Richard Baxter, by John Greenleaf Whittier

Old Portraits and Modern Sketches

The picture drawn by a late English historian of the infamous Jeffreys in his judicial robes, sitting in judgment upon the venerable Richard Baxter, brought before him to answer to an indictment, setting; forth that the said "Richardus Baxter, persona seditiosa et factiosa pravae mentis, impiae, inquietae, turbulent disposition et conversation; falso illicte, injuste nequit factiose seditiose, et irreligiose, fecit, composuit, scripsit quendam falsum, seditiosum, libellosum, factiosum et irreligiosum librum," is so remarkable that the attention of the most careless reader is at once arrested. Who was that old man, wasted with disease and ghastly with the pallor of imprisonment, upon whom the foul- mouthed buffoon in ermine exhausted his vocabulary of abuse and ridicule? Who was Richardus Baxter?

The author of works so elaborate and profound as to frighten by their very titles and ponderous folios the modern ecclesiastical student from their perusal, his hold upon the present generation is limited to a few practical treatises, which, from their very nature, can never become obsolete. The Call to the Unconverted and the Saints' Everlasting Rest belong to no time or sect. They speak the universal language of the wants and desires of the human soul. They take hold of the awful verities of life and death, righteousness and judgment to come. Through them the suffering and hunted minister of Kidderminster has spoken in warning, entreaty, and rebuke, or in tones of tenderest love and pity, to the hearts of the generations which have succeeded him. His controversial works, his confessions of faith, his learned disputations, and his profound doctrinal treatises are no longer read. Their author himself, towards the close of his life, anticipated, in respect to these favorite productions, the children of his early zeal, labor, and suffering, the judgment of posterity. "I perceive," he says, "that most of the doctrinal controversies among Protestants are far more about equivocal words than matter. Experience since the year 1643 to this year 1675 hath loudly called me to repent of my own prejudices, sidings, and censurings of causes and persons not understood, and of all the miscarriages of my ministry and life which have been thereby caused; and to make it my chief work to call men that are within my bearing to more peaceable thoughts, affections, and practices."

Richard Baxter was born at the village of Eton Constantine, in 1615. He received from officiating curates of the little church such literary instruction as could be given by men who had left the farmer's flail, the tailor's thimble, and the service of strolling stage-players, to perform church drudgery under the parish incumbent, who was old and well-nigh blind. At the age of sixteen, he was sent to a school at Wroxeter, where he spent three years, to little purpose, so far as a scientific education was concerned. His teacher left him to himself mainly, and following the bent of his mind, even at that early period, he abandoned the exact sciences for the perusal of such controversial and metaphysical writings of the schoolmen as his master's library afforded. The smattering of Latin which he acquired only served in after years to deform his treatises with barbarous, ill-adapted, and erroneous citations. "As to myself," said he, in his letter written in old age to Anthony Wood, who had inquired whether he was an Oxonian graduate, "my faults are no disgrace to a university, for I was of none; I have but little but what I had out of books and inconsiderable help of country divines. Weakness and pain helped me to study how to die; that set me a-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 am now going to see that for which I have lived and studied."

Of the first essays of the young theologian as a preacher of the Established Church, his early sufferings from that complication of diseases with which his whole life was tormented, of the still keener afflictions of a mind whose entire outlook upon life and nature was discolored and darkened by its disordered bodily medium, and of the struggles between his Puritan temperament and his reverence for Episcopal formulas, much might be profitably said, did the limits we have assigned ourselves admit. Nor can we do more than briefly allude to the religious doubts and difficulties which darkened and troubled his mind at an early period.

He tells us at length in his Life how he struggled with these spiritual infirmities and temptations. The future life, the immortality of the soul, and the truth of the Scriptures were by turns questioned. "I never," says he in a letter to Dr. More, inserted in the Sadducisimus Triumphatus, "had so much ado to overcome a temptation as that to the opinion of Averroes, that, as extinguished candles go all out in an illuminated air, so separated souls go all into one common anima mundi, and lose their individuation." With these and similar "temptations" Baxter struggled long, earnestly, and in the end triumphantly. His faith, when once established, remained unshaken to the last; and although always solemn, reverential, and deeply serious, he was never the subject of religious melancholy, or of that mournful depression of soul which arises from despair of an interest in the mercy and paternal love of our common Father.

The Great Revolution found him settled as a minister in Kidderminster, under the sanction of a drunken vicar, who, yielding to the clamor of his more sober parishioners, and his fear of their appeal to the Long Parliament, then busy in its task of abating church nuisances, had agreed to give him sixty pounds per year, in the place of a poor tippling curate, notorious as a common railer and pothouse encumbrance.

As might have been expected, the sharp contrast which the earnest, devotional spirit and painful strictness of Baxter presented to the irreverent license and careless good humor of his predecessor by no means commended him to the favor of a large class of his parishioners. Sabbath merry-makers missed the rubicund face and maudlin jollity of their old vicar; the ignorant and vicious disliked the new preacher's rigid morality; the better informed revolted at his harsh doctrines, austere life, and grave manner. Intense earnestness characterized all his efforts. Contrasting human nature with the Infinite Purity and Holiness, he was oppressed with the sense of the loathsomeness and deformity of sin, and afflicted by the misery of his fellow-creatures separated from the divine harmony. He tells us that at this period he preached the terrors of the Law and the necessity of repentance, rather than the joys and consolations of the Gospel, upon which he so loved to dwell in his last years. He seems to have felt a necessity laid upon him to startle men from false hope and security, and to call for holiness of life and conformity to the divine will as the only ground of safety. Powerful and impressive as are the appeals and expostulations contained in his written works, they probably convey but a faint idea of the force and earnestness of those which he poured forth from his pulpit. As he advanced in years, these appeals were less frequently addressed to the fears of his auditors, for he had learned to value a calm and consistent life of practical goodness beyond any passionate exhibition of terrors, fervors, and transports. Having witnessed, in an age of remarkable enthusiasm and spiritual awakening, the ill effects of passional excitements and religious melancholy, he endeavored to present cheerful views of Christian life and duty, and made it a special object to repress morbid imaginations and heal diseased consciences. Thus it came to pass that no man of his day was more often applied to for counsel and relief by persons laboring under mental depression than himself. He has left behind him a very curious and not uninstructive discourse, which he entitled The Cure of Melancholy, by Faith and Physick, in which he shows a great degree of skill in his morbid mental anatomy. He had studied medicine to some extent for the benefit of the poor of his parish, and knew something of the intimate relations and sympathy of the body and mind; he therefore did not hesitate to ascribe many of the spiritual complaints of his applicants to disordered bodily functions, nor to prescribe pills and powders in the place of Scripture texts. More than thirty years after the commencement of his labors at Kidderminster he thus writes: "I was troubled this year with multitudes of melancholy persons from several places of the land; some of high quality, some of low, some exquisitely learned, and some unlearned. I know not how it came to pass, but if men fell melancholy I must hear from them or see them, more than any physician I knew." He cautions against ascribing melancholy phantasms and passions to the Holy Spirit, warns the young against licentious imaginations and excitements, and ends by advising all to take heed how they make of religion a matter of "fears, tears, and scruples." "True religion," he remarks, "doth principally consist in obedience, love, and joy."

