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A SKETCH OF THE LIFE AND TIMES OF BISHOP TAYLOR.
It is a matter of high importance in all days, and especially in days of popular anxiety like our own, to keep before us the examples of minds distinguished in the former trials of our country. No theory of virtue is equal in value to its practice embodied in a wise, pure, and manly understanding. History, the biography of nations, is too vast, abstract, and simple, for the guidance of the individual. Its events, like the stars in their courses, large and luminous, moving at a height above the reach of man, and influenced by powers and impulses which perplex his science, may excite the wonder or instruct the wisdom of the philosopher, but the school of mankind is man. To discover the source alike of his energies and errors, we must have before our eyes the mechanism of the human frame.
The world is but a perpetual recurrence. The scenes of the great theater shift continually, but the same characters move across the stage. The story of the drama may be more sullen, or more splendid, but while Providence is the guide, and man the agent, the moral will be unchanged. It is thus a subject of more than curiosity, to determine how generous and lofty spirits have acted in the emergencies of other times; with what magnanimity they sustained misfortune, or with what vigour they repelled injustice; with what purity they withstood temptation, or with what piety they submitted their wrongs to the hand of Heave. If, in days like ours, the wider knowledge of human right, itself only the offspring of the wider knowledge of religion, renders persecution less perilous, yet temptation will always exist. The distinctions of the world will always be at the service of the world. There has been in every age a Babylon, and men have had the alternative of worshipping its golden idol, or paying the penalty of their faith in obscurity and exclusion. It is then that the man who is not resolved to degrade himself, should solicit new strength in the communion of those who have fought the good fight and have gained the crown; that the patriot should study the shape and countenance of public virtue, as in a gallery of the illustrious dead, and feel the littleness of all fame that gravitates to faction; that, above all, the Christian, surrounding himself with their recollections, and shutting out, as with the curtains of the sanctuary, the heated passions and petulant caprices of the time, should imbibe new energies of immortality. It is by such uses that the renown of genius, patriotism, and sanctity becomes a splendid realization; that the suffering of the past revives as the lesson of present wisdom; that the living eye catches light from beyond the grave, and the forms catches light from beyond the grave, and the forms of the saint and martyr stand before us, like Moses and Elias in the mount, in their glory, telling at once of the brief suffering and the imperishable reward.
Jeremy, afterwards Bishop of Down, Connor, and Dromore in Ireland, was born in Trinity parish, Cambridge, the third son of Nathaniel and Mary Taylor, and baptized, August 15, 1613. Like many others destined for future eminence, he owed nothing to birth, for his father was a barber. But his genius could dispense with the honors of ancestry; and the man who could at once instruct the wise by his learning, and delight the elegant by his fancy, required but little extrinsic aid for fame. Yet even his father’s trade, connected as it then was with the rude practice of surgery, was less humble than at present; and his family had once possessed a small estate in Gloucestershire, himself being the direct descendant of the memorable Dr. Rowland Taylor, chaplain to Archbishop Cranmer, and martyred in the third year of Mary of bloody memory, on Aldham Common, in his parish of Hadleigh, in the county of Suffolk.
The rector of Hadleigh was a man of acquirements sufficient to have moved the envy of the ignorant, and of principles obnoxious to the bigots of his day; but Gardner, his persecutor, is said to have had the additional motive, of coveting the family estate at Frampton, on which that rapacious minister laid his hands, like another Ahab; like his Jewish prototype, to perish before he could enjoy the possession. The family were thus reduced to sudden poverty, and retained in poverty by adopting, what was not uncommon among the families of the persecuted, a turn for puritanism. This could earn but little favour from the vigorous government of Elizabeth, which had suffered too much from Popish turbulence to look without alarm on religious disputes of any kind; and still less from the loose government of James, in which alternate superstitions seemed to take the lead in the royal mind, everything was patronized but truth, and every art of government was practiced but manliness and honour.
In his thirteenth year, August 18, 1626, the future bishop was sent to Caius College, Cambridge, as a sizer, or “poor scholar;” an order of free students analogous to the “lay-brothers” of the Romish convents. The duties of this class were, literally, to serve the higher rank of students, at least in all the public ministrations of the college. The feelings of our later age revolt from this employment of men running the common race of learning. But it should be remembered, that in the time of Taylor, the division of ranks in general society was at once more distinct and less painful; that this education was the only one attainable by the poor; and that, in the precarious property and narrow funds of the colleges, there was the stronger ground for insisting on the natural maxim, that those who cannot pay in money must pay in kind.
At Cambridge it cannot be discovered that Taylor succeeded in any of the more public objects of scholarship, increase of rank or increase of income. The dignities and emoluments of the University were then, as now, devoted to proficiency in the severer sciences. And we can be as little surprised that the poetic richness of his mind should have sought other means of distinctions, than we can regret that his future eloquence and various literature were not involved at their birth in the robe of the mathematician. Accident first brought his peculiar faculties into notice. A fellow-student, Risdon, having been appointed lecturer in St. Paul’s Cathedral, employed Taylor as his substitute during a temporary absence. The youth of the new preacher, for he was then but twenty years old,11He had taken the degree of Master of Arts, when ordained, about 1633. his happiness of expression and fervour of piety, pleased the people. His rising fame reached the ears of Laud, then newly translated from London to the see of Canterbury the archbishop sent for him, objected only to his youth, a fault which Taylor, in the quaint humour of the age, prayed his grace to forgive, as, if he lived, he would amend it; and took him under his protection.
The archbishop of Canterbury must always be a man of eminent influence; his peerage, his patronage, and his revenue, place in his hands the largest share of practical power that belongs to any individual beneath the throne. If the lord chancellor seem to rival him in extent of patronage, he falls altogether short of him in the chief point of possession — its continuance. Royal will or legislative caprice may disrobe the great law functionary in a moment, while nothing but the power which kings and subjects alike must obey, can deprive the great prelate of his income or his authority. Laud in the archiepiscopal chair, was the most powerful man in England. A vigorous mind, amply furnished with learning, a daring temperament, and a personal passion for control, were the qualities with which he undertook the guidance of the distracted state. But “the times were out of joint,” and his lofty, bold, and headstrong spirit was the last that could have set them straight. In other days he might have attained secure eminence. In the early struggles of the reformation, his intrepidity and knowledge might have made him a second Luther. In the generation that followed the civil war, his munificence would have raised the fallen church, as his love of order would have restored her subordination, and his courage asserted her privileges. Hypocrisy has few darker stains than the blood of Laud. His age, his literature, and his fidelity, would have rescued him from all hands but those of men struggling to seize on power by trampling on religion. Faction, which sacrificed his life, exhibited its last malignity in tarnishing his tomb. But time does justice to all; and like the false inscription on the Greek watch-tower, the common operation of years have swept away the libel, and shown the truth graven on the imperishable material within.
Taylor, by the archbishop’s advice, removed to Oxford, where his patron, as chancellor and visitor, had obvious means of rendering him service. He was admitted Master of Arts in University College, and finally, notwithstanding the resistance of Sheldon, warden of All Souls, (afterwards archbishop of Canterbury,) he succeeded to a fellowship, lapsed to the visitor in January 1636. Preferment now followed him. In March 1638, he was presented by Juxon, Bishop of London, to the rectory of Uppingham in Rutlandshire, having been already appointed chaplain to Laud. On the 5th of November, 1638, he preached his first memorable sermon, that on the gunpowder-plot, before the University. On the 27th of May, 1639, being then in his 26th year, he married at Uppingham, Phoebe Langsdale, of whom little more is known, that that her brother was a physician practicing at Gainsborough. By her he had three sons, of whom one died in infancy; the other two grew up to manhood.
