IN the literary reminiscences of De Quincey there is a very tantalizing reference to the habits and residence of the Ferrar family, and one is tempted to ask who they were, so very little is commonly known of them. He says, in speaking of a friend’s; house: “Often from the storms and uproars of this world I have looked back upon this most quiet and I believe most innocent abode (had I said saintly I should hardly have erred), connecting it in thought with Little Gidding, the famous mansion of the Ferrars, an interesting family in the reigns of James I. and Charles I. For many years it was the rule at Gidding, and it was the wish of the Ferrars to have transmitted that practice through succeeding centuries, that a musical or cathedral service should be going on at every hour of night or day in the chapel of the mansion. Let the traveller, at what hour he would, morning or evening, summer or winter, and in what generation or century soever, happen to knock at the gate of Little Gidding, it was the purpose of Nicholas Ferrar— a sublime purpose — that always he should hear the blare of the organ, sending upwards its surging volumes of melody, God’s worship forever proceeding, anthems of praise forever ascending, and jubilates echoing without end or known beginning. One stream of music, in fact, never intermitting, one vestal fire of devotional praise and thanksgiving, was to connect the beginnings with the ends of generations, and to link one century into another.” And Mr. De Quincey says of the motive of this singular devotion and dedication of an entire family to this mode of life: “ 1 fancy the whole may be explained from the cause which may be deseried through a distance of two centuries as weighing heavily upon the Ferrars; namely, the dire monotony of daily life, when visited by no irritations either of hope or fear, no hopes from ambition, no fears from poverty.”
Unfortunately, biographies or notices of the Ferrar family and Nicholas Ferrar, who was the founder of the establishment at Gidding, are very rare, for, as pictures of a peculiar and devout family, and the time in which they lived, worshipped, and praised God in their eccentric fashion, they would be of real interest. In those few notices we have there is the usual diversity of opinion that such a marked character creates, expressed by the different writers about Nicholas Ferrar. Carlyle, in a brief sketch which we shall again refer to, calls him “a dark man, who acquired something of the Jesuit in his foreign travels.” Masson, in his life of Milton, speaks highly of Ferrar, and connects his name intimately with that of his friend George Herbert. Walton, in his life of Herbert, mentions Ferrar, and says, “ He got the reputation of being called St Nicholas at the age of six years.” Gough harshly and unjustly calls him “ an useless enthusiast.”
At the time of Ferrar’s birth the church had enjoyed a long and glorious period of comparative safety and ease. The religious agitations of the preceding reign were quieted, the fires of Smithfield lost their fatal frequency, and the stormy time of the Reformation was succeeded by a time of peace and security. “ It was the glory of the first ten years of Elizabeth’s reign that no English blood had been shed on the scaffold or in the field for a public quarrel, whether civil or religious.” But in “ the latter part of her reign the Commons began to assert their strength,” the Queen and Commons here beginning to be at issue. Prerogative and privilege were giving indications that the time was approaching when they would come in actual conflict. There was a temper growing up amongst the people, which, if it appeared feeble when compared with the ancient feuds between the sovereign and the aristocracy, was to some acute observers the little cloud which foretold the coming tempest.” Cecil, in 1569, complained of the “ decay of obedience in civil policy, which being compared with the fearfulness and reverence of all inferior estates to their superiors in times past, will astonish any wise and considerate person to behold the desperation of reformation.” It was to the turbulent and restless representatives of the people that that ancient coquette, the queen, gave her famous answer in reply to the petition of the Commons, that she would marry ; she said, “Were I to tell you that I do not mean to marry, I might say less than I did intend; and were I to tell you that I do mean to marry, I might say more than it is proper for you to know ; therefore I give you an answer ANSWERLESS.” In the Augustan age, so called, of Elizabeth, there shone that glorious galaxy of stars in the firmament of literature, Shakespeare, Bacon, Jonson, Sidney, Raleigh, and a host of minor writers ; then lived Burleigh, the acknowledged head, by character as well as by office, of that illustrious band, whom Macaulay has termed “ the first generation of statesmen by profession that England produced.”