At this early period of his ministry, however, he had all of Whitefield's intensity and fervor, added to reasoning powers greatly transcending those of the revivalist of the next century. Young in years, he was even then old in bodily infirmity and mental experience. Believing himself the victim of a mortal disease, he lived and preached in the constant prospect of death. His memento mori was in his bed-chamber, and sat by him at his frugal meal. The glory of the world was stained to his vision. He was blind to the beauty of all its "pleasant pictures." No monk of Mount Athos or silent Chartreuse, no anchorite of Indian superstition, ever more completely mortified the flesh, or turned his back more decidedly upon the "good things" of this life. A solemn and funeral atmosphere surrounded him. He walked in the shadows of the cypress, and literally "dwelt among the tombs." Tortured by incessant pain, be wrestled against its attendant languor and debility, as a sinful wasting of inestimable time; goaded himself to constant toil and devotional exercise, and, to use his own words, "stirred up his sluggish soul to speak to sinners with compassion, as a dying man to dying men."

Such entire consecration could not long be without its effect, even upon the "vicious rabble," as Baxter calls them. His extraordinary earnestness, self-forgetting concern for the spiritual welfare of others, his rigid life of denial and sacrifice, if they failed of bringing men to his feet as penitents, could not but awaken a feeling of reverence and awe. In Kidderminster, as in most other parishes of the kingdom, there were at this period pious, sober, prayerful people, diligent readers of the Scriptures, who were derided by their neighbors as Puritans, precisians, and hypocrites. These were naturally drawn towards the new preacher, and he as naturally recognized them as "honest seekers of the word and way of God." Intercourse with such men, and the perusal of the writings of certain eminent Non-conformists, had the effect to abate, in some degree, his strong attachment to the Episcopal formula and polity. He began to doubt the rightfulness of making the sign of the cross in baptism, and to hesitate about administering the sacrament to profane swearers and tipplers.

But while Baxter, in the seclusion of his parish, was painfully weighing the arguments for and against the wearing of surplices, the use of marriage rings, and the prescribed gestures and genuflections of his order, tithing with more or less scruple of conscience the mint and anise and cummin of pulpit ceremonials, the weightier matters of the law, freedom, justice, and truth were claiming the attention of Pym and Hampden, Brook and Vane, in the Parliament House. The controversy between King and Commons had reached the point where it could only be decided by the dread arbitrament of battle. The somewhat equivocal position of the Kidderminster preacher exposed him to the suspicion of the adherents of the King and Bishops. The rabble, at that period sympathizing with the party of license in morals and strictness in ceremonials, insulted and mocked him, and finally drove him from his parish.

On the memorable 23d of tenth month, 1642, he was invited to occupy a friend's pulpit at Alcester.

While preaching, a low, dull, jarring roll, as of continuous thunder, sounded in his ears. It was the cannon-fire of Edgehill, the prelude to the stern battle-piece of revolution. On the morrow, Baxter hurried to the scene of action. "I was desirous," he says, "to see the field. I found the Earl of Essex keeping the ground, and the King's army facing them on a hill about a mile off. There were about a thousand dead bodies in the field between them." Turning from this ghastly survey, the preacher mingled with the Parliamentary army, when, finding the surgeons busy with the wounded, he very naturally sought occasion for the exercise of his own vocation as a spiritual practitioner. He attached himself to the army. So far as we can gather from his own memoirs and the testimony of his contemporaries, he was not influenced to this step by any of the political motives which actuated the Parliamentary leaders. He was no revolutionist. He was as blind and unquestioning in his reverence for the King's person and divine right, and as hearty in his hatred of religious toleration and civil equality, as any of his clerical brethren who officiated in a similar capacity in the ranks of Goring and Prince Rupert. He seems only to have looked upon the soldiers as a new set of parishioners, whom Providence had thrown in his way. The circumstances of his situation left him little choice in the matter. "I had," he says, "neither money nor friends. I knew not who would receive me in a place of safety, nor had I anything to satisfy them for diet and entertainment." He accepted an offer to live in the Governor's house at Coventry, and preach to the soldiers of the garrison. Here his skill in polemics was called into requisition, in an encounter with two New England Antinomians, and a certain Anabaptist tailor who was making more rents in the garrison's orthodoxy than he mended in their doublets and breeches. Coventry seems at this time to have been the rendezvous of a large body of clergymen, who, as Baxter says, were "for King and Parliament,"—men who, in their desire for a more spiritual worship, most unwillingly found themselves classed with the sentries whom they regarded as troublers and heretics, not to be tolerated; who thought the King had fallen into the hands of the Papists, and that Essex and Cromwell were fighting to restore him; and who followed the Parliamentary forces to see to it that they were kept sound in faith, and free from the heresy of which the Court News-Book accused them. Of doing anything to overturn the order of Church and State, or of promoting any radical change in the social and political condition of the people, they had no intention whatever. They looked at the events of the time, and upon their duties in respect to them, not as politicians or reformers, but simply as ecclesiastics and spiritual teachers, responsible to God for the religious beliefs and practices of the people, rather than for their temporal welfare and happiness. They were not the men who struck down the solemn and imposing prelacy of England, and vindicated the divine right of men to freedom by tossing the head of an anointed tyrant from the scaffold at Whitehall. It was the so-called sebismatics, ranters, and levellers, the disputatious corporals and Anabaptist musketeers, the dread and abhorrence alike of prelate and presbyter, who, under the lead of Cromwell,

                   "Ruined the great work of time,
                    And cast the kingdoms old
                    Into another mould."

