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Giordano Bruno In England Post by :james009 Category :Essays Author :J. M. Stone Date :November 2011 Read :2687

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Giordano Bruno In England

The revolt from Scholasticism in the sixteenth century, led by Erasmus of Rotterdam, John Colet, and other apostles of the new learning, reached farther, and was productive of other results than these had intended or anticipated.

Erasmus was called an infidel by the friars, but he always stoutly protested his adherence to the Church of which the Pope was the head; and Colet has been considered by many as a herald of the Reformation, although he died a Catholic. Erasmus, by his own showing, was no infidel, and there are sufficient indications that Colet, even had his life been prolonged, would never have gone over to the enemy; but both had given cause for apprehension by opening doors to a profound dissatisfaction, to novel theories and extravagant systems, which many friends of Erasmus carried on to a denial of all revealed religion.

In throwing discredit on the schoolmen, Erasmus had prepared the way for a contempt of Aristotle himself, and when the ex-friar Giordano Bruno of Nola appeared as a leader of revolt, distinct from Luther and Calvin, he found in Italy and France a small band of intellectual revolutionists clamouring for a philosophy that should emancipate them from the thraldrom of Christianity, and yet save them from the dishonourable name of atheists.

They wished to be called deists; not because they favoured any particular form or system of religion, but as a sign that they acknowledged, in some vague and undefined sense, a Supreme Being, and were content to follow the light and law of nature, rejecting revelation, and placing themselves in opposition to Christianity.

Bruno gave them a philosophical system that was neither platonic nor peripatetic, nor was it mystic, but a confused jumble of all three systems, and, according to Bayle, "the most monstrous that could be devised, and directly opposed to all the most evident ideas of our intelligence." He goes on to say that Bruno, in his war against Aristotle, invented doctrines a thousand times more obscure than the most incomprehensible things written by the disciples of Aquinas or Scotus.*

* Bayle, Dictionnaire, Historique et Critique, article "Bruno," vol. i. Doc. XII.


The new philosopher was accused among other heresies of teaching that there is no such thing as punishment for sin; that the soul of man is a product of nature differing in no sense from the soul of a brute, and that God is not its author. In his deposition at his trial, Bruno begged the question of the immortality of the soul in these words: "I have held and do hold that souls are immortal, and that they are subsisting substances (that is the intellectual souls), and that speaking in a Catholic manner, they do not pass from one body to another, but they go either to Paradise, to Purgatory, or to Hell. Nevertheless, in philosophy I have reasoned that the soul subsisting without the body, and non-existent in the body, may in the same way that it is in one body be in another; the which, if it be not true, at least appears to be the opinion of Pythagoras."*

* Bayle, Dictionnaire, Historique et Critique, article "Bruno," vol. i. Doc. XII.


His disciples aver that, although Bruno did not enforce the doctrine of metempsychosis, he held it to be very well worthy of consideration. There is perhaps a distinction without a difference between the terms "immortality of the soul," and the "indestructibility of the monad," an expression dear to Bruno's followers, and frequently to be met with in his writings; but we are accustomed to associate the latter term with the worship of nature according to the pantheistic gospel which recognises a soul in every leaf that stirs; and (this brings us to the very essence of Bruno's philosophy, in so far as it is possible to arrive at any definite conclusion, amid the obscure maze of words with which he surrounded his ideas.

None of his disciples repudiate for him the title of pantheist, but Mrs. Besant,* an ardent defender of the Nolan philosopher, went a step further, and declared pantheism itself to be "veiled atheism." Moreover, she says, "So thoroughly does pantheism strike at the root of all idea of God, as taught by theists, that we can scarce think that Bruno was unfairly judged when called atheist by his contemporaries; the conception of the pantheist cannot be called a God in the commonly accepted sense of that term."

* In her Giordano Bruno, p. 5. London, 1877.


Having arrived thus far, the panegyrist breaks out into eulogy of "the grandest hero of free-thought," and claims for Bruno the proud distinction of materialist.

