Page:Books Condemned to be Burnt - James Anson Farrer.djvu/65

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Book-Fires under James I.

Yet here our admiration for James I. must perforce stop. For of many of his ideas the only excuse is that they were those of his age; and this is an excuse that is fatal to a claim to the highest order of merit. All men to some extent are the sport and victims of their intellectual surroundings; but it is the mark of superiority to rise above them, and this James I. often failed to do. He cannot, for instance, in this respect compare with a man whose works he persecuted, namely, Reginald Scot, who in 1584 published his immortal Discoverie of Witchcraft, a book which, alike for its motive as its matter, occupies one of the highest places in the history of the literature of Europe.

Yet Scot was only a Kentish country gentleman, who gave himself up solely, says Wood, to solid reading and the perusal of obscure but neglected authors, diversifying his studies with agriculture, and so producing the first extant treatise on hops. Nevertheless, he is among the heroes of the world, greater for me at least than any one of our most famous generals, for it was at the risk of his life that he wrote, as he says himself, "in behalf of the poor, the aged, and the simple"; and if he has no monument in our English Pantheon, he has a better and more