Taylor was now to be called into scenes, which, if they deeply tried the constancy of all men, gave larger space for the labours of ability and virtue. In 1642, he joined the king at Oxford, and signalized himself by his treatise of “Episcopacy Asserted,” a publication commended by his majesty’s command. For this he obtained, by the royal mandate, the degree of Doctor of Divinity. But, for this, the Puritans, neither slow to discover, nor careless to punish, their enemies, sequestered his living. Taylor, however, found a protector in Christopher Hatton, afterwards Lord Hatton, of Kirby, who had been his neighbour at Uppingham; an individual in high confidence with the king, by whom he had been appointed comptroller of the household, but who derived still higher honour from his protection of Taylor, and his suggestion of the “Monasticon” to the learned Dugdale. Loyalty was now dangerous, but Taylor remained with the king, frequently preaching before the court at Oxford, and attending the royal marches as chaplain. The affairs of Charles had already become unfortunate, and his chaplain soon felt his share in national calamity. He was taken prisoner in the defeat of the royalists at Cardigan, February 1744. His dedication of the “Liberty of Prophesying” alludes to this event in his characteristic style: —
“In the great storm which dashed the vessel of the church in pieces, I had been cast on the coast of Wales, and in a little boat thought to have enjoyed that rest and quietness, which in England, in a far greater, I could not hope for. Here I cast anchor, and thinking to ride safely, the storm followed me with so impetuous a violence, that it broke a cable, and I lost my anchor. And here again I was exposed to the mercy of the sea, and the gentleness of an element which could neither distinguish things or persons; and but that He, who stilleth the raging of the sea and the noise of his waves, and the madness of the people, had provided a plank for me, I had been lost to all the opportunities of content or study. But I know not whether I have been more preserved by the courtesies of my friends or the gentleness and mercy of a noble enemy.” Adding in the Greek, the passage from St. Paul’s shipwreck, — “For the barbarous people showed us no little kindness; for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.”22Acts, xxviii. 2.
Yet such was force of his diligence, or the ardour of his devotion, that even imprisonment could not render him idle. In this year of trouble he published at Oxford, an edition of the Psalter, and a “Defence of the Liturgy.” But the effect of the times was visible in his anonymous publication of the former, and his sheltering the “Defence” under the name of his protector, Hatton. There was still one melancholy meeting to take place, which must have deeply tried the spirit of a man loyal on principle. The royal cause was now extinct, the unhappy king was in the hands of his enemies; and, whether as an additional source of bitterness, or in the contemptuous display of mercy to the undone, the usurping government permitted the royal chaplains to visit him in his prison. Charles, foreseeing his fate, gave them parting tokens of his regard, and among the rest gave Taylor his watch, and a few rubies which had studded the ebony case of his Bible.
Taylor was now utterly destitute; if he can be called so, who has learning, contentment, and character. His living was seized, his person liable to daily danger; and the crowd, who instinctively follow change, could feel but little sympathy for the faith that clung to a fallen throne. Yet he contrived to live, and to support his family. Joining with Nicholson, afterwards Bishop of Gloucester, and Wyatt, afterwards Prebendary of Lincoln, he commenced a school at Lanhangel, in Wales, which produced some profit, and even obtained some distinction. But a still stronger evidence of the faculty of abstracting his mind from the sense of surrounding troubles, one of the rarest evidences of vigor, is to be found in the composition of his most distinguished work, “The Liberty of Prophesying,” at this period. The epistle dedicatory to Hatton, touchingly enumerates the disadvantages of his book, as written in adversity and want, without library or leisure. He had no auxiliaries but his memory and his Bible. Yet with a mind like his, could he have wanted much more.
Taylor’s first wife had died in the year 1642. After six years of widowhood he married again, probably in 1648. This wife had her share in the history of the time. She was said to be a daughter of Charles, during that earlier period of his life when the profligate Buckingham acted as his father’s favorite, and his own example. She was a beautiful girl, strongly resembling the king in temper and countenance, was brought up in mysterious privacy in Glamorgan, and was provided for by the estate of Mandiman, in the country of Carmarthen. But the times were fatal to all regular possessions, and whatever solace he might have found in the society of his young and lovely wife, he appears to have derived little increase of income from her fortune.
But Taylor was still further to be tried. When the men of our age, whether in religion or politics, talk of grievances; they should turn to the times when the popular will had cleared away all obstacles, and for the fruit of its blood rebellion had the discovery, that religious independence finds its natural result in the tyranny of a sect, and republican freedom in the tyranny of the sword. In those days merit was distinguished only by a more conspicuous share of the general suffering; and Taylor’s learning, meekness, and purity naturally became offenses, where hypocrisy was virtue. In 1654, he had republished his “Catechism for Children” in a larger shape, and entitled it the “Golden Grove,” in compliment to the Earl of Carbery, whose neighbouring estate bore that name. The preface, though intended simply to conciliate the Protector in favour of the fallen Church, yet contained expressions which were conceived by the quick jealousies of the day, to convey insult to the influential clergy. The hand of power was then as rapid as its eye was keen, and Taylor was thrown into prison. From this he was soon released; but again, in the same year, he was seized, and placed in custody in Chepstow Castle. In neither case does his confinement seem to have been of peculiar severity. In the latter, he writes to a friend, “I now have that liberty, that I can receive my letters, and send any; for the gentlemen in whose custody I am, as they are careful of their charges, so are civil to my person.” It is probable that his wife’s fortune assisted largely in his liberation, if not in the civility of his jailers. It will be acknowledged, to the honour of the national manners, that the civil war of England exhibited but few instances of ferocity. The kindlier feelings of peaceful life were not altogether trampled out by the violence of the conflict, and strong as might be the indignation of outraged loyalty on one side, and heated as might be the fanaticism of the other, the combatants had not altogether forgotten that their antagonists were human beings.
Yet, perhaps, even this terrible crisis was not without its value. The thunderstorm clears the atmosphere. The agony of the parental disease has often taught temperance to the children. The Revolution of 1648 beginning in war and ending in tyranny, may have inspired the wisdom by which the Revolution of 1688 began in peace and ended in the establishment of the throne. Still, if the experience was useful, it must not be forgotten by us and by our children, that the price was tremendous. Man should be content with easier knowledge. We may well shrink from securing the fertility of the harvest by steeping the seed in blood. Of all the instruments of change, civil commotion is the least manageable by the hand of man: once let loose, it is alike beyond resistance and beyond control; we might as well attempt to turn the lightnings into a weapon, or direct the invisible arrows of the pestilence. The gallantry of the English nobles and gentlemen, the solemn intrepidity of their adversaries, the chivalric spirit of Charles, and the soaring ambition of Cromwell, have robed the civil war with the splendours of romance; but the eye that looks beneath that robe sees only the wounds of a dying people. If war, with all the glories of foreign triumph, is but a dreadful necessity; what must be its evil, when it breaks up civilized life at home; when it visits the land, not in the echo of the remote thunders, but in the earthquake that convulses the soil under its feet? What must be the national loss, when every man who falls is a subject lost to the sovereign and a son lost to the country; when every drop of blood shed in the conflict is drawn from the national veins; when the scaffold completes the massacre of the field, and when both are but a more sweeping parricide?
And the results are as delusive as the price is bitter. Until we can gather grapes of thorns and figs of thistles, we shall never find rebellion the parent of liberty. That fair form is not to be born of the fierce, intoxicated, and adulterous union of Democracy with Ambition. If the experiment was ever made with all its advantages, it was in the supremacy of Cromwell. No man of his age possessed nobler qualities for distinction; no man of any age was more fitted for the throne of a great kingdom. Unshaken courage, unequaled sagacity, and inexhaustible resource, threw a light round him, that dazzled the eye of England, and from his throne spread its lusters to his country. The royalist cause melted away before him as he rose. The habitual jealousy of the continent bowed down before his established splendour. For England he extorted from Europe the homage due to unrivaled success in diplomacy and war. For himself, he extorted for usurpation the honours due to right, and compelled the old monarchies to acknowledge the illustrious upstart as one of the family of kings.
Yet, such is the inevitable evil of all rebellion, that this great leader, who, on a legitimate throne might have been as magnanimous as he was brave, was forced to stoop to the arts of the tyrant. A sovereign by nature, he was a despot by necessity. The great rebel was compelled to study the temperament of all the rebels beneath him. Where the power was given by felons, the first man in England could be only the first jailer. No man was taught more keenly that usurpation must never sleep. At the height of his supremacy, he felt himself watched by a faction, whose cunning and virulence he still dreaded, though he had first duped their craftiness, and then broken their power. Cromwell, with one hand defending himself from the dagger of the fanatic, and with the other struggling to retain the scepter from the grasp of the loyalist, was driven into tyranny; and the nation soon discovered, by bitter experience, that it had only exchanged complaints for sufferings, gradual freedom for remorseless authority, and the light and negligent curb of an ancient monarchy, for the heavy and galling harness of an iron despotism.
