Page images
PDF
EPUB

bail for £5,000. In the next year the revenues of his bishopric were sequestrated, and during the rest of his life he suffered much from poverty and harsh treatment, of which he has given an account in a piece called "Hard Measure."

Speaking of character writing as a feature in ancient literature, and of the advantages of the same, he says in his preface, "I am deceived if any course could be more likely to prevail; for herein the gross conceit is led on with pleasure, and informed while it feels nothing but delight. And if pictures have been accounted the books of idiots, behold there the benefit of an image without the offense. It is no shame for us to learn wit of heathens, neither is it material in whose school we take out a good lesson; yea, it is more shame not to follow their good than to lead them better. As one, therefore, that in worthy examples holds imitation better than invention, I have trod in their paths, but with a higher and wider step." "More might be said," he continues, “of every virtue and every vice. I desired not to say all but enough." From the pithy and sententious quality of his style, Bishop Hall has been called "the English Seneca," a title he well deserves. Throughout his sermons, his poems, his prose, and even his controversial writings,-for in this department he is largely represented, and his collected works fill twelve octavo volumes, there is a pervading, genial spirit, which makes every page of his works entertaining and fresh. How successfully he could portray human nature will be seen from the following character of

"The Hypocrite, who is the worst kind of player, by so much as he acts the better part; which hath always two faces, ofttimes two hearts; that can compose his forehead to sadness and gravity, while he bids his heart be wanton and careless within, and in the meantime laughs within himself to think how smoothly he hath cozened the beholder. In whose silent face are written the characters of religion, which his tongue and features pronounce, but his hands recant. That hath a clean face and garment with a foul soul, whose mouth belies his heart, and his fingers belie his mouth. Walking early up into the city, he turns into the great church, and salutes one of the pillars on one knee, worshiping that God which at home he cares not for; while his eye is fixed on some window or some pas senger, and his heart knows not whither his lips go. He rises, and looking about with admiration, complains of our frozen charity, commends the ancient. At church he will ever sit where he may be seen best, and in the midst of the ser

mon pulls out his tables in haste as if he feared to lose that note; when he writes either his forgotten errand or nothing: then he turns his Bible with a noise to seek an omitted quotation, and folds the leaf as if he had found it; and asks aloud the name of the preacher, and repeats it; whom he publicly salutes, thanks, praises, invites, entertains with tedious good counsel, with good discourse, if it had come from an honester mouth. He can command tears when he speaks of his youth, indeed because it is past, not because it was sinful: himself is now better, but the times are worse. All other sins he reckons up with detestation, while he loves and hides his darling in his bosom. All his speech runs to himself, and every occurrent draws in a story to his own praise. When he should give he looks about him and says, 'Who sees me? No alms, no prayers, fall from him without witness; belike lest God should deny that he hath received them; and when he hath done, lest the world should not know it, his own mouth is the trumpet to proclaim it. With the superfluity of his usury he builds an hospital, and harbors those whom his extortion hath spoiled; so while he makes many beggars, he keeps some. He turneth all gnats into camels, and cares not to undo the world for a circumstance. Flesh on Friday is more abomination to him than his neighbor's bed. He abhors more not to uncover at the name of Jesus than to swear by the name of God. When a rhymer reads his poem to him, he begs a copy and persuades the press; there is nothing that he dislikes in presence that in absence he censures not. He comes to the sick bed of his stepmother and weeps, when he secretly fears her recovery. He greets his friend in the street with so clear a countenance, so fast a closure, that the other thinks he reads his heart in his face; and shakes hands with an indefinite invitation of When will you come?' and when his back is turned, joys that he is so well rid of his guest: yet if that guest visit him unfeared, he counterfeits a smiling welcome, excuses his cheer, when closely he frowns on his wife for too much. He shows well, and says well; and himself is the worst thing he hath. In brief, he is the stranger's saint, the neighbor's disease, the blot of goodness; a rotten stick in a dark night, a poppy in a corn field, an ill-tempered candle with a great snuff, that in going out smells ill: an angel abroad, a devil at home; and worse when an angel than when a devil."

