Page images
PDF
EPUB

cession of publications during the next five-and-twenty years, resumed his pen after the Revolution, which raised him to the bench, to engage in a controversy with Locke about some of the principles of his famous essay ; but, whether it was that years had abated his powers, or that he had a worse cause to defend, or merely that the public taste was changed, he gained much less applause for his dialectic skill on this than on most former occasions. Stillingfleet lived to the year 1699. Two other eminent theological writers of this reign, Cumberland and Bull, who both eventually became bishops, had also first acquired distinction in the preceding period. Cumberland's principal work is his Latin treatise De Legibus Naturæ, an attack of considerable acuteness on the philosophy of Hobbes; Bull, who is also the author of some sermons in English, is most celebrated for his Harmonia Apostolica, directed against Calvinism, 1669; his Defensio Fidei Nicenæ, 1685; and his Judicium Ecclesiæ Catholicæ, 1694; all in Latin.

John Norris, also, one of the last of the school of English Platonists, which may be considered as having been founded in the latter part of the seventeenth century by Cudworth and Henry More, had, we believe, become known as a writer some years before the Revolution ; but the greater number of his publications first appeared in the reign of William, and he may be reckoned one of the best writers properly or principally belonging to that reign. Yet he is not for a moment to be compared for learning, compass of thought, or power and skill of expression, to either Cudworth or More. Norris's principal work is his Essay on the Ideal World, published in two parts in 1701 and 1702. He is also the author of a volume of religious poetry, of rather a feeble character, which has been often reprinted. Bishop Sprat, though a clergyman, and a writer both of prose and verse, cannot be called a divine; he had in earlier life the reputation of being the finest writer of the day, but, although he lived till very nearly the end of the reign of Anne, he published nothing, we believe, after the Revolution, nor indeed for a good many years before it. His style, which was so much admired in his own age, is a Frenchified English, with an air of ease and occasionally of vivacity, but without any true grace or expressiveness.

Good old Richard Baxter, who had been filling the world with books for half a century, just lived to see the Revolution. He died, at the

age of seventy-six, in the beginning of December, 1691.

And in the end of the same month died, a considerably youngei man, Robert Boyle, another of the most voluminous writers of the preceding period, and famous also for his services in the cause of religion, as well as of science. In the preceding May, at a still less advanced age, had died the most eminent Scotch writer of the period between the Restoration and the Revolution, Sir George Mackenzie, lord-advocate under both Charles II. and his successor; the author of the Institution of the Laws of Scotland, and many other professional, historical, and antiquarian works, but the master also of a flowing pen in moral speculation, the belles lettres, and even in the department of fancy and fiction as may be gathered from the titles of his Aretina, or the Serious Romance, 1660; Religio Stoici, or the Virtuoso, 1663; Solitude preferred to Public Employment, 1665; Moral Gallantry, 1667. Mackenzie may be regarded as the first successor of his countryman Drummond of Hawthornden in the cultivation of an English style; he was the correspondent of Dryden and other distinguished English writers of his day ; but he has no pretensions of his own to any high rank either for the graces of his expression or the value of his matter. Whatever may have been his professional learning, too, his historical disquisitions are as jejune and uncritical as his attempts at fine writing are, with all their elaboration, at once pedantic and clownish. He has nothing either of the poetry or the elegance of Drummond.

BISHOP BURNET.

The most active and conspicuous undoubtedly of the prose writers who, having acquired distinction in the preceding period, continued to prosecute the business of authorship after the Revolution, was the celebrated Dr. Gilbert Burnet, now Bishop of Salisbury. Of 145 distinct publications (many of them, however, only single sermons and other short pamphlets), which are enumerated as having proceeded from his incessant pen between 1669 and his death, at the age of seventy-two, in 1715 (including, indeed, his History of his Own Time, and his Thoughts on Education, which did not appear till after his death), we find that 71, namely 21 historical works and 50 sermons and tracts, belong to

the period before the Revolution ; 36, namely 5 historical works and 31 sermons and tracts, to the reign of William; and the remaining 38, namely one historical work and 37 pamphlets, to a later date. Many of what we have called historical works, however, are mere pamphlets : in fact Burnet's literary performances of

