Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

dame called, "Hannah the Prophetess," while at the same time it could boast of " A Ladies' University.” Hackney, too, we have the best evidence for believing, early became a centre of Nonconformity, or rather of Puritan influence. Philip Nye, who occupies a conspicuous nitch in the temple of Hudibras

“ With greater art and cunning reared

Than Philip Nye's thanksgiving beard" — was a preacher here soon after the setting of that bright occidental star, Queen Elizabeth.” Then, when political and religious troubles rent and perplexed the nation, and when the misdeeds of the monarch had provoked lovers of peace into becoming amateurs in war, the rector of Hackney, Calybute Downing, stood forth as one of the boldest advocates of armed resistance to royal encroachments. Even during the last seventy years, relics have been preserved in this district of seventeeuth century revolutions. Formerly the High-street contained a quaint dwelling called Barber's Barn, once the residence of John Okey the regicide, who after rising from the grade of a common brewer into occupying a proud political station under the Commonwealth, forfeited bis life at the Restoration. Nor must we omit mentioning good old William Spurstow, the Puritan rector of the village in the days of the Westminster Assembly, of which learned conclave he was an active member. While the alarm of war swept over town and village, to trouble hall and cottage alike, the Commons were wont to profit by the sober addresses of the Hackney pastor ; and for a season, Hampden's regiment was instructed from his lips on matters touching a higher warfare than that of curbing the selfish passions of earthly kings. On the site of the old town-hall stood " The Church Howse," or rectory, whither Richard Baxter occasionally retired for holy converse and quiet retirement. Hackney, moreover, became the last earthly home of Timothy Hall, a notable victim of the kingcraft which provoked the Revolution. Being one of the few courtiers who consented to read the royal Indulgence of 1687, King James rewarded him with a bishopric, wbich public opinion would not allow him to appropriate. What the hamlet appeared like on each returning Sabbath, in these interesting times, we partially learn from Pepys' Diary. The fine music which was incorporated with the weekly service at the parish church drew crowds of idlers; and a large proportion of the population being composed of the youth of well-to-do families, they presented a pleasing appearance both when enlivening the thoroughfares, or when assembled in the church. When the fathers of Puritanism had departed to their reward, Hackney retained much of its literary pre-eminence. Here the laborious historian John Strype ended his days in 1737, after having administered the Lord's Supper to his parishioners at Low Leyton on sixty-six consecutive Christmas-days. During the eighteenth century the suburb continued to be a favourite resort of Nonconformists. Time, however, would fail were we to recount the list of worthies whose life-work and holy example some local Fuller may one day profitably commemorate. As mere literary names we might mention Robert Fleming, a celebrated writer on the Revelation, in the days of William the Third ; and Richard Price, and Andrew Kippis, to say nothing of the family of

Cromwell, who all graced with their presence the town which gave a name to Hackney coaches.

But we pass onward to the subject with which we are chiefly concerned, Matthew Henry, the last years of whose ministry were spent in this old suburb. Nevertheless, before speaking particularly of the commentator, it will be well briefly to show how the path was opened for his settlement in a London hamlet.

It happened fortunately that when William Bates, whom his contemporaries called “The Silver-tongued," was deprived of his cure in the city by the Act of Uniformity, he found a congenial sphere of labour in Hackney. The church still assembling at St. Thomas's-square was planted by Dr. Bates. This amiable man, whose writings are still highly esteemed by the best judges, was son of a physician in good practice, and who was therefore enabled to aid the gifts of his son to the utmost by means of a valuable education. Those old Puritans, who in the civil war time, were privileged to listen to the earliest addresses of this Cambridge student, were able to discover that the future would see him occupy a distinguished position. To say nothing of his learning and abilities, his personal bearing and pleasing expression of countenance, told sufficiently in his favour to ensure his rising high in the good esteem of London citizens, whom he ably served in the pulpit of St. Dunstan’s-in-the-West. A successful preacher, Bates avoided written notes in public, though none more assiduously prepared their discourses in private. His natural kindliness of disposition drew out his sympathy for inexperienced youth, till many needy students became indebted to his advice and more substantial assistance. Like too many of his brother Presbyterians, Bates befriended the exiled royal family by aiding the Restoration, and like them found himself neglected, or even persecuted when that Restoration was consummated. He not only lived to win the love of the great and good, but he might have accepted an influential and lucrative position in the Established Church had conscience permitted his conforming. Inheriting a classic taste, he amassed a large collection of books which happily are preserved for posterity in Dr. Williams's Library. His great influence was exerted to support the right, and to disperse the ignorance, which then in a more lamentable manner than now hung as a blight over the moral universe. His eloquent sermons at the Merchants' Lectureship attracted large and admiring audiences. As a friend he