The Commonwealth was the work of the laity, the sturdy yeomanry and God- fearing commoners of England.

The news of the fight of Naseby reaching Coventry, Baxter, who had friends in the Parliamentary forces, wishing, as he says, to be assured of their safety, passed over to the stricken field, and spent a night with them. He was afflicted and confounded by the information which they gave him, that the victorious army was full of hot-headed schemers and levellers, who were against King and Church, prelacy and ritual, and who were for a free Commonwealth and freedom of religious belief and worship. He was appalled to find that the heresies of the Antinomians, Arminians, and Anabaptists had made sadder breaches in the ranks of Cromwell than the pikes of Jacob Astley, or the daggers of the roysterers who followed the mad charge of Rupert. Hastening back to Coventry, he called together his clerical brethren, and told them "the sad news of the corruption of the army." After much painful consideration of the matter, it was deemed best for Baxter to enter Cromwell's army, nominally as its chaplain, but really as the special representative of orthodoxy in politics and religion, against the democratic weavers and prophesying tailors who troubled it. He joined Whalley's regiment, and followed it through many a hot skirmish and siege. Personal fear was by no means one of Baxter's characteristics, and he bore himself through all with the coolness of an old campaigner. Intent upon his single object, he sat unmoved under the hail of cannon-shot from the walls of Bristol, confronted the well-plied culverins of Sherburne, charged side by side with Harrison upon Goring's musketeers at Langford, and heard the exulting thanksgiving of that grim enthusiast, when "with a loud voice he broke forth in praises of God, as one in rapture;" and marched, Bible in hand, with Cromwell himself, to the storming of Basing-House, so desperately defended by the Marquis of Winchester. In truth, these storms of outward conflict were to him of small moment. He was engaged in a sterner battle with spiritual principalities and powers, struggling with Satan himself in the guise of political levellers and Antinomian sowers of heresy. No antagonist was too high and none too low for him. Distrusting Cromwell, he sought to engage him in a discussion of certain points of abstract theology, wherein his soundness seemed questionable; but the wary chief baffled off the young disputant by tedious, unanswerable discourses about free grace, which Baxter admits were not unsavory to others, although the speaker himself had little understanding of the matter. At other times, he repelled his sad-visaged chaplain with unwelcome jests and rough, soldierly merriment; for he had "a vivacity, hilarity, and alacrity as another man hath when he hath taken a cup too much." Baxter says of him, complainingly, "he would not dispute with me at all." But, in the midst of such an army, he could not lack abundant opportunity for the exercise of his peculiar powers of argumentation. At Amersham, he had a sort of pitched battle with the contumacious soldiers. "When the public talking day came," says he, "I took the reading-pew, and Pitchford's cornet and troopers took the gallery. There did the leader of the Chesham men begin, and afterwards Pitchford's soldiers set in; and I alone disputed with them from morning until almost night; for I knew their trick, that if I had gone out first, they would have prated what boasting words they listed, and made the people believe that they had baffled me, or got the best; therefore I stayed it out till they first rose and went away." As usual in such cases, both parties claimed the victory. Baxter got thanks only from the King's adherents; "Pitchford's troops and the leader of the Chesham men" retired from their hard day's work, to enjoy the countenance and favor of Cromwell, as men after his own heart, faithful to the Houses and the Word, against kingcraft and prelacy.

Laughed at and held at arm's length by Cromwell, shunned by Harrison and Berry and other chief officers, opposed on all points by shrewd, earnest men, as ready for polemic controversy as for battle with the King's malignants, and who set off against his theological and metaphysical distinctions their own personal experiences and spiritual exercises, he had little to encourage him in his arduous labors. Alone in such a multitude, flushed with victory and glowing with religious enthusiasm, he earnestly begged his brother ministers to come to his aid. "If the army," said he, "had only ministers enough, who could have done such little as I did, all their plot might have been broken, and King, Parliament, and Religion might have been preserved." But no one volunteered to assist him, and the "plot" of revolution went on.

After Worcester fight he returned to Coventry, to make his report to the ministers assembled there. He told them of his labors and trials, of the growth of heresy and levelling principles in the army, and of the evident design of its leaders to pull down Church, King, and Ministers. He assured them that the day was at hand when all who were true to the King, Parliament, and Religion should come forth to oppose these leaders, and draw away their soldiers from them. For himself, he was willing to go back to the army, and labor there until the crisis of which he spoke had arrived. "Whereupon," says he, "they all voted me to go yet longer."

Fortunately for the cause of civil and religious freedom, the great body of the ministers, who disapproved of the ultraism of the victorious army, and sympathized with the defeated King, lacked the courage and devotedness of Baxter. Had they promptly seconded his efforts, although the restoration of the King might have been impossible at that late period, the horrors of civil war must have been greatly protracted. As it was, they preferred to remain at home, and let Baxter have the benefit of their prayers and good wishes. He returned to the army with the settled purpose, of causing its defection from Cromwell; but, by one of those dispensations which the latter used to call "births of Providence," he was stricken down with severe sickness. Baxter's own comments upon this passage in his life are not without interest. He says, God prevented his purposes in his last and chiefest opposition to the army; that he intended to take off or seduce from their officers the regiment with which he was connected, and then to have tried his persuasion upon the others. He says he afterwards found that his sickness was a mercy to himself, "for they were so strong and active, and I had been likely to have had small success in the attempt, and to have lost my life among them in their fury." He was right in this last conjecture; Oliver Cromwell would have had no scruples in making an example of a plotting priest; and "Pitchford's soldiers" might have been called upon to silence, with their muskets, the tough disputant who was proof against their tongues.