This cycle has been run in every period, and in every variety of national character — in the brilliant levity of Greece, in the stern ambition of Rome, in the fiery passions of France; and it will be run again, in the first nation which, proclaiming violence as the instrument of right, summons the populace to advance the liberties of the people, and erects the demagogue into the high-priest of the profaned constitution.
That a scholar, a divine, and a man of peace, like Taylor, should have been twice imprisoned under the protectorate, is among the deepest evidences of the general state of coercion.
But in those periods of distress, he seems to have always found especial friends. “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee” is a high promise; often performed to the servants of the truth, under circumstances which must have greatly augmented their confidence, and cheered their trials. Taylor, though now apparently reduced to the most serious difficulties, stripped of his professional means, unable to pursue his school, and not merely under the suspicion, but in the hands, of vigilant and angry power, found a new patron in Vaughan, Earl of Carbery.
Vaughan was a man of talent and distinction; who had held high offices, and held them with a successive increase to his character. Having served with honour in the wars of Ireland, for which he received the knighthood of the Bath, he had subsequently taken up arms for Charles, in the civil war, and borne the chief royalist command in South Wales. His services were too important to be forgotten by even the negligent gratitude of Charles II; and at the Revolution, when so many of the noble cavaliers were left to pine in discontent, Vaughan received the title of Lord Vaughan of Emlyn. Even in the ruin of the royalist cause, either fear of his talent, or respect for his integrity had procured him milder terms than usual from the parliament. He was permitted to compound for his estates; And the relief which was thus given to this loyal and able nobleman furnished him with the means of liberality to Taylor, and probably to many other adherents of the fallen cause. Lord Vaughan’s second wife had a poetic reputation. She was Alice, the eleventh daughter of John Egerton, first Earl of Bridgwater, memorable as the Lady in Comus. Milton’s verses might have embalmed the remembrance of inferior birth and beauty; the Lady in Comus is immortal.
Though the churches were closed against the clergy of the Church, divine service was sustained, wherever it was possible; and under the roof and in the immediate neighbourhood of this great family, Taylor delivered his yearly course of sermons. During the entire period he was the reverse of idle; his zeal never suffered him to adopt the easy excuses of indolence, or to find in distress a ground for the abandonment of duty. He now wrote his “Apology for set Forms of Liturgy against the pretence of the Spirit,” which was shortly followed by one of his most distinguished works, the “Life of Christ.” During the three following years, his labours were chiefly, his Sermon, and his “Holy Living and Dying;” the latter, a volume which originated in the desire, as it was written for the use of the first Lady Carbery, and dedicated by him to her husband after her death.
Another of those friends whose services were of peculiar value during this period, was the well-known and estimable John Evelyn. Evelyn had accidentally heard him preach in the city in 1654, and it is easy to conceive that Taylor’s sincerity and eloquence could not be heard with neglect by a man like Evelyn. How casual admiration was heightened into habitual friendship we have now no means of knowing; but it appears that, shortly after, Evelyn paid him a visit, “to confer with him about spiritual matters.” Evelyn’s nature was liberal, his means were opulent for the time, and Taylor undoubtedly enjoyed the advantages of both, during a period in which his personal resources had utterly failed him. In 1656, he visited London, and dined with Evelyn at his seat, Sayes Court. He there enjoyed, at least, the feast of reason, for the company were Berkeley, Boyle, and Wilking, all three eminent in their day for scientific ardour. Of this meeting, and still more, of the comforts and enjoyments of his accomplished friend, he speaks with natural pleasure in a letter of which the following is a fragment: —
“To John Evelyn, Esq.
“Honored and dear Sir,
“I hope your servant brought my apology with him, and that I am already excused in your thoughts, that I did not return an answer yesterday to your friendly letter. Sir, I did believe myself so very much bound to you, for your so kind, so friendly reception of me in your Tusculanum, that I had some little wonder upon me, when I saw you making excuses that it was no better. Sir, I came to see you and your lady, an am highly pleased that I did so, and found all your circumstances to be a heap and union of blessings.
“I am pleased indeed at the order of all your outward things, and look upon you not only as a person, by way of thankfulness to God for his mercies and goodness to you, specially obliged to a great measure of piety; but also as one who being freed in great degrees from secular cares and impediments, can wholly intend what you so passionately desire, the service of God. But, now I am considering yours, and enumerating my own pleasures, I cannot but add that though I could not choose but be delighted by seeing all about you, yet my delices (delights) were really in seeing you severe and unconcerned in these things, and now in finding your affections wholly a stranger to them.”
Taylor had found another friend in Mr. Thurland, afterwards Sir Edward, and one of the barons of the Exchequer. This eminent lawyer was also the author of a work on Prayer, and either from congenial studies or personal respect, he was induced to offer Taylor an asylum in London. He mentions this offer in a letter to Evelyn.
“Truly, sir, I do continue in my desire to settle about London, and am only hindered by my res an gusta domi, but hope in God’s goodness, that he will create to me such advantages as may make it possible, and when I am there, I shall expect the daily issues of the Divine Providence to make all things else well. Because I am much persuaded that by my abode in your voisinage (neighbourhood) of London, I may receive advantages of society and books, to enable me better to serve God and the interest of souls. I have no other design in it, and I hope God will second it with his blessing. Sir, I desire you to present my thanks and service to Mr. Thurland; his society were argument enough to make me desire a dwelling there abouts, but his other kindnesses will also make it possible.” The letter proceeds to say, that in acknowledgement of Thurland’s liberality he will send him his new work “On the Doctrine of Original Sin;” and concludes with a touch of melancholy and resignation. “Sir, — I am in some little disorder by reason of the death of a little child of mine, a boy that lately made us very glad. But now he rejoices in his little orb while we think, and sigh, and long to be as safe as he is.”
One of the evils of reputation now assailed him. The man who obtains popularity, will have imitators; and he is fortunate, whose imitators neither degrade his style nor disgrace his character. In this year a small volume appeared, entitled a frivolous dissertation on the arts of female beauty; a work unworthy of Taylor’s dignity, alike in its subject and its performance. Yet it was evidently the publisher’s intent to impress the idea that it proceeded from his pen. The frontis-piece, a female figure with the sun on her breast, was taken from one of his known works. The peculiarities of his language, and even his use of italics, were adopted; and though the preface attributed the work “chiefly to a lady,” yet the crowd of classic quotations which filled its pages, strongly contradicted, and were probably intended to contradict, the declaration. The haste of criticism, or perhaps the bitterness of party, charged this trivial work on Taylor; but Bishop Heber, his latest and best biographer, has indignantly defended his memory. The language of the treatise wants all the higher characteristics of a pen to which eloquence was familiar; its sentiments are opposed to his recorded opinions; and thus failing in the lineaments of vigorous expression and moral dignity which belonged to all the offspring of his mind, who can doubt its illegitimacy?
In 1662, the artifice was pushed still further, and an edition appeared with J.T. D.D., his known initials, on its title page. But the dexterity of fabricators in those days was more daring, and even more disingenuous, than in our own. The knavery of pirating names was common, and Taylor only underwent the penalty of having made a reputation which was a passport to popular applause.
Taylor’s tenderness of heart was sadly tried in the loss of children. Distressing us this must be to any man, it must have been doubly so to one who could write thus glowingly on the domestic affections. In his treatise entitled the “Marriage Ring,” he thus speaks, in the quaint yet poetic language of his time.
