Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Baxter, Richard

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478892Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 03 — Baxter, Richard1885Alexander Balloch Grosart

BAXTER, RICHARD (1615–1691), presbyterian divine, was the son of Richard Baxter, of Eaton-Constantine, near Shrewsbury, in Shropshire, by his wife Beatrice, daughter of Richard Adeney, of Rowton, near High Ercall, in the same county. His birthday is somewhat uncertain. He himself in one place gives it as 12 Nov. 1615, and in another mentions '19 November my baptism-day.' His baptism is thus entered in the parish register: 'Richard, sonne and heyr of Richard Baxter, of Eaton-Constantyne, and Beatrice his wife, baptized the sixth of November' (Orme, Life and Times of Baxter). It is just possible that the parish-clerk miswrote 'sixth' for 'sixteenth' or for 'nineteenth' (ut supra), which would reconcile '12 November' as the date of his birth with that given in 'Reliquiæ Baxterianæ.'

In the 'Breviate' of the life of his wife, Baxter describes his father as 'a mean freeholder, called a gentleman for his ancestors sake.' This indicates decadence of position paternally; and those curious in such 'vicissitudes of families' will find the 'gentle' ancestry hinted at, fully traced by William Baxter [q. v.], the nephew of Richard Baxter, in his 'Reliquiæ Baxterianæ.' The genealogy goes back to Baxters of Shrewsbury in the reign of Henry VI, and remoter still. His birthplace was not Eaton-Constantine, but Rowton, in his mother's home. It is to be feared that this return home was necessitated by the loose life of his father. In his youth he had 'gambled away' his freehold property, and otherwise involved himself in debts and difficulties, so that the young wife and mother must have been hard put to it. But a great, decisive, and permanent change came over the elder Baxter. Through 'searching of the Scriptures' he was awakened to a sense of his misconduct. From about the time his son Richard was born, Baxter senior showed by his altered daily life how profound and real was the change effected in him. The 'Reliquiæ Baxterianæ' furnishes sorrowful glimpses of the condition of Eaton-Constantine and of High Ercall. In the latter there were 'four readers' in the course of six years–all of them grossly ignorant, and two of them immoral men. At Eaton-Constantine there was a 'reader' of eighty years of age, Sir (i.e. Rev.) William Rogers, who never preached, though he held two livings twenty miles apart. His sight failing, he repeated the prayers 'without book,' but employed a common thresher or labourer one year, a tailor another, to read the lessons; and at the last his own son, 'the best stageplayer and gamester in all the country,' obtained orders and supplied one of his places. Within a few miles round there were nearly a dozen more clergy of the same character, ignorant readers and dissolute. With characteristic courage and integrity, Baxter, in his 'Third Defence of the Cause of Peace,' gives the names of the clergy and readers referred to, with flagrant details; and these were never impugned. To the grievous annoyance of the family a maypole was erected right in front of the Baxters' residence. These illiterate and discredited readers and teachers were young Baxter's only early instructors. From his sixth to his tenth year he was placed under the four successive curates of the parish of High Ercall, two of whom drank themselves to beggary. At the age of ten he was removed from his maternal grandfather's care to Eaton-Constantine. There one of the curates of 'Sir' William Rogers, who was discovered to have officiated under forged orders, became his principal schoolmaster. The man had been an attorney's clerk, ruined himself by hard drinking, and turned curate for 'a piece of bread.' He only preached once while Baxter was being taught by him, and then was drunk. In his 'Apology for the Nonconformist Ministry' (p. 58) Baxter speaks favourably of the ability and moral character of his next teacher. He tells us he was 'a grave and eminent man, and expected to be made a bishop.' But he also disappointed him; for over two years he never taught him one hour at a time. He was a severe railer against the 'factious puritans.'

Subsequently Baxter was transferred to the free school at Wroxeter, with Mr. John Owen for master. Here he had for schoolfellows two sons of Sir Richard Newport (afterwards Lord Newport) and a lad, Richard Allestree [q. v.], who came to be known as provost of Eton College, and regius professor of Greek at Oxford.

On his education as thus conducted Sir James Stephen pronounces: 'The three remaining years of his pupilage . . . were spent at the endowed school at Wroxeter, which he quitted at the age of nineteen [eighteenth year], destitute of all mathematical and physical science, ignorant of Hebrew, a mere smatterer in Greek, and possessed of as much Latin as enabled him in after-life to use it with reckless facility' (Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography).

