Books Condemned to be Burnt
by James Anson Farrer
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This is shown by the similar treatment accorded to the Rev. Richard Montagu, who had made himself conspicuous on the anti-Puritan side in the time of James. In defence of himself he had written his Appello Caesarem, with James's leave and encouragement. It was a long book, refuting the charges made against him of Popery and Arminianism, and full of bitter invectives against the Puritans. After the matter had been long under the consideration of Parliament, the House prayed Charles to punish Montagu, and to suppress and burn his books; and this Charles did in a remarkable proclamation (January 17th, 1628), wherein the Appello Caesarem is admitted to have been the first cause of those disputes and differences that have since much troubled the quiet of the Church, and is therefore called in, Charles adding, that if others write again on the subject, "we shall take such order with them and those books that they shall wish they had never thought upon these needless controversies." It appears, however, from Rushworth that, in spite of this, several answers were penned to Montagu, and that they were suppressed. And what, indeed, would life be but for its "needless controversies"?

Nothing could be more praiseworthy than Charles's attempt to put a stop to the idle disputations and bitter recriminations of the combatants on either side of religious controversy. Could he have succeeded he might have staved off the Civil War, which we might almost more fitly call a religious one. But in those days few men, unfortunately, had the cool wisdom to remain as neutral between Arminian and Calvinist, Papist and Protestant, as between the rival Egyptian sects which, in Juvenal's time, fought for the worship of the ibis or the crocodile. Our comparatively greater safety in these days is due to the large increase of that neutral party, which was so sadly insignificant in the time of Charles. May that party therefore never become less, but constantly grow larger!

Montagu, at the time of the proclamation of his book, had been appointed Bishop of Chichester, having been raised to that see in spite or because of his quarrel with Parliament. He was consecrated by Laud in August of the same year, and Heylin admits that his promotion was more magnanimous than safe on the part of Charles, being clearly calculated to exasperate the House. Ten years later (1638) he was preferred to the see of Norwich. All his life he remained a prominent member of the Romanising party.

These books of Manwaring and Montagu are important as proving clearly two historical points, viz.:—(1) The early date at which the Court party alienated even the House of Lords. (2) The fact that the original exciting cause of all the subsequent discord between Puritan and Prelatist came from a prominent member of the Laudian or Romanising faction.

The rising temper of the people, and its justification, is shown even in these literary disputes. But the popular temper was destined to be more seriously roused by those atrocious sentences against the authors of certain books which were passed within a few years by the Star Chamber and High Commission. The heavy fines and cruel mutilations imposed by these courts were not new in the reign of Charles, but they became far more frequent, and were directed less against wrong conduct than disagreeable opinions. They are intimately connected with the memory of Laud, first as Bishop of London, and then as Archbishop of Canterbury, whose letters show that the severities in question were to him and Strafford (to use Hallam's expression) "the feebleness of excessive lenity." To the last Charles was not despotic enough to please Laud, who complains petulantly in his Diary of a prince "who knew not how to be, or be made great."

As the first illustration of Laud's method for attaining this end must be mentioned the case of a book which enjoys the distinction of having brought its author to a more severe punishment than any other book in the English language. Our literature has had many a martyr, but Alexander Leighton is the foremost of the rank.

He was a Scotch divine; nor can it be denied that his Syon's Plea against the Prelacy (1628) contained, indeed, some bitter things against the bishops; he said they were of no use in God's house, and called them caterpillars, moths, and cankerworms. But our ancestors habitually indulged in such expressions; and even Tyndale, the martyr, called church functionaries horse-leeches, maggots, and caterpillars in a kingdom. Such terms were among the traditional amenities of all controversy, but especially of religious controversy. But since the Martin-Marprelate Tracts or Latimer's sermons the strong anti-Episcopalian feeling of the country had never expressed itself so vigorously as in this "decade of grievances" against the hierarchy, presented to Parliament by a man who was too sensitive of "the ruin of religion and the sinking of the State."

The Star Chamber fined him L10,000, and then the High Commission Court deprived him of his ministry, and sentenced him to be whipped, to be pilloried, to lose his ears, to have his nose slit, to be branded on his cheeks with "S. S." (Sower of Sedition), and to be imprisoned for life! Probably with all this, the burning of his book went without saying; though I have found no specific mention of its incurring that fate.

The sentence was executed in November 1630, in frost and snow, making its victim, as he says himself, "a theatre of misery to men and angels." It was all done in the name of law and order, like all the other great atrocities of history. After ten years' imprisonment Leighton was released by the Long Parliament, and a few years later he wrote an account of his sufferings, and a report of his trial in the Star Chamber. Therein we learn that Laud, the Bishop of London, was the moving spirit of the whole thing. At the end of his speech he apologised for his presence at the trial, admitting that by the Canon law no ecclesiastic might be present at a judicature where loss of life or limb was incurred, but contending that there was no such loss in ear-cutting, nose-slitting, branding, and whipping. Leighton, of course, may have been misinformed of what occurred at his trial (for he himself was not allowed to be present!); and so some doubt must also attach to the story that when the censure was delivered "the Prelate off with his cap, and holding up his hands gave thanks to God who had given him the victory over his enemies."

Shortly after his release, Leighton was made keeper of Lambeth Palace, and then he died, "rather insane of mind for the hardships he had suffered"; but, such is the irony of fate, the man who had paid so heavily for his antipathy to bishops became himself the father of an archbishop!

By an unexplained law of our nature the very severity of punishment seems to invite men to incur it; and Leighton's fate, like most penal warnings, rather incited to its imitation than deterred from it. The next to feel the grip of the Star Chamber was the famous William Prynne, barrister of Lincoln's Inn, and one of the most erudite as well as most voluminous writers our country has ever produced.

He was only thirty-three when in 1633 he published his Histriomastix; or, the Player's Scourge. His labour had taken him seven years, nor was it the first work of his that had attracted the notice of authority. In a thousand closely printed pages, he argued, by an appeal to fifty-five councils, seventy-one fathers and Christian writers, one hundred and fifty Protestant and Catholic authors, and forty heathen philosophers into the bargain, that stage-plays, besides being sinful and heathenish, were "intolerable mischiefs to churches, to republics, to the manners, minds, and souls of men." Little as we think so now, this opinion, which was afterwards also Defoe's, was not without justification in those days. But Prynne's crusade did not stop at theatres; and Heylin's account reveals the feeling of contemporaries: "Neither the hospitality of the gentry in the time of Christmas, nor the music in cathedrals and the chapels royal, nor the pomps and gallantries of the Court, nor the Queen's harmless recreations, nor the King's solacing himself sometimes in masques and dances could escape the venom of his pen." "He seemed to breathe nothing but disgrace to the nation, infamy to the Church, reproaches to the Court, dishonour to the Queen." For his remarks against female actors were thought to be aimed at Henrietta Maria, though the pastoral in which she took part was posterior by six weeks to the publication of the book![78:1] The four legal societies "presented their Majesties with a pompous and magnificent masque, to let them see that Prynne's leaven had not soured them all, and that they were not poisoned with the same infection."[79:1]

This surely might have been enough; but by the time the matter had come before the Star Chamber, Laud had succeeded Abbot (with whom Prynne was on friendly terms) as Archbishop of Canterbury (August 1633); and Laud was in favour of rigorous measures. So was Lord Dorset, and Lord Cottington, Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose judgment is of importance as showing that this was really the first occasion when the hangman's services were called in aid for the suppression of books:—

"I do in the first place begin censure with his book. I condemn it to be burnt in the most public manner that can be. The manner in other countries is (where such books are) to be burnt by the hangman, though not used in England (yet I wish it may, in respect of the strangeness and heinousness of the matter contained in it) to have a strange manner of burning; therefore I shall desire it may be so burnt by the hand of the hangman. If it may agree with the Court, I do adjudge Mr. Prynne to be put from the Bar, and to be for ever uncapable of his profession. I do adjudge him, my Lords, that the Society of Lincoln's Inn do put him out of the Society; and because he had his offspring from Oxford" (now with a low voice said the Archbishop of Canterbury, "I am sorry that ever Oxford bred such an evil member") "there to be degraded. And I do condemn Mr. Prynne to stand in the pillory in two places, in Westminster and Cheapside, and that he shall lose both his ears, one in each place; and with a paper on his head declaring how foul an offence it is, viz. that it is for an infamous libel against both their Majesties, State and Government. And lastly (nay, not lastly) I do condemn him in L5,000 fine to the King. And lastly, perpetual imprisonment."[80:1]

In this spirit the highest in the land understood justice in those golden monarchical days, little recking of the retribution that their cruelty was laying in store for them. A few years later history presents us with another graphic picture of the same sort, showing us the facetious as well as the ferocious aspect of the Star Chamber. Again Prynne stands before his judges, a full court (and theoretically the Star Chamber was co-extensive with the House of Lords), but this time in company with Bastwick, the physician, and Burton, the divine. Sir J. Finch, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, says: "I had thought Mr. Prynne had had no ears, but methinks he hath ears." Thereupon many Lords look more closely at him, and the usher of the court is ordered to turn up his hair and show his ears. Their Lordships are displeased that no more had been cut off on the previous occasion, and "cast out some disgraceful words of him." To whom Prynne replies: "My Lords, there is never a one of your Honours but would be sorry to have your ears as mine are." The Lord-Keeper says: "In good truth he is somewhat saucy." "I hope," says Prynne, "your Honours will not be offended. I pray God give you ears to hear."

