Open main menu

HOOPER, GEORGE (1640-1727), bishop of Bath and Wells, was born at Grimley in Worcestershire, 18 Nov. 1640. His father, also George Hooper, appears to have been a gentleman of independent means; his mother, Joan Hooper, was daughter of Edmund Giles, gent., of White Ladies Aston, Worcestershire. From Grimley his parents removed to Westminster. He was elected a scholar of St. Paul’s School while John Langley was high-master (1640-1657) (Gardiner, St. Paul’s School Reg., p.47), but was soon removed to Westminster under Busby, and obtained a king’s scholarship there. Busby said of him while at Westminster, ‘This boy is the least favoured in feature of any in the school, but he will become more extraordinary than any of them;’ and at a subsequent period, but before there was any thought of his being raised to the bench, 'He was the best scholar, the finest gentleman, and will make the completest bishop that ever was educated at Westminster School.’ Hooper as elected to a Westminster studentship at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1657; he graduated B.A. 16 Jan. 1660, M.A. 1 Dec. 1663, B.D. 9 July 1673, and D.D. 3 July 1677. He remained at Oxford as college tutor until 1672, and made the acquaintance of Thomas Ken [q. v.] He had an insatiable thirst for knowledge of all sorts; he was a good classical scholar, a mathematician of quite the first rank of his day, and a proficient in philosophy and in Greek and Latin antiquities. Under Dr. (Edward) Pocock [q. v.] he became not only a good Hebrew and Syriac scholar, but also ‘a compleat master of the Arabic tongue, the knowledge of which he made great use of to expound several obscure passages of the Old Testament’ (Prowse). In 1672 Bishop Morley persuaded Hooper to come and reside with him as his chaplain at Winchester. Ken was the bishop’s chaplain at the same time. In the same year Morley presented Hooper to the living of Havant, where he seems to have gone into residence at once, and contracted an ague from the dampness of the place. Ken, then incumbent at East Woodhay in Hampshire, at once resigned that living to make way for his friend. Hooper was instituted at Woodhay in 1672. Isaac Milles, the model parish priest of the neighbouring village of High Clere, frequently mentioned Hooper as ‘the one of all clergymen whom he had ever known in whom the three characters of perfect gentleman, thorough scholar, and venerable divine met in the most complete accordance.’

Archbishop Sheldon heard of Hooper’s fame, and after much importunity induced Morley to permit Hooper to remove to Lambeth to become his own chaplain in 1673. In 1675 he was collated by Sheldon to the rectory of Lambeth, and soon afterwards to the precentorship of Exeter. Morley sent for Hooper to attend him in his last sickness in 1684. On the marriage of the Princess Mary with the Prince of Orange, Hooper went with her (1677) to Holland as her almoner at the Hague. Here he had a difficult post to fill. The prince inclined to a religion of the Dutch Presbyterian type, and strove to impress his views upon the princess. Her former chaplain, Dr. William Lloyd, had allowed her to leave the services of the church of England for those of the Dutch. Hooper, to the annoyance of the prince, persuaded her to read Hooker and Eusebius instead of the dissenting books which had been put in her hands. Hooper also ventured to argue with the prince himself on church matters in a way which led William to say to him, ‘Well, Dr. Hooper, you will never be a bishop.’ His daughter Mrs. Prowse, however, says that ‘in this station he was directed to regulate the Performance of Divine Chappel in Her Highness’s Chappel, according to the usage of the Church of England, which he did in so prudent and decent a manner as to give no offence.’ After about a year at the Hague, he obtained, with some difficulty, leave to go home to marry, in 1678, a lady, Abigail Guildford, to whom he had been engaged before he left England. According to his promise, he afterwards returned to the Hague for eight months, when he was succeeded by his old friend Ken. In 1680 he was made chaplain to Charles II, and in the same year the regius professorship of divinity at Oxford, vacant by the death of Dr. Allestree, was offered to but declined by him. In 1685 he was desired by James II to attend the Duke of Monmouth the evening before his execution, and on the following morning was on the scaffold in conjunction with the Bishops of Ely and Bath and Wells and Dr. Tenison. At the revolution he was one of the few decidedly high churchmen who took the oaths, and he all but persuaded his friend Ken (as the latter himself owns) to do the same. In 1691, on the promotion of Dean Sharp to the archbishopric of York, Queen Mary offered him the deanery of Canterbury, taking advantage of the king’s absence in Holland to promote her favourite. William, on his return, expressed displeasure at her conduct. In 1698 the Princess Anne and her husband Prince George of Denmark were anxious that Hooper should be appointed tutor to the young Duke of Gloucester, but the king succeeded in substituting Burnet. In 1701 Hooper was elected prolocutor to the lower house of the convocation of Canterbury. His extensive knowledge of law and history and his courteous demeanour qualified him for this post; and at a time when the relations between the upper and lower houses were strained it was important to have a strong man at the helm. Hooper was an able defender of the privileges of the lower house. Ken wrote that he ‘had more hopes now that Hooper was taking the lead in church affairs.’ About the same time Hooper declined an offer of the primacy of Ireland made by the Earl of Rochester, lord-lieutenant. Towards the close of 1702 he accepted the bishopric of St. Asaph. In 1703 the see of Bath and Wells fell vacant through the death of Dr. Kidder. Queen Anne pressed it upon Hooper, but he felt that his friend Ken was the canonical bishop of Bath and Wells, and at his entreaty the queen offered to reinstate Ken. But Ken was unwilling to return, and ‘never ceased’ writes Mrs. Prowse, ‘importuning and adjuring’ Hooper to fill the vacancy. Hooper assented and Ken ceased henceforth to sign himself ‘T. Bath and Wells.’ He dedicated his ‘Hymnarium’ to Hooper in lines comparing himself to the obscure Valerius and his successor to the great St. Augustine.