We pass now to Sir THOMAS OVERBURY, who was born in 1581, received his degrees from Oxford, studied law in the Middle Temple. He is famous in history from his connection with the infamous Robert Car, by whom he was brought to disgrace, then thrown into prison, and afterwards murdered. The lieutenant of the tower, a creature of Car's, with several others were condemned and executed for this crime; and Car himself, with the Countess of Essex-then become the Earl and Countess of Somerset,-were also convicted and condemned, "but to the eternal disgrace of James, pardoned for no assignable cause that will not add to the ignominy of the proceedings." The tragical story of his death is in striking

1

contrast to the agreeable pictures he has left behind. The first forty pages of his book are filled with tributes of grief from all quarters, "on the untimely death of Sir Thomas Overbury, poisoned in the Tower." His characters display the fertile character and ingeniousness of his mind. His talent for observation was great, and his power of witty contrast and felicitous expression unequaled. He fulfilled in himself his own definition of a character-"a quicke and soft touch of many strings." Hallam ascribes to him "graphic skill in delineating character;" while Craik, who is eloquent over the authoresses of Adam Bede and Jane Eyre, finds not room to mention even the name of Sir Thomas Overbury-even in his "new edition, revised and enlarged." We let the author speak for himself in the following extracts.

A PURITAN is a diseased piece of Apocrypha; bind him to the Bible and he corrupts the whole text: ignorance and fat feed are his founders; his nurses, railing, rabbies, and round breeches; his life is but a borrowed blast of wind, for between two religions, as between two doors, he is ever whistling. Truly whose child is he is yet unknown, for willingly his faith allows no father; only thus far his pedigree is traced, Bragger and he flourished about a time first. Anything that the law allows but marriage and March beer, he murmurs at; what it disallows and holds dangerous, makes him a discipline: where the gate stands open he is ever seeking a stile; and where his learning ought to climb, he creeps through; give him advice you run into traditions, and urge a moderate course, he cries councils. His greatest care is to contemn obedience, his least care to serve God handsomely and cleanly. He is now become so cross a kind of teaching that should the church enjoin clean shirts, he were lousy; more sense than single prayers is not his; nor more in those than still the same petitions; from which he either fears a learned faith or doubts God understands not at first hearing. Show him a ring, he runs back like a bear; and hates square dealing as allied to caps. Women and lawyers are his best disciples, the one next fruit, longs for forbidden doctrine, the other to maintain forbidden titles, both which he sows among them. Honest he dare not be for that loves order; yet if he can be brought to ceremony, and made master of it, he is cured.

A MERE SCHOLAR is an intelligible ass, or a silly fellow in black, that speaks sentences more familiarly than sense. The antiquity of his university is his creed, and the excellency of his college an article of his faith; he speaks Latin better than his mother tongue, and is a stranger in no part of the world but his own country; he does usually tell great stories of himself to small purpose, for they are commonly ridiculous, be they true or false; his ambition is that he either is or shall be a graduate; his tongue goes always before his wit, like gentleman-usher, but somewhat faster; . . . he is commonly long-winded, able to speak more with ease than any man can endure to hear with patience. .

Tis a wrong to his reputation to be ignorant of anything, and yet he knows not that he knows nothing.

. . He is led more by his ears than his understand

[ocr errors]

.

ing, taking the sounds of words for their sense; his ill luck is not so much in being a fool as in being put to so much trouble to express it to the world, for what in others is natural, in him, with much ado, is artificial; . . . In a word, he is the index of a man, and the title page of a scholar, or a Puritan in morality-much in profession, nothing in practice."