The whole of this interesting trial is best read in the fourth volume of the Harleian Miscellany. Prynne's main offence on this occasion was his News from Ipswich, written in prison, and his sentence was preceded by a speech from Laud, which the King made him afterwards publish, and which, after a denial of the Puritan charge of making innovations in religion, ended with the words: "Because the business hath some reflection upon myself I shall forbear to censure them, and leave them to God's mercy and the King's justice." Yet Laud in the very previous sentence had thanked his colleagues for the "just and honourable censure" they had passed; and when he spoke in this Pharisaical way of God's mercy and the King's justice, he knew that the said justice had condemned Prynne to be fined another L5,000, to be deprived of the remainder of his ears in the pillory, to be branded on both cheeks with "S. L." (Schismatical Libeller), and to be imprisoned for life in Carnarvon Castle.[82:1] Apart from that, Laud's defence seems conclusive on many of the points brought against him.

Bastwick and Burton were at the same time, for their books, condemned to a fine of L5,000 each, to be pilloried, to lose their ears, and to be imprisoned, one at Launceston Castle, in Cornwall, and the other in Lancaster Castle. It does not appear that the burning of their books was on this occasion included in the sentence; but as the order for seizing libellous books was sometimes a separate matter from the sentence itself (Laud's Hist., 252), or could be ordered by the Archbishop alone, one may feel fairly sure that it followed.

The execution of this sentence (June 30th, 1637) marks a turning-point in our history. The people strewed the way from the prison to the pillory with sweet herbs. From the pillory the prisoners severally addressed the sympathetic crowd, Bastwick, for instance, saying, "Had I as much blood as would swell the Thames, I would shed it every drop in this cause." Prynne, returning to prison by boat, actually made two Latin verses on the letters branded on his cheeks, with a pun upon Laud's name. As probably no one ever made verses on such an occasion before or since, they are deserving of quotation:—

"Stigmata maxillis referens insignia Laudis, Exultans remeo, victima grata Deo."

Their journey to their several prisons was a triumphal procession all the way; the people, as Heylin reluctantly writes, "either foolishly or factiously resorting to them as they passed, and seeming to bemoan their sufferings as unjustly rigorous. And such a haunt there was to the several castles to which they were condemned . . . that the State found it necessary to remove them further," Prynne to Jersey, Burton to Guernsey, and Bastwick to Scilly. The alarm of the Government at the resentment they had aroused by their cruelties is as conspicuous as that resentment itself. No English Government has ever with impunity incurred the charge of cruelty; nor is anything clearer than that as these atrocious sentences justified the coming Revolution, so they were among its most immediate causes.

The Letany, for which Bastwick was punished on this occasion, was not the first work of his that had brought him to trouble. His first work, the Elenchus Papisticae Religionis (1627), against the Jesuits, was brought before the High Commission at the same time with his Flagellum Pontificis (1635), a work which, ostensibly directed against the Pope's temporal power, aimed, in Laud's eyes, at English Episcopacy and the Church of England. The sting occurs near the end, where the author contends that the essentials of a bishop, namely, his election by his flock and the proper discharge of episcopal duties, are wanting in the bishops of his time. "Where is the ministering of doctrine and of the Word, and of the Sacraments? Where is the care of discipline and morals? Where is the consolation of the poor? where the rebuke of the wicked? Alas for the fall of Rome! Alas for the ruin of a flourishing Church! The bishops are neither chosen nor called; but by canvassing, and by money, and by wicked arts they are thrust upon their government." This was the beginning of trouble. The Court of High Commission condemned both his books to be burnt,[85:1] and their author to be fined L1,000, to be excommunicated, to be debarred from his profession, and to be imprisoned in the Gatehouse till he recanted; which, wrote Bastwick, would not be till Doomsday, in the afternoon.

In the Gatehouse Bastwick penned his Apologeticus ad Praesules Anglicanos, and his Letany, the books for which he suffered, as above described, at the hands of the Star Chamber. The first was an attack on the High Commission, the second on the bishops, the Real Presence, and the Church Prayer Book. The language of the Letany is in many passages extremely coarse, and it is only possible to quote such milder expressions as since the time of Tyndale had been traditional in the Puritan party. "As many prelates in England, so many vipers in the bowels of Church and State." They were "the very polecats, stoats, weasels, and minivers in the warren of Church and State." They were "Antichrist's little toes." To judge from these expressions merely one might be disposed to agree with Heylin, who says of the Letany that it was "so silly and contemptible that nothing but the sin and malice which appeared in every line of it could have possibly preserved it from being ridiculous." But the Letany is really a most important contribution to the history of the period. Nothing is more graphic than Bastwick's account of the almost regal reverence claimed for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the traffic of the streets interrupted when he issued from Lambeth, the overturning of the stalls; the author's description of the excessive power of the bishops, of the extortions of the ecclesiastical courts, is corroborated by abundant correlative testimony; and he appeals for the truth of his charges of immorality against the clergy of that time to the actual cases that came before the High Commission.

Lord Clarendon speaks of Bastwick as "a half-witted, crack-brained fellow," unknown to either University or the College of Physicians; perhaps it was because he was unknown to either University that he acquired that splendid Latin style to which even Lord Clarendon does justice. The Latin preface to the second edition of the Flagellum, in which Bastwick returns thanks to the Long Parliament for his release from prison, is unsurpassed by the Latin writing of the best English scholars, and bespeaks anything but a half-witted brain. Cicero himself could hardly have done it better.

Burton's book, however, was considered worse than Prynne's or Bastwick's, for Heylin calls it "the great masterpiece of mischief." It consists of two sermons, republished with an appeal to the King, under the title of For God and King. Like Bastwick, he writes in the interest of the King against the encroachments of the bishops; and complains bitterly of the ecclesiastical innovations then in vogue. His accusation is no less forcible, though less well known, than Laud's Defence in his Star Chamber speech; and if he did call the bishops "limbs of the Beast," "ravening wolves," and so forth, the language of Laud's party against the Puritans was not one whit more refined. So convinced was Burton of the justice of his cause, that he declared that all the time he stood in the pillory he thought himself "in heaven, and in a state of glory and triumph if any such state can possibly be on earth."

It is in connection with Bastwick's Letany and Prynne's News from Ipswich that Lilburne, of subsequent revolutionary fame, first appears on the stage of history, as responsible for their printing in Holland and dispersion in England. At all events he was punished for that offence, being whipped with great severity, by order of the Star Chamber, all the way from the Fleet Prison to Westminster, where he stood for some hours in the pillory. He was then only twenty. Laud had the second instalment of the books seized upon landing, and then burnt.

In this matter of book-burning the Archbishop seems at that time to have had sole authority, and doubtless many more books met with a fiery fate than are specifically mentioned. Laud himself refers in a letter to an order he issued for the seizure and public burning in Smithfield of as many copies as could be found of an English translation of St. Francis de Sales' Praxis Spiritualis; or, The Introduction to a Devout Life, which, after having been licensed by his chaplain, had been tampered with, in the Roman Catholic interest, in its passage through the press. Of this curious book some twelve hundred copies were burnt, but a few hundred copies had been dispersed before the seizure.

The Archbishop's duties, as general superintendent of literature and the press, constituted, indeed, no sinecure. For ever since the year 1585, the Star Chamber regulations, passed at Archbishop Whitgift's instigation, had been in force; and, with unimportant exceptions, no book could be printed without being first seen, perused, and allowed by the Archbishop of Canterbury or Bishop of London. Rome herself had no more potent device for the maintenance of intellectual tyranny. The task of perusal was generally deputed to the Archbishop's chaplain, who, as in the case of Prynne's Histriomastix, ran the risk of a fine and the pillory if he suffered a book to be licensed without a careful study of its contents.

