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

XV. Divines

§ 14. Fletcher of Madeley

From this, the transition to John William Fletcher is agreeable. He is one of the examples, more common in the seventeenth, than in the eighteenth, century, of the attractive power of the English church, its system and its theology, for he was born in Switzerland (his name was de La Flechère); but he became a priest of the English church and gave his life to the work of an English village. His anti-Calvinist views severed him from Lady Huntingdon’s connection, with which, for a time, he was associated as superintendent of her training college at Trevecca, but endeared him the more to Wesley, who preached his funeral sermon from the text “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace.” Never was there a controversialist more honest or more gentle. The title of his Zelotus and Honestus Reconciled; or an Equal Check to Pharisaism and Antinomianism, which includes parts I and II of Scriptures Scales to weigh the gold of Gospel truth, and to balance a multitude of opposite Scriptures, gives a misleading idea of the wit and charm of its contents. Fletcher writes gracefully and truthfully. He has the tendency to gloom in which Hervey revelled; but he does not parade it. He has a wholesome detestation of his opponent’s Calvinism; but it leads him, not to sound and fury, but to placid and conciliatory argument. Southey well summed up the character of Fletcher’s writing when he said that

  • his talents were of the quick mercurial kind; his fancy was always active, and he might have held no inconsiderable rank, both as a humourous and as an empassioned writer, if he had not confined himself wholly to devotional subjects.
  • He was the St. Francis of early methodism, and it seems the most natural thing in the world to be told that, one day, he took a robin for his text. If other leaders of the movement were stern, his was always the voice of tenderness and charity. By way of contrast, we may, like Southey, take the vehement denunciations of Augustus Toplady, who deserves to be remembered for the immortal hymn “Rock of Ages,” while his The Historic Proof of the Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England best remains buried in oblivion. He wrote with coarse vigour, smartness and abandon, in complete contrast alike to the preciousness of Hervey and to the calm of Fletcher. His quarrel with John Wesley, which from theological became personal, makes curious reading to-day. Wesley declared that Toplady’s doctrine might be summed up thus—

  • One in twenty of mankind is elected; nineteen in twenty are reprobated. The elect shall be saved, do what they will; the reprobate shall be damned, do what they can. Reader, believe this, or be damned.
  • Toplady replied by accusing his critic of satanic guilt and shamelessness in thus describing his opinion and answered him, after the manner of Martin Marprelate, with An Old Fox tarred and feathered and suchlike pamphlets. Wesley, he declared, was an Arminian, which meant that he had
  • an equal portion of gross Heathenism, Pelagianism, Mahometanism, Popery, Manichaeism, Ranterism and Antinomianism, culled, dried, and pulverised, and mingled with as much palpable Atheism as you can scrape together.
  • Literary squabbles do not lose their bitterness when they become theological.