Martin Madan

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Madan, Martin (1725–1790), Church of England clergyman and advocate of polygamy, was born on 5 October 1725 at his paternal grandfather's house in Bond Street, London, the elder son of Colonel Martin Madan (1700–1756), MP for Hertingfordbury, Hertfordshire, and his wife, Judith Madan (1702–1781), poet, the only daughter of Judge Spencer Cowper. His younger brother, Spencer Madan, became bishop of Peterborough, and through their mother's family they were cousins of the poet and hymn writer, William Cowper. Madan was educated at a school in Chelsea under Mr Rothesy and from 1736 at Westminster School, whence he proceeded to Christ Church, Oxford; he matriculated on 9 February 1743 and graduated BA on 9 November 1746. He was called to the bar from the Inner Temple in 1748, but his career took a dramatic turn when he was challenged by his fellow members of a fashionable and lively club, frequented by young men of the town, to accompany some of them to hear John Wesley and then to entertain them with a caricature of his preaching. As they entered the text was being announced: ‘Prepare to meet thy God’. Madan was deeply struck and on returning to the club and being asked ‘to take the old Methodist off’, he stunned his colleagues with the reply: ‘No, gentlemen, he has taken me off’ (BL, Add. MS 5832, fol. 84). He forsook the bar, his former mode of living, and his erstwhile associates.

Nurtured in his new direction by David Jones (1735–1810) and even more strongly by William Romaine, who at that time at his church, St Dunstan-in-the-West, was the most influential evangelical in London, Madan sought holy orders, not, be it said, without difficulty because of these perceived Methodist connections. Through the efforts, however, of the countess of Huntingdon he was successful and the ‘lawyer turned divine’ was appointed to All Hallows, Lombard Street, in 1750. He is said to have remarked on one occasion: ‘I have long been accustomed to plead at the bar the cause of man; I stand here to plead the cause of God and to beseech sinners to be reconciled to Him’ (Binns, 242). He was apparently an impressive preacher, tall of stature with an imposing presence, whose legal training assisted in the ordering and cogency of his sermons. ‘He preached without notes; his voice was musical, well undulated, full and powerful; his language plain, nervous, pleasing and memorable, and his arguments strong, bold, rational and conclusive’ (Seymour, 1.167).

Madan became chaplain of the Lock Hospital at Hyde Park Corner, an institution for penitent prostitutes. His preaching there, where members of the public were free to attend, became so popular that a new chapel was built in 1762. His association with the Lady Huntingdon meant, however, that his talents were given wider scope for exploitation. He preached at the opening of her first chapel in Brighton in 1761 and again at its enlargement in 1767, as well as at such other fashionable watering places as Cheltenham, Bath, and Tunbridge Wells. Before that he is recorded as being present at her prayer meetings where both Wesley and Whitefield attended at different times. He also joined other clergy who were part of her circle in itinerating. Thus he was with Whitefield and the young Henry Venn in Gloucestershire in 1757 and later in the same year with Romaine in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, and Buckinghamshire. In 1759 he was with Romaine again, this time looking at the revivalist activities at Everton, Bedfordshire, where Berridge was the incumbent, and for whom Madan also acted as locum when the latter was itinerating. Madan continued his links with Lady Huntingdon, severing them only when she herself severed those of her Connexion with the Church of England. His affinities with other clergy in these years place him distinctly within the Calvinistic wing of the evangelical movement. His correspondence with Wesley over a period from 1756, together with his Scriptural Account of the Doctrine of Perfection (1763), bring out their differences on that subject.