The reign of James was still more effectual in its power of destroying “ the divinity ” that “ doth hedge a king”; and with the reign of Charles we find the first great commoners of English history, Milton, Cromwell, Pym, Hampden, Selden, and numbers of intelligent republicans. “ The divine right of kings ” to govern wrongly was fully exemplified in the reign of James, who was always under the dominion of a favorite chosen for the most trivial reasons ; generally beauty of person or good address were enough to delight him. One of his favorites, Sir James Hay, created Earl of Carlisle, called the “ Scottish Heliogabalus ” and “ Sardanapalus,” first won the king’s favor by giving him “a most rare and costly feast”; with him James frequently gormandized. According to one writer, on the occasion of the visit of the queen’s brother, James got so drunk with King Christian, that “his Brittanic Majesty was obliged to be carried to bed.” Another speaks of him as “ keeping sometimes a decent state with his family, but more frequently listening to the ribaldry of unworthy favorites, beating his servants, and swearing and cursing habitually, in spite of the statute under which common people could not have that diversion without paying twelve pence to the relief of the poor.” His sycophants and flatterers had very little respect for him. “ Steenie,” the Duke of Buckingham, in answer to a letter of the queen, who addressed him as “My kind Dogge,” and facetiously called the admonitions of the favorite to his royal master “lugging the sow by the ear,” wrote her, “ that in obedience to her desire, he had pulled the king’s ear till it was as long as any sow’s.” The king had nicknames for all about him, and in writing his Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, addressed him as “ My Little Beagle.”
Mr. Carlyle says of “ Somerset Ker, king’s favorite, son of the Laird of Ferniehurst, he and his extremely unedifying affairs— except as they affect the nostrils of some Cromwell of importance — do not much belong to the history of England. Carrion ought at length to be buried.” But the “ extremely unedifying affairs ” of the Court of James had much to do with the momentous events of Charles’s reign, and the disgust of the sober and religious part of the community drove vast numbers into the opposite extremes of religious asceticism. Marsden. remarks that “ in one sense the reign of James is the most religious part of our history ; for religion was then fashionable. The forms of state, the king’s speeches, the debates in Parliament, and the current literature were filled with quotations from Scripture and quaint allusions to sacred things.” With the accession of Charles, Mrs. Hutchinson says that “the face of the court was much changed in the change of the king ; the drunkenness and grossnesses of the Court of James grew out of fashion ” ; from the first, the king exhibited himself “ as temperate, chaste, and serious.” But Laud and Buckingham were the master-spirits of the reign, the first the spiritual guide, the last the temporal adviser of the new king. Knight says of the religious feeling at this period, that “ the great body of the Commons were Puritans, the holders of opinions that had been gradually strengthening from the time when King James insulted their professors. These opinions had become allied with the cause of constitutional freedom, for it was. among the High-Church party that the intemperate assertors of the divine right of kings were to be found.” Of Laud Masson says “one would fain think and speak with some respect of any man who has been beheaded, much more of one who was beheaded for a cause to which he had conscientiously devoted his life, and which thousands of his countrymen, two centuries after his death, still adhere to, still expound, still uphold, albeit with the difference, incalculable to themselves, of all that time has flung between.” But it is impossible to like or admire Laud. The nearer we get to him the more all soft illusion falls off, and the more distinctly we have before us the hard reality, as D’Ewes and others saw it, of a “little, low, red-faced man bustling by the side of the king of the narrow forehead and the melancholy Vandyke air,” the “ martyr ” of the Cavaliers, the “man ” Charles Stuart of the Roundheads.
