With the King at Oxford - Alfred J. Church

Of My Father's End and other Matters

When my father awoke I asked him, "Shall I go for my mother and sister?"

He answered me: "Had I desired to see them—nay, but I do desire to see them with a great longing," and his eyes were filled with tears, a thing that I had never seen before in him; "had it been well that they should come, son Philip, I had sent you for them so soon as I was brought to this place. I knew when first that bullet struck me that it carried a billet of death, nor have I ever looked for any other end, though a man will hope even against hope, nor do I pretend to be stronger and wiser than others. But as for your mother and your sister coming hither, 'tis nearly impossible. They would need a regiment of horse to escort them safely, for the country was never so disturbed. No, my son, when I bade your mother farewell at Oxford, it was understood between us that whatever might befall me, she and our dear Dorothy should tarry at home. And, indeed, this was part of the cost that she and I counted when I took up arms for the King. God comfort her in her widowhood, and you and Dorothy render her double love and duty. And now I would settle my worldly affairs, that I may give the rest of my time to God."

After this he made a codicil to his will, to which Master Ellgood and John Talboys set their hands as witnesses. Also he bade me write down what he desired to be done with sundry possessions that he had, desiring that certain friends should have something to keep in memory of him. And he gave me many messages for kinsfolk and acquaintance, and much counsel for myself, of which the chief was that while I had the opportunity—"for how long you may have it," said he, "I know not"—I should be diligent with my books, and that in due time, if I felt any drawing thereto, I should seek for orders at the hands of a Bishop. But of these things, as being matters of private concern, I will here write no more.

The rest of his time, which was indeed but two days, the wound mortifying and so bringing him to his end sooner than any had thought, he spent in meditation and religious exercises. Master Ellgood, who was a priest, though, as will be set forth more at length hereafter, he had long been excluded from his office, was most diligent in praying and reading the Scriptures with him; and on the morning of his death, which was the festival of St. John the Baptist, delivered to him the blessed sacrament, all that were in the house communicating with him. My father's strength held out just so long that he could join, though but in a low voice, to the very end of the service. Nor did he speak again afterwards, till he came to the very last, but lay with his eyes shut, yet conscious of himself, as I knew because he pressed my hand as I sat by him. About two hours after noon it seemed to me that he had departed, for I could not see his breast move, nor feel the vein in his wrist. But it was not so, for when Cicely held a mirror to his mouth, the breath was to be seen upon it, though but very faint. In this state he lay for the space of three hours or thereabouts; but about five of the clock, there came a flush upon his cheeks, and he opened his eyes, which were as bright as ever I saw them, and looked at me, and said in a clear voice, smiling the while: "I have seen her, and it is well." And having said this he passed away. And here I should say that at this very hour my mother sitting in her chamber, having just come back from evensong in St. Peter's Church, saw my father, as plain as ever she had seen him in life, standing by the window; and that he smiled upon her very sweetly and pleasantly. "I seemed to know," she said afterwards, "that it was not he in the flesh, for I did not make to go to him or speak to him; but yet I was in no wise afraid, but sat looking at him with such love and gladness in my heart as I had never felt before. And in a short space of time, for it seemed to me, but 'twas, as afterwards I found from comparing of time, about half of an hour, he vanished out of my sight."

My father was buried in the churchyard of Naseby, Master Ellgood saying over him the service provided in the Prayer Book. The minister of Naseby, a good man, but somewhat timid withal, had not dared to use it, but our host had no such fear. "None," said he, "will hinder me or call me to account." And so it was, I may note, that, having the whole by heart from beginning to end, he used no book. Maybe, had he had a book in his hand, some that were present might have made objection; but when he said it as if extempore, not only did none murmur, but all seemed edified. 'Tis a strange thing, and yet of a piece with many other things in life, that a man may say unharmed, yea, and commended, that which to read would put him in peril of liberty or life.

I, coming back from the burying, was wetted through by a great storm of rain, and, neglecting to change my clothes, was the next day taken with a great cold and fever, other things, I doubt not, as care and trouble of mind, making the sickness worse. And, indeed, 'twas so sore (this they told me after, but at the time I knew nothing, but only raved of fighting and of disputing in the school at Oxford), that for some days I was like to follow my father. So I lay betwixt life and death till it was about the middle of the month of July; and then partly through Master Ellgood's skill in physic (especially in the use of simples of which he had a considerable knowledge), and more through the good nursing of Mistress Cicely and of John Talboys, I began to mend.

One morning when the danger was past, says John Talboys to me, "'Tis time, sir, that I thought of departing hence. You need me no more, and I must shift for myself. My soldiering is over for three years to come; but I reckon that a stout pair of hands will not lack employment. I can ply a sickle and drive a furrow as well as most men; and there are those in Oxfordshire who know it and will give me good wages."

