Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Peck, Francis
PECK, FRANCIS (1692–1743), antiquary, younger son of Robert and Elizabeth Peck, was born in the parish of St. John the Baptist at Stamford, Lincolnshire, on 4 May 1692, and baptised in St. John's on 12 May. His mother's maiden name was Jephson, and his father is believed to have been a prosperous farmer. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, at the age of fifteen, and graduated B.A. in 1709, and M.A. in 1713. On leaving Cambridge he took holy orders, and in 1719 became curate of Kingscliff in Northamptonshire. In the same year he married Anne, daughter of Edward Curtis of Stamford, and shortly afterwards, in 1721, gave the first indication of his lifelong devotion to antiquarian studies by issuing proposals for printing the history and antiquities of his native town. In 1723 he obtained by purchase from the patron, Samuel Lowe, the advowson of the rectory of Goadby-Marwood in Leicestershire. He wrote to Browne Willis that Bishop Gibson confirmed his appointment within one hour of his translation from the see of Lincoln to that of London. Peck was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries on 9 March 1732. In January 1738 he obtained by the favour of Bishop Reynolds the prebendal stall of Marston St. Laurence in Lincoln Cathedral. He held this prebend, which had previously been held by White Kennett, until his death on 9 July 1743. The latter portion of his life was wholly devoted to antiquarian pursuits. He was buried just within the south door of Goadby church, where a Latin inscription, modelled upon that of Robert Burton, describes him as ‘notus nimis omnibus, ignotus sibi.’ He left two sons—Francis (1720–1749), rector of Gunby, Lincolnshire; and Thomas, who died young—and one daughter, Anne, born in 1730, who married John Smalley, a farmer and grazier of Stroxton. Peck's widow retired to Harlaxton in Lincolnshire, where she died about 1758. In this year Peck's books were sold by auction (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. iii. 655).
At the time of his death Peck had in contemplation no less than nine different works, several of which were in an advanced stage of preparation (see below). He had a remarkable faculty for accumulating out-of-the-way facts, which is best exhibited in his well-known ‘Desiderata Curiosa,’ but his talent for arrangement and generalisation was less conspicuous. His researches were mainly confined to the seventeenth century, but were not sufficiently concentrated to render him an expert in dealing with the value of evidence or any other subjects of controversy. He was, however, commendably free from political bias. Some of his literary peculiarities are on the whole fairly characterised by William Cole, who writes of Peck: ‘Had he lived longer we might have had many more curious peices of antiquity, which he seems to have been in possession of; but the chief and great failing of this gentleman seemed to be an eager desire to publish as little in one volume as he could, in order to eke out his collections. His “Desiderata Curiosa” is full of curious things, but he has so disjointed, mangled, and new-sentenced all of them, and what with detached books, chapters, and heads of the chapters, that, in endeavouring to be more than ordinarily clear, he has become many times quite the reverse’ (Cole, Collections, Addit. MS. 5833, f. 176). A portrait of the antiquary in 1735, engraved by J. Faber after J. Highmore, is prefixed to his ‘Cromwell’ (1740). Another portrait, drawn by B. Collins ad vivum in 1731, is prefixed to the 1779 edition of the ‘Desiderata.’
The following is a list of Peck's chief works, all of which were printed at his own charge, and for which he solicited orders and subscribers at the end of several of his smaller tracts: 1. ‘Tὸ Ὕψoς Ἅγιον, or an Exercise on the Creation, and a Hymn to the Creator of the World; written in the express words of the Sacred Text, as an attempt to show the Beauty and Sublimity of Holy Scripture,’ 1716, 8vo. 2. ‘Sighs upon the never enough lamented Death of Queen Anne,’ in imitation of Milton (blank verse), 1719, 4to. Prefixed is a representation of Queen Anne ascending from the earth with the support of angels and cherubs; and appended to the main poem are three minor pieces. At the end of this work he solicits assistance for a ‘History of the Two Last Months of King Charles I,’ which never appeared. 3. ‘Academia Tertia Anglicana; or the Antiquarian Annals of Stamford in Lincoln, Rutland, and Northampton shires; containing the History of the University, Monasteries, Gilds, Churches, Chapels, Hospitals, and Schools there,’ 1727, 4to. This elaborate work was dedicated to John, duke of Rutland, and in it is incorporated the substance of a previous tract by Peck upon ‘The History of the Stamford Bull-running.’ 4. ‘Desiderata Curiosa, or a Collection of Divers Scarce and Curious Pieces, relating chiefly to matters of English History; consisting of choice Tracts, Memoirs, Letters, Wills, Epitaphs,’ &c., 1732, fol. This volume, to which the author contributed two original papers—one on the ancient divisions of the day and night, the other a description of Burghley House—was dedicated to Lord William Manners; and it was followed in 1735 by a second volume dedicated to Bishop Reynolds. Only two hundred and fifty copies of these volumes having been printed, they soon became scarce, and were reprinted in one volume in 1779, 4to, with a scanty memoir of Peck by Thomas Evans. 5. ‘A Complete Catalogue of all the Discourses written both for and against Popery in the time of King James II; containing in the whole an account of 457 books and pamphlets … with an alphabetical list of the writers on each side,’ 1735, 4to. This pamphlet was edited, with large additions, for the Chetham Society in 1859, by Thomas Jones, then librarian of the Chetham Library, which is especially rich in these pamphlets. 