“Nothing can sweeten felicity but love. No man can tell, but he that loves his children, how many delicious accents make a man’s heart dance in the pretty conversation of those dear pledges. Their childishness, their stammering, their little anger, their innocence, their imperfections, their necessities, are so many emanations of joy and comfort to him that delights in their persons and society. But he who loves not his wife and children feeds a lioness at home, and broods over a nest of sorrows, and blessing itself cannot make him happy. So that all the commandments of God, enjoining a man to love his wife, are nothing but so many necessities and capacities of joy. She that is loved is safe, and he that loves is joyful. Love is an union of all things excellent. It contains in it proportion and satisfaction, and rest and confidence, and I wish that this were so much proceeded in, that the heathens themselves could not go beyond us in this virtue, and its proper and appendant happiness. Tiberius Gracchus chose to die for the safety of his wife, and yet methinks to a Christian to do so should be no hard thing, for many servants will die for their masters, and many gentlemen for their friend, but the examples are not so many of those that are ready to die for their nearest relations. And yet some there have been. — Baptiste Fregosa tells of a Neapolitan, that gave himself as slave to the Moors that he might follow his wife, and this is a greater thing than to die.”
During this period, he kept up his correspondence with Evelyn, and between those two amiable yet grave men, the topics were naturally of a grave and lofty nature. It appears that Evelyn desired to have some difficulties resolved, relative to the state of the soul after death. Taylor answers him with a curious mixture of metaphysics and morality, the worthless learning of the schoolmen, alternately clouding and clearing away before the vigour of an intelligent mind:— “But, sir, that which you check at, is the immortality of the soul; that is, its being, in the interval before the day of judgment, which you conceive is not agreeable to the Apostles Creed, or current of Scriptures, assigning as you suppose the felicity of Christians to the resurrection. Before I speak to the thing, I must note this, that the parts which you oppose to each other may both be true, for the soul may be immortal, and yet not beatified till the resurrection. For to be, and not to be happy or miserable, are not necessary consequences to each other. For the soul may be alive, and yet not feel; as it may be alive, and not understand. So is our soul when we are fast asleep, and so Nebuchadnezzar’s soul when he had his lycanthropy. The Socinians that say the soul sleeps, do not suppose that she is mortal, but that for want of her instrument she cannot do any act of life. The soul returns to God, and that in no sense is death, and I think the death of the soul cannot be defined, and there is no death to spirits but annihilation.”
He then adverts to the felicity of Christians after the day of judgment; and, in illustration of the soul’s existence, quotes the fable of Licetus, “his lamps, whose flame had stood still fifteen hundred years in Tully’s wife’s vault.” He proceeds to say, that “as the element of fire, and the celestial globes of fire, eat nothing, but live on themselves, so can the soul when it is divested of its relative (the body.)” Such was the philosophy of his day, borrowed from the Greeks, and laughed at by the moderns.
But when he relies on his own understanding his remarks become of more value. In answer to the allowable question — why St. Paul, preaching Jesus and the resurrection, said nothing of the intermediate existence of the souls; he answers, that the resurrection of the body included and supposed that. And, secondly, “that if it had not, yet what need had he to preach that to them, which in Athens was believed by almost all their schools; for, besides that the immortality of the soul was believed by the philosophers of Egypt, India, and Chaldea, it was acknowledged by all the leading philosophers of Greece.” To this, however, he adds the remarkably insecure argument, in which, as he expresses it, “St. Paul, speaking of his rapture into heaven, purposely and by design twice says, “whether in body or out of the body I know not;” by which Taylor observes, “he plainly says, that it was no ways unlikely, that his rapture was out of the body, and therefore it is very agreeable to the nature of the soul, to operate in separation from the body.”
It is striking, to find a man of his sagacity, falling into the common error of commentators on this remarkable passage; and not less striking to find him followed in it by Bishop Heber; who remarks, that “from that text alone, the probability is, that the apostle himself took the separate existence of the soul for granted, and believed it extremely possible for a man to be and think, and even to acquire new ideas, without the existence of the body.”
Reluctant as we may be, to reject an argument which supports the great and consoling truth of the “intermediate state,” it must be acknowledged, that this interpretation is altogether unsustained by the text. Nothing can be clearer, that that St. Paul is not speaking of himself, but of another. He distinctly states, that he will glory, not in the visions and revelations made to himself, but in those made to an individual, in whose Divine visitations he might rejoice with safety and propriety. While, as to himself, if he were to glory in anything, it should be in his infirmities; which is obviously equivalent to not glorying at all.
Having thus fully established the distinction he proceeds to speak of this highly-favoured individual, as one whom he knew fourteen years before, though whether he were now dead or living, he could not say; or as the text expresses it, “whether in the body I cannot tell, or whether out of the body I cannot tell; God knoweth.33St. Paul confirms this view in the subsequent verses, (7, etc.) He there again declares that he will not glory of himself, or of the divine discoveries to him; and that, (7,) directly to prohibit the temptation to personal vanity, in thus glorying, the actual revelations made to him were followed by a thorn in the flesh, to keep him humble, though of the individual mentioned before (2,) he glories with impunity. The phrase “out of the body,” being the common Scripture phrase for death; and as such used by St. Paul himself, when he desires to be “absent from the body, and present with the Lord.” Under the usual interpretation the whole passage is a mass of perplexity.
Yet in the midst of those important studies, this estimable man was not to escape the prying and persecuting spirit of the time. His printer, Royston, had prefixed to his “Collections of Offices” an engraving of our Lord in prayer. The representations, which printers had been so long in the habit of prefixing to their volumes, were regarded as idolatrous by the new-born conscience of the age. The scruple had even gone to the extent of an act for punishing those formidable transgressions by fine and imprisonment. Taylor was not a man likely to provoke authority, for the mere indulgence of opposition; and it could scarcely be supposed that he felt inclined to pay more homage to Popery than to government. But those were the days for which zealots had cavilled and rebels had fought; and the triumph of both had alike issued in the direct overthrow of their principles. It is enough to say of this period and its law, that Taylor was committed to a prison for a third time.
His place of confinement was the Tower; whether as implying an offence more nearly touching on high-treason, or from the crowded state of the other prisons in this era of successful freedom! How long he might have been destined by the mercy of his accusers to remain there, is not now to be known; for the same friendship which had never failed him, again interposed. Evelyn exerted himself to represent his innocence to the ruling powers. Cromwell, who persecuted only from policy, while others persecuted from zeal, was probably not disinclined to let such a prisoner go free: Evelyn’s entreaty, that his learned and pious friend might be allowed to explain his conduct, was accordingly listed to; and, after an incarceration of two months, he regained his liberty.
But the experiment of clemency under the protectorate was not to be safety hazarded again; and Taylor’s friends now consulted how to withdraw him altogether from the vigilant eyes that watched his career in England. While he remained in London he would have boldly continued to officiate, and administer the sacraments, in the private meetings of his people. But Episcopacy had been extinguished, and the angry strength of government was bent on crushing the remnants of the church. Edward, Earl of Conway, the proprietor of large estates near Lisburn in Ireland, now proposed to Evelyn that his friend should remove there to take a lectureship then at the earl’s disposal.
Taylor was strongly disinclined to leave England, even though his steps there were in the lion’s den. After thanking Evelyn for his unwearied kindness, he told his thoughts freely of this unpalatable change. “I like not,” says his letter, “the condition of being a lecturer under the disposal of another. Sir, the stipend is so inconsiderable, that it will not pay the charge of removing myself and family. It is wholly arbitrary, for the triers may overthrow it, or the vicar may forbid it, or the subscribers may die, or grow weary, or be absent. I beseech you, sir, pay my thanks to your friend who had so much kindness for me as to intend my benefit.” He seems here to have had a correct idea of the “voluntary principle;” but his reluctance was overcome, probably by the remonstrances of his friends, who knew more of his danger, and feared more for him than he feared for himself. He accordingly set out, furnished with letters to the leading persons of Ireland, the lord chancellor, the chief baron, the general in command, and even with a letter from Cromwell himself, under his signet. In Ireland he divided his residence between Lisburn and the neighbourhood of Portmore, a princely mansion built by Inigo Jones, and belonging to the Conway family. Here he found at once seclusion and safety. The surrounding country is romantic: the great lake of Lough Neah washed the park of Portmore; and in its sylvan and lonely islets, he is said to have frequently indulged his love of nature and solitude. Here, too, he proceeded with renewed vigour in the great work, which he had founded as the pillar of his fame, and it was to the shelter of Portmore that the age owed the completion of the “Ductor Dubitantium.” Yet his shelter was not altogether secure, for even there he was denounced by an informer, to the Irish privy council, as a dangerous character; the chief pungency of the crime being, that he had used the sign of the cross in private baptism. For such treasons men were thrown into dungeons in the days of our ancestors! Taylor was ordered up to Dublin, in the depth of winter. The result of his journey was a severe illness, which however probably saved him from the greater severity of persecution.
