Joseph Sortain

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Joseph Sortain (1809–1860) was a British nonconformist minister, an evangelical Independent, philosophy tutor at Cheshunt College, and biographer of Francis Bacon.[1] A reputed preacher of his time, he was called "the Dickens of the pulpit" by John Ross Dix.[2]

Joseph Sortain, engraving by Henry Edward Dawe


He was born in Clifton, Bristol;[3] his father was a baker of Huguenot descent.[4] His parents were in the congregation of James Sherman.[5][6] This chapel was in the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion derived from the Calvinistic Methodists. In 1823 the congregation came under William Lucy, and shortly migrated to the Lodge Street Chapel.[7]

Sortain attended the Bristol Baptist Academy when still young (around 1824); at this period he won an essay prize, in a competition for which Lucy was his sponsor, on the topic Christ's Mission.[5][8] Reading Micaiah Towgood dissuaded him from going to the University of Cambridge. He then studied at Cheshunt College, and Trinity College, Dublin. He returned to Cheshunt College as a tutor, from 1838 to 1850. Under the initial arrangement he taught mathematics, logic, and belles lettres, for two periods of six weeks in a year.[9][10]

From 1832 Sortain was the Countess of Huntingdon's preacher at her North Street Chapel in Brighton, where he was admired as an orator, and noted for not exceeding 30 minutes.[11][12] He held to the dissenting position of his family, though he was known not to differ much from Anglican theological positions.[13] Henry Crabb Robinson appreciated Sortain as a preacher, while thinking Frederick William Robertson ("Robertson of Brighton") would rival him.[14]

The North Street Chapel in Brighton

Sortain died on 16 July 1860. His funeral sermon was given by his friend Richard Alliott at the North Street Chapel.[9] His reputation lapsed, and he could be called a "forgotten Bristol celebrity" by 1907.[15]


Sortain was a reviewer during the mid-1830s. He obtained work foe the High Church British Critic, through contacts with the Rev. Richard Harvey of Hornsey, and James Shergold Boone. He wrote also for the Edinburgh Review, at the suggestion of William Empson.[13][16] These articles of the mid-1830s were anonymous, but attributions to Sortain have been made, for topics such as Brougham on natural theology, Coleridge, Charles Lyell on geology, and Mary Somerville's Connection of the Physical Sciences in the British Critic.[17][18][19] In the Edinburgh Review topics were Richard Baxter, Thomas Lathbury's History of English Episcopacy, and Jeremy Bentham's Deontology (he thought Bentham's works brought on "mental nausea").[19][20][21] Harvey, however, seemed to find Sortain's oratory incomprehensible.[22]

Sortain wrote A Lecture Introductory to the Study of Philosophy (1839) as a Cheshunt College tutor.[23] He published Romanism and Anglo-Catholicism (1841); at this time he was preaching on Antichrist.[9][24] The Eclectic Review noticed this work with one by Charles Pettit McIlvaine, as anti-Tractarian, though giving it little space, and regretting the "declamatory" style, while praising the content.[25] His Life of Francis, Lord Bacon was published by the Religious Tract Society in 1851.[26]

Sortain wrote novels, as well as theological and philosophical works:

  • Hildebrand and the Excommunicated Emperor (1852)[27]
  • Count Arensberg; or, The days of Martin Luther (1853).[28]


Sortain married Bridget Margaret, daughter of Sir Patrick Macgregor, 1st Baronet.[29][30] She published Memorials of the Rev. Joseph Sortain in 1861.[31]