But the powers of the Archbishop over the press were not yet enough for Laud, and in July 1637 the Star Chamber passed a decree, with a view to prevent English books from being printed abroad, that in addition to the compulsory licensing of all English books by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop of London, or the University Chancellors, no books should be imported from abroad for sale without a catalogue of them being first sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury or Bishop of London, who, by their chaplains or others, were to superintend the unlading of such packages of books. The only merit of this decree is that it led Milton to write his Areopagitica. The Puritan belief that Laud aimed at the restoration of Popery has long since been proved erroneous. One of his bad dreams recorded in his Diary is that of his reconciliation with the Church of Rome; but there is abundant proof that he and his faction aimed at a spiritual and intellectual tyranny which would in no wise have been preferable to that of Rome. And of all Laud's dreams, surely that of the Archbishop of Canterbury exercising a perpetual dictatorship over English literature is not the least absurd and grotesque.

Moreover, in August of this very same year Laud made another move in the direction of ecclesiastical tyranny. Bastwick and his party had contended, not only that Episcopacy was not of Divine institution, or jure divino (as, indeed, Williams, Bishop of Lincoln, had argued before the King)[91:1]; but that the issuing of processes in the names and with the seals of the bishops in the ecclesiastical courts was a trespass on the Royal Prerogative. What happened proves that it was. The statute of Edward VI. (1 Ed. VI., c. 2) had enacted that all the proceedings of the ecclesiastical courts should "be made in the name and the style of the King," and that no other seal of jurisdiction should be used but with the Royal arms engraven, under penalty of imprisonment. Mary repealed this Act, nor did Elizabeth replace it. But a clause in a statute of James (1 Jac. I., c. 25) repealed the repealing Act of Mary, so that the Act of Edward came back into force; and Bastwick was perfectly right. The judges, nevertheless, in May 1637, decided that Mary's repeal Act was still in force; and Charles, at Laud's instigation, issued a proclamation, in August 1637, to the effect that the proceedings of the High Commission and other ecclesiastical courts were agreeable to the laws and statutes of the realm.[91:2] In this manner did the judges, the bishops, and the King conspire to subject Englishmen to the tyranny of the Church!

The consequences belong to general history. Never was scheme of ecclesiastical ambition more completely shattered than Laud's; never was historical retribution more condign. Among the first acts of the Long Parliament (November 1640) was the release of Prynne and Bastwick and Burton; who were brought into the City, says Clarendon, by a crowd of some ten thousand persons, with boughs and flowers in their hands. Compensation was subsequently voted to them for the iniquitous fines imposed on them by the Star Chamber, and Prynne before long was one of the chief instruments in bringing Laud to trial and the block. But this was not before that ambitious prelate had seen the bishops deprived of their seats in the House of Lords, and the Root and Branch Bill for their abolition introduced, as well as the Star Chamber and High Commission Courts abolished. This should have been enough; and it is to be regretted that his punishment went beyond this total failure of the schemes of his life.

Of the heroes of the books whose condemnation contributed so much to bring about the Revolution, only Prynne continued to figure as an object of interest in the subsequent stormy times. As a member of Parliament his political activity was only exceeded by his extraordinary literary productiveness; his legacy to the Library of Lincoln's Inn of his forty volumes of various works is probably the largest monument of literary labour ever produced by one man. His spirit of independence caused him to be constant to no political party, and after taking part against Cromwell he was made by the Government of the Restoration Keeper of the Records in the Tower, in which congenial post he finished his eventful career.


[78:1] Whitelock's Memorials of Charles I., 1822. Laud is represented as mainly instrumental in the conduct of the whole of this nefarious proceeding, especially in procuring the sentence in the Star Chamber.

[79:1] Life of Laud, 294.

[80:1] From the account in the State Trials, III. 576.

[82:1] In his defence he says that he always voted last or last but one. In that case he must always have heard the sentence passed by those who spoke before him, and not dissented from it. His sole excuse is, that he was no worse than his colleagues; to which the answer is, he ought to have been better.

[85:1] Prynne, New Discovery, 132.

[91:1] Laud's Diary (Newman's edition), 87.

[91:2] Heylin's Laud, 321, 322.



With the beneficent Revolution that practically began with the Long Parliament in November 1640, and put an end to the Star Chamber and High Commission, it might have been hoped that a better time was about to dawn for books. But the control of thought really only passed from the Monarchical to the Presbyterian party; and if authors no longer incurred the atrocious cruelties of the Star Chamber, their works were more freely burnt at the order of Parliament than they appear to have been when the sentence to such a fate rested with the King or the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Parliament, in fact, assumed the dictatorship of literature, and exercised supreme jurisdiction over author, printer, publisher, and licenser. Either House separately, or both concurrently, assumed the exercise of this power; and, if a book were sentenced to be burnt, the hangman seems always to have been called in aid. In an age which was pre-eminently the age of pamphlets, and torn in pieces by religious and political dissension, the number of pamphlets that were condemned to be burnt by the common hangman was naturally legion, though, of course, a still greater number escaped with some lesser form of censure. It is only with the former that I propose to deal, and only with such of them as seem of more than usual interest as illustrating the manners and thoughts of that turbulent time.

It is a significant fact that the first writer whose works incurred the wrath of Parliament was the Rev. John Pocklington, D.D., one of the foremost innovators in the Church in the days of Laud's prosperity. The House of Lords consigned two of his books to be burnt by the hangman, both in London and the two chief Universities (February 12th, 1641). These were his Sunday no Sabbath, and the Altare Christianum.

The first of these was originally a sermon, preached on August 17th, 1635, wherein the Puritan view of Sunday was vehemently assailed, and the Puritans themselves vigorously abused. "These Church Schismatics are the most gross, nay, the most transparent hypocrites and the most void of conscience of all others. They will take the benefit of the Church, but abjure the doctrine and discipline of the Church." How often has not this argument done duty since against Pocklington's ecclesiastical descendants! But it is to be historically regretted that Pocklington's views of Sunday, the same of course as those of James the First's famous book, or Declaration of Sports, were not destined to prevail, and seem still as far as ever from attainment.

The Altare Christianum had been published in 1637, in answer to certain books by Burton and Prynne, its object being to prove that altars and churches had existed before the Christian Church was 200 years old. But had these churches any more substantial existence than that one built, as he says, by Joseph of Arimathea, at Glastonbury, in the year 55 A.D.? Did the Arimathean really visit Glastonbury? Anyhow, the book is full of learning and instruction, and, indeed, both Pocklington's books have an interest of their own, apart from their fate, which, of so many, is their sole recommendation.

The sentence against Pocklington was strongly vindictive. Both his practices and his doctrines were condemned. In his practice he was declared to have been "very superstitious and full of idolatry," and to have used many gestures and ceremonies "not established by the laws of this realm." These were the sort of ceremonies that, without ever having been so established by law, our ritualists have practically established by custom; and the offence of the ritualist doctrine as held in those days, and as illustrated by Pocklington, lay in the following tenets ascribed to him: (1) that it was men's duty to bow to altars as to the throne of the Great God; (2) that the Eucharist was the host and held corporeal presence therein; (3) that there was in the Church a distinction between holy places and a Holy of holies; (4) that the canons and constitutions of the Church were to be obeyed without examination.

For these offences of ritual and doctrine—offences to which, fortunately, we can afford to be more indifferent than our ancestors were, no reasonable man now thinking twice about them—Pocklington was deprived of all his livings and dignities and preferments, and incapacitated from holding any for the future, whilst his books were consigned to the hangman. It may seem to us a spiteful sentence; but it was after all a mild revenge, considering the atrocious sufferings of the Puritan writers. It is worse to lose one's ears and one's liberty for life than even to be deprived of Church livings; and it is noticeable that bodily mutilations came to an end with the clipping of the talons of the Crown and the Church at the beginning of the Long Parliament.

Taking now in order the works of a political nature that were condemned by the House of Commons to be burnt by the hangman, we come first to the Speeches of Sir Edward Dering, member for Kent in the Long Parliament, and a greater antiquary than he ever was a politician. He it was who, on May 27th, 1641, moved the first reading of the Root and Branch Bill for the abolition of Episcopacy. "The pride, the avarice, the ambition, and oppression by our ruling clergy is epidemical," he said; thereby proving that such an opinion was not merely a Puritan prejudice. But Dering appears only really to have aimed at the abolition of Laud's archiepiscopacy, and to have wished to see some purer form of prelacy re-established in place of the old. Naturally his views gave offence, which he only increased by republishing his speeches on matters of religion, Parliament being so incensed that it burned his book, and committed its author for a week to the Tower (February 2nd, 1642).