But his trials were at last to approach their end. To publish his great work, and to renew his intercourse with his friends, he travelled onwards to London. The times were anxious, the great usurper was dead, the army had resumed its old power of disposing of the state, and all eyes were turned on its general. Monk, tardy and cold, yet artificial and dexterous, still kept the nation in suspense. At this critical period, some of the bolder loyalists came forward, and drew up a declaration of confidence in the general. Taylor, who regarded both life and death only as the means of zealously serving the truth, was among the first to sign this momentous paper. The confidence thus given to Monk was the signal for the restoration of the monarchy.
If Charles was yet to disappoint the national hopes, no sovereign was ever welcomed with more sincere rejoicing. All men were weary of the past. The misery of revolution had been fully felt: the unspeakable wretchedness of living at the caprice of a popular assembly, had penetrated into every cottage; even the sullen tyranny of the protectorate had been felt as a relief from the restless vexations of popular rule; and so deep was the disgust earned by republicanism, that the nation, in a moment of confidence, as rash as their disgust was sincere, threw themselves, and their liberties together, at the foot of the young king.
In the general re-establishment of the church, Taylor could not be disregarded without palpable injustice. His piety, learning, and sufferings had been equally conspicuous. He was well known to many powerful men round the throne. Whether his having married the natural sister of the king contributed to his advancement, is not ascertained; though if Charles desired to remove her from his immediate presence, it might have contributed to his location at a distance from court. On the 6th of August, 1660, Taylor was appointed to the bishopric of Down and Conner in Ireland; and soon after elected vice-chancellor of the university of Dublin.
He had at length found a situation worthy of his activity and of his feelings. His first attention was directed to the affairs of the university. His knowledge of mankind told him that education was the great instrument of civil order and religious truth; and his well-won experience had proved that universities alone can dispense education without hazard to the state, and sustain the stream of national religion without sullying its purity. He found the revenues of the university dilapidated, and the lands in many instances given away. So great were the disorders introduced under the Commonwealth, that none of the existing scholars or fellows had legal titles, all having been introduced by irregular election, or forced on the electors by the government. Taylor took upon himself the labour of revising the statutes of Bishop Bedel, and establishing others required by the new circumstances of the university.
In this sense, he may be regarded as a second founder of that noble Institution, which, under Providence, has been the great source and sustainer of Protestantism and freedom in the sister country — not destitute of those displays which make national fame; sending out, from time to time, those magnificent minds, her Burkes and Grattans, which belong not to provinces, but empires, and come periodically to reinforce the intellect of mankind; but, in all periods, by the vigour and exactness of her learning, and the manliness and purity of her principles, transmitting knowledge, loyalty, and religion, into the bosom of the land: — a great luminary, on which, for centuries, has depended all the moral sunshine of Ireland; sending out, from time to time, flashes and emanations, of a lustre that breaks through all her clouds; and even in her gloomiest hours, shooting its influence through the soil, kindling every latent seed that is yet to vegetate into national virtue, and preparing the more perfect day.
“Aggredere, o magnos, aderit jam tempus, honores;
Cara Deum soboles!”
The Bishop’s merits were to be still further honoured. During the Commonwealth, Ireland had been almost wholly denuded of its Episcopalian clergy. By the exertions of the Duke of Ormond they now began to be restored. On the 27th of January, 1661, two archbishops and ten bishops were consecrated in the cathedral of St. Patrick, in Dublin, by Bramhall, the primate. And in the next month the Bishop of Down was called to the Irish privy council, and shortly afterwards appointed to the administration of the small adjoining diocese of Dromore. But if sudden authority has often been a dangerous trial to unsettled virtue, it only exhibited more largely the dignity and mercy of his mind. The Irish massacre of 1641, had thrown vast tracts of country into the hands of government. The civil war had next perverted might into rapine, and the Commonwealth had finally consolidated rapine into law. In Ireland all the elements of order had been confounded. It was now the difficult task of the legitimate government to bring society into form once more. The question of the confiscated estates might have offered a snare to an orator ambitious of influence, or to a man of influence eager for possession. But Taylor’s language on this subject was worthy of his principles. With equal force and simplicity, he thus addressed his fellow legislators: —
“You cannot obey God, unless you do justice, for this also is better than sacrifice, said Solomon. For Christ, who is the sun of righteousness, is a sun and shield to them that do righteously.
“You are to give sentence in the causes of half a nation; and he had needs be a wise and good man who divides the inheritance among brethren, that he may not be abused by contrary pretences, nor biassed by the interest of friends, nor transported with the unjust thoughts even of a just revenge, nor allured by the opportunities of spoil, nor blinded by gold, which puts out the eyes of wise men, nor cozened by pretended zeal. For justice ought to be the simplest thing in the world, and to be measured by nothing but truth, and by laws, and by the decrees of princes.”
The passage which follows is worthy of being recorded among the first maxims of national justice in troubled times.
“But whatever you do, let not the pretence of a different religion make you think it lawful to oppress any man in his just rights; for not opinions, but laws, and doing as we would be done to, are the measures of justice. And though justice does alike to all men, Jew and Christian, Lutheran and Calvinist; yet, to do right to them that are of another opinion, is the way to win them. But if you, for conscience sake, do them wrong, they will hate both you and your religion.”
He concludes with a fine enunciation of his noble principle: — “You must be as just as the law, and you must be as merciful as your religion. And you have no way to tie those together, but to follow the pattern in the mount — do as God does, who in judgment remembers mercy.”
This pious and learned man was now approaching his close. It is among the mysterious dispensations of Providence, that some of the purest-minded of men have been the most subjected to personal afflictions. Yet while this world is to be regarded only as a school of the human spirit, and the Deity holds in his hand boundless compensation for all suffering, it is only the work of reason, to be convinced that the deeper affliction has been laid on for purposes essential to the richer reward.
At an early period of life, Taylor had lost all his sons but two. And now, when affluence and rank seemed sent to brighten the remainder of his anxious and ardent days, those two died, both by premature deaths, — His elder son, a captain of horse in the king’s service, in a duel with a brother officer, who also fell; and his second son, of a consumption, in the house of Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, to whom he was private secretary. Grief for the former of those losses, hung heavily upon the father’s heart; and though the death of his second son occurred in England, but on the day before the commencement of his own final illness in Ireland, the knowledge of his disease, and of its almost inevitable consummation, may have added bitterness to the blow. On the 3rd of August 1667, the Bishop was seized with a fever, which, acting on an enfeebled frame and a depressed mind, made such progress, that within ten days he breathed his last, in the 55th year of his age, and tenth of his episcopacy; — thenceforth to live among the glorious concourse, whom change can touch no more.
“Quique sacerdotes casti, dum vita mancbat,
Quique pii vates,
Inventas aut qui vitam excoluere per artes
Quique sui memores alios fecere merendo.”
His wife survived him for many years. He left three daughters, the eldest of whom died unmarried, the second married Dr. Marsh, afterwards Archbishop of Dublin, and the third married a Mr. Harrison, a man of fortune, and member of parliament for the borough of Lisburn.
Taylor’s personal appearance is said to have been highly favourable; his figure, above the middle size, strong and well formed, his eye large and dark, his nose aquiline, his countenance open, and we may fairly presume, intelligent; and his hair, in early life, in the fashion of his age, redundant, and flowing in curls. If he had not been a cleric, he would have made a handsome cavalier. But the only original portrait known to be in existence, is that in All-soul’s College, taken when those youthful graces had disappeared; and where his resigned yet melancholy look shows that he had gone through many afflictions.
