Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Alsop, Vincent

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ALSOP, VINCENT (d. 1703), a celebrated nonconformist divine, was ‘a Northamptonshire man’ (Calamy). He proceeded in early youth to St. John's College, Cambridge, where he took his degree of M.A. He received deacon's orders from a bishop, whereupon he settled as assistant master in the free school of Oakham, Rutland. As a young man, Alsop was fond of gay and even convivial society. There is a tradition that his wit, while brilliant, was sufficiently broad. But Benjamin King, a ‘painful’ minister of the Gospel in Oakham, by his monitions and friendly interest, reclaimed him from his idle and frivolous and ‘wild’ ways. He subsequently married King's daughter, and, Dr. Calamy informs us, ‘becoming a convert to Mr. King's principles, received ordination in the presbyterian way, not being satisfied with that which he had from the bishop.’ Everybody knows that presbyterians and all religionists who were loyal to the ruling powers and of good character and ability, were then ‘presented’ and admitted as clergymen in the national church. He was ‘presented’ to Wilby in his native Northamptonshire. But the Act of Uniformity found him prepared to adhere to the two thousand ‘ejected’ of 1662. After the ejection he preached semi-privately at Oakham and Wellingborough, undergoing the usual pains and penalties of nonconformists, e.g. he was once imprisoned for six months for praying with a sick person. A book by him against Sherlock, called ‘Antisozzo’ [= against Socinus] (1675)—written in the manner rendered famous by Andrew Marvell in his ‘Rehearsal Transpros'd’—brought him fame as a wit and humourist. Like Sydney Smith of our own generation, Alsop's natural wit and fun and swift spontaneity in seeing and hitting off the absurd and ridiculous were irrepressible. Even Dr. Robert South—no friend to nonconformists—publicly avowed that he had the advantage of Sherlock every way. Besides fame ‘Antisozzo’ procured for its author an invitation to succeed the venerable Mr. Cawton in a large nonconformist congregation in Westminster. He accepted the ‘call,’ and at a bound stood at the head of the nonconformists. He continued to write books, and took a foremost part in the ecclesiastical rather than theological controversies of the day. They were all marked by the same fecundity and vividness of wit as ‘Antisozzo.’ His reasoning is strong, but takes the guise of playfulness. He confutes high-church claims with poignant and exasperating nimbleness of raillery. His ‘Mischief of Impositions’ (1680) not only replies to, but answers, the ‘Mischief of Separation,’ and, together with ‘Melius Inquirendum’ (1679) against the ‘Compassionate Inquiry,’ remains an historical landmark in nonconformist history.

Placed as his church was in the shadow of the court, he yet escaped fines and imprisonment, and when toward the evening of his life he was entangled by a son in certain ‘treasonable practices,’ both were ‘freely pardoned’ by James II. Afterwards he appeared frequently at court. He is credited with having drawn up ‘The Humble Address of the Presbyterians’ for the ‘General Indulgence.’ This address is printed in extenso in Kippis's ‘Biographia Britannica,’ with the royal answer. His sense of the king's clemency to his son made him feel kindly towards James II. But it must be conceded his intercourse with the politicians who surrounded the throne warranted some suspicion. To the end he ‘gave himself’ to his pulpit and pastoral duties with inexhaustible fervour and success. He preached when ‘a very old man’ once every Lord's day, and was one of the lecturers at Pinners' Hall. He preserved his ‘spirits and smartness’ to the last. He died on 8 May 1703, and his funeral sermon was preached to an immense concourse by Slater.

Alsop put his intellect and wit into his most fugitive tractate; and the reader of today will find himself rewarded by studying his ‘Duty and Interest united in Praise and Prayer for Kings’ (1695), and ‘God in the Mount: a Sermon on the wonderful deliverance of his Majesty from Assassination and the Nation from Invasion;’ whilst there is extraordinary vigour in his ‘Faithful Reproof to a False Report, with reference to the Differences among the United Ministers in London.’ Even in the sermons of the ‘Morning Exercise’ there are flashes of fine wit.

[Calamy, Life of Baxter, ii. 487 et freq,; Wood, Athenæ Oxon. (ed. Bliss), iv. 106; Kippis, Biog. Brit. i. 167–8; Encycl. Brit.; Wilson, History and Antiquities of Dissenting Churches, iv. 63–66; article by present author in Encyc. Britannica, partly reproduced by permission of Messrs. A. & C. Black.]

A. B. G.