Jacob Böhme’s Foremost Seventeenth-Century English Translator: John Sparrow (1615–1670) of Essex

Hessayon, Ariel. 2018. Jacob Böhme’s Foremost Seventeenth-Century English Translator: John Sparrow (1615–1670) of Essex. In: Bo Andersson; Lucinda Martin; Leigh Penman and Andrew Weeks, eds. Jacob Böhme and His World. Leiden: Brill, pp. 329-357. ISBN 9789004385092 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

John Sparrow (1615–1670), the foremost seventeenth-century English translator of the writings of the German Lutheran mystic Jacob Boehme (c.1575–1624) is a name unfamiliar to many students of early modern England. What little fame he enjoys is largely a result of the efforts of a small group of scholars interested in the reception of the Teutonic Philosopher’s writings in the British Isles. There is a brief entry on Sparrow in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Unfortunately it is of little value, although unlike some earlier notices it avoids conflating him with his father and namesake.

Nonetheless, Sparrow’s obscurity is unmerited. By drawing on a range of my recent archival discoveries, notably scattered extracts made from Sparrow’s diaries by the congregational minister and Essex antiquarian William Holman (1669–1730), I aim to situate Sparrow’s interest in Boehme within broader contexts; namely his religious beliefs, intellectual pursuits, and extensive social network. By so doing I also intend to show why, to quote Holman, ‘this unfortunate Gent deserv’d a better Fate’. For Sparrow was ‘a person of most rare accomplishments’:

‘He was a rare linguist but excelled in ye knowledge of the Teutonick language. He was not only master of the French, Latin, Greeke and Hebrew Languages, but understood most of the Orientall, and was a great Encour[a]ger of the profoundly learned Dr Edmund Castle in compiling his Lexicon Polyglottall. He was an encourager of Mr [William] Robertson to print the New Testam[en]t in Hebrew with the Points for the Conversion of the Jewes.
He understood Heraldry well Merch[an]ts acc[oun]ts admirably well
He was admirably verst in Chimistry Arithmetick Astronomy and Mathematicall Sciences and a great promoter of the Royall Society when in its Infancy-
He understood musick.
He was a great proficient in Naturall and Experimentall philosophy and was attempting to supply the Defects in my L[or]d Verulams’s Instauratio Magna.
He was intimately acquainted with the Famous Mr [Henry] Oldenburgh Secretary to the Royall Society, Mr [Samuel] Hartlib, Samuel Parker, afors[ai]d Bishop of Oxford, Dr [Joachim] Paleman, [Wenceslaus] Hollar the Kings Scenographer, [William] Lilly, [John] Gadbury, Edw[ard] Benlowes, [Edward] Cocker and others, the most ingenious men of the Age, with whom he corresponded, and was not a little esteemed by them.’

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Book Section

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John Sparrow, Jacob Boehme, Translation

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12 November 2018Published

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30 Nov 2018 09:44

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10 Mar 2021 12:32



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