Pits, John

, an English biographer, was born at Alton, in Hampshire, in 1560 and at eleven, sent to Wykeham’s school near Winchester. He was elected thence probationer fellow of New college in Oxford, at eighteen; but, in less than two years, left the kingdom as a voluntary Romish exile, and went to Douay, where he was kindly received by Dr. Thomas Stapleton, who gave him advice relating to his studies. Pursuant to this, he passed from Douay to Rheims and, after one year spent in the English college there, was sent to the English college at Rome, where he studied seven years, and was then ordained priest. Returning to Rheims about 1589, he held the office of professor of rhetoric and Greek for two years. Towards the latter end of 151*0, being appointed governor to a young nobleman, he travelled with him into Lorraine; and, at Pont-a-Mousson, he took the degree of master of arts, and soon after that of bachelor of divinity. Next, going into Upper Germany, he resided a year and a half at Triers; and afterwards removed to Ingolstadt in Bavaria, where he resided three years, and took the degree of doctor of divinity. After having travelled through Italy as well as Germany, and made himself master of the languages of both countries, he went back to Lorraine; where, being much noticed by Charles cardinal of Lorraine, he was preferred by him to a canonry of Verdun. When he had passed two years there, Antonia, daughter to the duke of Lorraine, who was married to the duke of Cleves, invited him to be her confessor; and, that he might be the more serviceable to her, he learned the French language with so much success, that he often preached in it. In her service he continued twelve years; during which time he studied the histories of England, ecclesiastical and civil, whence he made large collections and observations concerning the most illustrious personages. On the death of the duchess of Cleves he returned a third time to Lorraine, where, by the favour of John bishop of Toul, formerly his scholar, he was promoted to the deanery of Liverdun, a city of Lorraine, which was of considerable | value. This, with a canonry and an officialship of the same church, he held to the day of his death, which happened at Liverdun in 1616. He published three treatises: “De Legibus,” Triers, 1592; “De Beatitudine,” Ingolst. 1595; “De Peregrinatione,” Dusseld. 1604.

During the leisure he enjoyed, while confessor to the duchess of Cleves, he employed himself in that work which alone has made him known to posterity, in compiling “The Lives of the Kings, Bishops, Apostolical Men, and Writers of England.” They were comprised in four large volumes; the first containing the lives of the kings; the second, of the bishops; the third, of the apostolical men; and the fourth, of’the writers. The three first are preserved in the archives of the collegiate church of Verdun: the fourth only was published, and that after his decease, at Paris, 1619, and 1623, in 4to, under the title of “J. Pitsei Angli, &c. Relationum Historicarum de Rebus Anglicis tomus primus;” but the running title, and by which it is oftenest quoted, is, “De Illustribus Angliae. Scriptoribus.” It is divided into four parts; the first of which is preliminary matter, “De laudibus Historiae, de Antiquitate Ecclesise Britannicae, de Academiis tarn antiquis Britonum quam recentioribus Anglorum.” The second part contains the lives and characters of three hundred English writers; the third is an “Appendix of some Writers, in alphabetical order, and divided into four Centuries,”- together with “An Index of English Books, written by unknown Authors.” The last part consists of “Fifteen Alphabetical Indexes,” forming a kind of epitome of the whole work. Pits appears to have acted in a very disingenuous manner, especially in the second part of this work; the greater part of which he has taken without any acknowledgment from Bale’s book “De Scriptoribus majoris Britanniae,” while he takes every opportunity to shew his abhorrence both of Bale and his work. He pretends also to follow, and familiarly quotes, Leland’s “Collectanea de Scriptoribus Anglise;” whereas the truth is, as Wood and others have observed, he never saw them, being but twenty years of age, or little more, when he left the nation: neither was it in his power afterwards, if he had been in England, because they were kept in such private hands, that few protestant antiquaries, and none of those of the church of Rome, could see or peruse them. What therefore he pretends to have from Leland, he takes at second-hand from Bale. His work is also full of partiality: for he entirely | leaves out Wickliflfe and his followers, together with the Scots and Irish writers, who are for the most part commemorated by Bale; and in their room gives an account of the Roman catholic writers, such especially as had left the kingdom, after the Reformation in queen Elizabeth’s reign, and sheltered themselves at Rome, Douay, Louvain, &c. This, however, is the best and most valuable part of Pits’s work. Pits was a man of abilities and learning. His style is clear, easy, and elegant; but he wants accuracy, and has fallen into many mistakes in his accounts of the British writers. His work, however, will always be thought of use, if it be only that “Historia quoquo modo scripta delectat.1


Ath. Ox. vol. I. Biog. Brit. Docld’s Church History.