Laud, who was virtually the Primate of all England, as Archbishop Abbot had been suspended from his duties, was strongly imbued with the love of ceremonial worship, which had been gradually failing during the reign of James. He introduced in the performance of the divine service those ceremonial observances which were offensive to those who dreaded a revival of popery in copes and candlesticks, prayers towards the east, and bowings to the altar ; for he held that the communion-table was to be regarded as an altar, and as such permanently fixed altar-wise at the east end of the chancel, instead of, as was commonly the case, being “a joined table,” to be laid up in the chancel during the time it was not in use, and placed in the body of the church when used. All these and many other points did Laud insist on, and feel that they added to the beauty and sanctity of worship, or as he himself constantly expresses it, “the beauty of holiness.” Knight says, “We know little at the present day of the somewhat unchristian spirit engendered by differences about ceremonies. It is an odious blemish upon the narrative of Hume, our most popular historian, that whenever he encounters a strong instance of religious zeal in the Puritans he exclaims, ' Hypocrisy.’ It is an almost equal fault of other writers, that they regard the desire, however ill-regulated, to invest the performance of religious rites with some of the decent order and even pomp of the earlier churches, as mere superstition and idol worship.” There was a man who made his first speech in the session of 1629, whom it was once the fashion to regard as the archhypocrite of his times. Hume calls him “fanatical hypocrite,” and Sir Philip Warwick wrote of him as “ a gentleman very ordinarily apparelled, for it was a plain cloth suit, which seemed to have been made by an ill country tailor”; but the plain gentleman with his countenance swollen and reddish, his voice sharp and untunable, had, according to thesame observer, an “eloquence full of fervor,” and Carlyle says of Cromwelf “ that he believed in God, not on Sundays only, but on all days, in all places, and in all cases.” Milton had intended to enter the Church, Masson says of his change of sentiment: “ To the Church as it was governed by Laud, and as it seemed likely to be governed by Laud or others for many years to come, it was impossible for him honestly to belong, and yet there were other fine and pure spirits of that day who were positively attracted into the Church by that which repelled him from its doors. At the very time when Milton was renouncing the Church as his profession, his senior, Herbert, with death’s gate shining nearer and nearer before him, was finding his delight in her services and praise. Nor is Herbert the only instance of a man of fine character actually led into a closer connection with the ecclesiastical system of England than might otherwise have been, by Laud’s personal influence or the influence of his system.” And he notes among others “the famous case of Nicholas Ferrar and his family.”
One of the earliest biographers of Ferrar, Dr. Peckard of Cambridge, says that his sketch of his life contains “ only the private virtues of a private man ; of a man indued indeed with abilities to have adorned the highest station, but of humility hardly to be found in the lowest; of a man devoting himself as it were from the very infancy to the adoration of God, and persisting with unremitted ardor in that solemn dedication of his faculties to the last moment of his life.” He inherited perhaps some of the spirit of his ancestor Bishop Ferrar, who, after his condemnation to the stake, said,“ “If you see me stir in the fire, believe not the doctrine I have taught.” And as he said so he right well performed the same. “ For so patiently he stood that he never moved.” Nicholas Ferrar, the father, was a London merchant and “of high repute in the city, of liberal hospitality, but governed his family with great order.” His house was the resort of many of the adventurous spirits of the age, — Hawkins, Drake, Raleigh, and others, —who braved the dangers of the deep at that time so little explored, prompted either by love of gain or the spirit of enterprise. Mr. Ferrar married Mary Wodenoth, who was of an old and respected family. She was well esteemed in her day; Bishop Lindsel said of her, that he “knew no woman superior to her in eloquence, true judgment, or wisdom, and that few were equal to her in charity towards man or piety towards God.”
His parents were devout and pious people and brought up a large family, six of whom lived to a good age; the rest died in infancy. We are told that “ they did not spoil the children by absolutely sparing the rod,” but they were constantly trained in virtue and religion, and all the needful accomplishments of the time. It was a maxim of the parents that, being trained in virtue, “ they would rather give them a good education without wealth, than wealth without a good education.” Nicholas, the third son of this worthy couple, was born in February, 1592. He is described as “ a beautiful child of a fair complexion, and light colored hair.” At the age of four he was sent to school, and at five could repeat with propriety and grace a chapter in the Bible ; he showed, even at that early age, uncommon brightness and strength of mind ; the Bible and Fox’s “Book of Martyrs” were his favorite studies. He was of a grave and serious turn of mind, and early disdained all things that savored of worldly vanity. “When bands were being made for the children, he earnestly entreated his mother that his might not have any lace upon them, like those of his brother, but be made little and plain, like those of Mr. Wotton (a learned divine), ‘for I wish to be a preacher as he is.’ ” In short, he was a small miracle of learning and virtue and a kind of infant prodigy. At the age of six we are informed that, “being unable to sleep one night, a fit of scepticism seized his mind and gave him the greatest perplexity and uneasiness. He doubted whether there was a God, and if there was, what was the most acceptable mode of serving him. In extreme grief he rose at midnight, cold and frosty, and went down to a grass-plat in the garden, where he stood a long time sad and pensive, musing upon this great doubt.” At last he decided, “ there must be a God,” and probably returned to his little bed, nearly frozen by his midnight excursion in search of truth, a colder and a wiser child.
