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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

II. Religious Movements in the Fourteenth Century

§ 16. Wyclif’s Later Life

If we accept, as we probably should, the story told (1441) by John Horn, Wyclif’s helper at Lutterworth, to Gascoigne, it is easier to understand his life after 1382. According to Horn, he was paralysed for his last two years, and this explains much. Silence had been enjoined upon him, and silence he had to keep; he was cited to Rome (this can be no longer doubted) and he could but refuse to go; he was debilis and claudus, the Rex regum had forbidden him to travel. He could still work at his writings without openly disobeying the order to be silent; and his “poor priests” gave him a ready means of scattering them. When we read in notes to some of the MSS. of his works how they were copied in English villages by Bohemian scholars, as they moved from Oxford, to Braybrook, near Leicester, and then to Kemerton, near Evesham, places where Lollard influence was strong, it is easy to see how the crusade was carried on. But, with the growing severity of the persecution under the Lancaster kings, the whole Lollard movement was, as Erasmus says, “suppressed but not extinguished.” “It was,” as Gairdner has told us “by no means an innocent attempt to secure freedom for the individual judgments; it was a spirit that prompted the violation of order and disrespect to all authority.” It left behind it much discontent, an appeal to the Scriptures and to them alone and an exaltation of preaching above aught else; these traditions lingered on, especially in a few local centres, until Tudor days. But Wyclif himself was almost hidden by the loosely organised sect that claimed descent from him.

It is easy to understand why, under the circumstances, nothing more came of Wyclif’s citation to Rome. Thus, the scholar, unexcommunicated, although, perhaps, bound by some promise, his feeble body consumed by this restless fire within, lived on in his quiet parish. Upon Holy Innocents’ Day, 1384, the final stroke fell on him as he was hearing Mass, and, on St. Sylvester’s Day (31 December), he died. It is well known how his ashes were treated; but the scanty remembrance of him left in England, contrasted with the activity of the Lollards, was, perhaps, more of a slight to his memory. At Oxford, few traces of his work were left. The university, although not without difficulty, was brought by archbishop Arundel under strict control, and, with the loss of its freedom, and the decay of the realist philosophy for which it had stood, Oxford lost much of its hold upon the nation: controversies such as Wyclif and his followers had raised destroy the atmosphere needed for study and intellectual life. It has been suggested that, owing to the decay of Oxford, Cambridge took its place; such was certainly the result, although positive, as well as negative, reasons might be given for the growing reputation of the younger university.