Page:Henry VIII and the English Monasteries.djvu/27

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xxi
Monastic England

years that the subject has come within the scope of ordinary historical investigation, and some earnest and truthful writers have paved the way for a juster estimate of the case. Among these, stands pre-eminent Canon Dixon, who justly claims—strange as the claim may seem in regard to a subject about which so much has been written—"to have laid before the student of history for the first time a connected and particular account of the suppression of the English monasteries." The present work is an attempt to carry the investigation yet a step farther forward; and, utilising the mass of scattered material "still unpublished and unconsulted," to treat the suppression not as an episode of a greater subject, but as an object of special inquiry.

That the monasteries in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were all that could be desired in discipline and vigour would be maintained by no one who has studied the subject. The circumstances of the troubled times in many instances no doubt exerted a baneful influence on the interior spirit of the cloister, as it did on the Church at large.

It must be remembered, however, that denunciations as to laxity of life, even when made about the monasteries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, rest, as a rule, on a comparison with primitive fervour. Whatever may be said as to the lives of the monks at this period, it must be confessed that the common and ordinary routine of their houses raised them immeasurably above the level of life around them. The Episcopal visitations of religious houses prove conclusively that, whatever failings, or even graver delinquencies required censure and correction in the case of individuals, the method of life for the community remained the same, and that in no sense could it with truth be called a life of ease and sloth.

In the chronicles and memorials of the various abbeys