Dering's was the common fate of moderate men in stormy times, who, seeing good on each side, are ill thought of by both. Failing to be loyal to either, he was by both mistrusted. For not only did he ultimately vote on the side of the royalist episcopal party, but he actually fought on the King's side; then, being disgusted with the royalists for their leaning to Popery, he accepted the pardon offered for a compensation by Parliament in 1644, and died the same year, leaving posterity to regret that he was ever so ill-advised as to exchange antiquities for politics and party strife.

The famous speech of the statesman whom Charles, with his usual defiance of public opinion, soon afterwards raised to the peerage as Lord Digby (on the passing of the Bill of Attainder against Lord Strafford), was, after its publication by its author, condemned to be burnt at Westminster, Cheapside, and Smithfield (July 13th, 1642). Digby voted against putting Strafford to death, because he did not think it proved by the evidence that Strafford had advised Charles to employ the army in Ireland for the subjection of England. But he condemned his general conduct as strongly as any man. He calls him "the great apostate to the Commonwealth, who must not expect to be pardoned it in this world till he be dispatched to the other." He refers very happily to his great abilities, "whereof God hath given him the use, but the devil the application." But does the critic's own memory stand much higher? Was he not the King's evil genius, who, together with the Queen, pushed him to that fatal step—the arrest of the five members?

How soon Parliament acquired the evil habit of dealing by fire and the hangman with uncongenial publications is proved by the fact that in one year alone the following five leaflets or pamphlets suffered in this way:—

1. The Kentish Petition, drawn up at the Maidstone Assizes by the gentry, ministry, and commonalty of Kent, praying for the preservation of episcopal government, and the settlement of religious differences by a synod of the clergy (April 17th, 1642). The petition was couched in very strong language; and Professor Gardiner is probably right in saying that it was the condemnation of this famous petition which rendered civil war inevitable.

2. A True Relation of the Proceedings of the Scots and English Forces in the North of Ireland. This was thought to be dishonouring to the Scots, and was accordingly ordered to be burnt (June 8th, 1642).

3. King James: his Judgment of a King and a Tyrant (September 12th, 1642).

4. A Speedy Post from Heaven to the King of England (October 5th, 1642).

5. Letter from Lord Falkland to the Earl of Cumberland, concerning the action at Worcester (October 8th, 1642).

Thus did Parliament, and the House of Commons especially, improve upon the precedent first set by the Star Chamber; and the practice must soon have somewhat lost its force by the very frequency of its repetition. David Buchanan's Truth's Manifest, containing an account of the conduct of the Scotch nation in the Civil War, was condemned to be burnt by the hangman (April 13th, 1646), but may still be read. An Unhappy Game at Scotch and English, pamphlets like the Mercurius Elenchicus and Mercurius Pragmaticus, the Justiciarius Justificatus, by George Wither, perished about the same time in the same way; and in 1648 such profane Royalist political squibs as The Parliament's Ten Commandments; The Parliament's Pater Noster, and Articles of the Faith; and Ecce the New Testament of our Lords and Saviours, the House of Commons at Westminster, or the Supreme Council at Windsor, were, for special indignity, condemned to be burnt in the three most public places of London.

The observance of Sunday has always been a fruitful source of contention, and in 1649 the chief magistrates in England and Wales were ordered by the House of Commons to cause to be burnt all copies of James Okeford's Doctrine of the Fourth Commandment, deformed by Popery, reformed and restored to its primitive purity (March 18th, 1650). They did their duty so well that not a copy appears to survive, even in the British Museum. The author, moreover, was sentenced to be taken and imprisoned; so thoroughly did the spirit of persecution take possession of a Parliamentary majority when the power of it fell into their hands.

This was also shown in other matters. For instance, not only were Joseph Primatt's Petition to Parliament, with reference to his claims to certain coal mines, and Lilburne's Just Reproof to Haberdasher's Hall on Primatt's behalf, condemned to be burnt by the hangman (January 15th, July 30th, 1652), but both authors were sentenced, one to fines amounting to L5,000, the other to fines amounting to L7,000, which, though falling far short of the Star Chamber fines, were very considerable sums in those days. Lilburne, on this occasion, was also sentenced to be banished, and to be deemed guilty of felony if he returned; but this part of the sentence was never enforced, for Lilburne remained, to continue to the very end, by speech and writing, that perpetual warfare with the party in power which constituted his political life.

John Fry, M.P., who sat in the High Court of Justice for the trial of Charles I., wrote in 1648 his Accuser Shamed against Colonel Downes, a fellow-member, who had most unfairly charged him before the House with blasphemy for certain expressions used in private conversation, and thereby caused his temporary suspension. Dr. Cheynel, President of St. John's at Oxford, printed an answer to this, and Fry rejoined in his Clergy in their True Colours (1650), a pamphlet singularly expressive of the general dislike at that time entertained for the English clergy. He complains of the strange postures assumed by the clergy in their prayers before the sermon, and says: "Whether the fools and knaves in stage plays took their pattern from these men, or these from them, I cannot determine; but sure one is the brat of the other, they are so well alike." He confesses himself "of the opinion of most, that the clergy are the great incendiaries." In the matter of Psalm-singing he finds "few men under heaven more irrational in their religious exercises than our clergy." As to their common evasion of difficulties by the plea that it is above reason, he fairly observes: "If a man will consent to give up his reason, I would as soon converse with a beast as with that man." Nevertheless, how many do so still!

Fry wrote as a rational churchman, not as an anti-Christian, "from a hearty desire for their (the clergy's) reformation, and a great zeal to my countrymen that they may no longer be deceived by such as call themselves the ministers of the Gospel, but are not." This appears on the title-page; but a good motive has seldom yet saved a man or a book, and the House, having debated about both tracts from morning till night, not only voted them highly scandalous and profane, but consigned them to the hangman to burn, and expelled Fry from his seat in Parliament (February 21st, 1651).

So far of the political utterances that for the offence they gave were condemned to the flames; but these only represent one side of the activity of the legislature of that time. Nothing, indeed, better illustrates the mind of the seventeenth century than the several instances in which Parliament, in the exercise of its assumed power over literature generally, interfered with works of a theological nature, nor does anything more clearly or curiously reveal the mental turmoil of that period than does the perusal of some of the works that then met with Parliamentary censure or condemnation. In undertaking this interference it is possible that Parliament exceeded its province, and one is glad that it has long since ceased to claim the keepership of the People's Conscience. But in those days ideas of toleration were in their infancy; the right of free thought, or of its expression, had not been established; and the maintenance of orthodoxy was deemed as much the duty of Parliament as the maintenance of the rights of the people. So a Parliamentary majority soon came to exercise as much tyranny over thought as ever had been exercised by king or bishop; and, in fact, the theological writer ran even greater personal risks from the indignation of Parliament than he would have run in the period preceding 1640, for he began to run in danger of his life.

The first theological work dealt with by Parliament appears to have been that curious posthumous work, entitled Comfort for Believers about their Sinnes and Troubles, which appeared in June 1645, by John Archer, Master of Arts, and preacher at All Hallows', Lombard Street. It had but a short life, for the very next month the Assembly of Divines, then sitting at Westminster, complained to Parliament of its contents, and Parliament condemned it to be publicly burnt in four places, the Assembly to draw up a formal detestation to be read at the burning. In this document it was admitted that the author had been "of good estimation for learning and piety"; but the author's logic was better than his theology, for he attributed all evil to the Cause of all things, and contended that for wise purposes God not only permitted sin, but had a hand in its essence, namely, "in the privity, and ataxy, the anomye, or irregularity of the act" (if that makes it any clearer). A single passage will convey the drift of the seventy-six pages devoted to this difficult problem:—

"Who hinted to God, or gave advice by counsel to Him, to let the creature sin? Did any necessity, arising upon the creature's being, enforce it that sin must be? Could not God have hindered sin, if He would? Might He not have kept man from sinning, as He did some of the angels? Therefore, it was His device and plot before the creature was that there should be sin. . . . It is by sin that most of God's glory in the discovery of His attributes doth arise. . . . Therefore certainly it limits Him much to bring in sin by a contingent accident, merely from the creature, and to deny God a hand and will in its being and bringing forth."

