The Project Gutenberg eBook of Curiosities of Literature, Vol. 3

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Title: Curiosities of Literature, Vol. 3

Author: Isaac Disraeli

Editor: Earl of Beaconsfield Benjamin Disraeli

Release date: January 25, 2010 [eBook #31078]
Most recently updated: January 6, 2021

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Marius Masi, Jonathan Ingram and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at


Transcriber's note: A few typographical errors have been corrected. They appear in the text like this, and the explanation will appear when the mouse pointer is moved over the marked passage.

















Nothing is more idle, and, what is less to be forgiven in a writer, more tedious, than minute and lengthened descriptions of localities; where it is very doubtful whether the writers themselves had formed any tolerable notion of the place they describe,—it is certain their readers never can! These descriptive passages, in which writers of imagination so frequently indulge, are usually a glittering confusion of unconnected things; circumstances recollected from others, or observed by themselves at different times; the finest are thrust in together. If a scene from nature, it is possible that all the seasons of the year may be jumbled together; or if a castle or an apartment, its magnitude or its minuteness may equally bewilder. Yet we find, even in works of celebrity, whole pages of these general or these particular descriptive sketches, which leave nothing behind but noun substantives propped up by random epithets. The old writers were quite delighted to fill up their voluminous pages with what was a great saving of sense and thinking. In the Alaric of Scudery sixteen pages, containing nearly five hundred verses, describe a palace, commencing at the façade, and at length finishing with the garden; but his description, we may say, was much better described by Boileau, whose good taste felt the absurdity of this “abondance stérile,” in overloading a work with useless details,

Un auteur, quelquefois, trop plein de son objet,

Jamais sans l’épuiser n’abandonne un sujet.

S’il rencontre un palais il m’en dépeint la face,

Il me promène après de terrasae en terrasse.

Ici s’offre un perron, là règne un corridor;

Là ce balcon s’enferme en un balustre d’or;

Il compte les plafonds, les ronds, et les ovales—

Je saute vingt feuillets pour en trouver la fin;

Et je me sauve à peine au travers du jardin!


And then he adds so excellent a canon of criticism, that we must not neglect it:—

Tout ce qu’on dit de trop est fade et rébutant;

L’esprit rassasié le rejette à l’instant,

Qui ne sait se borner, ne sut jamais écrire.

We have a memorable instance of the inefficiency of local descriptions in a very remarkable one by a writer of fine genius, composing with an extreme fondness of his subject, and curiously anxious to send down to posterity the most elaborate display of his own villa—this was the Laurentinum of Pliny. We cannot read his letter to Gallus, which the English reader may in Melmoth’s elegant version,1 without somewhat participating in the delight of the writer in many of its details; but we cannot with the writer form the slightest conception of his villa, while he is leading us over from apartment to apartment, and pointing to us the opposite wing, with a “beyond this,” and a “not far from thence,” and “to this apartment another of the same sort,” &c. Yet, still, as we were in great want of a correct knowledge of a Roman villa, and as this must be the most so possible, architects have frequently studied, and the learned translated with extraordinary care, Pliny’s Description of his Laurentinum. It became so favourite an object, that eminent architects have attempted to raise up this edifice once more, by giving its plan and elevation; and this extraordinary fact is the result—that not one of them but has given a representation different from the other! Montfaucon, a more faithful antiquary, in his close translation of the description of this villa, in comparing it with Felibien’s plan of the villa itself, observes, “that the architect accommodated his edifice to his translation, but that their notions are not the same; unquestionably,” he adds, “if ten skilful translators were to perform their task separately, there would not be one who agreed with another!”

If, then, on this subject of local descriptions, we find that it is impossible to convey exact notions of a real existing scene, what must we think of those which, in truth, describe scenes which have no other existence than the confused makings-up of an author’s invention; where the more he details the more he confuses; and where the more particular he wishes to be, the more indistinct the whole appears?


Local descriptions, after a few striking circumstances have been selected, admit of no further detail. It is not their length, but their happiness, which enters into our comprehension; the imagination can only take in and keep together a very few parts of a picture. The pen must not intrude on the province of the pencil, any more than the pencil must attempt to perform what cannot in any shape be submitted to the eye, though fully to the mind.

