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JANUARY, 1827.

ART. I. The History of the Reign of Henry the Eighth: comprising the Political History of the Commencement of the English Reformation. By Sharon Turner, F.S.A. and R.A.S.L. 4to. pp. 694. 21. 2s. London. Longman and Co. 1826.

UPON this huge and elaborate volume, in which Mr. Sharon Turner has professed to embrace one of the most remarkable and important epochs in our history, the public judgment has already been tacitly pronounced. The work has fallen still-born from the press. We will venture to assert, that not ten persons in the realm have had the patience to toil through half the wearisome length of its seven hundred pages; and but that we have a critical duty to perform, we should ourselves have been well satisfied to have given a silent concurrence to the verdict, by not disturbing the passage of the book to a decent oblivion. But its sins against good taste in composition and manner are so glaring; its obliquities in opinion are at once so ludicrous and so mischievous; and its claims to superior accuracy and industrious illustration, over the labours of all our previous historians, are broadly asserted with such offensive self-complacency, that we are imperatively called upon to subject its pretensions to a rigid, though impartial examination.

The language and composition of Mr. Turner's volume may naturally engage our first attention; and here, as a few examples are better illustrations than a thousand comments, we shall at once enable our readers to judge for themselves of the precious peculiarities of our historian's style. We give the following sentence, as it meets our eye in the very first page of the book :

• Viewed in those large arrangements of time, which constitute chronological periods, the history of the world, after every fair objection from its obliquities, describes the history of manifold progression in all that constitutes our improvement and our celebrity; but, if it be contemplated only in separate divisions, without reference to its relations as a whole; if we consider it merely as a casual succession of distinct and detached fragments, or connect our feelings with the rise and fortunes of the particular kingdoms and populations that have glittered and passed away,



then so many local catastrophes of states, and so many intervals of darkness and destitution appear, that the intelligent mind has often hesitated to decide whether the changes have been confused and disorderly vicissitude; or those beneficial revolutions which ultimately unfold a grand and enlarging advance of the human intellect, and new provisions for the production of universal felicity.'-pp. 1, 2.

The vigorous simplicity and lucid compression of this period, will not fail to be appreciated by all, who happen to comprehend its meaning. Thus again, we arrive at a dissertation on the rise of Wolsey; but here a whole passage may afford a fairer criterion of our luminous author's average style:

'As the course of nature is so uniform, and the bodily elements and informing spirits of man are alike in every age and climate, we might, from theory, have expected that the current of his social life would, like the world which he inhabits, have always exhibited, in its events and actors, a continuous sameness: and yet our experience is, that the human character, and the scenes and dramas of both its public and private life, are for the most part an agitated succession of change, diversity, and anomalous eccentricity. One cause of the difference may be, that while the movements of material things are forcibly regulated by appointed laws, which never alter, no adamantine fetters of an inexorable necessity coerce the human spirit; but free in its essential nature, tenacious of its freedom, and ever wishing and seeking to exercise this blessing, it tends to spring from all bondage and servile imitation, and to choose its own paths, indulge its own caprices, and make a distinct individuality for itself, independent of others, incalculable by them, and almost always deviating into a specific variety. Some exercise this common power of free-will with more energy than others; and hence new characters, dissimilar in several marking and influencing points from those which have preceded, are continually emerging from the more tranquil diversities and calmer level of ordinary life; and of these the singularity of some takes the path of an ambition to acquire a command in its affairs, and an actual government of its polity and population. In every age men of this description rise up, and step forward beyond their fellows, aspiring to do and to be more than they behold, and continually preventing life from becoming that placid lake or smoothly gliding river, which knows no change, displays no commotion, attempts no improvement, and produces no evils.'-pp. 119-120.

And he from thence proceeds to paint the character of the great cardinal's mind, in such a period as a Tacitus might envy.

They did not push themselves forward, to seize the helm of human life, without any natal pretensions to become its governor, except an aspiring, intrepid, arrogant, insatiable, energetic, and ostentatious spirit, which, flattering itself into a persuasion of its own internal superiority, attempted to bend all others to its dominion; and which, in an age of great pride, warlike bustle, and jealous competition, though but a scholar and a churchman, succeeded in attaining all the power and pre-eminence which it so presumptuously and, but for the success, would have been thought so absurdly to have coveted.'-p. 120.

Such is his manner of philosophical description: the elegant involution of his narrative style is still more unique :

Son of a butcher, as it was reported and believed while he lived, though some of his later admirers wish to doubt a circumstance which they unreasonably consider to be a descent too humiliating: and of a poor man, as his gentleman usher and earliest biographer, perhaps with an intentional obscurity, more generally states, he was sent very early to Oxford by his father or assisting friends.'-p. 121.

These may serve as sufficient specimens of Mr. Sharon Turner's conceptions of the dignity of the historic muse. But it is in the accumulated array of his expletive adjectives, that the march of his periods is most majestic and grandiloquent. Thus we encounter epithets cased in sevenfold strength, like the shield of Ajax : we hear, p. 687, of a softened, softening, impressed, impressible, benevolent, affectionate, benign, and sensitive heart;' and we are told of cardinal Pole, in a paradox of the following astounding dimensions, (p. 603), that he was an accomplished, inconsistent, gentlemanly, nervous, elegant, cultivated, religious, mild, social, interesting, and yet bitter-minded man!'

Mr. Turner, however, does not always thus soar in these magnificent flights of diction; his tropes and figures are sometimes of this nether earth; and his similes tell of such things, as the ape and the glow-worm in the fable,' (p. 485); of a soul and a nutshell,' (p. 259); of the 'serpent with the ruby head,' (p. 604): and, p. 21, of 'raw heads and bloody bones.' But of all the strange phraseology, the singular orthography, and the new-fangled coinage of which Mr. Sharon Turner's heterogeneous and inimitable style is compounded, the description would be as insufferable as the reality; and we gladly pass from the manner to the matter of his volume.

In his preface he is pleased to proclaim his discovery, that 'many parts of the reign of Henry VIII. had not been sufficiently elucidated by preceding historians; that the public had not been put in possession of the entire truth on the subject; and that the king and his conduct had not been impartially appreciated.' He found that, 'to elicit farther light on what was obscure or doubtful, or which had been mistaken,' it was indispensable that he should turn to original documents, which had not been examined;' and his industry and meditation were therefore bestowed on the treasures at the British Museum, which had been singularly disregarded by former historians, although long open to the perusal of all who would take the trouble to investigate their contents.'

The result of this original investigation into the circumstances of Henry's life and reign, offers one of the most extraordinary instances of judgment gratuitously perverted, of which there is any example in the annals of historical literature. We had imagined that, if there ever existed a monarch whom the voice of all history had unanimously agreed to brand with the vices of brutal

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