CHAPTER XXII. THE RELIGIOUS LITERATURE OF THE GREAT REBELLION AND OF THE RESTORATION.
The English Divines. Hall. Chillingworth. Taylor. Fuller. Sir T.
Browne. Baxter. Fox. Bunyan. South. Other Writers.
THE ENGLISH DIVINES.
Having come down, in the course of English Literature, to the reign of William and Mary, we must look back for a brief space to consider the religious polemics which grew out of the national troubles and vicissitudes. We shall endeavor to classify the principal authors under this head from the days of Milton to the time when the Protestant succession was established on the English throne.
The Established Church had its learned doctors before the civil war, many of whom contributed to the literature; but when the contest between king and parliament became imminent, and during the progress of the quarrel, these became controversialists,—most of them on the side of the unfortunate but misguided monarch,—and suffered with his declining fortunes.
To go over the whole range of theological literature in this extended period, would be to study the history of the times from a theological point of view. Our space will only permit a brief notice of the principal writers.
HALL.—First among these was Joseph Hall, who was born in 1574. He was educated at Cambridge, and was appointed to the See of Exeter in 1624, and transferred to that of Norwich in 1641, the year before Charles I. ascended the throne. The scope of his writings was quite extensive. As a theological writer, he is known by his numerous sermons, his Episcopacy by Divine Right Asserted, his Christian Meditations, and various commentaries and Contemplations upon the Scriptures. He was also a poet and a satirist, and excelled in this field. His Satires—Virgidemiarium —were published at the early age of twenty-three; but they are highly praised by the critics, who rank him also, for eloquence and learning, with Jeremy Taylor. He suffered for his attachment to the king's cause, was driven from his see, and spent the last portion of his life in retirement and poverty. He died in 1656.
CHILLINGWORTH.—The next in chronological order is William Chillingworth, who was born in 1602, and is principally known as the champion of Protestantism against Rome and Roman innovations. While a student at Oxford, he had been won over to the Roman Catholic Church by John Perse, a famous Jesuit; and he went at once to pursue his studies in the Jesuit college at Douay. He was so notable for his acuteness and industry, that every effort was made to bring him back. Archbishop Laud, his god-father, was able to convince him of his errors, and in two months he returned to England. A short time after this he left the Roman Catholics, and became tenfold more a Protestant than before. He entered into controversies with his former friends the Jesuits, and in answer to one of their treatises entitled, Mercy and Truth, or Charity maintained by the Roman Catholics, he wrote his most famous work, The Religion of Protestants a Safe Way to Salvation. Chillingworth was a warm adherent of Charles I.; and was captured by the parliamentary forces in 1643. He died the next year. His double change of faith gave him the full range of the controversial field; and, in addition to this knowledge, the clearness of his language and the perspicuity of his logic gave great effect to his writings. Tillotson calls him “the glory of this age and nation.”
TAYLOR.—One of the greatest names in the annals of the English Church and of English literature is that of Jeremy Taylor. He was the son of a barber, and was born at Cambridge in 1613. A remarkably clever youth, he was educated at Cambridge, and soon owed his preferment to his talents, eloquence, and learning. An adherent of the king, he was appointed chaplain in the royal army, and was several times imprisoned. When the king's cause went down, and during the protectorate of Cromwell, he retired to Wales, where he kept a school, and was also chaplain to the Earl of Carberry. The vicissitudes of fortune compelled him to leave for a while this retreat, and he became a teacher in Ireland. The restoration of Charles II. gave him rest and preferment: he was made Bishop of Down and Connor. Taylor is now principally known for his learned, quaint, and eloquent discourses, which are still read. A man of liberal feelings and opinions, he wrote on “The liberty of prophesying, showing the unreasonableness of prescribing to other men's faith, and the iniquity of persecuting different opinions:” the title itself being a very liberal discourse. He upholds the Ritual in An Apology for fixed and set Forms of Worship. In this he considers the divine precepts to be contained within narrow limits, and that beyond this everything is a matter of dispute, so that we cannot unconditionally condemn the opinions of others.