The great art, perhaps, of local description, is rather a general than a particular view; the details must be left to the imagination; it is suggestion rather than description. There is an old Italian sonnet of this kind which I have often read with delight; and though I may not communicate the same pleasure to the reader, yet the story of the writer is most interesting, and the lady (for such she was) has the highest claim to be ranked, like the lady of Evelyn, among literary wives.

Francesca Turina Bufalini di Citta di Castello, of noble extraction, and devoted to literature, had a collection of her poems published in 1628. She frequently interspersed little domestic incidents of her female friend, her husband, her son, her grandchildren; and in one of these sonnets she has delineated her palace of San Giustino, whose localities she appears to have enjoyed with intense delight in the company of “her lord,” whom she tenderly associates with the scene. There is a freshness and simplicity in the description, which will perhaps convey a clearer notion of the spot than even Pliny could do in the voluminous description of his villa. She tells us what she found when brought to the house of her husband:—

Ampie salle, ampie loggie, ampio cortile

E stanze ornate con gentil pitture,

Trovai giungendo, e nobili sculture

Di marmo fatte, da scalpel non vile.

Nobil giardin con un perpetuo Aprile

Di varij fior, di frutti, e di verdure,

Ombre soavi, acque a temprar l’arsure

E strade di beltà non dissimile;

E non men forte estel, che per fortezza

Ha il ponte, e i fianchi, e lo circonda intorno

Fosso profundo e di real larghezza.

Qui fei col mio Signore dolce soggiorno

Con santo amor, con somma contentezza

Onde ne benedico il mese e il giorno!

Wide halls, wide galleries, and an ample court,

Chambers adorn’d by pictures’ soothing charm,


I found together blended; noble sculpture

In marble, polish’d by no chisel vile;

A noble garden, where a lasting April

All-various flowers and fruits and verdure showers;

Soft shades, and waters tempering the hot air;

And undulating paths in equal beauty!

Nor less the castled glory stands in force,

And bridged and flanked. And round its circuit winds

The deepened moat, showing a regal size.

Here with my lord I cast my sweet sojourn,

With holy love, and with supreme content;

And hence I bless the month, and bless the day!

1 Book ii. lett. 17.



It sometimes happens, in the history of national amusements, that a name survives while the thing itself is forgotten. This has been remarkably the case with our court Masques, respecting which our most eminent writers long ventured on so many false opinions, with a perfect ignorance of the nature of these compositions, which combined all that was exquisite in the imitative arts of poetry, painting, music, song, dancing, and machinery, at a period when our public theatre was in its rude infancy. Convinced of the miserable state of our represented drama, and not then possessing that more curious knowledge of their domestic history which we delight to explore, they were led into erroneous notions of one of the most gorgeous, the most fascinating, and the most poetical of dramatic amusements. Our present theatrical exhibitions are, indeed, on a scale to which the twopenny audiences of the barn playhouses of Shakspeare could never have strained their sight; and our picturesque and learned costume, with the brilliant changes of our scenery, would have maddened the “property-men” and the “tire-women” of the Globe or the Red Bull.2 Shakspeare himself never beheld the true 5 magical illusions of his own dramas, with “Enter the Red Coat,” and “Exit Hat and Cloak,” helped out with “painted cloths;” or, as a bard of Charles the Second’s time chants—

Look back and see

The strange vicissitudes of poetrie;

Your aged fathers came to plays for wit,

And sat knee-deep in nut-shells in the pit.

But while the public theatre continued long in this contracted state, without scenes, without dresses, without an orchestra, the court displayed scenical and dramatic exhibitions with such costly magnificence, such inventive fancy, and such miraculous art, that we may doubt if the combined genius of Ben Jonson, Inigo Jones, and Lawes, or Ferobosco, at an era most favourable to the arts of imagination, has been equalled by the modern spectacle of the Opera.

