Meres, Francis (DNB00)

MERES, FRANCIS (1565–1647), divine and author, born in 1565, was son of Thomas Meres or Meers of Kirton in Holland, colnshire. The family, whose name was originally written ‘Atte Meres,’ was of old standing in the Fen district, and in the fifteenth century it supplied Lincolnshire with members of parliament (1428, 1434, 1441) and high sheriffs (1437, 1447, 1468, 1485). Francis doubtless belonged to the branch settled at Aubourn. He claimed kinship with John Meres, high sheriff of the county in 1596, whom he visited at Aubourn, and to whom he was indebted for pecuniary assistance in the early part of his career (Gods Arithmeticke, Ded.)

Meres graduated B.A. from Pembroke College, Cambridge, in 1587, and proceeded M.A. in 1591. He was incorporated in the latter degree at Oxford on 10 July 1593. In 1597 he was living in London in Botolph Lane, and developed a strong interest in contemporary English literature. In that year he preferred a ‘successlesse suite to Maister Lawrence Meres of Yorke, sometimes of her Maiesties Counsell established for the North’ (ib.; cf. Yorks. Record Series, vol. ii.). John Meres, the high sheriff, appears to have promised him further means of support if he chose to settle at Cambridge. But on 14 July 1602 he became rector of Wing in Rutland, and kept a school there. He retained the living till his death on 29 Jan. 1646–7. His wife Maria died 2 May 1631, aged 54. An only son, Francis, born in 1607 (B.A. Trinity College, Cambridge, 1628), was headmaster of Uppingham School 1641–1669. Meres, when entering his wife's death in his parish register, records her virtues at length both in English and Latin. The son Francis was father of Edward Meres (B.A. 1679 and M.A. 1683, St. John's College, Cambridge), rector of Wing 1688–90.

Meres has been identified with the ‘F. M.’ who contributed verses to the ‘Paradise of Dainty Devices’ in 1595. Charles FitzGeoffrey, in addressing to him a Latin poem in his ‘Affaniæ,’ 1601 (p. 62), describes him as ‘theologus et poeta.’ But it seems doubtful whether he is the ‘Francis Meares’ who prefixed a Latin epigram to Randolph's ‘Jealous Lover,’ 1640. He mainly confined himself to prose. In 1597 he published a sermon entitled ‘Gods Arithmeticke,’ London (by Richard Iohmes), to which a long and learned ‘Epistle Nuncupatorie’ to John Meres, the high sheriff, was prefixed (Brit. Mus.). Meres described himself on the title-page as ‘Maister of Arts in both Universities and Student in Divinity.’

Meres's second and most interesting publication was a contribution to a series of volumes of collected apophthegms, or sententious reflections on morals, religion, and literature, which was inaugurated by the issue in 1597 of ‘Politeuphuia: Wits Commonwealth.’ This work was chiefly from the pen of Nicholas Ling, the publisher, although it is commonly assigned to John Bodenham [q. v.] Meres's continuation was entitled ‘Palladis Tamia, Wits Treasury; being the second part of Wits Commonwealth,’ London, by P. Short for Cuthbert Burbie, 1598. It was entered on the ‘Stationers' Register’ 7 Sept. 1598. No copy of this edition seems to contain Meres's address ‘To the Reader,’ which figures in later issues, and seems, on internal grounds, to have been written for the original publication. It promises a third contribution to the series by an eminent scholar.

Meres, who writes euphuistically, and prides himself on his free use of similes, acknowledges obligations to numerous classical writers and to the following English authors: Hugh Broughton, Sir Philip Sidney, Robert Greene, Foxe, Lyly, Sir John Harington, William Warner, Capgrave, and Thomas Playfere [q. v.] The most attractive feature of the volume is ‘A Comparative Discourse of our English Poets with the Greek, Latin, and Italian Poets’ (ff. 279–89). Meres passes in review all English literary effort from the time of Chaucer to his own day, briefly contrasting each English author with a writer of like character in Latin, Greek, or Italian. In other sections, on ‘Bookes,’ ‘Reading of Bookes,’ ‘Philosophie,’ ‘Poets and Poetrie,’ he makes casual references to contemporary English authors, and in his section on ‘Painting’ and ‘Music’ he supplies a few comments on contemporary English painters and musicians. He thus commemorates in all 125 Englishmen; and his lists of Shakespeare's works, with his commendation of the great dramatist's ‘fine filed phrase,’ and his account of Marlowe's death are loci classici in English literary history. The work was reissued in 1634 as ‘Wits Commonwealth, the second part: A Treasurie of Diuine, Moral, and Phylosophical Similes, generally useful, but more particularly for the use of schools,’ London, 1634, 12mo. A title-page, engraved by John Droeshout [q. v.], and dated 1636, was prefixed to the unsold copies of this edition, and describes the work as ‘Witts Academy. A Treasurie of Goulden Sentences, Similies, and Examples. Set forth cheefely for the benefitt of young Schollers, London, printed for Richard Royston.’ The passages dealing with Elizabethan literature were reprinted in Haslewood's ‘Critical Essays,’ in ‘Shakspere Allusion Books’ (New Shakspere Soc.), pt. i. pp. 164 sq., 1874, and in Arber's ‘English Garner,’ ii. 94 sq.