His Great Exemplar of Sanctity and Holy Life, his Rule and Exercises of Holy Living and of Holy Dying, and his Golden Grove, are devotional works, well known to modern Christians of all denominations. He has been praised alike by Roman Catholic divines and many Protestant Christians not of the Anglican Church. There is in all his writings a splendor of imagery, combined with harmony of style, and wonderful variety, readiness, and accuracy of scholarship. His quotations from the whole range of classic authors would furnish the Greek and Latin armory of any modern writer. What Shakspeare is in the Drama, Spenser in the Allegory, and Milton in the religious Epic, Taylor may claim to be in the field of purely religious literature. He died at Lisburn, in 1667.
FULLER.—More quaint and eccentric than the writers just mentioned, but a rare representative of his age, stands Thomas Fuller. He was born in 1608; at the early age of twelve, he entered Cambridge, and, after completing his education, took orders. In 1631, he was appointed prebendary of Salisbury. Thence he removed to London in 1641, when the civil war was about to open. When the king left London, in 1642, Fuller preached a sermon in his favor, to the great indignation of the opposite party. Soon after, he was appointed to a chaplaincy in the royal army, and not only preached to the soldiers, but urged them forward in battle. In 1646 he returned to London, where he was permitted to preach, under surveillance, however. He seems to have succeeded in keeping out of trouble until the Restoration, when he was restored to his prebend. He did not enjoy it long, as he died in the next year, 1661. His writings are very numerous, and some of them are still read. Among these are Good Thoughts in Bad Times, Good Thoughts in Worse Times, and Mixt Contemplations in Better Times. The bad and worse times mark the progress of the civil war: the better times he finds in the Restoration.
One of his most valuable works is The Church History of Britain, from the birth of Christ to 1648, in 11 books. Criticized as it has been for its puns and quibbles and its occasional caricatures, it contains rare descriptions and very vivid stories of the important ecclesiastical eras in England.
Another book containing important information is his History of the Worthies of England, a posthumous work, published by his son the year after his death. It contains accounts of eminent Englishmen in different countries; and while there are many errors which he would perhaps have corrected, it is full of odd and interesting information not to be found collated in any other book.
Representing and chronicling the age as he does, he has perhaps more individuality than any writer of his time, and this gives a special interest to his works.
SIR THOMAS BROWNE.—Classed among theological writers, but not a clergyman, Sir Thomas Browne is noted for the peculiarity of his subjects, and his diction. He was born in 1605, and was educated at Oxford. He studied medicine, and became a practising physician. He travelled on the continent, and returning to England in 1633, he began to write his most important work, Religio Medici, at once a transcript of his own life and a manifesto of what the religion of a physician should be. It was kept in manuscript for some time, but was published without his knowledge in 1642. He then revised the work, and published several editions himself. No description of the treatise can give the reader a just idea of it; it requires perusal. The criticism of Dr. Johnson is terse and just: it is remarkable, he says, for “the novelty of paradoxes, the dignity of sentiment, the quick succession of images, the multitude of abstruse allusions, the subtilty of disquisition, and the strength of language.” As the portraiture of an inner life, it is admirable; and the accusation of heterodoxy brought against him on account of a few careless passages is unjust.
Among his other works are Essays on Vulgar Errors ( Pseudoxia Epidemica), and Hydriotaphica or Urne burial ; the latter suggested by the exhumation of some sepulchral remains in Norfolk, which led him to treat with great learning of the funeral rites of all nations. To this he afterwards added The Garden of Cyrus, or The Quincunxial Lozenge, in which, in the language of Coleridge, he finds quincunxes “in heaven above, in the earth below, in the mind of man, in tones, optic nerves, in the roots of trees, in leaves, in everything.” He died in 1682.
Numerous sects, all finding doctrine and forms in the Bible, were the issue of the religious and political controversies of the day. Without entering into a consideration or even an enumeration of these, we now mention a few of the principal names among them.
