« PreviousContinue »
Vol. VII. Part I.
Art. I.-Chillingworthi Novissima; or, the Sicknesse, Heresy,
Death, and Buriall of William Chillingworth, (in his own phrase) Clerk of Oxford, and, in the conceit of his fellow Souldiers, the Queen's Arch Engineer and Grand Intelligencer. Set forth in a Letter to his eminent and learned Friends; a Relation of his Apprehension at Arundell ; a Discovery of his Errours in a Briefe Catechism ; and a short Oration at the Buriall of his Hereticall Book. By Francis Cheynell, late Fellow of Merton Colledge. Published by authority. London, 1644.
The period which extends from the Reformation to the Revolution forms a tract of historic territory, into which the prosecution of our retrospective wanderings often leads us. It is a period rich, indeed, in events, which no English mind can contemplate without emotions various, deep, and agitating.This, however, is not the only, nor, as it respects the purpose of our labours, the principal article of its wealth. It is rich, supereminently rich, in the phenomena which are developed and exhibited by the workings of the human mind. It has been well remarked by the historian, to the honour of the English character, that the wars between Charles and the Parliament, stained as they necessarily were by the blood of friends and fellow-citizens, were yet " less distinguished by atrocious deeds, either of treachery or cruelty, than were ever any intes
tine discords which had so long a continuance.” But there is a merit of a different and of a more positive nature, which equally distinguishes the period in question. Amidst the vast variety of minds which the circumstances of the times had roused into active exertion (and after the two houses had voted all conventions for neutrality illegal, not one individual but partook largely of the general bustle), the philosopher will, if we are not mistaken, find more of sterling strength of intellect, and more of sterling honesty of principle, than an equal portion of the annals of any other country can display. We acknowledge the severity and the extent of the ravages that were produced by the conflicting powers of fanaticism, and hypocrisy, and prejudice, and ambition. We feel, with keenness, all that nervous impatience of the mind, which is excited by a perusal of the history of any period of civil distraction : yet still we can single out from this particular tract of our own history many an instance of private worth, which the heart embraces with fondness, and on which the imagination loves to dwell. Nor do we confine this exception to the case of individual virtue, unconnected with the exercise of those mutual charities, which are the first to merge beneath the waves of civil contention. On the contrary, though the war was as much, if not more than as much, a war of religious as of political interests, -a circumstance which, while it accounts for the rancour and bad faith, of which we do find many instances in the period we are contemplating, enhances in a high degree the estimation with which we are to regard examples of the opposite conduct,we think we are not mistaken in our position, that not a few minds escaped the general contagion, and still blossom in freshness on the page of the historian, amidst the scorched and gnarled branches of those sturdier plants, that withstood more angrily, but less effectually, the scathing power of the storm.
It would lead us far beyond our limits, and almost beside our subject, to attempt the more complete establishment of our opinion, by an enumeration of individual cases : but this much we deemed it necessary to say, in order to prepare for the fitting introduction of Master Francis Cheynell, the facetious author of the singular production before us. It is written in the very midst of the burning period of the parliamentary wars :it is composed by a determined religious opponent to the person whose last moments it professes to describe :-it is full to overflowing of bigotry and prejudice :--it is in some parts ludicrously extravagant in enthusiasm :--and yet we are almost ready to quarrel with ourselves for entertaining one hostile feeling against its honest author.
The name of Chillingworth has been written in association