Huntingdon, Selina, Countess of

Huntingdon, Selina, Countess of a lady distinguished in the religious history of the 18th century, was born Aug. 24, 1707, and was one of the three daughters and co-heirs of Washington Shirley, earl of Ferrers. Selina, the second daughter, married, in 1728, Theophilus Hastings, earl of Huntingdon, a nobleman of retired habits, with whom she appears to have had a very happy life till his sudden death, on the 13th of October, 1746, of a fit of apoplexy. She had many children, four of whom died in youth or early manhood. It was probably these domestic afflictions, which disposed this lady to take the course so opposite to that which is generally pursued by the noble and the great. She became deeply religious. It was at the time when the preachers and founders of Methodism, Wesley and Whitefield, were rousing in the country, by their exciting ministry, a spirit of more intense devotion than was generally prevalent, and leading men to look more to what are called the distinguishing truths of the Gospel than to its moral teachings, to which the clergy had for some time chiefly attended in their public ministrations. She found in these doctrines matter of consolation and delight, and she sought to make others participate with her in the advantages they were believed by her to afford. The character of her religion, as well as of her mind, was too decided to allow it to shrink from prominence; on the contrary, her high soul compassionated the fearful condition of the wealthy and noble, and she boldly sought to spread the influences of Methodism, not only through the highest aristocracy of the realm, but to the royal family itself. She took Whitefield under her especial patronage, defied all ecclesiastical order, and even engaged him to hold services in her own residence, which she invited her friends of the nobility to- attend. She persuaded the highest ladies of the court to listen to the preaching of the great evangelists, with and influence more or less powerful upon some, and a saving change in others. Among the former were the celebrated duchess of Marlborough and the duchess of Buckingham; among the latter the duchess of the celebrated Chesterfield, lady Ann Frankland, and lady Fanny Shirley, the theme of the admiring muse of Pope. She numbered among her friends some of the most venerated personages of English history: Watts, Doddridge, Romaine, Venn, and the sainted Fletcher. When Mr. Wesley and his conference of preachers came to the conclusion that they had "leaned too much to Calvinism," lady Huntingdon, who had imbibed from Whitefield the Calvinism by him imported from New England, received the impression, erroneous but inveterate, that Mr. Wesley denied the doctrine of justification by faith, and insisted upon the saving merit of works. Her relative, Rev. Walter Shirley, with the small remnant of Calvinistic preachers, called for recantation. A controversy arose, in which the virulent Toplady was chief champion of Calvinism, and love and truth, on the Armenian side, found their model in Fletcher. Each party went on, in spite of the break, in spreading the essential truths of the Gospel maintained by both. Lady Huntingdon and Mr. Wesley never again met on earth; but when, near the close of her own career, she read the dying ascription made by Mr. Wesley of his salvation to the blood of the Lamb, and when she learned from Wesley's fellow-traveler, Bradford, that such had ever been the tenor of his preaching, her soul melted, and, bursting into tears, she lamented that the unhappy separation had ever taken place. Whitefield made no attempt to found a separate sect, but the countess chose to assume a sort of leadership among his followers, and to act herself as the founder of a sect, and those who might properly have been called Whitefieldian Methodists came to be known as "the countess of Huntingdon's Connection." On Whitefield's death in 1777 she was appointed by will sole proprietrix of all his possessions in Georgia (U. S. A.), and a result of this was the organization of a mission to America. But the countess had also at her own command a considerable income during the forty-four years of her widowhood, and, as her own personal expenses were few, she established and supported, with the assistance of other opulent persons, members of her own family, or other persons who were wrought upon as she was. a college at Trevecca, in Wales, for the education of ministers; built numerous chapels, and assisted in the support of the ministers in them. He died June 17,1791, and the number of her chapels at the time of her death is stated to have been sixty-four, the principal of which was that at Bath, where she herself frequently attended. She created a trust for the management of her college and chapels after her death. The college was soon after removed to Cheshunt, Herts, where it still flourishes; but her chapels have, for the most part, become in doctrine and practice almost identical with those of the Congregational or Independent body, the chief distinction being in the use of a portion" at least of the "Book of Common Prayer," though, where not expressly directed in the trust-deed, that practice has in many instances been abandoned. In 1851 there were, according to the census, 109 chapels belonging to the countess of Huntingdon's Connection in England and Wales. See English Cyclopaedia; Methodist Quarterly Review, January, 1858, p. 162; Stevens, Hist. of Methodism, i, 167; Life and Times of the Countess of Huntingdon (Lond. 1840, 2 vols. 8vo); Mudge, Lady Huntingdon portrayed (New York, 1857, 12mo); Skeats, Hist. of the Free Churches of England, p. 388 sq.

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