Page images

Obfervations on the Language of the People commonly called Gypfies. By Mr.
Extract from Mr. Strutt's Essay on the Origin and Progress of the Art of



[blocks in formation]

From the ACCESSION of King HENRY the Fourth, to the AcCESSION of King HENRY the Seventh.

N our laft Number, we had the pleasure of recording fome confiderable improvements with regard to the ftate of knowledge, literature, and tafte, in Great Britain. Wickliffe had boldly advanced to an uncommon enlargement of thinking in religious matters, and Chaucer had difplayed a vein of poetry rich and new in this country. From fuch beginnings important confequences might have been expected; and the writings of thefe eminent men must have had no finall effect on the minds of many individuals. The opinions of Wickliffe appear to have been embraced by a larger number of perfons than dared to avow them; and the admirers of Chaucer could not avoid having their understandings and their tafte improved by a perufal of his various works.

Still, however, the progrefs of knowledge was far inferior to what, from aufpices fo favourable to the cultivation and refinement of the human faculties, might ration




ally have been predicted. In fact, the period we are now treating of, is one of the moft difgraceful, with respect to the subject before us, that can be found in the history of England. It affords but few literary facts and characters on which we can expatiate with much fatisfaction. Several circumstances contributed to the neglect of learning; the chief of which undoubtedly was the confufion of the times, arifing from the civil wars that were occafioned by the long contests between the two rival houfes of York and Lancaster. In the perpetual tumult and din of arms, and amidst the defolations that were fpread through the kingdom, little opportunity was afforded for the purfuits of fcience, and the culture of the polite arts. Ignorance and barbarity obtained new triumphs over the minds of our countrymen.

But previously to thefe contefts, knowledge and literature had begun to decline. Henry the Fourth, at his acceffion to the crown, was understood to be friendly to the fentiments of Wickliffe. But the confcience of this monarch, like that of moft other princes, was not of that obftinate kind which refufed to bend itself to political views. When he confidered the ftate of parties, he was convinced that nothing could fo effectually ftrengthen his claims as the fupport of the clergy; and, therefore, he determined to comply with the requifitions of the great ecclefiaftics, however hoftile thefe requifitions might be to the cause of reformation. The fevereft treatment of the advocates for religious improvements was the price of the church's favour; and it was a price to the payment of which Henry the Fourth readily fubmitted.

Through the influence of Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury, whofe character was deformed by fuperftition and cruelty, a law was obtained against the Lollards, by which the bithops were authorifed to imprifon all perfons fufpected of herefy, and to try them in the fpiritual court. If thefe difciples of Wickliffe proved either obflinate or relapfed heretics, the ecclefiaftical judge was to call the theriff of the county, or the chief civil officer of the town, to be prefent when the fentence of condemnation was pro+


nounced; upon which the condemned perfon was immediately to be delivered to the fecular magiftrate, who was to caufe him to be burnt to death, in fome elevated place, in the fight of all the people. This ftatute, which is fo reproachful to the principles and manners of the times, was not merely an act of denunciation, but was inftantly carried into effect. Upon the ftrength of it, fir William Sawtre, rector of St. Ofwyth, London, was brought to trial before the convocation of the province of Canterbury, at St. Paul's, and received fentence of condemnation. It was an honour to himself, but a difgrace to his country, that he was the first perfon in England who was burned to death for the adoption of fentiments the truth of which is now admitted by every liberal mind. To another clergyman, William Thorp, whofe learning alone would have entitled him to a place in this work, archbishop Arundel did not carry his cruelty quite fo far. He committed him, however, to a loathfome prifon, the horrors of which probably fhortened, as well as embittered his days.

Henry the Fifth, brightly as his name fhines on other accounts, was in the fame difgraceful fituation with that of his father. Indeed, the fcheme he had formed with regard to the conquest of France, laid him under a greater neceffity of courting the clergy than Henry the Fourth had ever experienced; and the bishops knew how to avail theinfelves of a crifis which could be converted to the farther establishment of their own power, and to the fuppreffion of a free enquiry into the doctrines of Christianity. Secure in the protection of the crown, perfecution now took a bolder flight, and made an attack upon fir John Oldcastle, lord Cobham, the most illuftrious of the followers of Wickliffe. This nobleman, not to mention his other eminent qualities, was diftinguished by the vigour and extent of his intellectual powers. To his natural parts he joined all the acquifitions of knowledge and learning which the times he lived in could adminifter. In religion he attained to a dignity of fentiment which would not be a dishonour to the prefent age. The man who could fay, that his faith was, That God will afk no more of a Chriftian in this life

a 2


than to obey the precepts of his bleffed law;" and that "if any prelate of the church requireth more, or any other kind of obedience, he contemneth Chrift, exalteth himself above God, and becometh plainly antichrift,"-the man who could fay this in the beginning of the fifteenth century, must have been enlightened far beyond the generality of his contemporaries. His conduct in avowing his opinions was equally open and manly; and he maintained them at the stake, to which, after feveral years of fevere harraffment and perfecution, he was at length brought by the bigotry and malice of his enemies.

While the abettors of Wickliffe's tenets were depreffed and cruelly treated at home, it is fome honour to our country, that the doctrines which had been advanced by him contributed to the diffufion of religious knowledge among foreign nations. Bohemia was the kingdom where his principles were the moft zealously and extensively adopted, and where they were productive of effects which make no inconfiderable figure in the public hiftory of Germany.

Amidft the ardour of the prelates for the fuppreffion of novel opinions, and for impeding the progrefs of reformation, it might have been expected that their own favourite study, that of fcholaftic theology, would have been vigoroufly purfued. This fpecies of divinity was, indeed, cultivated to a certain degree; but it did not appear with the fplendour which it had affumed in former ages. No fuch luminaries were produced as had heretofore obtained the moft pompous titles: there were no perfons who attained the appellations of irrefragable, angelic, or feraphic doctors. The bishops chiefly concerned themfelves in fupporting the general pretenfions of the church, or in framing canons for the maintenance of their feparate interefts. As to the dif putes which were carried on between the regular and fecular clergy, they are of too little confequence to be mentioned in a hiftory of literature.

There was one prelate whofe mind was enlarged above the common ftandard of his brethren, but whofe fortitude was not equal to his knowledge. This was Pococke, bifhop of Chichester, who, when examined before archbishop


« PreviousContinue »