After a long and dubious illness, Baxter was so far restored as to be able to go back to his old parish at Kidderminster. Here, under the Protectorate of Cromwell, he remained in the full enjoyment of that religious liberty which he still stoutly condemned in its application to others.

He afterwards candidly admits, that, under the "Usurper," as he styles Cromwell, "he had such liberty and advantage to preach the Gospel with success, as he could not have under a King, to whom he had sworn and performed true subjection and obedience." Yet this did not prevent him from preaching and printing, "seasonably and moderately," against the Protector. "I declared," said he, "Cromwell and his adherents to be guilty of treason and rebellion, aggravated by perfidiousness and hypocrisy. But yet I did not think it my duty to rave against him in the pulpit, or to do this so unseasonably and imprudently as might irritate him to mischief. And the rather, because, as he kept up his approbation of a godly life in general, and of all that was good, except that which the interest of his sinful cause engaged him to be against. So I perceived that it was his design to do good in the main, and to promote the Gospel and the interests of godliness more than any had done before him."

Cromwell, if he heard of his diatribes against him, appears to have cared little for them. Lords Warwick and Broghill, on one occasion, brought him to preach before the Lord Protector. He seized the occasion to preach against the sentries, to condemn all who countenanced them, and to advocate the unity of the Church. Soon after, he was sent for by Cromwell, who made "a long and tedious speech" in the presence of three of his chief men, (one of whom, General Lambert, fell asleep the while,) asserting that God had owned his government in a signal manner. Baxter boldly replied to him, that he and his friends regarded the ancient monarchy as a blessing, and not an evil, and begged to know how that blessing was forfeited to England, and to whom that forfeiture was made. Cromwell, with some heat, made answer that it was no forfeiture, but that God had made the change. They afterwards held a long conference with respect to freedom of conscience, Cromwell defending his liberal policy, and Baxter opposing it. No one can read Baxter's own account of these interviews, without being deeply impressed with the generous and magnanimous spirit of the Lord Protector in tolerating the utmost freedom of speech on the part of one who openly denounced him as a traitor and usurper. Real greatness of mind could alone have risen above personal resentment under such circumstances of peculiar aggravation.

In the death of the Protector, the treachery of Monk, and the restoration of the King, Baxter and his Presbyterian friends believed that they saw the hand of a merciful Providence preparing the way for the best good of England and the Church. Always royalists, they had acted with the party opposed to the King from necessity rather than choice. Considering all that followed, one can scarcely avoid smiling over the extravagant jubilations of the Presbyterian divines, on the return of the royal debauchee to Whitehall. They hurried up to London with congratulations of formidable length and papers of solemn advice and counsel, to all which the careless monarch listened, with what patience he was master of. Baxter was one of the first to present himself at Court, and it is creditable to his heart rather than his judgment and discrimination that he seized the occasion to offer a long address to the King, expressive of his expectation that his Majesty would discountenance all sin and promote godliness, support the true exercise of Church discipline and cherish and hold up the hands of the faithful ministers of the Church. To all which Charles II. "made as gracious an answer as we could expect," says Baxter, "insomuch that old Mr. Ash burst out into tears of joy." Who doubts that the profligate King avenged himself as soon as the backs of his unwelcome visitors were fairly turned, by coarse jests and ribaldry, directed against a class of men whom he despised and hated, but towards whom reasons of policy dictated a show of civility and kindness?

There is reason to believe that Charles II., had he been able to effect his purpose, would have gone beyond Cromwell himself in the matter of religious toleration; in other words, he would have taken, in the outset of his reign, the very steps which cost his successor his crown, and procured the toleration of Catholics by a declaration of universal freedom in religion. But he was not in a situation to brave the opposition alike of Prelacy and Presbyterianism, and foiled in a scheme to which he was prompted by that vague, superstitious predilection for the Roman Catholic religion which at times struggled with his habitual scepticism, his next object was to rid himself of the importunities of sentries and the trouble of religious controversies by reestablishing the liturgy, and bribing or enforcing conformity to it on the part of the Presbyterians. The history of the successful execution of this purpose is familiar to all the readers of the plausible pages of Clarendon on the one side, or the complaining treatises of Neal and Calamy on the other.

Charles and his advisers triumphed, not so much through their own art, dissimulation, and bad faith as through the blind bigotry, divided counsels, and self-seeking of the Nonconformists. Seduction on one hand and threats on the other, the bribe of bishoprics, hatred of Independents and Quakers, and the terror of penal laws, broke the strength of Presbyterianism.

Baxter's whole conduct, on this occasion, bears testimony to his honesty and sincerity, while it shows him to have been too intolerant to secure his own religious freedom at the price of toleration for Catholics, Quakers, and Anabaptists; and too blind in his loyalty to perceive that pure and undefiled Christianity had nothing to hope for from a scandalous and depraved King, surrounded by scoffing, licentious courtiers and a haughty, revengeful prelacy. To secure his influence, the Court offered him the bishopric of Hereford. Superior to personal considerations, he declined the honor; but somewhat inconsistently, in his zeal for the interests of his party, he urged the elevation of at least three of his Presbyterian friends to the Episcopal bench, to enforce that very liturgy which they condemned. He was the chief speaker for the Presbyterians at the famous Savoy Conference, summoned to advise and consult upon the Book of Common Prayer. His antagonist was Dr. Gunning, ready, fluent, and impassioned. "They spent," as Gilbert Burnet says, "several days in logical arguing, to the diversion of the town, who looked upon them as a couple of fencers, engaged in a discussion which could not be brought to an end." In themselves considered, many of the points at issue seem altogether too trivial for the zeal with which Baxter contested them,— the form of a surplice, the wording of a prayer, kneeling at sacrament, the sign of the cross, etc. With him, however, they were of momentous interest and importance, as things unlawful in the worship of God. He struggled desperately, but unavailingly. Presbyterianism, in its eagerness for peace and union and a due share of State support, had already made fatal concessions, and it was too late to stand upon non- essentials. Baxter retired from the conference baffled and defeated, amidst murmurs and jests. "If you had only been as fat as Dr. Manton," said Clarendon to him, "you would have done well."

