Page images

man took his task in hand, and toiled on from year


year till it was finished.

King James's translators magnified their office, but did not over-praise it, when they wrote, Translation it is, that openeth the window to let in the light,—that breaketh the shell that we may eat the kernel,—that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most Holy Place,—that removeth the cover of the well, that we may come by the water.” Truly, the light is pleasant; the kernel is sweet to the taste; we look reverently into the Holy Place; waters from the well of life give us strength for our journey, and make our souls glad within us; and therefore we give honour to the man who discerned the true remedy for priestly tyranny, and led the way to the liberation of his countrymen. He never burnt a Pope's Bull, like Luther; he never saw a day like that on which the brave monk stood face to face with the Great Emperor at Worms; but on the great questions at issue between the Church's rule and the individual conscience,--as to priestly mediation on the one hand, and free access to the Mercy-Seat on the other,-the German Reformer did not deliver a truer testimony than the English one; while both alike proclaimed that the teaching of Holy Scripture, like the blessed sun-light which cheers and warms our homes, was meant for all men to live and walk by, and that what God had given in His rich bounty none might hide or darken without profaneness and cruelty. “Sacrilegious robbers, worse than men who broke into Churches, and stole chalices from the altar," Wiclif styled such in his plain-spoken English ; and to reclaim the plunder, and restore to the people what they could ill spare, seemed to him a work of piety and charity.

Still, be it remembered, books were but manuscripts in those days. The scribe, not the printer, multiplied copies ; and we talk loosely, therefore, when we speak of the Scrip


tures being given to the people in the fourteenth century. It was not with England as with Germany when Luther came from the Wartburg, with his German Testament in his hand, the fruit of his captivity, and presently three thousand copies went forth from the press at Wittemburg, followed by fifty editions more in the next twelve years. Far distant, as yet, was the day when the Bible, in his mother tongue, would be the Englishman's household book. We read that early in the fifteenth century, a MS. copy of Wiclif's New Testament sold for £2 138. 4d. There is a record to that effect in the Register of the then Bishop of Norwich. Now at that period labourers' wages were about a shilling a week. So if a man worked steadily for a year, put by all his earnings, and spent nothing on food or clothing, at the end of the year he might have bought a Testament. Think; and now our Sunday School children can have one of the nice little Testaments bound in roan with gilt edges, if they have the virtue to hold out against Goodies, and will save up fourpence.

Wiclif died, but his doctrine lived. His writings, consisting of short treatises on the corruptions of the day, or popular expositions of Christian faith and practice,tracts, in fact, of an early date,--were copied by a hundred scribes, and distributed by zealous disciples. The Friars, too, were met on their own ground, and foiled with their own weapons. Preachers went abroad, poor Priests, as they were called, simple in their habits, indefatigable in their labours, plain-spoken like their Master, who gave the people not a miserable caricature of Christianity, but the Gospel in its purity; and, before the end of the Century, their followers had become an army whom Archbishops denounced to Parliament as dangerous to the State. We hear of the Lollards mostly from their enemies. Knyghton tells us that, if all the earth were turned into parchment, and every twig became a pen, and the sea were nothing but ink, and every living man were a scribe, all their wickedness could not be told; but, after this railing indictment, we search in vain for any overt acts of treason, any felonies or misdemeanours, to justify his description. He admits that they were a mightily persuasive people, who gained proselytes wherever they went; also that they all spoke one language, and seemed to be animated by one spirit, from which he infers that the Devil was their teacher ; but unity and concord, we know, come more often from the Good Spirit. It was made a reproach to them that God's Law was for ever in their mouths, and that good preaching and godly living were exalted by them above Church ceremonies and the Pope's Masses. There were tares, doubtJess, among the wheat; men who were half enlightened, with few to check and guide them wisely, might run into some wild excesses ; a few noted men among them recanted, and brought discredit on the name. But


the despised sect were chosen witnesses of God, to whom Truth was dearer than life,-faithful Evangelists who sowed good seed in many an humble home,-worthy disciples of a Master, whose course was finished, but whose words, spoken and written, bore fruit in after ages. Soon, however, they were to be tested by suffering. The great Churchmen bestirred themselves, and received a Commission from Parliament to hunt down the innovators. The first year of Henry IV.'s reign, the last of the Century, was made memorable by the enactment of the Statute, which made burning the punishment for heretics, and the work of Persecution began in earnest. The preachers were silenced; the old abuses lived on; the time of Reformation was, postponed ; and the dreary fifteenth Century followed, with its tale of blood and crime,-its deposed and murdered Princes, --its nobles divided between warring factions,-its

twenty battle-fields on English soil,—and all the wide wasting desolation which History suggests, but cannot paint.

Much that was done by the men of the fourteenth Century, of course, has passed away, never to be recovered. We do not retain the lands they conquered ; our public Institutions have been completely remodelled ; old customs have perished, and new ones rule us in their turn. But we have some enduring monuments of their taste and skill. Our noblesti Cathedrals belong to this Century. Winchester assumed a completely new aspect, the West Front being built by one Bishop, and then joined on to the Central Tower by the lofty nave, under the superintendence of his successor, the celebrated William of Wykeham. The Eastern end of Lincoln, with a grace and beauty of its own, and the upper storey of the majestic Tower which overlooks a whole County, were begun and finished during this period. The famous Octagon and Lantern of Ely are of the same date, unique in character, and unsurpassed for beauty. Salisbury I cannot claim, as the body was finished in the year 1258; but the spire which crowns it comes within our limits, and helps to enrich my list. York Minster was 250 years in building, and belongs, therefore, to three centuries; but the glorious West Front was reared in Edward II.'s reign, showing that, in the very periods when Kings and Courtiers challenge alternately our contempt and pity, the Mediæval Church could command the services of men of lofty genius and large resources, who have bequeathed their works as a wonder and a study for later generations. The Decorated English style, as it is called, came into favour then, and beautiful specimens of it are seen, not only in our Cathedrals, but in our Churches. The towers and spires which adorn so many of the villages of Lincolnshire, and used to feast the eye of the traveller


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

in the good old times of four-horse coaches and post-chaises, were designed and built by the same wonder-working Artists.

Some of the munificent Churchmen of the Middle Ages seem as well entitled to notice as the Cathedrals which were built under their eye. We hear of wealth having corrupted the Clergy, and luxury having succeeded to the habits of primitive Christianity, till we forget to discriminate between the worthy and the vile, and almost lose sight of the noble and judicious charities which are recorded in the Ecclesiastical annals of that period. The greater Bishops lived like Princes with their broad lands and stately mansions and wide-flowing hospitality; but then the best among them gave like Princes to works of piety and charity. William of Wykeham, who began by being surveyor and architect to Edward the Third, and in that capacity superintended his splendid improvements at Windsor,--who went on to higher offices and became at last Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor,-besides what was done in beautiful style for his own Cathedral, founded and endowed Winchester School, and New College, Oxford, for the training of poor scholars. Richard Bury, Bishop of Durham from 1333 to 1345, collected a vast store of manuscripts, and left behind him a noble library. Men of letters flocked to him from every quarter, and found in him a fast friend and generous patron. His gates were daily opened to the poor, and his alms scattered ungrudgingly among the destitute of

The ample revenues of bis See he looked upon as given in trust, to be expended for God; and when his executors came to search for bis private store, they found that he had left nothing for them to dispense. Walter Stapleton, a man of “high birth and large bounty,” was barbarously murdered in Cheapside because he was Lord Treasurer to

every class.

« PreviousContinue »