Meanwhile a third volume of the series, of which ‘Palladis Tamia’ was the second, appeared in 1599 as ‘Wits Theater of the Little World,’ for which Nicholas Ling was again responsible. A fourth volume was ‘Palladis Palatium. Wisedoms Pallace, or the fourth part of Wits Commonwealth’ (London, by G. Elde for Francis Burton, 1604, 8vo); a unique copy belongs to Sir Charles Isham of Lamport. This part is ascribed in the ‘Stationers' Registers,’ iii. 264, to William Wrednot.

Meres also published translations, probably made through the French, of two religious works by the Spaniard, Luis de Grenada. The first, ‘Granados Devotion, exactly teaching how a Man may truely dedicate and deuote himself vnto God,’ London (E. Allde for Cuthbert Burbie), 1598, 12mo, was dedicated to Will Sammes of the Middle Temple, from London, 11 May 1598. The second, ‘Sinners Guide, A Worke contayning the whole Regiment of Christian Life,’ London (R. Field for Edward Blount), 1614, 4to, was dedicated to Sir Thomas Egerton under date 10 May 1598.

Another Francis Meres, with whom the divine is sometimes confused, died in 1557, and belonged to an elder branch of the family. He was son of Thomas, the disinherited elder son of one Sir John Meres, whose younger son, Anthony, founded the Aubourn branch to which the divine belonged. This Francis was father of Anthony (d. 1617), a prosperous merchant of Lincoln, whose son, Robert Meres, D.D. (1596–1652), was chancellor of the cathedral of Lincoln (from 1631), vicar of Tempsford, Bedfordshire, and rector of Hougham-cum-Marston. Dr. Robert Meres had a son, Sir Thomas Meres (1635–1715), who was knighted 11 June 1660, was M.P. for Lincoln from 1659 to 1710, and a commissioner of the admiralty from 1679 to 1684. He became prominent as a whig politician. Pepys admired his good sense as a speaker (Diary, 2 Jan. 1666–7). On the accession of James II he assumed an attitude of stubborn resistance to the king's policy of religious toleration. At the opening of the first parliament of the reign his name and that of Sir James Trevor were presented for the speakership to the king, who at once chose the latter (Bramston, Autobiog. pp. 197, 212). On 1 July 1685 Meres sought to pass through parliament a bill to compel all foreigners settled in England to adopt the English liturgy (Lives of the Norths, ed. Jessopp, iii. 180–1). By his wife, Anne, daughter of Sir Erasmus de la Fontaine, he left three sons, Thomas, John, and William. The eldest son was disinherited, and was father of John Meres [q. v.] The second son, Sir John Meres, F.R.S., one of the six clerks in chancery, was high sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1715, and was author of ‘The Equity of Parliaments and Publick Faith vindicated, in answer to [Sir Richard Steele's] Crisis of Property, and addressed to the Annuitants’ (1720, two editions). He died unmarried in 1736.

[Information kindly supplied by the Rev. C. Boys, rector of Wing; Wood's Fasti Oxon., ed. Bliss, i. 263; E. Peacock's English Church Furniture, 1866, pp. 34–6; A. R. Maddison's Lincolnshire Wills, 1500–1600 pp. 55, 2nd ser. 1600–17 pp. 148–50; E. Deacon's Family of Meres, Bridgeport, Connecticut, U.S.A., 1891; Hunter's Chorus Vatum, in MS. Addit. 24489, p. 265; Brit. Mus. Cat.; information kindly furnished by R. E. Graves, esq., of the British Museum.]

S. L.