Open main menu

PORDAGE, JOHN (1607–1681), astrologer and mystic, eldest son of Samuel Pordage (d. 1626), grocer, by his wife Elizabeth (Taylor), was born in the parish of St. Dionis Backchurch, London, and baptised on 21 April 1607. He was curate in charge of St. Lawrence's, Reading, in 1644, the vicar being Thomas Gilbert (1613–1694) [q. v.] Pordage is later described as vicar, but erroneously. By 1647 (after 9 Nov. 1646) he was rector of Bradfield, Berkshire, a living in the gift of Elias Ashmole [q. v.], who thought highly of his astrological knowledge. Baxter, who describes him as chief of the ‘Behmenists,’ or English followers of Jacob Boehme, knew of him through a young man, probably Abiezer Coppe [q. v.], who in 1649 was living under Pordage's roof in a ‘family communion,’ the members ‘aspiring after the highest spiritual state’ through ‘visible communion with angels.’ Baxter thought they tried to carry too far ‘the perfection of a monastical life.’ Among themselves this family went by scripture names; Pordage was ‘Father Abraham,’ his wife was ‘Deborah.’

He was charged before the committee for plundered ministers with heresies comprised in nine articles, accusing him of a sort of mystical pantheism. But on 27 March 1651 the committee acquitted him on all counts. On 18 Sept. 1654 he was summoned to appear on 5 Oct. before the county commissioners (known as ‘expurgators’) at the Bear Inn, Speenhamland, Berkshire. The nine articles were revived against him at the instance of John Tickel [q. v.], a presbyterian divine at Abingdon, Berkshire. The inquiry was successively adjourned to 19 Oct., 2 Nov., 22 Nov., and 30 Nov., fresh articles being from time to time brought forward against him, to the number of fifty-six, in addition to the original nine. Most of them dealt with unsubstantial matters of personal gossip; the accusation of intercourse with spirits was pressed (from 19 Oct.) by Christopher Fowler [q. v.] It was made a charge against him that he had sheltered Robert Everard [q. v.] and Thomas Tany [q. v.] One of his maid-servants, while attesting some of the stories about spirits, bore witness to the purity and piety of the family life. By 30 Nov. Pordage was too ill to appear; the inquiry was adjourned to 7 Dec. at the Bear Inn, Reading. On 8 Dec. the commissioners ejected him as ‘ignorant and very insufficient for the work of the ministry.’ He was to leave the rectory by 2 Feb. and clear out his barns by 25 March 1655.

At the Restoration Pordage was reinstated. In 1663 he became acquainted with Jane Lead or Leade [q. v.], and assisted her in the study of Jacob Boehme. In August 1673 or 1674 (there is a doubt about the year) Pordage and Mrs. Lead ‘first agreed to wait together in prayer and pure dedication.’ Francis Lee [q. v.], Jane Lead's son-in-law, speaks warmly of Pordage's devoutness and sincerity, maintaining that ‘his conversation was such as malice itself can hardly except against.’ He was not, however, a man of robust intellect; his insight into Boehme's writings was feeble, and his theosophy was of the emotional order. In his will he describes himself as ‘doctor in physick.’ It does not appear that he held the degree of M.D., though it was assigned to him by others, and he was commonly called Dr. Pordage.

He died in 1681, and was buried in St. Andrew's, Holborn, on 11 Dec. His will, made on 28 Nov. 1681, and proved 17 Jan. 1682, was witnessed by Jane Lead. His portrait was engraved by Faithorne. His first wife, Mary (Lane), of Tenbury, Worcestershire, was buried at Bradfield on 25 Aug. 1668. His second wife was Elizabeth, widow of Thomas Faldo of London. His son Samuel is separately noticed; he had other sons: John, William, and Benjamin. His daughter Elizabeth was buried at Bradfield on 23 Dec. 1663; other daughters were Mary, Sarah (married Stistead), and Abigail. His brother Francis, who survived him, was rector of Stanford-Dingley, Berkshire.

He published: 1. ‘Truth appearing through the Clouds of undeserved Scandal,’ &c., 1655, 4to (published on 22 Dec. 1654, according to Thomason's note on the British Museum copy). 2. ‘Innocency appearing through the dark Mists of pretended Guilt,’ &c., 1655, fol. (15 March). 3. ‘A just Narrative of the Proceedings of the Commissioners of Berks … against John Pordage,’ &c., 1655, 4to; reprinted in ‘State Trials’ (Cobbett), 1810, v. 539 sq. 4. ‘The Fruitful Wonder … By J. P., Student in Physic,’ &c., 1674, 4to (account of four children at a birth, at Kingston-on-Thames, probably by Pordage). Posthumous were: 5. ‘Theologia Mystica, or the Mystic Divinitie of the Æternal Indivisible … By a Person of Qualitie, J. P., M.D.’ &c., 1683, 8vo (prefaced by Jane Lead, and edited by Dr. Edward Hooker; Francis Lee had a ‘much larger’ treatise of similar title ‘under the Doctor's own hand;’ subjoined, with the second title-page, is ‘A Treatise of Eternal Nature’). 6. ‘Ein gründlich philosophisches Sendschreiben,’ &c., Amsterdam, 1698, 8vo; reprinted (1727) in F. Roth-Scholz's ‘Deutsches Theatrum Chemicum,’ 1728, 8vo, vol. i. 7. ‘Vier Tractätlein,’ &c., Amsterdam, 1704, 8vo. A two-page advertisement in Jane Lead's ‘Fountain of Gardens,’ 1697, 8vo, gives full titles of the following works of Pordage, unpublished in English: 8. ‘Philosophia Mystica,’ &c. 9. ‘The Angelical World,’ &c. 10. ‘The Dark Fire World,’ &c. 11. ‘The Incarnation of Jesus Christ,’ &c. 12. ‘The Spirit of Eternity,’ &c. 13. ‘Sophia,’ &c. 14. ‘Experimental Discoveries,’ &c. The ‘Vita J. Crellii Franci,’ by J. P., M.D., prefixed to Crell's ‘Ethica Aristotelica,’ Cosmopoli (Amsterdam), 1681, 4to, assigned to Pordage, is by Joachim Pastorius, M.D., and was originally published in Dutch, 1663, 4to (see Sand, Bibl. Antitrinit. 1684, p. 149).

[Pordage's Narrative, 1655, and other tracts (most of the Narrative is reprinted in Cobbett's State Trials, vol. v. and in earlier collections); Fowler's Dæmonium Meridianum, 1655–6; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iii. 1098, iv. 405, 715; Reliquiæ Baxterianæ, 1696, i. 77 sq.; Poiret's Bibliotheca Mysticorum, 1708; Calamy's Account, 1714, p. 96; Granger's Biographical Hist. of England, 1779, iii. 55 sq.; Lysons's Magna Britannia (Berkshire), 1813, p. 246; Walton's Memorial of William Law, 1854, pp. 148, 192, 203, 240; Notes and Queries, 15 Feb. 1862, p. 136; Chester's Registers of St. Dionis Backchurch (Harleian Soc.), 1878, p. 93; Foster's Marriage Licenses, 1887, p. 469; Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. App. pt. vii. pp. 189, 192; Harleian MS. 1530, f. 34 (pedigree); W. Law's Works, 1892, vi. 201; Pordage's will in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (8 Cottle); information from the rectors of Bradfield and St. Andrew's, Holborn.]

A. G.