was outspoken and steadfast. He once rebuked Episcopal rudeness to Baxter at the Savoy Conference, and he stood by the same persecuted brother, when, worn by age and weakened by disease he was assailed by the savage ribaldry of Jeffreys. Then at length, when Bates himself was growing old, he retired to Hackney, and securing a group of old-fashioned buildings, he transformed them into a meeting-house, which served the church he gathered for or about eighty years; and through that period it was regarded by the Dissenters as a leading chapel of the English Presbyterians. Bates was the intimate friend of King William, and his chastely written treatises were among the choicest literary entertainment of Queen Mary. Such was the greatest predecessor of Matthew Henry at Hackney, the commentator having been immediately preceded by Robert Billio, whose life was cut short by disease in 1710.

[graphic]

It happened soon after the death of their pastor Robert Billio, that the Hackney Dissenters succeeded in forming a connection with Matthew Henry. On the death of Dr. Bates, eleven years before, a similar attempt had proved unsuccessful. As most readers are aware, the great commentator was the son of a scarcely less distinguished father. Henry's birth, his biographers suppose, was premature-a result of the inconvenience the family suffered on leaving their vicarage in the troublous Bartholomew of 1662. Matthew early manifested strong inclinations for diligently acquiring knowledge. His excellent mother occasionally supposed it necessary to entice him from books and seclusion by sending him into the fields for a comfortable ramble. After the preparatory grammar learning of home tutors was digested, the little Puritan eagerly appropriated such knowledge as good Mr. Turner, a near neighbour, could impart. The instructions of this judicious professor were sufficiently valuable to win the high appreciation of the family. Tutor and scholar worked hard, the latter “doing a side of Latin and two Greek verses a day,” when only nine years

of age,

in addition to which he read English correctly, and had done so for six years. An attack of fever rudely interrupted the learning of those pleasant days. Very naturally the prayers of a grave household for an estimable son were earnest and persevering, and Philip Henry reasonably attributed his child's recovery to the efficacy of faithful supplication. The embryo commentator might have been classed among the most remarkable of children. Prior to completing his tenth year, he paid assiduous attention to his father's ministrations; for on returning home, each Sabbath morning, it was his custom to ponder the lessons, and even to write down such parts of the sermon as memory retained. Some mementos of Matthew's juvenile labours are still extant in several manuscript volumes. The picture of this Puritan household, the children of which usually held prayer-meetings on Saturday afternoons, is replete with interest and instruction; but what singular phenomena would such worshippers be considered in modern society !

The matter of Henry's education occasioned much anxious consideration, for the time had arrived when he must be introduced to the higher subjects of learning. The elder Henry so well appreciated the benefit derived by himself from a University training, and in themselves he knew that similar advantages would prove the most valuable endowment he could confer on his son ; but unfortunately, at this date, the moral atmosphere of the national colleges was sufficiently bad to deter the father from allowing his son to breathe the poison. As this was so, all concerned were satisfactorily relieved, when it was finally arranged that Matthew should forth with depart southward and profit under the tuition of Thomas Doolittle, whose manse was surrounded by the green and pleasant fields of Islington, but whose pastorate was in connection with Monkwell-street Chapel, London. An account of the then formidable journey to the capital is preserved in a letter dated from the Castle Inn, near Aldersgate, and sent by the young traveller to his friends at Broadoak. Metropolitan wonders, as then existing, are detailed in a manner intended by the writer to astonish while it instructed his mother and sisters. The graphic description of what was to him a new world, included many surprising things, and not