Others of his admirers, and notably his English biographer, Frith, declare that the aim of the Nolan philosophy is to overcome the fear of death, and to fill the soul with noble aspirations, while they maintain that its author forestalled Darwin and Herbert Spencer in their theory of evolution. "Nobody is to-day the same as yesterday. All things, even the smallest, have their share in the universal intelligence, or universal thinking power. For without a certain degree of sense or cognition, the drop of water could not assume the spherical shape which is essential to the preservation of its forces. All things participate in the universal intelligence, and hence come attraction and repulsion, love and hate. Nature shows forth each species before it enters into life. Thus each species is the starting-point for the next." These are some of the ideas, the conception of which is supposed to shadow forth Bruno's anticipation of modern thought.

Landseck, his principal German biographer, makes him the link between antiquity and the celebrated thinkers of the nineteenth century. He considers the doctrine of the indestructibility of the monad to be that belief in the immortality of the soul which was professed by the Druids, the Egyptians, the Brahmins, and the Buddhists, the belief of Pythagoras and Plato, of Plotinus, of Lessing, and of Goethe, in unison with the evolution of Darwin and Haeckel.*

* Landseck, Bruno der Martyrer der neuen Weltanschauung, p. 37.


It is not our purpose to consider here all Bruno's articles of faith or unfaith, but rather to show the general tendency of his teaching, in order to trace its effect upon his contemporaries in England. His philosophy, itself a travesty of various systems, was in its turn caricatured and vulgarised in a manner which would, perhaps, had he lived to see it, have gone far to persuade him of the risk to popular order and morality which he incurred, in taking from people their belief in a personal God, and fear of the consequences of sin.

Some years ago a statue was raised to his honour on the Campo dei Fiori in Rome, on the alleged spot of his execution, as a vindication of those principles for which he chose to die. In his own day they were held to be dangerous to the State, and subversive of public morality, and he was forced to fly before the opposition they aroused from almost every place in which he attempted to propagate them. The enmity of the Calvinists drove him from Geneva; at Toulouse the Huguenots made his life unbearable; the Oxford of Elizabeth, as intolerant as Rome, proved no agreeable sojourn, but he left traces of his passage through England, which Elizabeth, however much she favoured him at the time of his visit, was afterwards at great pains to efface.

The period of his stay in this country extended over two years, from 1583 to 1585, and although in general he met with little encouragement from the learned, he succeeded in making some proselytes. In London, he lodged at the house of the French ambassador, and went frequently to court, where he maintained his footing by pretending to be smitten by the mature charms of the queen. Among his English friends were Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Fulke Greville, Dyer, Spenser, and Temple, and it has even been asserted that his system to a certain degree influenced Bacon, and may be traced in the Novum Organon.* This is, however, an erroneous view, for Bacon's term "form" means no more than law, for the form of a substance is its very essence, whereas with Bruno, form and matter are expressions which stand for forces.** According to St. Thomas Aquinas, who followed Aristotle, form is the DETERMINING PRINCIPLE in the constitution of bodies.

* Book ii., Aphors. 1, 4, 13, 15, 17.

** Frith, Life of Giordano Bruno, p. 107. London, 1887.


Sidney's biographer,* while jealous lest any taint of error should be supposed to infect his hero, nevertheless admits unwillingly that Giordano Bruno, Sir Fulke Greville, and Sir Philip Sidney, were wont to discuss philosophical and metaphysical subjects "of a nice and delicate nature with closed doors."

* Zouch, Memoirs of Sir Philip Sidney, p, 337, note.


Dr. Joseph Warton, editor of Pope's works, says that, among many things related of the life of Sir Philip Sidney, it does not seem to be much known that he was the intimate friend and patron of the famous atheist, Giordano Bruno, who was in a secret club with him and Sir Fulke Greville in 1587. The date is incorrect, but the intimacy is confirmed by Bruno's dedication to the English poet of two of his works, the one being entitled Spaccio de la Bestia Trionfaute, a book which is admittedly blasphemous and obscene, where it is not so obscure as to be unintelligible, the other the no less notorious Heroici Furori.