The author thought these positions quite compatible with orthodoxy; not so, however, the Presbyterian divines, nor Parliament; and certainly Archer's questions were more easily and more swiftly answered by fire than in any other way. Had he lived, one wonders how the divines would have punished him. For the next two cases prove how dangerous it was becoming to be convicted or even suspected of heterodoxy. Parliament was beginning to understand its duty as Defender of the Faith as the Holy Inquisition has always understood it—namely, by the death of the luckless assailant.

Thus, on July 24th, 1647, the House of Commons condemned to be burnt in three different places, on three different days, Paul Best's pamphlet, of the following curious title: Mysteries Discovered, or a Mercurial Picture pointing out the way from Babylon to the Holy City, For the Good of all such as during that Night of General Error and Apostacy, II. Thess. ii. 3, Rev. iii. 10, have been so long misled with Rome's Hobgoblin, by me, Paul Best, prisoner in the Gatehouse, Westminster. It concluded with a prayer for release from an imprisonment, which had then lasted more than three years, for certain theological opinions "committed to a minister (a supposed friend) for his judgment and advice only." This minister was the Rev. Roger Leys, who infamously betrayed the trust reposed in him, and made public the frankness of private conversation.

Best had been imprisoned in the Gatehouse for certain expressions he was supposed to have used about the Trinity; and before he wrote this pamphlet the House of Commons had actually voted that he should be hanged. Justly, therefore, he wrote: "Unless the Lord put to His helping hand of the magistrate for the manacling of Satan in that persecuting power, there is little hope either of the liberty of the subject or the law of God amongst us." And if he was not orthodox, he was sensible, for he says: "I cannot understand what detriment could redound either to Church or Commonwealth by toleration of religions."

His heresy consisted in thinking that pagan ideas had been imported into, and so had corrupted, the original monotheism of Christianity. "We may perceive how by iniquity of time the real truth of God hath been trodden under foot by a verbal kind of divinity, introduced by the semi-pagan Christianity of the third century in the Western Church." He certainly did not hold the doctrine of the Trinity in what was then deemed the orthodox way, but his precise belief is rather obscurely stated, and is a matter of indifference.

One is glad to learn that he escaped hanging after all, and was released about the end of 1647, probably at the instance of Cromwell. He then retired to the family seat in Yorkshire, where he combined farming with his favourite theological studies for the ten remaining years of his life. His career at Cambridge had been distinguished, as might also have been his career in the world but for that unfortunate bent for theology, and the use of his reason in its study, that has led so many worthy men to disgrace and destruction.

But, in spite of the Assembly of Divines, the air was thick with theological speculation; and only a few weeks after the condemnation of Best's Mysteries, the House condemned to a similar fate Bidle's Twelve Arguments drawn out of Scripture, wherein the Commonly Received Opinion touching the Deity of the Holy Spirit is Clearly and Fully Refuted.

Bidle, a tailor's son, must take high rank among the martyrs of learning. After a brilliant school career at Gloucester, he went to Magdalen College, Oxford, where, says his biographer, "he did so philosophise, as it might be observed, he was determined more by Reason than Authority"; and this dangerous beginning he shortly followed up, when master of the Free School at Gloucester, by the still more dangerous conclusion that the common doctrine of the Trinity "was not well grounded in Revelation, much less in Reason." For this he was brought before the magistrates at Gloucester on the charge of heresy (1644); and from that time till his death from gaol-fever in 1662, at the age of forty-two, Bidle seldom knew what liberty was. It was soon after his first imprisonment that he published his Twelve Arguments. Though the House had this burnt by the hangman, it was so popular that it was reprinted the same year. The year following (1648) the House passed an ordinance making a denial of the Trinity a capital offence; in spite of which Bidle published his Confession of Faith touching the Holy Trinity, according to Scripture, and his Testimonies of Different Fathers regarding the same, the last of which manifests considerable learning. The Assembly of Divines then appealed to Parliament to put him to death; yet, strange to say, Parliament did not do so, but soon after released their prisoner. In 1654 he published his Twofold Catechism, for which he was again committed to the Gatehouse, and debarred from the use of pens, ink, and paper; and all his books were sentenced to be burnt (December 13th, 1654). After a time, his fate being still uncertain, Cromwell procured his release, or rather sent him off to the Scilly Isles. But his enemies got him into prison again at last, and there a blameless and pious life fell a victim to the power of bigotry. One may regret a life thus spent and sacrificed; but only so has the cause of free thought been gradually won.

Bidle has also been thought to have been the translator of the famous Racovian Catechism, first published in Polish at Racow in 1605, and in Latin in 1609. In it two anti-Trinitarian divines reduced to a systematic form the whole of the Socinian doctrine. A special interest attaches to it from the fact that Milton, then nearly blind, was called before the House in connection with the Catechism, as though he had had a share in its translation or publication. It was condemned to be burnt as blasphemous (April 1st, 1652). In the Journals of the House copious extracts are given from the work, from which the following may serve to indicate what chiefly gave offence:—

"What do you conceive exceedingly profitable to be known of the Essence of God?

"It is to know that in the Essence of God there is only one person . . . and that by no means can there be more persons in that Essence, and that many persons in one essence is a pernicious opinion, which doth easily pluck up and destroy the belief of one God. . . .

"But the Christians do commonly affirm the Son and Spirit to be also persons in the unity of the same Godhead.

"I know they do, but it is a very great error; and the arguments brought for it are taken from Scriptures misunderstood.

"But seeing the Son is called God in the Scriptures, how can that be answered?

"The word God in Scripture is chiefly used two ways: first, as it signifies Him that rules in heaven and earth . . .; secondly, as it signifies one who hath received some high power or authority from that one God, or is some way made partaker of the Deity of that one God. It is in this latter sense that the Son in certain places in Scripture is called God. And the Son is upon no higher account called God than that He is sanctified by the Father and sent into the world.

"But hath not the Lord Jesus Christ besides His human a Divine nature also?

"No, by no means, for that is not only repugnant to sound reason, but to the Holy Scripture also."

This is doubtless enough to convey an idea of the Catechism, which was again translated in 1818 by T. Rees. Whether Bidle was the translator or not, he must have been actuated by good intentions in what he wrote; for he says of the Twofold Catechism, that it "was composed for their sakes that would fain be mere Christians, and not of this or that sect, inasmuch as all the sects of Christians, by what names soever distinguished, have either more or less departed from the simplicity and truth of the Scripture." But these Christians, who preferred their religion to their sect, Bidle should have known were too few to count.

Far inferior writers to Bidle were Ebiezer Coppe and Laurence Clarkson: nor, if religious madness could be so stamped out, can we complain of the House of Commons for condemning their works to the flames. The strongest possible condemnation was passed for its "horrid blasphemies" on Coppe's Fiery Flying Roll; or, Word from the Lord to all the Great Ones of the Earth whom this may concern, being the Last Warning Peace at the Dreadful Day of Judgment. All discoverable copies of this book were to be burnt by the hangman at three different places (February 1st, 1650); and Coppe was imprisoned, but was released on his recantation of his opinions. His book was the cause of that curious ordinance of August 9th, 1650, for the "punishment of atheistical, blasphemous, and execrable opinions," which is the best summary and proof of the intense religious fanaticism then prevalent, and so curiously similar in all its details to that of the primitive Christian Church. At both periods the distinctive features were the claim to actual divinity, and to superiority to all moral laws.

On September 27th, 1650, Clarkson's Single Eye: all Light, no Darkness, was condemned to be burnt by the hangman; and Clarkson himself not only sent to the House of Correction for a month, but sentenced to be banished after that for life under a penalty of death if he returned.

These books have their value for students of human nature, and so have the next I refer to, the works of Ludovic Muggleton, most of which were written during this period, though not condemned to be burnt till the year 1676, and which in other respects seem to touch the lowest attainable depth of religious demoralisation. The extraordinary thing is that Muggleton actually founded a sort of religion of his own; at all events, he gave life and title to a sect, which counts votaries to this day. Only so recently as 1846 a list of the works of Muggleton and his colleague Reeve was published, and the books advertised for sale. These two men claimed to be the two last witnesses or prophets, with power to sentence men to eternal damnation or blessedness. Muggleton had a decided preference for exercising the former power, especially in regard to the Quakers, one of his books being called A Looking Glass for George Fox, the Quaker, and other Quakers, wherein they may See Themselves to be Right Devils. There is no reason to believe Muggleton to have been a conscious impostor; only in an age vexed to madness by religious controversy, religious madness carried him further than others. An asylum would have met his case better than the sentence of the Old Bailey, which condemned him to stand for three days in the pillory at the three most eminent places in the City, his books to be there in three lots burnt over his head, and himself then to be imprisoned till he had paid a sum of L500 (1676). But this did not finish the man, for in 1681 he wrote his Letter to Colonel Phaire, the language of which is perhaps unsurpassed for repulsiveness in the whole range of religious literature. Muggleton's writings in short read as a kind of religious nightmare. In their case the fire was rather profaned by its fuel than the books honoured by the fire.



