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12th till towards the end of the 15th century," says Dr. Adam Smith, “one district might be in plenty, while another, at no great distance, by having its crop destroyed, either by some accident of the seasons, or by the incursion of some neighbouring baron, might be suffering all the horrors of a famine; and yet if the lands of some hostile lord were interposed between them, the one might not be able to give the least assistance to the other. Under the vigorous administration of the Tudors, who governed England during the latter part of the 15th, and through the whole of the 16th century, no baron was powerful enough to disturb the public security.”
But among the various changes in the condition of England belonging to this period, assuredly none is more memorable than the reformation of the church. It has been often observed, that the Reformation was not in England the result of wise deliberations, or the natural fruit of popular improvement. In this remark there is truth on the surface, but error in the centre and the application. Few important revolutions have been brought about by the direct influence of reason. In the instances in which such attempts have been made, they have usually failed, or led to very inadequate results, the speculations of the wisest men being a far too uncertain substratum for the movements of the multitude. When closely looked at, moreover, the above observation will lose much of its force as an historical dogma. It will be recollected, that if Henry the Eighth was the prime mover of the Reformation in this country, and began his measures from motives rather personal than public, the same has been the case with reformers of much higher and purer characters, and that some of the grandest and most useful changes ever produced in the world have owed their beginning to circumstances as unlike the result as the clod is to the richly-scented plant which it nourishes. The careful observer, however, can hardly fail to discover a much stronger connexion between the reformation of religion in England and the state of the community, tban is sometimes supposed to have been the case. He will see that there had long been a tendency in the church itself to break the bonds in which the Roman pontiff desired to hold it; and he will perceivo, moreover, that this tendency of the church to liberate itself was working with the slow motion of an hour-hand, while the opinion of the people was urging on to the same point with the celerity of a minute-hand. It was next to impossible, in fact, that a community should be incessantly bent on resisting the imposition of taxes, and saving their money by every feasible plan of economy, and not look with a suspicious eye on the enormous revenue of the clergy. Still more unlikely is it that they should have been advancing in intelligence,-have begun to form correct notions of law and riyht policy, and corrected many of their views on practical subjects, without discovering that they were burdened by the priesthood with practices which had no connexion with the pure religion of the gospel. These were the preventing causes of the Reformation in England, so far as mere human and temporary circumstances can be considered in that light, and to examine and watch their action, combined as they soon were with causes of a different and more spiritual nature, is an employ
ment worthy of the highest order of intellects. From the reign of Henry the Eiglith, men of every species of talent, and of every class of character, found themselves invested with new importance,-excited to action by new impulses both from within and without,—and called upon to perform duties which, if not themselves new, had a novel and wider range of influence.
The great conflict of the reforming division of the clergy with those who yet supported the Roman doctrines and discipline, called into play every particle of knowledge and ability which either party possessed. Many displays, therefore, of extraordinary talent may be looked for in this period without disappointment. Scholarship not only rose in value among scholars, but became a commodity of intelligible, palpable worth with the multitude: it was recognised as the power by which the highest interests were to be settled, and those who possessed it were at once raised to the most conspicuous stations in the community. The love of gaiety, the courtly luxury and splendour, which at the same time distinguished the age, called forth many a sparkling wit, and nourished the infant arts into partial maturity. Nor was either war, or political business wanting for the employment of talents of another deecription; so that this era furnishes the biographer with a fruitful field of inquiry, and both in a literary, and purely historical sense, is deserving of the most careful study.