Richard Baxter through life deplored his lack of academic training and literary furniture. In 'Reliquiæ Baxterianæ,' and in his autobiographical poems (see below), he makes humble and passionate lamentation over his neglect of scholarship in youth. Even more pathetically dignified is his answer to Anthony à Wood's inquiry whether he were an Oxonian. 'As to myself,' he wrote, 'my faults are no disgrace to any university; for I was of none. I have little but what I had out of books, and inconsiderable helps of country tutors. Weakness and pain helped me to study how to die; that set me on studying how to live; and that on studying the doctrine from which I must fetch my motives and comforts. Beginning with necessities I proceeded by degrees, and now am going to see that for which I have lived and studied' (Wood's Athenæ).

When he was fitted to go to Oxford, his teacher, John Owen, rather recommended that instead of doing so he should place himself under the tuition of Mr. Richard Wickstead, chaplain to the council at Ludlow, who was allowed by the king to have a single pupil. He assented, under the natural expectation that, as being his tutor's 'one scholar,' he should be thoroughly taught. The trust was falsified. Wickstead all but absolutely neglected his pupil. The only advantage gained in Ludlow Castle was that Baxter was left very much to himself in a great library. Whilst Wickstead was paying court to his superiors, and plotting for preferment, his one scholar was enriching his strenuous and agile intellect with all manner of miscellaneous reading. Only once was he tempted from his beloved books and recluse studies. He was on this occasion nearly bitten with gaming, having won gold too easily; but he escaped by resolute obedience to his accusing conscience (Reliq. Baxt.)

Baxter dwells tenderly on the instruction in divine things, and the example given him by his father, as that father in turn told Dr. Bates how very early the son became grave and serious when religious conversation was going on (Bates, Funeral Sermon for Baxter). He himself modifies the paternal laudation, acknowledging that his fondness for apples and pears led him not unwillingly to join his companions in robbing orchards and other boyish frivolities. In his fourteenth year he had been greatly 'hindered' and chilled by the formal fashion in which he and other boys were admitted to confirmation by Bishop Morton. 'He asked no questions,' says he, 'required no certificate, and hastily said, as he passed, three or four words of a prayer which I did not understand' (Third Defence of Nonconformists, p. 40). In spite of this, he was frequently much troubled about his soul's salvation. He also tells us how in his fifteenth year an 'old torn book,' lent by a poor man to his father, 'powerfully affected him.' The book was an adapted Roman catholic one, entitled 'Bunny's Resolution' (Baxter, Against Revolt to a Foreign Jurisdiction, p. 540). To this succeeded Dr. Richard Sibbes's 'Bruised Reed;' and later, other practical puritan books deepened first impressions, as Perkins 'On Repentance,' 'On Living and Dying Well,' 'On the Government of the Tongue,' and Culverwell 'On Faith,' and the like.

On leaving Ludlow Castle in 1633, his tutor urged him to give up any intention he might have had of studying for the ministry. Wickstead painted to his vivid imagination the gay life of the court, and argued that there was nothing to hinder Baxter's rising there. He allowed himself to be over-persuaded–his parents unfortunately having seconded the tutor in this instance–and went up to the court, with a letter of introduction to Sir Henry Herbert, then master of the revels. He ingenuously confesses that, whilst he was cordially welcomed, a month at Whitehall with the court sufficed to disgust him with a courtier's life.

The departure from the court was probably hastened by a message of the illness of his mother. He set out for Eaton-constantine, and arrived there after a hair's-breadth escape from a great danger to find her in extremity of suffering. She lingered through the winter and spring, and died on 10 May 1634. On thus returning home he further found his former schoolmaster (Owen) dying of consumption. At the request of Lord Newport he undertook the charge of the school till the event of the illness was seen. Within three months Owen died, and Baxter, being freed, went to live with his father. About a year subsequent, his father married Mary, daughter of Sir Thomas Hunks. She proved a true helpmeet, living to the advanced age of ninety-six, and long surviving her husband and stepson.

As was inevitable, his leaving of the court and his mother's deathbed revived his original intention of becoming a minister of the gospel. Accordingly, he put himself for further instruction in theology under the Rev. Francis Garbet, the parish clergyman of Wroxeter. There his studies were much interrupted by his continued ill-health (violent cough and spitting of blood). Yet he pursued with earnestness his theological reading and examinations. He sharpened his intellectual acuteness by prolonged acquaintance with the schoolmen, especially Aquinas and Duns Scotus, and with Durandus and Ockham, and innumerable other volumes, that afterwards loaded his margins.