Besides his other talents Madan also possessed high musical gifts, and, in addition to his preaching, another attraction of the Lock chapel was the annual oratorio, where in 1764 and 1765 respectively Wesley attended performances of Judith and Ruth. Of more lasting significance was the Collection of Psalms and Hymns which Madan assembled and published in 1760, the popularity of which was such that it ran to thirteen editions by 1794. It consisted originally of 170 pieces with a further 24 added as an appendix to the second edition in 1763. John Julian remarks of it that

nearly the whole of its contents, together with its extensively altered texts, were reprinted in numerous hymn-books for nearly one-hundred years. At the present time many of the great hymns of the [nineteenth] century are in use as altered by him in 1760 and 1763. (Julian, 710)

A more recent writer has called it

a robust, no-nonsense collection … He aimed for plainness and simplicity … To assist the reader in decoding the text, therefore, Madan provided biblical references as footnotes to every page. His preface was an uncompromising document, denouncing any deviation from what he saw as orthodox belief. (Watson, 266)

Madan did not hesitate to alter the texts of hymns and many of his emendations became standard. One such example is his extensive alteration of the passiontide hymn by Isaac Watts, ‘He dies, the Heavenly Lover dies’, where even the first line became ‘He dies, the Friend of sinners dies’ (Julian, 500), while ‘Lo, He comes with clouds descending’ is Madan's mixture of the original by John Cennick and a subsequent version by Charles Wesley (ibid., 681–2). He also followed the same practice with tunes, including that for ‘Lo, He comes’, originally written by Thomas Olivers and named after him, but altered in Madan's Collection of Hymn and Psalm Tunes (1769) to the version now known as ‘Helmsley’. Apart from this, little of Madan's hymnody has survived, though his ‘Wandsworth’ was the setting given to ‘Father of mercies’ in the 1904 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern. In later life he also published Six Sonatas for a German Flute and Violin (c.1780) and A Sonata for the Harpsichord or Pianoforte (c.1785).

In 1767 Madan was involved in an ecclesiastical cause célèbre, in which a principal player was one of his former assistant chaplains at the Lock, who was another member of Lady Huntingdon's coterie. This was Thomas Haweis, who had been preferred on Madan's recommendation to the rectory of Aldwincle, Northamptonshire, in February 1764 after the patron, one Kimpton, had failed to negotiate the sale of the advowson. Three years later, however, an offer of 1000 guineas for the advowson was made, and Kimpton, not surprisingly given that he was in prison for debt and his family was said to be starving, tried to secure Haweis's resignation on the grounds that the preferment had been made with reservations. Madan, the erstwhile barrister, consulted the lord chancellor, Lord Apsley, and other legal luminaries and advised Haweis to refuse. In the subsequent acrimonious public outcry accusations were made of simony, Methodism, and misrepresentation. Only after the mediation of the wealthy evangelical London merchant, John Thornton, and the satisfaction of Kimpton's creditors by Lady Huntingdon's purchase of the advowson was Haweis able to remain in possession. Some of Madan's friends, Lady Huntingdon among them, suggested the appropriateness of at least a qualified apology for what appeared to have been a narrowly legalistic insistence on his part. Madan was supported in resisting this by others of his friends including Lord Apsley, who shortly thereafter appointed him as his domestic chaplain. The controversy was the occasion of several pamphlets both by and against Madan.

This incident did not sever Madan's friendships, but a later event did, and it is by this that he is chiefly remembered. This was the publication in 1780 of his book, Thelyphthora, dealing with a topic which he no doubt thought it proper to entitle in the decent obscurity of a learned language, even though he elaborated the subtitle ‘A Treatise of Female Ruin’ under the heads of ‘marriage, whoredom and fornication, adultery, polygamy, divorce’. Arising from his acquaintance with the plight of the unfortunate inmates of the Lock Hospital, Madan argued at length for the social benefits of polygamy. He realized the daring of what he was doing, calling himself in the preface to the first edition ‘a Free-thinker, not in the usual sense of that word’ (M. Madan, Thelyphthora, 2nd edn., 1.xv) and recognizing that some might think his subject better ‘left under the clouds of obscurity … hidden from vulgar observation’ (ibid., 1.xi). He disclaimed any advocacy of polygamy in terms of satisfying sexual appetite, but asserted that it was ‘expedient in some cases, necessary in others’ to prevent greater damage, citing in support the Mosaic injunctions of Exodus 22: 16 and Deuteronomy 22: 28–9. In doing so he alleged that while society still chose to recognize part of what he called ‘God's law’ in condemning fornication, adultery, and marriage within the bounds of consanguinity, it nevertheless saw fit to ignore the requirements of these verses. Realizing, however, that in the Christian dispensation he needed New Testament support, he also argued from such texts as 1 Corinthians 6: 15. His idiosyncrasies were not lacking in boldness, such that he could describe marriage as an outward ‘human invention’ (ibid., 1.24) and contrast divine ordinance and civil contract (ibid., 2.64). The crux of his case was expressed in a single sentence: ‘Every man who has seduced a woman, whether with or without a promise of marriage, should be obliged to wed her publicly’ (ibid., 2.67).