  1. ^ Alan P. F. Sell (2004). Philosophy, Dissent and Nonconformity: 1689-1920. James Clarke & Co. p. 257. ISBN 978-0-227-67977-7. Retrieved 18 December 2012. 
  2. ^ John Ross Dix (1852). Pen pictures of popular English preachers: with limnings of listeners in church and chapel. Partridge and Oakey. p. 108. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  3. ^ William Hendry Stowell (1862). The Eclectic Review. s.n. pp. 16–27. Retrieved 18 December 2012. 
  4. ^ Proceedings of the Huguenot Society Vol XVI Issue_41940-1 (PDF) at p. 427
  5. ^ a b Sortain, Joseph (c.1809-c.1860).
  6. ^ Henry Allon (1863). Memoir of the Rev. James Sherman. p. 148. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  7. ^ The Life and Times of Selina Countess of Huntington: By a Member of the Houses of Shirley and Hastings. W. E. Painter. 1841. p. 395. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  8. ^ Teacher's offering (1825). Juvenile essays which obtained the prizes proposed by the proprietor of The Teacher's offering:. p. 80. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  9. ^ a b c W. J. Mander, Alan P. F. Sell, Gavin Budge (editors), The Dictionary of Nineteenth-century British Philosophers, Volume 2 (2002), p. 1045.
  10. ^ James Bennett (1839). The History of Dissenters: during the last thirty years, from 1808 - 1838. Hamilton. p. 140. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  11. ^ Marilyn Thomas (30 December 2007). The Diary: Sex, Death, and God in the Affairs of a Victorian Cleric. AuthorHouse. p. 272. ISBN 978-1-4343-3889-1. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  12. ^ Alexander Richardson (1870). The Future Church of Scotland, by 'Free lance'. p. 174 note. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  13. ^ a b The Christian Observer. 1862. pp. 61–9. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  14. ^ Henry Crabb Robinson (1870). Diary, reminiscences, and correspondence of Henry Crabb Robinson: ... Fields, Osgood, & Co. pp. 361–. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  15. ^ Stanley Peerman Hutton, Bristol and its Famous Associations (1907), p. 165;
  16. ^ Bridget Margaret Sortain (1861). Memorials of the rev. Joseph Sortain. pp. 177–8. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  17. ^ Morton D. Paley (1999). Apocalypse and Millennium in English Romantic Poetry. Oxford University Press. p. 108 note 47. ISBN 978-0-19-818500-0. Retrieved 18 December 2012. 
  18. ^ Geoffrey N. Cantor; Sally Shuttleworth (2004). Science Serialized: Representation of the Sciences in Nineteenth-Century Periodicals. MIT Press. p. 62 note 23. ISBN 978-0-262-03318-3. Retrieved 18 December 2012. 
  19. ^ a b John Taylor, Notes on Bristol Huguenots, Proceedings of the Huguenot Society, Vol. III Issue 3 (PDF), p. 373.
  20. ^ Harriet Martineau; Elisabeth Sanders Arbuckle (1983). Harriet Martineau's Letters to Fanny Wedgwood. Stanford University Press. pp. 40 note 5. ISBN 978-0-8047-1146-3. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  21. ^ Sydney Smith (1835). The Edinburgh review. A. and C. Black. p. 365. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  22. ^ Baron Edmund Beckett Grimthorpe; John Lonsdale (1868). The life of John Lonsdale, Bishop of Lichfield: with some of his writings. J. Murray. p. 155. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  23. ^ Joseph Sortain (1839). A Lecture Introductory to the Study of Philosophy. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  24. ^ The Evangelical Register. J.M. Robson. 1841. p. 176. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  25. ^ The Eclectic review. vol. 1-New (8th). 1841. pp. 511–534. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  26. ^ Joseph Sortain (1851). The life of Francis, lord Bacon, baron of Verulam, viscount St. Albans, and lord high chancellor of England. The Religious tract society. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  27. ^ Joseph Sortain (1852). Hildebrand ... and the excommunicated emperor: a tale. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  28. ^ Joseph Sortain (1853). Count Arensberg; or, The days of Martin Luther. R. Folthorp. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  29. ^, Bridget Margaret Macgregor.
  30. ^ The Gentleman's Magazine, and Historical Chronicle. E. Cave. 1833. p. 270. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  31. ^ Bridget Margaret Sortain (1861). Memorials of the Rev. Joseph Sortain. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Benjamin Samuel Hollis (1861), Sortain of Brighton; a Review of His Life and Ministry

External links[edit]