Crisp, Stephen (DNB00)

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CRISP, STEPHEN (1628–1692), quaker, was born and educated at Colchester. From his earliest years he was religiously inclined, and when only ten or twelve, he says in his ‘Short History’ that he went with ‘as much diligence to the reading and hearing of sermons as other children went to their play and sportings.’ When seventeen he ‘found out … the meetings of the separatists,’ to which he belonged until about 1648, when he joined the baptists and became a ‘teacher of a separate congregation’ (see Records of Colchester Monthly Meeting). Crisp probably made the acquaintance of James Parnel during the imprisonment of the latter in Colchester in 1655, and the intimacy ended in his becoming a quaker. From this time he took an active part in the affairs of the Society of Friends in Essex, although there is no reason to believe that he was a recognised minister till 1659. In 1656 he was imprisoned in Colchester as ‘a disturber of the publick peace,’ and two years later (Tuke says in 1660) was arrested at a meeting at Norton in Durham, and at the ensuing sessions sent to prison for refusing to take an oath. Immediately after his recognition as a minister he visited Scotland, and during his journey he was severely injured by the people of York. In the same year his name appears among the Friends who petitioned the parliament to allow them to take the place of their fellow-sectaries who had been long in prison. Shortly after the Restoration he was one of the quakers who wrote to the king to complain of the treatment they had received from the scholars and townsfolk of Cambridge, with the result that the council directed the Friends' meeting-house to be pulled down. In 1661 he was apprehended at a meeting at Harwich, and Besse complains that the justice took the unusual step of making out the commitment before he examined his captive. In 1663 he visited Holland, but as he then could not speak Dutch and so had to employ an interpreter, his visit was a failure. As soon as he returned to England he was arrested at Colchester and sent to prison for holding an illegal meeting, where he lay for nearly a year. Crisp now learnt Dutch and German, and in 1667 revisited Holland, whence he went into Germany. He seems to have acted as a kind of missionary bishop in these countries, and to have been highly respected by the authorities, as there is proof that in deference to his request the palsgrave took off the tax of four rix-dollars per family he had imposed on the Friends. This tax, which the quakers had refused to pay as an impost on conscience, had been the cause of much suffering, owing to the merciless way in which goods to many times its amount were seized by the collectors. From time to time Crisp visited England, and early in 1670 he was fined 5l. for infringing the Conventicle Act, and ordered to be imprisoned until it was paid; he was, however, released in three months without payment. He at once went to Denmark, but speedily returning to England made a prolonged preaching excursion in the north, after which he revisited his home at Colchester, ‘much,’ he records, ‘to the joy of my poor wife.’ Besse says that during this year he was apprehended at a meeting at Horselydown and fined 20l.; he was probably the preacher, as this was the sum the minister had been fined the week before, while the congregation had been let off with a fine of 5s. each. From this time till shortly before the death of his first wife in 1683 he spent most of his time in Holland and Germany, his principal employment being the establishment and supervision of meetings for discipline. He married again in 1685, losing his second wife in 1687. In 1688, when James II was anxious to conciliate the dissenters, Crisp was by royal command offered the commission of the peace, which he declined. In 1688 and the following year, though suffering from a painful disease, he was actively employed in efforts to get the penal laws suspended, and from this time till his death in 1692 he resided in London. He was buried in the quaker burial-ground at Bunhill Fields.

It is evident from his writings that Crisp was a man of considerable culture and wide views, and the ‘testimony of the Colchester Friends’ asserts that he was charitable and 'very serviceable to many widows and fatherless.’ During the later years of his life his sermons were taken down in shorthand. His style was easy, and he had a dislike both to religious polemics and speculative theology. He wrote very little, and only two or three of his works are more than tracts; that their popularity was very great is shown by the number of times they have been reprinted. The chief are: 1. ‘An Epistle to Friends concerning the Present and Succeeding Times,’ &c., 1666. 2. ‘A Plain Path-way opened to the Simple-hearted,’ &c., 1668. 3. ‘A Back-slider Reproved and His Folly made Manifest,’ &c., 1669 (against Robert Cobbet). 4. ‘A Short History of a Long Travel from Babylon to Bethel,’ 1711 (autobiographical), republished nineteen times. He also wrote a number of tracts in Dutch. His sermons were published in three volumes in 1693-4, and republished under the title of ‘Scripture Truths Demonstrated,’ in one volume in 1707, and his works were collected and published by John Field in 1694 under the title of ‘A Memorable Account . . . of . . . Stephen Crisp, in his Books and Writings herein collected.’ He was no relation of the Thomas Crisp, a quaker apostate, against whom about 1681 he wrote a tract called ‘A Babylonish Opposer of Truth,’ in reply to the other's ‘Babel's Builders Unmask't.’

[A Short History of a Long Travel, &c., 1711; Sewel's History of the Rise, Increase, &c ... of the Quakers; Gough's History of the People called Quakers, 1789-90; George Fox's Autobiography; Crisp's Works; Tuke's Life of Crisp, York, 1824; Besse's Sufferings of the Quakers; Swarthemore MSS.]

A. C. B.