Soon after Bruno's departure from England, the result of his teaching began to appear in many places throughout the country. Elizabeth's Council became alarmed. State indifferentism to religion was as yet unknown, and the new sectarianism appealing strongly to the ignorant and the profane, politicians were not slow to take cognisance that questions of the highest moment were being introduced into tavern brawls and gutter oratory. Others besides Catholics began to absent themselves from the new English Church service and sermons; and fragments of conversation that savoured of "atheism" were frequently reported to the local magistrates. An investigation into the causes and authors of the disturbances was set on foot, and it was felt that a scapegoat was needed to create a wholesome fear of the long arm of the law in the minds of would-be atheists among the people.*

* Bruno's latest biographer, Mr. L. McIntyre (Giordano Bruno, London, 1903), entirely ignores the effect of his hero's teaching in England.


Sir Philip Sidney was too much the world's darling, too elegant a figure in the Elizabethan pageant, too ethereal a poet, to be burdened with the brunt of so serious an accusation, and he was passed by for one who, with all his brilliant gifts and attainments, had ever been the child of misfortune.

Perhaps no one ever excited more jealousy and ill-will among his contemporaries than Sir Walter Raleigh. His life at court alternated between magnificent success and the most crushing defeat. He was successively the friend, the rival, the enemy of Essex, and when that favourite's star was in the ascendant, his waned, until a change in the queen's fickle fancy made him again, for a short period, an object of admiration and envy. A soldier of fortune, a planter of colonies, an admiral, a courtier, a statesman, a wit, a scholar, a chemist, an agriculturist, he was eminent as each of these, and his exploits in Guiana read like some fantastic tale of fictitious adventure. His History of the World, although but a fragment of what he intended it to be, is nevertheless a monument of prodigious learning, sobriety, and patience.

Edwards, in his Life of Sir Walter Raleigh, says that in his graver hours he had strong theological convictions which agreed in many points with those of the leading Puritans. Such was probably in all sincerity his frame of mind towards the end of his strange career; but up to the time of his trial in 1603, he seems to have been active in disseminating the doctrines which had become popular since the baneful sojourn of Bruno in this country. Raleigh's biographer admits that his attempt on his own life in the Tower, subsequent to his trial, is in favour of the unhappy prisoner's atheism at that time.*

* "Sir Walter Raleigh is said to have declared that his design to kill himself arose from no feeling of fear, but was formed in order that his fate might not serve as a triumph to his enemies whose power to put him to death, despite his innocency, he well knows" (The Count of Beaumont to Henry IV., 13th August 1603, Copy in Hardwick MS., p. 18).


The first apparently to accuse Raleigh of atheism in a formal manner was the Jesuit provincial, Robert Parsons, who, in a book published in 1592 and now very rare, mentions "Sir Walter Raleigh's school of atheism . . . and of the diligence used to get young gentlemen to this school, wherein both Moses and our Saviour, the Old and New Testament, are jested at, and the scholars taught among other things to spell God backwards.* Cayley treats this accusation as a calumny,** and Birch describes its author as the "virulent but learned and ingenious Father Parsons";*** but Osborn, in the preface to his Miscellany of Sundry Essays, Paradoxes, etc., in speaking of Raleigh, says that Queen Elizabeth "chid him who was ever after branded with the title of an atheist, though a known asserter of God and Providence."

* An advertisement concerning the Responsio ad Elizabethae edictum, 1592.