The Precisian-will not stick to commit adultery, so it be done in the fear of God and for the propagation of the godly.

so it be from the wicked and Egyptian. than a picture in a church window.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

To steal he holds it lawful,

He had rather see Anti-christ

He conceives his prayer in the

kitchen rather than in the church, and is of so good discourse that he dares challenge the Almighty to talk with him extempore. . . . He hath nicknamed all the prophets and apostles with his sons, and begets nothing but virtues for daughters. Finally he is so sure of his salvation that he will not change places in heaven with the Virgin Mary, without boot.

Of a certain impostor, he says:

"He cries out "tis impossible for any man to be damned that lives in his relig. ion,' and his equivocation is true; as long as a man lives in it, he cannot; but if he die in it, there's the question."

In closing his character of a covetous man, he says:

"In fine he lives a drudge, dies a wretch, that leaves a heap of pelf,-which so many careful hands have scraped together—to haste after him to hell, and by the way it lodges in a lawyer's purse."

The following sentences are from his "News."

Atheists in affliction, like blind beggars, are forced to ask, though they know not of whom.

Sentences in authors, like hair in horses' tails, concur in one root of beauty and strength; but being plucked out one by one, serve only for springs and snares. Though a ship under sail be a good sight, yet it is better to see her moored in the haven: I care not what becomes of this frail bark of my flesh, so I save the passenger.

The most melancholy walk is frequently mistaken for the way to heaven.

Most men fear the world's opinion more than God's displeasure.

All controversies, for the most part, leave the truth in the middle, and are factious at both ends.

He that lives without religion sails without a compass.

His "Table Talk of King James" sparkles with gems of wisdom, and is one of the most valuable in any literature. Overbury has copied down the King's choicest sayings. from which we would give did space permit.

Extracts

JOHN EARLE, 1601-1665, author of "Microcosmography." Like Overbury he was anti-puritanic, but his writings are less satirical. He was at one period tutor and chaplain to Prince Charles, with whom he went into exile during the civil war, after being deprived of his whole property for his adherence to the royal cause. Bishop Burnet says that "Earle was the man of all the clergy for whom the king had the greatest esteem." Walton says "there has lived since the death of Richard Hooker no man whom God had blessed with more innocent wisdom, more sanctified learning, or a more pious, peaceful, primitive temper." He does not always delineate character, but sometimes describes the various occupations of men. His observation was acute,-quick to catch the ridiculous,-in his expression happy, in his style short, and second, perhaps, to none in his power to describe well in few words.

"A Child is a man in a small letter; yet the best copy of Adam before he tasted of Eve or the apple: and he is happy whose small practice in the world can only write his character. He is nature's fresh picture newly drawn in oil which time and much handling dims and defaces. His soul is yet a white paper unscribbled with observations of the world, wherewith, at length, it becomes a blurred note book. He is purely happy because he knows no evil, nor hath made means by sin to be acquainted with misery. He arrives not at the mischief of being wise, nor endures evils to come, by foresceing them. He kisses and loves all, and, when the smart of the rod is past, smiles on his beater. Nature and his parents alike dandle him, and tice him on with a bait of sugar to a draught of wormwood. He plays yet, like a young prentice the first day, and is not come to his task of melancholy. All the language he speaks yet is tears, and they serve him well enough to express his necessity. His hardest labor is his tongue, as if he were loath to use so deceitful an organ; and he is best company with it when he can but prattle. We laugh at his foolish ports, but his game is our earnest, and his dreams, rattles, and hobby-horses, but the emblems and mockings of man's business. His father has writ him as his own little story, wherein he reads those days of his life that he cannot remember, and sighs to see what innocence he hath out-lived. The older he grows, he is a stair lower from God; and, like his first father, much worse in his breeches. He is the Christian's example, and the old man's relapse; the one imitates his pureness, the other falls into his sim. plicity. Could he put off his body with his little coat, he had got eternity without a burden, and exchanged but one heaven for another."

We can give but a few extracts more from Earle, though his book is one of the most valuable of the collection.

Of a discontented man, he says:

« PreviousContinue »