The reign of Edward the Sixth, was too short to realize the expectations which had been formed respecting the effect of his auspices on science, the reformed religion, and whatever pertained to the public prosperity. But brief as it was, it served to strengthen the operation of the good principles which had begun to work in the days of his lather. The reformed doctrines, as they became better understood, were more clearly expounded and more zealously defended. The piety of the young king invited men of virtue and integrity to the court, and placed them in the highest offices of trust. His own attachment to learning, like that of his father, contributed greatly to its more general and ardent cultivation. In his boyhood even, he was accustoined to write to his sisters, the princesses Mary and Elizabeth, in Latin. He was, however, at all times ready to enter upon the discussion of questions, not only of the most difficult nature, but of such as only a prince, surrounded by the most honest instructors and councillors, would have ventured to approach. The account given of his conversation with the celebrated astronomer Cardan, has been rightly quoted as a proof of the exceeding ingenuity and acuteness of his mind. “ He asked me," says the philosopher, “what was the subject of my book De Rerum varietate, which I had dedicated to him.” “I said, in the first chapter I show the cause of comets, which has been so long sought for in vain.” “What is it?” “It is the concourse of the light of the wandering stars.” But the king said, “as the stars move in such different motions, this concourse must be dissipated or moved by their movement." Cardan replied, “it moves after them, and with more celerity, as a rainbow from glass, or as the sun shines on a wall." “ How can that be?” rejoined the young king, “there is nothing like a wall in the sky to receive this light.” Cardan, it is added thought he answered this defeating remark by comparing his concourse with the milky way, or the lucid middle space between many lighted candles. Convinced however of Edward's abilitv, who was then
only in his fifteenth year, he warmly praises his accomplishments, and remarks that he “spoke Latin not less polite et prompte than himself.”? Under the patronage of such a prince, it is not surprising to find the universities becoming in the true sense of the expression, “ seminaries of sound learning and religious education.” The nation, however, was still in a sufficiently agitated state with regard to religion, to call for the most energetic exertion on the part of the reformers, both priests and statesmen. Such was the irritation which prevailed among the teachers of the gospel at this time, that it was deemed necessary to interdict their exercise of private judgment as to what they should say in the performance of their public duties. This singular ordinance is said to have been framed, because that certain of the licensed preachers had “ behaved themselves irreverently, and without good order in their preachings," and that therefore, “all manner of persons, whosoever they be, are inhibited to preach in open audience in the pulpit or otherwise, by any sought colour or fraud, to the disobeying of this commandment, to the intent that the whole clergy in this mean space, might apply themselves to prayer to Almighty God, for the better achieving of the same most Godly intent and purpose, &c." The means employed by the enemies of the reformation to overcome the obstacle thus placed in the way of their invectives, is in some degree characteristic of the times, and of the state both of literature and public feeling. In the emphatic language of the old historian, “the pulpit being shut and silent by proclamation, the stage was the more open and vocal for the same: the popish priests which, though unseen, stood behind the hanging, or lurked in the tyring-house, removed their invectives from sermons to plays, and a more proper place indeed for the venting thereof."* No sooner was this licentiousness of the stage observed, than another ordinance was issued, prohibiting for a time dramatic performances. But neither this, nor the proclamation which silenced the pulpits remained long in force, and considering the acknowledged authority of such ordinances, and the excited state of the public mind, there is much greater reason to applaud the prudence and humanity of the government, than there would have been, had it allowed either the clergy or the players to foment treason, and then punished them for the crime. The principles of toleration, however, were as yet but very imperfectly understood, and some of the best
age fell, it is well known, into the wretched error of supposing that they had a right to rule over the consciences of men with a rod of iron. While men of piety allowed themselves to be thus deluded by their zeal, others of a different character, gladly seized upon the common motives to contention, to forward their own designs. Thus the reign of the pious and amiable Edward was disfigured by several events of the darkest hue, and which indicate through how many obstacles the light of truth and rational freedon had yet to penetrate before it reached the heart of the commonwealth.
The sanguinary struggles of Mary's reign afford a melancholy proof of the fervour and intense devotion which pervaded the hearts of the Protestants. In tracing the history of their leaders,—of the men who exhorted them to persevere in their holy profession, and set them the
· Turner's History of Reigns of Edward VI. &c. p. 139. • Fuller's Church Hist. p. 389.
Idem. p. 390.
