Saltmarsh, John (DNB00)
|←Salthouse, Thomas||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 50
SALTMARSH, JOHN (d. 1647), mystical writer, was of an old Yorkshire family, and a native of Yorkshire, according to Fuller. At the expense of his kinsman, Sir Thomas Metham, he was educated at Magdalene College, Cambridge, graduating M.A. (the college records do not begin till 1640). In 1636 he published a volume of respectable academic verses. Leaving the university, he became (about 1639) rector of Heslerton, Yorkshire, being at this time a zealous advocate of episcopacy and conformity. He took the ‘etcetera oath’ of 1640. A change in his views seems to have been produced by his intimacy with Sir John Hotham [q. v.] Saltmarsh embraced with ardour the cause of church reform, reaching by degrees the position of a very sincere, if eccentric, champion of complete religious liberty. This development of his opinions began towards the end of 1640, and advanced by rapid stages after 1643.
In August 1643 he criticised, in a pamphlet dedicated to the Westminster Assembly, some points in ‘A Sermon of Reformation’ (1642) by Thomas Fuller (1608–1661) [q. v.] Saltmarsh thought Fuller gave too much weight to the claims of antiquity, and was too tender to the papists. Fuller defended himself in ‘Truth Maintained’ (1643). Fuller errs in supposing that Saltmarsh made no reply; his dedicatory preface to ‘Dawnings of Light’ (1644) is a courteous rejoinder to ‘Truth Maintained.’ That he then dropped the controversy was due to a false report of Fuller's death. Similarly Fuller, who speaks generously of his opponent, but knew him only by repute, was misinformed about the date of Saltmarsh's death.
Saltmarsh appears to have resigned his Yorkshire preferment in the autumn of 1643, owing to scruples about taking tithe; ultimately he handed over to public uses all the tithe he had received. The league and covenant of 1643 he hailed in a prose pamphlet and in verses entitled ‘A Divine Rapture.’ At this time, according to Wood, he was preaching in and about Northampton. Before January 1645 he was put into the sequestered rectory of Brasted, Kent, in the room of Thomas Bayly, D.D. [q. v.] For two years he poured forth a constant stream of pamphlets with fanciful titles, pleading for a greater latitude in ecclesiastical arrangements. He found a sympathetic critic in John Durie (1596–1680) [q. v.]; a less appreciative antagonist in John Ley [q. v.] Having ‘no libraries’ at hand, his tracts exhibit little of the learning of which he was master; but he displays an unusual amount both of common-sense and of spiritual power. In his ‘Smoke in the Temple’ (1646) he argues boldly for unrestricted freedom of the press, charged only with the condition that all writers shall give their names (p. 3). The same treatise is remarkable for its assertion of the progressive element in divine knowledge. He anticipates, almost verbally, a memorable passage in the ‘Journal’ of George Fox, when he affirms in his ‘Divine Right of Presbyterie’ (1646), ‘Surely it is not a university, a Cambridge or Oxford, a pulpit and black gown or cloak, makes one a true minister.’ The presbyters, who had begun to assert the ‘divine right’ of their order, were themselves, he observes, made presbyters by bishops. His ‘Groanes for Liberty’ (1646) is a clever retort upon the presbyterians, being extracts from Smectymnuus (1641) applied to existing circumstances. On the other hand, he maintained, in his ‘End of one Controversy’ (1646), that the functions of bishops are antichristian. His controversial manner is gentle and dignified, though the full title-page of his ‘Perfume’ (1646) might give a contrary impression. His reply to Thomas Edwards (1599–1647) [q. v.] of the ‘Gangræna’ could hardly be mended: ‘You set your name to more than you know.’
In matter of religious doctrine, as distinct from church policy, Saltmarsh apparently had but a solitary antagonist, Thomas Gataker [q. v.], who attacked his ‘Free Grace’ (1645) as leading to Arminianism. His theology was Calvinistic in its base, but improved by practical knowledge of men. Barclay connects him with the ‘seekers,’ but he considered that he had gone beyond their position. Two of his books deservedly retain a high place among the productions of spiritual writers, viz.: his ‘Holy Discoveries’ (1640), and especially his ‘Sparkles of Glory’ (1647), fairly well known in Pickering's beautiful reprint. In giving his official imprimatur (26 May 1646) to ‘Reasons for Vnitie,’ John Bachiler writes, ‘I conceive thou hast a taste both of the sweetnesse and glory of the gospel.’
In 1646 Saltmarsh became an army chaplain, attached to the fortunes of Sir Thomas Fairfax (afterwards third Lord Fairfax) [q. v.] After the surrender of Oxford (20 June) he preached in St. Mary's. Baxter complains (Reliquiæ, 1696, i. 56) that Saltmarsh and William Dell [q. v.] had the ear of the army. Both of them were spiritual writers rather than eminent theologians. Saltmarsh never preached on church government while he was with the army. It was remarked that he ‘sometimes appeared as in a trance.’
The dissatisfaction which he had felt with the result of experiments in church government was increased by his personal knowledge of the temper of the army. On Saturday, 4 Dec. 1647, rousing himself from what he deemed a trance, he left his abode at Caystreet, near Great Ilford, Essex, and hastened to London. Thence, after twice missing his way, he rode on horseback (6 Dec.) to headquarters at Windsor. Retaining his hat in Fairfax's presence, he ‘prophesied’ that ‘the army had departed from God.’ Next day he returned to Ilford on 9 Dec. apparently in his usual health. He died two days later, and was buried on 15 Dec. at Wanstead, Essex. His age could not have been much more than thirty-five years. Fuller ascribes his death to ‘a burning feaver;’ nervous exhaustion is a truer account. ‘He was one,’ says Fuller, ‘of a fine and active fancy, no contemptible poet, and a good preacher,’ referring to his ‘profitable printed sermons.’