Thus far he had been an unquestioning conformist. His parents and relatives on both sides, and his second mother, were all conformists. His circle of friends and associates hitherto were also conformists. His reading, voracious though it was, ran in the same grooves. His theological tutor (Garbet) was a stout churchman, and supplied him with the great church defences of Hooker and Downham, Sprint and Burgess, and others who had opposed nonconformity (Apology for Nonconformists, p. 59). It also happened that the only nonconformist minister known to him (Barnell of Uppington), while a blameless and good man, was no scholar.

But about his twentieth year he came to know two subsequently eminent nonconformists–Joseph Symonds, assistant to Gataker, at Rotherhithe, London, and Walter Cradock, one of the early silenced and ejected (1634), and their associates. These he met in and near Shrewsbury. Their fervent piety and faithful preaching greatly attracted him. But what mainly determined his closer examination of their grounds for remaining out of the pale of the national church was the relentless 'silencing' and persecution as of personal enemies, to which the nonconformists were exposed by bishops who were themselves anything but apostolic. Still, he had no scruples about subscription when he thought of ordination.

In 1638 Foley of Stourbridge recovered some lands at Dudley which had been left for charitable purposes, and adding something of his own, he built and endowed a new schoolhouse. Thereupon he offered to make Baxter head master, with an usher under him. This offer he accepted. Accompanied by his friend Foley and another, James Berry, he repaired to Worcester and was ordained by Bishop Thornborough, and received a license to teach the school at Dudley. His first public sermon was preached in the Upper Church of Dudley. He also speedily went round about the neighbouring villages. He does not claim that he made any very great impression on his hearers. His sickliness possibly weakened his 'pleasant and moving voice.' When he had become famous, the people of Dudley and the villages were proud of the inauguration of so marvellous a ministry among them.

While in Dudley the evangelical nonconformists of the place were his intimate and 'most inward' friends. They furnished him with a number of books and manuscripts on the matters in debate between them and the church, or of primitive episcopacy over against that of the national church.

The result of his scrutiny of the literature of both sides was that, in part, Baxter was established in his conformity, and in part constrained to become a nonconformist. Kneeling he thought lawful; wearing the surplice doubtful; the cross in baptism unlawful; a liturgy lawful, and might be lawfully imposed; but his own church's liturgy confused and defective.

What most of all offended his conscience was the want of discipline, as shown by the 'promiscuous giving of the Lord's Supper to drunkards, swearers, and all who had not been excommunicated by a bishop or his chancellor.' Second only to this was his sense of rashness in subscription; for though he still approved of bishops and a liturgy, to 'subscribe ex animo that there was nothing in the Articles, Homilies, and the Liturgy contrary to the Word of God' was what he could not do again.

When the 'et cætera' oath was passed, 1640, Baxter was settled in Bridgnorth, Shropshire. Here he was acting as assistant minister to the Rev. William Madstard, whom he describes as 'a grave and severe divine, very honest and conscientious; an excellent preacher, but somewhat afficted with want of maintenance, but more with a dead-hearted unprofitable people.' In this charge the assistant minister had a very large congregation to preach to, and he was relieved from all those things about which he scrupled or which he held for unlawful. He often read the Book of Common Prayer before he preached; but he never administered the Lord's supper, never baptised a child with the sign of the cross, never wore a surplice, and never appeared at any bishop's court. The people were densely ignorant. 'I was then,' he says, 'in the fervour of my affections, and never preached with more vehement desires of man's conversion.'

The clergy of Salop appointed a meeting at Bridgnorth to consider the 'et cætera' oath. Christopher Cartwright defended it; Baxter condemned it. The objections to the oath, as put and enforced by the assistant minister, were deemed more formidable than were the answers satisfactory. The meeting broke up in a state of consternation. Orme is not too severe on this clause when he says: 'An oath binding fallible men never to change themselves, or give their consent to alterations, however necessary, and including an "et cætera" nobody knows what, is among the greatest instances of ecclesiastical despotism and folly on record.' Baxter resolved that he would never subscribe to it. And that, characteristically, sent him yet again to his books to examine what had been written on that episcopacy, whose yoke he was beginning to feel to be unbearable. He enumerates a library of treatises, foreign and home, examined by him. The final result was a full and clear conviction that the episcopacy of the church of England was a totally different thing from primitive episcopacy (Treatise of Episcopacy, preface, 1681).

