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confident advocates had never dared to claim, or to hope. A sally of levity, an idle paradox, an indecent jest, an unreasonable objection, are sufficient, in the opinion of these men, to efface a name from the lists of Christianity, to exclude a soul from everlasting life. Such men are so watchful to censure, that they have seldom much care to look for favourable interpretations of ambiguities, to set the general tenor of life against single failures, or to know how soon any slip of inadvertency has been expiated by sorrow and retraction; but let fly their fulminations, without mercy or prudence, against slight offences or casual temerities, against crimes never committed, or immediately repented. The infidel knows well what he is doing. He is endeavouring to supply, by authority, the deficiency of his arguments; and to make his cause less invidious, by shewing numbers on his side: he will, therefore, not change his conduct, till he reforms his principles. But the zealot should recollect, that he is labouring by this frequency of excommunication, against his own cause, and voluntarily adding strength to the enemies of truth. It must always be the condition of a great part of mankind to reject and embrace tenets upon the authority of those whom they think wiser than themselves; and, therefore, the addition of every name to infidelity in some degree invalidates that argument upon which the religion of multitudes is necessarily founded. Men may differ from each other in many religious opinions, and yet all may retain the essentials of Christianity; men may sometimes eagerly dispute, and yet not differ much from one another: the rigorous persecutors of error should, therefore, enlighten their zeal with knowledge, and temper their orthodoxy with charity; that charity, without which orthodoxy is vain; charity that “thinketh no evil,” but “hopeth all things,” and “endureth all things.” Whether Browne has been numbered among the contemners of religion, by the fury of its friends, or the artifice of its enemies, it is no difficult task to replace him among the most zealous professors of Christianity. He may, perhaps, in the ardour of his imagination, have hazarded an expression, which a mind intent upon faults may interpret into heresy, if considered apart from the rest of his discourse; but a phrase is not to be opposed to volumes; there is scarcely a writer to be found, whose profession was not divinity, that has so frequently testified his belief of the sacred writings, has appealed to them with such unlimited submission, or mentioned them with such unvaried reverence. It is, indeed, somewhat wonderful, that he should be placed without the pale of Christianity, who declares, “that he assumes the honourable style of a Christian,” not because it is “the religion of his country,” but because “having in his riper years and confirmed judgment seen and examined all, he finds himself obliged, by the principles of grace, and the law of his own reason, to embrace no other name but this:” who to specify his persuasion yet more, tells us, that “he is of the Reformed religion; of the same belief our Saviour taught, the apostles disseminated, the fathers authorised, and the martyrs confirmed;” who, though “paradoxical in philosophy, loves in divinity to keep the beaten road; and pleases himself that he has no taint of heresy, schism, or error:” to whom, “where the Scripture is silent, the Church is a text; where that speaks, 'tis but a comment;” and who uses not “ the dictates of his own reason, but where there is a joint silence of both : who blesses himself, that he lived not in the days of miracles, when faith had been thrust upon him ; but enjoys that greater blessing, pronounced to all that believe and saw not.” He cannot surely be charged with a defect of faith, who “believes that our Saviour was dead, and buried, and rose again, and desires to see him in his glory:” and who affirms that “this is not much to believe ;” that “we have reason to owe this faith unto history;” and that “they only had the advantage of a bold and noble faith, who lived before his coming; and upon obscure prophecies, and mystical types, could raise a belief.” Nor can contempt of the positive and ritual parts of religion be imputed to him, who doubts, whether a good man would refuse a poisoned eucharist; and “who would violate his own arm, rather than a church.”
The opinions of every man must be learned from himself: concerning his practice, it is safest to trust the evidence of others. Where these testimonies concur, no higher degree of historical certainty can be obtained; and they apparently concur to prove, that Browne was a zealous adherent to the faith of Christ, that he lived in obedience to his laws, and died in confidence of his mercy.
It often happens to writers, that they are known only by their works; the incidents of a literary life are seldom observed, and therefore seldom recounted: but Ascham has escaped the common fate by the friendship of Edward Graunt, the learned master of Westminster-school, who devoted an oration to his memory, and has marked the various vicissitudes of his fortune. Graunt either avoided the labour of minute inquiry, or thought domestick occurrences unworthy of his notice; or, preferring the character of an orator to that of an historian, selected only such particulars as he could best express or most happily embellish. His narrative is therefore scanty, and I know not by what materials it can now be amplified.
Roger Asch AM was born in the year 1515, sat Kirby Wiske, (or Kirby Wicke,) a village near Northallerton, in Yorkshire, of a family above the vulgar. His father, John Ascham, was house-steward in the family of Scroop; and in that age, when the different orders of men were at a greater distance from each other, and the manners of gentlemen were regularly formed by menial services in great houses, lived with a very conspicuous reputation. Margaret Ascham, his wife, is said to have been allied to many considerable families, but her maiden name is not recorded. She had three sons, of whom Roger was the youngest, and some daughters; but who can hope, that of any progeny more than one shall deserve to be mentioned? They lived married sixtyseven years, and at last died together almost on the same hour of the same day. Roger, having passed his first years under the care of his parents, was adopted into the family of Antony Wingfield, who maintained him, and committed his education, with that of his own sons, to the care of one Bond, a domestick tutor. He very early discovered an unusual fondness for literature by an eager perusal of English books; and having passed happily through the scholastick rudiments, was put, in 1530, by his patron Wingfield, to St. John's college in Cambridge. Ascham entered Cambridge at a time when the last great revolution of the intellectual world was filling every academical mind with ardour or anxiety. The destruction of the Constantinopolitan empire had driven the Greeks with their language into the interior parts of Europe, the art of printing had made the books easily attainable, and Greek now began to be taught in England. The doctrines of Luther had already filled all the nations of the Romish communion with controversy and dissention. New studies of literature, and new tenets of religion, found employment for all who were desirous of truth, or ambitious of fame. Learning was at that time prosecuted with that eagerness and perseverance which in this age of indifference and dissipation it is not easy to conceive. To teach or to learn, was at once the business and the pleasure of the academical life; and an emulation of
* First printed before his Works 4to, published by Bennet 1763, H,