Seventeenth-Century Preachers. An unsigned review of English Preachers and Preaching: 1640-1670, by Caroline Francis Richardson
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470 ] Seventeenth-Century Preachers An unsigned review of English Preachers and Preaching: 1640-1670, by Caroline Francis Richardson London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; New York: Macmillan, 1928. Pp. xii + 359. The Times Literary Supplement, 1383 (2 Aug 1928) 560 Miss Richardson has hit upon an extremely interesting subject, and has written a book which is crowded with curious information.1 She is not concerned with any of the great divines of the seventeenth century, nor is her book a study in theology at all. It is rather a study of the social aspects and relations of the ordinary preacher of those times: his training in composition of sermons, the attitude of his public, his secular interests, his social position. It is true that during the reigns of Charles I and Charles II, and during theCommonwealth,preaching,asMissRichardsonsays,“filledanimportant place in men’s thoughts” [48]. We are apt to think that the Commonwealth provided no other diversion than preaching, and that on the other hand the Restoration was a universal debauch.2 It is interesting to learn that the popularity of preaching seems to have continued unabated and that people went as readily to hear ministers of the Established Church as they had to hear Presbyterians or Independents. Whatever other pleasures were available , the sermon continued to draw. It was, of course, by no means a pure zeal for righteousness or a speculative curiosity in the finer points of theology that attracted the public, and there is no reason for supposing the averagemanorwomanoftheseventeenthcenturytohavebeenmorereligiously minded than the man or woman of any other epoch. Indeed, apart from remarkable individuals and particular waves of excitement, one period of history differs less from another, in degree of religious feeling, than we sometimes suppose. But the seventeenth century was not merely an age of religiouscontroversyandwarfare ,itwasanageinwhichreligious(orsectarian) passions and political passions were inextricably involved. Religious affairs affected everybody, though not necessarily in a religious way. And the spoken sermon had for many an interest later assumed by the political speech. [ 471 Seventeenth-Century Preachers Miss Richardson has much interesting information about the training for the ministry. Although elocution and pulpit delivery were not directly taught, they were precious attainments, and the apt pupil had much experience both at school and at the university. Schoolboys received some training in debating and in the preparation (if not the delivery) of orations according to the rules of rhetoric. The boys were expected to keep commonplace books of forceful phrases and striking images with which to adorn their address. Hoole, in his New Discovery of the Old Art of Teaching School, recommended that boys should “exercise themselves in Anagrams, Epigrams, Epitaphs,Epithalamias,Eclogues,andAcrosticks,English,Latine,Greek,and Hebrew.”3 There were many more advanced treatises for the use of university students. As Miss Richardson says: In his childhood, therefore, a youth was specifically trained towards the acquirement of a dexterity in vocabulary and the use of a variety of illustrations . It is evident that a dull or lazy preacher could find much assistance in his own or anyone else’s grammar school exercise books, for there ready to his hand would be a wealth of imagery and philosophy. [5-6] Antiquated as the methods seem, there is much to commend them; there is no doubt that training in public speech, which implies training in the ordering of thought, is a training also for the writing of good prose. An immense number of dull sermons must have been delivered, but also a considerable number of lively ones. In many directions Miss Richardson’s researches and accumulations tend to show that the ordinary minister (both Established and Nonconformist) was very much like the ordinary minister of to-day. As a class, they were educated men; as a class, they had some difficulty in obtaining social recognition ; as a class, they were poorly paid; as a class, they had other interests outside of the Church. They pursued investigations into archaeology, dead and foreign languages, science, law and the arts, or farmed and pursued active sports. Miss Richardson ends with the observation: Professionally, these men were ministers; many of them were theologians. Personally, they were like other educated persons in their day, or ours. To understand any one of them, his beliefs or his behaviour, it is necessary to realize what a close resemblance that man bears to any one of us. [304] But her books tells us much more than this: it is a very interesting addition to the social...