« PreviousContinue »
Bourchier, was induced to renounce the rational opinions he had embraced. His recantation, however, which was the effect of allurement and terrour, though it preferved his life, could not fecure to him the continuance of his exalted station. He was deprived of his fee, and was condemned to a retirement, perhaps to a prifon, in which he would probably reflect with deep concern upon the timidity of his conduct.
The general ignorance and barbarity of the times are marked by feveral curious and ftriking circumstances. When the heroic Maid of Orleans was cruelly put to death, the judges, in their condemnation of her, were influenced by a ferious opinion that he was a forcerefs, and a worfhipper of the devil. Indeed, the infatuation with respect to the belief of witchcraft, muft have been irrefiftible, when it was not in the power of fuch a distinguished character as Humphrey, duke of Gloucefter, to prevent his duchefs from being brought to an open trial, and sentenced to a public penance and imprisonment for life, upon an accufation of this kind. But all this will appear the lefs furprifing, when we are informed, that, at the battle of Barnet, the earl of Warwick's forces were thrown into confufion by an unhappy mistake, in confequence of a mist, which was believed to have been raised by friar Bungy, a reputed magician. In fuch a deplorable condition of the human mind, the clergy had ample encouragement to fupprefs, with unrelenting rigour, the finalleft attempts at reformation, and to bind the laity clofer ftill in the chains of abfurdity, error, and fuperftition.
The ftate of learning was correfpondent to the general darkness of the age. Cornelius Vitellius, an Italian, who read lectures in New College at Oxford, did it with fo little effect, that no traces of his having produced any literary improvement have fallen within the compafs of our enquiry. The fcarcity of books, which had always been a formidable obstruction to the progrefs of knowledge, was increased during a period wherein long civil wars must, in a great measure, have deftroyed both the patronage and the leifure that were neceffary to the tranfcription of manu
fcripts. In almoft the whole of the writers to whom the larger part of the fifteenth century gave birth, a want of tafle is eminently difcernible. They were equally ftrangers to propriety of fentiment and purity of ftyle; nor was their compofition vulgar only, but frequently ungrammatical.
The Latin tongue continued to be the ufual vehicle in which the authors of the time conveyed their works to the public. It might, therefore, have been expected that this language would have been cultivated at least as much as it had been in fome preceding centuries. But fo far was this from being the cafe, that the learned men we have formerly mentioned may be ranked as pure and claffical compofers, when compared with the writers of whom we are now fpeaking. Perhaps an exception might be made in favour of Thomas Chaundier, an ecelefiaftic of great preferments, and of one or two more, concerning whom Leland and Wood fpeak in high terms. While the knowledge of the Latin tongue was upon the decline, it will not be thought ftrange that the study of the Greek language fhould almoft totally be neglected. In vain fhall we fearch for any names that by the cultivation of it conferred honour upon their country. We are not infenfible that, in making this affertion, we may be confronted with a catalogue of perfons whom fome of our antiquaries have highly applauded. But pompous encomiums, unlefs fupported by the evidence of facts, and the production of writings, are entitled to little regard.
If any of our readers fhould imagine that, while philological and claffical literature were thus neglected, the philofophical sciences will be found to have been in a more profperous condition, they will be wholly difappointed, Thefe fciences were as little attended to as the other parts of learning. We have here no characters to produce which can in any degree be ranked with fome that have formerly been noticed. Were we to fearch into Tanner, Leland, Bale, Pitts, and other writers of that kind, we might draw out a lift of perfons who were faid to have been mathematicians and philofophers but no traces will
be met with of their having made any difcoveries, or been the authors of any works, which deferve to be recorded.
Medicine, though more ftudied than natural philofophy in general, does not appear with much greater luftre. Dr. Freind, in his Hiftory of Phyfic, could not find one phyfician in this period whom he thought worthy of being applauded. The Dietary for the Prefervation of Health," by Dr. Gilbert Kymer, and which is ftill extant, is faid, however, to contain feveral curious things, and fome falutary advices. He was phyfician to Humphrey duke of Gloucefter. Dr. John Fauceby, who ftood in the fame relation to king Henry the Sixth, obtained a commiffion from his royal mafter to difcover an univerfal medicine, called the Elixir of Life, for the cure of all difeafes, wounds, and fractures, and for prolonging the health and strength of the body, and the vigour of the mind, to the greatest poffible extent of time. This was the folly of the age. was by an application to the occult fciences, and not by a rational attention to the human oeconomy, to the progrefs of nature, and the dictates of a judicious experience, that the art of healing was expected to be promoted. Surgery, though the knowledge of it was fo much wanted, in confequence of the wars both at home and abroad, in which the nation was perpetually engaged, was in an equally low ftate. Henry the Fifth found it difficult to procure a fufficient number of furgeons for his army, and their skill was inferior to their number. In the hands of ignorance, many wounded men, who might otherwife have been preferved, probably fuffered the lofs of their lives.