The genuineness of Madan's intentions was transparent and it is said that his views were shared by others, among them his great-uncle, Lord Chancellor Cowper, but public opinion and especially the religious world thought differently. Lady Huntingdon held a petition with 6000 signatures against the book's appearance, while a fellow evangelical, Henry Venn, wrote, on 9 August 1780, ‘I am glad to see that Mr. Madan's book is held in abhorrence. The fruits it will produce are dreadful’ (Venn, Annals, 107). There were many articles in magazines, especially those by Samuel Badcock in the Monthly Review (vols. 63–5), a spate of pamphlets including three by fellow evangelicals, Richard Hill, Haweis, and Thomas Wills, this last writing at the request of Lady Huntingdon, and a number of satires including William Cowper's Anti-Thelyphthora. Madan's only responses were Letters on Thelyphthora (1782) and Five Letters Addressed to Abraham Rees, Editor of Chambers's Encyclopaedia (1783). As a result of the outcry against him Madan resigned his chaplaincy at the Lock Hospital. He had been in possession of considerable private means since the death of his father in 1756. Five years before, on 17 December 1751, he had married Jane, daughter of Sir Bernard Hale. They had two sons, Martin (d. 1809), of Bushey, Hertfordshire, and William (d. 1769), and three daughters, Sarah, Anna, and Maria. Unembittered by the controversy, Madan withdrew into retirement at Epsom, in 1781, and spent his last years preparing his New and Literal Translation of Juvenal and Persius (2 vols., 1789). He died there on 2 May 1790 and was buried at Kensington. His wife survived him by four years, and died at Epsom on 15 June 1794.

Arthur Pollard


[A. C. H. Seymour], The life and times of Selina, countess of Huntingdon, 2 vols. (1839) · DNB · L. E. Elliott-Binns, The early evangelicals: a religious and social study (1953) · J. Julian, ed., A dictionary of hymnology, rev. edn (1907) · J. R. Watson, The English hymn: a critical and historical study (1997) · M. Frost, ed., Historical companion to ‘Hymns ancient and modern’ (1962) · GM, 1st ser., 60 (1790), 478 · J. Venn, Annals of a clerical family (1904) · The journal of the Rev. John Wesley, ed. N. Curnock and others, 8 vols. (1909–16) · R. S. Lea, ‘Madan, Martin’, HoP, Commons, 1715–54 · F. Madan, The Madan family, and Maddens in Ireland and England (1933)


Bodl. Oxf., family corresp. and papers · Harvard U., law school, legal notebook · Surrey HC, family corresp. and papers



J. Watson, mezzotint, pubd 1774 (with C. E. de Coetlogan; after G. James), BM, NPG · line engraving, 1784, NPG · R. Houston, mezzotint (after Jenkin), BM · R. Manwaring, mezzotint, BM · engraving, repro. in Gospel Magazine (1774)

Wealth at death  

presumed wealthy

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Arthur Pollard, ‘Madan, Martin (1725–1790)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 19 Nov 2005]

Martin Madan (1725–1790): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/17748


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