Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Critical Introduction by Henry Craik
Peter Heylyn (15991662)
[Peter Heylyn was born at Burford in Oxfordshire in 1600. From the School at Burford he passed first to Hart Hall (afterwards Magdalen Hall, and now Hertford College) and then to Magdalen College, Oxford, of which he became a Fellow in 1618. He soon acquired a reputation by his energy and learning, and in 1621, published the first edition of his Geography. Presently he entered upon the more dangerous ground of ecclesiastical controversy, and became involved in disputes with Dr. Prideaux, whose leanings to Puritanism he disliked. Taken under the protection of Laud and the Court he became the chief literary exponent of the principles upon which Lauds policy was based. In the struggles which followed he was an extreme supporter of the Royalist party, and his chief antagonist was Williams, Bishop of Lincoln. He played a notable part in the prosecution of Prynne, the author of Histriomastix, and naturally when the tide turned he was one of the first marked out for vengeance by the Parliament and the Puritans. Misfortunes, poverty, persecution, and eventually blindness, did not quench his spirit. On the Restoration he recovered his position as Sub-dean of Westminster (which he had held along with other church preferments, although he never reached high ecclesiastical rank), but did not live long to enjoy the triumph of his party, dying in 1662.]
HEYLYN was a man of undoubted sincerity, of quick and active, if somewhat superficial, intellect, and of a temper which found satisfaction only in controversy. If, in his triumph, he often pressed the advantage hard against his antagonists, he accepted, with undaunted spirit, the fate of the conquered, and throughout his life he neither gave nor asked for quarter. His memory was enormous, and his learning various, although ill digested: and while he grasped clearly and tenaciously the principles of Lauds policy, and frequently had the best of his antagonists in arguments, he was without judgment, imagination, or any sense of proportion. He did not altogether lack wit, but his sarcasm is rough and boisterous rather than keen: and he rates Fuller for his digressions and his waywardness, being utterly incapable of sympathy with the happier moods of Fullers humour. Wood gives us a portrait of the manof very mean port and presence; so worn as to be like a skeleton: and it answers to his mental equipmentnarrow and precise in opinion; unassailable in self-confidence; condemning with equally unsparing hand the Romanists and the Puritans: but yet brave and honest according to his lights, and commanding respect for his invincible courage, and undaunted cheerfulness in defeat. Personally, he is said to have been kind and hospitable, although irascible and quick-tempered.
His controversial works were very numerous, and perhaps the most characteristic is the Examen Historicum, in which he attacked Fullers Church History, and Sandersons History of King Charles. His more important works were completed at the close of his busy life (when he was obliged, by failing eyesight, constantly to employ an amanuensison whose defects he is amusingly frank, as when he declares that he cannot quote a Greek verse, because his transcriber could not copy it correctly), and they were mostly published after his death. They are Ecclesia Restaurata or the History of the Reformation: Cyprianus Anglicus (the life of Archbishop Laud): and Aerius Redivivus (the history of Presbyterianism), in the title of which we may perhaps trace the same line of satire which made Swift ridicule the dissenters as Æolists. In all of them the character of the man shines through the style. They are written with considerable force and verve, which is most marked perhaps in the last, where he was attacking with all his heart a sect whom he detested. The diction is correct, but rarely rises to anything like eloquence, and owes its variety chiefly to an occasional homely raciness. But like all his contemporaries, Heylyn always avoids a slipshod style: and we are never allowed to forget that he belonged to a school which followed, as closely as it might, the classical models, and aimed at least, if it did not always succeed in its aim, at giving to history a worthy and dignified literary dress.