Cole, William

, an eminent antiquary and benefactor to the history and antiquities of England, was the son of William Cole, a gentleman of landed property, at Baberham in Cambridgeshire, by his third wife, Catharine, daughter of Theophilus Tuer, of Cambridge, merchant, but at the time she married Mr. Cole, the widow of Charles Apthorp .*


Mr. Cole’s father had a fourth wife, a relation of lord Montfort. “By her,” says his son, “he had no issue, and very little quiet. After four or fire years jarring, they agreed on a separation.” She died about a year after her husband.

He was born at Little Abington, a village near Baberham, Aug. 3, 1714, and received the early part of “his education under the Rev. Mr. Butts at Saffron-Walden, and at other small schools. From these he was removed to Eton, where he was placed under Dr. Cooke, afterwards provost, but to whom he seems to have contracted an implacable aversion. After remaining five years on the foundation at this seminary, he was admitted a pensioner of Cla/e hall, Cambridge, Jan. 25, 1733; and irt April 1734, was admitted to one of Freeman’s scholarships, although not exactly qualified according to that benefactor’s intention: but in 1735, on the death of his father, from whom he inherited a handsome estate, he entered himself a fellow-commoner of Clare Hall, and next year removed to King’s college, where he had a younger brother, then a fellow, and was accommodated with better apartments. This last circumstance, and the society of his old companions of Eton, appear to have been his principal motives for changing his college. In April 1736, he travelled for a short time in French Flanders with his halfbrother, the late Dr. Stephen Apthorp, and in October of the same year he took the degree of B. A. In 1737, in consequence of bad health, he went to Lisbon, where he remained six months, and returned to college May 1738. The following year he was put into the commission of the peace for the county of Cambridge, in which capacity he acted for many years. In 1740 his friend lord Montfort, then lord lieutenant of the county, appointed him one of his deputy lieutenants and in the same year he proceeded M. A. In 1743, his health beting again impaired, he took another trip through Flanders for five or six weeks, visiting St. Omer’s, Lisle, Tournay, &c. and other principal places, of which he has given an account in his ms collections. In Dec. 1744 he was ordained deacon in the | collegiate church of Westminster, by Dr. Wilcocks, bishop of Rochester, and was in consequence for some time curate to Dr. Abraham Oakes, rector of Wethersfield in Suffolk. In 1745, after being admitted to priest’s orders, he was made chaplain to Thomas earl of Kinnoul, in which office he was continued by the succeeding earl, George. He was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1747; and appears to have resided at Haddenham in the Isle of Ely in 1749, when he was collated by bishop Sherlock to the rectory of Hornsey in Middlesex, which he retained only a very short time. Speaking of that prelate, he says,” He gave me the rectory of Hornsey, yet his manner was such that I soon resigned it again to him. I have not been educated in episcopal trammels, and liked a more liberal behaviour; yet he was a great man, and I believe an honest man." The fact, however, was, as Mr. Cole elsewhere informs us, that he was inducted Nov. 25; but finding the house in so ruinous a condition as to require rebuilding, and in a situation so near the metropolis, which was always his aversion, and understanding that the bishop insisted on his residing, he resigned within a month. This the bishop refused t accept, because Mr. Cole had made himself liable to dilapidations and other expences by accepting of it. Cole continued therefore as rector until Jan. 9, 1751, when he resigned it into the hands of the bishop in favour of Mr. Territ. During this time he had never resided, but employed a curate, the rev. Matthew Mapletoft. In 1753 he quitted the university on being presented by his early friend and patron, Browne Willis, esq. to the rectory of Bletchley, in Buckinghamshire, which he resigned March 20, 1767, in favour of his patron’s grandson, the rev. Thomas Willis, and this very honourably, and merely because he knew it was his patron’s intention to have bestowed it on his grandson had he lived to effect an exchange.

Having been an early and intimate acquaintance of Mr. Horace Walpole, the late earl of Orford, they went to France together in 1765, Mr. Walpole to enjoy the gaieties of that country, but Mr. Cole to seek a cheap residence, to which he might retire altogether. From the whole tenour of Mr. Cole’s sentiments, and a partiality, which in his Mss. he takes little pains to disguise, in favour of the Roman catholic religion and ceremonies, we suspect that cheapness was not the only motive for thi* intended | removal. He had at this time his personal estate, which he tells us was a “handsome one,” and he held the living of Bletchley, both together surely adequate to the wants of a retired scholar, a man of little personal expence, and who had determined never to marry. He was, however, diverted from residing in France by the laws of that country, particularly the Droit d’Aubaine, by which the property of a stranger dying in France becomes the king’s, and which had not at that time been revoked. Mr. Cole at first supposed this could be no obstacle to his settling in Normandy; but his friend Mr. Walpole represented to him that his Mss. on which he set a high value, would infallibly become the property of the king of France, and probably be destroyed. This had a persuasive effect; and in addition to it, we have his own authority that this visit impressed his mind so strongly with the certainty of an impending revolution, that upon that account he preferred remaining in England. His expressions on this subject are remarkable, but not uncharacteristic “I did not like the plan of settling in France at that time, when the Jesuits were expelled, and the philosophic deists were so powerful as to threaten the destruction, not only of all the religious orders, but of Christianity itself.” There is a journal of this tour in vol. XXXIV. of his collections.

