William Godwin's Diary


Edward Irving (1792-1834), a preacher and theologian, moved from Scotland to London in 1822 to become minister of the Caledonian Chapel in Hatton Garden. He began with a congregation of around 50, but quickly became hugely popular for his solemn, prophetic style of preaching, which would no doubt have reminded Godwin of the nonconfomist religion of his childhood. Tall and broad, with dark hair to his shoulders, The Examiner compared the theatrical style of his delivery to Kean’s acting, sustained during sermons which lasted for up to three hours. Irving was so popular that members of the congregation had to obtain tickets for his services in advance and a new National Scotch Church was planned for him in Regent Square, finally opening in 1827. By this time Irving had largely fallen out of favour, and his later career was clouded by convictions for heresy and his toleration of his congregations speaking in tongues. Godwin heard him at the height of his fame, during which he ‘took a leading role in the religious controversies of the day, combining devout evangelicalism with a romantic conservative vision of church and state’ (DNB). He became friends with Coleridge, moved in the Montagu circle and his success in attracting some of London’s most famous figures to his services is shown by the following notice in the Morning Chronicle’s ‘Mirror of Fashion’, printed five days before Godwin heard him preach: 'The great point of attraction at present is to hear the Rev. Mr. Irving, of Cross-street Chapel, Hatton-garden, formerly Dr. Chalmers’ assistant at Glasgow. Sir Jas. Mackintosh, Lord Lansdown, Mr. Tierney, Mr. Brougham, Mr. Canning, Lord Liverpool, andc., and many Ladies of Distinction have honoured him these two last Sundays with their presence. The church was so crowded that many were obliged to withdraw.’

See Morning Chronicle, June 24 1823; Examiner, 13 July 1823 and DNB.