryden, but in its other parish, St. Peter’s, of which his father, also a Thomas, was rector. The mother was Judith Davenant, sister of a divine, who, becoming president of Queen’s college, Cambridge, and bishop of Salisbury, exercised important influence over his nephew’s career. But, when Fuller, after attendance at a local school, went to Queen’s on 29 June, 1621, at the age of thirteen, his uncle had already been promoted to Salisbury; and, though the nephew went through the regular course, becoming B.A. in 1624/5 and M.A. in 1628, he was, despite Davenant’s recommendations, disappointed of a fellowship there, as well as later at Sidney Sussex, which college he had also entered. He took orders, however, and obtained the curacy of St. Bene’t’s, where he buried Hobson, Milton’s carrier. His first publication consisted of some inferior verse entitled Davids Heinous Sin, 1631: in the same year, his uncle gave him the prebend of Netherbury in the diocese of Salisbury, following it, two years later, with the living of Broadwindsor in that of Bristol. Between the two appointments, in 1632, Fuller’s father died; but he was already provided for, and had begun the process of making friends with persons of quality which afterwards stood him in good stead. In 1635, he took the degree of B.D., and, before 1638, he married. Up to this time, he seems to have been—as, indeed, would have been usual enough—chiefly or frequently absent from his prebend and his rectory, for he speaks of himself, later, as being “seventeen years [apparently 1621–38] resident in Cambridge.” But Fuller’s language is so much subdued to special antithetic and other quips that it does not do to take it too literally. Indeed, the context stating that his seventeen weeks in Oxford cost him more than these seventeen years at the other university shows, almost certainly, that he is speaking figuratively—of his prosperity during the one period, and of the loss of his benefices during, or about, the other.

However this may be, the quiet part of his life was over, or nearly so, by 1638. In 1640, the year after he had published his first important book, The Holy War, he became a member of convocation and, though already taking the moderate line for which he was afterwards famous, he signed the much contested canons of that year; and, if the House of Commons could have had its way, would have been fined £200. In 1641, a son was born to him, but his wife died; and in this year he published The Holy and Profane State. When the struggle actually broke out, he further illustrated that rather willowy policy of his by voluntarily abandoning—though, of course, not formally resigning—his preferments in the west; he went, at first, not to the royalist camp but to London, where, for some time, he was preacher at the Savoy. However, he could not stay there, and retired to Oxford (Lincoln college) and then to Hopton’s army, where he became chaplain, and, fixing himself for a time in Exeter, was also titular of the same office to the baby princess Henrietta—the ill-fated “Madame” of the next generation. Good Thoughts in Bad Times was published here (1645). When Exeter had to surrender, he went once more to London; and the protection of divers powerful friends who were members of the other party, or had made their peace with it, not only saved him from molestation, but enabled him, with certain breaks and difficulties, to continue his ministration. In 1651, he married Mary Roper, daughter of viscount Baltinglas. He wrote, as well as preached, busily during this time; but was rather harassed by members of his own party, such as South and Heylyn, who disliked his moderation, objected to his fantastic style and made some fun of him personally. He seems, however, to have been reconciled to Heylyn, if not to the far greater and more formidable South.

The restoration (which he had advocated by a pamphlet for “a free parliament”) seemed likely to do him much good. He proceeded D.D. by king’s letters; he recovered his prebend and his rectory, in which latter, however, he characteristically left the intruder as curate; and he was made chaplain extraordinary to the king. But he caught a fever, died of it at his lodgings in Covent Garden on 15 August, 1661, and was buried at Cranford. His great collection The Worthies of England was posthumously published.

Nothing that has been said about Fuller’s moderation must be construed into a charge against him of truckloing or time-serving. It is true that, if not exactly (what some have called him) a puritan, he was probably more definitely anti-Roman than was usual on the cavalier side. But he not only saw active service in the non-combatant way at Basing, at Oxford with Hopton and at Exeter; his London residence in 1643 gave opportunity for hardly less active exercise in the royalist cause, for several of his sermons at the Savoy were strong, and, in the circumstances, not very safe, advocacies of that cause, and of the indissolubly allied cause of prelacy. He publicly and, for him, pretty sharply rebuked Milton’s anonymous tractate Of Reformation … in England; was in his turn sharply taken to task by a Yorkshire puritan divine, John Saltmarsh; and was actually stopped (i. e. arrested) for a time by the Commons’ orders, when proceeding to Oxford with a safe conduct from the Lords. And his later Appeal of Injured Innocence, when Heylyn had attacked his Church History, though much too long and hampered by its scholastic arrangement of regularly scheduled objection and reply, is an effective vindication of his general position. As a man, he seems to have been perfectly honest and sincere; a better Christian than most men on either side; not quite destitute, perhaps, of a certain innocent vanity and busybodiness; but without a drop of bad blood in his composition. It is, however, as a man of letters that we are here principally concerned with him.