The Scotch troubles had now begun (1639). The Earl of Bridgewater, lord president of the marches of Wales, passing through Bridgnorth to join the king at Newcastle, was informed on Saturday evening that neither Madstard nor Baxter made the sign of the cross, that they neither wore a surplice, nor prayed against the Scots. The earl told his informant that he would be in church on the morrow and see for himself. The aged senior minister took flight and left Baxter to face the peril. But Bridgewater on the Sunday changed his purpose and proceeded to Lichfield, so that nothing came of it. 'Thus I continued,' says Baxter, 'in my liberty of preaching the gospel at Bridgnorth, about a year and three quarters, which I took to be a very great mercy in those troublesome times.'

A petition was sent from Kidderminster, Worcestershire, against their parson, named Dance. It reported him as an 'ignorant and weak man, who preached but once a quarter, was a frequenter of alehouses, and sometimes drunk;' whilst his curate was 'a common tippler and drunkard, a railler and trader in unlawful marriages.' The vicar, conscious of his incompetency and unworthiness, offered to compound with the town. He proposed to allow 60l. per annum to a preacher, whom a committee of fourteen of them should choose, in place of his present curate. This preacher he would allow to preach when he pleased, and he himself would read prayers and discharge any other parts of parish routine. The town, having agreed to this, withdrew their intended petition. Hereupon, after trying a Mr. Lapthorn, the committee of Kidderminster applied to Baxter to become their lecturer. The invitation was sent on 9 March 1640-1, and the legal instrument appointing him is dated 5 April 1641. Affectionate and urgent letters accompanied the invitation (Baxter's MSS. in Williams's Library, London). Baxter felt it to be his duty to go to Kidderminster. After preaching one day he was chosen by the electors nemine contradicente.

The work done by Richard Baxter in Kidderminster has passed into history. Whereas in the beginning the moral (not to speak of the godly) were to be counted on the ten fingers, ere very long a passing traveller along the streets at a given hour heard the sounds of praise and prayer in every household. For the evidences of his power in his preaching, 'Reliquiæ Baxterianæ' and Calamy's 'Account,' and other easily accessible authorities may be consulted. Baxter had only been two years at his post in Kidderminster when the civil war burst out. All Worcestershire (in a sense) sided with the king, whilst Richard Baxter, though loyal to the monarchy, sided with the parliament. He recommended the 'protestation.' This drew upon him the evil tongues of the cavaliers. He temporarily retired to Gloucester. He was preaching at Alcester, on 23 Oct. 1642, during the battle of Edgehill (Reliq. Baxt. pt. i. 43-4). He returned, but only to be driven out speedily again. Towards the close of 1642, on occasion of the king's 'declaration' being read in the market-place of Kidderminster, a country gentleman who officiated stopped at sight of Baxter passing, and called out 'There goes a traitor.' He removed next to Coventry. There he found himself in association with no fewer than thirty fugitive ministers of the gospel, among whom were Richard Vines and Anthony Burgess, Drs. Bryan and Grew. He officiated as chaplain to the garrison, preaching once each Sunday to the soldiers, and once to the townspeople and distinguished strangers, including Sir Richard Skeffington, Colonel Godfrey Bosville, George Abbot, the layman scholar [q. v.], and many others. For all his services he took only 'bed and board.'

His powers were never more strikingly exhibited than in Coventry. The anabaptists and others of the brood of fractions and sectaries swarmed in the parliamentary army, and, not exhausted by his official duties, the indefatigable Baxter opposed them with beneficent effectiveness. Cromwell and the army generally were doubtfully disposed towards Baxter. The Lord Protector disliked his loquacity. He innocently informs us: 'He [Cromwell] would not dispute with me at all; but he would in good discourse very fluently pour out himself in the extolling of free grace, which was savoury to those that had right principles, though he had some misunderstandings of free grace himself.' But, with every deduction, Baxter deserved the respect of his interlocutor, even though Cromwell's views contrasted favourably in some respects with Baxter's narrower dogmatism.