At the age of fourteen he was admitted a Pensioner of Clare Hall, Cambridge, and his application and diligence were such that it was observed his room “ might be known by the candle that was last put out at night and the first lighted in the morning.” In his second year he became a fellowCommoner, and later was elected to a Fellowship. He was intensely devoted to study,and his constitution, naturally delicate, was much injured by his incessant application. He was very subject to “aguish disorders,” and the physician whom he consulted told him, “ You must henceforth deal with this disorder when it comes to you as men do with beggars, — when they have a mind to disuse them of their houses, give them nothing, but let them go as they came.” He grew worse, and it was advised that he should travel, both as a means of improving his health by change of air, and to remove him from his excessive studies. He had the good fortune to be permitted to join the retinue of the Princess Elizabeth, called by her mother in derision “ Goody Palsgrave,” who, with her husband the Elector Palatinate, was to depart for Germany. At the time he left Cambridge he had been seven years there, and won the regard of all who knew him. He waited on the Princess at court, to kiss her hand, habited “not in the garb of a scholar, but as a gentleman in waiting on her.” We are told, “ he took no delight in these gay garments, but wore them from sense of duty.”
The royal party sailed, and Ferrar found his health much benefited by the sea air; arrived in Holland, the party was received with great honors everywhere, wanting “no marks of due respect and notice.” In the different towns we are told that Mr. Ferrar visited the meeting-houses of the Brownists, Anabaptists, and other dissenters, “ at all which times he noted their errors, and greatly confirmed himself in his own opinions.” One of his remarks will strike the reader oddly at the present day. He states that the Dutch ships were formed with more advantages for speedy sailing than those of England, At Amsterdam Mr. Ferrar left the retinue of the Princess, as he wished to take a different route ; he made an extensive tour of Germany, remaining at each place some time, observing the manners and studying the language of the people. He passed from Germany into Italy, where he remained for a time, and went to Rome, but with a great many precautions, as if it was a dangerous undertaking. Leaving Italy he went to Marseilles, where he had a violent fever ; recovering from it, he returned to Venice with a friend who came from there to attend him in his fever, and thence sailed for Spain in an English vessel; on their passage they were pursued by a Turkish pirate, but happily escaped and reached Spain in safety. After a time, as he received no remittance from his father, who was not aware of his arrival in Spain, he resolved to return home and to travel on foot to St. Sebastian, with “many a weary step,” and after encountering some dangers and discomforts, he accomplished it ; he travelled rapier in hand, and was thought by those who met him to be a young Italian soldier on his way to join Spinola in the Low Countries. He took ship from St. Sebastian, and landed at Dover, after an absence of five years, thence he hastened to London. He found that his father and his brother John were deeply engaged in the ventures and settlement of the Virginia Company, which had planted its first Colony in 1608, more as a commercial speculation than from any love of the religious liberty that founded the Colony to which the worthy George Herbert alluded, when he penned the lines, —
Ready to pass to the American strand.”
The meetings of the company were held at Mr. Ferrar’s house till the forced dissolution of the company by King James. Shortly after his return Nicholas was offered the position of Geometry Reader in Gresham College, London, which he declined, praying them to appoint “ some more worthy person.” Spain had for some time used all her influence to prevent the growth and continuance of the English settlements in America, and through Gondomar, her wily ambassador, she made many efforts to ruin the Virginia Company. At this juncture Nicholas Ferrar became connected with the management of the company ; of the management it was said that “ Lord Southampton, the governor, was celebrated for wisdom, eloquence, and sweet deportment; Sir Edwin Sandys for great knowledge and integrity, and Nicholas Ferrar for wonderful abilities, unwearied diligence, and the strictest virtue.” It will seem strange to the reader that, with the strong religious bent of character Ferrar showed, he never carried out the plan he appears to have entertained at this time, of going to the New World as a missionary to “ the infidel natives.” Mr. Ferrar, the father, who died in 1620, left the sum of three hundred pounds for the erection of a college in Virginia for the education of “such infidel children as should be there converted to the Christian religion.”
In 1622 Nicholas Ferrar succeeded his brother John as deputy-governor of the company, Lord Southampton declaring that, if he was not elected, “ he could not any longer take the office of governor upon him ; he was the only person who was able to go through with the business.” About this time the Spanish match was proposed, and the king, always easily led, was entirely at the beck and call of Spain. James’s foreign policy was as short-sighted and narrow as his domestic government, and the same hand that attempted to check the growth of London, saying that the new buildings were but a shelter for those who, when they had spent their estates in coaches, lackeys, and fine clothes, like Frenchmen, lived miserably in their houses, like Italians, would have destroyed the colonies in America, and did withhold aid from the cause of Protestantism in Germany. The Virginia Company, after suffering great annoyance and oppression, finally lost its charter at the instigation of Gondomar, and his persuasions were so effectual that James entirely disregarded the call made by his son-in-law the winter könig of Bohemia as the Germans call him, for assistance from England.
