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The following is a brief notice of the personal history, and of the works of Bishop Coverdale, as far as acquainted with them : a fuller account will be supplied in the succeeding volume.
He is said to have been born in the year 1488, and to have been a native of the district of Coverdale in Richmondshire, from which district it is probable that his family took their name. He received his education in the Priory of the Augustines at Cambridge, of which the celebrated Dr Barnes was the head. It is probable, that from this eminent man he derived those principles which led him to take so great a lead in the Reformation, and especially to devote himself with so much energy to the great work of presenting the scriptures to his countrymen in their native tongue. Bishop Coverdale subsequently shewed his gratitude to his instructor by composing one of his ablest treatises in his defence. The situation of Coverdale having become unsafe from the conspicuous part which he had taken in defence of the new doctrines, he left England for a few years in the latter part of the reign of Henry VIII., during which time he was in the Netherlands, Denmark, and the north of Germany. During the period of this absence, besides assisting Tindal in his translation of the New Testament, he completed the translation of the Bible, which was published October 4th, 1535, besides other works calculated to advance the cause of the Reformation. On the accession of Edward VI. in 1547, he returned to England, and was appointed chaplain to the Queen Dowager. In 1548, he accompanied the expedition of lord Russell for the suppression of the rebels in Devonshire. He was subsequently appointed coadjutor to Veysy, bishop of Exeter, and finally, in 1551, consecrated bishop of that see on the resignation of Veysy. On the accession of Mary, in 1553, he was deprived of his bishoprick; but at the intercession of the king of Denmark he was allowed to leave the kingdom, from whence he went to Denmark, and was at length appointed to the parochial charge of Bergzabern in the dutchy of Deux-Ponts; where he remained till he went to Geneva, at which place he appears to have lived till the accession of Queen Elizabeth in 1558, when he returned to England; and on the 17th of December 1559, he officiated at the consecration of Archbishop Parker. He was collated on the third of March 1563 to the living of St Magnus, London Bridge, by Bishop Grindal, which in the course of the year 1566 he resigned. He died in February 1569 at the advanced age of eighty-one years, and was buried on the 19th of that month in St Bartholomew's Church, behind the Exchange. Although he was not restored to the bishoprick of Exeter after his return from exile, nor promoted to any other bishoprick, it is evident that he never relinquished his episcopal character, (as some have asserted that he did,) as he always signs himself—" Myles Coverdale, quondam Exoniensis.”
With regard to the works of Bishop Coverdale, much uncertainty has existed respecting them, from the circumstance that so few of them have been reprinted since the close of the century in which they were first published: one of them however, The Old Faith, was reprinted with a different title in 1624, and another, THE SPIRITUAL PEARL, twice in the present century. They are to be found almost entirely in the libraries of public bodies, or in the collections of private individuals. Even of those works which are best known, few copies are to be met with ; while of others the numbers are reduced to two or three copies, and in more
than one instance, so far as is yet ascertained, to a single copy. With regard also to the different editions of his works, much uncertainty exists, the earlier editions apparently having in many instances entirely disappeared. These considerations, at the same time that they enhance the interest attaching to the writings of this eminent man, proportionably increase the difficulty of presenting them to the world in as complete a state as could be wished.
The works of Bishop Coverdale are partly original, and partly translated, chiefly consisting of the latter; it being a remarkable characteristic of this great man, that he did not disdain to employ the labours of others, when he thought them likely to be more effective than his own. It has been considered that any collection of his writings, which did not include these, would be incomplete. Even in these works he has shewn the hand of a master; and in his original works, for instance his defence of his friend and preceptor Dr Barnes, he has brought to his subject considerable powers both of learning and argument. It does not appear that any of his works were printed before the completion of his Bible in 1535; and they probably appeared, for the most part, between that period and the time of his elevation to the bishoprick of Exeter.
The following is given as the most complete list which at present can be made out of his writings.
The Old Faith; an evident probation that the Christian Faith hath endured since the beginning of the world. (Translation from H. Bullinger.) 1547.
II. A Spiritual and Most Precious Pearl. A translation from Otho Wermullerus. 1550.
III. *Treatise on Justification. From the same.