Cheynell, Francis

, a nonconformist of some note, the son of John Cheynell a physician, was born at Oxford in 1608; and after he had been educated in grammar | learning, became a member of the university there fri 1623. When he had taken the degree of B. A. he was, by the interest of his mother, at that time the widow of Abbot, bishop of Salisbury, elected probationer fellow of Merton college in 1629. Then he went into orders, and officiated in Oxford for some time; but when the church began to be attacked in 1640, he took the parliamentarian side, and became an enemy to bishops and ecclesiastical ceremonies. He embraced the covenant, was made one of the assembly of divines in 1643, and was frequently appointed to preach before the members of parliament. He was one of those who were sent to convert the university of Oxford in 1646, was made a visitor by the parliament in 1647, and the year after took possession by force of the Margaret professorship of that university, and of the presidentship of St. John’s college. But being found an improper man for those places, he was forced to retire to the rectory of Petworth in Sussex, to which he had been presented about 1643, where he continued an useful member to his party till the time of the restoration, when he was ejected from that rich parsonage.

Dr. Cheynell (for he had taken his doctor’s degree) was a man of considerable parts and learning, and published a great many sermons and other works; but now he is chiefly memorable for his conduct to the celebrated Chillingworth, in which he betrayed a degree of bigotry that has not been defended by any of the nonconformist biographers. In 1643, when Laud was a prisoner in the Tower, there was printed by authority a book of Cheynell’s, entitled ``The rise, growth, and danger of Socinianism,‘‘ and unquestionably one of his best works. This came out about six years after Chillingworth’ s more famous work called “The Religion of Protestants,” &c. and was written, as we are told in the title-page, with a view of detecting a most horrid plot formed by the archbishop and his adherents against the pure Protestant religion. In this book the arcfrbishop, Hales of Eton, Chillingworth, and other eminent divines of those times, were strongly charged with Socinianism. The year after, 1644, when Chillingworth was dead, there came out another piece of CheyneJPs with this strange title, “Chillingworthi Novissima; or, the sickness, heresy, death and burial of William Chillingworth.” This was also printed by authority and is, as the writer of Chillingworth’s life truly observes, a most ludicrous | as well as melancholy instance of fanaticism, or religious madness. To this is prefixed a dedication to Dr. Bayly, Dr. Prideaux, Dr. Fell, &c. of the university of Oxford, who had given their imprimatur to Chillingworth’s book; in which those divines are abused not a little, for giving so much countenance to the use of reason in religious matters, as they had given by their approbation of Chillingworth’s book. After the dedication follows the relation itself; in which Cheynell gives an account how he came acquainted with this man of reason, as he calls Chillingworth; what care he took of him; and how, as his illness increased, “they remembered him in their prayers, and prayed heartily that God would be pleased to bestow saving graces as well as excellent gifts upon him; that He would give him new light and new eyes, that he might see and acknowledge, and recant his error; that he might deny his carnal reason, and submit to faith:” in all which he is supposed to have related nothing but what was true. For he is allowed by bishop Hoadly to have been as sincere, as honest, and as charitable as his religion would suffer him to be; and, in the case of Chillingworth, while he thought it his duty to consign his soul to hell, was led by his humanity to take care of his body. Chillingworth at length died; and Cheynell, though he refused, as he tells us, to bury his body, yet conceived it very fitting to bury his book. For this purpose he met Chillingworth’ s friends at the grave with his book in his hand; and, after a short preamble to the people, in which he assured them “how happy it would be for the kingdom, if this book and all its fellows could be so buried that they might never rise more, unless it were for a confutation,” he exclaimed, “Get thee gone, thou cursed book, which has seduced so many precious souls: get thee gone, thou corrupt rotten book, earth to earth, and dust: to dust get thee gone into the place of rottenness, that thou mayest rot with thy author, and see corruption.

Cheynell’s death happened in 1665, at an obscure village called Preston, in Sussex, where he had purchased an estate, to which he retired upon his being turned out of the living of Petworth. The warmth of his zeal, increased bv the turbulence of the times in which he lived, and by the opposition to which the unpopular nature of some of his employments exposed him, was at last heightened to distraction, and he was for some years disordered | in his understanding. Wood thinks that a tendency to madness was discoverable in a great part of his life; Calamy, that it was only transient and accidental, though he pleads it as an extenuation of that fury with which his kindest friends confess him to have acted on some occasions, particularly, we may add, at Oxford, when one of the parliamentary visitors, where his behaviour was savage enough to justify more than the retaliation inflicted on his party. Wood declares that he died little better than distracted; but Calamy, that he was perfectly recovered before the restoration. He had many good qualities, particularly a hospitable disposition, and a contempt for money; but his extravagant zeal marred his usefulness, and reflected no honour on his general character, or on his party. With regard, however, to his charging Chillingworth with Socinianism, that is now universally allowed. 1


From the few incidents of his life Dr. Johnson drew out an elegant narrative in 1751, now printed in his works. See also, —Ath. Ox. vol. II.—Wood’s Antiquities of Oxford, by Gutch.—Calamy.—Neal’s Puritans, &c.