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revolution which has done more for civil as well as religious liberty than all others put together, — whose lofty and proud note of defiance in the face of tyrants and of spiritual wickedness in high places, was indispensable from time to time to reassure less resolute minds, - was neither a military hero bred up in camps, nor a disappointed courtier stung into desperate efforts by slights or defeats, nor a smooth-spoken philosopher dreaming over his theories of the rights of man, but a Roman Catholic priest and an Augustinian monk.
One of the immediate consequences of the Reformation was the suppression and confiscation of English abbeys by Henry the Eighth. Long before this, it is true, and as early as the fourteenth century, the immoralities committed there had become matters of complaint and satire, as may be seen in the Tales of Chaucer, and also in the “ Visions concerning Piers Plowman.” In the latter a prophecy occurs, the fulfilment of which, more than a century and a half afterwards, is often mentioned among the remarkable coincidences of history.
“ There shall come a king, and confesse you religious,
In 1536, soon after Henry had made himself Head of the Church, a bill was introduced into Parliament, and hurried through, though not without some opposition, by which three hundred and seventy-six of the smaller monasteries, including all such as had an annual income not exceeding two hundred pounds, were dissolved, and the property belonging to them, both real and personal, was vested, with certain conditions and limitations, in the crown. Four years after, the same fate befell the larger monasteries ; but in this case liberal pensions were settled on the monks and nuns for their support on being deprived of their livings and turned adrift into the world. The sums swept by these gigantic sequestrations into the royal treasury amounted, according to Lingard the Catholic historian, who gives the lowest computation, to the one and twentieth part
of the whole rental of the kingdom; by others it has been estimated as high as the one fifth part.
Our limits forbid our going into details as to the facts, or entering into any thing like a full discussion of the grounds, of this proceeding. * Obviously, however, it was hardly to be expected, that institutions, which had engrossed so large a proportion of the wealth of the country, and were represented in Parliament by twenty-seven abbots, and two priors, sitting as members of the House of Lords, would be long allowed to hold undisputed possession either of their property or their political influence, after both were generally understood to be founded in fraud and imposture, and to minister to nothing but the grossest abuses and corruptions. Besides, after all proper deductions are made from the report of Henry's commissioners who were deputed to inquire into the condition of the monasteries, it is certain that in regard to most of them disclosures were made, which left the monks but little right to complain on their own account; especially when it is recollected, that it was often by treachery and collusion on the part of the incumbents themselves, that the surrender was made. t On the other hand, it will be conceded by every fair-minded Protestant, that some of the religious houses, pronounced by the commissioners theniselves to be entirely free from reproach and
* For full and authentic accounts of what was done, the reader may consult Strype's Ecclesiustical Memorials and Collier's Ecclesiastical History, and compare Hume and Lingard.
+ Now and then one was found not so easy to be either driven or coaxed from the premises; as, for example, Catherine Bulkeley, abbess of Godstow, who thus wrote to Cromwell, the king's Vicar-General: “ Dr. London is soddenlye commyd unto me with a great rowte with him, and doth threten me and my sisters, saying that he hath the king's cornmission to suppress this house spyte of my tethe. When I shewyd him playne that I wolde never surrender to his hande, being an awncyent enemye, now he begins to intrete me, and invegle my sisters, one by one, otherwise then I ever herde tell that the king's subjects had been handelyd: and here taryeth and contynueth to iny great coste and charges, and will not take my answere, that I will not surrender, till I know the king's gracious commandment, or your good lordship’s.” Of this Dr. London, a principal instrument in these proceedings, Fuller says, “ He was no great saint; for afterwards he was publicly convicted of perjury, and adjudged to ride with his face to the horse-tail at Windsor and Ockingham.” He also did penance at Oxford for gross incontinency. Lingard's History of England, Vol. VI. p. 342.
of immense public advantage, ought to have been spared ; that the motives of the king throughout this whole transaction, whatever may have been the considerations which influenced some of his advisers, were to the last degree selfish and base ; and, above all, that the vast sums realized by the sequestrations ought to have been bestowed, as it was originally pretended they should be, on some religious, or at least on some public object, instead of going, as they actually did, to pamper the vices of the royal miscreant, and transform the hungry minions who spanieled his heels into the founders of still flourishing, wealthy, and noble families. *
With the eighteenth century monastic institutions began rapidly to decline in popularity, along with the papal power,
* The loss occasioned by the destruction of the monastic libraries is also thus bewajled by old Bishop Bale, a professed hater of the monks themselves, in his Preface to Leylande's New Yeares Gifte. “ Never had we bene offended for the loss of our Lybraryes, beynge so many in nombre, and in so desolate places for the most parte, yf the chiefe monumentes and most notable workes of our most excellent wryters, had bene reserved. If there had bene in every shyre of England but one solempne lybrarye to the preservacyon of those noble workes, and preferement of good lernynge in our posteritye, it had been sumwhat. But to destroye all without consideracyon is and will be to Englande for ever a most horryble infamy among the grave senyours of other nacyons. A great nombre of them whych purchased those superstycyous mansyons, reserved of those ly brary bookes, some to serve theyr jakes, some to scoure their candel-styckes, and some to rubbe their bootes. Some they sold to the grossers and sopesellers, and some they sent over the see to the bookbynders, not in small nombre, but at tymes whole shypes full, to the wonderynge of foren nacyons. Yea, the unyversytees of thys realme are not all clere in this detestable fact. But cursed is that bellye, whyche seketh to be fedde with suche ungodly gaynes, and so depelye shameth his natural countrey. I know a merchaunt man, whych shall at thys tyme be namelesse, that boughte the contentes of two noble lybraryes for xl shyllynges pryce, a shame it is to be spoken. Thys stuffe hath he occupied in the stede of graye paper, by the space of more than ten years, and yet he hath ynough for as many yeares to come. A prodygyouse example is this, and to be abhorred of all men which love their nation as they should do.” It is hardly necessary to add, that the worthy prelate's honest indignation has probably led him to color and exaggerate the loss, and that, perhaps, the use to which the “merchaunt man" put his purchase was the best one, in any view of the matter, to which the principal portion of it could be turned. Convent libraries, if we may judge from the specimens which have come under our observation, could have done but precious little, had they been preserved, for the “preferement of good lernynge in our posteritye.” They would indeed help to make, what is here called a " solempne lybrarye."
