On the Continuity of English Prose from Alfred to More and His School: An Extract from the Introduction to Nicholas Harpsfield's Life of Sir Thomas More

On the Continuity of English Prose from Alfred to More and His School: An Extract from the Introduction to Nicholas Harpsfield's Life of Sir Thomas More

On the Continuity of English Prose from Alfred to More and His School: An Extract from the Introduction to Nicholas Harpsfield's Life of Sir Thomas More

On the Continuity of English Prose from Alfred to More and His School: An Extract from the Introduction to Nicholas Harpsfield's Life of Sir Thomas More

Excerpt

I. THE FIRST ENGLISH BIOGRAPHERS.

NICHOLAS HARPSFIELD, says Lord Acton, was "the most eminent Catholic who, in 1559, neither obeyed the Act of Uniformity nor took shelter from its penalties in flight." This eminent Englishman was the writer of a book which has a claim to be the first scholarly biography extant in English, and the subject of that biography was, in the judgement of Dean Swift, a person "of the greatest virtue this kingdom ever produced."

Dr. Furnivall said long ago that the Lives of the Sinners, if we could get them, would be better worth editing for the Early English Text Society than the Lives of the Saints. Yet, little as we care to read about Saints, it is surprising that this is the first edition issued to the world1 of a book which can claim so important a place in the history of English literature.

We can grant this important place to Harpsfield's Life, without any disrespect to Roper or to Cavendish, who were writing simultaneously2 with him. A full biography is one thing; the memoir, in which a personal adherent records so much of his hero's life as he . . .

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