The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 12. Hymns and Devotional Literature
Whatever the theological basis of the three denominations of which this chapter has mainly treated, there is one general field of literary activity which they cultivated in common—that of hymn-writing and religious poetry. A list of their chief contributors to this branch of literature will be found elsewhere. But, apart from this phase, in so far as the devotional literature of dissent is merely devotional, whether it be “practical” or “theological,” it does not enter into the wider subject of English literature as such. All the same, there are certain outstanding products of this portion of the writings of dissent (Baxter’s Saints’ Everlasting Rest, 1650; Doddridge’s Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, 1745) which, by their mere literary, as well as spiritual, quality, challenge a place in the annals of our literature by the side of the masterpieces of Bunyan and Milton. Broadly speaking, however, the course of the history of dissent, from 1660 to 1760, militated against the production of purely devotional literature. The race of giants who had seen the great commonwealth days, and who went out in 1662, were mainly preachers. The succeeding generation, likewise one of giants, was occupied with dogmatic wrangles, practical questions of church organisation, or actual political dealings with the state. From 1720 to 1740, there followed a period of almost unbroken spiritual deadness; and, when this partially came to an end with the advent of Doddridge, the spiritual impress is from without, from methodism, rather than from within, from the inherent spirituality of dissent itself. During this period, therefore, English nonconformity rather looks forward, as anticipating that later general revival of the national religious life which was born of methodism, than backward to that stern spirituality of Calvinistic dissent which had puritanised the great revolution.