After Naseby, whose battle-field he visited, he became chaplain to Colonel Whalley's regiment by advice of the ministers assembled at Coventry. He was present at several sieges, but never in any actual engagement. The latter fact did not save him from a preposterous story of his having killed a man in cold blood and robbed him of a medal (Calamy, Life of Baxter, i. 16; Vernon, Life of Dr. Peter Heylin, 1682; Petit Vision of Government, 1684, p. 134; Biog. Brit, 1778, p. 12).

His attitude during the civil war is thus summarily stated by himself: 'I make no doubt that both parties were to blame, as it commonly falleth out in most wars and contentions, and I will not be he that will justify either of them. I doubt not but the headiness and rashness of the younger inexperienced sort of religious people made many parliament men and ministers overgo themselves to keep pace with these Hotspurs. No doubt but much indiscretion appeared, and worse than indiscretion in the tumultuous petitioners, and much sin was committed in the dishonouring of the king, and in the uncivil language against the bishops and liturgy of the church. But these things came chiefly from the sectarian, separating spirit, which blew the coals among foolish apprentices. And as the sectaries increased, so the insolence increased. One or two in the house and five or six ministers that came from Holland, and a few relicts of the Brownists that were scattered in the city, did drive on others, and sowed the seeds which afterwards spread over all the land. . . . But I then thought, whoever was faulty, the people's liberties and safety should not be forfeited. I thought that all the subjects were not guilty of all the faults of king or parliament when they defended them: yea, that if both their causes had been bad as I against each other, yet that the subjects should adhere to that party which most secured the welfare of the nation, and might defend the land under their conduct without owning all their cause. And herein I was then so zealous, that I thought it was a great sin for such that were able to defend their country, to be neuters. And I have been tempted since to think that I was a more competent judge upon the place, when all things were before our eyes, than I am in the review of those days and actions so many years after, when distance disadvantageth the apprehension' (Reliq. Baxt. pt. i. 39).

In 1647 he lived in retirement among various friends, and finally with the Lady Rouse of Rouse-Lench (Sir Thomas Rouse's). A violent and 'prodigious bleeding at the nose' left him in a sorrowfully languid state for weary months. This sudden arrest of his activity was extremely trying; he had multiplied schemes in his busy brain whereby to overcome the corruptions of the army and benefit the nation. But in his old age he was brought to see that all had been ordered wisely and well. He thus wrote: 'They [Cromwell and associates] entered into their engagement at Triploe Heath. As I perceived it was the will of God to permit them to go on, so I afterwards found that this great affliction was a mercy to myself, for they were so strong and active that I had been likely to have had small success in the attempt [to take them off], and to have lost my life among them in their fury. And thus I was finally separated from the army.'

On his recovery, though still in great weakness, he returned to Kidderminster. Even amid the tempestuous scenes of the civil war he contrived to write his book, entitled 'Aphorisms of Justification' (1649), which practically reproduced his dealing with the antinomians and other sectaries. Still more notably, his great book, the 'Saint's Everlasting Rest' (1650), was in part written under like conditions and in part while under the hospitable roof of the Lady Rouse. Its title-page still bears these pathetic memorial words: 'Written by the author for his own use in the time of his languishing, when God took him off from his public employment.' The former involved him in multiplied controversies, public and private; but the latter leaped at a bound into its still enduring fame.

Grasping his fecundity of publication with the engrossing ministry which occupied his chief energies, it must be manifest that Richard Baxter was an extraordinary man. In his physique naturally weak, and tainted from the outset with consumptive tendencies, and later worn and valetudinarian, he so conquered the body, that he did the work of a score of ordinary men as an author alone. Baxter had beyond all dispute a penetrative, almost morbidly acute brain. He was the creator of our popular Christian literature. Regarded intrinsically and as literature, his books need fear no comparison with contemporaries. Archbishop Trench of Dublin has judicially described the literary merit of Baxter in speaking of the 'Saint's Everlasting Rest:' 'Let me mention here, before entering into deeper matters, one formal merit which the Saint's "Everlasting Rest" eminently possesses. I refer to that without which, I suppose, no book ever won a permanent place in the literature of a nation, and which I have no scruple in ascribing to it–I mean its style. A great admirer of Baxter has recently suggested a doubt whether he ever recast a sentence or bestowed a thought on its rhythm and the balance of its several parts; statements of his own make it tolerably certain that he did not. As a consequence he has none of those bravura passages which must have cost Jeremy Taylor, in his "Holy Living and Dying" and elsewhere, so much of thought and pains, for such do not come of themselves and unbidden to the most accomplished masters of language. But for all this there reigns in Baxter's writings, and not least in "The Saint's Rest," a robust and masculine eloquence; nor do these want from time to time rare and unsought felicity of language, which once heard can scarcely be forgotten. In regard, indeed, of the choice of words, the book might have been written yesterday. There is hardly one which has become obsolete, hardly one which has drifted away from the meaning which it has in his writings. This may not be a great matter, but it argues a rare insight, conscious or unconscious, into all which was truest, into all which was furthest removed from affectation and untruthfulness in the language, that after more than two hundred years so it should be; and one may recognise here an element, not to be overlooked, of the abiding popularity of the book' ('Baxter and the Saint's Rest' in Companions for the Devout Life, 1877, p. 89).

