Mede, Joseph

, a learned -English divine, was born in 1586, of a good family, at Berden, in Essex. When he was about ten years old, both he and his father fell sick of the small pox; which proving mortal to the father, the son fell under the care of a Mr. Gower, to whom his mother was soon after married. He was sent to school first to Hoddesdon, in Hertfordshire, and then to Wethersfield, in Essex. While he was at this last school, going to London upon some occasion, he bought “Bellarmine’s Hebrew Grammar” and though his master, who had no | skill in that language, told him it was a book not fit fof him, yet he studied it with so much eagerntss, that in a little time he attained considerable skill in Hebrew. In 1602, he was sent to Christ’s-college, in Cambridge; where, although he had an uncommon impediment in his speech, which would not suffer him to shew himself to advantage, he was soon distinguished for his abilities and learning. Not long after his entrance upon philosophical studies, he became disquieted with scepticism: for, meeting with a book in a fellow-student’s chamber, either “Sextus Empiricus,” or some other of the Pyrrhonic school, he began, upon the perusal of it, to move strange questions to himself, and even to doubt whether the To Ilav, the whole frame of things, as it appears to us, were any thing more than a mere phantasm, or imagination; and, till his principles were settled, his life, as he professed, was utterly without comfort.

By the time he had taken the degree of master of arts, which was in 1610, he had made such progress in all kinds of academical study, that he was universally esteemed an accomplished scholar. He was an acute logician, an accurate philosopher, a skilful mathematician, an excellent anatomist, a great philologer, a master of many languages, and a good proficient in history and chronology. His first public effort was an address that he made to bishop Andrews, in a Latin tract “De sanctitate relativa;” which, in his maturer years, he censured as a juvenile performance, and therefore never published it. That great prelate, however, who was a good judge and patron of learning, liked it so well, that he not only was the author’s firm friend upon an occasion that offered soon after, but also then desired him to be his domestic chaplain. This Mede very civilly refused; valuing the liberty of his studies above any hopes of preferment, wnd esteeming that freedom which he enjoyed in his cell, so he used to call it, as the haven of all his wishes. These thoughts, indeed, had possessed him. betimes: for, when he was a school-boy, he was invited by his uncle, Mr. Richard Mede, a merchant, who, being then without children, offered to adopt him for his son, if he would live with him: but he refused the offer, preferring, as it should seem, a life of study to a life of gain.

He was not chosen fellow of his college till after he was master of arts, and then not without the assistance of his | friend bishop Andrews: for he had been passed over at several elections, on account of a groundless suspicion which Dr Cary, then master of the college, afterwards bishop of Exeter, had conceived of him, that “he looked too much towanis Geneva;” that is, was inclined to the tenets of that church. Being made fellow, he became an eminent and faithful tutor. After he had well grounded his pupils in classics, logic, and philosophy, his custom was to set every one his dnily task; which he rather chose, than to confine himself and them to precise hours for lectures. In the evening they all came to his chamber; and the first question he put to each was, “Quid dubitas? What doubts have you met with in your studies to-day?” For he supposed, that to doubt nothing and to understand nothing was the same thing. By this method he taught the young men to exercise their reasoning powers, and not acquiesce in what they learn mechanically, with an indolence of spirit, which prepares them to receive implicitly whatever is offered them. In the mean time he was appointed reader of the Greek lecture of Sir Walter Mildmay’s foundation; an office which he held during the remainder of his life. While at college, he was so entirely devoted to study that he made even the time he spent in his amusements serviceable to his purpose. He allowed himself little or no exercise but walking; and often, in the fields or college garden, would take occasion to speak of the beauty, distinctions, virtues, or properties, of the plants then in view: for he was a curious florist, an accurate herbalist, and thoroughly versed in the book of nature. The chief delight he took in company was to discourse with learned friends; and he used to spend much time with his worthy friend Mr. William Chappel, afterwards provost of Trinity-college, Dublin, and bishop of Cork and Ross, a man of great learning, and who had a high regard for Mr. Mede.

He was a curious inquirer into the most abstruse parts of learning, and earnestly pursued the knowledge of those things which are most remote from the vulgar track. Among other things, he spent no small pains and time in sounding the depths of astrology, and consumed much paper in calculating the nativities of his near relations and fellow-students but this was in his juvenile years, and he afterwards discovered the absurdity of such employment He applied himself to the more useful study of history and | antiquities, particularly to those difficult sciences which made the ancient Chaldeans, Egyptians, and other nations so famous; tracing them, as far as he could have any light to guide him, in their oriental schemes and figurative expressions, as likewise in their hieroglyphics j not forgetting to inquire also into the oneirocritics of the ancients, because of the affinity which he conceived they might have with the language of the prophets. He was a curious and laborious searcher into antiquities relating to religion, Pagan, Jewish, Christian, and Mahometan: to which he added other attendants, necessary for understanding the more difficult parts of Scripture.

