Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Caroline Divines > The Ferrars and Little Gidding
  John Hales Lettice (Morison), lady Falkland  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

VI. Caroline Divines.

§ 13. The Ferrars and Little Gidding.

Nicholas Ferrar was a man of affairs, like not a few of his time and temper, before he entered holy orders. He was a member of parliament, and active in the business of the Virginia company, a man who had travelled and mixed with his fellow-men. In “his travels over the western parts of Christendom,” says Barnabas Oley, in his Life of George Herbert, men noted “his exquisite carriage, his rare parts and abilities of understanding and languages, his morals more perfect than the best,” and sought to win him to the church of Rome; but he was fixed in attachment to his own church, and the collection of devotional books which he gathered abroad, and the devotional system which he witnessed in Italy, “rather inflamed him with a holy zeal to revenge their charity by transplanting their waste and misplaced zeal to adorn our Protestant religion.” It was in the year of Charles I’s accession that he retired to the secluded hamlet of Little Gidding; in the next year, he was ordained deacon by Laud, who, throughout his life, was in touch with the best devotion as well as the best theology of the day. For twenty-one years, his “protestant nunnery,” composed of the family of his brother and his brother-in-law, carried on its life there, respected by all, visited with affectionate regard by Charles I, and, as bishop, by the somewhat shifty Williams. Nicholas Ferrar died in 1637, but the house itself survived for nine years more till house and church were “ransacked” by parliamentary troops in 1646. “In this general devastation,” says Pechard, “perished those works of Mr. Nicholas Ferrar which merited a better fate.”   20
  The literary remains of Little Gidding are partly biographical—touching little histories of lives of exquisite charm—together with the “Story Books” which still exist in five manuscript volumes, chiefly written by Nicholas Ferrar himself and all bound by Mary Collet. The tales, which were a collection of “divine interludes, dialogues and discourses in the Platonic way,” were the records of each day’s literary recreation, a mingling of piety with literature very well suited to the lives of persons who had lived with great men and great books before they came to give themselves wholly to the life of contemplation and prayer. Of these volumes, only about one and a half have, so far, been published. They are quaint minglings of the romances of the age, just a touch of Sir Philip Sidney, or a link here and there with Lyly, or anticipation of Bunyan, with the sober ordered devotion which traces all daily actions to their source and judges all men and things by the standard of the Gospel. They do not fear to deal with difficult matters, such as “the conversion of a famous Courtesan,” but it is in a spirit as placid as severe; and the style partakes of the same simplicity, quietness and restraint. With none of the vivacity of Bunyan, they have yet a certain sting, which reminds the reader of William Law, when they speak of fashionable follies and frivolities. They are worth more attentive study than they have yet received, because they show that the Elizabethan romance writers had their successors, and they illustrate the manner in which every branch of literature was being made subservient, as the civil war approached, to the dominating interest of religion.   21

  John Hales Lettice (Morison), lady Falkland  

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