example by first suffering themselves,—the mind may acquire a species of wisdom which it will seek for in vain in the history of states and statesmen, of war and warriors. It was a period of excitement, such as has rarely been witnesseil. Never was the right of conscience more fiercely battled for; never did zeal assume a more furious aspect. On the side of both the persecutors and the persecuted, religion was the one grent object of thought,- the one motive of action,—the supreme, allengrossing mistress of the mind and heart. Sad as is the spectacle which the results of this state of feeling produced in the reign of Mary, it would be an injustice not to acknowledge that there was a degree of grandeur in this devotion of a community to the highest subjects of human thought, and that, perverted as was the principle by the most terrible of errors, its concentration in the popular mind betokens how vast a stride had morally been made when the nation could thus resign itself to influences which derive so little of their force from mere worldly or material considerations. The Cranmers and the Gardiners, the Ridleys and the Bonners, were the representatives of multitudes inspired by the same holy, or the same fiery zeal; and could history look with a minuter eye on the transactions of the period, there is little doubt but that the instances of a very near approach to their character in the persons of undistinguished individuals would be found extraordinarily
But the struggle was not simply between Protestantism and Catholicism, or between those who desired to see the human mind emancipated from the worst slavery, and those who desired to rivet its fetters —but between those tendencies to general improvement which now characterised the nation, and the opposing forces which would have resettled it in ignorance. From the reservoirs of learning among the Lebanons of knowledge, refreshing rills, though at first small and minute, descend to the plain. The state of the community is always more or less influenced by the prevailing studies of its scholars; and when it is considered how greatly the Reformation, and the improvement of the people, which we have been contemplating, were owing to the annihilation of false systems of science and study, it will be well understood how much danger was incurred at this period when Mary and her counsellers resolved on the restoration of scholasticism. Happily for the nation and mankind, the seeds of genuine knowledge had been too widely scattered to suffer such an attempt to succeed; but had this queen's reign been prolonged, it is impossible to say what would have been the injuries sustained by that active and inquisitive spirit, which was as yet of too short a growth to sustain, without harm, the continued pressure of ignorance. The scholastic method of studying theology was essential to the support of Catholicism. Its tortuous argumentations allowed the student quietly to part with truth on the way, and its syllogisms hedged them within a circle, round which they might run with the highest degree of speed, without ever advancing one step nearer the great sources of knowledge.
The accession of Elizabeth was an event to which we may still look back with a feeling of gladness. With it was connected the re-establishment of principles, of which we, as well as our forefathers, enjoy the beneficent effects. A revolution could not have produced a greater change than that which followed this event. The gloom which the
bigotry of Mary had spread over the nation-a gloom not less experienced by those who agreed with her in severity, than by those who were the objects of her persecution—immediately gave way to stirring, hopeful anticipations. The dangers which had threatened the constitution, or many of the principles which formed its firmest support, vanished at the appearance of a princess on the throne who had no (lark or secret interests to promote. There was every reason to apprehend, from the machinations of Mary in aid of her favourite objects that not only the public liberty, but the national independence, would fall a sacrifice to her counsels. Her attempts to change the order of succession,—to restore the pope to his supremacy in the English church,—and to win, if possible, the attentions of the haughty and sullen Philip, by conceding to him the authority which she had alone the right to assume,-these were all in manifest opposition to that spirit of freedom and intelligence which had now obtained a wide influence in the community. Both religiously and politically, therefore, the country had the strongest motives for hailing with satisfaction the accession of Elizabeth ; and we may ascribe much of that fresh, spring-like gaiety and vigour which characterize the literature of this age, to the sudden and felicitous impuise which the general mind thus received. There was, however, a numerous set of obstacles in the way of those improvements in the state of the country, which were so devoutly to be desired. Though the direst of evils had been incurred by the people at large, from the anxiety and distrust consequent on persecution, there was a large multitude who would have gladly endured a continuance of those evils rather than see the protestants freed from danger. The situation, moreover, in which the nation was placed, in reference to foreign potentates, demanded the most cautious counsels ; and while, on the one hand, a feeling of triumph inspired many, there were others who, equally joyful at the change, were sobered into the exercise of the most thoughtful prudence. An admirable class of men was thus brought into action by the necessities of the time, while the brightening prospects which it exhibited gave birth to the happiest spirit of poetry and the arts. Among Elizabeth's earliest counsellors were some of the wisest politicians whose names are to be found in English history, Sir Nicholas Bacon, Cecil, Walsingham, stand at the head of those public men to whom we are indebted for the introduction of that enlightened system of politics which set the Machiavellism of foreign courts at defiance Had it not been for their calm and temperate advice, the sudden change which the protestants found in their condition might have been the cause of new offences—not the less dangerous because from another quarter-against justice and religion. The address with which Bacon, as lord-keeper, opened the parliament, is a valuable illustrative document, and serves as a key to the characters and opinions of many of the most conspicuous men of the day. It was his object, he said, to lay before them “ the distracted state of the nation, both in matters of religion and the other miseries that the wars and late calamities had brought upon them.” “For religion,” he remarked, “the queen desired they would consider of it without heat or partial affection, or using any reproachful term of papist or heretic; and that they would avoid the extremes of idolatry and superstition on the one hand, and contempt and irreligion on the other; and that they would examine matters