Simond d’Ewes, a shrewd, observant, quick-eyed youth of eighteen, was among “ that greatest concourse and throng of people that hath been seen,” who on a day of ill omen to the Stuart saw the Parliament of 1621 opened by the king, who rode amid great magnificence to the Abbey, and singling out for recognition only the wife and mother of Buckingham ; he saw him nod and speak particularly to Gondomar, and he “spake often and lovingly to the people, standing thick and threefold on all sides to behold him, ' God bless ye ! God bless ye ! ’ contrary to his former hasty and passionate custom, which often in his sudden distemper would bid a ‘pox’ or a ‘plague’ seize on those who flocked to see him.” All of which he says “ were accounted something remarkable.” Forster says of the king: “He had probably never seen the English people with such an expression as they carried on their faces then. Sympathy and hope were there. There had not been a Parliament for nigh seven years, and what but a Parliament could effectually help those brave Protestant hearts over the sea.” But its subsidies could not save the Palatinate or reinstate the titular king of Bohemia and his “ queen of hearts,” though it had a great work to do, and did it in that brave Protestation which was so warmly debated when an old courtier wrote, “Such heat within, and the Thames impassable without for frost and cold.” The House would gladly then have helped the king to repair the fatal error into which he fell when he at first declined to help his son-in-law, and so deluged Europe with the blood of the Thirty Years’ War. One of its members, in a fervent speech, said, “The passing bell was now tolling for religion, but as for one dying, not yet dead.” A writer of the present day says, “ Never had the Stuarts any such chance of leading the army of the Protestant Union. It was the tide in their affairs they then missed forever, and only shallows and shipwreck remained for them.” Crewe said, as with a premonition of all that awaited the familyon the throne through “many and many” generations from one fatal obstinacy, he “ wondered to see the spiritual madness of such as would fall in love with the Romish harlot now she was grown so old a hag.” In Flanders they presented in their comedies “ messengers bringing news that England was ready to send a hundred thousand ambassadors to the assistance of the Palatinate, and they depicted the king in one place with a scabbard without a sword ; in another place, with a sword that nobody could draw, though divers persons stood pulling at it.” At last the king had got rid of his Parliament with “ its fiery popular and turbulent spirits ” duly punished, and he hoped that the Spanish match might be successfully completed.
Now that the Spanish had gained what they desired by the glittering bait of an Infanta, they were in no haste to settle matters, and in reality the Infanta was already promised to Ferdinand, son of the Emperor of Germany, whom she afterwards married. “ And now behold a strange adventure and enterprise,” says Rushworth ; which is the wild journey taken by Prince Charles and Viliiers soon to be made Duke of Buckingham. “ After much bitter crying on the king’s part ‘baby’ Charles is given over to ‘dog Steenie,’ who then dries the eyes of his dear ‘dad’ and ‘gossip.’” The two Mr. Smiths, for so they called themselves, reached Madrid, and after a little while the favorite writes that, “if he ever gets hold of the king’s bedpost again, he means never to quit it.” All England rejoiced at their return without the Infanta, and one writer says of it, “ The Prince hath got a beard, and is cheerful“ Not so the Duke, who had signally failed in bis treaty for the marriage of the Prince. It was too late, however, to save the Virginia Company, which had been broken up after a long and able defence of it by its managers, among whom was Ferrar, who had acquired in the business a good reputation as an able, judicious, and worthy man. After the reading of the papers of the company before the Privy Council, it being known that they were written by Mr. Ferrar, one of the Lords said to him, “That these papers before us are the production of one pen is very plainly discernible ; they are jewels that all come out of one rich cabinet, of which we have undoubted reason to believe you are the true possessor.” So highly was he esteemed that a rich and influential citizen came to him at this time, and offered him his daughter, of whom he said, “It is confessed by all that she is very beautiful. I know her to have been virtuously educated, to be well accomplished, and of an amiable disposition. If you will be pleased to accept of her as your wife, I will immediately give you with her ten thousand pounds.” Mr. Ferrar modestly rejoined that he was “ not worthy of so great a treasure.” After an interview with the young lady, whom he spoke of as “far superior to all that I can merit,” he informed her father that he had long determined on a single life ; and his biographer says that “the father ever after preserved the most affectionate friendship for Mr. Ferrar.” Marriage at that time was made a matter of bargain, and if there was any failure in the contract on either side the engagement was often broken; it was not thought strange for a father to offer his son or daughter in this way.
