Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 May 2006
Writing in November 1648, the Puritan minister Richard Baxter exclaimed in dismay that 'Every ignorant, empty braine (which usually hath the highest esteem of it selfe) hath the liberty of the Presse . . . whereby the number of bookes is grown so great that they begin with many to grow contemptible'. By 1653, he had come to fear the 'Luxuriant Fertility, or Licentiousness of the Press of late' as 'a design of the Enemy to bury and overwhelm in a croud . . . Judicious, Pious, Excellent Writings'. Baxter's disquiet was fuelled by his recent experiences as a chaplain to a regiment of the New Model Army. Like the vast majority of those Presbyterian Puritans who sided with Parliament, he was 'unfeignedly for King and Parliament', and was committed to the Civil War aim of bringing the King to a reconciliation with Parliament.
When, in 1645, he joined the Army, he was appalled to find the mood of Cromwell’s forces far more extreme. To him it appeared that those he described as ‘hot-headed Sectaries’ intended no less than ‘to subvert both Church and State’: ‘they took the King for a Tyrant and an Enemy, and really intended absolutely to master him, or ruine him’.3 Baxter’s Puritanism valued order, tradition and authority; the revolutionary and radical wing of the movement, as represented by Levellers, Anabaptists, Ranters and, later, Quakers, disclosed to him a prospect of anarchy. Within the Army itself, these anarchic ideas were spread by word of mouth, through preaching, oral discussion and disputation; but it was the prolific output of the press which spread them through the country at large.