THE SLEEPING PREACHER
About the year 1604 the little society of New College, Oxford, numbered amongst its fellows one named Dr. Richard Haydock. This person had developed a curious faculty of preaching very learned and excellent sermons when, to all outward appearance, he was in deep slumber. This faculty was the more noteworthy in that Haydock was but a dull fellow in his waking hours, and known to be no great scholar. Greek and Hebrew, too, were familiar to his tongue in these nocturnal discourses, though the preacher was supposed to be ignorant of both languages. The fame of him soon spread throughout the university, and the fellows and scholars flocked as regularly to hear Haydock preach in his sleep as to any other sermon. Nor were they ever disappointed of his performance; in fact, so methodical was he in his proceedings that be never failed to pray most fervently for the king and royal family, both before and after his discourse, which was regularly opened with a text. On concluding he would wake, stretch, wonder to see an audience and remember nothing he had said. The previous career of Haydock presented no very remarkable features. He was born at Grewel, in Hampshire, had received his early education at Winchester, from whence he had proceeded to New College, where he was admitted a fellow in the year 1590. He took the usual degrees in arts, and afterwards traveled for some time abroad. Haydock, on his return, about 1598, published a heavy folio on the subjects of painting and engraving; this he thought sufficiently valuable to be handed down to posterity, with his own portrait on the title page. Thomas Bodley, the founder of the Bodleian Library, was a sort of patron of his, and to him the work was dedicated.
The notoriety of the sleeping preacher was rapidly extended beyond Oxford, and in a few months attracted, the attention of King James. That monarch, as we all know, prided himself on his superior wisdom, and eagerly seized any opportunity that offered of displaying it before a crowd of admiring courtiers. He therefore determined that Haydock's supposed, marvelous gift should be tested at court and under his own keen eye. Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, who was then Secretary of State, was instructed to make inquiries of Dr. Abbotts and Dr. Hussey, leading authorities of the university, relative to Haydock; and these learned gentlemen were commissioned to arrange for the transfer of the preacher's services to the court of St. James for a time. Haydock, however, must have had some inkling of what was going on, as a little before this time he quietly left Oxford and some weeks elapsed before Dr. Hussey could give any tidings of him. It was then found out that Dr. Haydock was settled and lodged in the house of one Blacker, dwelling in the close at Salisbury. In that city he was rapidly acquiring fame as a physician, for, indeed, it was principally to the study and practice of medicine that he had devoted himself at Oxford. A letter written from Salisbury at the time reported him as going much to the house of Sir William Dorinton, who had taken a great interest in the doctor's pursuits, and whose seat was within six miles of the city. The gift which had made Haydock so pre-eminent at his university seems to have been, allowed to languish since he bad taken up with the active duties of his own proper profession. We find no record of his having delivered any theological discourses at Salisbury, whether sleeping or waking. However, his place of residence being discovered by Cecil's emissaries, it was intimated to him how gratifying it would be to His Majesty King James to witness a display of his curious powers at court. The preacher no doubt inwardly prayed the authorities to have him excused, but there was no setting out of what amounted to a royal command. The next scene in the story is best told in a letter still extant, and written by Rowland White, Postmaster of the court, to the Earl of Shrewsbury. This letter bears date 27th April,1605, and is as follows :
“At court there is one Haydock, of New College, in Oxford, by profession a doctor of physic, who uses oftentimes to make long sermons in is sleep. The King's Majesty heard him one night; the next time, the Dean of the Chapel and Sir Thomas Challoner; the third time, my Lord of Cranborne caused a bed to be put up in his drawing-room at court, and heard him preach, and sent for my Lord Pembroke, Lord Shandos, Lord Danvers, Lord Marre and others. He doth very orderly begin with his prayer; then to his text, and divides it; and when he hath well and learnedly touched every part, he concludes it, and with groaning and stretching, awakes, and remembers nothing he said. The man seems to be a very honest man, of a good complexion, of a civil conversation, and discreet; hath no books, or place to study; and twice or thrice a week usually preaches. Yet the king will not say what he thinks of it. He will hear and sift him ere he depart from court."