He published: 1. ‘Poemata Sacra, Latine et Anglice scripta,’ Cambridge, 1636, 8vo (three parts, each with distinct title-page; the Latin verses are chiefly sacred epigrams; the English poems ‘upon some of the holy raptures of David,’ and ‘The Picture of God in Man,’ are fair specimens of mystical verse). 2. ‘The Practice of Policie in a Christian Life,’ 1639, 12mo (contains 135 brief resolutions of questions of conduct). 3. ‘Holy Discoveries and Flames,’ 1640, 12mo; reprinted, 1811, 12mo. 4. ‘Ex- aminations … of some Dangerous Positions delivered … by T. Fuller,’ &c., 1643, 4to (12 Aug.). 5. ‘A Solemne Discourse upon the Grand Covenant,’ &c., 1643, 24mo (12 Oct.; verses at end); 2nd edit. 1644, 4to. 6. ‘A Peace but no Pacification,’ &c., 1643, 4to (23 Oct.). 7. ‘A Voice from Heaven; or, the Words of a Dying Minister, Mr. K[ayes],’ &c., 1644, 4to. 8. ‘Davvnings of Light … with some Maximes of Reformation,’ &c., 1644, 8vo (4 Jan. 1645). 9. ‘A New Quere … whether it be fit … to settle any Church Government … hastily,’ &c., 1645, 4to (30 Sept.); another edition, same year. 10. ‘The Opening of Master Prynnes New Book, called a Vindication,’ &c., 1645, 4to (22 Oct.; a ‘dialogue between P[resbyterian] and C[ongregational],’ with leaning to the latter). 11. ‘Free Grace; or the Flowings of Christ's Blood freely to Sinners,’ &c., 1645, 12mo (30 Dec.); 6th ed. 1649, 12mo; 12th ed. 1814, 12mo (not to be confounded with ‘The Fountaine of Free Grace opened … by the Congregation … falsely called Anabaptists,’ &c., 1645, 8vo, which has been ascribed to Saltmarsh). 12. ‘The Smoke in the Temple … A Designe for Peace and Reconciliation … Argument for Liberty of Conscience … Answer to Master Ley,’ &c., 1646, 4to (16 Jan.), two parts; another edition same year. 13. ‘Groanes for Liberty,’ &c., 1646, 4to (10 March). 14. ‘The Divine Right of Presbyterie … with Reasons for discussing this,’ &c., 1646, 4to (7 April). 15. ‘Perfume against the Sulpherous Stinke of the Snuffe of the Light for Smoak, called Novello-Mastix. With a Check to Cerberus Diabolus … and an Answer to the Antiquæries, annexed to the Light against the Smoak of the Temple,’ &c., 1646, 4to (19 April; in defence of No. 12 against Ley and others). 16. ‘A Plea for the Congregationall Government,’ &c., 1646, 4to (6 May). 17. ‘An End of one Controversy,’ &c., 1646, 4to (answer to Ley). 18. ‘Reasons for Vnitie, Peace, and Love. With an Answer … to … Gataker … and to … Edwards his … Gangræna,’ &c., 1646, 4to (17 June; the reply to Gataker has the separate title, ‘Shadowes flying away’). 19. ‘Some Drops of the Viall, povvred out … when it is neither Night or Day,’ &c., 1646, 4to three editions same date, consists of reprints of Nos. 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, with separate title-pages). 20. ‘Sparkles of Glory; or some Beams of the Morning Star,’ &c., 1647, 12mo (27 May); reprinted 1811, 8vo; 1847, 12mo. 21. ‘A Letter from the Army, concerning the Peaceable Temper of the same,’ &c., 1647, 4to (10 June). Posthumous were 22. ‘Wonderful Predictions … a Message, as from the Lord, to … Sir Thomas Fairfax,’ &c., 1648, 4to (contains account of his death); reprinted in ‘Thirteen Strange Prophecies,’ &c. , 4to, and in ‘Foureteene Strange Prophecies,’ &c., 1648, 4to. 23. ‘England's Friend raised from the Grave … three Letters … by … Saltmarsh,’ &c., 1649, 4to (31 July; edited by his widow). He wrote a preface to Hatch's ‘A Word for Peace,’ &c., 1646, 16mo; and added an epistle to Thomas Collier's ‘The Glory of Christ,’ 1647, 8vo. The list of his publications is sometimes swelled by separately cataloguing the subdivisions of his tracts. His name is used without explanation on the title-pages of two books by Samuel Gorton [q. v.], viz. ‘Saltmarsh returned from the Dead,’ &c., 1655, 4to, and ‘An Antidote,’ &c., 1657, 4to (where Saltmarsh is transposed into Smartlash).[Saltmarsh's writings; Edwards's Gangræna, 1646, pt. iii.; Mercurius Melancholicus, 18 to 24 Dec. 1647, p. 102; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iii. 571 sq.; Fuller's Worthies, 1662, p. 212 (Yorkshire); Brook's Lives of the Puritans, 1813, iii. 70 sq.; Davids's Evang. Nonconf. in Essex, 1863, p. 255; Barclay's Inner Life of Religious Societies of the Commonwealth, 1876, pp. 172, 175; information from the Rev. M. Drummond, rector of Wanstead.]