in most Catholic states, and were obliged to submit to many unwelcome regulations and restrictions. Even in literature the brilliant reputation obtained by Houbigant and others of the Oratory, by the orientalists of the Rue St. Honoré, and by the indefatigable scholars and antiquarians of St. Maur, had begun to be obscured by the great lights of modern learning in the universities and other literary and scientific associations. The scandals, also, which still continued to be reported of some of the congregations, was borne with less and less patience; and it was principally with a view to correct and restrain these, that Joseph the Second of Austria, as early as 1781, wholly abolished in his dominions the houses of some orders. Much more extensive reforms were likewise attempted about the same time in Tuscany, under the auspices of Leopold, the Grand Duke, and brother of the Emperor, by Scipio de' Ricci, a Roman Catholic bishop; who with a view to sanction and confirm the innovations proposed, called, in 1786, the celebrated Synod of Pistoia. This Synod, consisting of about two hundred and twenty ecclesiastics collected from different parts of Italy, declared in favor of the new discipline ; but it was strenuously opposed in other quarters, and soon abandoned even by its authors and abettors as premature. The National Assembly of France was in a mood to do its work more thoroughly; and, accordingly, we find, that one of the early measures proposed in that body, and carried through by a triumphant majority, (the representatives of the clergy, to the number of three hundred, generally consenting,) was a decree for the total suppression of the abbeys and priories, and the confiscation of their property, which took effect in 1791. Mirabeau chose to forget, or to disregard on this occasion, what he had himself said, a little while before, to the Emperor Joseph : “ Despise the monks, as much as you will, but do not rob them. Robbery is equally a crime, whether perpetrated on the most profligate atheist, or the most bigoted Capuchin.” The clergy were told, “ that the property belonging to a community was upon a different footing from that belonging to individuals, because the state might dissolve the community or body-corporate, and resume the property attached to it; and under this sophism they assumed for the benefit of the public the whole right of property belonging to the Church of France.” The only grounds, on which any thing like a justification of this violent step could be made out, are, that the ecclesiastical reve
nues bad been in point of fact diverted from the purposes to which they were consecrated, and that the existence of s many rich and powerful ecclesiastical establishments in the country had became incompatible with the safety of the state. We may mention, in passing, that it is recorded to the honor of a Carthusian monk, Dom Gerle by name, that he was among the first to take alarm at the tendency of these proceedings, and had the courage to make a motion in the Assembly, which, if it had prevailed, might still, perhaps, have saved his church even after it had been thus pillaged: but it was too late.
Scanty pensions were assigned by the French government to about eighteen thousand monks and thirty thousand nuns, the number at which they are commonly computed; but this allowance was soon discontinued, and the whole were abandoned to their fate. Some perished in the atrocious butcheries which ensued; some fell in with and were carried away by the infidel and disorganizing tendencies of the times ; and some fled to foreign countries, and particularly to England, for asylum, where they still kept up an observance of their conventual rules, without any relaxation of their severity. As for the monks they appear to have obtained but little general commiseration, and they deserved but little : with the nuns, however, it was different, as well on account of the fact, that their past lives had made them less liable to reproach or suspicion, as from pity for the greater helplessness of their present condition, and admiration of the heroic spirit with which they bore their reverses. “On one occasion," says Mr. Charles Butler, “the fatal cart conveyed the Superior of a convent, and all her claustral family, to the guillotine. In the road to it they sung in unison the litanies of the Virgin Mary. At first they were received with curses, ribaldry, and the other usual abominations of a French mob. But it was not long before their serene demeanor and pious chant subdued the surrounding brutality; and the multitude attended them in respectful silence to the place of execution. The cart moved slowly, — all the while the nuns continued the pious strain: when the cart reached the guillotine, each, till the instrument of death touched her, sustained it. As each died, the sound became proportionably weaker. At last the Superior's single note was heard, and soon was heard no more. — For once the French mob