Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Claxton, Laurence

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CLAXTON or CLARKSON, LAURENCE (1615–1667), sectary, was born at Preston, Lancashire, in 1615. He was brought up in the faith of the church of England. In an age of puritanism his conscience was afflicted, among other things, with the 'toleration of maypoles, dancing, and rioting,' with which the Lord's day was profaned in Lancashire. He started on a strange pilgrimage through various sects, beginning, as a layman, with the presbyterians, with whose system he quarrelled after a time. He then made a brief trial of the independents, joined the antinomians, became a preacher among them, and in his own opinion was 'not inferior to any priest in those days.' After this time he held for six months a 'benefice' of the value of about 50l. per annum. The name of the place at which he was 'parish priest' is called by him Pulom. There is little doubt that Pulham Market in Norfolk is meant, although his name does not occur in the registers. In the course of a rambling life which he afterwards led he became a dipper or anabaptist (immersed 6 Nov. 1644, exercised his ministry till 24 Jan. 1645), and his practices brought upon him a prosecution, when he was cast into prison at Bury St. Edmunds. He was released from confinement 15 July 1645, having procured his liberty by formally renouncing the practice of dipping. He is found shortly after among the seekers, and we have the first of his tracts, entitled 'The Pilgrimage of Saints by Church cast out, in Christ found, seeking Truth' (Lond. 1646, 4to). Edwards ( Gangræna) states that as a seeker Claxton preached one Sunday at Bow Church before a large and distinguished congregation. He was appointed minister of Sandridge in Hertfordshire, where he 'continued not a year.' To this date belongs another tract, 'Truth released from Prison to its former Libertie; or a True Discovery who are the Troublers of True Israel; the Disturbers of England's Peace' (London, 1646, 8vo, pp. 26). It is dedicated to the 'mayor, aldermen, and inhabitants of Preston.' Soon after this he wrote a tract against the parliament, called 'A General Charge or Impeachment of High Treason, in the name of Justice Equity, against the Communality of England' (1647, 4to). He was presented to a small parish in Lincolnshire, but soon grew weary of it. On 19 Dec. 1648, according to a record in the manuscript minutes of the Fourth London Classis (now in Dr. Williams's library), 'Mr. Laurence Claxton presented himselfe, brought certeine papers as testimonials wch the presbyterie returned, as not satisfactorie.' After the rejection of these overtures he became a ranter. His extravagant and extremely licentious conduct brought again upon him the displeasure of the authorities. For publishing 'an impious and blasphemous' tract called 'A Single Eye all Light no Darkness, or Light and Darkness One' (1650, 4to, pp. 16), he was condemned by the House of Commons to be sent to prison for one month, and from that time 'to be banished out of the commonwealth and the territories thereof, and not to return upon pain of death.' The book itself was burned by the common hangman. Somehow its author escaped the penalty of banishment, and for a while he travelled about as a professor of astrology and physic, and even aspired to the art of magic. He states that he was afterwards 'beneficed' at Terrington St. John parish in Marshland, Norfolk, and was 'by all the town received' at Snettisham in the same county. In 1658 he came to London from the eastern counties and made the acquaintance of John Reeve and Ludowick Muggleton, to whose doctrines he became a convert. On the death of Reeve about the latter end of July 1658 he applied for and obtained 'leave to write in the vindication and justification of this commission of the spirit.' The treatises he wrote are entitled: 1. 'The Right Devil discovered, in his Descent, Form, Education, Qualification, Place and Nature of Torment,' 1659, small 8vo. Muggleton in enumerating Claxton's books states that the first he wrote (as a Muggletonian) was styled 'Look about you, for the Devil that you fear is in you,' but this may have been the title of the above work while yet in manuscript. It is, however, given by Claxton himself in 'Lost Sheep found,' p. 33. 2. 'The Quakers Downfal, with all other Dispensations, their inside turn'd outward,' 1659, 4to. On the title-page of this work he styled himself 'the alone, true, and faithful messenger of Christ Jesus, the Lord of Glory.' It was answered by John Harwood, a quaker, in a tract entitled 'The Lying Prophet discovered and reproved,' 1659, 4to. 3. 'A Paradisical Dialogue betwixt Faith and Reason: disputing the high mysterious Secrets of Eternity, the like never extant in our Revelation,' 1660, 4to. 4. 'Wonder of Wonders,' 1660. 6. 'The Lost Sheep found, or the Prodigal returned to his Father's House, after many a sad and weary journey through many religious countreys,' 1660, 4to, pp. 64. The last work, which is really an autobiography, was used by Scott in 'Woodstock;' the author's weaknesses are displayed in it with extraordinary frankness. 'He had grown so proud as to say that nobody could write in the vindication of the commission, now John Reeve was dead, but he.' Muggleton was highly offended at the work, and at once discountenanced the author. Before this time there had, however, been a difference between them on another business. For twelve months (till 1661) he sought in vain for followers, but finding Muggleton's power too strong for him he humbled himself to the prophet and acknowledged his fault. Thereupon he was taken again into favour, but undertook not to write any more. His subsequent conduct seems to have been exemplary, as he gained credit from Muggleton as a faithful disciple. His later publications contain much practical moral teaching, especially against uncleanness, as is characteristic of Muggletonian writings. He is supposed to have been twice married, first to the daughter of R. Marchant, by whom he had five children. He probably got his living while in London by trading. At an earlier date, according to Edwards, he was a tailor. His last speculation was disastrous. After the fire of London he undertook to obtain money at interest to help sufferers to rebuild their houses, but he was left in the lurch by some persons who had procured 100l. through him, and for this debt he was put in Ludgate gaol, where after lingering a year he died in 1667.

The name is written Clarkson in his earlier tracts and Claxton in the later ones. It was no doubt originally Clarkson. In that form the name is still common about Preston, where it is pronounced Clackson.

[Claxton's Lost Sheep found; Edwards's Gangræna, 3rd edit. part i. 15, 19 (second pagination), 103, ii. 6, 23, 29, 42, 136; Commons' Journals, vi. 427, 444, 475–6; Hart's Index Expurgatorius Anglicanus, 1872, p. 166; Sir W. Scott's Prose Works, xviii. 86–9; the same article in Quart. Rev. xliii. 475–8; Rev. Alex. Gordon in Proc. Liverpool Literary and Phil. Soc., 1869–70, xxiv. 199–201; additional information and suggestions given by Mr. Gordon privately; Notes and Queries, 4th series, xi. 278, 350, 487, xii. 17; Jos. Smith's Biblioth. Anti-Quakeriana, pp. 124–6; Muggleton's Acts of the Witnesses of the Spirit (as quoted by A. Gordon, ubi supra, and in Notes and Queries).]

C. W. S.