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but the English as it was spoken by the common people. He had studied no great model of composition, with the exception, an important exception undoubtedly, of our noble translation of the Bible. His spelling was bad. He frequently transgressed the rules of grammar. Yet his native force of genius and his experimental knowledge of all the religious passions, from despair to ecstasy, amply supplied in him the want of learning. His rude oratory roused and melted hearers who listened without interest to the laboured discourses of great logicians and Hebraists. His works were widely circulated among the humbler classes. One of them, the Pilgrim's Progress, was in his own lifetime translated into several foreign languages. It was, however, scarcely known to the learned and polite, and had been during near a century the delight of pious cottagers and artisans, before it was publicly commended by men of high literary emi
At length critics condescended to inquire where the secret of so wide and so durable a popularity lay. They were compelled to own that the ignorant multitude had judged more correctly than the learned, and that the despised little book was really a masterpiece. Bunyan is indeed as decidedly the first of allegorists as Demosthenes is the first of orators, or Shakspear the first of dramatists. Other allegorists have shewn equal ingenuity; but no other has ever been able to touch the heart, and to make abstractions objects of terror, of pity, and of love."*
Like his coevals among other nonconformists he was the object of relentless persecution, but exceeded most of them in suffering, for twelve years of his life were spent in prison. He was hunted from place to place by spies and informers. The more effectually to elude whom, he
* Macaulay, Vol. II. 228.
sometimes disguised himself as a carter, and was introduced to meetings through back doors, with a smock frock on his back and a whip in his hand. His influence with the common people was such that government would have gladly bought him; but he was not to be bought, and one of the last acts of his virtuous life was to decline an interview to which he was invited by a government agent.
From Mr. Macaulay's splendid historical gallery of pictures, another may be here given in connection with the history of the Baptists. “ Great as was the authority of Bunyan with the Baptists, that of William Kiffin was still greater. Kiffin was the first man among them in wealth and station. He was in the habit of exercising his spiritual gifts at their meetings; but he did not live by preaching. He traded largely; his credit on the Exchange of London stood high; and he had accumulated an ample fortune. Perhaps no man could, at that conjuncture, have rendered more valuable services to the court. But between him and the court was interposed the remembrance of one terrible event. He was the grandfather of the two Hewlings, those two gallant youths who, of all the victims of the bloody assizes, had been the most generally lamented. For the sad fate of one of them, James was in a very peculiar manner responsible. Jeffreys had respited the younger brother. The
poor lad's sister had been ushered by Churchill into the royal presence, and had begged for mercy; but the King's heart had been obdurate. The misery of the whole family had been great; but Kiffin was most to be pitied. He was seventy years old when he was left destitute, the survivor of those who should have survived him. The heartless and venal sychophants of Whitehall, judging by themselves, thought that the old man
would be easily propitiated by an alderman's gown, and by some compensation in money for the property which his grandsons had forfeited. Penn was employed in the work of seduction. But to no purpose. The King determined to try what the effect of his own civilities would produce. Kiffin was ordered to attend at the palace. He found a brilliant circle of noblemen and gentlemen assembled. James immediately came to him, spoke to him very graciously, and concluded by saying, “I have put you down, Mr. Kiffin, for an alderman of London.' The old man looked fixedly at the King, burst into tears, and made answer, “Sir, I am worn out; I am unfit to serve your Majesty in the city. And, sir, the death of my poor boys has broken my heart. The wound is as fresh as ever. I shall carry it to my grave.' The King stood silent for a minute in some confusion, and then said, “Mr. Kiffin, I will find a balsam for that sore.' Assuredly James did not mean to say any thing cruel or insolent: on the contrary, he seems to have been in an unusually gentle mood. Yet no speech that is recorded of him gives so unfavourable a notion of his character as these few words. They are the words of a hardhearted, low-minded man, unable to conceive any laceration of the affections for which a place or a pension would not be a full compensation.”
It is not necessary I should trace further the general history of the Baptists, when, in common with other denominations, they were protected by the Toleration Act, and when taking advantage of their liberty they diffused themselves over the country; I come, therefore, to their establishment in the town of Birmingham.
THE GENERAL BAPTISTS. It is pretty evident that the first Baptists in Birming
ham were General Baptists, for in a manuscript of the late Mr. Thomas, of Leominster, bearing date January 6, 1794, we are informed* “ That in the time of the Commonwealth there were Baptists at Coventry, Alcester, and Bewdley, and it is very probable that members of these and other Baptist churches lived at Birmingham, through the latter part of the last century, perhaps in the time of the Commonwealth and since. It seems, however, most probable that the General Baptists made their first appearance in this town. At Coventry there were two brothers, Ebenezer and Samuel Essex, both ministers and worthy men of the General Baptists. They frequently visited their brethren at Dudley, by supplying their pulpits, and it is natural to suppose that as Birmingham lay in their way they occasionally preached there."
“I have in my possession," says Mr. Thomas, "the copy of a petition signed by John Eld and Samuel Walton, elders, &c.” These were ministers at Coventry. The former part of the petition runs thus: “There having for many years been no Baptist meeting in Birmingham until by the assistance of our friends at Coventry & meeting was set up, and continued in a place hired for that purpose, the lease whereof being near expiring, and no possibility of obtaining the renewal thereof, and a deceased friend having left a sum of money to purchase ground to build a meeting, the said money hath been applied in great part to that use, and the charge of building yet unprovided for; we are therefore petitioners, &c. &c.” It is very clear from this fragment, that a congregation of General Baptists had been gathered in this town, that they met in a hired room, that ground was purchased for building a place of worship, and that application was made to some persons, but to whom we know not, for money to raise the oric. The probability is, that a place was erected, and that the small building in Freeman-street, still standing, and referred to by Mr. Hutton in his history, was the place. His facetious statement that it was built by a separation from the church in Cannon-street is not borne out by the records of that community, as not the slightest reference is made to any such event. It is not improbable that the congregation worshipping there did at length merge in the Cannon-street church.
* For the history of the Baptists in Birmingham I am indebted to Mr. J. W. Showell, one of the present deacons of the Baptist church in Cannon-street, who granted me the use of a manuscript copy which he drew up of the history of that church, and which he read to them when they celebrated the centenary of their for, mation,
The General Baptist cause was revived in Birmingham in the year 1772, when Mr. Austin, then of Sutton Coldfield, and afterwards of Fetter-lane, London, extended his labours to this town, first hiring a room in Park-street, and afterwards removing to a more commodious one in Needless-alley. In 1784, Mr. Green, a member of Mr. Austin's church at Sutton, and an occasional preacher, settled in Birmingham. Soon after his residence here, he was visited with some bodily illness, during which he formed a resolution, if Providence spared his life, to erect a place of worship for his denomination. On his recovery he remembered and performed his vows, and, in concert with Mr. Austin, built a small meeting-house in Lombard-street, which was opened September, 1786, where Mr. Austin preached till his removal to London. Mr. Green was chosen to be his successor, who was a man of great modesty, consistent piety, and eminent simplicity of manners and preaching. His humility rather than his conscience