Page:Henry VIII and the English Monasteries.djvu/26

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
xx Introduction

lowering monks in the popular estimation, though it did not impose on a people who knew them by experience, has served its purpose with subsequent generations. "All that men of the stamp of John Bale," says a modern writer, "could do in the way of defiling the memory of cænobites in general has been done, and though Bale is a discredited man, he and others like him have completed a work which can now scarcely be undone, and the memory of those who indubitably preserved religion and increased learning in the land is almost hopelessly besmirched."[1]

That the state of religious life in England, as described in the letters and reports of Henry's chosen visitors, was bad, is true. But even these reports do not by any means bear out the popular impression. The real question, moreover, that needs consideration is: what is the worth of the visitors' word? Edmund Burke speaks in accord with the dictates of mere common sense when he writes:—"I rather suspect that vices are feigned or exaggerated when profit is looked for in the punishment. An enemy is a bad witness, a robber is a worse." [2]

For three centuries the only voices raised in defence of the English monasteries have been those of antiquaries, who might be supposed to have a natural sympathy for a great, a romantic past. And even these, from Camden downwards, have found it well to make excuse for their weakness, and have not failed to add the general sentence of condemnation, however incongruously it might run with the context. Burnet fixed, so far as history is concerned, what it had to say on the subject, and the "History of the Reformation" was deemed sufficient to dispense with all need for further inquiry. In the last resort the utterance of the words Comperta and Black Book was enough to warn the curious or the adventurous off dangerous Around. It is only of late

  1. Mon. Franciscana, ii. Pref., p. xxx.
  2. Reflections on the French Revolution.