With the Restoration, the burning of certain obnoxious books formed one of the first episodes of that Royalist war of revenge of which the most disgraceful expression was the exhumation and hanging at Tyburn of the bones of Cromwell and Ireton. And had Goodwin and Milton not absconded, it is probable that the revenge which had to content itself with their books would have extended to their persons.

John Goodwin, distinguished as a minister and a prolific writer on the people's side, had dedicated in 1649 to the House of Commons his Obstructours of Justice, in which he defended the execution of Charles I. He based his case, indeed, after the fashion of those days, too completely on Biblical texts to suit our modern taste; but his book is far from being the "very weak and inconclusive performance" of which Neal speaks in his history of the Puritans. The sentiments follow exactly those of Rutherford's Lex Rex; as, for example, "The Crown is but the kingdom's or people's livery. . . . The king bears the relation of a political servant or vassal to that state, kingdom, or people over which he is set to govern." But the commonplaces of to-day were rank heresy in a chaplain to Cromwell.

There seems to be no evidence to support Bishop Burnet's assertion that Goodwin was the head of the Fifth-Monarchy fanatics; and his story is simply that of a fearless, sensible, and conscientious minister, who took a strong interest in the political drama of his time, and advocated liberty of conscience before even Milton or Locke. But his chief distinction is to have been marked out for revenge in company with Milton by the miserable Restoration Parliament.

Milton's Eikonoklastes and Defensio Populi Anglicani rank, of course, among the masterpieces of English prose, and ought to be read, where they never will be, in every Board and public school of England. In the first the picture of Charles I., as painted in the Eikon Basilike, was unmercifully torn to pieces. Charles's religion, Milton declares, had been all hypocrisy. He had resorted to "ignoble shifts to seem holy, and to get a saintship among the ignorant and wretched people." The prayer he had given as a relic to the bishop at his execution had been stolen from Sidney's Arcadia. In outward devotion he had not at all exceeded some of the worst kings in history. But in spite of Milton, the Eikon Basilike sold rapidly, and contributed greatly to the reaction; and the Secretary of the Council of State had just reason to complain of the perverseness of his generation, "who, having first cried to God to be delivered from their king, now murmur against God for having heard their prayer, and cry as loud for their king against those that delivered them."

The next year (1650) Milton had to take up his pen again in the same cause against the Defence of Charles I. to Charles II. by the learned Salmasius. Milton was not sparing in terms of abuse. He calls Salmasius "a rogue," "a foreign insignificant professor," "a slug," "a silly loggerhead," "a superlative fool." Even a Times leader of to-day would fall short of Milton in vituperative terms. It is not for this we still reverence the Defensio; but for its political force, and its occasional splendid passages. Two samples must suffice:—

"Be this right of kings whatever it will, the right of the people is as much from God as it. And whenever any people, without some visible designation from God Himself, appoint a king over them, they have the same right to pull him down as they had to set him up at first. And certainly it is a more Godlike action to depose a tyrant than to set one up; and there appears much more of God in the people when they depose an unjust prince than in a king that oppresses an innocent people. . . . So that there is but little reason for that wicked and foolish opinion that kings, who commonly are the worst of men, should be so high in God's account as that He should have put the world under them, to be at their beck and be governed according to their humour; and that for their sakes alone He should have reduced all mankind, whom He made after His own image, into the same condition as brutes."

The conclusion of Milton's Defensio is not more remarkable for its eloquence than it is for its closing paragraph. Addressing his countrymen in an exhortation that reminds one of the speeches of Pericles to the Athenians, he proceeds:—

"God has graciously delivered you, the first of nations, from the two greatest miseries of this life, and most pernicious to virtue, tyranny, and superstition; He has endued you with greatness of mind to be the first of mankind, who, after having conquered their own king, and having had him delivered into their hands, have not scrupled to condemn him judicially, and pursuant to that sentence of condemnation to put him to death. After the performing so glorious an action as this, you ought to do nothing that is mean and little, not so much as to think of, much less to do, anything but what is great and sublime."

An exhortation to virtue founded on an act of regicide! To such an issue had come the dispute concerning the Divine Right of kings; and with such diversity of opinion do different men form their judgments concerning the leading events of their time!

The House of Commons, reverting for a time to the ancient procedure in these matters, petitioned the King on June 16th, 1660, to call in these books of Goodwin and Milton, and to order them to be burnt by the common hangman: and the King so far assented as to issue a proclamation ordering all persons in possession of such books to deliver them up to their county sheriffs to be burnt by the hangman at the next assizes (August 13th, 1660).[122:1] In this way a good many were burnt; but, happily for the authors themselves, "they so fled or so obscured themselves" that all endeavours to apprehend their persons failed. Subsequently the benefits of the Act of Oblivion were conferred on Milton; but they were denied to Goodwin, who, having barely escaped sentence of death by Parliament, was incapacitated from ever holding any office again.

The Lex Rex, or the Law and the Prince (1644), by the Presbyterian divine Samuel Rutherford, was another book which incurred the vengeance of the Restoration, and for the same reasons as Goodwin's book or Milton's. It was burnt by the hangman at Edinburgh (October 16th, 1660), St. Andrews (October 23rd, 1660),[122:2] and London; its author was deprived of his offices both in the University and the Church, and was summoned on a charge of high treason before the Parliament of Edinburgh. His death in 1661 anticipated the probable legal sentence, and saved Rutherford from political martyrdom.

His book was an answer to the Sacra Sancta Regum Majestas, in which the Divine Right of kings, and the duty of passive obedience, had been strenuously upheld. Its appearance in 1644 created a great sensation, and threw into the shade Buchanan's De Jure Regni apud Scotos, which had hitherto held the field on the popular side. The purpose and style of the book may be gathered from the passage in the preface, wherein the writer gives, as his reason for writing, the opinion that arbitrary government had "over-swelled all banks of law, that it was now at the highest float . . . that the naked truth was, that prelates, a wild and pushing cattle to the lambs and flocks of Christ, had made a hideous noise; the wheels of their chariot did run an unequal pace with the bloodthirsty mind of the daughter of Babel." The contention was, that all regal power sprang from the suffrages of the people. "The king is subordinate to the Parliament, not co-ordinate, for the constituent is above the constituted." "What are kings but vassals to the State, who, if they turn tyrants, fall from their right?" For the rest, a book so crammed and stuffed with Biblical quotations as to be most unreadable. And indeed, of all the features of that miserable seventeenth century, surely nothing is more extraordinary than this insatiate taste of men of all parties for Jewish precedents. Never was the enslavement of the human mind to authority carried to more absurd lengths with more lamentable results; never was manifested a greater waste, or a greater wealth, of ability. For that reason, though Rutherford may claim a place on our shelves, he is little likely ever to be taken down from them. But may the principles he contended for remain as undisturbed as his repose!

The year following the burning of these books the House of Commons directed its vengeance against certain statutes passed by the Republican government. On May 17th, 1661, a large majority condemned the Solemn League and Covenant to be burnt by the hangman, the House of Lords concurring. All copies of it were also to be taken down from all churches and public places. Evelyn, seeing it burnt in several places in London on Monday 22nd, exclaims, "Oh! prodigious change!" The Irish Parliament also condemned it to the flames, not only in Dublin, but in all the towns of Ireland.

A few days later, May 27th, the House of Commons, unanimously and with no petition to the King, condemned to be burnt as "treasonable parchment writings":

1. "The Act for erecting a High Court of Justice for the trial of Charles I."

2. "The Act declaring and constituting the people of England a Commonwealth."

3. "The Act for subscribing the Engagement."

4. "The Act for renouncing and disannulling the title of Charles Stuart" (September 1656).

5. "The Act for the security of the Lord Protector's person and continuance of the Nation in peace and safety" (September 1656).