Mr. Ferrar was elected a member of the Parliament of 1624. “There was a peculiar propriety in his election at this time, as there was an intention to call to account before the House those persons who had abused the king’s ear, and been guilty of those violent enormities in the false accusation of the managers of the Virginia Company.” The king remonstrated more forcibly than elegantly with Buckingham as to the wisdom of this course, saying, “ By God, Steenie, you are a fool ; you are making a rod for your own back.” In vain he warned both his son and the Duke that they would live to see their bellies full of parliamentary impeachments. Nicholas Ferrar was one of the committee appointed by the House to impeach the Lord Treasurer Cranfield, Earl of Middlesex, for his extortionate conduct in taking bribes and “being inflamed with passion'’ in the trial of the Virginia Company. Forster says, “ Nicholas Ferrar, a very conscientious person, was certainly one of his ardent accusers ” ; and as a member of the committee he made a speech which lasted two hours, gaining him universal admiration. The result of the proceedings was the imprisonment of the Lord Treasurer, who was heavily fined and lost his office ; the king released him from his confinement as soon as he thought it prudent. Coke, himself disgraced by the king, said of the trial, “ O, parliaments work wonderful things ; it was to no purpose my lord began to cast his circle and fall to his conjuring. Better he had not left his shopboard.” As it was said of an earlier Parliament,
A subsidy granted, the Parliament ended ! ”
And with it ended the public life of Ferrar, who then carried into execution the plan he had long cherished of bidding farewell to the world and spending the remainder of his days in religious retirement.
We venture to differ with Mr. De Quincey as to the opinion he gives of Mr, Ferrar’s motive, for it is plain that “ the dire monotony of daily life, when visited by no irritations either of hope or fear, no hopes from ambition, no fears from poverty,” could hardly have caused the retirement of a man who had been distinguished in his university, and left it full of honors, to travel over Europe, visiting in turn the great continental seats of learning of Leipsic, Prague, Padua, whose erudition he added to that he already had ; and on his return filled various places of honor and trust, ending his public career with the dissolution of the Parliament of 1624, of which he was an active and respected member, valued alike for his probity, good judgment, and knowledge of the world. Neither do we entirely agree with the inference drawn by Mr. Carlyle from the record of a visit of one whom he calls “ An Anonymous Person,” but whose letter describing the establishment of Nicholas Ferrar is addressed to a legal friend and signed in full, Edward Lenton. And at the request of Mr. John Ferrar Mr. Lenton sends him a copy of it, with another letter to Ferrar added. Mr. Carlyle infers that the Ferrars adopted their retired mode of life as a means of obtaining a quiet and unmolested home in the troubled times that preceded the revolution of the sixteenth century; but if they were often the mark of such impertinent curiosity as that shown by Mr. Lenton, they could hardly have been gratified at the success of their establishment.
From Mr. Lenton’s letter we gain the information that he was kindly received by the Ferrars, on whom he unceremoniously intruded his presence, and freely questioned them as to their motives, commenting also very coolly on the propriety of such a mode of life. He had the rudeness to finish his conversation with Nicholas Ferrar by saying, “ Perhaps he had but assumed all this ritual mummery, in order to get a devout life led peaceably in those bad times.” Ferrar, probably not wishing to incur the ill-will of such a person, replied, “ I spake like one who seemed to have had experience of the world.” After this self-constituted inquisitor and original Paul Pry had finished his round of questions, which began with the arrangement of the Church and ended with inquiries as to their domestic economy in preparing their food, of which he says they “ never rost (any) meat ; onely boil and bake (but not in paste) that their servants may not be much hindered from their devotions.” He writes, “ It being now near twelve a clock, we ended our discourse, and I called for my horses ; hoping thereupon he would have invited me to stay (to) dinner : not that I cared for his or any man’s meat (for you had given me a dinner in too good a breakfast), but that I might have gained time to have seen and observed more of their fashions ; and whether the Virgins and younger sort would have mingled with us.” The Virgins he mentions were the seven unmarried daughters of Mrs. Collet. He had already parted with the Virgins, as he calls them, “ afar off; for I durst not come nearer, lest I should have light upon one of the Virgins ; not knowing whether they would have taken a kiss in good part or no ” ; and now he proposed to leave, “ instead of making me stay he (Ferrar) helped me to my horses ; accompanying me even to my stirrup, and so we friendly parted.”
