In transcribing the following material from The Reader, an interesting, unfortunately short-lived intellectual magazine of the 1860s, I have used the Hathi Digital Library Trust web version of a copy in the Princeton University Library. The full-text version is generally accurate, and the most common OCR error here takes the form of turning the letter “e” as “o.” I corrected the scanning errors, and for ease of reading I have added a few paragraph breaks. If you come upon any errors I have missed, please do not hesitate to let the editors of this site know. — George P. Landow

The mediocrity of his endowments combined with the innocence and amiability of his character to urge him smoothly forward to the goal of his ambition. A mind more untinctured by originality, and a life more destitute of incident, never had a biographer. But Dr. Raffles was an active and laborious man; and he held a leading position for fifty years in his own religious community and in the whole Dissenting world.

Dr. Raffles was a born preacher of a certain kind—a preacher to interest and delight a promiscuous middle-class audience. He had the immense advantage to begin with, of being perfectly free from shyness. He had no troublesome self-consciousness, no internal questionings going on beneath his arguments and affirmations, to hinder the free and happy use of all his tools and materials. It would be difficult to say when he first began to preach—at least, in letters and essays; but, by the time he was eighteen, he was in the full swing of public preaching, going out from Homerton to fill the vacant pulpits of the Independent communities in the neighbourhood of London. From 1806 to 1863 he was never without preaching engagements in all parts of the country, and scarcely passed a week without preaching. He liked to preach, and the congregations liked to hear him.

Amiable as his nature was, no one could have had a greater distaste for innovation in doctrine. It was his glory to walk in the old paths—that is, to preach exactly the doctrine formulated by the Evangelical generation into which he was born. One source of his popularity as a preacher was no doubt the perfectly conventional character of his religious sentiments. It was his good fortune that he could at the same time be as sincere and warm as if he had been original. He preferred Beattie as a poet to Wordsworth or Tennyson; but he did heartily delight in Beattie, and a greater poet than Beattie, the truly English Cowper, was yet dearer to him. It is not easy to say whether, if he had come with his lively energetic receptive mind into this generation, he would have been as faithful a son of it — whether, as a young Independent minister, he would have proved susceptible to the same influences which have moulded the preaching of Mr. Baldwin Brown, Mr. Maclaren, or Mr. Kirkus.

One fact which can scarcely fail to excite surprise, in reading the lives and the sermons of the Evangelical worthies of the last age, is that they could profess themselves to be, and really be, so exceedingly happy in their creed. To us at the present day it seems a terrible creed,—one under which, however the judgment might bo convinced, the heart and the conscience must writhe in resistance and pain. But a favourite aspect of this creed to many, as to Dr. Raffles, was that it was the one means of arriving at "real unsullied felicity" in this life as well as in the next. One can more easily realize a stern gloomy Puritan, who felt it his duty to bear witness to mankind in general of their state and destiny, but who never pretended that his belief was a cheerful one, and never attempted to be on pleasant terms with the world, than such a genial social citizen as Dr. Raffles proclaiming continually from the pulpit that all but a very few were on their way to endless torments, and holding it to be a matter of Christian consistency not to go to a concert. What discrepancies of human belief or human action ought to be incredible to those who have the opportunity, as we have in such abundance, of contemplating a preacher rigorously maintaining the so-called Evangelical doctrine, and yet mixing with the world of the condemned and the lost as pleasantly as if he were one of them.

Related Materials


“The Life of Dr. Raffles.” The Reader: A Journal of Literature, Science, and Art. (October 1864): 475-76. London: “Published at 112, Fleet Street.” Hathi Digital Library Trust web version of a copy in the Princeton University Library. 25 July 2016.

Raffles, Thomas Stamford. Memoirs of the Life and Ministry of the Rev. Thomas Raffles, D.D., LL.D. London: Jackson, Walford, and Hodder, 1864.

Last modified 26 July 2016