In 1618 he took the degree of bachelor in divinity, but his modesty restrained him from proceeding to that of doctor. In 1627, a similar motive induced him to refuse the provostship of Trinity-college, Dublin, into which he had been elected at the recommendation of archbishop Usher, who was his particular friend; as he did also when it was offered him a second time, in 1630. The height of his ambition was, only to have had some small donative sinecure added to his fellowship, or to have been preferred to some place of quiet, where, retired from the noise and tumults of the world, and possessed of a competency, he might be entirely at leisure for study and acts of piety. When, therefore, a report was spread that he was made chaplain to the archbishop of Canterbury, he thus expressed himself in a letter to a friend: that “he had lived, till the best of his time was spent, in tranquillitate et secessu; and now, that there is but a little left, should 1,” said he, “be so unwise, suppose there was nothing else, as to enter into a tumultuous life, where I should not have time to think my own thoughts, and must of necessity displease others or myself? Those who think so, know not my disposition in this kind to be as averse, as some perhaps would be ambitious.” In the mean time, though his circumstance^ were scanty, for he had nothing but his fellowship and the Greek lecture, his charity was diffusive and uncommon; and, extraordinary as it may now seem, he devoted the tenth of his income to pious and charitable uses. But his frugality and temperance always afforded him plenty. His prudence or moderation, either in declaring or defending his private opinions, was very remarkable; as was also his freedom from partiality, prejudice, or prepossession, pride, anger, selfishness, flattery, and ambition. He died Oct. 1, | 1638, in his 52d year, having spent above two-thirds of his time in college, to which he bequeathed the residue of his property, after some small legacies. He was buried next day in the college chapel. As to his person, he was of a comely proportion, and rather tall than otherwise. His eye was full, quick, and sparkling-; his whole countenance sedate and grave; awful, but at the same time tempered with an inviting sweetness: and his behaviour was friendly, affable, cheerful, and upon occasion intermixed with pleasantry. Some of his sayings and bon mots are recorded by the author of his life; one of which was, his calling such fellow-commoners as came to the university only to see it, or to be seen in it, “the university tulips,” that made a gaudy shew for a while; but, upon the whole, his biographers have made a better estimate of his learning than of his wit. In his life-time he produced three treatises only: the first entitled “Clavis Apocalyptica ex innatis & insitis visionum characteribus eruta et demonstrata,Cant. 1627, 4to; of which he printed only a few copies, at his own expence, and for the use of friends. To this he added, in 1632, “In sancti Joannis Apocalypsin. commentarius, ad amussim Clavis Apocalypticse.” This is the largest and the most elaborate of any of his writings. The other two were but short tracts: namely, “About the name vtriao-lyfiov, anciently given to the holy table, and about churches in the apostles’ times.” The rest of his works were printed after his decease; and in the best edition published by Dr. Worthington, in 1672, folio, the whole are divided into five books, and disposed in the following order. The first book contains fifty-three “Discourses on several texts of Scripture‘ the second, such” Tracts and discourses as are of the like argument and design“the third, his” Treatises upon some of the prophetical Scriptures, namely, The Apocalypse, St. Peter’s prophecy concerning the day of Christ’s second coming, St. Paul’s prophecy touching the apostacy of the latter times, and three Treatises upon some obscure passages in Daniel:“the fourth, his” Letters to several learned men, with their letters also to him *:“the fifth,” Fragmenta Sacra, or such miscellanies of divinity, as could not well come under any of the aforementioned heads.“

* A vast collection of his letters is in the British Museum, Harl. ms. No. 389, 390. See a notice of them by Dr. Birch in Maty’s Review, vel.V. p. 126, &c.
| These are the works of this pious and profoundly learned man, as not only his editor calls him in the title-page, but the best livin: s have allowed him to be. His comments on the book of Revelation, are still considered as containing the mo-t satisfactory explanation of those obscure prophecies, so far as they have been yet fulfilled: and, in every other [>a< t of iiis works, the talents of a sound and learned divine are eminently conspicuous. It is by no means the least considerable testimony toiis merit, that he has been highly and frequently commended by Jortin but the writer of our times who has bestoweJ most pains on the character and writings of Mr Mede, and who has done the most honour to both, is the late learned bishop Hurd. This prelate has devoted the greater part of his tenth sermon” On the Study of the Prophecies“to the consideration of the” Clavis Apocalyptica.“It would be superfluous to extract at much length from a work so well known; but we may be permitted to conclude with Dr. Kurd’s manner of introducing Mr. Mede to his hearers. Sjie iking of the many attempts to explain the Apocalypse, in the infancy of the reformed church, he says,” The issue of much elaborate enquiry was, that the book itself was disgraced by the fruitless efforts of its commentators, and on the point of being given up, as utterly impenetrable, when a Sublime Genius arose, in the beginning of the last century, and surprized the learned world with that great desideratum, a * Key to the Revelations’." 1

1 Life prefixed to his works. Biog. Brit.