Whilst in Kidderminster Richard Baxter was a prominent political leader as well as a minister of the gospel. He still stood for the nation and the people's rights, yet looked back to the ancient monarchy of England. He opposed the Solemn League and Covenant none the less intrepidly that he had himself rashly signed it at Coventry; and thus incurred the dislike of his co-presbyterians. He opposed the Engagement, and similarly offended the independents. He opposed root-and-branch extirpation of episcopacy, and thus exasperated the Scots. He opposed the setting aside of Charles II, and he spoke against the regicides at the risk of his life. It was nothing to him who were his friends or foes. He was obedient only to his own conscience. Must it be conceded that that conscience was a subtle and complex one?

Baxter left Kidderminster for London in 1660. His published 'Farewell Sermon' explains the circumstances under which he was not allowed to preach. But beyond these there can be extremely little doubt that he was early in the confidence of those who were planning the restoration of Charles II. The presbyterians united with the cavaliers for this restoration. Thus in agreement, Richard Baxter could not but feel that henceforward his place must be the metropolis. He narrates copiously the powerful part he played. He was in most intimate alliance with the leaders. He preached before the House of Commons at St. Margaret's, Westminster (30 April 1660). The very next day parliament voted the Restoration. He preached before the lord mayor and aldermen and all London in St. Paul's on the day of thanksgiving for Monk's success (10 May 1660). He did not go to Holland with Calamy, Manton, Bowles, and divers others; but he joined in welcome to his majesty. He was soon appointed one of the king's chaplains, and Charles bore himself towards him with invariable courtesy, and more. Clarendon offered to appoint him to the bishopric of Hereford, which he felt bound to refuse. He took a prominent part in the discussions at the Savoy conference. Even Dr. Johnson was roused to admiration of the 'Reformed Liturgy' which he prepared for the conference. Orme succinctly characterises Baxter's conduct at this time: 'Baxter's conduct during the several changes which have been noticed, does credit to his conscientiousness rather than to his wisdom. He acted with the parliament, but maintained the rights of the king; he enjoyed the benefits of the protectorate, but spoke and reasoned against the Protector; he hailed the return of Charles, but doubted whether he was freed from allegiance to Richard. Abstract principles and refined distinctions, in these as in some other matters, influenced his judgment more than plain matters of fact. Speculations, de jure and de facto, often occupied and distracted his mind and fettered his conduct, while another man would have formed his opinions on a few obvious principles and facts, and have done, both as a subject and a christian, all that circumstances and the Scriptures required.'