The Act of Conformity, in which Charles II. and his counsellors gave the lie to the liberal declarations of Breda and Whitehall, drove Baxter from his sorrowing parishioners of Kidderminster, and added the evils of poverty and persecution to the painful bodily infirmities under which he was already bowed down. Yet his cup was not one of unalloyed bitterness, and loving lips were prepared to drink it with him.

Among Baxter's old parishioners of Kidderminster was a widowed lady of gentle birth, named Charlton, who, with her daughter Margaret, occupied a house in his neighborhood. The daughter was a brilliant girl, of "strangely vivid wit," and "in early youth," he tells us, "pride, and romances, and company suitable thereunto, did take her up." But erelong, Baxter, who acted in the double capacity of spiritual and temporal physician, was sent for to visit her, on an occasion of sickness. He ministered to her bodily and mental sufferings, and thus secured her gratitude and confidence. On her recovery, under the influence of his warnings and admonitions, the gay young girl became thoughtful and serious, abandoned her light books and companions, and devoted herself to the duties of a Christian profession. Baxter was her counsellor and confidant. She disclosed to him all her doubts, trials, and temptations, and he, in return, wrote her long letters of sympathy, consolation, and encouragement. He began to feel such an unwonted interest in the moral and spiritual growth of his young disciple, that, in his daily walks among his parishioners, he found himself inevitably drawn towards her mother's dwelling. In her presence, the habitual austerity of his manner was softened; his cold, close heart warmed and expanded. He began to repay her confidence with his own, disclosing to her all his plans of benevolence, soliciting her services, and waiting, with deference, for her judgment upon them. A change came over his habits of thought and his literary tastes; the harsh, rude disputant, the tough, dry logician, found himself addressing to his young friend epistles in verse on doctrinal points and matters of casuistry; Westminster Catechism in rhyme; the Solemn League and Covenant set to music. A miracle alone could have made Baxter a poet; the cold, clear light of reason "paled the ineffectual fires" of his imagination; all things presented themselves to his vision "with hard outlines, colorless, and with no surrounding atmosphere." That he did, nevertheless, write verses, so creditable as to justify a judicious modern critic in their citation and approval, can perhaps be accounted for only as one of the phenomena of that subtle and transforming influence to which even his stern nature was unconsciously yielding. Baxter was in love.

Never did the blind god try his archery on a more unpromising subject. Baxter was nearly fifty years of age, and looked still older. His life had been one long fast and penance. Even in youth he had never known a schoolboy's love for cousin or playmate. He had resolutely closed up his heart against emotions which he regarded as the allurements of time and sense. He had made a merit of celibacy, and written and published against the entanglement of godly ministers in matrimonial engagements and family cares. It is questionable whether he now understood his own case, or attributed to its right cause the peculiar interest which he felt in Margaret Charlton. Left to himself, it is more than probable that he might never have discovered the true nature of that interest, or conjectured that anything whatever of earthly passion or sublunary emotion had mingled with his spiritual Platonism. Commissioned and set apart to preach repentance to dying men, penniless and homeless, worn with bodily pain and mental toil, and treading, as he believed, on the very margin of his grave, what had he to do with love? What power had he to inspire that tender sentiment, the appropriate offspring only of youth, and health, and beauty?

                   "Could any Beatrice see
                    A lover in such anchorite!"

But in the mean time a reciprocal feeling was gaining strength in the heart of Margaret. To her grateful appreciation of the condescension of a great and good man—grave, learned, and renowned—to her youth and weakness, and to her enthusiastic admiration of his intellectual powers, devoted to the highest and holiest objects, succeeded naturally enough the tenderly suggestive pity of her woman's heart, as she thought of his lonely home, his unshared sorrows, his lack of those sympathies and kindnesses which make tolerable the hard journey of life. Did she not owe to him, under God, the salvation of body and mind? Was he not her truest and most faithful friend, entering with lively interest into all her joys and sorrows? Had she not seen the cloud of his habitual sadness broken by gleams of sunny warmth and cheerfulness, as they conversed together? Could she do better than devote herself to the pleasing task of making his life happier, of comforting him in seasons of pain and weariness, encouraging him in his vast labors, and throwing over the cold and hard austerities of his nature the warmth and light of domestic affection? Pity, reverence, gratitude, and womanly tenderness, her fervid imagination and the sympathies of a deeply religious nature, combined to influence her decision. Disparity of age and condition rendered it improbable that Baxter would ever venture to address her in any other capacity than that of a friend and teacher; and it was left to herself to give the first intimation of the possibility of a more intimate relation.

It is easy to imagine with what mixed feelings of joy, surprise, and perplexity Baxter must have received the delicate avowal. There was much in the circumstances of the case to justify doubt, misgiving, and close searchings of heart. He must have felt the painful contrast which that fair girl in the bloom of her youth presented to the worn man of middle years, whose very breath was suffering, and over whom death seemed always impending. Keenly conscious of his infirmities of temper, he must have feared for the happiness of a loving, gentle being, daily exposed to their manifestations. From his well-known habit of consulting what he regarded as the divine will in every important step of his life, there can be no doubt that his decision was the result quite as much of a prayerful and patient consideration of duty as of the promptings of his heart. Richard Baxter was no impassioned Abelard; his pupil in the school of his severe and self-denying piety was no Heloise; but what their union lacked in romantic interest was compensated by its purity and disinterestedness, and its sanction by all that can hallow human passion, and harmonize the love of the created with the love and service of the Creator.

