Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Oakes, Urian

OAKES, URIAN (1631?–1681), New England divine, born in England in 1631 or 1632, went out when a child with his father to Massachusetts. He graduated at Harvard College in 1649, and ‘when a lad of small stature published a little parcel of astronomical calculations with this appropriate verse in the title-page—

    Parvum parva decent, sed inest sua gratia parvis

(Calamy and Palmer, ii. 280). While in America he married Ruth, daughter of a well-known nonconformist minister, William Ames. Oakes returned to England during the time of the Commonwealth, and obtained the living of Titchfield. Thence he was ejected in 1662. His wife died in 1669. Two years later a deputation sent over to England to find a minister for the vacant church of Cambridge in Massachusetts chose Oakes. He commenced his pastoral labours in November 1671, and soon after he became one of the governors of Harvard College. That body was in difficulties owing to the general dissatisfaction of the students with their president, Leonard Hoar [q. v.] The like feeling was in some measure shared and countenanced by certain of the governors, among them Oakes. He and other of his colleagues resigned, and, in spite of the entreaties of the general court of overseers, would not withdraw their resignation till Hoar himself vacated the presidency on 15 March 1675. The vacancy thus created was filled by the appointment of Oakes. He, however, would only accept it provisionally; but after discharging the duties of the office for four years, he in 1679 consented to accept the full appointment in form, and held it till his death on 25 July 1681. Calamy states that Oakes was noted for ‘the uncommon sweetness of his temper,’ and in New England he was greatly beloved by his congregation and popular with all who came in contact with him.

His extant writings are three sermons—two preached at the annual election of the artillery company in 1672 and 1676, and the third at the election of representatives in 1673—and a monody in English verse (Cambridge, 1677) on the death of Thomas Shepard, minister of the church in Charlestown. Mr. Tyler describes Oakes's one surviving effort in poetry as ‘not without some mechanical defects; blurred also by some patches of the prevailing theological jargon, yet upon the whole affluent, stately, pathetic; beautiful and strong with the strength of true imaginative vision.’ The praise may be somewhat exaggerated. The stateliness becomes at times cumbrous; the pathos is marred by straining after antithesis. Yet, on the whole, Oakes's power, dignity, and directness raise him far above the contemporary verse-writers of New England.

Oakes stands out far more conspicuously above his contemporaries by the merits of his prose. In substance his sermons wholly break through the formalities of Calvinism; they are intensely human, alike in their treatment of moral problems and their application of scriptural precedents. The preacher is throughout a vigorous moralist, full of public spirit. The style is epigrammatic, yet free from conceits or forced antithesis, and capable of rising into real dignity and eloquence. The purity and elegance of his Latin are proved by a specimen preserved in Cotton's ‘Magnalia.’ Urian's brother

Thomas Oakes (1644–1719), speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 18 June 1644, was graduated at Harvard in 1662, subsequently studied medicine in London, and obtained some eminence as a physician. He was elected a representative after the revolution and the expulsion of Sir Edmund Andros in 1689, and was chosen speaker. In the following year he was chosen assistant. In that year he went to England with Elisha Cooke to represent the interests of the colonists in the matter of a new charter. He was again chosen speaker to the House of Representatives in 1705. He died at Easthaven in Massachusetts on 15 July 1719, leaving two sons (Hutchinson, History of Massachusetts).

[Savage's Genealogical Dict. of New England; Cotton Mather's Magnalia; Tyler's History of American Literature; Holmes's History of Cambridge; Peirce's Hist. of Harvard University. pp. 44–6; Appleton's Cyclop. of American Biogr. iv. 548; Hutchinson's History of Massachusetts.]

J. A. D.