any considerable extent are only three in number:— his Memoirs of James and William, Dukes of Hamilton, published, in one volume folio, in 1676; his History of the Reformation of the Church of England, 3 volumes folio, 1679, 1681, and 1714; and his History of his Own Time, in two volumes folio, published after his death in 1723 and 1734. There is enough of literary labor, as well as of historical value, in these works to preserve to the author a very honorable name ; each of them contains much matter now nowhere else to be found, and they must always continue to rank among the original sources of our national history, both ecclesiastical and civil. In regard to their execution, too, it must be admitted that the style is at least straightforward and unaffected, and generally as unambiguous as it is unambitious; the facts are clearly enough arranged; and the story is told not only intelligibly, but for the most part in rather a lively and interesting way. On the other hand, to any high station as a writer Burnet can make no claim ; he is an industrious collector of intelligence, and a loquacious and moderately lively gossip; but of eloquence, or grace, or refinement of any sort, he is as destitute as he is (and that is altogether) of imagination, and wit, and humor, and subtlety, and depth and weight of thought, and whatever other qualities give anything either of life or lustre to what a man utters out of his own head or heart. We read him for the sake of his facts only; he troubles us with but few reflections, but of that no reader will complain. He does not see far into anything, nor indeed, properly speaking, into it at all; for that matter he is little more, to adopt a modern term, than a penny-a-liner on a large scale, and best performs his task when he does not attempt to be anything else. Nor is he a neat-handed workman even of that class ; in his History of his Own Time, in particular, his style, with no strength, or flavor, or natural charm of any kind, to redeen its rudeness, is the wnost slovenly undress in which a writer ever wrapt up what he had to communicate to the public. Its only merit, as we have

We have for convenience of classification, reckoned each of the three volumes of the History of the Reformation a distinct publication, as it really was.

observed, is that it is without any air of pretension, and that it is evidently as extemporaneous and careless as it is unelevated, shapeless, and ungrammatical. Among the most important and best known of Burnet's other works are, that entitled Some Passages of the Life and Death of the Right Honourable John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, 1680; his Life of Bishop Bedel, 1685; his Travels through France, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland, 1685; and his Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles, 1699. The first-mentioned of these is the best written of all his works.

THOMAS BURNET.

In the same year with Bishop Burnet, but at a more advanced age, died Dr. Thomas Burnet, the learned and eloquent author of the Telluris Sacra Theoria, first published in Latin in 1680, and afterwards translated into English by the author; of the Archæologia Philosophica, published in 1692; and of two or three other treatises, also in Latin, which did not appear till after his death. Burnet's system of geology has no scientific value whatever; indeed, it must be considered as a mere romance, although, from the earnestness of the author's manner and his constant citation of texts of Scripture in support of his positions, as well as from more than one answer which he afterwards published to the attacks made upon his book, it is evident that he by no means intended it to be so received. But, with his genius and imagination and consummate scholarship, he is a very different species of writer from his garrulous and mitred namesake : his English style is singularly flowing and harmonious, as well as perspicuous and animated, and rises on fit occasions to much majesty and even splendor. As a specimen, we will transcribe a portion of the concluding Chapter of the Third Book of the Sacred Theory of the Earth, entitled An Imperfect Description of the Coming of our Saviour, and of the World on Fire :

Certainly there is nothing in the whole course of nature, or of human affairs, so great and so extraordinary as the two last scenes of them, the Coming of our Saviour, and the Burning of the World. If we could draw in our minds the pictures of these in true and lively colours, we should

sun.

scarce be able to attend any thing else, or ever divert our imagination from these two objects: for what can more affect us than the greatest glory that ever was visible upon earth, and at the same time the greatest terror ;a God descending at the head of an array of angels, and a burning world under his feet?

As to the face of nature just before the coming of our Saviour, that may be best collected from the signs of his coming mentioned in the precedent chapter. Those, all meeting together, help to prepare and make ready a theatre fit for an angry God to come down upon. The countenance of the heavens will be dark and gloomy; and a veil drawn over the face of the

The earth in a disposition every where to break into open flames. The tops of the mountains smoking; the rivers dry; earthquakes in several places; the sea sunk and retired into its deepest channel, and roaring as against some mighty storm. These things will make the day dead and melancholy; but the night scenes will have more of horror in them, when the blazing stars appear, like so many furies with their lighted torches, threatening to set all on fire. For I do not doubt but the comets will bear a part in this tragedy, and have something extraordinary in them at that time, either as to number or bigness, or nearness to the earth. Besides, the air will be full of flaming meteors, of unusual forms and magnitudes; balls of fire rolling in the sky, and pointed lightnings darted against the earth, mixed with claps of thunder and unusual noises from the clouds. The moon and the stars will be confused and irregular, both in their light and motions; as if the whole frame of the heavens was out of order, and all the laws of nature were broken or expired.

When all things are in this languishing or dying posture, and the inhabitants of the earth under the fears of their last end, the heavens will open on a sudden and the glory of God will appear. A glory surpassing the sun in its greatest radiancy; which though we cannot describe, we may suppose it will bear some resemblance or proportion with those representations that are made in Scripture of God upon his throne. This wonder in the heavens, whatsoever its form may be, will presently attract the eyes of all the Christian world. Nothing can more affect than an object so unusual and so illustrious, and that probably brings along with it their last destiny, and will put a period to all human affairs.

As it is not possible for us to express or conceive the dread and majesty of his appearance, so neither can we, on the other hand, express the passions and consternation of the people that behold it. These things exceed the measures of human affairs, and of human thoughts: we have neither words nor comparisons to make them known by. The greatest pomp and magnificence of the Emperors of the East, in their armies, in their triumphs, in their inaugurations, is but the sport and entertainment of children, if compared with this solemnity. When God condescends to an

« PreviousContinue »