In 1767, after resigning Bletchley, he went into a hired house at Waterbeche, and continued there two years, while a house was fitting for him at Milton, a small village on the Ely road, near Cambridge, where he passed the remainder of his days, and from which he became familiarly distinguished as “Cole of Milton.” In May 1771, by lord Montfort’s favour, he was put into the commission o-f the peace for the town of Cambridge. In 1772, bishop Keene, without any solicitation, sent Mr. Cole an offer oif the vicarage of Maddingley, about seven miles from Milton, which, for reasons of convenience, he civilly declined, but has not spoken so civilly of that prelate in his ts Atbenae/‘ He was, however, instituted by Dr. Green, bishop ef Lincoln, to the vicarage of Burnham, in Buckinghamshire, on the presentation of Eton college, June 10, 1774, void by the cession of his uterine brother, Dr. Apthorp. He still, however, resided at Milton, where he died Dec. 16, 1782, in his sixty-eighth year, his constitution having been shattered and worn down by repeated attacks of the gout. | Mr. Cole was an antiquary almost from the cradle, and had in his boyish days made himself acquainted with those necessary sciences, heraldry and architecture. He says, the first “essay of his antiquarianism” was taking a copy both of the inscription and tomb of Ray, the naturalist, in 1734; but it appears that, when he was at Eton school, he used during the vacations to copy, in trick, arms from the painted windows of churches, particularly Baberham iii Cambridgeshire, and Moulton in Lincolnshire* Yet, although he devoted his whole life to topography and bio* graphy, he did not aspire to any higher honour than that of a collector of information for the use of others, and certainly was liberal and communicative to his contemporaries, and so partial to every attempt to illustrate our English antiquities, that he frequently offered his services, where delicacy and want of personal knowledge would have perhaps prevented his being consulted.

What he contributed was in general, in itself, original and accurate, and would have done credit to a separate publication, if he had thought proper. Among the works which he assisted, either by entire dissertations, or by minute communications and corrections, we may enumerate Grose’s “Antiquities” Bentham’s “Ely” Dr. Ducarel’s publications; Philips’s “Life of Cardinal PoleGough’s “British Topography” the “Memoirs of the Gentlemen’s Society at Spalding” Mr. Nichols’s “Collection of Poems,” “Anecdotes of Hogarth,” “History of Hinckley,” and “Life of Bowyer.” With Granger he corresponded very frequently, and most of his corrections were adopted by that writer. Mr. Cole himself was a collector of portraits at a time when this trade was in few hands, and had a very valuable series, in the disposal of which he was somewhat unfortunate, and somewhat capricious, putting a different value on them at different times. When in the hope that lord Montstuart would purchase them, he valued them at a shilling each, one with another, which he says would have amounted to 160l. His collection must therefore have amounted to 3200 prints, but among these were many topographical articles: 130l. was offered on this occasion, which Mr. Cole declined accepting. This was in 1774; but previous to this, in 1772, he met with a curious accident, which had thinned his collection of portraits. This was a visit from an eminent collector. “He had,” says Mr. Cole, “heard of my collection of prints, and a | proposal to see them was the consequence; accordingly, he breakfasted here next morning; and on a slight offer of accommodating him with such heads as he had not, he absolutely has taken one hundred and eighty-seven of my most valuable and favourite heads, such as he had not, and most of which had never seen; and all this with as much ease and familiarity as if we had known each other ever so long. However, I must do him the justice to say, that I really did offer him at Mr. Pemberton’s, that he might take such in exchange as he had not; but this I thought would not have exceeded above a dozen, or thereabouts, &c.” In answer to this account of the devastation of his collection, his correspondent Horace Walpole writes to him in the following style, which is not an unfair specimen of the manner in which, these correspondents treated their contemporaries: “I have had a relapse (of the gout), and have not been able to use my hand, or I should have lamented with you on the plunder of your prints by that Algerine hog. I pity you, dear sir, and feel for your awkwardness, that was struck dumb at his rapaciousness. The beast has no sort of taste neither, and in a twelvemonth will sell them again. This Muley Moloch used to buy books, and now sells them. He has hurt his fortune, and ruined himself to have a collection, without any choice of what it should be composed. It is the most under-bred ywine I ever saw, but I did not know it was so ravenous. I wish you may get paid any how.” Mr. Cole, however, after all this epistolary scurrility, acknowledges that he was“honourably paid” at the rate of two shillings and sixpence each head, and one, on which he and Walpole set an uncommon value, and demanded back, was accordingly returned.