Although summoned by a power which it would have been folly to resist, the tough theologian did not surrender at discretion. "From the first thoughts yet many changes and stoppages intervened, and long delays," he tells us. The terms upon which he finally capitulated are perfectly in keeping with his character. "She consented," he says, "to three conditions of our marriage. 1st. That I should have nothing that before our marriage was hers; that I, who wanted no earthly supplies, might not seem to marry her from selfishness. 2d. That she would so alter her affairs that I might be entangled in no lawsuits. 3d. That she should expect none of my time which my ministerial work should require."

As was natural, the wits of the Court had their jokes upon this singular marriage; and many of his best friends regretted it, when they called to mind what he had written in favor of ministerial celibacy, at a time when, as he says, "he thought to live and die a bachelor." But Baxter had no reason to regret the inconsistency of his precept and example. How much of the happiness of the next twenty years of his life resulted from his union with a kind and affectionate woman he has himself testified, in his simple and touching Breviate of the Life of the late Mrs. Baxter. Her affections were so ardent that her husband confesses his fear that he was unable to make an adequate return, and that she must have been disappointed in him in consequence. He extols her pleasant conversation, her active benevolence, her disposition to aid him in all his labors, and her noble forgetfulness of self, in ministering to his comfort, in sickness and imprisonment. "She was the meetest helper I could have had in the world," is his language. "If I spoke harshly or sharply, it offended her. If I carried it (as I am apt) with too much negligence of ceremony or humble compliment to any, she would modestly tell me of it. If my looks seemed not pleasant, she would have me amend them (which my weak, pained state of body indisposed me to do)." He admits she had her failings, but, taken as a whole, the Breviate is an exalted eulogy.

His history from this time is marked by few incidents of a public character. During that most disgraceful period in the annals of England, the reign of the second Charles, his peculiar position exposed him to the persecutions of prelacy and the taunts and abuse of the sentries, standing as he did between these extremes, and pleading for a moderate Episcopacy. He was between the upper millstone of High Church and the nether one of Dissent. To use his own simile, he was like one who seeks to fill with his hand a cleft in a log, and feels both sides close upon him with pain. All parties and sects had, as they thought, grounds of complaint against him. There was in him an almost childish simplicity of purpose, a headlong earnestness and eagerness, which did not allow him to consider how far a present act or opinion harmonized with what he had already done or written. His greatest admirers admit his lack of judgment, his inaptitude for the management of practical matters. His utter incapacity to comprehend rightly the public men and measures of his day is abundantly apparent; and the inconsistencies of his conduct and his writings are too marked to need comment. He suffered persecution for not conforming to some trifling matters of Church usage, while he advocated the doctrine of passive obedience to the King or ruling power, and the right of that power to enforce conformity. He wrote against conformity while himself conforming; seceded from the Church, and yet held stated communion with it; begged for the curacy of Kidderminster, and declined the bishopric of Hereford. His writings were many of them directly calculated to make Dissenters from the Establishment, but he was invariably offended to find others practically influenced by them, and quarrelled with his own converts to Dissent. The High Churchmen of Oxford burned his Holy Commonwealth as seditious and revolutionary; while Harrington and the republican club of Miles's Coffee House condemned it for its hostility to democracy and its servile doctrine of obedience to kings. He made noble pleas for liberty of conscience and bitterly complained of his own suffering from Church courts, yet maintained the necessity of enforcing conformity, and stoutly opposed the tolerant doctrines of Penn and Milton. Never did a great and good man so entangle himself with contradictions and inconsistencies. The witty and wicked Sir Roger L'Estrange compiled from the irreconcilable portions of his works a laughable Dialogue between Richard and Baxter. The Antinomians found him guilty of Socinianism; and one noted controversialist undertook to show, not without some degree of plausibility, that he was by turns a Quaker and a Papist!

Although able to suspend his judgment and carefully weigh evidence, upon matters which he regarded as proper subjects of debate and scrutiny, he possessed the power to shut out and banish at will all doubt and misgiving in respect to whatever tended to prove, illustrate, or enforce his settled opinions and cherished doctrines. His credulity at times seems boundless. Hating the Quakers, and prepared to believe all manner of evil of them, be readily came to the conclusion that their leaders were disguised Papists. He maintained that Lauderdale was a good and pious man, in spite of atrocities in Scotland which entitle him to a place with Claverhouse; and indorsed the character of the infamous Dangerfield, the inventor of the Meal-tub Plot, as a worthy convert from popish errors. To prove the existence of devils and spirits, he collected the most absurd stories and old-wives' fables, of soldiers scared from their posts at night by headless bears, of a young witch pulling the hooks out of Mr. Emlen's breeches and swallowing them, of Mr. Beacham's locomotive tobacco-pipe, and the Rev. Mr. Munn's jumping Bible, and of a drunken man punished for his intemperance by being lifted off his legs by an invisible hand! Cotton Mather's marvellous account of his witch experiments in New England delighted him. He had it republished, declaring that "he must be an obstinate Sadducee who doubted it."

The married life of Baxter, as might be inferred from the state of the times, was an unsettled one. He first took a house at Moorfields, then removed to Acton, where he enjoyed the conversation of his neighbor, Sir Matthew Hale; from thence he found refuge in Rickmansworth, and after that in divers other places. "The women have most of this trouble," he remarks, "but my wife easily bore it all." When unable to preach, his rapid pen was always busy. Huge folios of controversial and doctrinal lore followed each other in quick succession. He assailed Popery and the Establishment, Anabaptists, ultra Calvinists, Antinomians, Fifth Monarchy men, and Quakers. His hatred of the latter was only modified by his contempt. He railed rather than argued against the "miserable creatures," as he styled them. They in turn answered him in like manner. "The Quakers," he says, "in their shops, when I go along London streets, say, 'Alas' poor man, thou art yet in darkness.' They have oft come to the congregation, when I had liberty to preach Christ's Gospel, and cried out against me as a deceiver of the people. They have followed me home, crying out in the streets, 'The day of the Lord is coming, and thou shalt perish as a deceiver.' They have stood in the market-place, and under my window, year after year, crying to the people, 'Take heed of your priests, they deceive your souls;' and if any one wore a lace or neat clothing, they cried out to me, 'These are the fruits of your ministry.'"