** Life of Sir Walter Raleigh, i. 140.

*** Life of Sir Walter Raleigh, i. 140.


The year after the appearance of Father Parsons' little book, steps were taken for proving the truth of the reports which had now become common, and it is remarkable that none of Sir Walter Raleigh's biographers seem to have been aware of an elaborate interrogatory that was drawn up and administered for the purpose of eliciting from sworn witnesses evidence concerning his religious opinions, and those of his family, dependents, and friends. The original seems to have disappeared, but a contemporary copy of this document is to be found among the Harleian papers in the British Museum, together with the evidence obtained by means of the interrogatory. As it is extremely pertinent to the subject in question, and has hitherto escaped notice, the nine questions administered with a selection of the most interesting depositions of the witnesses are here given in detail. For a complete account of the examinations the reader is referred to the manuscript.*

* Harl. 6849, f. 183.


Dorset.

Interrogatory to be ministered unto such as are to be examined in her Majesty's name, by virtue of her Highness's commission for causes ecclesiastical.

1. Imprimis. Whom do you know or have heard to be suspected of atheism or apostasy? And in what manner do you know or have heard the same? And what other notice can you give thereof?

2. Whom do you know or have heard that have argued or spoken against, or as doubting the Being of any God, or what or where God is, or to swear by God, adding if there be a God or such like; and when and where was the same? And what other notice can you give of any such offender?

3. Whom do you know or have heard that hath spoken against God, His Providence over the world? or of the world's beginning or ending? or of predestination, or of Heaven or of Hell, or of the Resurrection, in doubtful or contentious manner? When and where was the same? and what other notice can you give of any such offender?

4. Whom do you know or have heard that hath spoken against the truth of God His holy Word, revealed to us in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, or of some places thereof? or have said those Scriptures are not to be believed and defended by her Majesty for doctrine, and faith, and salvation, but only of policy or civil government, and when and where was the same? And what other notice can you give of any such offender?

5. Whom do you know or have heard hath blasphemously cursed God; as in saying one time (as it rained when he was ahawking), "if there be a God, a pox on that God which sendeth such weather to mar our sport," or such like? or do you know or have heard of any that hath broken forth into any other words of blasphemy, and where was the same?

6. Whom do you know or have heard to have said that when he was dead, his soul should be hanged on the top of a pole and "run God, run Devil, and fetch it that would have it," or to like effect, or that hath otherwise spoken against the being or immortality of the soul of men, or that a man's soul should die and become like the soul of a beast, or such like, and when and where was the same?

7. Whom do you know or have heard hath counselled, procured, aided, comforted, or conferred with any such offender? When, where, and in what manner was the same?

8. Do you know or have heard of any of those offenders to affirm all such that were not of their opinions touching the premises, to be schismatics and in error. And whom do you know hath so affirmed? And when and where was it spoken?

9. What can you say more of any of the premises, or whom have you known or heard can give any notice of the same? And speak all your knowledge therein.

Hereupon follows the report of the Royal Commissioners on the depositions of witnesses examined by them with the above formulary:--

"Examinations taken at Cearne, co. Dorset, 21 March, 36 Eliz., before us, Tho. Lord Howard, Viscount Howard of Bindon, Sir Ralph Horsey, knt., Francis James, Chancellor, John Williams, and Francis Hawley, esquires, by virtue of a commission to us and others, directed from some of her Majesty's High Commissioners in causes ecclesiastical."*

* On the last page is written: "These examinations are the trew copies taken at Cearne, 21 March 1593."


From the two first witnesses examined, John Hancock, parson of South Parrot, and Richard Bagage, churchwarden of Lo, no information was obtained. The third witness, John Jesopp, minister, of Gillingham, "said nothing of his own knowledge, but had heard that one Herryott, of Sir Walter Rawleigh his house, had brought the Godhead in question, and the whole course of the Scriptures, but of whom he so heard it he did not remember. (Thomas Harriot was an acknowledged deist, and Raleigh had taken him into his house to study mathematics with him.) He heard his brother, Dr. Jesopp, say that Mr. Carew Rawleigh, reasoning with Mr. Parry and Mr. Archdeacon about the Godhead (as he conjectureth), his said brother, thinking that Mr. Archdeacon and Mr. Parry would take offence at that argument, desired the Lord Bishop of Worcester (then being there) that he might argue with the said Mr. Rawleigh, for, said he, your Lordship shall hear him argue as like a pagan as ever you heard any. But the matter was so shut up, as this examinate heard his brother say, and proceeded not to argument, and further he saith that he hath heard one Allen, now of Portland Castle, suspected of atheism, but of whom he heard it he remembereth not."

