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CHARLES I. AND COMMONWEALTH.
The commotions of this reign, both civil and ecclesiastical, gave birth to the larger and more valuable portion of its prose literature. Polemics still continued, though they received in part a new direction. According to Wood, it was a common practice with the students of Oxford, at this period, to seize all opportunities of wrangling, in order to prepare theinselves, by habitual disputation, for those more serious controversies, in which they expected to be afterwards engaged. The absurd attempt of Laud to establish an uniformity of religious worship in the three kingdoms, gave great
umbrage to the Scots and Puritans, and engendered much polemical bitterness. It were endless even to enumerate the productions which teemed from the press, on most of the topics of controversial theology ; nor would it be very edifying to dwell on the cant of the pulpit, and the declamations of party.
But the most important theologic dispute was the old one between the Catholics and Protestants; and which probably originated in the favour shewn in this and the preceding reign to the Jesuitical priests. Many of these were allowed to reside in Oxford or its vicinity;
and they seized, with their characteristic zeal and activity, all opportunities of making converts among the students, many of · whom they contrived to decoy to the Jesuitical colleges abroad. In this manner, the famous Chillingworth, subsequently the redoubted champion of the Protestants, was enticed to the college at Douay, by the Jesuit Fisher, alias Perse,
Moral, political, and metaphysical philosophy, obtained a precision and clearness unknown before. The minds of men, penetrated and disturbed by the dreadful evils which vexed their country, were naturally urged, in
the intervals of their alarm, to enquire deeply into their causes--to examine into the very foundations of society-that they may find a basis for a more secure and permanent fabric of social peace.
But different minds, though probably called into activity by the same general circumstances, were led to different and even opposite principles, particularly in government. While Hobbes became the advocate of despotic rule, the more courageous and generous sentiments of Milton, of Harrington, and of Algernon Sidney, rendered them the champions of freedom. The saine general causes produced also several historians of these tumultuous times.
Amidst this political confusion, the dramatic writers died away, and left no successors. When the troubles began, we ceased also to have any voyagers and travellers, who contributed very largely to the literary treasures of the two preceding reigns.
There are probably fewer translations likewise of this date; and certainly fewer books of mere ainusement. In fact, people had something else to do than read for amusement. It would be absurd to apply the epithet of amusing to Milton and Jeremy Taylor-be
yond all doubt the noblest writers in the language. They both possess all the higher qualities of genius, sublimity of conception, richness, and splendor of imagination, unrivalled flow and copiousness of language. However little we may be able sometimes to sympathize with their opinions, considered philosophically, it is the rare excellence of these great authors, always to fill and occupy the soul.
Auto-biography was begun by lord Herbert of Cherbury; and continued by various religious enthusiasts, who commenced the practice of keeping diaries. Of these, I believe, archbishop Laud's is the first; and the custom has descended to Whitfield and Wesley of modern times.
Upon the whole, the literature of this reign (or rather these reigns) is very important; and posterity reaps the advantage of calamities, which no good mind would wish to see superinduced, even upon the most distant and barbarous portion of the globe.
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