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The reign of Edward VI. is remarkable for the establishment of the reformation. This great event, so beneficial to the interests of humanity, served only to clog the progress of elegant literature, and to postpone the reign of taste. The objects of study were now entirely changed. The breaking up of the old religion split the world into a variety of different and hostile sects. The bible being open to * the people, every man, whether learned or unlearned, was eager to familiarise himself with its contents, and ambitious of commenting and illustrating it. All were absorbed in religious speculations. Europe exhibited but one
scene of polemical warfare; and the talants of mankind were monopolized by theological contention. The topics which now kindled the ardour of the most accomplished scholars, were enquiries into the practices and maxims of the primitive ages; the nature of civil and ecclesiastical jurisdiction; the authority of scripture and tradition; of popes, councils, and schoolmen-topics, which, from prejudice and passion, as well as from their want of philosophie habits of discussion, they were unable to treat with precision.
One of the first effects of the reformation was, that the revenues of the clergy were seized under pretence of zeal for religion. Even the students of the universities were deprived of their exhibitions and pensions; so that Roger Ascham complains, in a letter to the marquis of Northampton, dated 1550, that the grammar schools throughout England will be ruined; and that the universities themselves must speedily become extinct. At Oxford, both professors and pupils deserted the schools ; and academical degrees were abolished as antichristian. The reformers, not content with cleansing christianity from catholic corruptions, carried their absurd refinements so far as to
assert the inutility of all human learning; and thus reformation degenerated into fanaticism. In this enlightened spirit of innovation, these zealous advocates for apostolic simplicity and primitive ignorance, as a visitation of the unis versity of Oxford, stripped the Humphredian library of all its books and MSS., many of which were utterly destroyed, and among the rest, a great number of classics, condemned as antichristian.
Yet, notwithstanding these untoward circumstances, the reformation was an event perhaps more auspicious to human improvement than äny which adorns the annals of time. It produced, beyond all other causes that can be imagined, intellectual activity, the harbinger of free enquiry—the only sure cause of the progress of society. A change of manners in the church was the instantaneous result. The clergy, unable to prevail by force, were compelled to try' argument; and their state of brutal ignorance vanished. The learned order of jesuits, who succeeded the friars as champions of the papal hierarchy, undoubtedly sprang from the reformation; and thus Rome had once more its age of learning
This general state of intellectual excitement; however unfavourable, in the first instance, to that department of literature commonly stiled the Belles Lettres, was eventually conducive to the advancement of every kind of learning. The minds of men were awake and active ; and required only to be favoured by their political condition, to exert some of the highest efforts of intellect. Of this remark we shall have ample proof when we come to the reign of Elizabeth.