But this circumstance had entirely escaped the knowledge of our critics. The critic of a Masque must not only have read it, but he must also have heard and have viewed it. The only witnesses in this case are those letter-writers of the day, who were then accustomed to communicate such domestic intelligence to their absent friends: from such ample correspondence I have often drawn some curious and sometimes important information. It is amusing to notice the opinions of some great critics, how from an original mis-statement they have drawn an illegitimate opinion, and how one inherits from the other the error which he propagates. Warburton said on Masques, that “Shakspeare was an enemy to these fooleries, as appears by his writing none.” This opinion was among the many which that singular critic threw out as they arose at the moment; for Warburton forgot that Shakspeare characteristically introduces one in the Tempest’s most fanciful scene.3 Granger, who had not much time to study the manners of the age whose personages he was so well acquainted 6 with, in a note on Milton’s Masque, said that “these compositions were trifling and perplexed allegories, the persons of which are fantastical to the last degree. Ben Jonson, in his ‘Masque of Christmas,’ has introduced ‘Minced Pie,’ and ‘Baby Cake,’ who act their parts in the drama.4 But the most wretched performances of this kind could please by the help of music, machinery, and dancing.” Granger blunders, describing by two farcical characters a species of composition of which farce was not the characteristic. Such personages as he notices would enter into the Anti-masque, which was a humorous parody of the more solemn Masque, and sometimes relieved it. Malone, whose fancy was not vivid, condemns Masques and the age of Masques, in which, he says, echoing Granger’s epithet, “the wretched taste of the times found amusement.” And lastly comes Mr. Todd, whom the splendid fragment of the “Arcades,” and the entire Masque, which we have by heart, could not warm; while his neutralising criticism fixes him at the freezing point of the thermometer. “This dramatic entertainment, performed not without prodigious expense in machinery and decoration, to which humour we certainly owe the entertainment of ‘Arcades,’ and the inimitable Mask of ‘Comus.’” Comus, however, is only a fine dramatic poem, retaining scarcely any features of the Masque. The only modern critic who had written with some research on this departed elegance of the English drama was Warton, whose fancy responded to the fascination of the fairy-like magnificence and lyrical spirit of the Masque. Warton had the taste to give a specimen from “The Inner Temple Mask by William Browne,” the pastoral poet, whose Address to Sleep, he observed, “reminds 7 us of some favourite touches in Milton’s Comus, to which it perhaps gave birth.” Yet even Warton was deficient in that sort of research which only can discover the true nature of these singular dramas.

Such was the state in which, some years ago, I found all our knowledge of this once favourite amusement of our court, our nobility, and our learned bodies of the four inns of court. Some extensive researches, pursued among contemporary manuscripts, cast a new light over this obscure child of fancy and magnificence. I could not think lightly of what Ben Jonson has called “The Eloquence of Masques;” entertainments on which from three to five thousand pounds were expended, and on more public occasions ten and twenty thousand. To the aid of the poetry, composed by the finest poets, came the most skilful musicians and the most elaborate machinists; Ben Jonson, and Inigo Jones,5 and Lawes blended into one piece their respective genius; and Lord Bacon, and Whitelocke, and Selden, who sat in committees for the last grand Masque presented to Charles the First, invented the devices; composed the procession of the Masquers and the Anti-Masquers; while one took the care of the dancing or the brawlers, and Whitelocke the music—the sage Whitelocke! who has chronicled his self-complacency on this occasion, by claiming the invention of a Coranto, which for thirty years afterwards was the delight of the nation, and was blessed by the name of “Whitelocke’s Coranto,” and which was always called for, two or three times over, whenever that great statesman “came to see a play!”6 So much personal honour was considered to be involved in the conduct of a Masque, that even this committee of illustrious men was on the point of being broken up by too serious a discussion concerning precedence; and the Masque had nearly not taken place, till they hit on the expedient of throwing dice to decide on their rank in the procession! On this jealousy of honour in the composition of a Masque, I discovered, what hitherto had escaped the knowledge, although not the curiosity, of literary inquirers—the occasion of the memorable enmity between Ben Jonson 8 and Inigo Jones, who had hitherto acted together with brotherly affection; “a circumstance,” says Gifford, to whom I communicated it, “not a little important in the history of our calumniated poet.” The trivial cause, but not so in its consequences, was the poet prefixing his own name before that of the architect on the title-page of a Masque, which hitherto had only been annexed;7 so jealous was the great architect of his part of the Masque, and so predominant his power and name at court, that he considered his rights invaded by the inferior claims of the poet! Jonson has poured out the whole bitterness of his soul in two short satires: still more unfortunately for the subject of these satires, they provoked Inigo to sharpen his pen on rhyme; but it is edgeless, and the blunt composition still lies in its manuscript state.

