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HISTORY OF THE REFORMATION IN ENGLAND. Sketch of the Reformation in England. By the Rev. J. J.
Blunt, Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge. London :
John Murray, 1832. The Reformation of the Church of England. Its History, Prin
ciples, and Results. A.D. 1514–1547. By the Rev. John Henry Blunt, M.A., F.S.A., Vicar of Kennigton, Oxford. Rivingtons. 1868.
The similarity of title, coupled with the identity of the surname of the authors of these books, suggests a comparison somewhat unfavourable to an impartial investigation of the claims of Mr. J. H. Blunt. When one who has been hitherto known as the compiler or editor of various theological manuals, appears before the world in the character of an historian, and especially as an historian of the English Reformation, it is but fair to assume that, whatever errors he may have committed in his former capacity, he will at least have spared neither patient labour nor diligent research in order to ensure accuracy on a subject of such peculiar interest and permanent importance. It is no disparagement to the credit of Mr. J. H. Blunt to assert, that he brings to the execution of his difficult task a capacity and acquirements of a very different order from those of the late Margaret Professor of Divinity. The much larger space devoted by Mr. Blunt to the events of a much shorter period of time, the publication of a portion of the State Papers of the reign of Henry VIII., the increased facility of access to those not yet edited, and the labours of subsequent writers, more especially those of Mr. Froude, and of the present
Dean of Chichester,* might well justify the expectation that, on a subject such as that of the English Reformation, the work of a far inferior author might, under the circumstances we have named, possess an equal or even greater amount of interest than the necessarily brief and imperfect“ sketch," published nearly forty years ago, by one of the most thoughtful and learned of the Professors of an English University.
Such expectation, however, is frustrated even by a very superficial examination of the work of Mr. J. H. Blunt. It is the lightest part of the condemnation which must be pronounced upon this book, when we assert that the style is extremely faulty, and the arrangement hopelessly involved. We are constrained to add, that the writer, unconsciously, as we are willing to believe, proclaims himself, on almost every page, an eager and bitter partisan, and that the strength of his prejudice against the Reformers and the Reformation (we use these terms in the sense in which our readers have become familiar with them as “household words,” and not in that sense in which they are employed by Mr. Blunt) not only imparts a distinct tone and character to his book, but has betrayed him into many great and grievous misrepresentations, alike of the events which he undertakes to describe, and of the characters which he professes to portray. Of the lighter accusations which we have preferred against Mr. Blunt, as regards style of composition and order of arrangement, the following must suffice by way of illustration, although the subject admits of an almost indefinite amount of expansion.
Mr. Blunt, at the outset of his history, informs his readers with becoming gravity, that “the integral condition of human nature .... at one time exists in a naturally normal, at another in a degenerate or abnormal, at a third in a restored condition” (pp. 1, 2). In p. 106, he tells us that “the hopes of an heir (i.e. to the throne) were revived by the birth of a son.” In p. 108, he informs us that if the birth of another daughter of Queen Catherine “had occurred before the betrothal of the Princess Mary to the Dauphin of France, the latter would probably have been stopped. Having told us, in p. 144, that we have an account handed down by two eye-witnesses of certain proceedings, he continues (p. 145) thus, "Now I will set you out,' he says, 'the manner of the said court'"; leaving his readers to surmise, from the account which follows, to which of the two eye-witnesses they are indebted for the narrative.
Again, having referred to a declaration made by Henry VIII. to his father-in-law, that “the love he bore to Catherine was so great that if he were free he should still choose her for his
* Theiner's Collection of Vatican documents has also thrown light on the history of this period.
Romish Church wning in the forked by Mr.
wife,” Mr. Blunt informs his readers that on the next day Henry wrote“ in a similar strain to Margaret of Savoy, singularly enough nullifying the words of the protest just quoted.” (pp. 104, 5.) The majority of Mr. Blunt's readers will, like ourselves, be indebted to him for the interesting piece of information that “the Queen's present residence” is at Dunstable, in the neighbourhood of Ampthill (p. 185), whilst those members of the Romish Church who have been hitherto accustomed to number Archbishop Manning in the foremost rank of the existing generation will be somewhat shocked by Mr. Blunt's allusion to one “who, in later life, became titular Archbishop of the Roman sect in England” (p. 247), and will need all the assurances which the Romeward proclivities of the writer can supply, that it was not with any intention of indulging his vein of humour at the expense of one of the most distinguished members of their church, when he informs his readers, that the decapitated body of the illustrious Fisher was “tumbled head-foremost” into the grave.
As an illustration of the order in which Mr. Blunt records events, we may refer our readers to the various notices of the life and character of Wolsey with which his book is promiscuously interspersed. Thus, e.g., having finally disposed of his hero, as it might fairly be presumed, in p. 96, and acquainted his readers with the age of the cardinal, and the precise date of his death, we not only find the same actor again and again brought upon the stage, and additional details from time to time recorded concerning him, but further, in p. 160, the scene once more opens and closes upon the same events which had been before related; the very same death-bed words of Eng. land's “greatest statesman," which had been recorded in p. 47, are again related, and the year, the month, and the day of the death of the “real leader of the Reformation ” are once more duly and faithfully recorded.