So I gave him two gold pieces (having had ten given me by my father). He was loath to take them, but I pressed them on him, as being my father's gift to him, as indeed they were. Also I wrote a letter of many sheets to my mother, which I gave into his keeping, he promising to deliver it into her hands with all possible speed. So he departed; nor have I ever seen him again, but I hear that he prospers, keeping an inn at Cassington, in the county of Berks, and having also a farm. He is as brave and honest a fellow as ever bestrode a horse.

After I began to mend I saw no more of Mistress Cicely, though I could hear her singing about the house, for she had a very sweet and tunable voice. There waited on me a very decent widow woman from the village, that was reckoned a notable nurse in these parts; such doubtless she was, for I never lacked anything, but had all things served at the due time. But she had a heavy hand, and a croaking voice, and was of a singular doleful temper. She would sit by the hour and talk to me of those whom she had nursed in times past, and if she mentioned one that had died she would say like enough, "He very greatly favoured you, sir," or "He had the same complexion as you, and I have noted that it often goes with a consumption," or "He was of very tall stature, and your tall men fail very suddenly." I was myself tall. As for her readiness to believe all kinds of marvels, 'twas such as I never saw surpassed. There was scarce a house in the country but she knew of some ghost that walked in it, and if there was no ghost of a man, then there was one of a dog or a cat; and as for witches, there was not a village but had two or three. And when I doubted, she had circumstances at hand to prove what she said. "Did not Thomas Clark at Erpington Mill speak roughly to Alice Viner, the Erpington witch, for picking wood in his coppice, and Alice cursed him, and said that he should never die in his bed, and the miller, coming home from market the very next Tuesday, fell from his horse and was killed?" "But was the miller in liquor, think you?" I said. "Yes," said she, "and had come home in liquor every market day for thirty years and more, and had come to no harm till he fell out with Alice." That witches may be, I do not doubt, for does not Scripture say, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live;" but that many poor women have an ill-name for witchcraft, ay, and worse than an ill-name, that have no worse faults than a shrewish temper and a bitter tongue, I do not doubt. With such doleful tales did Margery Marriott—for that was the good woman's name—entertain me; and though Master Ellgood would come and sit with me. I was right glad, when the fever having left me and, in a great measure, the weakness also that followed it, I was quit of her company.

It was about the end of July when I left my chamber; there then followed so delightful a time as had never before come to me in my whole life. First, the skies smiled upon me, for the summer having been hitherto somewhat wet and stormy, there now began a season of the most serene weather that can be imagined; and next, the place was most sweet and pleasant, a very home of peace, and Master Ellgood showed me such courtesy and kindness as could not be surpassed; and lastly, to use the figure which the rhetoricians call a climax, I had sometimes at least, though not as often as I would, the companionship of Mistress Cicely. Of her face and aspect I have written before; and these were such, indeed, as would strike all beholders; but of the inner beauty and fairness of her soul, I have said nothing, nor, indeed, can now say enough. She ordered her father's household with such nice care as not the most experienced matron could have excelled, and yet had barely ended her seventeenth year; nay, but for the help of a little maid and a lad that hewed the wood and fetched the water, she did all the service of the house; yet, for all this, I never saw her with so much as a pin awry, nor any flush upon her cheeks, though she might be newly come from cooking the dinner. And for all these cares, yet time never failed her to minister to the sick when any needed her help; no, nor to nourish her own mind with the reading of wholesome authors. She was not ignorant of Latin, which her father had taught her in company with her brother, but to this, since he went to the war, she had paid but little heed; but with our English writers she had such acquaintance as made me, being indeed somewhat rude in these matters, wholly ashamed. 'Twas of her that I learnt to read the Canterbury Pilgrims  of Geoffrey Chaucer, and the poems of Lord Surrey, and the incomparable Sir Philip Sidney's romance of Arcadia. Of William Shakespeare his plays I knew already somewhat, but with her and her father much increased my knowledge, for of an evening we would read one or another, dividing the characters among ourselves. But I must confess that it was not her notable housekeeping, nor her charitable disposition, nor her learning in authors ancient and modern, that I chiefly admired in her; no, nor her beauty only, that I may be but just to myself; but herself, that was a compound, most sweetly mixed of all; for gracious ways, and a delicate courtesy, and a most modest discretion of voice and look set off and displayed, if I may so speak of that which did always rather seek to hide itself, the singular virtues of her mind and body. I do believe what divines teach of the corruption of human nature, yet I must confess that I have seen women, of whom Cicely Ellgood was one, my mother another, and my sister Dorothy a third, in whom I never discovered that which could rightly be called corrupt. Faults they had, I doubt not, though in Cicely and my mother I never perceived any such (for Dorothy had a quick temper, but only in too hot anger against wrong-doing); but that they sinned—if I must need receive it, I receive it of faith, not of understanding.