RICHARD BAXTER.—Among the most devout, independent, and popular of the religious writers of the day, Richard Baxter occupies a high rank. He was born in 1615, and was ordained a clergyman in 1638. In the civil troubles he desired to remain neutral, and he opposed Cromwell when he was made Protector. In 1662 he left the Church, and was soon the subject of persecution: he was always the champion of toleration. In prison, poor, hunted about from place to place, he was a martyr in spirit. During his great earthly troubles he was solaced by a vision, which he embodied in his popular work, The Saints' Everlasting Rest ; and he wrote with great fervor A Call to the Unconverted. He was a very voluminous writer; the brutal Judge Jeffries, before whom he appeared for trial, called him “an old knave, who had written books enough to load a cart.” He wrote a paraphrase of the New Testament, and numerous discourses. Dr. Johnson advised Boswell, when speaking of Baxter's works: “Read any of them; they are all good.” He continued preaching until the close of his life, and died peacefully in 1691.
GEORGE FOX.—The founder of the Society of Friends was born in 1624, in an humble condition of life, and at an early age was apprenticed to a shoemaker and grazier. Uneducated and unknown, he considered himself as the subject of special religious providence, and at length as supernaturally called of God. Suddenly abandoning his servile occupation, he came out in 1647, at the age of twenty-three, as the founder of a new sect; an itinerant preacher, he rebuked the multitudes which he assembled by his fervent words. Much of his success was due to his earnestness and self-abnegation. He preached in all parts of England, and visited the American colonies. The name Quaker is said to have been applied to this sect in 1650, when Fox, arraigned before Judge Bennet, told him to “tremble at the word of the Lord.” The establishment of this sect by such a man is one of the strongest illustrations of the eager religious inquiry of the age.
The works of Fox are a very valuable Journal of his Life and Travels; Letters and Testimonies; Gospel Truth Demonstrated,—all of which form the best statement of the origin and tenets of his sect. Fox was a solemn, reverent, absorbed man; a great reader and fluent expounder of the Scriptures, but fanatical and superstitious; a believer in witchcraft, and in his power to detect witches. The sect which he founded, and which has played so respectable a part in later history, is far more important than the founder himself. He died in London in 1690.
WILLIAM PENN.—The fame of Fox in America has been eclipsed by that of his chief convert William Penn. In an historical or biographical work, the life of Penn would demand extended mention; but his name is introduced here only as one of the theological writers of the day. He was born in 1644, and while a student at Oxford was converted to the Friends' doctrine by the preaching of Thomas Loe, a colleague of George Fox. The son of Admiral Sir William Penn, he was the ward of James II., and afterwards Lord Proprietary and founder of Pennsylvania. Persecuted for his tenets, he was frequently imprisoned for his preaching and writings. In 1668 he wrote Truth Exalted and The Sandy Foundation, and when imprisoned for these, he wrote in jail his most famous work, No Cross, no Crown.
After the expulsion of James II., Penn was repeatedly tried and acquitted for alleged attempts to aid the king in recovering his throne. The malignity of Lord Macaulay has reproduced the charges, but reversed, most unjustly, the acquittals. His record occupies a large space in American history, and he is reverenced for having established a great colony on the basis of brotherly love. Poor and infirm, he died in 1718.
ROBERT BARCLAY, who was born in 1648, is only mentioned in this connection on account of his Latin apology for the Quakers, written in 1676, and translated since into English.
JOHN BUNYAN.—Among the curious religious outcroppings of the civil war, none is more striking and singular than John Bunyan. He produced a work of a decidedly polemical character, setting forth his peculiar doctrines, and—a remarkable feature in the course of English literature—a story so interesting and vivid that it has met with universal perusal and admiration. It is at the same time an allegory which has not its equal in the language. Rhetoricians must always mention the Pilgrim's Progress as the most splendid example of the allegory.
