Religious writer; born at Rowton, near High Ercall, Shropshire, at the home of his mother's parents and baptised at High Ercall. In fact he spent the first ten years of his life here and during this time received a somewhat meagre education at the hands of four masters in the space of six years. Baxter later said that they were all ignorant, two of them being immoral and the last a drunkard - hardly an auspicious start for a man who was later to be offered a bishopric (he refused it) and who was to write The saints' everlasting rest (1650). In February 1626 he was removed to his parents' home (now called Baxter's House) in Eaton Constantine but here his schooling was no better than at Rowton, the masters being a sorry succession of bullies, drunks and incompetents. In fact Richard Baxter seems to have been singularly unlucky in his education with the exception of his next school, which was at Donnington in the neighbouring parish of Wroxeter. This school was under the patronage of the Newport family of Cyton on Severn and a fellow pupil was Richard Allestree from Uppington. Baxter had hoped to follow Allestree's example and go to university but his schoolmaster persuaded his parents to send their son to Ludlow Castle, where he would study under Richard Wicksted who was Chaplain to the Council of the Welsh Marches. Baxter, now aged sixteen, soon regretted this for he found Wickstead to be a poor teacher with only a superficial knowledge. He certainly seems to have been highly critical of life in Ludlow, recalling later that the town was "full of temptations" and "much given to tipling and excess". However, one aspect of his education was successful - he was taught to play cards by the Clerk of the Kitchen (reputedly the best player at the castle) so well that he was eventually able to beat his tutor. Baxter promptly gave up the game. realising that he was too good for his own best interests. He returned home where Sir Richard Newport set him to teach at his old Donnington school for three months before moving to London. By this time, as well as being struck by the religious integrity and influence of his father, he had come into contact and had been impressed by a group of Nonconformist ministers in Shrewsbury.
In December 1638 Baxter was ordained deacon at Worcester and granted a licence to teach at Dudley, where he stayed for just nine months. He moved to Bridgnorth in 1640 as assistant minister to William Madstart at St. Leonard's Church, living in a tiny house, which can still be seen, opposite. He later dedicated the second part of The saints' everlasting rest to the people of Bridgnorth even though he found them "a very ignorant, deadhearted people". He stayed less than a year having received little encouragement. Five years later, in 1646, Parliamentary forces, with whom he sympathised, came to Bridgnorth and burned the church, the castle and the town. Baxter had moved to Kidderminster and after the Civil War, during which time he was an itinerant chaplain in the Parliamentarian army, he returned as minister and as a writer of increasing stature. Under his ministry it is estimated that half the population of Kidderminster was converted. Having declined the bishopric of Herford, during the Restoration he was ill-treated under Charles II and James II and was imprisoned by the infamous Judge Jeffreys on the charge of libelling the Church in his Paraphrase of the New Testament (1685). Baxter is now considered to have been one of the founding fathers of Nonconformity and is remembered for his devotional books. He was the author of The saints' everlasting rest (1650), The reformed Pastor (1656), A call to the unconverted (1658), A Christian directory (1673) and 131 other items printed in his lifetime, as well as 5 posthumous books. His autobiography Reliquiae Baxterianae was published posthumously in 1696. Richard Baxter always retained a fond allegiance to Shropshire and to Shrewsbury especially where a close friend William Rowley, the draper and alderman, had a fine house built (Rowley's House, now the Museum). After The Bible and Pilgrim's progress, two of Baxter's books The saints' everlasting rest and The reformed Pastor are considered the most influential of all Christian books, valued by preachers of such stature as Whitefield, Wesley and Spurgeon. He also wrote the hymn Ye Holy angels bright.
From An Illustrated Literary Guide to Shropshire by Gordon Dickins, published by Shropshire Libraries, 1987. © Gordon Dickins, 1987, with additional material by Gary Gregor.
The Literary Encyclopedia contains a profile of Richard Baxter by Neil Keeble, University of Stirling.
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