I do not know whether Master Ellgood perceived how I was affected towards his daughter, for that I was greatly enamoured of her scarcely needs telling; but on the seventh day, or thereabouts, after my first descending from my chamber, he called me to his private parlour, saying that he desired to have some talk with me.

"Master Dashwood," he said; "'tis well that host and guest, if their chance acquaintance has any likelihood to become more durable, should know something of each other. Hear, therefore, my story; it may be that, having heard it, you may choose that we should part. I was—nay, I do protest that I still am—a priest of the Church of England; but I have been for these many years deprived of my office; and the cause was this, which you shall now hear. May be you have not heard of the Book of Sports. It made trouble enough in its days, but like enough has now been forgotten for stress of graver matters.

It had this for its title: Concerning Lawful Sports to be used on Sundays after Divine Service. In it was commanded that dancing and archery, and May games, and Whitsun ales, and Church feasts, should be held lawful; but bull-baiting and bear-baiting and interludes forbidden. At its first publishing it made but little stir; this was some thirty years since, in the days of King James I. But when Dr. Laud, that was then Archbishop of Canterbury, put it forth again some twelve years since, and strictly commanded all the Bishops of his province that they should enforce it on all ministers, no little trouble arose. Against Dr. Laud I would say nothing, but he was one that suffered not his words to fall to the ground. There went out, therefore, a strict commandment that every minister should read the book on the eighteenth of October following—,being St. Luke's day—publicly in the church, after morning prayer. Some of the bishops took little heed of the matter; but my Lord of Norwich, in whose diocese I held a cure, was exceeding hot about it. To be brief, I read it not. Now I hold not with them who mislike these games altogether. If the Jews danced and shot with the bow, why not Christian men? And as for the Whitsun ales and the Church feasts and the like, that they work mischief I deny not; but 'tis chiefly because honest and sober folk keep too much aloof from them, and leave them to the looser sort. Nor am I altogether resolved in mind whether such things be unlawful on the Sunday. To forbid them savours of Sabbath worship; yet to permit them does not tend to edifying. May be you will ask why then did I not read the book, as was enjoined upon me? Because I held that the civil power was intruding into things with which it had no concern, the which intrusion every true minister of God must resist to the loss of all things, and, if need be, even to the death. Howbeit I will not weary you with my reasons, which, indeed, that I may be altogether honest, I found not many to comprehend. To the one party I seemed a rebel, because I obeyed not my ordinary, and to the other a profane person, because I condemned not the sports. Let my reasons, therefore, be. 'Tis enough for my present purpose to say that I could not in my conscience obey. Well, the Archbishop being advised by my Lord of Norwich, sends for me to Lambeth. As soon as, I came into his library, where he sat with a chaplain on either hand, he burst out on me: 'Well, sir, I hear that you read not the book on the day appointed. Is it so? 'Suffer me, your Grace' I said; but before I could end my sentence he cried out, 'Answer me "yea" or "nay."' 'I read it not,' said I, being myself also, it must be confessed, a little touched by his heat. 'Then,' he cried, in a loud voice, 'I suspend you for ever from your office and benefice till you shall read it.' Thereat I saw one of the chaplains whisper into his ear. Hereupon he moderated somewhat his voice, and said, 'Have you any defence?' I had written down my reasons, and now began to read them. They were, as I have said already, that the book was a civil declaration, such as could not lawfully be enforced by any court ecclesiastical. But when I had read barely a page he brake in upon me:' Hold! 'tis enough; I will hear no more. Whosoever shall make such a defence, it shall be burned before his face, and he laid by the heels in prison. Hear now; I admonish you hereby, personally and judicially, that you read this Declaration within three weeks, under pain of being suspended ab officio et beneficio.' As I turned to go I saw that the chaplain whispered in his ear again. Then the Archbishop said, Tarry a moment, Master Ellgood, and sit down'—for hitherto I had been standing—'I would have a word with you.' And this he said in a voice more gentle by far than he had before used. Afterwards I heard that the chaplain had whispered to him about a little book that I had written of St. Cyprian and the Bishop of Rome, in which matter the Archbishop was much concerned. 'Have you studied the Fathers, Master Ellgood?' And when I confessed that I had some knowledge of them, he held me in talk about sundry matters which were then much talked of, of which the chief was the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome. This converse held us till noon, when the Archbishop would have me dine with him, and, dinner ended, we played at bowls, the day being fine, though it was already November; and I throwing my bowls well—for I have always loved the game—his Grace said, ''Tis not now the first time that you have thrown a bowl, Master Ellgood, so that you mislike not all sport.' This he spake right pleasantly, and when I went away he gave me his blessing, and said, 'I doubt not, Master Ellgood, but that we shall agree;' and so parted from me in all friendship. Of a truth, I would fain have done his pleasure, if only conscience had suffered me; but I must needs wrap me in my virtue, if I may somewhat misquote Horace; nor could I consent that the sun of his Grace's favour should cause me to cast off that which the blast of his wrath had not rent from me. I stood, therefore, by my denial, and so was first excommunicated, and afterwards, still persisting, deprived of my benefice. Ah, my son! 'twas a hard time with me and mine; nor has it always been an easy thing with me to be in charity with all men. They drave me forth from my house in February, when the snow was lying deep upon the ground; and for two days we had no shelter for our heads but a barn. The Bishop's people stripped me of all that I had, but 'twas not of my lord's knowledge, and I had not so much as a piece of silver in my pocket, nor did any man dare to take me into his house, though some brought me food by stealth. My wife was stricken of so deadly a chill that she fell into a wasting sickness and died some three months after. She had taken some of her underclothing to keep our children the warmer; but this I knew not till after. Perchance it was better that I knew not; it had been a hard thing to choose between mother and children. But why do I weary you with my troubles? Suffice it to say that for two years I could scarce keep body and soul together. A trifle I earned translating for the booksellers, and the dedication of two little treatises that I wrote fetched me a few guineas; but I had received better wages by following the plough, had but my hands been hard enough. Some of my brethren in the ministry also helped, especially Dr. Thomas Fuller, that was vicar of Broadwinsor, and some money I had from the Archbishop himself, but this I knew not till after his death. God forgive me for thinking too hardly of him! At the end of the two years, a certain kinsman that, living, had never favoured me, dying without a will, I inherited this house, with some two hundred acres of land, part of which I have farmed as best I could, and part have let. Perchance you would ask why, they that persecuted me having fallen from power, I have had no favour from them that succeeded to their place? The cause is soon said. I am no Puritan; I hold neither with Presbyterian nor with Independent, but think that bishops are the true rulers of the Church, though I myself have had scant favour from them. The Covenant I cannot subscribe, nor can I satisfy the Committees that the Parliament has appointed for the examining of the clergy. An I could, I would not intrude myself into a benefice from which some godly man has been driven out because he was faithful to his King. But enough of myself. If you can bear with one who can neither run with the hare nor hunt with the hounds, well; I shall rejoice from my heart; but if not, we can at the least part in Christian charity."

