Rot with thy author

How many authors are buried with copies of their books? For most this would be a tribute, placed lovingly or affectionately in their coffin. But for one author at least, the book was hurled into the grave with the full force of religious hatred.

The short but eventful life of the Protestant theologian William Chillingworth (1602-44) included a brief and unhappy conversion to Catholicism, service in the King’s army in the English Civil War, and a series of confrontational discourses with Catholic and Puritan religious scholars. In 1637, as part of an on-going debate with a Jesuit, he published The Religion of Protestants a Safe Way to Salvation, the work for which he is most widely known. In January 1644, an invalid and prisoner of war, he died in Chichester at the age of forty-one (Chernaik 2004).

NPG D1442,William Chillingworth,by; after Francis Kyte; Unknown artist

William Chillingworth

Shortly before his death Chillingworth had made the acquaintance of the Puritan zealot and fellow Oxonian Francis Cheynell, then serving (like Chillingworth) as a military chaplain, albeit in the opposing army. The debate between the fanatical Cheynell and the more troubled Chillingworth was inconclusive, and while Cheynell attended Chillingworth during his final illness it is unclear whether this was motivated by genuine concern or out of a desire to affect or claim to have affected a deathbed conversion (Pooley 2004).

After Chillingworth’s death, Cheynell published a short book with the impressively lengthy title: Chillingworthi Novissima, or, the sicknesse, heresy, death and buriall of William Chillingworth (in his own phrase) clerk of Oxford and in the conceit of his fellow souldiers the Queens arch-engineer and grand-intelligencer: set forth in a letter to his eminent and learned friends, a relation of his apprehension at Arundell, a discovery of his errours in a briefe catechism, and a shorr oration at the buriall of his hereticall book [sic] (Cheynell 1644).

Cheynell book title page

Title page of Cheynell’s book

As the title suggests, Cheynell buried a copy of The Religion of Protestants in Chillingworth’s grave (Pooley 2004). Chillingworth, despite his wavering faith, had been permitted an Anglican funeral (Chernaik 2004). Cheynell attended the event, and in front of the friends of the deceased delivered a lengthy address in which he condemned Chillingworth and his book in fiery terms:

I refuse to bury him myself: yet let his friends and followers, who have attended his herse to this Golgotha, know, that they are permitted, out of mere humanity, to bury their dead out of our sight. If they please to undertake the burial of his corps, I shall undertake to bury his errors, which are publish’d in this so much admir’d yet unworthy book: and happy would it be for this kingdom, if this book and all its fellows could be so bury’d, that they might never rise more, unless it were for a confutation; and happy would it have been for the author, if he had repented of those errors, that they might never rise for his condemnation; happy, thrice happy will he be, if his words do not follow him, if they do never rise with him or against him.

‘Get thee gone then, thou cursed book, which hast seduc’d so many precious souls; get thee gone, thou corrupt rotten book, earth to earth, and dust to dust; get thee gone into the place of rottenness, that thou mayst rot with thy author, and see corruption.’  So much for the burial of his errors. (Cheynell 1644: 59-60)

So saying, he flung a copy of Chillingworth’s book into the grave.

References

Chernaik, W. 2004. Chillingworth, William (1602–1644). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online edition) (accessed 12.1.13)

Cheynell, F. 1644. Chillingworthi Novissima, or, the sicknesse, heresy, death and buriall of William Chillingworth (in his own phrase) clerk of Oxford and in the conceit of his fellow souldiers the Queens arch-engineer and grand-intelligencer: set forth in a letter to his eminent and learned friends, a relation of his apprehension at Arundell, a discovery of his errours in a briefe catechism, and a shorr oration at the buriall of his hereticall book. London.

Pooley, R. 2004. Cheynell, Francis (bap. 1608, d. 1665). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online edition) (accessed 12.1.13)

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