In order to make some provision for his friend, Hooper begged the queen to allow him to retain the precentorship of Exeter in commendam with a dispensation for non-residence, for the sole benefit of Ken. The queen consented, but the Bishop of Exeter (Sir John Trelawney) objected to the arrangement, and the matter was settled by the queen ordering a pension of 200l. a year (the value of the precentorship) to be paid to Ken for life.

Hooper held the see of Bath and Wells for nearly a quarter of a century, and was a most successful and popular prelate. He took particular care of the poor clergy, who, owing to the smallness of many of the livings, were numerous. His extensive knowledge of the laws relating to the church made him a valuable advisor to the clergy. He won the hearts of the gentry ‘by his steady, wise, and courteous conduct,’ and was liberal to the poor. He was most happy in his post, and ‘no offer could make think of a translation from it. He often refused a seat in the privy council, and could not be persuaded to accept the bishopric of London on the death of Bishop Compton, nor the archbishopric of York on the death of Archbishop Sharp’ (ib.) He was a frequent preacher before royalty, and never condescended to flattery. In the famous ‘church in danger’ debate in the House of Lords in 1705 he maintained that the danger was not, as some supposed, imaginary, though he was too well informed and temperate to exaggerate it. In 1706 he spoke against the union between England and Scotland; and on the same occasion he strongly, but in vain, advocated in the cause of the Scottish Episcopal church. In 1709-10 he defended Sacheverell, and entered his protest against the vote in favour of his impeachment. He died, aged nearly eighty-seven, on 6 Sept. 1727, at Barkley, near Frome, a secluded spot in his diocese to which he was wont to retire at intervals to recruit his strength. He survived his wife one year; and out of a family of nine children only one was living at the time of his death, the wife of John Prowse of Axbridge, who was author of an unpublished life of her father. Hooper was buried in Wells Cathedral, and a marble monument was erected to his memory.

Burnet, who had personal differences with Hooper in convocation, describes him in 1701 in his ‘History of His Own Time’ as ‘a man of learning and good conduct hitherto. But’ (Burnet continues) ‘he was reserved, crafty, and ambitious; his deanery had not softened him, for he thought he deserved to be raised higher’ (bk. vi.) Other detractors of Hooper were those extreme Jacobites and nonjurors who were angry with Ken for resigning his canonical claims to his bishopric in favour of his friend. Bishop Atterbury probably on this account calls him ambitious; Whiston, on the contrary, in spite of Hooper’s having rejected him from holy communion, expresses, with characteristic generosity, a high opinion of his character. Hooper’s personal character seems, indeed, to have been almost as lovable as Ken’s, while the range and depth of his knowledge was far greater.

Hooper’s chief writings, which with the exception of his sermons, were all published anonymously, include:

  1. ‘The Church of England free from the imputation of Popery.’ This was a discourse written and published at the request of Dr. Compton, bishop of London, about 1682. Another edition was printed in ‘The London Cases’ in 1694. It was also reprinted by the author at his own expense in 1716, and given to his clergy at his triennial visitation the year following.
  2. ‘A Fair and Methodical Discussion of the First and great Controversy between the Church of England and the Church of Rome concerning the Infallible Guide,’ 1689.
  3. ‘A Discourse concerning Lent, in 2 Parts,’ 1695. This is a long and very learned inquiry into the meaning and origin of the Lenten fast.
  4. ‘A Calculation of the Credibility of Human Testimony,’ first printed in the ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ October 1699; this is the only printed work in which Hooper’s mathematical attainments are conspicuous.
  5. ‘The Narrative Vindicated,’ i. e. the ‘Narrative of the Proceedings of the Lower House of Convocation,’ 1700-1, by Dr. Aldrich. This was answered by Dr. White Kennett.
  6. ‘De Valentiniarnorum Hæresi, quibus illius origo ex Ægyptiacâ Theologiâ deducitur,’ 1711. This was dedicated to John Ernest Grabe [q. v.] It is written in excellent Latin. After Hooper’s death there was added to this in the edition of 1757 ‘Emendationes et Observationes ad Tertulliani adversus Valentinianos Tractatum.’ Both were intended to accompany a new edition of Tertullian ‘Adversus Valentinianos’ which Hooper was preparing for the press. Hearing, however, that a new edition of Tertullian’s works was being prepared abroad, he sent his ‘notes’ (which were very highly thought of) to the editors, and they were lost.
  7. ‘Eight Sermons preached on several occasions from 1681 to 1713.’ These are admirably written with studied plainness, but able, earnest and scholarly.
  8. ‘An Inquiry into the State of Antient Weights and Measures, the Attick, the Roman and the Jewish,’ 1721.
  9. ‘De Benedictione Patriarchæ Jacobi, Gen. xlix. conjecturæ,’ 1728. This was published by Hooper’s own directions on his deathbed, at Oxford, by Thomas Hunt (1696-1774) [q. v.], who prepared in 1757 an excellent edition in 2 vols. of most, not all, of Hooper’s works. Another edition of the same was republished at Oxford in 1855.

[Prowse’s MS. Life of Bishop Hooper; the Works of the Right Rev. George Hooper, Bishop of Bath and Wells, new edition, in 2 vols., Oxford, 1855 (reprint of Hunt’s edition of 1757); Life of Bishop Ken, by Dr. Plumptre, dean of Wells, 1888; Burnet’s History of His Own Time; Hearne’s Collections, ed. Doble, Oxf. Hist. Soc. i. 217, ii. 362, iii. 27, 174, 177; Whiston’s Memoirs; Life of Isaac Milles; Strickland’s Lives of the Seven Bishops.]

J. H. O.