Robert Hall

Robert Hall (1764-1831) was raised under the tutelage of his father, Robert Hall, Sr., in the Baptist church at Arnesby, the younger Hall showed a remarkable precocity as a child. After a brief stay at John Collett Ryland’s academy in Northampton, he entered Bristol Academy at the age of 14. He eventually completed his A.M. at Aberdeen in 1785 while serving as classical tutor and assistant pastor to Caleb Evans at Broadmead and the Academy. After tensions developed between the two men in 1790, Hall preached that fall for two months in Cambridge, then for the first six months of 1791 before finally accepting the call to succeed Robert Robinson at St. Andrew’s Street in Cambridge in July of 1791. For most of that decade Hall would continue Robinson’s liberal tradition of freedom of conscience, allowing numerous Arians to remain within his congregation, all the while developing a ministry that would prove of great importance to himself and his denomination, both politically and ecclesiastically. Like Robert Robinson, Joseph Priestley, Richard Price, and his former Bristol mentor Caleb Evans, Hall bore an outspoken allegiance to the fundamental principles of political dissent, as his pen soon demonstrated, resulting in two classics of dissenting literature from the 1790s, Christianity Consistent with a Love of Freedom(1791) and An Apology for the Freedom of the Press(1793). His radical positions altered in the late 1790s (as did many reformers), and he turned his focus toward the threat of infidelity in his most famous publication, On Modern Infidelity(1800). He resigned from St. Andrew’s Street early in 1806 after a second mental breakdown (his first was in November 1804, a few months before the date of the above letter). He recovered and in 1807 accepted the pastorate of William Carey’s former church in Leicester, Mary Reid’s hometown She and her friend, Elizabeth Coltman and many of their friends, left the Great Meeting and began attending Hall’s congregation in Harvey Lane. He remained there until 1826, at which time he returned to Bristol to succeed John Ryland, Jr., as pastor at Broadmead and president of the Academy. He remained at Broadmead until his death in 1831. He argued in print with Joseph Kinghorn in 1816 about the terms of communion, and boldly defended the Framework Knitters Fund of Leicestershire in 1819. His most lasting notoriety during his lifetime, however, involved his preaching, which to many observers was unmatched by any other minister of his day. Olinthus Gregory published Hall’s Works, along with a Memoir, in 1832. See “Memoir” of Robert Hall in vol. 6 of Olinthus Gregory, ed., The Works of Robert Hall, A. M., 6 vols. (London:  Henry G. Bohn, 1834); Timothy Whelan, “Coleridge and Robert Hall of Cambridge,” Wordsworth Circle31 (2000): 38-47; idem, “Robert Hall and the Bristol Slave-Trade Debate of 1787-1788," Baptist Quarterly 38 (1999-2000): 212-224; idem, “‘I have confessed myself a devil’: Crabb Robinson’s Confrontation with Robert Hall, 1798-1800,” Charles Lamb Bulletin, New Series 121 (2003): 2-25.