William Dell (
Bedfordshire, c. 1607 - 1669) was an English clergyman, Master of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridgefrom 1649 to 1660, and prominent radical Parliamentarian.
He was an undergraduate at
Emmanuel College, Cambridge, taking an M.A. in 1631 ["Concise Dictionary of National Biography"] . He became a chaplain in the New Model Army[http://www.christianheritageworks.com/127.htm] ["Army chaplains of the period include many radicals who figure in our story, like Hugh Peter, John Saltmarsh, William Erbery, John Webster, Henry Pinnell, John Collierand William Dell". Hill, World Upside Down, p. 58-9; also pp. 70-1.] , which brought radical ministry with it [Hill, "Change and Continuity in 17-th Century England", p. 30, quotes Dell on this.] .
Relationship to Parliament
His 1646 sermon to the lower house in Parliament, following a controversial one to the House of Lords, was too extreme, and the House of Commons reprimanded him [
Hugh Trevor-Roper, "Religion, Reformation and Social Change", p. 325.] ; it attacked the Westminster Assembly[Christopher Hill, "The English Bible and the Seventeenth-Century Revolution", p. 83.] , spoke up for the poor [Hill, Continuity and Change", p. 136.] , and told the politicians to keep out of religious reform [Hill, World Upside Down, p. 100.] . Nonetheless his appointment at Caius was at the behest of the Rump Parliament. Thomas Harrison's proposal to have him preach again, in 1653, was defeated [Trevor-Roper, p. 343; Hill, English Bible p. 83.] .
He criticized those on the Parliamentarian side who had done well out of the war [Hill, Milton, pp.195-6.] . According to Christopher HillWorld Upside Down, p. 344.]
He backed the Quaker
John Crookas MP in 1653/4 [Hill, "A Turbulent, Seditious, and Factious People: John Bunyan and His Church" (1988), p. 80.] , and the regicide John Okey. He was a supporter of Oliver Cromwell. In 1657, however, he with Okey campaigned against the proposal to make Cromwell king [Hill, Bunyan, p. 93.] .
He was a friend and supporter of
John Bunyan, whom he invited to preach in his parish church [In 1659; Hill, Bunyan, p. 138, 166.] . He was an opponent of the RantersHill, Bunyan, p. 59. Hill, "A Nation of Change and Novelty" (1990), p. 195, has: "Tithes would also explain the existence of much hostile comment on Ranters from clergy of the state church who were neither yellow-press journalists nor Quakers — John Osborne, Richard Baxter, John Tickell, Edward Hide, Francis Higginson, Robert Gell, William Dell, Thomas Fuller, Edward Garland, Claudius Gilbert." But Dell was against tithes.] ; but also of enforced uniformity of worship, citing Martin Lutheragainst it [Hill, Bunyan, p. 180.] He was attacked as a libertine[Hill, English Bible p. 182: " Samuel Rutherfordspoke of both Hendrik Niclaesand William Dell as libertines". Also Hill, "Milton and the English Revolution", p. 109.] , and thought to tend to antinomianism[Hill, Bunyan, p. 160.] . According to Christopher Hill[Bunyan, p. 192.]
He preached the doctrine of
free grace[Hill, World Upside Down, p. 190.] , and subscribed to the idea of continuous revelation[Hill, World Upside Down, p. 368.] ; and is included in those considered preachers of the Everlasting Gospel [Hill, "The Experience of Defeat" (1984). p. 295.] .
He argued for major institutional change. He attacked academic education frontally [Antichrist chose his ministers only out of the universities. Quoted in Hill, English Bible, p. 199; also pp. 320, 380.] . He proposed a secular and decentralized university system [
Barbara K. Lewalski, The Life of John Milton (2000), p. 366; Hill, Milton, p. 149.] ; with local village schools, and grammar schools in larger places [Hill, World Upside Down, p. 301.] . He was strongly against the Aristotelian tradition persisting in the universities, and discounted all classical learning [Hill, Bunyan, p. 140: "A chorus of radical voices — Cobbler How, Walwyn, Winstanley, Dell, John Webster, Thomas Tany, John Reeve, Edward Burrough, George Fox— had joined in denouncing the universities' presumption that classical learning was a necessary part of the training of a preacher."] ; and expressed broad anti-intellectual attitudes ["Rejection of human learning was to be found in the Familisttradition and Boehme; it was shared by William Dell, Anna Trapnel, John Reeve, Andrew Marvell, Henry Stubbe, John and Samuel Pordageamong many others". Hill, Milton, pp. 423-4.] [Hill, World Upside Down, pp. 184-5, for Dell's view that learning didn't help with scriptural understanding; Hill, Continuity and Change, p. 142: " 'When God shall undertake to reform his church', Dell warned, 'all this sort of learning shall be cast out as dirt and dung, and the plain word of the gospel only shall prevail'. "] . He believed in more practical studies [Hill, World Upside Down, p. 303, comparing him on this to John Hall and Noah Biggs; and adding to critics of the universities Lord Brooke, Roger Williams, Richard Overton, Edmund Chillenden, Milton, Roger Crab, Richard Coppin, John Canne, Henry Stubbe, Richard Farnsworth, Samuel Fisher.] ; more particularly, he was concerned that training for the ministry should be much more widely spread, geographically and socially, and less dependent on traditional academic studies [Hill, "Continuity and Change", p. 43, 138, 141.] .
He was a severe critic of the
Church of England[Hill, "The World Turned Upside Down", Penguin edition p. 37.] . He doubted the basis in scripture for a national Church [Hill, English Bible p. 41.] , and eventually was buried outside it [Hill, Continuity and Change p. 143.] . He had egalitarian views on the suitable social composition of the bishops [Hill, Bunyan, p. 119.] , and clergy in general. He connected this to religious control and change. Christopher Hill writes [World Upside Down, p. 104.]
He was against
monarchyand tithes[Hill, Bunyan, p. 167.] , with views close to the Levellers[Hill, "Continuity and Change", p. 136.] .
After the Restoration
He was deprived of his living of
Yeldenin 1662 [CNDB] ; he had held it from 1642 [Hill, Bunyan, p. 166.] . A 1667 pamphlet of his, "The Increase of Popery in England", was suppressed and appeared only in 1681 [Hill, Milton, p. 219.] ; Hill calls this anti-Catholic attack ‘partly a political gambit’ [Hill, Milton, p. 220.]
*H. R. Trevor-Roper, "William Dell", The English Historical Review, Vol. 62, No. 244 (Jul., 1947), pp. 377-379 [http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0013-8266(194707)62%3A244%3C377%3AWD%3E2.0.CO%3B2-E] ; distinguishes Dell from the William Dell who was Secretary to
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