At Rickmansworth, he found himself a neighbor of William Penn, whom he calls "the captain of the Quakers." Ever ready for battle, Baxter encountered him in a public discussion, with such fierceness and bitterness as to force from that mild and amiable civilian the remark, that he would rather be Socrates at the final judgment than Richard Baxter. Both lived to know each other better, and to entertain sentiments of mutual esteem. Baxter himself admits that the Quakers, by their perseverance in holding their religious meetings in defiance of penal laws, took upon themselves the burden of persecution which would otherwise have fallen upon himself and his friends; and makes special mention of the noble and successful plea of Penn before the Recorder's Court in London, based on the fundamental liberties of Englishmen and the rights of the Great Charter.

The intolerance of Baxter towards the Separatists was turned against him whenever he appealed to the King and Parliament against the proscription of himself and his friends. "They gathered," he complains, "out of mine and other men's books all that we had said against liberty for Popery and Quakers railing against ministers in open congregation, and applied it as against the toleration of ourselves." It was in vain that he explained that he was only in favor of a gentle coercion of dissent, a moderate enforcement of conformity. His plan for dealing with sentries reminds one of old Isaak Walton's direction to his piscatorial readers, to impale the frog on the hook as gently as if they loved him.

While at Acton, he was complained of by Dr. Ryves, the rector, one of the King's chaplains in ordinary, for holding religious services in his family with more than five strangers present. He was cast into Clerkenwell jail, whither his faithful wife followed him. On his discharge, he sought refuge in the hamlet of Totteridge, where he wrote and published that Paraphrase on the New Testament which was made the ground of his prosecution and trial before Jeffreys.

On the 14th of the sixth month, 1681, he was called to endure the greatest affliction of his life. His wife died on that day, after a brief illness. She who had been his faithful friend, companion, and nurse for twenty years was called away from him in the time of his greatest need of her ministrations. He found consolation in dwelling on her virtues and excellences in the Breviate of her life; "a paper monument," he says, "erected by one who is following her even at the door in some passion indeed of love and grief." In the preface to his poetical pieces he alludes to her in terms of touching simplicity and tenderness: "As these pieces were mostly written in various passions, so passion hath now thrust them out into the world. God having taken away the dear companion of the last nineteen years of my life, as her sorrows and sufferings long ago gave being to some of these poems, for reasons, which the world is not concerned to know; so my grief for her removal, and the revival of the sense of former things, have prevailed upon me to be passionate in the sight of all."

The circumstances of his trial before the judicial monster, Jeffreys, are too well known to justify their detail in this sketch. He was sentenced to pay a fine of five hundred marks. Seventy years of age, and reduced to poverty by former persecutions, he was conveyed to the King's Bench prison. Here for two years he lay a victim to intense bodily suffering. When, through the influence of his old antagonist, Penn, he was restored to freedom, he was already a dying man. But he came forth from prison as he entered it, unsubdued in spirit.

Urged to sign a declaration of thanks to James II., his soul put on the athletic habits of youth, and he stoutly refused to commend an act of toleration which had given freedom not to himself alone, but to Papists and sentries. Shaking off the dust of the Court from his feet, he retired to a dwelling in Charter-House Square, near his friend Sylvester's, and patiently awaited his deliverance. His death was quiet and peaceful. "I have pain," he said to his friend Mather; "there is no arguing against sense; but I have peace. I have peace." On being asked how he did, he answered, in memorable words, "Almost well!"

He was buried in Christ Church, where the remains of his wife and her mother had been placed. An immense concourse attended his funeral, of all ranks and parties. Conformist and Non-conformist forgot the bitterness of the controversialist, and remembered only the virtues and the piety of the man. Looking back on his life of self-denial and faithfulness to apprehended duty, the men who had persecuted him while living wept over his grave. During the last few years of his life, the severity of his controversial tone had been greatly softened; he lamented his former lack of charity, the circle of his sympathies widened, his social affections grew stronger with age, and love for his fellow-men universally, and irrespective of religious differences, increased within him. In his Narrative, written in the long, cool shadows of the evening of life, he acknowledges with extraordinary candor this change in his views and feelings. He confesses his imperfections as a writer and public teacher.

"I wish," he says, "all over-sharp passages were expunged from my writings, and I ask forgiveness of God and man." He tells us that mankind appear more equal to him; the good are not so good as he once thought, nor the bad so evil; and that in all there is more for grace to make advantage of, and more to testify for God and holiness, than he once believed. "I less admire," he continues, "gifts of utterance, and the bare profession of religion, than I once did, and have now much more charity for those who, by want of gifts, do make an obscurer profession."

He laments the effects of his constitutional irritability and impatience upon his social intercourse and his domestic relations, and that his bodily infirmities did not allow him a free expression of the tenderness and love of his heart. Who does not feel the pathos and inconsolable regret which dictated the following paragraph?

"When God forgiveth me, I cannot forgive myself, especially for my rash words and deeds by which I have seemed injurious and less tender and kind than I should have been to my near and dear relations, whose love abundantly obliged me. When such are dead, though we never differed in point of interest or any other matter, every sour or cross or provoking word which I gave them maketh me almost irreconcilable to myself, and tells me how repentance brought some of old to pray to the dead whom they had wronged to forgive them, in the hurry of their passion."

His pride as a logician and skilful disputant abated in the latter and better portion of his life he had more deference to the judgment of others, and more distrust of his own. "You admire," said he to a correspondent who had lauded his character, "one you do not know; knowledge will cure your error." In his Narrative he writes: "I am much more sensible than heretofore of the breadth and length and depth of the radical, universal, odious sin of selfishness, and therefore have written so much against it; and of the excellency and necessity of self-denial and of a public mind, and of loving our neighbors as ourselves." Against many difficulties and discouragements, both within himself and in his outward circumstances, he strove to make his life and conversation an expression of that Christian love whose root, as he has said with equal truth and beauty, "is set

               In humble self-denial, undertrod,
               While flower and fruit are growing up to God."

