of Mr. Abr. Cowley’ in a communication to Martin Clifford [q. v.], which he prefixed to Cowley's ‘De Plantis lib. 6.’ It was considerably amplified and placed before the 1668 edition of the poet's ‘English Works,’ which he undertook in accordance with the terms of Cowley's will, and until 1826 it was often reprinted. His defence of his friend's poem of the ‘Mistress’ was attacked by the Rev. Edmund Elys [q. v.], in ‘An Exclamation against an Apology by an ingenious person for Mr. Cowley's lascivious and prophane Verses.’ Johnson justly spoke of the biography as ‘a funeral oration rather than a history,’ a character, not a life, with its few facts ‘confused and enlarged through the mist of panegyrick.’ Clifford and Sprat possessed many of Cowley's letters, which were full of charm; but they would not publish them, and it is not now known whether they are in existence (Fraser's Magazine, xiii. 395–409, and xiv. 234–41; Athenæum, 17 July 1897, p. 99). Coleridge regretted ‘the prudery of Sprat in refusing to let Cowley appear in his slippers and dressing gown.’ The inscription on Cowley's monument in Westminster Abbey was by Sprat. Johnson always read it ‘with indignation or contempt’ on account of its pagan phraseology and expressions ‘too ludicrous for reverence or grief, for Christianity and a temple’ (‘Essay on Epitaphs,’ Works, 1825 ed. v. 262–3).
Sprat was long regarded rather as a wit and man of letters than as a serious divine and politician. On 22 Feb. 1668–9, however, he was appointed to a canonry at Westminster, and on 22 Feb. 1669–70 he was presented by the Duke of Buckingham to the rectory of Uffington in Lincolnshire. Even then he did not abandon altogether his love of satire. He is said to have been one of the duke's coadjutors in the composition of the ‘Rehearsal,’ and to have joined Clifford and ‘several of the best hands of these times’ in assisting Elkanah Settle [q. v.] in writing the ‘Anti-Achitophel.’ On 12 Aug. 1676 he was nominated chaplain to Charles II, and on 29 Sept. 1679 curate and lecturer at St. Margaret's, Westminster. A few weeks later Evelyn went to St. Paul's Cathedral ‘to hear that great wit, Dr. Sprat,’ and noted that ‘his talent was a great memory, never making use of notes, a readiness of expression in a most pure and plain style of words, full of matter, easily delivered’ (Diary, 1850, 2nd ed. ii. 137–8).
By this time Sprat was recognised both as an attractive preacher and as a bold upholder among the clergy of high-church doctrines and the divine right of kings. A fortunate circumstance secured for him still higher preferment. On 22 Dec. 1680, a fast day, he and Burnet both preached before the House of Commons—Burnet in the morning, and Sprat in the afternoon. The congregation applauded Burnet, but was highly offended with the other's ‘insinuations of undutifulness to the king,’ and would not compliment him with the accustomed vote of thanks. This ‘raised his merit at court,’ and on 14 Jan. 1680–1 Sprat was installed in a canonry at Windsor.
On 21 Sept. 1683 he was installed in the deanery of Westminster, and he was consecrated at Lambeth as bishop of Rochester on 2 Nov. 1684, holding both preferments until his death. The first of these appointments compelled him to vacate his canonry in the abbey and his post at St. Margaret's; the second required his cession of the canonry at Windsor. He marked his gratitude for his new preferments by bringing out at the close of May 1685 ‘A True Account and Declaration of the Horrid Conspiracy against the late King, his present Majesty and the Government,’ which, though anonymous, was known to be the composition of Sprat. It purported to be an account of the Rye House plot, and he drew it up after much hesitation, as he subsequently pleaded, at the command of Charles II, who granted ‘free liberty to consult the Paper-office and council-books.’ A second edition appeared in the same year, a third in 1686, and a fourth in 1696. He subsequently evaded the reiterated commands of James to write an account of the invasions of the Duke of Monmouth and the Earl of Argyll.
The last distinction conferred on Sprat was the post of clerk of the closet (29 Dec. 1685), but he probably aspired to the archbishopric of York, which was kept vacant for more than two years. Either under the influence of this bait or from natural pliancy of disposition he accepted on 14 July 1686 a seat on the new ecclesiastical commission of James II, and next month opened its proceedings at Whitehall. His conduct in joining this body was much condemned, both before and after the revolution. His own defence of his actions in this matter, as well as his apology for undertaking the history of the Rye House plot, is set out in two separately issued letters to the Earl of Dorset and Middlesex, one dated 21 Feb. 1688–9, and the other 26 March 1689 (the first was translated into Dutch at Amsterdam in 1689); both were reprinted in 1711. A few weeks after their appearance they were criticised in printed answers ‘by an Englishman,’ who is said by Anthony à Wood to have been Mr. Charlton. The bishop pleaded that his name was inserted in the commission