While these researches had engaged my attention, appeared Gifford’s Memoirs of Ben Jonson. The characteristics of Masques are there, for the first time, elaborately opened with the clear and penetrating spirit of that ablest of our dramatic critics. I feel it like presumption to add to what has received the finishing hand of a master; but his jewel is locked up in a chest, which I fear is too rarely opened, and he will allow me to borrow something from its splendour. “The Masque, as it attained its highest degree of excellence, admitted of dialogue, singing, and dancing; these were not independent of one another, but combined, by the introduction of some ingenious fable, into an harmonious whole. When the plan was formed, the aid of the sister-arts was called in; for the essence of the Masque was pomp and glory. Moveable scenery of the most costly and splendid kind was lavished on the Masque; the most celebrated masters were employed on the songs and dances; and all that the kingdom afforded of vocal and instrumental excellence was employed to embellish the exhibition.8 Thus magnificently constructed, the Masque was not committed to ordinary performers. It 9 was composed, as Lord Bacon says, for princes, and by princes it was played.9 Of these Masques, the skill with which their ornaments were designed, and the inexpressible grace with which they were executed, appear to have left a vivid impression on the mind of Jonson. His genius awakes at once, and all his faculties attune to sprightliness and pleasure. He makes his appearance, like his own Delight, ‘accompanied with Grace, Love, Harmony, Revel, Sport, and Laughter.’

“In curious knot and mazes so

The Spring at first was taught to go;

And Zephyr, when he came to woo

His Flora, had his motions10 too;

And thus did Venus learn to lead

The Idalian brawls, and so to tread,

As if the wind, not she, did walk,

Nor press’d a flower, nor bow’d a stalk.

“But in what,” says Gifford, “was the taste of the times wretched? In poetry, painting, architecture, they have not since been equalled; and it ill becomes us to arraign the taste of a period which possessed a cluster of writers of whom the meanest would now be esteemed a prodigy.” Malone did not live to read this denouncement of his objection to these Masques, as “bungling shows;” and which Warburton treats as “fooleries;” Granger as “wretched performances;” while Mr. Todd regards them merely as “the humour of the times!”

Masques were often the private theatricals of the families of our nobility, performed by the ladies and gentlemen at their seats; and were splendidly got up on certain occasions: such as the celebration of a nuptial, or in compliment to some great visitor. The Masque of Comus was composed by Milton to celebrate the creation of Charles the First as Prince of Wales; a scene in this Masque presented both the castle and the town of Ludlow, which proves, that although our small public theatres had not yet displayed any of the scenical illusions which long afterwards Davenant introduced, these scenical effects existed in great perfection in the Masques. The minute descriptions introduced by Thomas Campion, in his “Memorable Masque,” as it is called, will convince us that the scenery must have been exquisite and 10 fanciful, and that the poet was always a watchful and anxious partner with the machinist, with whom sometimes, however, he had a quarrel.

The subject of this very rare Masque was “The Night and the Hours.” It would be tedious to describe the first scene with the fondness with which the poet has dwelt on it. It was a double valley; one side, with dark clouds hanging before it; on the other, a green vale, with trees, and nine golden ones of fifteen feet high; from which grove, towards “the State,” or the seat of the king, was a broad descent to the dancing-place: the bower of Flora was on the right, the house of Night on the left; between them a hill, hanging like a cliff over the grove. The bower of Flora was spacious, garnished with flowers and flowery branches, with lights among them; the house of Night ample and stately, with black columns studded with golden stars; within, nothing but clouds and twinkling stars; while about it were placed, on wire, artificial bats and owls, continually moving. As soon as the king entered the great hall, the hautboys, out of the wood on the top of the hill, entertained the time, till Flora and Zephyr were seen busily gathering flowers from the bower, throwing them into baskets which two silvans held, attired in changeable taffeta. The song is light as their fingers, but the burden is charming:—

Now hath Flora robb’d her bowers

To befriend this place with flowers;

Strow about! strow about!

Divers, divers flowers affect

For some private dear respect;

Strow about! strow about!

But he’s none of Flora’s friend

That will not the rose commend;

Strow about! strow about!