Bunyan was born in Elston, Bedfordshire, in 1628. The son of a tinker, his childhood and early manhood were idle and vicious. A sudden and sharp rebuke from a woman not much better than himself, for his blasphemy, set him to thinking, and he soon became a changed man. In 1653 he joined the Baptists, and soon, without preparation, began to preach. For this he was thrown into jail, where he remained for more than twelve years. It was during this period that, with no other books than the Bible and Fox's Book of Martyrs, he excogitated his allegory. In 1672 he was released through the influence of Barlow, Bishop of Lincoln. He immediately began to preach, and continued to do so until 1688, when he died from a fever brought on by exposure.
In his first work, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, he gives us his own experience,—fearful dreams of early childhood, his sins and warnings in the parliamentary army, with divers temptations, falls, and struggles.
Of his great work, The Pilgrim's Progress, it is hardly necessary to speak at length. The story of the Pilgrim, Christian, is known to all English readers, large and little; how he left the City of Destruction, and journeyed towards the Celestial City; of his thrilling adventures; of the men and things that retarded his progress, and of those who helped him forward. No one has ever discoursed with such vivid description and touching pathos of the Land of Beulah, the Delectable Mountains, the Christian's inward rapture at the glimpse of the Celestial City, and his faith-sustaining descent into the Valley of the Shadow of Death! As a work of art, it is inimitable; as a book of religious instruction, it is more to be admired for sentiment than for logic; its influence upon children is rather that of a high-wrought romance than of godly precept. It is a curious reproduction, with a slight difference in cast, of the morality play of an earlier time. Mercy, Piety, Christian, Hopeful, Greatheart, Faithful, are representatives of Christian graces; and, as in the morality, the Prince of Darkness figures as Apollyon.
Bunyan also wrote The Holy War, an allegory, which describes the contest between Immanuel and Diabolus for the conquest of the city of Mansoul. This does not by any means share the popularity of The Pilgrim's Progress. The language of all his works is common and idiomatic, but precise and strong: it is the vigorous English of an unpretending man, without the graces of the schools, but expressing his meaning with remarkable clearness. Like Milton's Paradise Lost, Bunyan's allegory has been improperly placed by many persons on a par with the Bible as a body of Christian doctrine, and for instruction in righteousness.
ROBERT SOUTH.—This eccentric clergyman was born in 1633. While king's scholar at Dr. Busby's school in London, he led the devotions on the day of King Charles' execution, and prayed for his majesty by name. At first a Puritan, he became a churchman, and took orders. He was learned and eloquent; but his sermons, which were greatly admired at the time, contain many oddities, forced conceits, and singular anti-climaxes, which gained for him the appellation of the witty churchman.
He is accused of having been too subservient to Charles II.; and he also is considered as displaying not a little vindictiveness in his attacks on his former colleagues the Puritans. He is only known to this age by his sermons, which are still published and read.
OTHER THEOLOGICAL WRITERS.
Isaac Barrow, 1630-1677: a man of varied learning, a traveller in the East, and an oriental scholar. He was appointed Professor of Greek at Cambridge, and also lectured on Mathematics. He was a profound thinker and a weighty writer, principally known by his courses of sermons on the Decalogue, the Creed, and the Sacraments.
Edward Stillingfleet, 1635-1699: a clergyman of the Church of England, he was appointed Bishop of Worcester. Many of his sermons have been published. Among his treatises is one entitled, Irenicum, a Weapon-Salve for the Churches Wounds, or the Divine Right of Particular Forms of Church Government Discussed and Examined. “The argument,” says Bishop Burnet, “was managed with so much learning and skill that none of either side ever undertook to answer it.” He also wrote Origines Sacrae, or a Rational Account of the Christian Faith, and various treatises in favor of Protestantism and against the Church of Rome.
William Sherlock, 1678-1761: he was Dean of St. Paul's, and a writer of numerous doctrinal discourses, among which are those on The Trinity, and on Death and the Future Judgment. His son, Thomas Sherlock, D.D., born 1678, was also a distinguished theological writer.