After Mr. Ferrar had so settled all his affairs that he might easily devote himself to the object he had in view, his next care was to provide a place suitable for his purpose of retirement; he was informed that the “ Lordship of Little Gidding,” in Huntingdonshire, was to be sold; he went there and found it well suited to his purpose as far as privacy of situation, but the house “ was going hastily to decay,” and the church had been used as a barn ; he bought the place, and at once began the repairs necessary, in 1624. At this time the plague was raging in London, and Judge Whitlock says so great was the violence of it, that in “one week died five thousand persons.” Mr. Ferrar was detained in town by the settlement of his brother’s business, but persuaded his mother to leave the scene of desolation for her daughter Collet’s at Bourne Bridge, Cambridgeshire, and as soon as his business was completed he repaired to Gidding ; his mother hastened to join him there, and their meeting is described as “in its circumstances different from the modern meeting of parent and son, for he, though thirty-two years of age, who had been engaged in many public concerns of great importance, had been a distinguished member of Parliament, and had conducted with effect the prosecution of the Prime Minister of the day, at first approaching his mother, knelt upon the ground to ask and receive her blessing.” Mrs. Ferrar presently sent for her daughter Collet and her husband with their eighteen children, and her other sons and daughters, to come and live with them ; and the family, including servants, consisted of about forty persons, who henceforth devoted themselves to the exercises of religion for which they were noted. All the members of the establishment were bound to celibacy as long as they remained in it. Nicholas Ferrar, in order to carry out his plans better, was ordained a deacon by Archbishop Laud, and when his influential friends offered him benefices of great value he steadily refused them, saying his fixed determination was “ to rise no higher in the Church than the place he now possessed, and which he had undertaken only with the view to be legally authorized to give spiritual assistance, according to his abilities, to his family or others with whom he might be concerned.” His biographer gives rather a tedious description of the arrangement of the house and church, of which it is sufficient to say that they “were decently furnished and ever after kept elegantly clean and neat.” Their mode of worship and life was highly approved by Williams, Bishop of Lincoln, and Laud; Williams made them several visits.
Mr. Ferrar engaged schoolmasters to reside constantly in the house for the instruction of the children of the family and others in the neighborhood, to whom free education was given. He arranged oratories for the men and women in the house, and “without doors he laid out the gardens in a beautiful manner, and formed in them many fair walks.” We have an account of the way in which they spent the day: “ They rose at four, at five went to the oratory to prayers, at six said the Psalms of the hour ; for every hour had its appointed Psalms, with some portion of the Gospel, till Mr. Ferrar had finished his Concordance, when a chapter of that work was substituted in place of that portion of the Gospel. Then they sang a short hymn, repeated some passages of Scripture, and at half past six went to church to matins; at seven said the Psalms of the hour, sang the short hymn, and went to breakfast. Then the young people repaired to their respective places of instruction ; at ten to church to the Litany; at eleven to dinner, at which season were regular readings in rotation from the Scripture, from the Book of Martyrs, and from short histories drawn up by Mr. Ferrar, and adapted to the purpose of moral instruction. Recreation was permitted till one; instruction was continued till three; church at four, for evensong ; supper at five, or sometimes six ; diversions till eight; then prayers in the oratory; and afterwards all retired to their respective apartments.” They began their night-watch, of men at one end of the house and women at the other, each watch consisting of two or more persons, at nine o'clock at night, and ended at one. “ It was agreed that each watch should in those four hours carefully and distinctly say over the whole Book of Psalms, one repeating one verse and the rest the other in turn ; that they should then pray for the life of the king and his sons. The time of their watch being ended, they went to Mr. Ferrar’s door, bade him good morrow, and left a lighted candle for him. At one he constantly rose and betook himself to religious meditation, founding this practice on an acceptation of the passage, ‘At midnight I will rise and give thanks,’ and some other passages oflike import.” He slept wrapped in a loose frieze gown, on a bear’s skin on the floor. He also watched, either in the oratory or the church, three nights in the week.