I cannot quit this Masque, of which, collectors know the rarity, without preserving one of those Doric delicacies, of which, perhaps, we have outlived the taste! It is a playful dialogue between a Silvan and an Hour, while Night appears in her house, with her long black hair spangled with gold, amidst her Hours; their faces black, and each bearing a lighted black torch.


Tell me, gentle Hour of Night,

Wherein dost thou most delight?


Not in sleep! 11


Wherein then?


In the frolic view of men!


Lov’st thou music?


Oh! ’tis sweet!


What’s dancing?


E’en the mirth of feet.


Joy you in fairies and in elves?


We are of that sort ourselves!

But, Silvan! say, why do you love

Only to frequent the grove?


Life is fullest of content

When delight is innocent.


Pleasure must vary, not be long!

Come then, let’s close, and end the song!

That the moveable scenery of these Masques formed as perfect a scenical illusion as any that our own age, with all its perfection of decoration, has attained to, will not be denied by those who have read the few Masques which have been printed. They usually contrived a double division of the scene; one part was for some time concealed from the spectator, which produced surprise and variety. Thus in the Lord’s Masque, at the marriage of the Palatine, the scene was divided into two parts, from the roof to the floor; the lower part being first discovered, there appeared a wood in perspective, the innermost part being of “releeve or whole round,” the rest painted. On the left a cave, and on the right a thicket, from which issued Orpheus. At the back part of the scene, at the sudden fall of a curtain, the upper part broke on the spectators, a heaven of clouds of all hues; the stars suddenly vanished, the clouds dispersed; an element of artificial fire played about the house of Prometheus—a bright and transparent cloud, reaching from the heavens to the earth, whence the eight masquers descending with the music of a full song; and at the end of their descent the cloud broke in twain, and one part of it, as with a wind, was blown athwart the scene. While this cloud was vanishing, the wood, being the under part of the scene, was insensibly changing; a perspective view opened, with porticoes on each side, and female statues of silver, accompanied with ornaments of architecture, filling the end of the house of Prometheus, and seemed all of goldsmiths’ work. The women of Prometheus descended from their niches, till the anger of Jupiter turned them again into statues. It is evident, too, that the size of the proscenium, or stage, accorded with the magnificence of the scene; for I find choruses described, 12 “and changeable conveyances of the song,” in manner of an echo, performed by more than forty different voices and instruments in various parts of the scene. The architectural decorations were the pride of Inigo Jones; such could not be trivial.

“I suppose,” says the writer of this Masque, “few have ever seen more neat artifice than Master Inigo Jones showed in contriving their motion; who, as all the rest of the workmanship which belonged to the whole invention, showed extraordinary industry and skill, which if it be not as lively expressed in writing as it appeared in view, rob not him of his due, but lay the blame on my want of right apprehending his instructions, for the adoring of his art.” Whether this strong expression should be only adorning does not appear in any errata; but the feeling of admiration was fervent among the spectators of that day, who were at least as much astonished as they were delighted. Ben Jonson’s prose descriptions of scenes in his own exquisite Masques, as Gifford observes, “are singularly bold and beautiful.” In a letter which I discovered, the writer of which had been present at one of these Masques, and which Gifford has preserved,11 the reader may see the great poet anxiously united with Inigo Jones in working the machinery. Jonson, before “a sacrifice could be performed, turned the globe of the earth, standing behind the altar.” In this globe “the sea was expressed heightened with silver waves, which stood, or rather hung (for no axle was seen to support it), and turning softly, discovered the first Masque,”12 &c. This “turning softly” producing a very magical effect, the great poet would trust to no other hand but his own!