His Majesty, we are told, proceeded in the business with infinite solemnity and precaution, and alter much cross-examination by himself and his privy counselors, actually prevailed upon Haydock to confess his imposture, and to give in writing the motives both of his beginning and of his continuance in so strange a practice. On Sunday, the 28th, sent to the king that "if it would please his Majesty to pardon his offenses, and deliver him from punishment, he would confess the whole truth of this deceit wherewith he had abused the world." His first confession was not considered sufficiently explicit and minute, as appears from a letter written by the Earl of Worcester one of the leading councilors, to the Secretary of State, mentioning such points as his Majesty; "out of the depth of his wonderful judgment!" required to have further cleared. Ultimately, the preacher furnished some very complete, details of the origin and growth of his imposture. These details are curious, and have an air of truthfulness. We are told that on his first coming to Oxford, Haydock had a great desire to study divinity and to become a preacher; but found in himself a disability for that faculty, by reason of a stuttering he had in his speech, and a slow, imperfect utterance. He was thus reluctantly compelled to abandon his study, and betook himself to physic. It afterwards came to his remembrance, as he said, that his schoolfellows at Winchester had told him many times how he used to speak in his sleep; and that he then made verse, and spoke Latin, with much more quickness of invention and readier utterance than at any time, else. Where upon he took a conceit that he would try how near he could come to such ability of utterance by speaking at the time of night which was nearest to that in which he used to speak in his sleep. First he began as soon as he was out of his first sleep, to speak some discourse concerning physic; and found himself, in such ripeness of invention, and so perfect and ready delivery, that he was astounded at himself, and practiced this method of speaking after midnight some four or five times on physic; which, when he found it to make so great an alteration of his speech and ability to discourse, he resolved to try if the same effect would, follow if, divinity were the chosen subject, as he had over the strongest desire for that branch of learning. So he took a text and prepared, himself to preach from it three or four days before he put it in practice; and, when sufficiently prepared, would sit up in bed after his first sleep, and deliver what appeared to him a very excellent sermon. This course was pursued by Haydock several times without the least intention of being overheard; but by chance one night someone lying in the chamber next to his own was awake, and heard all said. It was accordingly reports over the college the morning after that Haydock had preached, very learned in his sleep. Haydock was weak or wicked enough to humor the deception, and had practiced it for a year and a half every other night - preaching in Latin at Oxford, and English in the country.
Haydock's petition to the king for the forgiveness is still preserved amongst the state papers, and is a curious testimony to the vanity and weakness of the man. It is much too long reproduce here, so a very few extracts must suffice us. He says:
"I do here in the naked simplicity of a most thankful and penitent soul, ingeniously confess and acknowledge, that this use of my nocturnal discourse, seeming to be a deep and sound sleep, when indeed I was waking and had more perfect sense of that I conceded and spake, than when by day I attempted the same, was from the beginning a voluntary thing, done with knowledge upon a discovery in myself of a greater ability, and freedom and memory, invention and speech, in that mild, quiet, and silent repose of the night, than in the daytime I found." And again he says "When company approached, I well perceived though, indeed, to ordinary voice could interpret my strong contemplation, nor the glimmering light of the candle held at mine eyes, which I always kept shut, even in the dark and could never meditate to purpose when they were open."
Haydock adds that he never had any sinister plot, purpose, or drift, to the disturbance of the peaceful estate, church, or commonwealth — and that he had not offended maliciously, but of human infirmity. King James was too well satisfied with what he was pleased to consider his own acuteness in unmasking the deception to bear malice against the author of it, and readily pardoned the offender. We have little more to chronicle concerning him. It is needless to say that Haydock discontinued the practices which made him so notorious. He withdrew once more to Salisbury, and achieved a reputation there as a very able physician. He afterwards went to London, died, and was buried there, shortly before the outbreak of the civil wars.
From “Sacramento Daily Union”, California, USA
No 7441, March 20, 1872
Edited by Elof Granholm April 11, 2014