William Hussey, churchwarden of Gillingham, corroborated the report of Sir Walter Raleigh's suspected atheism.

John Davis, curate of Motcomb, "to the first interrogatory saith that he knoweth of no such person directly, but he hath heard Sir Walter Raleigh, by general report, hath had some reasoning against the deity of God and His omnipotence; and hath heard the like of Mr. Carew Raleigh, but not so directly. Also he saith he heard the like report of one, Mr. Thinn, of Wiltshire, which he heard from a barber in Warminster, dwelling in a by-lane there, who told this deponent he did marvel that a gentleman of his condition should deliver words to so mean a man as himself, tending to this sense, as though God's Providence did not reach over all creatures, or to like effect.

"To the second, third, fourth, and fifth interrogatory he saith he hath heard that Sir Walter Raleigh hath argued with one Mr. Ironside, at Sir George Trenchard's, touching the being or immortality of the soul, or such like; but the certainty thereof he cannot say further, saving asking the same of Mr. Ironside upon the report aforesaid; he hath answered that the matter was not as the voice of the country reported thereof, or to the like effect."

The next witness, Nicholas Jefferies, declared that he did not know personally any atheist in the county of Dorset, but testified to the report of many "that Sir Walter Raleigh and his retinue are generally suspected of atheism," and he quoted the above-mentioned Allen, Lieutenant of Portland Castle, as "a great blasphemer and light esteemer of religion, and thereabout cometh not to divine service or sermons." He also mentioned the circumstance that "Herryott, attendant on Sir Walter Raleigh, hath been convened before the Lords of the Council for denying the resurrection of the body."

This witness also gave a circumstantial account of the conversation between Sir Walter, his brother Carew, and Mr. Ironside at Sir George Trenchard's table, but as Mr. Ironside was himself subsequently sworn and examined, it is better to quote his own words. It is significant of the credibility of these witnesses, that the evidence of Jefferies, although he merely reported what Mr. Ironside had told him of the conversation, and could not remember all that had been said, tallies completely with the evidence of the other witnesses.

Ironside's examination comes last in the manuscript, but it is more convenient to insert it here:--

"Ralph Ironside, minister of Winterbor, sworn and examined. To the first interrogatory, he saith that for his own knowledge he will answer, but for that he hath heard and knoweth no author to justify the same, he is persuaded by counsel that he is in danger to be punished, and therefore refuseth to say anything upon uncertain report, unless he could bring in his author in particular.

"The relation of the disputation had at Sir George Trenchard's table, between Sir Walter Raleigh, Mr. Carew Raleigh, and Mr. Ironside, hereafter followeth, written by himself and delivered to the commissioners upon his oath.

"Wednesday, sevennight before the Assizes, summer last, I came to Sir George Trenchard's in the afternoon, accompanied with a fellow-minister and friend of mine, Mr. Whittle, vicar of Forthington. There were then with the knight Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Ralph Horsey, Mr. Carew Raleigh, Mr. John Fitzjames, etc. Towards the end of supper, some loose speeches of Mr. Carew Raleigh's being gently reproved by Sir Ralph Horsey with the words Colloquia prava corrumpunt bonos mores, Mr. Raleigh demanded of me what danger he might incur by such speeches, whereunto I answered--'The wages of sin is death'--and he, making light of death as being common to all, sinner and righteous, I inferred further that as that life which is the gift of God through Jesus Christ is life eternal, so that death which is properly the wages of sin is death eternal both of the body and of the soul also.

