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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

XII. Divines of the Church of England 1660–1700

§ 11. Fashionable Preachers of the Age

The age of sermons was not yet over. If laymen no longer found their chief theological instruction in sermons, they still crowded to hear a great preacher, and the preaching of a sermon, in a very great number of cases, involved, sooner or later, in some form or another, its appearance in a book. The list of theologians which we have given might be very greatly extended if we were to add those who were primarily preachers. The Diary of Evelyn, who exemplifies the high standard of a devout anglican gentleman, and that of Pepys, who must be ranked, for the greater part of his life at least, among the worldly, supply constant illustrations of the interest taken by Londoners of the later Stewart age in fashionable preachers. Anthony Horneck, for example, a German who was incorporated at Oxford and, after serving a cure there, became preacher at the Savoy and was made king’s chaplain at the revolution, was—says Anthony à Wood—“a frequent and florid preacher, very popular in London and Westminster”; and Evelyn thought his eloquence most pathetic. His popularity shows that a reaction against the learned and lengthy style of Barrow and his school was setting in. Quotation from the classics and the Fathers was, indeed, becoming less common: a volume of Beveridge may be read through without meeting a single quotation except from the Bible; early in the eighteenth century, Swift could declare that he had outlived the custom of learned quotation. But, during the last forty years of the seventeenth, a variety of styles survived. Much controversy was compressed into the pulpit hour, and occasionally extended it. The literature of the Popish plot, of the anti-nonconformist controversy, of the Romanising movement under James II, is well represented in sermons. There were “plain, honest, good, grave” discourses such as Pepys heard from Stillingfleet, whom he declared to be, in the opinion of the archbishop of Canterbury, and the bishop of London, and another, “the ablest young man to preach the Gospel since the Apostles.” Archbishop Dolben, described by Dryden as

  • [He] of the Western Dome, whose mighty sense
  • Flow’d in fit words and heavenly eloquence,
  • was equally eloquent and direct in his appeal. The language of both these preachers is simple and unaffected, and their argument clear and coherent: they would have agreed with Horneck that the object of the preacher should be “to convert souls and not to paint them.” For the most part, however, it would still be true to say that English sermons, in this period—though at no other time were they ever more popular or effective—were rather expository and argumentative than descriptive or hortatory.