Thomas Sprat (bap. 1635-1713) was born in Beaminster, Dorset to his father, Thomas Sprat, and mother, name unknown. Receiving a great deal of education at Wadham College, Oxford (and Cambridge in 1671), he was eventually elected as a fellow of Wadham from June 1657 to March 1670 and later as a catechist in December 1659. Focusing primarily on a literary career early on, Sprat produced such poems as “Naps upon Panassus” (1658) and “Ode to the English Ovid” (1657), which centered on his friend Abraham Cowley. Cowley would influence Sprat’s poetic style in the poem, “The Plague of Athens,” which functioned as an allegory on the English revolution; this poem eventually earned Sprat the nickname, “Pindaric.” “The Plague of Athens” would also be reprinted seven times before 1709. In a further illustration of the influence Cowley and Sprat’s friendship had, Abraham Cowley also introduced Sprat to George Villiers, second duke of Buckingham. As a result, Sprat served Villiers as his chaplains in the early 1660s and again in 1675 as one of the trustees for Villiers’ estate.
John Wilkins, one of the dedicatees in Sprat’s 1682 work, “To the happy memory of the late usurper,” nominated Sprat to become a Royal Society fellow in 1663. At the same time, Sprat was also commissioned to outline the society’s history in an effort to dissuade criticism of the group’s limited activity since its foundation. Sprat, however, showed no induced interest in natural philosophy and instead used personal motivations to undertake the writing of The History of the Royal Society, launched by commentary from Cowley, John Evelyn, and Joseph Glanvill, though heavily orchestrated by Wilkins as well. Wilkins would go on to serve on two other committees relating to Sprat’s work on The History: the first, which formed in an attempt to establish the Royal Society’s practicality to the nation, while the second reviewed Sprat’s text as a whole in May 1665. These societies formed as a precautionary measure after the release of Samuel Sorbière’s Relation d’un voyage en Angleterre (1664) which, while largely complimentary, criticized certain English institutions while also challenging England’s place in natural philosophy. As a result, Sprat briefly broke from The History to write a response to Sorbière under the guise of a letter to Christopher Wren entitled Observations on Monsieur de Sorbière’s ‘Voyage into England’” (1665), in which he championed The Royal Society’s Baconian methods. Despite the plague and great fire that occurred beforehand, the book appeared in print summer of 1667. The History of the Royal Society, however, never received the society’s imprimatur.
After Abraham Cowley’s death, Sprat wrote a Latin panegyric for him in 1668. The expanded English version, “An account of the life and writing<” would appear in Cowley’s English Works published in 1668. He also composed Cowley’s epitaph in Westminster Abbey. Sprat would later marry and have two sons. He became curate and lecturer at St. Margaret’s, Westminster, where he would also develop his reputation as a preacher. On November 2, 1684, Sprat was consecrated as bishop of Rochester.
Morgan, John. “Sprat, Thomas (bap. 1635, d. 1713).” John MorganOxford Dictionary of
National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Jan. 2008. 22 Sept. 2014 <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/26173>.