I should have found it hard to part with sweet Cicely's father had he been Hugh Peters himself, who was the loudest and fiercest of all the Parliament preachers. But who could refuse the hand of fellowship to such an one as William Ellgood? He was one of those whose consciences are too fine set for this world. Whoever was uppermost, there would be ever something at which he would have some scruple. He had fared just as ill, nay worse, had he lived a hundred years before. Then he had been condemned under the Six Articles, and fallen under the displeasure of the counsellors of King Edward, and been in danger of the fire at Smithfield, and been deprived of his benefice under Queen Elizabeth. Verily he was no vicar of Bray that would be vicar still whoever should rule the roast. The more I knew him the more I loved him, yet I could but see that were all men such as he, life itself would be a thing impossible. Pure he was, and single-minded and steadfast, but could see but one thing at a time; and everything, be it ever so small, was an article of faith to him, for which he had gone cheerfully to the death; and I soon learnt to see so much, not only in his talk, in which he afterwards was quite free with me, but in his face, which, for all its angelical sweetness, had a certain set look which I have noted in the fiercest sectaries. But William Ellgood was one that had for others a charity without bounds, and was stern only upon himself.

Two or three days after Master Ellgood opened to me a trouble that he had about his son. "He is a good lad," he said to me, "my son John, but he does not see eye to eye with me in matters of Church and State. There is work enough for them who stand aside from both parties in these days, and this I would have had him do, but he was not content, but must needs take service with the Parliament. He was with my Lord Essex's army, and is promoted, I believe, to be a captain; but the whole matter is a sore trouble to me."

"Well, Master Ellgood," said I, "I had been better pleased had he stood for the King; but that one who hath the strength to strike a blow should stand aside and not deal it for one side or the other, is not to be looked for."

"Say you so?" said he; "there are but few that have one mind with me in this matter. I must e'en be content to be alone."

I sojourned six weeks with Master Ellgood and then departed, though, as need scarce be said, very loath to go, but I heard that his son John, the war being now well nigh at an end, was like to return home, and I could not reconcile it to myself to see him, when he had lately borne arms against the King. I spake no word to Mistress Cicely before I went, for who was I—a poor scholar that had followed the losing side—to entangle her with promises? But there are vows that pass without words. Such an one I made in my own heart. As for her, I knew nothing certain, and lovers will find their hopes in slight tokens; yet such a hope I found; and it sent me away with a lighten heart than I had ever looked to have again.