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THIS black and loathsome reign of superstition and cruelty instantly reversed all that had been done in the preceding to favour the reformation. No sooner was Mary seated upon the throne, than popery was restored, the monastic institutions revived, the English bible prohibited; and every expedient, which bigotry armed with fire and faggot could employ, was tried to reduce the people to their former state of stupid and servile ignorance, No circumstances could apparently be more inimical to the cultivation of letters. Yet we find, even in this reign, a college founded at Oxford, (Trinity College) in the constitution of which, classical literature was particularly inculcated.
Though the iron arm of persecution was uplifted to destroy all who were friends to civil and intellectual progression; it is somewhat
consolatory to observe that there yet remained a few minds unpalsied by its deadly power; and enjoyed sufficient security for the peaceful pursuits of literature. From contemplating, therefore, the dark picture of Mary's reign, the mental eye turns with pleasure from its political and superstitious horrors to the more gay and refreshing scene of its literary history. Still, it should be recollected, that the literary productions which appeared under Mary, are not the genuine fruits of her reign. They were planted, and even grown, in the preceding.
THOMAS WILSON was originally fellow of King's College, Cambridge, where he was tutor to the two celebrated youths Henry and Charles Brandon, dukes of Suffolk. Being a doctor of laws, he was afterwards one of the ordinary masters of requests, master of St. Katharine's Hospital, near the Tower, a frequent ambassador from queen Elizabeth to Mary queen of Scots, and into the Low Countries, a secretary of state, and a privy counsellor; and at length, in 1579, dean of Durham. His remarkable diligence and dispatch in negociation are said to have resulted from an uncommon strength of memory. He died in 1581.
Wilson was the author of a System of Rhetoric, and of Logic; and it is remarkable, that notwithstanding the confusion of the times, the rhetoric appeared in the very first year of
this reign, 1553. It was entitled, "The Art of Rhetoric, for the use of all such as are studious of eloquence, set forth in English by Thomas Wilson." This work may be justly considered as the first system of criticism in our language: for though a tract on rhetoric had been printed as early as the year 1530, by Leonarde Coxe, a schoolmaster, it was merely a technical and elementary manuel. On the contrary, the work of Wilson is a regular treatise, explaining the principles of eloquence by examples, and the arts of composition with the sagacity of a critic. This work is curious and important, as it throws light on the general subject, by displaying the ideas of writing, and the state of critical knowledge, which prevailed at this period.
The extracts from Wilson's book, I transcribe from Warton, as the passages which he has selected are equally well adapted to the object of the present compilation.
"Under that chapter of his third book of Rhetoric, which treats of the four parts belonging to elocution, plainness, aptness, composition, and exornation, Wilson has these observations of simplicity of stile, which are