When the tumult of the restoration was past, after declining the offered mitre, he pleaded to be allowed to return as lecturer (60l. a year) to his beloved Kidderminster. This could not be granted. The bishop and Sir Ralph Clare opposed. Being thus disappointed he preached occasionally in the churches of London under license by Sheldon. Three days before the Act of Uniformity was passed, on 16 May 1662, he bade farewell to the church of England in the great church of Blackfriars. He then quietly and unostentatiously retired to Acton in Middlesex. In 1665, during the plague, he was the guest of Richard Hampden in Buckinghamshire. When it ended he once more settled at Acton. He remained in this village as long as the act against conventicles was in force, writing many books and preaching as opportunity offered. When the act was allowed to lapse, he had crowded audiences. But the eyes of the royalists were upon him. He suffered in common with all the nonconformists cast out by the St. Bartholomew Act. Once the authorities blundered in their hate. Whilst preaching, he was committed for six months to New Prison by a warrant signed by two justices, but having procured a habeas corpus he was discharged, and thereupon removed to Totteridge, near Barnet. His discharge happened thus. On his way to prison he called upon Serjeant Fountain for his advice, who, after reading the mittimus, pronounced it illegal and irregular. The earls of Orrery, Manchester, Arlington, and Buckingham mentioned the affair to the king, who sent Sir John Baker to Baxter with this message, that though his majesty might not relax the law yet he would not be offended if by any application in Westminster Hall he obtained his liberty. Upon this habeas corpus was demanded at the bar of the Common Pleas, and granted. This vexed the justices who had committed him, and they made out a fresh mittimus in order to have him sent to Newgate. This he avoided by keeping out of the way. It is needless to record his successive meeting-houses, or his monotonously cruel wrongs. He bore himself in all meekness and patience from first to last. Bad as was the treatment of Baxter under Charles II, still worse was it under James II. Macaulay's narrative of his trial before Jeffreys has become one of the classic quotations in historic literature. It is founded upon an account published by Orme from the Baxter MSS. in Dr. Williams's library. Baxter was imprisoned 28 Feb. 1684-5, on a charge of libelling the church in his 'Paraphrase of the New Testament' (1685). His trial took place on 30 May, after an appeal for delay 18 May. Jeffreys insulted him grossly on both occasions.

It is believed that had Jeffreys had his own way, Baxter would have been 'whipped through London at the cart tail.' The 'actual sentence was a fine of 500 marks and imprisonment till it was paid. For about a year and a half he remained in prison easy conditions, as the visit of Matthew Henry reveals (Orme, pp. 375-6). There were portents in the heavens. There were ominous shakings as of the solid globe. 'The court,' says Macaulay, 'began to think of gaining the nonconformists. Baxter was not only set at liberty, but was informed that if he chose to reside in London he might do so without fearing that the Five Mile Act would be enforced against him. The government probably hoped that the recollection of past sufferings and the sense of present ease would produce the same effect on him as on Rosewall and Lobb. The hope was disappointed. Baxter was neither to be corrupted nor to be deceived. He refused to join in any address of thanks for the indulgence, and exerted all his influence to promote good feeling between the church and the presbyterians' (History of England, ch. vii.)

Released on 24 Nov. 1686–the fine was remitted–Baxter was now in loneliness. His like-hearted wife, Margaret Charlton, whom he had married on 10 Sept. 1662 when well advanced in years, and the 'Breviate' of whose life (1681) is perhaps the most perfect of his minor writings, had died on 14 June 1681, and he mourned for her irreparably. He held his orders to be indefeasible. Still, therefore, he preached as opportunity was found, and always to immense gatherings. He took the morning sermon of every Sunday and the Thursday lecture for good Matthew Sylvester. His 'Reliquiæ Baxterianæ' went forward to completion, and his review of his long life is very pathetic. In 1688, true to his lifelong principles, he entered heart and soul into what has been called the coalition of the protestant dissenters with the clergy of the national church against the popish king, James II. Even the church of England had a short memory for what Baxter and Howe and Bates then achieved (Macaulay, ch. viii. 1688). He complied with the Toleration Act under William and Mary. He kept in harness to the end. When some one whispered of the good he had done by his books, he faintly answered, 'I was but a pen, and what praise is due to a pen?' Visited of Mather, 'almost well' was his greeting, as he felt the advancing chill. He died at about four o'clock on Tuesday morning, 8 Dec. 1691. He was buried beside his wife and her mother in Christ Church, London. William Bates [q. v.] preached his funeral sermon with rare power and pathos. Never had there been such a private funeral seen in England.

There are various authentic portraits of him still extant. That usually met with shows him gaunt and worn. By far the best is the painting preserved in Williams's Library, London. Adlard's engraving after it (in Orme) comes far short of the original.

Once started as an author, Baxter literally poured out book after book–great folios, thick quartos, crammed duodecimos, pamphlets, tractates, sheets, half-sheets, and broadsides. The following is a list of the most important (titles abbreviated). We take first 1649 to 1660, in addition to the two noticed. They are:

  1. 'The Right Method for Peace of Conscience and Spiritual Comfort,' 1653.
  2. 'Making Light of Christ,' 1655.
  3. 'Gildas Salvianus; or the Reformed Pastor,' 1656.
  4. 'The Safe Religion; or Three Disputations for the Reformed Religion against Popery,' 1657.
  5. 'A Treatise of Conversion,' 1657.
  6. 'A Call to the Unconverted,' 1657.
  7. 'The Crucifying of the World by the Cross of Christ,' 1658.
  8. 'Directions and Persuasions to a Sound Conversion,' 1658.
  9. 'A Treatise of Self-Denial,' 1659.
  10. 'The Vain Religion of the Formal Hypocrite,' 1659.
  11. 'The Fool's Prosperity,' 1659.
  12. 'The Last Walk of a Believer,' 1659.

