The Reverend URIAN OAKES was born in England about the year 1631; and was brought to America in his childhood. From this early period, he was distinguished for the sweetness of his disposition, which characterized him through life. He was educated at Harvard College, where he graduated in 1649. While very young, and small, he published, at Cambridge, a set of Astronomical Calculations, with this apposite motto:
Parvum parva decent, sed inest sua gratia parvis.
Soon after his graduation, he went to England, where, after having been some time a chaplain to an eminent personage, he became settled in the ministry at Titchfield. Being silenced, however, in 1662, in common with the nonconformist ministers throughout the nation (by Act xiv. Car. 2); he resided a while in the family of Colonel Norton, a man of great merit and respectability, who, on this occasion, afforded him an asylum. When the violence of the persecution abated, he returned to the exercise of his ministry in another congregation, as colleague with Mr. Simmons. Such was his celebrity for learning and piety, for ministerial abilities and fidelity, that the church and society of Cambridge, on the decease of Mr. Mitchel, were induced to invite him to their pastoral charge. They sent a messenger to England, to present him with the invitation; which, with the approbation of a council of ministers, he accepted. After repeated delays, occasioned by the sickness and death of his wife, and by a subsequent personal illness, he came to America, and commenced his ministry at Cambridge, November 8, 1671.
So distinguished was he for his learning and abilities, and for his patronage of the interests of literature, that, in 1675, he was invited to the presidency of Harvard College, as successor to President Hoar. He accepted the invitation; and officiated as President, still retaining the charge of his flock, for about six years, when his useful life was suddenly brought to a close. He had been subject to a quartan ague, which often interrupted his public services. A malignant fever now seized him, and in a day or two, proved mortal. His congregation, assembling on a Lord’s-day, when the Lord’s Supper was to have been administered, were affectingly surprised to find their respected and beloved pastor in the pangs of death. He died July 25, 1681, in the fiftieth year of his age, and tenth of his ministry at Cambridge.
He was eminent for his knowledge and piety, and was a very engaging and useful preacher. “Considered as a scholar, he was,” says Dr. C. Mather, “a notable critic in all the points of learning; and well versed in every point of the Great Circle. (100) He did the service of a President, even as he did all other services, faithfully, learnedly, indefatigably.” Dr. Increase Mather, whose characters appear to be drawn with more exact discrimination than those of his son Cotton, says: “An age doth seldom produce one so many ways excelling, as this Author (101) was. If we consider him as a Divine, as a Scholar, as a Christian, it is hard to say in which he did most excel. I have often in my thoughts compared him to Samuel among the prophets of old; inasmuch as he did truly fear God from his youth, and was betimes improved in holy ministrations, and was at last called to be Head of the sons of the prophets, in this New English Israel, as Samuel was President of the College at Naioth. In many other particulars, I might enlarge upon the parallel, but that it is inconvenient to extend such instances beyond their proportion.
Hei, tua nobis
Morte simul tecum solatia rapta!
It may, without reflection upon any, be said, that he was one of the greatest lights, that ever shone in this part of the world, or that is ever like to arise in our horizon.” The only publications of Mr. Oakes, of which I find any account, are: An Artillery Election Sermon, on Rom viii. 37, preached June 3, 1672; An Election Sermon, on Deut. xxxii. 29, preached May 7, 1673; An Elegy on the Rev. Thomas Shepard, Pastor of the church in Charlestown, [son of Mr. Shepard, minister of Cambridge] who died Dec. 22, 1667. [They were all printed at Cambridge, by Samuel Green; and are preserved in the Library of the Historical Society.] His epitaph, though not now distinctly legible on his tomb-stone, is preserved in Mather’s Magnalia, and is as follows:
Cujus, quod reliquum est,
clauditur hoc tumulo;
Explorata integritate, summa morum gravitate,
Omniumque meliorum Artium infigni Peritia,
Spectatissimi, Clarissimique omnibus modis Viri,
Theologi, merito suo, celeberrimi,
Concionatoris vere Melliflui,
Cantabrigiensis Ecclesiae, Doctissimi et Orthodoxi Pastoris,
In Collegio Harvadino Praesidis Vigilantissimi,
Maximam Pietatis, Eruditionis, Facundiae Laudem
Qui repentina morte subito correptus,
In JESU sinum esslavit animam,
Julii xxv.A.D. M DC. LXXXI
Etatis suae L.
Plurima quid reseram, satis est si dixeris Unum,
Hoe Dictu Satis est, Hic jacit OAKESIUS
100 ^ Dr. C. Mather, who was educated under his presidency, has preserved, in one of his publications, a specimen of his latin composition, which is very classical and elegant. In his judgement, “America never had a greater master of the true, pure, Ciceronian Latin,” than President Oakes. He appears to have had a poetical genius. An Elegy, of considerable length, written by him on the Rev. Mr. Shepard, of Charlestown, rises, in my judgment, far above the poetry of his day. It is of Pindaris measure, and is plaintive, pathetic, and replete with imagery.
101 ^ This paragraph is extracted from the Preface of Doctor Increase Mather to a Discourse of Mr. Oakes, published soon after the Author’s decease.