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THERE is always this advantage in contending with illustrious adversaries, that the combatant is equally immortalized by conquest or defeat. He that dies by the sword of a hero will always be mentioned when the acts of his enemy are mentioned. The man, of whose life the following account is offered to the publick, was indeed eminent among his own party,and had qualities, which, employed in a good cause, would have given him some claim to distinction; but no one is now so much blinded with bigotry, as to imagine him equal either to Hammond or Chillingworth; nor would his memory, perhaps, have been preserved, had he not, by being conjoined with illustrious names, become the object of publick curiosity.
FRANCIS CHEYNEL was born in 1608 at Oxford+, where his father Dr. John Cheynel, who had been fellow of Corpus Christi College, practised physick with great reputation. He was educated in one of the grammar schools of his native city, and in the
beginning of the year 1623 became a member of the university.
* First printed in The Student, 1751. H. + Vide Wood's Ath. Ox. Orig. Edit.
It is probable that he lost his father when he was very young; for it appears, that before 1629 his mother had married Dr. Abbot, bishop of Salisbury, whom she had likewise buried. From this marriage he received great advantage; for his mother being now allied to Dr. Brent, then warden of Merton College, exerted her interest so vigorously that he was admitted there a probationer, and afterwards obtained a fellowship.”
Having taken the degree of master of arts, he was admitted to orders according to the rites of the church of England, and held a curacy near Oxford, together with his fellowship. He continued in his college till he was qualified by his years of residence for the degree of bachelor of divinity, which he attempted to take in 1641, but was denied his gracef, for disputing concerning predestination, contrary to the King's injunctions.
This refusal of his degree he mentions in his dedication to his account of Mr. Chillingworth: “Do not conceive that I snatch up my pen in an angry mood, that I might vent my dangerous wit, and ease my overburdened spleen; no, no, I have almost forgotten the visitation of Merton College, and the denial of my grace, the plundering of my house, and little library: I know when, and where, and of whom, to demand satisfaction for all these injuries and indignities. I have learnt centum plagas Spartana nobilitate concoquere. I have not learnt how to plunder others of goods, or living, and make myself amends
• vide Wood's Ath. Ox. Orig. Edit.
by force of arms. I will not take a living which belonged to any civil, studious, learned delinquent ; unless it be the much neglected commendam of some lordly prelate, condemned by the known laws of the land, and the highest court of the kingdom, for some offence of the first magnitude.” It is observable, that he declares himself to have almost forgot his injuries and indignities, though he recounts them with an appearance of acrimony, which is no proof that the impression is much weakened; and insinuates his design of demanding, at a proper time, satisfaction for them. These vexations were the consequence, rather, of the abuse of learning, than the want of it; no one that reads his works can doubt that he was turbulent, obstinate, and petulant; and ready to instruct his superiors, when he most needed instruction from them. Whatever he believed (and the warmth of his imagination naturally made him precipitate in forming his opinions) he thought himself obliged to profess; and what he professed he was ready to defend, without that modesty which is always prudent, and generally necessary, and which, though it was not agreeable to Mr. Cheynel's temper, and therefore readily condemned by him, is a very useful associate to truth, and often introduces her by degrees, where she never could have forced her way by argument or declamation. A temper of this kind is generally inconvenient and offensive in any society, but in a place of education is least to be tolerated; for, as authority is necessary to instruction, whoever endeavours to destroy subordination, by weakening that reverence which is
claimed by those to whom the guardianship of youth is committed by their country, defeats at once the institution; and may be justly driven from a society by which he thinks himself too wise to be governed, and in which he is too young to teach, and too opinionative to learn. This may be readily supposed to have been the case of Cheynel; and I know not how those can be blamed for censuring his conduct, or punishing his disobedience, who had a right to govern him, and who might certainly act with equal sincerity, and with greater knowledge. With regard to the visitation of Merton college, the account is equally obscure. Visitors are well known to be generally called to regulate the affairs of colleges, when the members disagree with their head, or with one another; and the temper that Dr. Cheynel discovers will easily incline his readers to suspect that he could not long live in any place without finding some occasion for debate; nor debate any question without carrying opposition to such a length as might make a moderator necessary. Whether this was his conduct at Merton, or whether an appeal to the visitor's authority was made by him, or his adversaries, or any other member of the college, is not to be known; it appears only, that there was a visitation, that he suffered by it, and resented his punishment. He was afterwards presented to a living of great value, near Banbury, where he had some dispute with Archbishop Laud. Of this dispute I have found no particular account. Calamy only says, he had a ruffle with Bishop Laud, while at his height.
Had Cheynel been equal to his adversary in greatmess and learning, it had not been easy to have found either a more proper opposite; for they were both, to the last degree, zealous, active, and pertinacious, and would have afforded mankind a spectacle of resolution and boldness not often to be seen. But the amusement of beholding the struggle would hardly have been without danger, as they were too fiery not to have communicated their heat, though it should have produced a conflagration of their country.
About the year 1641, when the whole nation was engaged in the controversy about the rights of the church, and necessity of episcopacy, he declared himself a Presbyterian, and an enemy to bishops, liturgies, ceremonies, and was considered as one of the most learned and acute of his party; for, having spent much of his life in a college, it cannot be doubted that he had a considerable knowledge of books, which the vehemence of his temper enabled him often to display, when a more timorous man would have been silent, though in learning not his inferior.
When the war broke out, Mr. Cheynel, in consequence of his principles, declared himself for the Parliament; and as he appears to have held it as a first principle, that all great and noble spirits abhor neutrality, there is no doubt but that he exerted himself to gain proselytes, and to promote the interest of that party which he had thought it his duty to espouse. These endeavours were so much regarded by the Parliament, that, having taken the covenant, he was nominated one of the assembly of divines, who were to meet at Westminster for the settlement of the new discipline.