We take next, that all may be brought together, 1662 to 1692. They are:

  1. 'The Mischief of Self-ignorance and the Benefits of Self-acquaintance,' 1662.
  2. 'A Saint or a Brute,' 1662.
  3. 'Now or Never,' 1663.
  4. 'Divine Life,' 1664.
  5. 'Two Sheets for Poor Families,' 1665.
  6. 'A Sheet for the Instruction of the Sick during the Plague,' 1665.
  7. 'Directions to the Converted for their Establishment, Growth, and Perseverance,' 1669.
  8. 'The Life of Faith,' 1670.
  9. 'The Divine Appointment of the Lord's Day,' 1671.
  10. 'The Duty of Heavenly Meditation revived,' 1671.
  11. 'How far Holiness is the Design of Christianity,' 1671.
  12. 'God's Goodness vindicated,' 1671.
  13. 'More Reasons for the Christian Religion and no Reason against it,' 1672.
  14. 'Full and Easy Satisfaction which is the True and Safe Religion,' 1674.
  15. 'The Poor Man's Family Book,' 1674.
  16. 'Reasons for Ministerial Plainness and Fidelity,' 1676.
  17. 'A Sermon for the Cure of Melancholy,' 1682.
  18. 'Compassionate Counsel to Young Men,' 1682.
  19. 'How to do Good to many,' 1682.
  20. 'Family Catechism,' 1683.
  21. 'Obedient Patience,' 1683.
  22. 'Farewell Sermon prepared to have been preached to his Hearers at Kidderminster at his departure, but forbidden,' 1683.
  23. 'Dying Thoughts,' 1683.
  24. . 'Unum Necessarium,' 1685.
  25. 'The Scripture Gospel defended,' 1690.
  26. 'A Defence of Christ and Free Grace,' 1690.
  27. 'Monthly Preparations for the Holy Communion,' 1696.
  28. 'The Mother's Catechism,' 1701.
  29. 'What we must do to be saved,' 1692.

Long as is this roll, it is merely a typical selection; for besides these there are more than one hundred distinct books. These are all carefully recorded and annotated in Dr. Grosart's 'Bibliographical List of the Works of Baxter,' 1868 (see also list in Orme, containing 168 articles, where is also a full account of his writings).

His 'Practical Works' only have been collected, 23 vols. 8vo, 1830, with Life by Orme; reprinted with essay by Henry Rogers, 4 vols. la. 8vo, 1868. His political, historical, ethical, and philosophical works still await a competent editor. His 'Holy Commonwealth' had the distinction of being burned at Oxford along with Milton's and John Goodwin's books. The most diverse minds have their favourites among his books. There never has been a day since 1649 that something by him was not in print. His works have still a matchless circulation among the English-speaking race. They have also been largely translated into many languages.

[Baxter left a mass of autobiographical materials to his friend Sylvester, who published the whole as Reliquiæ Baxterianæ; Mr. Richard Baxter's Narrative of the most memorable passages of his life and times, faithfully published from his own original manuscript, by the Rev. Matthew Sylvester, fol. 1696. This is the main authority for the life. In 1702 Edmund Calamy [q.v.] published an abridgment of this in one volume, republished with additions in 1713 in two volumes; Bishop Hall's Life; Peirce's Vindi|cation of the Dissenters, pt. i. p. 229; Fuller's Church History, c. xvii.; Baxter's Penitent Confession and Necessary Vindication, 1691; Clark's Lives, 181-91; Biographia Britannica (1778), 10-24; Dean Stanley in Macmillan's Mag. xxxii. 385; Fisher's Bibliotheca Sacra, ix. 135, 300; Orme's Life and Times of Richard Baxter, with a critical examination of his writings (1830), 2 vols. (This also forms the first volume of the Practical Works, as above.)]

A. B. G.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.18
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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435 ii 8 f.e. Baxter, Richard: after wife intert Margaret Charlton, and after maxried insert on 10 Sept. 1662