Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Caroline Divines > Richard Baxter
  Puritan literature of the days of Charles I The Saints’ Everlasting Rest  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

VI. Caroline Divines.

§ 4. Richard Baxter.

To epitomise Baxter would be impossible—it was attempted for one of his works by Edmund Calamy: almost equally impossible is it to characterise in brief an author so stupendously prolific. Reliquiae Baxterianae is a storehouse of information for the religious and social history of the time, and it bears throughout the impress of the writer’s energetic, restless and masterful mind. He describes the puritanism of his youth, exemplified in his own father, as not nonconformist but set in contrast to the loose living and laxity of the village where, on Sundays,
the reader read the Common Prayer briefly, and the rest of the day, even till dark night almost, except eating-time, was spent in dancing under a May-pole and a great tree, not far from my father’s door, where all the town met together;
and his father, who “never scrupled the Common Prayer,” was yet called puritan because he read the Scripture when the rest were dancing, and quoted it, too, to the reproof of the drunkards and profane. The clergy seemed to him lax, and, when one parish priest, being old, said the prayers by heart and got two working men to read the lessons, this employment of the laity was resented by the scrupulous young man, himself the son of a freeholder. He grew up with little education save what his own perseverance won, but with knowledge of life in the country and at court, eventually becoming a schoolmaster. He was ordained by bishop Thornborough of Worcester in 1638. Gradually, he adopted views of semi-conformity; there were things the church allowed which he could not approve. When he came to minister at Bridgnorth, he would not make the sign of the cross in baptism or wear a surplice. Thence, he went to Kidderminster, and, when the war broke out, he held, at different times, different posts of chaplain in the parliamentary forces. He came to deplore the growth of sectarianism; he worked as a pastor again at Kidderminster; he passed much time in country retirement, writing the book which made him famous. At the restoration, he was first offered a bishopric and, twenty years later, he was put in prison;  3  and he lived to see the revolution settlement. This varied life coloured the writing of one whose senses were peculiarly acute and whose sympathies were wider than his intellectual outlook. “I was but a pen,” he said of himself, “and what praise is due to a pen?” He felt, indeed, of himself, what Shakespeare’s editors thought was characteristic of their hero’s work. Most probably, in all his voluminous writings, he never blotted a line. His style was himself. He wrote simply and naturally, with a choice of good phrases, sound words, straightforward constructions, as a man speaks who is well educated but not a pedant. It is this which makes The Saints’ Everlasting Rest (1649/50) an English classic.

Note 3. He was in prison for a short time, illegally, in 1665, and, again, for a year and a half in 1685. [ back ]

  Puritan literature of the days of Charles I The Saints’ Everlasting Rest  

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