Page images
[graphic][ocr errors][merged small]







Ir may reasonably be supposed that authors who have taken much pleasure in writing biography, would almost insensibly acquire some resemblance to the character which they have taken great pains to delineate. Their admiration of the principles and conduct of the men whom they describe must tend naturally to produce some degree of assimilation. By dwelling on their virtues, and tracing the whole course of their lives, they catch their spirit and copy their excellences. This is one of the happy effects resulting from an attentive perusal of the lives of good men, and is much more likely to be produced, when, by carefully collecting and closely investigating the materials necessary for delineating their true character, the writer is led to trace the steps by which they attained such eminence, and to observe the various ways in which their excellences were exhibited.

The subject of this memoir, the late Rev. Benjamin Brook, had made puritanical history a matter of careful study and diligent research for more than forty years, and he more nearly resembled the men of that age and class than many of his contemporaries.



general appearance, dress, and manners evidently partook of the antique, and he disliked some things of modern growth, not, perhaps, because they were wrong, but rather because they were novel. The puritan divines of the reign of Elizabeth, and her two successors, had so far occupied his thoughts, that he imbibed much of the spirit and habit of those worthies. We possess but scanty materials for his early history, and have no documents to assist us in tracing the commencement of those religious impressions, whence we might date his conversion. He was born in the village of Nether Thong, near Huddersfield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, March 3rd, 1775, and brought up to the staple business of the vicinity, its manufacture of woollen cloth. The place of his nativity, though obscure, and having at that time only one place of worship, a small Wesleyan chapel, with occasional preaching in houses by Dissenting ministers from Holmfirth, Huddersfield, &c., has been remarkable for the number of evangelical preachers born and reared in its locality. The writer of this memoir has heard the names of not fewer than twelve Wesleyan ministers,

3 B

besides the late Rev. G. Hill, of Market | Holmfirth, under the pastoral care of

Harborough, who were born and reared amidst all the disadvantages of a small village, remote from any large town, where the means of mental improvement are usually more abundant and easy of access. It may be thought a matter of interest to inquire into the causes which may have elicited the talents, and brought forth to notice, so many valuable public characters, some of whom were men of considerable eminence in their respective spheres of labour, especially at the present time, when complaints are frequently made of the want of a sufficient number of candidates for our home ministry and for foreign missionary service. It cannot be accounted for from the want of education, that being now afforded so generally to all classes of the community, that there is ample opportunity for the early cultivation of mind, and the improvement of natural talent to an extent hitherto unknown. There may be some deficiency in that ardent zeal which formerly marked the members of our churches. Yet we find this largely displayed in supporting and conducting Sunday-schools and other modern institutions requiring great labour and considerable expenditure of time and money. It is probable that something was owing to the state of society, where persons being on nearly the same level, young men manifesting decided evidences of piety, and some talent for addressing their neighbours on the subject of religion, were encouraged in their early efforts, and their talents improved by exercise affording hopes of still greater improvement in more favourable circumstances, and being introduced to scenes of future labour, where by diligence, study, and frequent practice, they acquired both stores of useful knowledge and suitable modes of address, which fitted many of

them for extensive usefulness.

Mr. Brook became in early life a member of the Independent church at

the venerable Robert Galland, by whom he was recommended, in 1797, to the college at Rotherham, then under the care of the Rev. Dr. Williams and the Rev. Maurice Phillips. His previous advantages must have been very few, so that, according to the custom of that day, he had to begin with the rudiments of almost every branch of study; but by diligent application, during the usual course, he made respectable proficiency, and laid the foundation of future improvement. Having a firm constitution, an ardent mind, and the habit of intense application, he surmounted the difficulties of his position, and left the college with the reputation of having made good use of his opportunities. Soon afterwards he accepted an invitation to become the pastor of a small church at Tutbury, in Staffordshire, then recently gathered. He was ordained in 1801, and began his ministry in a humble preaching-room, which had previously been a barn; but by the munificence of the late Francis Greasley, Esq., in a short time a neat commodious chapel was erected, and the old preaching-house converted into a good school-room, where the poor of all ages were taught to read the Word of God.

Here Mr.Brook laboured with diligence and success for nearly thirty years. His sphere of usefulness in this small town was very limited, but he preached frequently in the surrounding villages, whence he gathered many of his congregation; and his chapel being the only Dissenting place of worship in the vicinity, except a very small Wesleyan chapel, his services were of great importance in the neighbourhood.

He had not been long settled here, when two or three members of his church, of Antinomian opinions, began to complain that his preaching was not sufficiently doctrinal, and even declared that he did not preach the gospel. This induced him to publish a small pamphlet, entitled "The Moral Law a Rule

of Life to Believers," in which he defended his sentiments, and justified the usual practical strain of his preaching. His ministry, however, was generally appreciated, and some persons came from a considerable distance to hear the joyful sound from his lips, thus showing how highly they estimated his plain, faithful, and energetic preaching.

He had to encounter the objections usually made to the principles of Dissenters, and deemed it advisable to defend them from the press. He printed, in 1806, a small pamphlet, entitled, "An | Appeal to Facts; or, Reasons for Dissent, in Letters to a Friend," which reached a third edition in 1815. It is probable that the research which this required gave a direction to his future studies, and induced him to undertake the collection of those large stores of Dissenting history which he afterwards accumulated. This was the peculiar topic that distinguished him through a long life, and will perpetuate his memory to future generations. His indefatigable application, his diligent research into all accessible sources of information, whether printed or manuscript, and his ardour in searching both public and private libraries, where any additional information might be obtained, contributed to render his publications highly valuable.

"The Lives of the Puritans," in three octavo volumes, published in 1813, was his chief work; and, considering that the history of those devoted men belonged to a remote period, and that the sources of information had become difficult of access, the general accuracy of the accounts which he has compiled of them is highly creditable to him. His examination of authors who have written on both sides, and his minute reference to authorities, give his statements a character of impartiality. He made very considerable additions. He did not, however, meet with sufficient encouragement to justify his undertaking another edition, although proposals

were extensively circulated in 1884. This work was followed, in 1820, by the "History of Religious Liberty," in two octavo volumes, many of the materials having probably been collected while the author was preparing the former work, of which we have the following testimony from the Congregational Magazine :

"We are acquainted with no book in which such a collection of important facts is to be found, so well selected and supported, and so justly and often powerfully reasoned on. From the first erection of the Christian church, to the present year, our author traces, with great attention and care, the progress of the important principle which he advocates, through all its changes and fortunes, pointing out the persons who promoted or hindered its course, illustrating the circumstances which advanced or retarded its career, and exhibiting its mighty influence on national and individual happiness, and on the cause of pure and undefiled religion. He has stated well the great facts of our civil and ecclesiastical history which bear upon his subject, and has rescued from the destructive hand of time many fugitive but interesting incidents, which all must wish to be preserved. His diligence and fidelity are entitled to the highest praise which we can bestow; and his work will, we are assured, materially assist in promoting the glorious cause to which it is devoted."

He continued his application to this branch of study through the remainder of his life; but at length his attention was concentrated on one eminent character-the Rev. Thomas Cartwrightwho had been distinguished for his adherence to Puritanical principles, and for the sufferings he endured as the consequence of his steady attachment to this persecuted cause. An eminent critic observes, respecting these memoirs of Cartwright, "It was enough for a man to be born to write such a book!" Besides the difficulties Mr. Cartwright

« PreviousContinue »