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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

§ 6. John Wilkins as a Link with the Later Generation

The earlier period of the reign of Charles II was closely linked to the days before the war. The chief writers had experience of earlier times and bore the marks of puritan or antipuritan training. Besides those whom we have named, it may be convenient to remember that Richard Baxter, who preached in London after the restoration, began to write his Life and Times in 1664, and did not die till 1691; that Jeremy Taylor survived the return of the king by seven years; and that Benjamin Whichcote lived till 1683. John Wilkins (who preceded Pearson as bishop of Chester), a scientific writer of eminence, an experimentalist and philosopher, and a man of humour to boot, was a link between these times and those of the later latitudinarians. He gave his stepdaughter in marriage to Tillotson, telling her, as an attraction, that he was “the best polemicall Divine this day in England.” He contrasted his own position, as theologian and bishop, with Cosin’s.

  • “While you,” he said, “are for setting the top on the picqued end and downwards, you won’t be able to keep it up any longer than you keep whipping and scourging; whereas I am for setting the broad end downwards, and so ’t will stand of itself;”
  • and his funeral sermon, by William Lloyd, afterwards bishop of St. Asaph and one of the famous seven bishops, speaks of the “vehemence of his desire to bring the Dissenters off their prejudices and reduce them to the unity of the Church.”

    In this aim, many eminent men concurred; few of them, however, occupy a position of eminence in English literature. Yet some of those who were, or may be, called latitudinarians, or who were, if not “men of latitude,” men of charity, left a distinct mark, as writers, upon their times. While Gilbert Sheldon, in his youth the friend of Falkland and a member of the liberal circle of Great Tew, was too much occupied as primate of all England to be able to make any contribution even to the theological literature of his age, Leighton and Burnet, Sancroft, Patrick, Beveridge, Stillingfleet, in different ways combined writing with practical work.