English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History eBook

Henry Coppée
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 540 pages of information about English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History.

Dryden’s prose, principally in the form of prefaces and dedications, has been admired by all critics; and one of the greatest has said, that if he had turned his attention entirely in that direction, he would have been facile princeps among the prose writers of his day.  He has, in general terms, the merit of being the greatest refiner of the English language, and of having given system and strength to English poetry above any writer up to his day; but more than all, his works are a transcript of English history—­political, religious, and social—­as valuable as those of any professed historian.  Dryden married Lady Elizabeth Howard, the daughter of an earl, who, it is said, was not a congenial companion, and who afterwards became insane.  He died from a gangrene in the foot.  He declared that he died in the profession of the Roman Catholic faith; which raises a new doubt as to his sincerity in the change.  Near the monument of old father Chaucer, in Westminster, is one erected, by the Duke of Buckingham, to Dryden.  It merely bears name and date, as his life and works were supposed to need no eulogy.

CHAPTER XXII.

THE RELIGIOUS LITERATURE OF THE GREAT REBELLION AND OF THE RESTORATION.

   The English Divines.  Hall.  Chillingworth.  Taylor.  Fuller.  Sir T.
   Browne.  Baxter.  Fox.  Bunyan.  South.  Other Writers.

THE ENGLISH DIVINES.

Having come down, in the course of English Literature, to the reign of William and Mary, we must look back for a brief space to consider the religious polemics which grew out of the national troubles and vicissitudes.  We shall endeavor to classify the principal authors under this head from the days of Milton to the time when the Protestant succession was established on the English throne.

The Established Church had its learned doctors before the civil war, many of whom contributed to the literature; but when the contest between king and parliament became imminent, and during the progress of the quarrel, these became controversialists,—­most of them on the side of the unfortunate but misguided monarch,—­and suffered with his declining fortunes.

To go over the whole range of theological literature in this extended period, would be to study the history of the times from a theological point of view.  Our space will only permit a brief notice of the principal writers.

HALL.—­First among these was Joseph Hall, who was born in 1574.  He was educated at Cambridge, and was appointed to the See of Exeter in 1624, and transferred to that of Norwich in 1641, the year before Charles I. ascended the throne.  The scope of his writings was quite extensive.  As a theological writer, he is known by his numerous sermons, his Episcopacy by Divine Right Asserted, his Christian Meditations, and various commentaries and Contemplations

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