John Hall of Durham

John Hall (poet)

John Hall (1627–1656) was an English poet, essayist and pamphleteer of the Commonwealth period. After a short period of adulation at university, he became a writer in the Parliamentary cause and Hartlib Circle member.


The son of Michael Hall, he was born at Durham in August 1627, was educated at Durham School, and was admitted to St John's College, Cambridge, on 26 February 1646. Hall remained at Cambridge till May 1647, but considered his real merits unrecognised there. He later entered Gray's Inn.

Hall was not initially against the monarchy; but his early views were reforming and utopian. He was much influenced by Baconianism and the chance of a renewal of learning. Blair Worden describes Hall as "elusive" in the period from 1649, but points out parallels with the political development in the views of John Milton.

By command of the Council of State he accompanied Oliver Cromwell in 1650 to Scotland. His friend John Davies states that Hall was awarded a pension of £100 per annum by Cromwell and the council for his pamphleteering services.

Hall died on 1 August 1656, leaving unpublished works. Thomas Hobbes frequently visited him; another of his friends was Samuel Hartlib.


Early works

At the age of nineteen he published Horæ Vacivæ, or Essays. Some occasional Considerations, 1646, which he dedicated to the master of his college, John Arrowsmith. Commendatory verses in English were prefixed; Henry More contributed Greek elegiacs; and Hall's tutor, John Pawson, wrote a preface. A biographical notice in Hall's posthumous Hierocles, 1657 by his friend John Davies of Kidwelly declares that these essays made Hall's reputation international. Hall sent a copy to James Howell, whose letter of acknowledgment is printed in Epistolæ Ho-Elianæ. The essays were followed by a collection of poems published at Cambridge in January 1647; they were reprinted by Samuel Egerton Brydges in 1816. Commendatory verses by Henry More and others were prefixed, and the volume was dedicated to Thomas Stanley. The general title-page is dated 1646, but ‘The Second Book of Divine Poems’ has a new title-page dated 1647. Some of the divine poems were afterwards included in Emblems with Elegant Figures newly published. By J. H., esquire [1648], 2 parts, which was dedicated by the publisher to Mrs. Stanley (wife of Thomas Stanley), and has a commendatory preface by John Quarles.

Other literary work

In 1647 Hall edited Robert Hegge's In aliquot Sacræ Paginæ loca Lectiones. He contributed to the Lacrimae Musarum (1649) of Richard Brome. The prose works of William Drummond of Hawthornden were published through the efforts of Sir John Scott of Scotstarvet, his brother-in-law, and Hall edited the History of Scotland (1655), writing a preface. Other non-political writings were:


  • Joad Raymond (2005), The Invention of the Newspaper: English newsbooks, 1641-1649; Google Books.
  • Nigel Smith (1994), Literature and Politics in England, 1640–1660
  • Blair Worden (2007), Literature and Politics in Cromwellian England



This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.

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