Christopher Crell

( the elder )

 

From SOCINIANISM IN SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND, 1951 by John McLachlan

 

London Socinians
Of the three Socinian groups reported to be meeting in London in 1676, according to a Government informer, one met 'at the house of Mrs. Stutsky, a Polander's wife'. She is said to be entertaining 'young Crellius and his wife and other Socinians, and has meetings there upon set dayes'.1 The regular meeting fourteen years after the death of John Bidle is a fact to be noted, even though the report, typical of its kind, is garbled and unreliable in regard to detail. Mrs. 'Stutsky' was indeed no 'Polander's wife' but an Englishwoman and, not improbably, the widow of Hugh Stuckey, a merchant-tailor of St. Sepulchre, London, whose will was proved in 1665.2 Her only connexion with Poland was her friendship with Christopher Crell, son of the famous Socinian theologian, John Crell, whose [i.e. Christopher's] eldest son and daughter she adopted in 1668.3

A letter of Henry Hedworth, 5 June 1662, to which reference has already been made,4 shows that Christopher Crell, senior, visited England in that year. Hedworth planned to take him to Oxford to meet Knowles, Cooper, and Merret, 'friends of the Archi-catholick5 faith', as Hedworth called them, no doubt also to show him that city and some of the contents of its libraries. This meeting, as we know, did not take place, but Hedworth was instrumental in introducing his Polish friend to other Socinians in London, notably Thomas Firmin, who immediately set to work to arrange a collection in aid of the Polish Socinian refugees. In a letter written from London on 28 July 1662 to a friend in Holland Crell mentions Bidle and his followers, whom he calls Bidellians, several times, reports his arrest in June, and is fully of the 'subsidy for the exiled Polish brethren' for which Oxford and Cambridge, town and country, were being laid under contribution.[6]

In 1666 Christopher Crell was again in England. This time, if not before, he made the acquaintance in London of Mrs. Alice Stuckey, an influential member of John Bidle's old congregation, who only shortly before had lost her son, Nathaniel, a promising youth who had been a pupil of her old pastor. Luckily, an account of his father's travels written years after by Samuel Crell,[7] the second son of Christopher, senior, has been preserved. From this we learn that Mrs. Stuckey persuaded her Polish co-religionist, an exile and in poverty, to bring over two of his four children to England where she undertook to act as their foster-parent. Two years later (in 1668) their father made the journey with his eldest son, also named Christopher, and his daughter, and left them in Mrs. Stuckey's care. It is this brother and sister who are meant by the reference to 'young Crellius and his wife' in the report already quoted. The two young people were e evidently educated at the good lady's expense, not perhaps without experiencing the bounty also of that generous-hearted philanthropist, Thomas Firmin.

Christopher Crell, junior, later studied medicine at Leyden, graduating M.D. on 6 July 1682,[] and being admitted Licentiate of the College of Physicians on 2 April 1683.[] He made his home in England, practising medicine and well known to men like Thomas Sydenham and John Locke. Some verses of his were prefixed to a posthumously published medical treatise of the former in 1695.[] indicating not only his connexion with the great physician but also his own standing in the contemporary world. He had dedicated his thesis in 1682, amongst others, 'to Mrs. Alice Stuckey, who brought him up ; Mr. Henry Hedworth; and Mr. Thomas Firmin'. To these London friends he evidently wished to repay a debt of gratitude for past kindness to himself and his Socinian compatriots in their need. This young man's tribute reveals the close association and friendship which grew up in these years between English and foreign Socinians, a fact which did not pass unnoticed by contemporaries. Dr. John Edwards of Cambridge, for example, a bitter opponent of Locke, declared in his Socinian Creed (1697), 'We are not sure that some of those who go under the name of English Socinians are not foreigners. Is not Crellius' 's stock somewhere harbour'd among them?'[] The remark was somewhat stale in application, but contained a modicum of truth.   (pp. 288-90)

 

Of the active Socinian circle in London Mrs. Stuckey was evidently a prominent member. In one of Hedworth's letters to Knowles written in the autumn of 1662, shortly after the death of Bidle,[] occur some veiled allusions to contemporaries. Hedworth writes of the departure for Holland of his friend 'Mr. Spinoste' (i.e. Christopher Crell, senior, who evidently adopted the name Spinowski, though his son dropped it, as appears from the roll of the Royal College of Physicians).[] He then continues: 'Thither your friend Pil. was going this very week and should have put out to sea this day if Mrs. Style had not hindered her Husband, his companion, by her extream importunity. There is nothing els hinders and if yt can be overcome they wil be gone next week, for they are fully resolved upon it.' On the face of its this passage tells us that a certain lady of strong character had prevented two worthy gentlemen from travelling to Holland land. To the recipient of the letter, however, there would be no mystery about the persons concerned. Hedworth's letters to Knowles invariably contained initials and contractions for friends and acquaintances and were signed only by initials and monograms, a cautious practice deemed necessary at a time when meetings of dissenters were proscribed and Socinians in particular were regarded as beyond the pale of Christian society. Thus he used the letters H. H., H. Hed., He P., H. P., H. H. P. What the P. denoted it is hard to say, but that P. and 'Pil.' are the same person is a fair conjecture. When Hedworth says that 'your friend Pil.' had planned to go to Holland, it is plain that he is speaking of himself, for he did in fact go very shortly aferwards. His companion, we may safely infer, was to have been Mr. Stuckey whose good lady Hedworth indicated under the perhaps not inappropriate pseudonym of 'Mrs. Style'. Hedworth and the Stuckeys must have been on terms of intimacy, and we may assume that Hedworth, the foreign traveller, first introduced Christopher Crell, senior, to Mrs. Stuckey in 1666. Behind this introduction and its consequences, the adoption of Christopher junior and is sister by Mrs. Stuckey, may lie the tragic circumstance of a double bereavement, for she appears to have lost both husband and only son in the previous year, the year of the Plague. Possibly both were victims of the same malady.

Nathaniel Stuckey died on 27 September 1665, at the early age of sixteen.[] According to Wood's information, he had been a pupil of Bidle in grammar and logic. He must also have been a very accomplished Latin scholar, since the year before he died he translated his master's Twofold Catechism into Latin, possibly with Thomas Firmin's encouragement, in order to give it wider currency abroad.[] The longer Catechism is dated 1664, the shorter has its own title page and is dated 1665. To these were added a sixteen-page essay on the passion and death of Christ and a Latin letter from Jeremiah Felbinger to Bidle, to which reverence has already been made.[]

Oxford 1951.

 

Bibliographic ( University of California http://melvyl.cdlib.org )

Author Biddle, John, 1615-1662. Title Duae catecheses [microform] : quarum prior simpliciter vocari potest catechesis scripturalis posterior, brevis catechesis scripturalis pro parvulis ... / primum quidem a' Johanne Biddello ... ; in Latinam linguam translatŠ per Nathanaelem Stuckey, 1664. Publisher [London : s.n.], 1664. Description 214, [1] p. Series Early English books, 1641-1700 ;808:16. Note Reproduction of original in Cambridge University Library. Errata p. [1] Language Latin

 

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