With all these religious exercises, Mr. Ferrar and his family found time for many other occupations, incredible as it may seem; they had a room especially devoted to the preparation and distribution of medicines to the sick who came there. They had another room set apart for a printing-press, in the use of which they were expert; and they likewise had learned the art of book-binding, and bound their own books. Mr. Ferrar composed a large number of Lives, and Characters of distinguished persons, and moral essays, for the use of the family. He translated from an Italian copy the “Hundred and Ten Considerations ” of Valdesso, a book which he met with in his travels, and he compiled a Concordance or Harmony of the Evangelists, which required more than a year for the composition. Most of these works were destroyed by a party of fanatics who visited Little Gidding after his death. “These military zealots, in the rage of what they called reformation, ransacked both the house and church ; in doing which they expressed a particular spite against the organ. This they broke in pieces, and thereat roasted several of Mr. Ferrar’s sheep, which they had killed.” This done, they seized all the plate, furniture, and provisions which they could carry ; and in this general destruction perished those works of Mr. Nicholas Ferrar, which merited a better fate.
In 1633 King Charles, on his way to Scotland, drawn by curiosity to view the establishment at Little Gidding, which was called by the common people the Protestant Nunnery, “ stepped a little out of his road,” and was met by the family, who conducted him over their house and church, with all of which he seemed much pleased ; and the next summer, when he was at Apethorp, the seat of the Earl of Westmoreland, he sent a gentleman from there to “ entreat a sight of the Concordance,” which he had heard was done at Gidding, and it was sent him ; he retained it some months, sending it to them with notes by himself, and begged of them a copy for his own use. This they completed in about a year’s time, and it was bound by one of the nieces, Mrs. Collet’s daughter, in rich velvet wrought in gold, in a most new and elegant fashion. The king was delighted with it, and requested a “ Harmony of the Books of Kings and Chronicles ” ; and on receiving it, said, “ it was a fit mirror for a king’s daily inspection.” Charles, fleeing from Oxford to the Scotch army, remembered the worthy people of Little Gidding, and threw himself on their protection for assistance ; he was taken by Mr. John Ferrar to a place where he might safely pass the night, as their house was deemed a suspected place, from their known loyalty.
Nicholas Ferrar, who from his youth was of a delicate and feeble constitution, had greatly weakened it by his austerities, and he did not long survive his aged mother, who died at the advanced age of eighty-three. He grew constantly weaker, and breathed his last December 2, 1637. On his death-bed he predicted something of the terrible times that so soon followed ; he said to his brother, “ Sad times are coming on, very sad times indeed ; you will live to see them. O my brother ! I pity you, who must see these dreadful alterations. And in this great trial may God of his infinite mercy support and deliver you.” Izaak Walton, in his Life of Herbert, gives a touching account of Mr. Ferrar’s sending a friend to inquire for the health of Mr. Herbert, who was then very ill, and lived but a short time. By the friend he sent to Ferrar his poem of “ The Temple,” asking him to burn it if he did not think it worthy to be printed. Mr. Ferrar wrote the preface to it and had it published. He lived only a little time after his friend’s death.
The real solution of the cause of the remarkable devotion of the Ferrars seems to have been their love of a secluded and religious life ; and Nicholas, who had resisted many persuasions to come into communion with the Roman Church, and continued “ eminent for his obedience to his mother, the Church of England,” evidently felt that Church had parted with some of that ceremonial observance and the conventual discipline that has so great attractions for some minds. There are a few notable instances of retirement from the world, among others those of the Emperor Charles V., and John Valdesso, but Ferrar did not wait till life had lost its charms for him and he was in declining years, though Mr. Herbert quaintly said of him he had seen the “manners and vanities of the world and found them to be ‘a nothing between two dishes.’ ” Such a man can hardly with propriety be called a useless enthusiast, for his pious example may be of great benefit in the hurry and bustle of the world. The large number of children trained by the family, and the poor and sick they cared for, attest to the fact that if they forsook the world and its vanities, they certainly retained a lively sense of the ignorance, want, and suffering which always abound. These lines in Cowper’s Task seem very appropriate to the character of Ferrar : —
Though more sublimely, he o’erlooks the world.
She scorns his pleasures, for she knows them not:
He seeks not hers, for he has found them vain.
Not slothful he, though seeming unemployed,
And censured oft as useless.
The man whose virtues are more felt than seen.
Must drop indeed the Hope of Public Praise;
Bt he may boast what few who win it can,
That if his country stand not by his skill,
At least, his follies have not wrought her fall.”
G. A. E.