James Stratten (1795–1872)
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 14, 357–360.
The Rev. James Stratten was born on 26 May 1795 in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, and he spent his youth at nearby Holt. At the age of 17 he was accepted at Hoxton Academy, where he studied for four years. Before beginning his ministry at Paddington Chapel, a prosperous non-conformist congregation in Marylebone, London, he spent two years in Dublin. He was only 24 years old when he assumed the pastorship of Paddington Chapel in November 1818, which lasted for nearly 42 years.
On 7 May 1819 Stratten married Rebekah Wilson (1792?–1870), eldest daughter of Thomas Wilson of Maida Vale. She is described in The Congregational Year Book (1873) as “the pattern and model of a wife and mother, and daughter, and friend, and counsellor; a helper in the work of the ministry, and a bright and beautiful ornament to the Church of Christ.” They had five children while residing at Clarendon Place, Maida Vale: Thomas Wilson (b. 1821–died in infancy), John Remington (1823–1905), Arthur Clegg (1828–1907), Frances Elizabeth (1831–55), and Charlotte Rebekah (1832–38). By the time the family moved to nearby Pine Apple Place in 1841, the eldest and youngest children had died.
When exactly the Barretts became acquainted with the Strattens is unknown. In all probability it was soon after he commenced his ministry at Paddington Chapel when his popularity as a preacher would have attracted them to his pulpit on one of the many visits the family members made to Elizabeth Moulton, EBB’s grandmother, who lived in nearby Baker Street. The earliest reference to Stratten is in a letter from EBB’s brother Samuel to their sister Henrietta, dated 30 October 1829, and written from Charterhouse, in which he relates his previous weekend visit to his grandmother which included attendance at Paddington Chapel; however, he did not hear Stratten preach on that occasion.
EBB’s first reference to Stratten is in a letter to Hugh Stuart Boyd in December 1836, a year after the Barretts had settled in London at 74 Gloucester Place, a short walk from the chapel. She commented: “Mr. Stratten has just been here. I admire him more than I ever did, for his admiration of my doves. By the way, I am sure he thought them the most agreeable of the whole party,—for he said, what he never did before, that he could sit here an hour!” (letter 548).
In May 1843, EBB and her sister Arabella presented Mrs. Stratten with a “little work-table,” the top of which was painted by Arabella (letter 1256). Arabella, who taught a Bible class for young women at the chapel, and Mrs. Stratten were close friends.
When EBB first mentioned Stratten to RB in August 1846, she described him as having “a heart of miraculous breadth & depth,—loving further than he can see … having in him a divine Christian spirit.” In the same letter, EBB indicates that at one time she considered engaging Stratten’s assistance in her plans to marry RB: “once I could not help wishing to put our affairs into his hands to settle them for us—but that would be wrong because Papa would forbid Arabel’s going to the chapel or communicating with his family, & it would be depriving her of a comfort she holds dear” (letter 2569).
Writing from Italy a few weeks after their marriage, EBB was concerned about Stratten’s opinion of what she had done, and asked Arabella, “Does Mr. Stratten blame me much?” (letter 2624). EBB frequently enquired after him and his family when writing to her sister. By 1851, the Strattens had moved to 65 Hamilton Terrace, St. John’s Wood.
As EBB’s interest in Swedenborgianism developed, she was concerned that her ideas might not meet with Stratten’s approval, and she asked Arabella not to “ruffle Mr. Stratten with any mention of Swedenborg” (12 April ). A few months EBB expressed how glad she was that he was “beginning to give a grave thought to this subject” (15 August ). However, within several months later she wrote that Stratten had “no right to conclude that spiritual communications mean perforce Satanic communications”([16–] 19 December ). Eventually, EBB was convinced that Stratten was sympathetic to her own ideas about spiritualism, but that he was unwilling to acknowledge them from the pulpit. Evidently he hinted that he had felt the presence of his dead children, and EBB was sure that with the aid of a medium he would have succeeded in communicating with them. Referring to a sermon in 1855, she said, “He pleased me a good deal by his spiritualism in my sense—his references to angelic ministrations,—& to the probable ministration of departed spirits towards their friends surviving on the earth. I have thought several times that he is in advance (on this subject) of the great majority of pulpit teachers .. in fact in advance of the ordinary Christians of the day” ([20 September 1855]).
EBB had mostly praise for Stratten’s preaching and his views in general. However, on one occasion she noted that he “quite displeased me yesterday by his sermon—view of the war [i.e., the Russo-Turkish War of 1845–55]—of our chosen island & enormous glory! & no word of the alliance [i.e., between England and France]” ([1 October 1855]). Several volumes of his sermons were published in his lifetime, as well as a collection of psalms and hymns which he compiled; a work entitled The Intermediate State, and Other Discourses (1867) was in the Brownings’ library (see Reconstruction, A2222).
Stratten had hoped that his older son, John Remington Stratten, would succeed him at the Paddington Chapel, but his son instead entered the Church of England and was ordained in 1849. On 23 September 1852, he married Augusta, daughter of Samuel Hope. They visited the Brownings in Florence in November 1854. EBB described him as “young & gentle-looking” but “inferior in picturesqueness of appearance & manner to his father” (26 November ).
The Stratten’s younger son, Arthur Stratten, was a stockbroker in the City of London, first at Bartholomew Lane, then at Old Broad Street. Barrett family papers indicate that both George and Arabella Moulton-Barrett consulted him on business matters.
Mrs. Stratten presented a book to Pen Browning before the Brownings left for Paris in October 1855, and Pen wrote a letter of acknowledgement, to which EBB appended a note to reiterate her consolation on the death of the Strattens’ daughter Fanny the previous month.
Realizing the influence the Strattens had on her sister, EBB wrote to Mrs. Stratten before leaving England in autumn 1856 to “commend” Arabella to the Strattens’ care “to prevent her over-exerting herself in the schools & when the weather gets cold, or even when weather is warm. She minds me no more than Balaam did his ass,—but if the angel spoke .. if dear Mr. Stratten would speak when the opportunity shall occur, .. it would be otherwise—and really sometimes she works beyond her strength, & over the limit of duty therefore” ([17 October 1856]).
When Aurora Leigh was published, EBB decided against giving a copy to Stratten, but she was curious about his opinion of her new work and asked her sister to “tell me what he says” (10–18 December ). A copy of EBB’s Poems Before Congress (1860), inscribed to “Mrs. Stratten with the affecte. love of A Barrett,” is now at the Armstrong Browning Library (see Reconstruction, M61), and a copy of EBB’s Poems (1844) was presented by EBB to Fanny Stratten (Reconstruction, C85).
Amongst the members of Stratten’s flourishing congregation was John McIntosh, his wife Frances, and their six children, the youngest of whom was Charlotte. She married EBB’s brother Octavius in 1859.
In late 1858 Stratten became ill, and this illness eventually caused him to resign as pastor of Paddington Chapel in March 1860. Letters from EBB to Arabella indicate that there was probably some friction between Stratten and the congregation’s leaders over various matters, but he remained in the area and continued to preach at the chapel from time to time, and the friendship between Arabella and the Strattens endured for the remainder of their lives. Stratten’s wife Rebekah died on 22 November 1870, and he died on 12 May 1872.