Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Critical Introduction by J. H. Overton
Edward Stillingfleet (16351699)
[Edward Stillingfleet (16351699) was born at Cranbourne, in Dorsetshire, 17th April 1635. He was educated at the Grammar-Schools of Cranbourne and Ringwood, and in 1648 was entered at St. Johns College, Cambridge, where he obtained a Fellowship in 1653. He then acted as tutor in the families, first, of Sir R. Burgoin, in Warwickshire, and then of the Hon. F. Pierrepoint, in Notts; and, having been privately ordained by Dr. Brownrigg, the deprived Bishop of Exeter, he was presented by Sir R. Burgoin to the rectory of Sutton. A few years later he became preacher at the Rolls Chapel, and in 1665 was presented by the Earl of Southampton to the rectory of St. Andrews, Holborn. In 1668 he was nominated by King Charles II. Canon Residentiary of St. Pauls, and in 1670 became Dean of St. Pauls. He was also Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury. In 1689 he was consecrated Bishop of Worcester, and on the death of Archbishop Tillotson, in 1694, was generally expected to succeed to the primacy, when Tenison was appointed. He died at Westminster 27th March 1699.]
AS a writer of English prose Stillingfleet does not hold so high a place as might have been expected from the great reputation he enjoyed among his contemporaries. The ablest young man to preach the Gospel since the Apostles, the famous young Stillingfleet (Pepys), the learnedest man of the age in all respects (Burnet), not advanced to the primacy, his great abilities having raised some enmity against him (White Kennet)such are the terms in which he was, not undeservedly, spoken of in his own days. The reasons of the decline of his popularity are not far to seek. In the first place, he was too precocious; some of his best-known works (The Irenicum, or a Weapon-Salve for Church Wounds, and Origines Sacræ) were written when he was a very young man, and ought to have been reading, not writing. Then, again, his subjects were not always happily chosen. The Irenicum was composed with the laudable object of producing peace between the conflicting religious parties which were then engaged in fierce dispute. But a wider reading and maturer judgment led him in later years to retract some of the positions he had there advanced. His famous controversy with Locke arose from a discussion of a second-rate Deistical book, Tolands Christianity not Mysterious, which was not worth the trouble taken about it by two such able men. And once more, in his Origines Britannicæ he contends for the theory that St. Paul introduced Christianity into Great Britain, with a confidence which the most competent modern critics will scarcely endorse. In fact he entered with a keen zest into all the theological and ecclesiastical controversies of his period. The Protestant Nonconformists, the Roman Catholics, the Socinians, the Deists, the Non-jurors, all employed his pen; the titles of his works, The Unreasonableness of Separation, A Rational Account of the Grounds of the Protestant Religion, A Discourse concerning the Unreasonableness of the New Separation (Non-jurors), A Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity, tell their own tales. As he confined himself closely to the particular aspect of each question as it presented itself in his own day, his controversial writings have now little more than an historical interest. They differ in this respect from those of such writers as Waterland and Butler. Waterlands writings against the Arians and Socinians, and Butlers against the Deists, have a real value at the present day; but Stillingfleets against his various adversaries, though nearly as able, have, from the cause above-mentioned, lost much of their value. He is seen at his best in his sermons, his charges, and his Origines Sacræ. His style is clear and nervous, and he had a lawyer-like mind, which enabled him to marshall his arguments with great force and precision. As a writer of good English he is still well worth reading; and therefore his name cannot be omitted in any notice of English Prose writers.