"'Soul,' quoth Mr. Carew Raleigh, 'what is that?' Better it were, said I, that we would be careful how the soul might be saved, than to be curious in finding out the essence.

"And so, keeping silence, Sir Walter requested me that for their instruction, I would answer to the question that before by his brother was proposed unto me. 'I have been,' saith he, 'a scholar sometime in Oxford; I gave answer under a bachelor of arts, and had talk with divers; yet hitherunto in this point (to wit, what the reasonable soul of man is) have I not by any been resolved. They tell me it is primus motor, the first mover in a man, etc.' Unto this, after I had replied that howsoever the soul were fons et principium, the fountain, beginning and cause of motion in us, yet the first mover was the brain or heart, I was again urged to show my opinion, and hearing Sir Walter Raleigh tell of his dispute and scholarship some time in Oxford, I cited the general definition of Anima out of Aristotle (De Anima, cap. 2), and thence a subjecto proprio, deduced the special definition of the soul reasonable, that it was Actus Primus corporis organici agentis humanam vitam.

"It was misliked of Sir Walter as obscure and intricate. And I withal, that though it could not unto him, as being learned, yet it might seem obscure to the most present, and therefore had rather say with divines plainly, that the reasonable soul is a spiritual and immortal substance, breathed into man by God, whereby he lives and moves and understandeth, and so is distinguished from other creatures. 'Yea, but what is that spiritual and immortal substance breathed into man?' saith Sir Walter. The soul, quoth I. 'Nay then,' said he, 'you answer not like a scholar.' Hereupon I endeavoured to prove that it was scholarlike, nay, in such disputes as this, usual and necessary to run in circulum, partly because definitio rei was primum et immediatum principium, and seeing primo non est Prius, a man must of necessity come backward, and partly because definitio and definitum be naturae reciprocae, the one convertible, answering unto the question made upon the other. As for example, if one asked: 'What is a man?' you will say: 'He is a creature reasonable and mortal'; but if you ask again: 'What is a creature reasonable and mortal?' you must of force come backward and answer: 'It is a man,' et sic de caeteris. 'But we have principles in our mathematics,' saith Sir Walter, 'as totum est majus qua libet sua parte; and ask me of it, and I can show it in the table, in the window, in a man, the whole being bigger than the parts of it.'

"I replied first that he showed quod est, not quid est, that it was, but not what it was; secondly, that such demonstration was against the nature of a man's soul, being a spirit; for as a thing, being sensible, was subject to the sense, so man's soul, being insensible, was to be discerned by the spirit. Nothing more certain in the world than that there is a God, yet being a spirit, to subject him to the sense otherwise than perfectum. It is impossible.

"'Marry!' quoth Sir Walter, 'these two be like, for neither could I learn hitherto what God is.'

"Mr. Fitzjames answering that Aristotle should say he was Ens Entium, I answered, that whether Aristotle, dying in a fever, should cry: Ens Entium, miserere mei; or drowning himself in Euripum, should say: Quia ego to non capio, to me capies, it was uncertain, but that God was Ens Entium, a thing of things, having being of Himself, and giving being to all creatures, it was most certain, and confirmed by God Himself unto Moses.

"'Yea, but what is this Ens Entium?' saith Sir Walter.

"I answered it is God, and being disliked as before, Sir Walter wished that grace might be said, 'for that,' quoth he, is better than his disputation.' Thus supper ended and grace said, I departed to Dorchester with my fellowminister, and this is to my remembrance the substance of that speech with Sir Walter Raleigh I had at Wolverton."

"Ralph Ironside."

Turning to the remaining depositions, we find that Francis Scarlett, minister of Sherborne, sworn and examined, relates how that "a little before Christmas, one Robert Hyde, of Sherborne, shoemaker, seeing this deponent passing by his door, called him, and desired to have some conversation with him, and after some speeches, he entered into these speeches. "Mr. Scarlett, you have preached unto us that there is a God, a Heaven, a Hell, and a resurrection after this life, and that we shall give an account of our works, and that the soul is immortal; but now, saith he, here is a company about this town that say that Hell is no other but poverty and penury in this world, and Heaven is no other but to be rich and enjoy pleasures; and that we die like beasts, and when we are gone there is no more remembrance of us, and such like.