Gilbert Burnet, 1643-1715: he was very much of a politician, and played a prominent part in the Revolution. He was made Bishop of Salisbury in 1689. He is principally known by his History of the Reformation, written in the Protestant interest, and by his greater work, the History of my Own Times. Not without a decided bias, this latter work is specially valuable as the narration of an eye-witness. The history has been variously criticized for prejudice and inaccuracy; but it fills what would otherwise have been a great vacuum in English historical literature.
John Locke, 1632-1704. In a history of philosophy, the name of this distinguished philosopher would occupy a prominent place, and his works would require extended notice. But it is not amiss to introduce him briefly in this connection, because his works all have an ethical significance. He was educated as a physician, and occupied several official positions, in which he suffered from the vicissitudes of political fortune, being once obliged to retreat from persecution to Holland. His Letters on Toleration is a noble effort to secure the freedom of conscience: his Treatises on Civil Government were specially designed to refute Sir John Filmer's Patriarcha, and to overthrow the principle of the Jus Divinum. His greatest work is an Essay on the Human Understanding. This marks an era in English thought, and has done much to invite attention to the subject of intellectual philosophy. He derives our ideas from the two sources, sensation and reflection; and although many of his views have been superseded by the investigations of later philosophers, it is due to him in some degree that their inquiries have been possible.
DIARISTS AND ANTIQUARIANS.
John Evelyn, 1620-1705. Among the unintentional historians of England, none are of more value than those who have left detailed and gossiping diaries of the times in which they lived: among these Evelyn occupies a prominent place. He was a gentleman of education and position, who, after the study of law, travelled extensively, and resided several years in France. He had varied accomplishments. His Sylva is a discourse on forest trees and on the propagation of timber in his majesty's dominions. To this he afterwards added Pomona, or a treatise on fruit trees. He was also the author of an essay on A Parallel of the Ancient Architecture with the Modern. But the work by which he is now best known is his Diary from 1641 to 1705; it is a necessary companion to the study of the history of that period; and has been largely consulted by modern writers in making up the historic record of the time.
Samuel Pepys, 1637-1703. This famous diarist was the son of a London tailor. He received a collegiate education, and became a connoisseur in literature and art. Of a prying disposition, he saw all that he could of the varied political, literary, and social life of England; and has recorded what he saw in a diary so quaint, simple, and amusing, that it has retained its popularity to the present day, and has greatly aided the historian both in facts and philosophy. He held an official position as secretary in the admiralty, the duties of which he discharged with great system and skill. In addition to this Diary, we have also hisCorrespondence, published after his death, which is historically of great importance. In both diary and correspondence he has the charm of great naivete,—as of a curious and gossiping observer, who never dreamed that his writings would be made public. Men and women of social station are painted in pre-Raphaelite style, and figure before us with great truth and vividness.
Elias Ashmole, 1617-1693. This antiquarian and virtuoso is principally known as the founder of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. He studied law, chemistry, and natural philosophy. Besides an edition of the manuscript works of certain English chemists, he wrote Bennevennu,—the description of a Roman road mentioned in the Itinerary of Antoninus,—and a History of the Order of the Garter. His Diarywas published nearly a century after his death, but is by no means equal in value to those of Evelyn and Pepys.
John Aubrey, 1627-1697: a man of curious mind, Aubrey investigated the supernatural topics of the day, and presented them to the world in his Miscellanies. Among these subjects it is interesting to notice “blows invisible,” and “knockings,” which have been resuscitated in the present day. He was a “perambulator,” and, in the words of one of his critics, “picked up information on the highway, and scattered it everywhere as authentic.” His most valuable contribution to history is found in his Letters Written by Eminent Persons in the 17th and 18th Centuries, with Lives of Eminent Men. The searcher for authentic material must carefully scrutinize Aubrey's facts; but, with much that is doubtful, valuable information may be obtained from his pages.