least among these was the fact that, during the progress from Islington citywards, at least one hundred coaches were counted. Then Matthew visited the Monument, or “ Spire Steeple” as he called it, and he took a note of its three hundred and forty-five steps. It will excite no surprise if we say here, that when compared with the house-place, and best parlour at Broadoak, the apartments in the polite home of Thomas Doolittle struck the young scholar as being “very strait and narrow.” The tutor, who himself preached on each returning Sabbath morning to a crowded assembly at his City meeting, was a student delighting in close application. The ladies of the household were the mistress and her daughters, and these twain, Matthew informed his far-distant relatives were “ very fine and gallant.” It happened, however, that severe trials were at hand-troubles but little anticipated by the sprightly correspondent. A few weeks after the commencement of the session, Henry's companion student died; and immediately afterwards those who remained were scattered by a renewed outbreak of persecution. At the same time, and from the same cause, most of the Nonconformist chapels in London were closed. The times were dark and humiliating, not only to such as were solicitous for undefiled religion, but to every true Englishman anxious to preserve intact the political honour of his country. Henry returned to Broadoak, there uninterruptedly to pursue the usual round of University learning.* On returning to London in 1685 he studied within the precincts of Gray's Inn. Henry was now in his twenty-third year, and his attention to law studies was supposed to show his capacity to profit by a high mental discipline, for the determination to enter the ministry appears never to have been abandoned. The law literature of that era was but a dry study to a student already in love with divinity; and Henry's intercourse with the almost interminable volumes does not seem to have greatly interested him, though he devoured their contents in a manner that alarmed his father, and provoked some paternal hints about the inadvisability of overdoing a good thing. During his sojourn at Gray's Inn, the student once visited Baxter in prison, when he gracefully carried to the now way-worn author of the “ Saints' Rest,” an offering from friends at Broadoak ; but Baxter “could not be prevailed on to accept the present by all the powers of persuasion that Matthew conld command.”

Returning home in the summer of 1686, the young divine, who was now somewhat of a lawyer, began preaching both at Chester and Nantwich. Such a procedure continued to be legally dangerous; but reports were abroad respecting the Indulgence destined to prove so fatal to the ascendancy of James the Second. While anticipating greater liberty, Henry was invited to take the pastorate at Chester ; and though entertaining the call, he yet chose to spend another brief season in London. He arrived in the capital on the eve of the Revolution. Persecution had failed, and tyranny in the person of the monarch, was trying the experiment of fawning on its enemies. Liberty held her head erect once more; and her abettors walked the streets unmolested. The Nonconformist meeting-houses were re-opened, and Holland was yielding up her refugees. In this joyous season, Henry's abilities were recognised and honoured, and had be desired it, he might have accepted a station in the metropolis of dignity and influence. His ordination, which took place in London, in May, 1687, was immediately preceded by his settlement at Chester, where he contracted his first happy marriage. Henry's lovemaking, it is encouraging to know, had been attended by those every-day difficulties which only prevent true love from running too smoothly. The lady's father esteemed the brilliant young suitor as one eminently qualified to promote his daughter's happiness; and as one possessing all things desirable; but the mother being more suspicious, was actuated by motives of greater ambition. She wished that her girl, who was heiress to a large fortune, should take a partner of corresponding means and position. Yet when the bride was happily settled, her connexions expressed their satisfaction, and her parents removed to Chester to reside in the family of their son-in-law. This prosperity and happiness lasted but a few months. Death rudely stepped into the household, and in the act of taking Mrs. Henry sowed the seeds of life-long grief in the hearts of her survivors. The sorrow of the family was truly excessive, and will appear to have been too much so in this instance of bereavement, which sharp as it was, had yet the joy of being alleviated by Christian hope. When the proper time came round, his mother-in-law strongly urged Henry to contract a second marriage; and therefore, in 1690, he wedded Miss Warburton, a union which ensured bim a large share of domestic comfort.

* "Grammar Learning,” and “ University Learning," now became terms well understood among the Dissenters ; but I find that the last is not always intelligible to persons not read in the history of those times. A writer in the “Literary World," in noticing " Ancient Meeting Houses," takes occasion to expose the carelessness which could represent the youthful Watts as inheriting conscientious scruples about entering an English University, and yet on the same page speak of him as being engageil in storing up his University learning. One might as reasonably cavil at a book for referring to churches as existing apart from consecrated buildings.

During the spring of 1698, the pastor again visited London. The events of the journey were characteristic of those times, and their recital affords us a partial insight into the manners and customs of the old Dissenters. Henry called on friends whose homes were upon his route, and gladly consented to preach in the towns through which he passed. On reaching London eminent Dissenters on all hands courted his society. Their guest from Chester was so exceedingly popular that the good citizens, busy as they were, would not be satisfied unless he gave them at least a sermon a day. Whether he preached at Salters' Hall, Silver-street, or the Old Jewry, crowds of admirers followed, and one discourse was necessarily printed for the edification of the people. This pleasant excursion, by bringing the commentator into wider notice, added something to bis reputation. During subsequent years he was repeatedly urged by various leading metropolitan congregations to remove from Chester and settle in London. For many long years, however, the pastor persistently refused to forsake his provincial friends. On the death of John Spademan, of Silver-street meeting, the Church while refusing to take a denial, proceeded to elect Henry to their vacant pastorate, but their singular procedure was of no avail, although as William Tong assured his friend, the whole city from Wapping to Westminster was anxious about his coming.

The persevering efforts of the Church at Hackney to bring Henry

« AnteriorContinuar »