But this examinate did neither then demand who they were, neither did he deliver any particulars unto him, and further saith that it is generally reported in Sherborne, that the said Allen and his men are atheists. And also he saith there is one Lodge, a shoemaker in Sherborne, accounted an atheist."

John Deuch, churchwarden of Weeke Regis: "To the sixth interrogatory this deponent saith that he hath heard one Allen, Lieutenant of Portland Castle, when he was like to die, being persuaded to make himself ready to God for his soul, to answer that he would carry his soul to the top of an hill, and run God, run devil, fetch it that will have it, or to that effect. But, who told this deponent of it, he remembereth not. To the rest of the interrogatory he can say nothing."

What punishment followed on these examinations does not appear. A fine was probably imposed on all those convicted of speaking and propagating atheism; but in spite of the investigations and the discredit thrown on the sect, it did not by any means die out.

Essex was accounted at that time the only nobleman who cared for religion. His manner was to censure all men as "cold professors, neuters, or atheists." In the declaration of W. Masham before the Lord Treasurer Buckhurst, he said that Essex told the people when he incited them to rise, that he acted "for the good of the Queen, city, and crown which certain atheists, meaning Raleigh, had betrayed to the Infante of Spain." At his execution he thanked God that he was never atheist nor papist."*

* Dom. Eliz., February 1601, Vol. 278; R.O.


On the accession of James I. the Catholics presented a petition to parliament, begging to be allowed to practise their religion, at least in secret, and they went on to say that there were "four classes of religionists in England Protestant who domineered all the late reign: Puritans who have crept up amongst them, atheists, who live on brawls; and Catholics."*

* Dom. James I., vol. i., 1603; R.O.


The stigma of atheist clung to Raleigh long after he had ceased to deserve it. In his trial for high treason in 1603, it considerably damaged his cause, and gave another handle to his many enemies. The king's attorney, in addressing him, exclaimed: "O damnable atheist!" and the Lord Chief Justice Coke, in his address to the prisoner after his condemnation, harangued him in these words:--

"Your case being thus, let it not grieve you if I speak a little out of zeal and love to your good. You have been taxed by the world with the defence of the most heathenish and blasphemous opinions, which I list not to repeat, because Christian ears cannot endure to hear them, nor the authors and maintainers of them be suffered to live in any Christian commonwealth. You know what men said of Harpool.* You shall do well before you go out of the world to give satisfaction therein, and not to die with these imputations upon you. Let not any devil persuade you (the Harleian version adds, 'Hariot or any such doctor') to think there is no eternity in Heaven; for if you think thus, you shall find eternity in hell-fire."**

* A mistake probably for Harriot. The name is variously spelt. Edwards, in his Life of Raleigh, corrects it and says, "Either he applied to the illustrious mathematician Thomas Harriot, the epithet 'devil,' or he said that Harriot's opinions were devilish" (p. 436). The judge's words are variously reported, but their purport is always the same. Stebbing, in his monograph Sir Walter Raleigh, says that Harriot was accused by zealots of atheism, because his cosmogony was not orthodox, and that his ill-repute for free-thinking was reflected on Raleigh, who hired him to teach mathematics (probably in what Father Parsons termed his school of atheism) and engaged him in his colonising projects. Harriot was the friend whose society he chiefly craved when he was in the Tower, and is doubtless the "Herryott" of the examinations.

