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the title of “Seven Motives for his Conversion," an attempt which was not easily pardoned in those days of polemical irritation. “ Dr. Alabaster,” says one of his adversaries on this occasion, “who published in 1598, by means of private conference with a certain seminary priest, whom in prison he laboured to convert, was by the same priest perverted, so that of a perfect protestant, hee is nowe become an absolute papist, and is for the same imprisoned.”
The controversy to which this defection gave rise, occupied his time for some years, and in 1604 brought upon him an antagonist of the first reputation in his day as a scholar and divine, Dr. William Bedell, afterwards bishop of Kilmore, who wrote an answer to a work which Alabaster had published in defence of his new tenets under the title of “ Four Demands.”+
* “ A Booke of the Seven Planets, or Seven Wandring Motives of William Alabaster's wit, retrograded or removed by John Racster. Melius est claudicare in via quam currere extra viam. August, at London, printed by Peter Short, for Andrew Wise, dwelling in Paule's Church-yard, at the signe of the Angell, 1598. 4to. 47 leaves.” — Vide British Bibliographer, vol. i. p. 543.
t “ Among the Lambeth manuscripts (No. 772.),” says Mr. Todd, “ there is a valuable and curious work, entitled
Whether the arguments of bishop Bedell, or his own further researches, brought about his reconversion, is not known; but shortly after this period, he discovered more motives for returning into the bosom of his mother-church, than he had ever done for quitting it.
Promotion rapidly followed his re-union with the protestant cause, for his talents both as a scholar and a theologian were too well known, and too highly estimated to be suffered to lie dormant for want of due encouragement. He accepted the rectory of Thorfield in Hertfordshire, was made a prebendary of St. Paul's, and, in 1614, a Doctor of Divinity. The sermon which he preached for his Doctor's degree, had for its text, the first verse of the first chapter of the first book of Chronicles, namely, “ Adam, Seth, Enoch,” and abounded in recondite and mystical learning.
• A Defence of the Answer to Mr. Alabaster's Four Demands against a Treatise intituled The Catholick's Reply upon Bedell's Answer to Mr. Alabaster's Four Demands.' The letter at the beginning is addressed to the Worshipful and my loveing friend Mr. Ambrose Jermyn;' and is dated, Bury, this 25th February, 1604, your Worshipp's in Christ Jesus, William Bedell.'" Todd's Spenser, vol. i. p. ci..
After a life occupied to the last in literary and philosophical pursuits, Alabaster died in April, 1640, and in the 74th year of his age.
His works may be classed under the heads of philology, theology, and poetry. In the first of these departments, his “ Lexicon Pentaglotton, Hebraicum, Chaldaicum, Syriacum, &c." Folio, London, 1637, may be considered as his chief production, and ranks, without doubt, as the most elaborate of all his publications. It had engaged his attention many years, and was received by the learned world with the admiration due to the industry and erudition with which it had been manifestly constructed.
As a divine, Alabaster, from the warmth of his imagination, and his love of the wonderful and mysterious, was too much addicted to the chimeras of the Cabala, which teach that there exists not word, letter, number, or accent in the Mosaical law which has not some hidden meaning in it, and through which, if rightly interpreted, not only the genuine sense of Scripture may be clearly understood, but even the secrets of futurity unveiled; a doctrine which as Granger observes, “is admirably contrived to make the
scriptures speak any sense, or no sense at all.”
On this mystical plan of interpretation, he published in 1602, “ Tractatus in Revelationem Christi modo Cabalistico explicatam,” 4to.; and in 1621, “ Tractatus de Bestia Apocaliptica, 1 2mo. Nor are any of his theological works, indeed, free from the same erudite enthusiasm; for a similar mode of interpretation may be traced in his “ Apparatus in Revelationem Jesu Christi,” 4to. 1607, and in his “ Spiraculum Tubarum, n.d. Ecce Sponsus Venet,” 4to. 1633.
The profound oriental learning, indeed, of Alabaster, together with the assumption of a faculty which could penetrate into, and unfold the dispensations of Providence to the remotest period of time, could not fail, in an age prone to the marvellous, to make a strong impression on the minds of his contemporaries. With what faith and admiration he was looked up to, as a person gifted, in this way, with very extraordinary powers, may be learnt from the following
* Biographical History of England, vol. ii, p. 169. edit.
lines addressed to him by his ingenious and accomplished friend Robert Herrick.
TO DOCTOR ALABASTER.
Nor art thou lesse esteem'd, that I have plac'd (Amongst mine honour'd) Thee (almost) the last : In great Processions
lead the way
many To him, who is the triumph of the day, As these have done to Thee, who art the one, One only glory of a million, In whom the spirit of the Gods doth dwell, Firing thy soule, by which thou dost foretell When this or that vast Dinastæ must fall Down to a Fillit more Imperiall. When this or that Horne shall be broke, and when Others shall spring up in their place agen: When times and seasons and all yeares must lie Drown'd in the sea of wild Eternitie : When the Black Dooms-day Bookes (as yet unseal'd) Shall by the mighty Angell be revealed : And when the Trumpet which thou late hast found Shall call to judgment; tell us when the sound Of this or that great Aprill day shall be, And next the Gospell wee will credit thee: Meane time like earth-wormes we will crawle below, And wonder at Those Things that thou dost know.*
* Hesperides, or Works both Human and Divine, of Robert Herrick, Esq. ; 1648, p. 3C2.