From Lives of Eminent and Illustrious Englishmen, from Alfred the Great to the Latest Times, on an Original Plan. Edited by George Godfrey Cunningham. Vol. III, pp. 173-176 (1837).
Matthew Poole, M.A.
(Born A.D. 1624. Died A.D. 1679.)
Matthew Poole, born in the year 1624, was the son of Francis Poole, Esq. of the city of York. He received an excellent grammar-education, most probably in his native city, and at the usual age was entered at Emmanuel college, Cambridge, under the tuition of Dr. John Worthington. During his college residence, he was distinguished by laborious study, by his grave demeanour, and scriptural knowledge. He does not appear to have proceeded M.A. till some years after he entered upon the ministry.
He most probably embraced the principles of non-conformity before he left the university, but without becoming a violent party man. He was yet in his youth when the national contentions and troubles commenced. But though he was decidedly opposed to episcopacy as then established, and of course embraced the side of the parliament, yet he continued at college diligently and zealously pursuing the most important and useful studies.
In the year 1648, however, and at the age of 24, he entered upon the regular duties of the ministry as the successor to Dr. Tuckney who was made vice-chancellor to the university of Cambridge in the rectory of St. Michael le Querne, in London. In the year 1654 he first appeared as author in a defense of the orthodox doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit, against the famous John Biddle. The work was entitled, The Blasphemer Slain by the Sword of the Spirit, etc. In the year 1657 Cromwell resigned the chancellorship of Cambridge in favour of his son Richard, and in that act Mr Poole was incorporated M.A. of that university.
The next year he formed and promoted the useful design of maintaining some divinity students of distinguished talents and piety, during their studies at both universities. This plan met with the approbation of the heads of houses, and in a short time the sum of #900 was contributed towards the object. Dr. Sherlock, dean of St. Paul’s, was educated on this foundation. But the design was quashed by the restoration. In 1659, he addressed a printed letter to Lord Charles Fleetwood, relating to the critical juncture of affairs at that time. The same year he also published a work, entitled, Quo Warranto, a work designed to support the authority of an ordained ministry, against a work, entitled, The Preacher Sent. This work was written by the appointment of the provincial assembly at London.
He continued in his rectory till the passing of the Bartholomew Act, when he resigned his living, rather than conform against his conscience. During the fourteen years in which he was a parochial minister, he is described as having been a most faithful, diligent, and affectionate preacher: laborious in his studies to the highest degree, which his stupendous work, entitled, Synopsis Criticorum, in 5 vols. folio, amply testifies. This undertaking occupied his attention for ten years, and is a monument, not only of his extensive reading, but of his critical acumen, and sobriety of judgment.
Mr. Anthony Wood always jealous of praising divines of Mr Poole’s class owns that it is an admirable and useful work, and adds, that “the author left behind him the character of a celebrated critic and casuist.” His industry in compiling his great work is well worthy of record. He rose at three or four o’clock, took a raw egg at intervals, and kept on labouring all day till towards evening, when he usually sought for a short time the relaxation and enjoyment of society at some friend’s house.
He is represented by his biographer as being of an exceedingly merry disposition, though always within the limits of reason and innocence. His conversation is said to have been diverting and facetious in a very high degree. How great then must have been the restraints he exercised in so severe and continued a seclusion from society, and so close an application of mind to the very driest and dullest of studies, criticism! Mr. Poole, however, appears to have enjoyed the happy art of both exciting and regulating innocent mirth.
He seems to have entertained a strict sense of what was decorous and of what was useful in facetious and entertaining, or even in mirthful discourse; but when he found that the strain was likely to be too long continued, or surpass the due limit, he would say, “Now let us call for a reckoning,” and then would begin some very serious conversation, and endeavour thereby to leave upon his company some useful and valuable impression.
It is highly probable, that the habit of passing his evenings with his friends, and in so cheerful a manner, greatly contributed to relieve both body and mind from the ill effects of those severe and protracted studies in which he engaged. It happened more fortunately for Mr. Poole than for most of his ejected brethren, that he had a provision of about #100 per annum, independent of his rectory, so that he was enabled to live in comfort and pursue his studies, without much inconvenience, after he became a non-conformist. He appears, however, to have once been, or to have thought himself, in danger of being murdered on account of his zeal against popery.
In the year 1679, his name appeared in the list of persons who were to have been cut off, printed in the depositions of Titus Oates. Soon after, he was spending an evening at Mr. Alderman Ashurst’s, and was returning home with a Mr. Chorley, who had gone with him for the sake of company; when coming near the narrow passage which leads from Clerkenwell to St John’s court, they saw two men standing at the entrance; one of whom, as Mr. Poole approached, said to the other, “there he is;” upon which the other replied, “let him alone, there is somebody with him.” As soon as they were passed, Mr. Poole asked his friend if he had heard what passed between the two men; and, upon his answering that he had, “Well,” replied Mr Poole, “I had been murdered tonight had you not been with me.”
It is said, that prior to this incident, he had given not the slightest credit to what was said in Oates’ depositions; but he appears to have been greatly alarmed by this occurrence, for he soon after made up his mind to quit England, and accordingly removed to Holland, and fixed his residence at Amsterdam. He died the same year (1679), in the month of October, aged fifty-six. It was generally supposed he was poisoned, but the matter remained doubtful, and no discovery was ever made. His body was interred in the vault belonging to the English merchants in that city.
Mr Poole is chiefly known to posterity by his two works on the Bible. The one in Latin, his Synopsis, the other, English Annotations. He was greatly encouraged in his Synopsis by the promised assistance of the great Dr. Lightfoot, and the patronage both of Bishop Lloyd and Archbishop Tillotson. It first appeared in 1669, and following years. His English Annotations was in progress when he died, and of course was left in manuscript. He had completed it down to the 58th of Isaiah. The remainder was supplied by several other persons, viz. Mr. Jackson, Dr. Collins, Mr. Hurst, Mr. Cooper, Mr. Vinke, Mr. Mayo, Mr. Veal, Mr. Adams, Mr. Barker, Mr. Ob. Hughes, and Mr. Howe. The whole appeared in 2 vols. fol. 1685. Both these works are of great value, and are in general request and high estimation among divines to the present day.
Mr Poole’s other works are the following:
- The Blasphemer Slain with the Sword of the Spirit.
- A Model for Maintaining Students in the University.
- A Letter to Lord C. Fleetwood.
- Quo Warranto, etc.
- Evangelical Worship.
- Vox Clamantis in Deserto, respecting the ejection of the ministers.
- The Nullity of the Romish Faith.
- A Seasonable Apology for Religion.
- Four Sermons in the morning exercises, for 1660.
- A Poem and two Epitaphs, on Mr. Jer. Whitaker.
- Two on the death of Mr. R. Vines.
- Another on Mr. Jacob Stock.
- A Preface to Sermons of Mr. Nalton, with some account of his character.
- Dialogues between a Popish Priest and an English Protestant, etc.
Mr Poole bore throughout his life the reputation of an amiable man, a devout and charitable Christian. When his non-conformity exposed him to deprivation, and enforced upon him silence, he resigned himself patiently to his trial, and most usefully for the church of Christ, employed at his leisure in completing those important works, which will perpetuate his name among those of the ablest biblical critics.