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Sketches of the Lives
WILLIAM OF WYKEHAM, WILLIAM OF WAYNFLETE,
AND SIR THOMAS MORE.
BY THE AUTHOR OF THE “KNIGHTS OF ST. JOAN,"
The following sketches do not aim at offering the reader complete biographies of the great men whose names they bear. They have been written merely with the view of introducing three of our English worthies of greatest note to a class of readers who may be supposed to be unacquainted with their history. The life of Sir Thomas More has, indeed, been treated by so many pens, both Catholic and Protestant, that any fresh biography might appear to have been unneeded. But his character is one so deservedly dear to English readers, that we are persuaded they will not be sorry to meet with an old friend in a new dress, even though they are already familiar with every incident which has been collected in the following pages.
The lives of the two great-Prelates which occupy the first part of the volume are, however, less generally known; though the names of Wykeham and Waynflete, intimately united by the very similar objects to which they devoted themselves, carry with them a kind of traditionàry respect. In a day when a peculiar value is attached to all questions connected with education, a sketch of these two great founders cannot be without its interest. But we must remind our readers that they are by no means selected as unexampled instances of piety, munificence, and zeal for learning. The Catholic Church once produced a crowd of such men in England; and the long list of her episcopal founders includes names not less illustrious than theirs : Merton, and Stapleton, and Rotherham, and Chicheley, and Fleming, and Fox, and Alcock, -all in their day laboured in the same good work; and their histories, were they written, would not be less suggestive of matter for our admiration than those of the founders of Winchester and Magdalen. Truly it may be said, that of her greatest men England knows little or nothing: we are for the most part content to think of them as belonging to a barbarous age, which was indifferent to the blessings of education; and even writers like Chandler, whilst recording the fact that in the fifteenth century polite literature, philosophy, and divinity were pursued with vigour and enthusiasm, ask with contemptuous wonder what could be meant by "polite literature, philosophy, or divinity, in ages before the Reformation ?”
We hope that in the following sketches we have shown that they meant much, and that education in the minds of these great men was understood in even a larger sense than it has been in later times. With them it was considered as the training of the entire being, as the perfect formation and development of the intellectual, moral, and spiritual nature of man. Their aim was to introduce a system which should elevate every part of that nature to its highest Christian ideal ; and whilst all things were kept in harmony and proportion under the control and governance of the faith, Science and Piety went hand in hand, and Learning and Humility were made to embrace one another. The lives of these great Prelates are useful also as affording evidence of the manner in which the ecclesiastical revenues were expended by them, and, we may add, by hundreds like them. How constantly do we hear of the overgrown riches of the Church in the ages immediately preceding the Reformation! how little are we ever told of the objects on which those riches were lavished, and that, moreover, during the lifetime of their owners! Yet when we come to know the real extent of their munificence, we are forced to own, that in this point at least they have found no imitators in later centuries. Not without some purpose, however, have their memorials, as we fondly trust, been hitherto preserved among us. The stranger who wanders through the desecrated aisles of Winchester passes from the chantry of Wykeham to that of Fox, and a little further on finds himself standing between the tombs of Waynflete and Beaufort. Eloquent are the lessons which they preach to his heart ; and as he gazes at the marvellous beauty of those rich and canopied chapels, the memories of Winton, and Corpus Christi, and Magdalen, and St. Cross rush
filling him with great thoughts of charity to man, and boundless generosity to God.