« ZurückWeiter »
The time has not yet come, and it may yet be long in coming, when a final and authoritative history of the Reformation in England can be written. It is not from lack of published or otherwise easily accessible materials that this is 80 ; certainly not from lack of interest taken in the subject. The difficulty arises rather from the fact that men with different religious convictions are so keenly interested. From at least three distinct points of view, the Roman, the Anglican, and the Puritan, almost everything that occurred in this country during the years 1531-1560—which may be regarded concisely as our Reformation period—has quite a different look; and while these different aspects of the same events are insisted upon with some learning and much shrewdness, combined with great earnestness and sincerity, the mere historian, who is not interested in any special religious point of view, but is anxious only that the facts should be fully and accurately stated, has little chance of a hearing. It is true that during the last sixty years the one-sided and ill-informed estimate that for over two centuries almost exclusively prevailed, has been persistently criticised and has been largely abandoned ; but meanwhile, as an outcome of the Oxford movement, a new but equally unhistorical estimate has been gaining acceptance; an estimate that, in the interests of the “continuity” of the Church of England, makes light of the great issues that were really fought out and determined in the middle of the sixteenth century, and promulgates a doctrine which amounts to something like this, that the Church of England was Protestant before the Reformation, and Catholic afterwards. No doubt a true and vital continuity can be traced throughout the
period; but to ignore the far-reaching character of the changes that were actually effected is little short of an insult to the common sense of every man who knows the history of his country.
The growth of this new misconception, however, need not hinder a welcome being given to this reprint of a work which, fifty years ago, did so much to discredit the old one. So thoroughly, in fact, did Maitland do his work, that he may almost be held responsible for that new view of the Reformation which, overstated now to the point of grotesqueness, he would certainly have shown up unsparingly had he been writing in 1899 instead of in 1849. For he was before all things a born historical critic, indefatigable in his recourse to original documents, determined to let them speak for themselves, and anxious only that the truth should prevail. Mr. Frederick Stokes, in his Introduction to a new edition (1889) of our author earlier and no less valuable volume on the “Dark Ages,” truly says of him that “he was one of those in whom the critical faculty existed in its highest perfection, and his ecclesiastical position enabled him to deal impartially with both sides of his subject." A brief notice of his career may enable some readers the better to appreciate his work.
The child of Nonconformist parents, and mainly selfeducated, Samuel Roffey Maitland kept terms at St. John's and at Trinity, Cambridge, but was disqualified from graduating by his religious position. His University career was, however, fruitful in friendships which greatly influenced his career, W. H. Mill being one of those whose confidence he thenceforward enjoyed through life. He was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple ; and, though he soon abandoned the attempt to win a practice, his legal studies left a mark on his character, and guided and developed his instinctive love of sifting truth from error. Ordained in the Church of England in 1821, he first interested himself in the conversion of the Jews, especially on the Continent, and he travelled abroad to study the difficulties of the problem. Devoting himself at the same time to an examination of certain periods of Church History, he published in 1832 a monograph on the Albigenses and Waldenses, an elaborate work which secured a general recognition of his ability and critical insight. In 1835 he began to contribute to the British Magazine, then edited by Hugh James Rose, the notable series of Essays afterwards reprinted as the