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Thomas Sprat Edit Profile

bishop , churchman

Thomas Sprat was an English churchman, Bishop of Rochester from 1684.

Background

Sprat was born in 1635 at Beaminster, England. He was one of several children born to Thomas Sprat, a poor parish curate who held B. A. and M. A. degrees from Oxford, and his wife, who was the daughter of a Mr. Strode of Parnham, Dorset.

Education

Sprat entered Wadham College, Oxford, in November 1651, receiving the B. A. in June 1654 and an M. A. three years later.

Career

Sprat became the favorite and protégé of John Wilkins and formed close associations with other members of the scientific group that gathered around Wilkins during those years, especially with Christopher Wren, Seth Ward, and Ralph Bathurst. He wrote a poem, “To the Happy Memory of the Late Lord Protector, ” dedicated to Wilkins for “having been as it were moulded by your own hands, and formed under your government, ” and charged with devoted admiration for Cromwell as the great savior who had led his people into the promised land. Sprat’s loyalties were always pliable, a fact often noted by his contemporaries, for he later served Charles II, James II, and William and Mary with the same devotion he had expressed for Cromwell.

Although he was a prominent figure in his time, Sprat’s fame today rests entirely on his History of the Royal Society, first published in 1667. The material that went into it was carefully supervised and selected, and its omissions and suppressions are as significant as its contents. It is not an impartial document; and it gave such strong impetus to renewed controversy that it may be doubted whether the Royal Society would not, at least in England, have been better off without this premature piece of justification. Part one presents a survey of ancient, medieval, and Renaissance philosophy that is meant to show “what is to be expected from these new undertakers, and what moved them to enter upon a way of inquiry different from that on which the former have proceeded. ” Here, and often in the rest of the work, Sprat’s strong words are reserved for “downright enthusiasts” and the “modern dogmatists, ” whom he compares to the recent “pretenders to public liberty, ” who became the greatest tyrants themselves. This political theme recurs forcefully throughout the work - for instance, in a later passage eulogizing Charles I as the royal martyr who followed the “divine example of our Saviour. ” Part two contains the history proper and is chronologically divided into three sections.

Sprat was the close friend and literary executor of Cowley, and his An Account of the Life and Writings of Mr. Abraham Cowley (1668) was the first biography of a writer attempting to show the interrelation between the poet’s life and personality and his works. Although he referred to the charm and interest of Cowley’s letters, he considered it an impropriety to publish them and presumably destroyed them.

Politics

In politics Sprat became a staunch Tory, a defender of the divine rights of kings, and a strong exponent of high church doctrines.

Membership

Fellow of the Royal Society (1663)

Connections

Sprat married Helen, the daughter of Devereux Wolseley of Ravenstone, Staffordshire and was the father of Thomas Sprat, Archdeacon of Rochester and Fellow of the Royal Society. Sprat was survived by his wife, who died in February 1726.

father:
Thomas Sprat

spouse:
Helen Sprat

son:
Thomas Sprat

He was Archdeacon of Rochester and Fellow of the Royal Society.