6. ‘Memoirs of the Life and Actions of Oliver Cromwell, as delivered in three panegyrics of him, written in Latin; the first, as said, by Don Juan Roderiguez de Saa Meneses, Conde de Penguias, the Portugal ambassador; the second, as affirmed, by a certain jesuit, the lord-ambassador's chaplain; yet both, it is thought, composed by Mr. John Milton (Latin secretary to Oliver Cromwell), as was the third; with an English version of each. The whole illustrated with a large historical preface; many similar passages from the “Paradise Lost” and other works of Mr. John Milton, and “Notes from the Best Historians,”’ 1740, 4to. To the work was appended a collection of ‘Divers Curious Historical Pieces’ relating to, among others, Sir Thomas Scot, Thomas Hobson the carrier, Old Parr, John Evelyn, Gerard Salvin, Tobias Rustat, and Abraham Cowley; and there is ‘a large account of Queen Elizabeth's entertainment at Oxford in 1592.’ 7. ‘New Memoirs of the Life and Poetical Works of Mr. John Milton; with, first, an Examination of Milton's Style; secondly, Explanatory and Critical Notes on divers Passages in Milton and Shakespeare, by the Editor; thirdly, Baptistes: a Sacred and Dramatic Poem in defence of Liberty, as written in Latin by Mr. George Buchanan, translated into English by Mr. John Milton, and first published in 1641 by order of the House of Commons; fourthly, the Parallel, or Archbishop Laud and Cardinal Wolsey compared—a vision by Milton; fifthly, the Legend of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, knight, chief butler of England, who died of poison anno 1570—an historical poem by his nephew, Sir Thomas Throckmorton, knight; sixthly, Herod the Great, by the editor; seventhly, the Resurrection, a poem in imitation of Milton, by a friend; and, eighthly, a Discourse on the Harmony of the Spheres, by Milton, with Prefaces and Notes,’ 1740. The work, which was dedicated to Speaker Onslow, was adorned with a portrait of Milton which Peck obtained from Sir John Meres of Kirkby Beler in Leicestershire. Before the publication of the volume Vertue told Peck that the portrait was not Milton's, but Peck bade ‘posterity settle the difference.’ The critical notes on Milton and Shakespeare are remarkable, as being perhaps the first attempts made to illustrate their writings by extracts from contemporary writers, in accordance with the method subsequently followed by Steevens and Malone (see Memoirs of Milton, p. 5). 8. ‘Four Discourses, viz.: i. Of Grace and how to excite it; ii. Jesus Christ the True Messiah, proved from a consideration of His Resurrection in particular; iii. Jesus Christ the True Messiah, proved from a consideration of His Resurrection in particular; iv. The Necessity and Advantage of Good Laws and Good Magistrates,’ 1742, 8vo.
Of the various works that Peck had in contemplation at the time of his death probably the most important was his ‘Natural History and Antiquities of Leicestershire.’ The manuscript was purchased by Sir Thomas Cave in 1754 for ten guineas, and on his death in 1778 the whole of Peck's materials, together with those of Sir Thomas himself, were handed over by the latter's son to John Nichols. The materials of both were carefully, and with due acknowledgment, incorporated by Nichols in his monumental work. Peck's natural history collections were quaintly digested under the following heads: ‘Stones, Salt, Long Life, Herbs, Earthquakes, Crevices, and Apparitions.’ The next in importance of Peck's manuscripts was the ‘Monasticon Anglicanum Volumen Quartum.’ This work, which was also purchased by Cave, consisted of five quarto volumes, and was on 14 May 1779 presented to the British Museum. It has been used by numerous antiquaries and county historians, and was naturally of especial value to the subsequent editors of Dugdale (Ellis, Caley, and Bandinel). The materials used by Peck in his ‘Life of Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding,’ which was also in an advanced stage of preparation, are for the most part embodied in Peckard's ‘Memoirs’ (cf. Gent. Mag. 1791, i. 456). The remainder of his manuscripts, including the ‘Lives’ of William and Robert Burton (author of the ‘Anatomy of Melancholy’), ‘The History and Antiquities of Rutland,’ ‘The Annals of Stamford’ continued, ‘Memoirs of the Restoration of Charles II,’ and a third volume of ‘Desiderata Curiosa,’ were all in a fragmentary or merely inchoate state. Several other manuscripts of Peck, of minor importance, are still preserved in the British Museum; and Gilchrist possessed a copy of Langbaine's ‘Lives’ carefully interlined by him. Peck, whose interests were so catholic, and whose reading was so omnivorous, was naturally in correspondence with most of the antiquaries of his day, and letters of his are extant to, among others, Thomas Hearne, Browne Willis, Thomas Wotton (Addit. MS. 24121), Zachary Grey (Addit. MS. 6396). He also communicated some notes on the Gresham professors to Dr. Ward (Addit. MS. 6209). Papers of his, including copies of Milton's ‘Poems’ and transcripts of ‘Robin Hood Ballads,’ comprise Addit. MSS. 28637, 28638.[Cole's Athenæ Cantabrigienses; Graduati Cantabrigienses, p. 134; Le Neve's Fasti Eccl. Angl. ii. 184; Gent. Mag. 1743, p. 443; Chalmers's Biographical Dictionary, xxiv. 240; Nichols's Hist. of Leicestershire, preface; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. i. 507 (a valuable memoir, on which all subsequent lives are based), ii. 543, 604, iv. 553, vi. 159, 198, 309–453, viii. 573, 690, ix. 191; Mem. of Thomas Hollis (1780), pp. 513, 526, 531; Bibl. Topogr. Britannica, ii. 50; Birch's Life of Tillotson, p. 127; Hearne's Preface to Fordun's Scotichronicon; Chambers's Book of Days; Baker's Biogr. Dramatica (1812), i. 564; McClintock and Strong's Cyclopædia of Biblical Literature; Didot's Nouvelle Biographie Générale; English Cyclopædia; Brit. Mus. Cat.]