Friday, November 6, 2009

Puritan-Knaves and Knave-Puritans

In 1619, James Ussher traveled to England for the first time and met with King James I. The king's reception for the scholar was cool, based on reports from his enemies which painted him as a Puritan, because of his relationship to the 1615 Irish Articles, but after their first conference, the king is reported to have said, "Usher was a bishop of his own making; and that, although indeed the knave puritan was a bad man, the knave's puritan was an honest man." In other words, according to the king, reports of Ussher's Puritanism, which would be bad if true, were exaggerated; that is, "Puritans are knaves, and therefore bad. Ussher is only a Puritan according to some knaves, in actual fact he is honest" (Jack Cunningham, James Ussher and John Bramhall: The Theology and Politics of Two Irish Ecclesiastics of the Seventeenth Century, p. 12). The king soon afterwards nominated him as Bishop of Meath, and he would go on to serve as Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of all Ireland. Puritan or not, regardless of the king's assessment, Ussher is remembered today as a godly bishop from an age of corrupt and ungodly prelacy.

Among the poetic works of John Taylor (1578/1580-1653) -- who called himself the "the king's water-poet and the queen's water-man," on account of his labors as a waterman on the River Thames, and was evangelically-minded though a Royalist devoted to the Established Church -- is a clever poem which takes up this expression of King James and distinguishes more properly between Puritan-Knaves ("the pious man or woman mocked by the profane") and Knave-Puritans (the "hypocritical rogue," B.S. Capp, The World of John Taylor the Water-Poet, 1578-1653, p. 138), A Swarm of Sectaries and Schismatics (1641), in Works of John Taylor, The Water Poet, Vol. 4, p. 33:

The ods or difference betwixt the Knaves Puritan, and the Knave

And first of the Knaves Puritan.

HE that resists the world, the flesh, and Fiend,
And makes a conscience how his days he spend
Who hates excessive drinking, Drabs and Dice,
And (in his heart) hath God in highest price;
That lives conformable to Law, and State,
Nor from the Truth will fly or separate:
That will not swear, or couzen, cogge, or lie,
But strives (in Gods fear) how to live and die :
He that seeks thus to do the best he can,
He is the Knaves abused Puritan.

The Knave Puritan.

HE whose best good, is only good to seem,
And seeming holy, gets some false esteem:
Who makes Religion hide Hypocrisy,
And zeal to cover cheating villany;
Whose purity (much like the devils Ape)
Can shift himself into an Angels shape,
And play the Rascal most devoutly trim,
Not caring who sinks, so himself may swim:
He's the Knave Puritan, and only He,
Makes the Knaves Puritan abus'd to be.

For (in this life) each man his lot must take,
Good men must suffer wrong for bad mens' sake.

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