But while true fcience was little or not at all regarded, falfe science received the protection and fupport of government itfelf. This was eminently the cafe in the reign of Henry the Sixth. We have already mentioned this monarch's indulgence to the pretenfions of his phyfician, Dr. John Fauceby. Other alchemifts were treated with the like favour and distinction. An extraordinary commiffion was granted to them, and confirmed by parliament; in which they were authorized to profecute their endeavours for finding out an univerfal medicine, and for the tranfinú
tation of baser metals into real and fine gold and filver. By this commiffion, they were emancipated from the penalties of an act to which the profeffors of alchemy had been fubjected in the beginning of the reign of king Henry the Fourth. Hence it is evident, that our ancestors, instead of growing more enlightened, were become ftill greater flaves of ignorance and credulity.
History is fo natural a ftudy, and, indeed, is an object of fuch univerfal concern, that writers in it, of fome kind or other, will never be wanting, fo long as human beings are capable of holding a pen. Hiftorians, accordingly, the prefent period affords; but not any that can be put into competition with a Matthew Paris, or a William of Malmfbury. Such as they were, they muft not, however, be omitted in a delineation of the literature of the times. The first place is undoubtedly due to Thomas Walfingham, a monk belonging to the abbey of St. Alban's. Two hiftorical works were compofed by him, both of which were of confiderable extent. The former was entitled "A History of England:" the latter had Normandy for its particular fubject; but an account could not be given of that country, without the interfperfion of many circumftances which related to English affairs.
Though Walfingham's ftyle is fufficiently defective, his Latinity is not fo barbarous as that of many of his contemporaries. His chief merit is, that, notwithstanding his abundant credulity, and his infertion of many idle ftories, he gives a more copious narrative of facts than the other annalifts of that time, and records things not elsewhere to be found. Upon the whole, the utility of his information, with refpect to the events he treats upon, is allowed to be of real importance.
Thomas Otterbourne, a Francifcan friar, was the author of a Hiftory of England, from the fuppofed landing of Brutus to the year 1420. The former part of the work is merely a compilation from older hiftorians, delivered in their own words. When the writer comes down to the times in which he himself lived, he conveys fome ufeful intelligence.
The Chronicle of John Whethamstede, abbot of St. Alban's, comprizes only twenty years, from 1441 to 1461, including the latter part of king Henry the Sixth's reign. It was the principal object of this hiftorian to relate the affairs of his own abbey; but to the recital of these are added original papers, and an account of various civil events, especially of the two battles of St. Alban's.
Thomas de Elmham, prior of Linton, confined-himself to the reign of king Henry the Fifth. On this head he is full and particular, but in a style that is not at all capable of being read with pleasure. Nevertheless, his work is fo far valuable, as much of the information it contains was derived from perfons of confequence, who had been fpectators of many of the tranfactions which they have enabled our hiftorian to record.
An Italian, who came into England, and who was protected by Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, was the author of a judicious epitome of Thomas de Elmham's history, to which alfo he made fome additions. Profeffing to be an imitator of the great Roman hiftorian, Livy, he af fumed the name of Titus Livius. When we fay that he did not attain either the elevation of fentiment or dignity of ftyle which fo eminently diftinguished the model he wifhed to follow, we fhall obtain full credit with our readers.
The Annals of William of Worcester, a native of Bristol, and a member of the univerfity of Oxford, have little to recommend them in point of materials, and are contemptible with regard to their mode of compofition. They are not, however, wholly deftitute of intelligence which cannot be drawn from any other fource.
Notwithstanding the numerous faults and abfurdities of John Rous, the antiquary of Warwick, and which reduce him to a very low fcale in the lift of writers, various things occur in him that throw a light on the tranfactions and manners of the times. In most of the authors of this period, the fmall quantity of good ore which is to be met with, must be extracted from a difgufting heap of drofs.