Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
 
Critical Introduction by W. Wallace
John Hales (1584–1656)
 
[John Hales was born at Bath in 1584. From the Grammar School there he passed to Cambridge at the age of thirteen, and took the degree of B.A. Remarkable learning and philosophic acumen secured him a Fellowship at Merton, and, having gained distinction by his private lectures in Greek, he became Public Lecturer in the same language to the University in 1612. The following year, having been for some time in orders, he delivered a funeral oration in Latin on Sir Thomas Bodley, which was his first and only publication. The same year, he was elected a Fellow of Eton. In 1618, Hales attended the Synod of Dort, as reporter of the proceedings to Sir Dudley Carleton, English ambassador to the Hague, whose chaplain he was at the time. The speech of Episcopius, the Arminian leader there, according to Farindon, led Hales to “bid John Calvin good night.” He retired to Eton on his Fellowship in 1619, and from that time till his death in 1656, he lived a hermit’s life, visiting London but seldom, although his company was much desired in Ben Jonson’s “Apollo.” He formed a fine collection of books, and enjoyed the reputation of great learning. Laud made him a canon of Windsor in 1629. Two years later, however, he was deprived by the Parliamentary Committee, and, in 1649, he lost his Fellowship. He was able, however, to support himself and other deprived scholars till his death, out of the proceeds of the sale of his library.]  1
 
AMONG the English rationalists of the seventeenth century, the “ever memorable” John Hales of Eton is in a manner overshadowed by the greater figure which Falkland makes in history; his memory suffers, in comparison even with Chillingworth’s, in consequence of his extreme reticence. Yet in strict temporal sequence, Hales precedes both in the line of spiritual descent from Colet, Cranmer, and Hooker. And he yields to neither—who, though much younger men, predeceased him—in scholarship, or in clearness of mental vision. The materials for an estimate of Hales are, indeed, scanty. He himself published nothing but his funeral oration on Sir Thomas Bodley. His Works in three volumes, which Lord Hailes edited in 1765, contain, besides merely occasional tracts, including the famous On Schism and Schismaticks, sermons, and his letters from the Synod of Dort. Still, even if not a line of his had survived we should be obliged to accept the testimony offered as to his exceptional scholarship by Clarendon, Bishop Pearson, Andrew Marvell, Dr. Heylin, and Bishop Stillingfleet. Anthony Wood styles him “a walking library.” In the brief passage which may be styled his apologia he wrote, “The pursuit of truth hath been my only care, ever since I understood the meaning of the word. For this I have forsaken all hopes, all desires, all friends which might bias me, and hinder me from driving right at what I aimed.” Clarendon furnished the complement of his character in words which he gives out to be Hales’s own:—“His opinions, he was sure, did him no harm, but he was far from being confident that they might not do others harm who entertained them, and might entertain other results from them than he did. There is then no mystery about the lifelong seclusion and reticence of ‘one of the clearest heads and best prepared hearts of Christendom.’” It is easy enough to discern the genesis of his quiescent temper, if not of his thirst for truth in his early experience of theological controversy at Dort. Hales began his report of the proceedings with a strong Calvinistic bias, and though he could never quite cast off his prejudices against the (Arminian) Remonstrants his tone was in the later letters distinctly modified. Yet he left the Synod—as he had entered it, a Calvinist. Though he professed to “bid Calvin good night,” he did not, as the late Principal Tulloch puts it, “say good morning to Arminius.” He came away from Dort disgusted with the violence of the dogmatic disputations he had listened to, and convinced that truth could not be compressed into creed or system. He went straight into residence at Eton, and, for seventeen years he, of his own freewill, gave no writing to the world. Two Latin treatises, dated respectively 1628 and 1633, which have been attributed to him, but without warrant, are worthy of notice because they provide the ground for the untrue charge of Socinianism brought against him, chiefly by Anthony Wood. The tract On Schism and Schismaticks appears to have been written about 1636, most probably for the benefit of Chillingworth, whose Religion of Protestants appeared in the following year. It was little more than a brief categorical statement of what he had long been in the habit of maintaining in conversation—that it was only pride and passion which kept Christendom from agreeing upon such a liturgy as might bring the world into one communion. “Why may I not go,” he asked, “if occasion require, into an Arian church, so there be no Arianism expressed in their liturgy?” Schisms, he held, had crept into the Church by one of three ways, upon matter of fact, upon matter of opinion, or upon a point of ambition. The kernel of the tract was the contention “that in cases of separation among Christians those who would impose burdens on others, and enforce an unnecessary conformity, were really responsible for the schism, and that episcopal ambition had been the great cause of frequent, continuous, and bloody schisms.” But Hales’s clearness of mental sight and rational thoroughness are really nowhere so manifest as in the posthumously published tract On the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. He assailed Protestants as well as Catholics for holding that the words of consecration were anything but “a mere trope.” Turning to the question whether the Church might err in fundamentals, he poured contempt on the doctrine of the Infallibility of Councils. “It was never heard,” he said, “in any profession that the conclusion of truth went by plurality of voices, the Christian profession only excepted; and I have often mused how it comes to pass that the way which in all other sciences is not able to warrant the poorest conclusion, should be thought sufficient to give authority to conclusions in divinity, the supremest empress of sciences.” Hales is most distinctively modern, perhaps, in his sermon Of Enquiry and Private Judgment in Religion. Infallibility was, he argued, not a favour peculiar to any one man; all must have it. A man must know not only what he has to believe, but why he has to believe. Hales’s literary style is, in the main, the reflection of his lucid manner of thinking. When he argues, he goes straight to the point, and, barring a certain looseness in the construction of his sentences, he is a master of exposition. His illustrations, though copious, never weary the reader, being always the natural overflow of a mind well stocked with learning, and not a mere display of pedantry. There runs through his writings a thin thread of humour characteristic of the man—himself in earnest, but scorning the earnestness about non-essentials which he discovers in others.  2
 
 
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