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ally have been predicted. In fact, the period we are now treating of, is one of the most disgraceful, 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 satisfaction. Several circumstances contributed to the neglect of learning; the chief of which undoubtedly was the confusion of the times, arising from the civil wars that were occasioned by the long contests between the two rival houses of York and Lancaster. In the perpetual tumult and din of arms, and amidst the desolations that were spread through the kingdom, little opportunity was afforded for the pursuits of science, and the culture of the polite arts. Ignorance and barbarity obtained new triumphs over the minds of our countrymen.
But previously to these contests, knowledge and literature had begun to decline. Henry the Fourth, at his accession to the crown, was understood to be friendly to the fentiments of Wickliffe. But the conscience of this monarch, like that of most other princes, was not of that obstinate kind which refused to bend itself to political views. When he considered the state of parties, he was convinced that nothing could fo effectually strengthen his claims as the support of the clergy; and, therefore, he determined to comply with the requisitions of the great ecclefiaftics, however hostile these requisitions might be to the cause of reforination. The feverest 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 submitted.
Through the influence of Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury, whose character was deformed by superstition and cruelty, a law was obtained against the Lollards, by which the bilhops were authorised to imprison all persons sufpected of herely, and to try then in the spiritual court, If these disciples of Wickliffe proved either obstinate or relapsed heretics, the ecclefiaitical judge was to call the Theriff of the county, or the chief civil officer of the town, to be present when the sentence of condemnation was pro
nounced; upon which the condemned person was immediately to be delivered to the fecular magiftrate, who was to cause hiin to be burne to death, in forne elevated place, in the sight of all the people. This statute, which is so reproachful to the principles and manners of the times, was not merely an act of denunciation, but was instantly carried into effect. Upon the strength of it, sir William Sawtre, rector of St. Olwyth, London, was brought to trial before the convocation of the province of Canterbury, ár St. Paul's, and received sentence of condemnation. It was an honour to himself, but a disgrace to his country, that he was the first person in England who was burned to death for the adoption of sentiinents the truth of which is now admitted by every liberal mind. To another clergyman, William Thorp, whose learning alone would have enritled him to a place in this work, archbishop Arundel did not Carry his cruelty quite so far. He coinmitted him, however, to a loathsome prison, the horrors of which probably Shortened, as well as embittered his days.
Henry the Fifth, brightly as his name shines on other accounts, was in the same disgraceful situation with that of his father. Indeed, the scheme he had formed with regard to the conquest of France, laid him under a greater necessity of courting the clergy than Henry the Fourth had ever cxperienced; and the bishops knew how to avail theinselves of a crisis which could be converted to the farther establishment of their own power, and to the suppression of a free enquiry into the doctrines of Christianity. Secure in the protection of the crown, persecution now took a bolder flight, and made an attack upon fir John Oldcastle, lord Cobham, the most illustrious of the followers of Wickliffe. This nobleman, not to mention his other eminent qualities, was distinguished by the vigour and extent of his intellectual powers. To his natural parts he joined all the acquisitions of knowledge and learning which the times he lived in could adminifter. In religion he attained to a diy. nity of sentiment which would not be a dishonour to the preient age. The man who could say, that his faith was, “ Thar God will ask no more of a Chriftian in this life a 2
than to obey the precepts of his blessed law;" and that “ if any prelate of the church requireth more, or any other kind of obedience, he contemneth Christ, exalteth himself above God, and becometh plainly antichrist,” —the man who could say 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 then at the stake, to which, after several years of severe harrassment and persecution, he was at length brought by the bigotry and malice of his enemies.
While the abettors of Wickliffe's tenets were depressed and cruelly treated at home, it is some honour to our country, that the doctrines which had been advanced by him contributed to the diffusion of religious knowledge among foreign nations. Bohemia was the kingdom where his principles were the most zealously and extensively adopted, and where they were productive of effects which make no inconsiderable figure in the public history of Germany,
Amidst the ardour of the prelates for the suppression of novel opinions, and for impeding the progress of reformation, it might have been expected that their own favourite study, that of scholastic theology, would have been vigorously pursued. This species of divinity was, indeed, cultivated to a certain degree ; but it did not appear with the splendour which it had allumed in former ages. No such luminaries were produced as had heretofore obtained the most pompous titles : there were no persons who attained the appellations of irrefragable, angelic, or seraphic doctors. The bishops chiefly concerned themselves in supporting the general pretensions of the church, or in franing canons for the maintenance of their separate interests. As to the disputes which were carried on between the regular and secu. lar clergy, they are of too little consequence to be mentioned in a history of literature.
There was one prelate whose mind was enlarged above the common standard of his brcthren, but whore fortitude was not equal to his knowledge. This was Pococke, bitop of Chichester, who, when examined before archbishop
Bourchier, Bourchier, was induced to renounce the rational opinions he had embraced. His recantation, however, which was the effect of allurement and terrour, though it preserved his life, could not secure to him the continuance of his exalted station. He was deprived of his fee, and was condemned to a retirement, perhaps to a prison, 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 several curious and striking circumstances. When the heroic Maid of Orleans was cruelly put to death, the judges, in their condemnation of her, were influenced by a serious opinion that she was a sorceress, and a worThipper of the devil. Indeed, the infatuation with respect to the belief of witchcraft, must have been irresistible, when it was not in the power of such
of such a distinguished character as Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, to prevent his duchess from being brought co an open trial, and sentenced to a public penance and imprisonment for life, upon an accusation of this kind. But all this will appear the less surprising, when we are informned, that, at the battle of Barnet, the earl of Warwick's forces were thrown into confufion by an unhappy mistake, in consequence of a mist, which was believed to have been raised by friar Bungy, a reputed magician. In such a deplorable condition of the human mind, the clergy had ample encouragernent to fuppress, with unrelenting rigour, the finallest attempts at reformation, and to bind the laity closer still in the chains of absurdity, error, and superstition.
The state of learning was correspondent 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 compass of our enquiry. The scarcity of books, which had always been a formidable obstruction to the progress of knowledge, was increased during a period wherein long civil wars must, in a great measure, have destroyed both the patronage and the leisure that were necessary to the transcription of manu
scripts. In almost the whole of the writers to whom the larger part of the firteenth century gave birth, a want of taste is eininently discernible. They were equally ftrangers to propriety of sentiment and purity of style ; nor was their composition vulgar only, but frequently ungrammatical.
The Latin tongue continued to be the usual 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 some preceding centuries. But fo far was this from being the cale, that the learned men we have formerly mentioned may be ranked as pure and classical composers, when compared with the writers of whom we are now speaks ing. Perhaps an exception might be made in favour of Thomas Chaundier, an ecelesiastic of great preferments, and of one or two more, concerning whom Leland and Wood speak in high terms. While the knowledge of the Latin tongue was upon the decline, it will not be thought strange that the iłudy of the Greek language should almon totally be neglected. In vain shall we search for any names that by the cultivation of it conferred honour upon their country. We are not insenrible that, in making this asiertion, we may be confronted with a Catalogue of persons whom some of our antiquaries have highly applauded. But poinpous encomiums, unless supported by the evidence of facts, and the production of writings, are entitled to little regard.
If any of our readers should imagine that, while philological and clasical literature were thus neglected, the philosophical sciences will be found to have been in a more prosperous condition, they will be wholly disappointed, Thele sciences 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 some that have formerly been noticeu. Were we to search into Tanner, Leland, Bale, Pitts, and other writers of that kind, we might draw out a list of persons who were said to have been mathematicians and philosophers si buc no traces will