Of the more important topic, his last hours, too little is known. The manner in which such a man receives the final summons, the clearness of his views when the passions are no more, the strength of his faith when the world sinks from the eye, are inquires which all would make, who desire to have their convictions enforced, or their hopes animated; who would be enlightened by the wisdom of the intelligent, or invigorated by the fortitude of the holy. But, of those hours no detail seems to have been preserved; and we must be content with such conjecture as we can form from his life. Yet, who can doubt that the death of this man of virtue was consistent with his career? that he whose existence was a long display of Christian courage, was calm in the presence of the last enemy? that he who had faced the dungeon, and would have faced the scaffold, without a fear, must have shown, on his pillow, in what peace a Christian can die?
The conditions of the church, during the life of Bishop Taylor, forms one of the most remarkable features of its history. The persecution under Mary had driven many of the clergy to seek refuge in foreign countries. Calvin’s learning, zeal, and eloquence had made him the great surviving leader of the Reformation, in the eyes of a large portion of the continental church. Some of the clergy, on their return, had brought with them his doctrines. Calvin, equally stern and sincere, had evidently thought that he approached the nearer to the truth of the gospel, the further he receded from the principles of Rome. Especially disgusted with the haughtiness of the Romish hierarchy, he had at length conceived that independence of the civil government was essential to the purity of the church. The tempest was now gathering which was to fall upon the Establishment.
Presbyterianism, founded in Geneva in 1541, first appeared in England in 1572. The remembrance of the Papal domination and the terror of its return, made the new doctrines popular. The Protestant exiles, returning from the Continent, reinforced the zeal of their countrymen. A new impulse was to be added from the North. Scotland, on the death of Elizabeth, in 1503, had given a king to England. The disputes between the monarch and the people had already involved the Scottish Episcopacy in odium. Presbyterianism, recruited from the multitude, was too powerful for Episcopacy, deserted by the throne; and after a century of various struggles, it was declared the Established Church of Scotland. The junction of the civil governments brought with it the religious controversy; and the flame, exhausted in the confines of the North, blazed into new violence among the vast, various, and inflammable materials of the public mind of England.
The British constitution, slowly gathered out of the wrecks of Saxon privilege, had been, for a century, gradually forming into freedom. But the structure was still harsh, irregular, and threatening. Modeled by the hands of powerful subjects, more anxious for the increase of personal power, than for the extension of public right; it bore the characters of the baronial architecture — bold, but rude; magnificent, but frowning — the palace combined with the dungeon. Other and nobler times, were at once the fortress into the temple; and, throwing open its gates alike to all, summon the multitude to bow down before altars, where true liberty stood robed in the broadest rays of true religion.
The power of the crown, in the earlier period of that memorable century, had, by habit, assumed something of the power of a Divinity; and its first restraints were regarded by the sovereign less an innovation than sacrilege. But England was marked for a high destiny, incompatible with a return to arbitrary rule. She was to be the head of Protestantism to Europe; and for this purpose she was to be the great example of a free government to mankind. The form of her church was still of clay, but the proportions were noble; and life, from the most illustrious of all sources, was already shooting through its frame. If, like our great ancestor, it was soon to fall upon evil days, and be disinherited of its original birth-right, it was appointed to a triumphant recovery; that recovery itself, we will believe, only an emblem of days of larger dominion, and more unclouded splendour.
The prosperity of England under Elizabeth, the overthrow of the Spanish invasion, the new growth of commerce, and the native manliness of the public heart, all animated by the evidence of the public strength, had prepared her for the future ascent to all the heights of civil freedom. If her elevation was still to be slow, stormy, and exposed to vicissitude, it was still to proceed. The accession of James, well-meaning but harsh, a pedant in statesmanship, and a monk in religion, wasting the royal treasure on foreign policies, and creating controversies at home, at once relaxed the royal influence, and stimulated religious inquiry. The accession of Charles only hastened the catastrophe. His spirit, at once chivalric and gentle - fatal to him in both aspects, by giving him the loftiest conception of his rights, and suggesting the feeblest means of sustaining them — marked him as the victim of a time of change. The death of that unhappy sovereign is still written in the darkest page of national guilt. It should also be written in the most disastrous page of national misfortune. Regicide, as the dissolution of the highest bond of society, seems to be visited in all lands by the especial wrath of heaven. No event in the national annals ever gave so instant a check to the advance of freedom, — The stream that flowed from the scaffold of the king, instantly made its path impassable.
Even from the hour when hostility was first turned from the crown to the wearer of the crown, and it was resolved to baptize the Republic in royal blood, calamity fell broad and heavy upon the land. Liberty, misunderstood by some, and abused by others, and religion, equally misunderstood and equally abused, were forced into a profane alliance against the people. The Establishment, the most ancient and noble rampart of the monarchy, was first to be seized. Too powerful to be stormed, it was undermined; and the result was true to the calculation. With it went down the monarchy. The heads of both perished on the same scaffold Laud only preceeded Charles to the grave.
But the fall of the Church left a chasm in the state which was not to be filled. Civil faction attempted it, and failed. Religious faction attempted it, and failed. The liberty, property, and blood of the people were thrown in, but the gulf was still widening. The Commonwealth was flung in, the Protectorship followed: at length the nation returned to its earlier wisdom; replaced the Establishment on its old foundations; and stopped the progress of public ruin.
The history of this interregnum is only the history of rival factions, various in their features, but filled with the same spirit, taking different means to power but all alike hazardous to public security; and, whether they stole their fires from above or from below, whether enthusiasts or intriguers, each risking alike the conflagration of the roof under which they professed to administer to the good of the people.
The Establishment had perished; but it was only to leave room for the struggle of the sects. Independentism was the new competitor. It had arisen from the schism of the Brownists, who flourished in the preceding century. After existing for a period in Holland, it was brought into England in 1616, by Henry Jacobs, a Puritan. Its principle was, spiritual association with mutual independence of its churches. At the commencement of the great rebellion, some of the Independent ministers returning from the Continent, and taking their seats in the assembly of divines, had begun to form congregations. Against this measure Presbyterianism, then in possession of power, strongly remonstrated. The Independents as strongly complained, that the Presbyterians, standing in the place of the ancient Establishment, had, with its power, adopted more than its persecution, that it denied a middle way between rigid uniformity and utter confusion; and that though, in its own case, declaiming against the use of the civil sword, it had unhesitatingly used force to settle the consciences of others.
Presbyterianism was now to feel the ascendancy of its rival. The contest remains as one proof, among the thousand, of the feebleness of premature power. If the Establishment perishes, rooted as it was in the soil for centuries, endeared to the national memory by the generations which had sat under its shade, and forming a central and venerable object from whatever spot the eye looked upon the constitution; what could be the security of the new church, the tree without a root, planted in the midst of tempests, and in a soil beaten into dust by the trampling of the civil war? It still had the whole force of the state in its hands. It constituted nearly the whole parliament, and it possessed a vast nominal majority among the people. But the Independents more than compensated for their minority in numbers, by the vigour of their zeal, by the impression on the popular feelings, and by that determination to be masters, which, in itself, is equivalent to mastery; and in those signs they conquered.
No period of British history presents at once so strong a display of the madness of man, and of the indefatigable protection of Providence. Republicanism had torn down the monarchy. Schism had dismantled the Church. England stood on the verge of the grave; and the factions which dug it, delayed the blow that would have cast her in, only till the sword or the axe decided which was to have the robbing of the dead.
The true peril of all popular revolutions is, that having no defined object, they have no natural termination. Springing from a desire of universal possession, they an have no limit but universal change. The man who will go farthest, necessarily becomes the leader. Renovation is soon abandoned for rapine, justice for revenge, right for licence; until the land is swept bare. The fancied oppressions of the rich become the pretest for levelling the whole community, and the attempt to retaliate popular wrongs upon the higher classes ends in the anarchy of the land. It is an evidence of the Divine mercy that, hitherto, the process has never been suffered to exhibit itself in that last stage of political ruin. The sharp remedy of the soldier has been introduced, at once to punish the national excesses, and to check the national undoing. In the English and French revolutions the violence of popular passion has thus been restrained by the despotism of the sword. — The lunatic, on whom argument and experience would be alike thrown away; whose additional power would generate only additional evil to himself; and whose frenzy would be inflamed by success, has been coerced by the bitter restorative of the lash and the chain. Democracy in England would have raged, till the country was a waste, if the selfishness and sternness of Cromwell had not been sent forth, to crush the madness of the time. Democracy in France would have filled the country with a moral pestilence, which after destroying its own population, would have spread the contagion resistlessly, perhaps, through every nation of the earth, if the fierce ambition and iron tyranny of Napoleon had not first checked, and then turned the current of the disease into domestic slavery and foreign domination. Both were tyrants, and both criminals of the darkest stain; but both were the true overthrowers of the democratic principle and to both, England and France alike owed the cessation of public ruin, and the final restoration of monarchy. — Like the volcanoes of the great Southern Ocean, even the thunders among which they rose, and the convulsions that made their birth felt along the sullen and stormy expanse of nations, were proofs that there was solid ground rising for the foot of man; that the capricious and disturbed element through which they shot up was to have new barriers set to its career; and that, wild and fiery as they towered before the eye of man, they were to be the commencement of a new era of settlement and security.
