Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Caroline Divines > James Ussher
  Henry Hammond Robert Sanderson  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

VI. Caroline Divines.

§ 8. James Ussher.


Parallel to Hammond’s influence is that of another eminent theologian who was never a party man. James Ussher stands somewhat apart in principles from the dominant school of his time. He was an Irishman, a distinguished son of the great Irish university. In his own family, he had closer acquaintance with Roman Catholicism than had his English contemporaries, and the Calvinism of Dublin was much more definitely puritan than that of Oxford or Cambridge. His experience, as learner, as divinity professor, as bishop, was almost wholly Irish. Yet he, too, fell under the influence of Laud, was his constant correspondent for twelve years, was active in winning for him the chancellorship of Trinity college, Dublin, and shared his aims of anti-Roman defence and traditional reverence for Catholic antiquity. It was he who most boldly advised Charles not to consent to Strafford’s execution and reproached him for yielding. Yet Cromwell ordered him a public funeral. “Learned to a miracle,” as Selden calls him, Ussher, perhaps, was the last of the Calvinists in high place. His influence was very great, and it was all exercised in favour of peace and charity. Of his sermons, it was as true as of his personal influence that “he had a way of gaining people’s hearts and touching their consciences that look’d like somewhat of the Apostolical age reviv’d.” He was a voluminous writer, learned and exact; in manner an Elizabethan, who did not mark any important step in English letters. His contributions were to learning rather than to literature. Men used his information and incorporated it in their own works, but they did not copy his style; and it is significant, perhaps, that, while his contributions to historical study, in regard to subjects so different as the Ignatian letters and the early history of Ireland, have never lost their value, the only book of his which can reasonably be described as popular was A Body of Divinitie (1645), which was little else but a commonplace book that by no means always represented his own opinions. The prominent place which Ussher’s name occupies in contemporary accounts of the literature of the seventeenth century is a proof, if one were needed, how much more influential, at the period of crisis which led to the civil war, were personal than literary influences. Learning pursued its way and scholars paid attention to it and, after their manner, unduly exalted its achievements. Men who had won the public ear kept it even when they had ceased very definitely to teach their age. The “gentle soul” of Ussher made men love him and attach more importance to his writings than they deserved: such may well be the view of posterity, and it would not be wholly unfair.   11

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  Henry Hammond Robert Sanderson  
 
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