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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

XVII. The Marprelate Controversy

§ 5. The Epistle and The Epitome

Leaving general considerations, we may now turn and briefly observe the main characteristics of each tract. The Epistle, intended, as its lengthy and amusing title implies, as an introduction to a forthcoming epitome of the dean of Sarum’s apologetic, was, as we have seen, largely based on John Field’s notes. It consists, therefore, for the most part, of those anecdotes relating to the bishops’ private lives which are usually considered Martin’s chief stock-in-trade, but which appear, in reality, very rarely in the later tracts. Some of them were, no doubt, untrue, and many were exaggerations of innocent incidents unworthy of mention. Naturally enough, too, they principally concerned those prelates who had made themselves particularly obnoxious to the puritans, chief of whom were Whitgift of Canterbury, Aylmer of London and Cooper of Winchester. Besides this scandal, The Epistle contains many references to the grievances of the puritans, special attention being paid to the cases of Penry, Waldegrave and Udall, the last of whom admitted under examination, in 1590, that certain notes of his, concerning the archdeacon of Surrey and a usurer at Kingston, had found their way, without his knowledge, into the tract. Yet, whatever the origin of the materials, they are treated consistently throughout in one vein, and no one reading The Epistle can doubt that its author was a single individual and not a puritan syndicate.

It is not possible to speak with the same certainty of The Epitome, in which Martin undertakes the trouncing of Bridges promised in The Epistle. It contains some of those serious passages before mentioned, in which it is open for critics to see a second hand at work, though it would be difficult, on such a hypothesis, to decide in every case where Martin left off and his collaborator began. The tract sets out on its title-page, which is practically identical with that of The Epistle, to be an epitome of the first book of Bridges; but, as before suggested, it is doubtful whether Martin ever seriously intended to do more than play with the worthy dean. A few extracts are quoted from his book and ridiculed, or, occasionally, answered, in the quasi-logical fashion that is one of the characteristics of Martin’s style; but a larger portion of the tract is, in reality, devoted to Aylmer, bishop of London. This prelate was considered a renegade by the puritans and was, accordingly, even more in disfavour with them than Whitgift. As has been seen, Aylmer had written a book in reply to Knox’s First Blast of the Trumpet. In this, he had found occasion to inveigh against the worldliness and wealth of the Marian bishops, and even to imply disapproval of their civil authority. It was easy to turn such words against their unlucky author, now comfortably ensconced in the see of London and wielding the civil authority against the puritans; and Martin made the most of his opportunity. For the rest, The Epitome exhibits the same characteristics as its predecessor, though it more frequently lapses into a serious vein. There is one fresh touch of humour that is worth notice. The tract contains on the last page some errata, the nature of which may best be gathered from the first, which begins “Wheresoever the prelates are called my Lords … in this Epitome, take that for a fault.”