Of the great mass of his writings, more voluminous than those of any author of his time, it would ill become us to speak with confidence. We are familiar only with some of the best of his practical works, and our estimate of the vast and appalling series of his doctrinal, metaphysical and controversial publications would be entitled to small weight, as the result of very cursory examination. Many of them relate to obsolete questions and issues, monumental of controversies long dead, and of disputatious doctors otherwise forgotten. Yet, in respect to even these, we feel justified in assenting to the opinion of one abundantly capable of appreciating the character of Baxter as a writer. "What works of Mr. Baxter shall I read?" asked Boswell of Dr. Johnson. "Read any of them," was the answer, "for they are all good." He has left upon all the impress of his genius. Many of them contain sentiments which happily find favor with few in our time: philosophical and psychological disquisitions, which look oddly enough in the light of the intellectual progress of nearly two centuries; dissertations upon evil spirits, ghosts, and witches, which provoke smiles at the good man's credulity; but everywhere we find unmistakable evidences of his sincerity and earnest love of truth. He wrote under a solemn impression of duty, allowing neither pain, nor weakness, nor the claims of friendship, nor the social enjoyments of domestic affection, to interfere with his sleepless intensity of purpose. He stipulated with his wife, before marriage, that she should not expect him to relax, even for her society, the severity of his labors. He could ill brook interruption, and disliked the importunity of visitors. "We are afraid, sir, we break in upon your time," said some of his callers to him upon one occasion. "To be sure you do," was his answer. His seriousness seldom forsook him; there is scarce a gleam of gayety in all his one hundred and sixty-eight volumes. He seems to have relished, however, the wit of others, especially when directed against what he looked upon as error. Marvell's inimitable reply to the High-Church pretensions of Parker fairly overcame his habitual gravity, and he several times alludes to it with marked satisfaction; but, for himself, he had no heart for pleasentry. His writings, like his sermons, were the earnest expostulations of a dying man with dying men. He tells us of no other amusement or relaxation than the singing of psalms. "Harmony and melody," said he, "are the pleasure and elevation of my soul. It was not the least comfort that I had in the converse of my late dear wife, that our first act in the morning and last in bed at night was a psalm of praise."

It has been fashionable to speak of Baxter as a champion of civil and religious freedom. He has little claim to such a reputation. He was the stanch advocate of monarchy, and of the right and duty of the State to enforce conformity to what he regarded as the essentials of religious belief and practice. No one regards the prelates who went to the Tower, under James II., on the ground of conscientious scruples against reading the King's declaration of toleration to Dissenters, as martyrs in the cause of universal religious freedom. Nor can Baxter, although he wrote much against the coercion and silencing of godly ministers, and suffered imprisonment himself for the sake of a good conscience, be looked upon in the light of an intelligent and consistent confessor of liberty. He did not deny the abstract right of ecclesiastical coercion, but complained of its exercise upon himself and his friends as unwarranted and unjust.

One of the warmest admirers and ablest commentators of Baxter designates the leading and peculiar trait of his character as unearthliness. In our view, this was its radical defect. He had too little of humanity, he felt too little of the attraction of this world, and lived too exclusively in the spiritual and the unearthly, for a full and healthful development of his nature as a man, or of the graces, charities, and loves of the Christian. He undervalued the common blessings and joys of life, and closed his eyes and ears against the beauty and harmony of outward nature. Humanity, in itself considered, seemed of small moment to him; "passing away" was written alike on its wrongs and its rights, its pleasures and its pains; death would soon level all distinctions; and the sorrows or the joys, the poverty or the riches, the slavery or the liberty, of the brief day of its probation seemed of too little consequence to engage his attention and sympathies. Hence, while he was always ready to minister to temporal suffering wherever it came to his notice, he made no efforts to remove its political or social causes. In this respect he differed widely from some of his illustrious contemporaries. Penn, while preaching up and down the land, and writing theological folios and pamphlets, could yet urge the political rights of Englishmen, mount the hustings for Algernon Sydney, and plead for unlimited religious liberty; and Vane, while dreaming of a coming millennium and reign of the saints, and busily occupied in defending his Antinomian doctrines, could at the same time vindicate, with tongue and pen, the cause of civil and religious freedom. But Baxter overlooked the evils and oppressions which were around him, and forgot the necessities and duties of the world of time and sense in his earnest aspirations towards the world of spirits. It is by no means an uninstructive fact, that with the lapse of years his zeal for proselytism, doctrinal disputations, and the preaching of threats and terrors visibly declined, while love for his fellow-men and catholic charity greatly increased, and he was blessed with a clearer perception of the truth that God is best served through His suffering children, and that love and reverence for visible humanity is an indispensable condition of the appropriate worship of the Unseen God.

But, in taking leave of Richard Baxter, our last words must not be those of censure. Admiration and reverence become us rather. He was an honest man. So far as we can judge, his motives were the highest and best which can influence human action. He had faults and weaknesses, and committed grave errors, but we are constrained to believe that the prayer with which he closes his Saints' Rest and which we have chosen as the fitting termination of our article, was the earnest aspiration of his life:—

"O merciful Father of Spirits! suffer not the soul of thy unworthy servant to be a stranger to the joys which he describes to others, but keep me while I remain on earth in daily breathing after thee, and in a believing affectionate walking with thee! Let those who shall read these pages not merely read the fruits of my studies, but the breathing of my active hope and love; that if my heart were open to their view, they might there read thy love most deeply engraven upon it with a beam from the face of the Son of God; and not find vanity or lust or pride within where the words of life appear without, that so these lines may not witness against me, but, proceeding from the heart of the writer, be effectual through thy grace upon the heart of the reader, and so be the savor of life to both."