** Dom. James I., vol. 4, f. 83.


Between Raleigh's sentence and its execution fifteen years were allowed to elapse, during which time the prisoner in the Tower occupied himself with the compilation of his famous History of the World, and with chemical experiments. And as if all should be exceptional in the life of this remarkable man, he was allowed an interval during this period in which to flash once more upon the world in another expedition to Guiana, in search of the gold mine which he had declared to be there. After the ill-fated voyage he returned into durance vile, and when at last the time came for the axe which had so long hung over him, to fall, his words showed that at least in adversity he had learned, like the great Arian chieftain Clovis, to burn what he had adored, and to adore what he had burned. His device, Ubi dolor ibi amor is significant of the change that suffering had wrought in him. His last words on the scaffold were these: "I have many sins for which to beseech God's pardon. Of a long time my course was a course of vanity. I have been a seafearing man, a soldier, and a courtier, and in the temptations of the least of these there is enough to overthrow a good mind and a good man." Presently he added, "I die in the faith professed by the Church of England. I hope to be saved and to have my sins washed away by the Precious Blood and merits of our Saviour Jesus Christ."

Then, says his biographer,* he asked to be shown the axe, and kissing the blade, he said: "This gives me no fear. It is a sharp and fair medicine to cure me of all my disease."

* Edwards, Life of Sir Walter Raleigh, i. 704.


After Raleigh's death, the Archbishop of Canterbury, writing to Sir Thomas Roe, ambassador of Great Britain with the Great Mogul, 10th February 1618, said: "Sir Walter Raleigh amongst us did question God's being and omnipotence, which that just judge made good upon himself in overtumbling his estate, but last of all in bringing him to an execution by law, where he died a religious and Christian death, God testifying his power in this, that he raised up of a stone a child unto Abraham."

His doom had been from the first a foregone conclusion. James having been fatally prejudiced against him before that royal pedant ever set foot in England, to which fact the secret correspondence of Sir Robert Cecil with James VI. of Scotland amply testifies.

But curiously enough Sir Walter's brother Carew, although more deeply dyed in atheism, never ceased to be a Persona grata with the government. He was knighted in 1601, on the occasion of the visit to England of the French Marshal de Biron.* He held several honourable and lucrative public offices under James I., and was Lieutenant of the Isle of Portland in 1608. During his brother's long imprisonment in the Tower, Sir Carew Raleigh was living in prosperity at Dounton.**

* Stebbing, Sir Walter Raleigh, p. 157.

* Ibid, p. 248.


Atheists did not as a sect entirely disappear from England after the execution of their scapegoat, but they do not seem to have been further molested for their opinions. The persecution of the Catholics was at its height, and at no time did professed atheism provoke the fierce hatred that Catholicism inspired. For obvious reasons many Catholics at this period were but indifferently instructed in their religion. Some to escape attendance at the English Church service unlawfully feigned infidelity. One man having written a seditious book, called Balaam's Ass, against the king, for which he was condemned to death, was accused at his execution of having professed atheism. He denied being an infidel, expressed contrition for his "saucy meddling in the king's matter," and declared himself a Catholic.*

* Dom. James I., vol. 109, May 1619; R.0.


The Bishop of Exeter reported that "John Lugge, organist, retains none of his popish tendencies, though his religion is as the market goes," and he added that there were very few papists in his diocese, but an infinity of sectaries and atheists.

Many of these latter may have been secret Catholics, either extremely ignorant, or too timid to suffer for their faith. A book published in 1602, entitled The Unmasking of the Politique Atheist is a violent attack upon Catholicism. Another, called A Perfect Cure for Atheists, Papists, Arminians, etc., published in 1649, is of a like nature. It is a far cry from Aristotle to atheism, but no sooner did the votaries of the new learning discard a system of philosophy which, however exaggerated by pedants, was still a guarantee of exact reasoning, than their disciples and followers fell a prey to the vagaries of their own bewildered intellects.

It was the reductio ad absurdum of the reformed religion, when weak-kneed Catholics sheltered themselves from its pains and penalties under the fairly secure roof-tree of atheism.


(The end)
J. M. Stone's essay: Giordano Bruno In England

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