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There is always this advantage in contending with illustrious adversaries, that the combatant is equally immortalized by conquest or defeat. He that dies by the sword of a hero will always be mentioned, when the acts of his enemy are mentioned. The man, of whose life the following account is offered to the publick, was, indeed, eminent among his own party, and had qualities, which, employed in a good cause, would have given him some claim to distinction; but no one is now so much blinded with bigotry, as to imagine him equal either to Hammond or Chillingworth; nor would his memory, perhaps, have been preserved, had he not, by being conjoined with illustrious names, become the object of publick curiosity.

Francis Cheynel was born in 1608, at Oxford [55], where his father, Dr. John Cheynel, who had been fellow of Corpus Christi college, practised physick with great reputation. He was educated in one of the grammar schools of his native city, and, in the beginning of the year 1623, became a member of the university.

It is probable, that he lost his father when he was very young; for it appears, that before 1629, his mother had married Dr. Abbot, bishop of Salisbury, whom she had likewise buried. From this marriage he received great advantage; for his mother, being now allied to Dr. Brent, then warden of Merton college, exerted her interest so vigorously, that he was admitted there a probationer, and afterwards obtained a fellowship [56].

Having taken the degree of master of arts, he was admitted to orders, according to the rites of the church of England, and held a curacy near Oxford, together with his fellowship. He continued in his college, till he was qualified, by his years of residence, for the degree of bachelor of divinity, which he attempted to take in 1641, but was denied his grace [57], for disputing concerning predestination, contrary to the king’s injunctions.

This refusal of his degree he mentions in his dedication to his account of Mr. Chillingworth: “Do not conceive that I snatch up my pen in an angry mood, that I might vent my dangerous wit, and ease my overburdened spleen; no, no, I have almost forgotten the visitation of Merton college, and the denial of my grace, the plundering of my house, and little library: I know when, and where, and of whom, to demand satisfaction for all these injuries and indignities. I have learnt ‘centum plagas Spartana nobilitate concoquere.’ I have not learnt how to plunder others of goods, or living, and make myself amends by force of arms. I will not take a living which belonged to any civil, studious, learned delinquent; unless it be the much-neglected commendam of some lordly prelate, condemned by the known laws of the land, and the highest court of the kingdom, for some offence of the first magnitude.”

It is observable, that he declares himself to have almost forgot his injuries and indignities, though he recounts them with an appearance of acrimony, which is no proof that the impression is much weakened; and insinuates his design of demanding, at a proper time, satisfaction for them.

These vexations were the consequence rather of the abuse of learning, than the want of it; no one that reads his works can doubt that he was turbulent, obstinate, and petulant; and ready to instruct his superiours, when he most needed instruction from them. Whatever he believed (and the warmth of his imagination naturally made him precipitate in forming his opinions) he thought himself obliged to profess; and what he professed he was ready to defend, without that modesty which is always prudent, and generally necessary, and which, though it was not agreeable to Mr. Cheynel’s temper, and, therefore, readily condemned by him, is a very useful associate to truth, and often introduces her, by degrees, where she never could have forced her way by argument or declamation.