Cromwell had found himself suspected, at an early period, by the Presbyterian government. The Independents required a leader, and he required a party. The terms were speedily made; and the great republican, uniting in himself all the qualities essential to the time — appealing to the multitude by the lure of popular power; to the fanatical, by raptures borrowed from their own enthusiasm; to the soldiery, by the display of signal valour in the field; and to the ambitious, by that inexhaustible sagacity and undeviating success which promised his adherents every object that ambition could desire; saw supremacy at his feet. His appointment as lieutenant, under Fairfax, one of the capital oversights of the parliament; threw the parliament itself into his power. The calamitous battle of Naseby extinguished the royal cause. The fatality which entrusted the royal person to the Scottish Commissioners; the perfidy with which they repaid that trust by betraying it to the parliament, all played the game of his sovereignty. Presbyterianism, at the height of power, was next to be taught by him how near success may be to subversion. The Independents were masters of the army; the army seized the unfortunate monarch; a weak legislature tried him; a mockery of popular opinion sanctioned the crime; and the forms of justice, the national character, and the spirit of religion, were alike betrayed by a faction purchasing power with the fall of their king. But all those crimes only levelled the path before the great usurper. Even the blood of Charles only tracked the way for Cromwell to a throne.
In those references to a period of public shame, there can be no wish to involve religious minds in the general charge of treason. The men who dipped their hands in regicide were the actual antagonists of all religion. Conscience, first used as a mask, was speedily abandoned: the atrocities of the rebellion were committed, not by religionists but revolutionists. Among the Independent ministers of London, it is recorded that but two, Goodwin and Peters, consented to the king’s death.
The destruction of the establishment had been the virtual destruction of the monarchy. The legislature, reduced to eighty members, proceeded to fix in principle the misdemeanours which they had already committed in practice. They voted the throne dangerous, and the House of Lords useless to a state. A new oath was imposed, by which was named the Engagement, was levelled by the Independents against the Presbyterians; the latter having now fallen from power, and revenging themselves by calling the government an usurpation.
But Cromwell’s experience had taught him the hazard of suffering religion to be made a political instrument, or of giving the fallen party the strength that is to be found in the outcry against persecution. By an act introduced at his especial suggestion, the whole body of penalties against religious opinions were swept away. A general toleration was declared, with the large exception, however, of Papists and Episcopalians; the one, as irreconcilable with all Protestantism, and the other, as repelling the Protestantism of the day. Cromwell thus paid the fallen church the involuntary compliment of providing that he believed its allegiance to be above his purchase. Its principles had already resisted his power. Yet nothing shows his faculties for government more clearly than the moderation with which he bore the acknowledged disgust of the sectaries. The “Engagement,” had produced much irritation. Baxter, with many of the leading Presbyterian ministers, inveighed against the oath. But the Independents now forming the government, and themselves governed by Cromwell, bore the insult calmly, and turned it to account, by filling up the vacant livings with Independent ministers. The press was not neglected, and the great Milton was employed to write down the recusants. The powers of the law were brought into action, and all who refused “the Engagement,” of the age of eighteen, were prohibited from sueing in the law courts: while all ministers attacking the oath from their pulpits, were deprived of their benefices for the time. But while he was thus rigid to all who exhibited determined resistance, he gave full opportunity of repentance to all the wavering. Presbyterianism was still too powerful to be lightly offended; and the national church was declared to be Presbyterian in doctrine, discipline, and worship. An attempt was even made to raise all livings to a hundred pounds a year. But the liberality of rebellion is seldom justice, and those livings were to be augmented by the confiscation of the lands of the bishops, deans, and chapters, with, however, the addition of the first-fruits and tenths. Though fallen even the church was not to be wholly forgotten. With republican generosity it was to be propitiated out of its own plunder, and small salaries were allotted to the bishops and the chief clergy of the cathedrals. Still, it is the history of all usurpations, that their practice essentially falsifies their professions. The liberty of speaking and writing had been among the most urgent demands of the republicans. The complaint had answered its purpose; and the press had broken down the monarchy. The champion was now itself to be in chains. The royalist and Presbyterian writers were declared to have abused the rights of discussion. The House of Commons took those rights under its charge, and the press was thenceforth the tool of power.
But the crisis of popular usurpation was at hand. The expedition of Charles the Second to recover his crown, once more brought Cromwell’s military talents before the eyes of men. The defeat of the king at Worcester, with his flight into France, left the sovereignty open to the first bold hand; and who could compete with the general who had delivered the partizans of the rebellion from the imminent dread of royal vengeance? His new popularity with the troops first awoke the government to a sense of their peril. To enfeeble the man whom they now felt to be their great antagonist, they proposed to disband a part of his army. The act would have been followed by the seizure of its general. But, when the game lies between the indolence of many and the decision of one, between the possession of authority and the preservation of life, it speedily comes to an issue. The single vigorous competitor carries the day against the slow activity and mingled motives of the crowd. Cromwell’s prompt and contemptuous overthrow of the parliament is among the most remarkable, yet the most natural events of the time.
Still his sagacity as a religious reformer characterized even his triumph. The fear of rousing again the decayed enthusiasm of the sectaries was the perpetual guide of his administration. All England, in all its shapes of opinion, was already powerless before his acknowledged supremacy. The cavaliers were weary of defeat, and disgusted with the flight of Charles. The Presbyterians were rendered submissive at once by the strong hand of government, and by possession. The Independents were the natural adherents of Cromwell. That burlesque of a legislature, the Barebones’ Parliament, had resigned their functions, from the combined sense of inadequacy and public ridicule. Yet with all the elements of resistance thus at his feet, his first work, as sovereign, was to popularize his religious polity. In the council of officers it was again proposed, that all religious penalties should be formally extinguished; that a regular provision should be made for the officiating ministers, and that a general toleration should be the law of the land; with the old exceptions of Popery and Prelacy. Presbyterianism was still treated with the customary respect, and was once more recognized as the established religion.
Yet those were restless, and must have been unhappy times. We are not driven for this conclusion to the constant privations and frequent imprisonments of the most meritorious of the English clergy. It follows, from the necessity of the case, from the mutual irritations of the leading religionists, from the utter uncertainty of a religious code, dependent on the will of a capricious council, and from the boundless jealousies, suspicions, and bitternesses inseparable from a state of perpetual religious struggle. All men’s minds were turned on political power; to some as an object of enjoyment, to others as a means of protection. It is impossible to doubt that religion must thus have rapidly tended to decay. In the hands of the politicians, a mere instrument, it must have soon fallen into scorn among the higher and more reckless ranks of public men. In the hands of the populace, alternately a stimulant and a victim of popular turbulence, it must have been as rapidly degraded by ignorance, as it was deformed by fanaticism. A wise government can give no greater boon than religious rest to a people.
But Cromwell, who never slumbered over the signs of the times, watched Presbyterianism with the keenness of personal fear. To sustain his popularity he adopted the Independent worship, and exhibited the most singular raptures of their most conspicuous leaders. He further established a commission of thirty-eight, “Tryers,” to select candidates for the ministry; and for the purpose of countervailing the influence of the Presbyterians, appointed several Baptists and Independents to the commission. The selection was charged with degrading the ministry by a crowd of pastors, remarkable for nothing but the meanness of their condition and the narrowness of their knowledge. Yet the choice was hostile to Presbyterianism, and the commission thus answered all the purposes for which it was designed.