Nor are the literary defects of this book confined to a culpable carelessness in the composition, and to an utter absence of method in the arrangement. Mr. Blunt is no safe guide when he undertakes to relate the ordinary events of history, Other instances in illustration of the truth of this assertion will be noticed hereafter. We confine ourselves for the present to Mr. Blunt's account of the character and proceedings of Wolsey. Such an assertion as that which occurs in p. 89, that the French king treated Wolsey as his “equal,” may be passed over as one of the many instances of Mr. Blunt's exaggerated forms of expression. In like manner, the statement that Charles V. not only wrote letters at Wolsey's “ dictation," but even “re-wrote them when not copied closely enough from Wolsey's minutes,”* appears to rest upon the fact,
Note, p. 44.
çant fact, under the king into the flousst Wolsey in 'n
that in some instances drafts of the letters were furnished by that statesman. The foundation upon which Mr. Blunt reckons amongst the “ misrepresentations” of Wolsey's character the charge of immorality so universally preferred against him, is a bare supposition, for which he is unable, we believe, to adduce even the slightest semblance of authority, that he had been married, “perhaps secretly,” in early life. (p. 97.) Mr. Blunt takes no notice of the fact, that this charge of immorality was one of those publicly alleged against Wolsey in the bill of impeachment introduced into the House of Commons after he had fallen under the king's displeasure,* or of the more significant fact, that, in a letter addresed to Cromwell by John Clusey, he is expressly charged with having given directions that a daughter of his own, whom he sent to a nunnery at Shaftesbury, should be there received and professed, as the daughter of the writer of that letter.t
It would be easy to adduce evidence of the inordinate ambition, the insatiable love of power, the selfish and time-serving aims and aspirations of this able but unscrupulous statesman ; but it would, we fear, be no easy task to clear the character of of Wolsey from implication in some of those crimes of a yet darker hue, which disgraced the age in which he lived, and the order to which he belonged.
Not content, however, with a false representation, as we believe, of Wolsey's character as a statesman and a patriot, Mr. Blunt, with a yet more signal lack of knowledge and discretion, commends him, as we have already seen, to the admiration of his readers, as the “ real leader of the Reformation.” We have already had occasion to observe, that Mr. Blunt employs the term “ Reformation” in a different sense from that in which it is usually understood; and we propose to explain, by the aid of the materials which he has himself supplied in a scheme for the Reformation of the Church, which, by some stretch even of Mr. Blunt's fertile imagination, he ascribes to Wolsey, wherein that difference consists. We shall first, however, adduce two quotations from a writer of whom the Dean of Chichester has observed, that there is “no one whose opinion is so worthy of attention in whatever relates to the reign of Henry VIII.," with a view to show that, even on the very lowest and most inadequate estimate of the nature and importance of the Reformation as a religious movement, Cardinal Wolsey, so far from being its “real leader," was, when regarded even from a statesman's point of view, in a very remarkable manner, insensible of its importance, and regardless of its progress.
* “ The 38th of the Articles ex cubinary priest."-See Appendix to hibited in Parliament against Wolsey, Galt's Life of Wolsey, pp. 206, 207. speaks of two natural children." - + See Appendix to Galt's Life of Hook's Lives of the Archbishops, i. 303. Wolsey, p. 211, 4to, 1812.
The Dean observes (p. 318) that I See Lingard's History of England, the King regarded Wolsey as “a con. iv. pp. 48-66, 4to, 1820.
« Throughout the period of his long administration," writes Professor Brewer, “and through all his correspondence, it is remarkable how small a portion of his thoughts is occupied with domestic affairs, and with religious matters still less."*
And again, “it appears indeed to be inconceivable that a man of so much penetration and experience should have taken so little interest in the religious movement of the day, and regarded Luther and the progress of the Reformation with so little concern.”+
The scheme to which we allude is described by Mr. Blunt as follows:
“ (1.) To provide a better educated class of clergy by founding professorships at the universities, by building new colleges, and by establishing schools similar to Winchester and Eton, as feeders for them.
“(2.) To have a general visitation of the clergy and the monks by a central and supreme authority, which could not be resisted, for the purpose of restoring sound discipline as to morals, and for enforcing strict performance of duties.
“(3.) To found new bishoprics in the large towns out of the great monasteries already existing there.
“(4.) To conciliate the king, the old-fashioned bishops, and the obstructive party generally, by opposing the importation of foreign elements, such as Lútheranism, into the universities or elsewhere.
“ (5.) To practise toleration as far as possible towards hot-headed reformers, and to give employment in the new colleges to the best and most learned of them.
“ (6.) To promote theological learning, by encouraging the study of Greek, and by enriching the libraries of the universities.
“ (7.) To obtain the fullest authority possible from the Pope and the king for carrying out these reforms, and to seek the Popedom itself, that they might be extended to the church at large.” (pp. 49,50.)
We shall not pause to examine the fidelity of this representation of Wolsey's plan for the Reformation of the English Church, or to enquire at what periods of his life, if ever, its various portions were devised or matured. We entirely concur in the opinion expressed by Mr. Blunt (p. 50) as to the extreme improbability that such a plan should have been formed by Wolsey is at the outset of his career," and we merely observe that Mr. Blunt would have been somewhat more self-consistent, had he abstained from hazarding the supposition, expressed in page 49, that “had Wolsey, in the early part of his public life, formed a complete and definite plan of his intentions, as to the Reformation of the Church of England, we might imagine him to have condensed them into the following plan.”
* Quoted in Dean Hook's “Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury," i. 296, New Series.