Three of these were burnt at Westminster and two at the Exchange. Pepys, beholding the latter sight from a balcony, was led to moralise on the mutability of human opinion. The strange thing is that, when these Acts were burnt, the Act for the abolition of the House of Lords (1649) appears to have escaped condemnation. For its intrinsic interest, I here insert the words of the old parchment:—

"The Commons of England assembled in Parliament, finding by too long experience that the House of Lords is useless and dangerous to the people of England to be continued, hath thought fit to ordain and enact, and be it ordained and enacted by this present Parliament and by the authority of the same: That from henceforth the House of Lords in Parliament shall be and is hereby wholly abolished and taken away; and that the Lords shall not from henceforth meet and sit in the said house, called the Lords' House, or in any other house or place whatsoever as a House of Lords; nor shall sit, vote, advise, adjudge, or determine of any matter or thing whatsoever as a House of Lords in Parliament: Nevertheless, it is hereby declared, that neither such Lords as have demeaned themselves with honour, courage, and fidelity to the Commonwealth, nor their posterities (who shall continue so), shall be excluded from the public councils of the Nation, but shall be admitted thereunto and have their free vote in Parliament, if they shall be thereunto elected, as other persons of interest elected and qualified thereunto ought to have. And be it further ordained and enacted by the authority aforesaid, That no peer of this land (not being elected, qualified, and sitting as aforesaid) shall claim, have, or make use of any privilege of Parliament either in relation to his person, quality, or estate any law, usage, or custom to the contrary notwithstanding."[127:1]

How true a presentiment our ancestors had of the incompatibility between an hereditary chamber and popular liberty is conspicuously shown by the next book we read of as burnt; and indeed there are few more instructive historical tracts than Locke's Letter from a Person of Quality to his Friend in the Country, which was ordered to be burnt by the Privy Council; and wherein he gave an account of the debates in the Lords on a Bill "to prevent the dangers which may arise from persons disaffected to the Government," in April and May 1675. It was actually proposed by this Bill to make compulsory on all officers of Church or State, and on all members of both Houses, an oath, not only declaring it unlawful upon any pretence to take arms against the King, but swearing to endeavour at no time the alteration of the government in Church and State. To that logical position had the Royalist spirit come within fifteen years of the Restoration; Charles II., according to Burnet, being much set on this scheme, which, says Locke, was "first hatched (as almost all the mischiefs of the world have been) amongst the great churchmen." The bishops and clergy, by their outcry, had caused Charles's Declaration of Indulgence (March 17th, 1671) to be cancelled, and the great seal broken off it; they had "tricked away the rights and liberties of the people, in this and all other countries, wherever they had had opportunity . . . that priest and prince may, like Castor and Pollux, be worshipped together as divine, in the same temple, by us poor lay-subjects; and that sense and reason, law, properties, rights, and liberties shall be understood as the oracles of those deities shall interpret."

There seems no doubt that the extinction of liberty was as vigorously aimed at as it was nearly achieved at the period Locke describes, under the administration of Lord Danby. But the Bill, though carried in the Lords, was strongly contested. Locke says that it occupied sixteen or seventeen whole days of debate, the House sitting often till 8 or 9 P.M., or even to midnight. His account of the speakers and their arguments is one of the most graphic pages of historical painting in our language; but it is said to have been drawn up at the desire, and almost at the dictation, of Locke's friend, Lord Shaftesbury, who himself took a prominent part against the Bill. Fortunately, it never got beyond the House of Lords, a dispute between the two Houses leading to a prorogation of Parliament and so to the salvation of liberty. But the whole episode impresses on the mind the force of the current then, as always, flowing in favour of arbitrary government throughout our history, as well as a sense of the very narrow margin by which liberty of any sort has escaped or been evolved, and, in general, of wonder that it should ever have survived at all the combinations of adverse circumstances against it.

It has been shown in the account of books burnt in the time of the Rebellion, how freely in the struggle between Orthodoxy and Free Thought—between the dogmas, that is, of the strongest sect and the speculations of individuals—fire was resorted to for the purpose of burning out unpopular opinions. These, indeed, were often of so fantastic a nature, that no fire was really needed to insure their extinction; whilst of others it may be said that, as their existence was originally independent of actual expression, so the punishment inflicted on their utterance could prove no barrier to their propagation.

But besides the war that was waged in the domain of theology proper, between opinions claiming to be sound and opinions claiming to be true, a contest no less fierce centred for long round the very organisation of the Church; and between the Establishment and Dissent that hostile condition of thrust and parry, which has since become chronic, and is so detrimental to the cause professed by both alike, is no less visible in the field of literature than in that of our general history. Associated with the literary side of this great and bitter conflict—a side only too much ignored in the discreet popular histories of the English Church—are the names of Delaune, Defoe, Tindal, on the aggressive side, of Sacheverell and Drake on the defensive; each party, during the heat of battle, giving vent to sentiments so offensive to the other as to make it seem that fire alone could atone for the injury or remove the sting.

The first book to mention in connection with this struggle is Delaune's Plea for the Nonconformists; a book round which hangs a melancholy tale, and which is entitled to a niche in the library of Fame for other reasons than the mere fact of its having been burnt before the Royal Exchange in 1683. The story shows the sacerdotalism of the Church of England at its very worst, and helps to explain the evil heritage of hatred which, in the hearts of the nonconforming sects, has since descended and still clings to her.

Dr. Calamy, one of the King's chaplains, had preached and printed a sermon called Scrupulous Conscience, challenging to, or advocating, the friendly discussion of points of difference between the Church and the Nonconformists. Delaune, who kept a grammar school, was weak enough to take him at his word, and so wrote his Plea, a book of wondrous learning, and to this day one of the best to read concerning the origin and growth of the various rites of the Church. Thereupon he was whisked off to herd with the commonest felons in Newgate, whence he wrote repeatedly to Dr. Calamy, to beg him, as the cause of his unjust arrest, to procure his release. Delaune disclaimed all malignity against the English Church, or any member of it, and, with grim humour, entreated to be convinced of his errors "by something more like divinity than Newgate." But the Church has not always dealt in more convincing divinity, and accordingly the cowardly ecclesiastic held his peace and left his victim to suffer.

It is difficult even now to tell the rest of Delaune's story with patience. He was indicted for intending to disturb the peace of the kingdom, to bring the King into the greatest hatred and contempt, and for printing and publishing, by force of arms, a scandalous libel against the King and the Prayer-Book. Of course it was extravagantly absurd, but these indictments were the legal forms under which the luckless Dissenters experienced sufferings that were to them the sternest realities. Delaune was, in consequence, fined a sum he could not possibly pay; his books (for he also wrote The Image of the Beast, wherein he showed, in three parallel columns, the far greater resemblance of the Catholic rites to those of Pagan Rome than to those of the New Testament) were condemned to be burnt; and his judges, humane enough to let him off the pillory in consideration of his education, sent him back to Newgate notwithstanding it. There, in that noisome atmosphere and in that foul company, he was obliged to shelter his wife and two small children; and there, after fifteen months, he died, having first seen all he loved on earth pine and die before him. And he was only one of eight thousand other Protestant Dissenters who died in prison during the merry, miserable reign of Charles II.! Of a truth, Dissent has something to forgive the Church; for persecution in Protestant England was very much the same as in Catholic France, with, if possible, less justification.

The main argument of Delaune's book was, that the Church of England agreed more in its rites and doctrines with the Church of Rome, and both Churches with Pagan or pre-Christian Rome, than either did with the primitive Church or the word of the Gospel—a thesis that has long since become generally accepted; but his main offence consisted in saying that the Lord's Prayer ought in one sentence to have been translated precisely as it now has been in the Revised Version, and in contending that the frequent repetition of the prayer in church was contrary to the express command of Scripture. On these and other points Delaune's book was never answered—for the reason, I believe, that it never could be. After the Act of Toleration (1689) it was often reprinted; the eighth and last time in 1706, when the High Church movement to persecute Dissent had assumed dangerous strength, with an excellent preface by Defoe, and concluding with the letters to Dr. Calamy, written by Delaune from Newgate. Defoe well points out that the great artifice of Delaune's time was to make the persecution of Dissent appear necessary, by representing it as dangerous to the State as well as the Church.

The mention of two other books seems to complete the list of burnt political literature down to the Revolution of 1688.

One is Malice Defeated, or a brief relation of the accusation and deliverance of Elizabeth Cellier. The authoress was implicated in the Dangerfield conspiracy, and, having been indicted for plotting to kill the King and to reintroduce Popery, was sentenced at the Old Bailey to be imprisoned till she had paid a fine of L1,000, to stand three times in the pillory, and to have her books burnt by the hangman. I do not suppose that, in her case, literature incurred any loss.

