Open main menu

VICARS, JOHN (1580?–1652), schoolmaster, poetaster, and polemic, descended from a Cumberland stock, was born in London of poor parents about 1580. He was educated at Christ's Hospital, and Queen's College, Oxford, but his name does not occur in either the matriculation register or entrance book; nor does he appear to have graduated. He became usher at Christ's Hospital, and held this post till near the close of his life. Between 1617 and 1641 he produced several grotesque specimens of his powers as a versifier, beginning as a translator, and often imitating the titles of contemporary works. As a writer of verse he is best known from the invocation to the muse in ‘Hudibras’ (part i. canto i. 645):

Thou that with ale, or viler liquors,
Didst inspire Withers, Pryn, and Vickars,
And force them, though it was in spite
Of nature, and their stars, to write.

Always puritanical, and a fierce writer against Rome, Vicars showed himself from the opening of the Long parliament equally fierce against prelacy. In spite of his ‘grey hairs’ (Taylor) he ‘could out-scold the boldest face at Billings-gate’ (Foulis). In virulent prose, mixed with doggerel verse, he chronicled the successes of his party against the cavaliers; a foreign critic (George Hornius, 1620–1670) classes him with homilists rather than historians. Carlyle, who adopts his narrative of Winceby Fight (11 Oct. 1643), calls him ‘a poor human soul zealously prophesying as if through the organs of an ass.’ Being, in his own words, ‘a poor and unworthy presbyterian,’ the rise of the independents vexed his heart; he assailed them with the violence of Thomas Edwards (1599–1647) [q. v.] of the ‘Gangræna,’ but with more humour. His gibing attacks on John Goodwin [q. v.] were effective in turning the laugh against an able thinker. Goodwin had sent Vicars a copy of his ‘Innocency and Truth’ (1645). Vicars wrote and printed a letter to Goodwin, which met with a dignified response from Daniel Taylor, ancestor of Henry Taylor (1711–1785) [q. v.] Vicars returned to the charge in his ‘Coleman-street Conclave’ (1648), adorned with the well-known caricature of Goodwin, with weathercock and windmill, driven by ‘error’ and ‘pride.’ Goodwin bestowed a passing and temperate notice on ‘Rabshakeh Vicars,’ whose ‘pictures, poetry, and windmills’ furnish a notable instance of the damaging power of unscrupulous ridicule. Brook errs in thinking that Vicars entered the ministry. He died on 12 April 1652, aged 72; his gravestone in the north aisle of Christ Church, Newgate, perished in the fire of 1666. His son, John Vicars, matriculated at Queen's College, Oxford, 4 Nov. 1631, aged 17, graduated B.A. at Magdalen Hall, 23 April 1635, and obtained (1645) the vicarage of Minster, Thanet.

His chief publications were: (i) Verse.—1. ‘Mischeefes Mysterie, or Treason's Masterpiece, the Powder-plot,’ 1617, 4to (amplified from the Latin of Francis Herring, M.D. [q. v.]); a later and enlarged edition was refused license by Samuel Baker, D.D. [q. v.], who remarked, ‘We are not so angry with the papists now as we were twenty years ago;’ it was however issued as ‘The Quintessence of Cruelty,’ 1641, 8vo. 2. ‘A Prospective Glasse to look into Heaven,’ 1618, 8vo (added is ‘The Sovles Sacred Soliloquie’). 3. ‘Epigrams of … John Owen’ (1560?–1622) [q. v.], 1619, 8vo. 4. ‘Babels Balme, or, The Honeycombe of Rome's Religion,’ 1624, 4to (from the Latin of George Goodwin [q. v.]). 5. ‘England's Hallelujah: or, Great Brittaines … deliverances since the halcyon dayes of … Elizabeth,’ 1631, 8vo. 6. ‘The XII Aeneids of Virgil … into English deca-syllables,’ 1632, 8vo. 7. ‘Englands Remembrancer,’ 1641, 4to. (ii.) Prose.—8. ‘God in the Mount; or, Englands Remembrancer,’ 1642, 4to. 9. ‘The Sinfulness … of … making the picture of Christ's Humanity,’ 1641, 12mo. 10. ‘A Looking-glass for Malignants,’ 1641, 4to. 11. ‘Jehovah Jireh. God in the Mount: or, Englands Remembrancer, being the First and Second Part of a Parliamentary Chronicle … from 1641 to … Octob. 1643,’ 1644, 4to. 12. ‘The Picture of Independency,’ 1645, 4to. 13. ‘Gods Arke over-topping the … waves; or, a Third Part of a Parliamentary Chronicle,’ 1646, 4to. 14. ‘The Burning Bush Not Consumed; or, The Fourth and Last Part,’ 1646, 4to (Nos. 11, 13, 14 were collected as ‘Magnalia Dei Anglicana,’ 1646, 4to). 15. ‘The Schismatick Sifted,’ 1646, 4to. 16. ‘Coleman-Street Conclave Visited,’ 1648, 4to (very long jeering title, referring to Goodwin as ‘the Schismaticks Cheater in Chief’ and ‘this most huge Garagantua’).

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iii. 308 sq.; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Foulis's History of the Wicked Plots, 1662, p. 179; Brydges's Censura Literaria, 1805, i. 329 sq., iii.; Brook's Lives of the Puritans, 1813, iii. 143 sq.; Jackson's Life of John Goodwin, 1822, pp. 73 sq., 178 sq.; Mitchell and Struthers's Minutes of the Westminster Assembly, 1874, p. 531; notes from the provost of Queen's College, Oxford.]

A. G.