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THE following collection of Bishop Burnet's Biographical Pieces is made more complete than in any former Edition, by the insertion of the Sermon at the Funeral of Mr. Boyle, and by a selection of the most interesting characters in the Bishop's History of his Own Life and Times. It may, therefore, on the whole, be recommended to the intelligent and serious public, as one of the most instruc tive volumes of the biographical kind, that has ever issued from the press
In the Life of Sir Matthew Hale, we do not merely see a character improved and adorned by the Christian graces and virtues, but we behold Christianity itself substantially exemplified. We see its power “ to convert the soul,” in that radical change which it effects in the youth : while every subsequent action of the man concurs to prove, that the ideal character of wisdom, which some ancient philosophers described as the mark to be aimed at, though without any hope of axtainment, is, in all its valuable features, actually realized in the true Christian.
What but Christianity could have given to Judge Hale that uniform ascendancy over every thing selfish and secular, by means of which he so undeviatingly kept the path of pure heroic virtue, as to be alike looked up to and revered, by parties and interests, the most opposite to each other? Is there in human history any fact more extraordinary, than that the advocate of Strafford and Laud, and of King Charles, (liad leave been given for pleading) should be raised to the Bench by Cromwell ; and again, that a Judge of Cromwell's should be not only reinstated by Charles II, but compelled by him, against his own will, to accept of the very highest judicial trust? Such is the triumph of genuine Christianity !-a triumph which is in some degree renewed, whenever the name of Hale is even professionally repeated; since the appeal is evidently made not more to the authority of the Judge, than to the integrity of the man. If Burnet had never written more than the life of Sir Matthew Hale, this alone would have entitled him to the gratitude of the Christian world; there being no work of the kind better worth the study, whether of the professional or private man-of all who would truly learn how to live, or how to die.
Respecting the passages in the life of the Earl of Rochester, nothing could easily be added to the encomium of Dr. Johnson.
“ It is a work,” says he, “ which the critic ought to read for its elegance, “the philosopher for its reasoning, and the saint “ for its piety. It were an injury to the reader to “offer him an abridgment."
In the Sermon at Mr. Boyle's funeral, we have an exquisite delineation of the true Christian philosopher. We see a most enlightened and powerful mind, penetrating the yet unexplored recesses of nature, opening new paths to profound and useful science, and aiding future investigation by admirable inventions. Who is there, that pretends to scientific knowledge, even in this age of arrogant self-esteem, who would venture to withhold respect from the venerable name of Boyle? Yet we see this great and good man bowing before his God with the humility of a child; never pronouncing the hallowed name without some mark of unaffected veneration, and counting all his knowledge of physical nature to be but infant ignorance, compared with that heavenly wisdom which he sought and found in the sacred volumes of Revelation. The portraiture of such a man, executed by one who was qualified to do it ample justice, both from intimate knowledge and congenial feeling, well deserves to be rescued from obscurity, especially at a time when the baleful effects of “science falsely so called," have made it necessary to recur to the only genuine philosophy--the wiSDOM FROM ABOVE.
The shorter Extracts which are added, scarcely need to be recommended to attention. As sketches of characters, they cannot fail to be interesting, since they not only have that strength which always marks the hand of BURNET, but they possess & peculiarly glowing, yet mellowed richness of colouring, then only observable when the subjects were eminent for that goodness to which his own heart was devoted. This remark will be verified in all
the characters which have been selected, but above all, in that of the apostolic LEIGHTOUN; than whom, since the very earliest age of the church, Christianity never had a more perfect votary, or a more illustrious ornament. An over recluseness of temper sems to have been his only foible: but as this did not abate his liberality toward those of other habits, so it was amply compensated by that sublimity of piety, which placed him, as it were,
“ In regions mild of calm and serene air,
It was thought this collection could not be better concluded, than with the Bishop's own parting exhortation, with which he ends that admirable set of counsels to posterity, subjoined to the History of his Own Times. So noble, and, at the same time, so comprehensive a view of practical piety, perhaps has in no other instance proceeded from an unspired pen.
It is not too much to say, that no piece of human writing more truly deserves to be familiarized to every eye, and to be engraven on every heart.
Dublin, Nov. 17, 1803.