The inevitable result of all those changes was at last felt in the growing unfitness of the parochial clergy for their office. The habitual remedy was a commission. A board of lay commissioners was appointed to examine into the learning and conduct of the clergy in general.
Yet even in this period of suffering, the policy of the government afforded a comparative shelter to the church.Usher, Brownrigg, Pearson, and Hall, were overlooked in their use of the liturgy; though it had been declared by the lay-commissioners a ground of deprivation. The “Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy” also originated about this period; Hall, afterwards Bishop of Chester, preaching the inauguration sermon at St. Paul’s; and even taking as his subject the budding of Aaron’s rod, in bold allusion to a regular priesthood.
In this republicanism of religion the evils of schism were at length felt so strongly, that an attempt was made, under the influence of Usher and Baxter, to combine the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Independents in a general association, only retaining such principles as were alike acknowledged by the three. But this attempt, generous in its conception, but incompatible with the feelings of the times, was soon abandoned. The Lord Protector adopted the plan, but, powerful as he was, and anxious to extinguish the religious disputes, which were still the objects of his chief alarm, he found that it was easier to subdue armies than controversialists.
Yet all his projects had the stamp of grandeur. If his political triumphs were won more for himself than for his country, he desired to make his religious successes the common property of Europe. Establishing himself as the champion of Protestantism, and England as its supreme seat, he had conceived the plan of a great Protestant commonwealth, consisting of representatives from the Protestantism of every nation of the Continent, capable of guiding all its impulses, securing all its rights, and demanding retribution for all its injuries. But this design, a nobler one than the boasted confederation of Henry the Fourth, was not to be realized by a man harassed by domestic enemies, perplexed by craving partizanship, and now gradually sinking under bodily decay.
The closing days of his daring and brilliant existence are too well known to be more than touched on here. Of all cares, the cares of a throne must be the most exhausting: for what are the anxieties of humbler life, to his who feels the responsibilities of empire? Or, if hope is the great stimulant of life, what hope can be his who has already attained the highest point of human elevation? Or, if the fear of change is the great penalty of possession, what must be the restlessness of the usurper’s pillow? The dread of assassination was the form in which decay seized on the vigorous mind of Cromwell. The man who had habitually defied danger, whose whole life was hazard; prompt in all the difficulties of council; daring, and even desperate, in all the emergencies of the field; was seen sunk into timidity within the walls of his palace, and in the midst of his guards. Worn out with those distractions he died, September 3, 1658, leaving a mighty moral to unlicensed ambition, in an unhappy prosperity and a clouded fame. Even the circumstances of his death exhibited that singular mixture of good and ill, honour and shame, which characterized his life. The day which he had always regarded as the most fortunate of his career, the double anniversary of the victories of Dunbar and Worcester, was his last; but he died in the midst of a tempest so violent as to be long recorded in the popular memory, as a peculiar evidence of Divine judgment on his crimes. He was buried with royal state at Westminster; but was thus buried, only to be disinterred, his body removed to the place of common execution at Tyburn; and there, after being suspended in its coffin till sunset, flung into a hole at the foot of the scaffold. A signal instance of the brevity of national applause, but a mean revenge on the conqueror of two kings of England!
In contemplating the rebellion, as a great political experiment, it presents every aspect of failure. If in the earliest ages of the struggle it obtained some important privileges from the throne, it destroyed their value by the violence of their seizure. The king soon learned to suspect the moderation of men who made concession the ground of demand, and argued conciliation into an evidence of infirmity. Self-defence compels all to resist, when the assault is palpably made not for right but for possession. Charles, it is true, was unfitted for the time: even the qualities that place his name with honour among the records of personal merit, were adverse to his success, as the master of a beleaguered throne. His high spirit was too easily roused by the insults by the insults of meaner men; his known intrepidity was too quick in scorning the low-born subtleties of the fanatics and conspirators who had pledged themselves to his ruin; and his alternate contempt of all advice, and deference to ill advisers, deprived him of that character of decision, which, in times of civil tumult, is the one essential to victory.
But if the king erred through the defects of his nature, the people erred still more by the rashness of their passions. Their triumph terminated in the extinction of all liberty: their crimes against a king were punished by the sternness of a despot; and nothing but that fortune which cut off their usurper in the vigour of life, and left his boldness and intelligence to be succeeded by a feeble and timid offspring, could have saved England from a dynasty of chains.
The Rebellion, regarded as a great experiment for liberty of conscience, was equally unsuccessful. Without liberty of conscience no true faith can exist. But the freedom established by the rebellion was a licence of mutual injury. The privilege which placed every novelty, extravagance, and fantasy of popular religion on a rank with all that was consecrated by experience, sustained by learning, and founded on the exercise of the mature understanding; overthrew at a blow all the natural barriers between wisdom and error. The sudden influx of political aspirants into the sects made even their virtues dangerous to the community, and their thirst of power exposed the state to all the hazards of faction, inflamed by all the fantasies of zeal.
The natural result of a licence inconsistent with the public tranquility, was a licence inconsistent with the soberness of Scripture. Sects started up, whose claim to popularity was their eagerness for all that was new, and their scorn of all that was established. Among the most remarkable of those were the Levellers, a name now limited to political conspirators, but then distinguishing a tribe of enthusiasts, who had arrived at the unaccountable conclusion, that among Christians all property and all power should be in common. — A doctrine, which, in our present social state, by extinguishing all the fruits of individual industry, would obviously extinguish all the stimulants to labour, substitute force for law, and end by pauperizing the community.
Another sect, the Fifth-monarchy men, are more memorable; from their having given a clearer proof of the powers of fanaticism to disturb the public peace. Pronouncing that all earthly authority was on the eve of being abolished by the predicted kingdom of Christ, they formed a plan to destroy Cromwell, and proclaim the returning Messiah as king. Unfurling a banner, with the lion couchant as its emblem, and inscribed with the words “Who shall rouse him up,” a party of those lunatics, headed by one of their preachers, sallied from their place of worship to commence the grand revolution. They were instantly defeated, and the tumult and the sect suppressed together.
But if such sects were the prominent effects of the general dislocation of religious authority, more serious evils arose from its agency on the national mind at the Restoration. As the violence of the politicians had finally disgusted the nation with liberty, the extravagance of the enthusiasts had tended to shake the popular respect for religion. As the one threw the Constitution at the foot of the king, the other hazarded even the decencies of the Establishment. Forms had been perverted, they were now ridiculed; all religion was declared hypocrisy, and all unbelief took the name of candour. The morals of the king, learned in the loosest court of the Continent, became the standard of manners: the stage conveyed the licentiousness of the court of the multitude; and the infidelity of the higher ranks completed the picture of a degenerate age. England was, for fifty years, the center of intellectual evil to Europe: the especial land of the infidel, who, in the insolence and vanity of his heart, assumed to himself the haughty title of the Freethinker.
But she had a signal source of recovery within. Her established Church, long stripped of its branches, and iron-bound, like the tree in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, had deeply felt the injuries of the rebellion. But it was soon to spread a nobler shade than ever. Its literature again became conspicuous; to break down the infidel was its first work: a succession of forcible treatises on the evidences, the spirit, and the value of Christianity rapidly achieved this great service. The names of Butler, Waterland, Warburton, Sherlock, and a crowd of other churchmen; with Lardner, Leland, and their followers among the dissenters, are still eminent as the defenders of religion. The deluge of revolt and impurity which had overspread the land, at length dried away; and the Church of England, like the patriarchal family descending from the ark, renewed the compact with its supreme Preserver. It saw, and sees still, the soil requiring many a long period of labour, and many a high interposition of Providence, before the traces of the day of evil shall be wholly obliterated. But it saw the bow in the cloud; and it received in its renewed strength the practical pledge, that the succession of the seasons of truth and knowledge should not be interrupted again. It now sees, in the sudden and vigorous activity of its servants a home, and the new and magnificent planting of Episcopacy in the East and West, the approaching realization of the promise of increase and replenishing of the earth; and now, with a faith only refreshed by the lapse of ages, looks beyond the troubles of the time, in sacred confidence, that while it retains its fidelity to the great Covenant of Protestantism, the day of subversion shall return no more.
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