Mr. Cole’s ms Collections had two principal objects, first, the compilation of a work in imitation of Anthony Wood’s Athense, containing the lives of the Cambridge scholars; and secondly, a county history of Cambridge; and he appears to have done something to each as early as 1742. They now amount to an hundred volumes, small folio, into which he appears to have transcribed some document or other almost every day of his life, with very little intermission. He began with fifteen of these volumes, while at college, which he used to keep in a lock-up case in the university library, until he had examined every book in that collection from which he could derive any | informstion suitable to his purpose, and transcribed many ms lists, records, &c. The grand interval from this labour was from 1752 to 1767, while he resided at Bletchley; but even there, from his own collection of books, and such as he could borrow, he went on with his undertaking, and daring frequent jour nies, was adding to his topographical drawings and descriptions. He had some turn for drawing, as his works every where demonstrate, just enough to give an accurate, but coarse outline. But it was at Cambridge and Milton where his biographical researches were pursued with most effect, and where he carefully registered every anecdote he could pick up in conversation; and, in characterising his contemporaries, may literally be said to have spared neither friend nor foe. He continued to fill his volumes in this way, almost to the end of his life, the last letter he transcribed being dated Nov. 25, 1782. Besides his topography and biography, he has transcribed the whole of his literary correspondence. Among his correspondents, Horace Walpole must be distinguished as apparently enjoying his utmost confidence; but their letters add very little to the character of either, as men of sincerity or candour. Botli were capable of writing polite, and even flattering letters to gentlemen, whom in their mutual correspondence, perhaps by the. same post, they treated with the utmost contempt and derision.

Throughout the whole of Mr. Cole’s Mss. his attachment to the Roman catholic religion is clearly to be deduced, and is often almost avowed. He never can conceal his hatred to the eminent prelates and martyrs who were the promoters of the Reformation. In this respect at least he resembled Anthony Wood, whose friends had some difficulty in proving that he died in communion with the church of England, and Cole yet more closely resembled him in his hatred of the puritans and dissenters. When in 1767 an order was issued from the bishops for a return of all papists or reputed papists in their dioceses, Cole laments that in some places none were returned, and in other places few, and assigns as a reason for this regret, that “their principles fare much more conducive to a peaceful and quiet subordination in government, and they might be a proper balance, in time of need, not only to the tottering state of Christianity in general, but to this church of England in particular, pecked against by every fanatic sect, whose good allies the infidels are well known to be but hardly safe | from its own lukewarm members; and whose safety depends solely on a political balance.” The “lukewarm members,” he elsewhere characterizes as latitudinarians, including Clarke, Hoadly, and their successors, who held preferments in a church whose doctrines they opposed.

As late as 1778 we find Mr. Cole perplexed as to the disposal of his manuscripts; to give them to one college which he mentions, would, he says, “be to throw them into a horse-pond,” for “in that college they are so conceited of their Greek and Latin, that with them all other studies are mere barbarism.” He once thought of Eton college; but, the Mss. relating principally to Cambridge university and county, he inclined to deposit them in one of the libraries there; not in the public library, because too public, but in Emanuel, with the then master of which, Dr. Farmer, he was very intimate. Dr. Farmer, however, happening to suggest that he might find a better place for them, Mr. Cole, who was become peevish, and wanted to be courted, thought proper to consider this “coolness and indifference” as a refusal. In this dilemma he at length resolved to bequeath them to the British Museum, with this condition, that they should not be opened for twenty years after his death. For such a condition, some have assigned as a reason that the characters of many living persons being drawn in them, and that in no very favourable colours, it might be his wish to spare their delicacy; but, perhaps with equal reason, it has been objected that such persons would thereby be deprived of all opportunity of refuting his assertions, or defending themselves. Upon a careful inspection, however, of the whole of these volumes, we are not of opinion that the quantum of injury inflicted is very great, most of Cole’s unfavourable anecdotes being of that gossiping kind, on which a judicious biographer will not rely, unless corroborated by other au. thority. Knowing that he wore his pen at his ear, there were probably many who amused themselves with his prejudices. His collections however, upon the whole, are truly valuable; and his biographical references, in particular, while they display extensive reading and industry, cannot fail to assist the future labours of writers interested in the history of the Cambridge scholars. 1


Gathered from his Mss. passim.—See also Nichols’s Bowyer, and D’Israeli’s Calamities of Authors.