The other is the translation of Claude's Plaintes des Protestants, burnt at the Exchange on May 5th, 1686. After the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, people like Sir Roger l'Estrange were well paid to write denials of any cruelties as connected with that measure in France; much as in our own day people wrote denials of the Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria. The famous Huguenot minister's book proved of course abundantly the falsity of this denial; but, as Evelyn says, so great a power in the English Court had then the French ambassador, "who was doubtless in great indignation at the pious and truly generous charity of all the nation for the relief of those miserable sufferers who came over for shelter," that, in deference to his wishes, the Government of James II. condemned the truth to the flames. Nothing in that monarch's reign proves more conclusively the depth of degradation to which his foreign policy and that of his brother had caused his country to fall.


[122:1] In Kennet's Register, 189.

[122:2] Lamont's Diary, 159.

[127:1] Scobell's Collection of Acts, II. 8.



The period of the Revolution, by which I mean from the accession of William III. to the death of Queen Anne, was a time in which the conflict between Orthodoxy and Free Thought, and again between Church and Dissent, continued with an unabated ferocity, which is most clearly reflected in and illustrated by the sensational history of its contemporary literature, especially during the reign of Queen Anne. I am not aware that any book was burnt by authority of the English Parliament during the reign of William, but to say this in the face of Molyneux's Case for Ireland, which has been so frequently by great authorities declared to have been so treated, compels me to allude to the history of that book, and to give the reasons for a contrary belief.

It is first stated in the preface to the edition of 1770 that William Molyneux's Case for Ireland being bound by Acts of Parliament in England, first published in 1698, was burnt by the hangman at the order of Parliament; and the statement has been often repeated by later writers, as by Mr. Lecky, Dr. Ball, and others. Why then is there no mention of such a sentence in the Journals of the Commons, where a full account is given of the proceedings against the book; nor in Swift's Drapier Letters, where he refers to the fate of the Case for Ireland? This seems almost conclusive evidence on the negative side; but as the editor of 1770 may have had some lost authority for his remark, and not been merely mistaken, some account may be given of the book, as of one possibly, but not probably, condemned to the flames.[137:1]

Molyneux was distinguished for his scientific attainments, was a member of the Irish Parliament, first for Dublin City and then for the University, and was also a great friend of Locke the philosopher. The introduction in 1698 of the Bill, which was carried the same year by the English Parliament, forbidding the exportation of Irish woollen manufactures to England or elsewhere—one of the worst Acts of oppression of the many that England has perpetrated against Ireland—led Molyneux to write this book, in which he contends for the constitutional right of Ireland to absolute legislative independence. As the political relationship between the two countries—a relation now of pure force on one side, and of subjection on the other—is still a matter of contention, it will not be out of place to devote a few lines to a brief summary of his argument.

Before 1641 no law made in England was of force in Ireland without the consent of the latter, a large number of English Acts not being received in Ireland till they had been separately enacted there also. At the so-called conquest of Ireland by Henry II., the English laws settled by him were voluntarily accepted by the Irish clergy and nobility, and Ireland was allowed the freedom of holding parliaments as a separate and distinct kingdom from England. So it was that John was made King (or Dominus) of Ireland even in the lifetime of his father, Henry II., and remained so during the reign of his brother, Richard I. Ireland, therefore, could not be bound by England without the consent of her own representatives; and the happiness of having her representatives in the English Parliament could hardly be hoped for, since that experiment had been proved in Cromwell's time to be too troublesome and inconvenient.

Molyneux concluded his argument with a warning that subsequent history has amply justified—"Advancing the power of the Parliament of England by breaking the rights of another may in time have ill effects." So, indeed, it has; but such warnings or prophecies seldom bring favour to their authors, and the English Parliament was moved to fury by Molyneux' arguments. Yet the latter, writing to Locke on the subject of his book, had said: "I think I have treated it with that caution and submission that it cannot justly give any offence; insomuch that I scruple not to put my name to it; and, by the advice of some good friends, have presumed to dedicate it to his Majesty. . . . But till I either see how the Parliament at Westminster is pleased to take it, or till I see them risen, I do not think it advisable for me to go on t'other side of the water. Though I am not apprehensive of any mischief from them, yet God only knows what resentments captious men may take on such occasions." (April 19th, 1698.)

Molyneux, however, was soon to know this himself, for on May 21st his book was submitted to the examination of a committee; and on the committee's report (June 22nd) that it was "of dangerous consequence to the Crown and people of England, by denying the authority of the King and Parliament of England to bind the kingdom and people of Ireland," an address was presented to the King praying him to punish the author of such "bold and pernicious assertions," and to discourage all things that might lessen the dependence of Ireland upon England; to which William replied that he would take care that what they complained of should be prevented and redressed. Perhaps the dedication of the book to the King restrained the House from voting it to the flames; but, anyhow, there is not the least contemporary evidence of their doing so. Molyneux did not survive the year of the condemnation of his book; but, in spite of his fears, he spent five weeks with Locke at Oates in the autumn of the same year, his book surviving him, to attest his wonderful foresight as much as later events justified his spirited remonstrance.

There is, however, no doubt about the burning of a book for its theological sentiments at this time, though it was no Parliament but only an university which committed it to the fire. Oxford University has always tempered her love for learning with a dislike for inquiry, and set the cause of orthodoxy above the cause of truth. This phase of her character was never better illustrated than in the case of The Naked Gospel, by the Rev. Arthur Bury, Rector of Exeter College (1690).

A high value attaches to the first edition of this book, wherein the author essayed to show what the primitive Gospel really was, what alterations had been gradually made in it, and what advantages and disadvantages had therefrom ensued. Bury, many years before, in 1648, had known what it was to be led from his college by a file of musketeers, and forbidden to return to Oxford or his fellowship under pain of death, because he had the courage in those days to read the prayers of the Church. So he had some justification for ascribing his anonymous work to "a true son of the Church"; and his motive was the promotion of that charity and toleration which breathes in its every page. The King had summoned a Convocation, to make certain changes in the Litany, and, if possible, to reconcile ecclesiastical differences; he even dreamt of uniting the Protestant Churches of England and of the Continent, and his Comprehension Bill, had it passed Parliament, might have made the English Church a really national Church; and it was from his sympathy with the broad ideas of the King that Bury wrote his pamphlet, intending not to publish it, but to present it to the members of Convocation severally. Unfortunately he showed or presented a few copies to a few friends, with the natural result that the work became known, the author admonished for heresy and driven from his rectorship, and the book publicly burnt, by a vote of the university, in the area of the schools (August 19th, 1690). He should have reflected that it is as little the part of a discreet man to try to reconcile religious factions as to seek to separate fighting tigers.

The unexpected commotion roused by his book led the author to republish it with great modifications and omissions; a fact which much diminishes the interest of the second edition of 1691. For instance, the preface to the second edition omits this passage of the first: "The Church of England, as it needs not, so it does not, forbid any of its sons the use of their own eyes; if it did, this alone would be sufficient reason not only to distrust but to condemn it." Nevertheless both editions alike contain many passages remarkable for their breadth of view no less than for their admirable expression. What, for instance, could be better than the passage wherein he speaks of the priests cramming the people with doctrines, "so many in numbers that an ordinary mind cannot retain them; so perplexed in matter that the best understanding cannot comprehend them; so impertinent to any good purpose that a good man need not regard them; and so unmentioned in Scripture that none but the greatest subtlety can therein discover the least intimations of them"? Or again: "No king is more independent in his own dominions from any foreign jurisdiction in matters civil, than every Christian is within his own mind in matters of faith"? What Doctor of Divinity of these days would speak as courageously as this one did two hundred years ago? So let any one be prepared to give a good price for a first edition copy of The Naked Gospel, and, when obtained, to study as well as honour it.

History is apt to repeat itself, and therefore it is of interest to note here that about a century and a half later (March 1849) Exeter College was again stirred to the burning point, and that in connection with a book which, apart from its intrinsic interest, enjoys the distinction of having been actually the last to be burnt in England. In the Morning Post of March 9th, 1849, it is written: "We are informed that a work recently published by Mr. Froude, M.A., Fellow of Exeter College, entitled the Nemesis of Faith, was a few days since publicly burned by the authorities in the College Hall." The Nemesis, therefore, deserves a place in our libraries, and many will even prize it above its author's historical works, as the last example of the effort of the ecclesiastical spirit to crush the discussion of its dogmas. It is owing to this attempt that the Nemesis is now so well known as to render any reference to its contents superfluous.

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