It seems, however, that as no Masque-writer equalled Jonson, so no machinist rivalled Inigo Jones. I have sometimes caught a groan from some unfortunate poet, whose beautiful fancies were spoilt by the bungling machinist. One says, “The order of this scene was carefully and ingeniously disposed, and as happily put in act (for the motions) by the king’s master carpenter;” but he adds, “the painters, I must needs say (not to belie them), lent small colour to any, to attribute much of the spirit of these things to their 13 pencil.” Campion, in one of his Masques, describing where the trees were gently to sink, &c., by an engine placed under the stage, and in sinking were to open, and the masquers appear out at their tops, &c., adds this vindictive marginal note: “Either by the simplicity, negligence, or conspiracy of the painter, the passing away of the trees was somewhat hazarded, though the same day they had been shown with much admiration, and were left together to the same night;” that is, they were worked right at the rehearsal, and failed in the representation, which must have perplexed the nine masquers on the tops of these nine trees. But such accidents were only vexations crossing the fancies of the poet: they did not essentially injure the magnificence, the pomp, and the fairy world opened to the spectators. So little was the character of these Masques known, that all our critics seemed to have fallen into repeated blunders, and used the Masques as Campion suspected his painters to have done, “either by simplicity, negligence, or conspiracy.” Hurd, a cold systematic critic, thought he might safely prefer the Masque in the Tempest, as “putting to shame all the Masques of Jonson, not only in its construction, but in the splendour of its show;”—“which,” adds Gifford, “was danced and sung by the ordinary performers to a couple of fiddles, perhaps in the balcony of the stage.” Such is the fate of criticism without knowledge! And now, to close our Masques, let me apply the forcible style of Ben Jonson himself: “The glory of all these solemnities had perished like a blaze, and gone out in the beholder’s eyes; so short-lived are the bodies of all things in comparison of their souls!”13

2 Sir Philip Sidney, in his “Defence of Poesy,” 1595, alludes to the custom of writing the supposed locality of each scene over the stage, and asks, “What child is there that coming to a play, and seeing Thebes written in great letters on an old door, doth believe that it is Thebes.” As late as the production of Davenant’s Siege of Rhodes (circa 1656), this custom was continued, and is thus described in the printed edition of the play:—“In the middle of the frieze was a compartment wherein was written Rhodes.” In many instances the spectator was left to infer the locality of the scene from the dialogue.—“Now,” says Sidney, “you shall have three ladies walke to gather flowers, and then we must believe the stage to be a garden. By and by we heare newes of shipwracke in the same place; then we are to blame if we accept it not for a rock.” In Middleton’s Chaste Maid, 1630, when the scene changes to a bed-room, “a bed is thrust out upon the stage, Alwit’s wife in it;” which simple process was effected by pushing it through the curtains that hung across the entrance to the stage, which at that time projected into the pit.

3 The play of Pyramus and Thisbe, performed by the clowns in Shakspeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, is certainly constructed in burlesque of characters in court Masques, which sometimes were as difficult to be made comprehensible to an audience as “the clowns of Athens” found Wall and Moonshine to be.

4 It is due to a great poet like Ben Jonson, that, without troubling the reader to turn to his works, we should give his own description of these characters, to show that they were not the “perplexed allegories” they are asserted to be by Granger; nor inappropriate to the Masque of Christmas, for which they were designed. Minced-Pie was habited “like a fine cook’s wife, drest neat, her man carrying a pie, dish, and spoon.” Baby-Cake was “drest like a boy, in a fine long coat, biggin-bib, muckender (or handkerchief), and a little dagger; his usher bearing a great cake, with a bean and a pease;” the latter being indicative of those generally inserted in a Christmas cake, which, when cut into slices and distributed, indicated by the presence of the bean the person who should be king; the slice with the pea doing the same for the queen. Neither of these characters speak, but make part of the show to be described by Father Christmas. Jonson’s inventive talent was never more conspicuous than in the concoction of court Masques.

5 The first employment of these two great men was upon The Masque of Blackness, performed at Whitehall on Twelfth-Night, 1603; and which cost nearly 10,000l., of our present money.

6 The music of Whitelocke’s Coranto is preserved in Hawkins’s “History of Music.” Might it be restored for the ladies as a waltz?

7 This was Chloridia, a Masque performed by the queen and her ladies at court, on Shrovetide, 1630; upon the title-page of which is printed “the inventors—Ben Jonson, Inigo Jones.” Jonson was, by reason of the influence of Inigo, deprived of employ at court ever after, supplanted by other poets named by the architect, and among them Heywood, Shirley, and Davenant.

8 George Chapman’s Memorable Maske, performed at Whitehall, 1630, by the gentlemen of the Middle Temple and Lincoln’s Inn, cost the latter society nearly 2000l. for their share of the expenses.

9 Ben Jonson records the names of the noble ladies and gentlemen who enacted his inventions at court.

10 The figures and actions of dancers in Masques were called motions.

11 Memoirs of Jonson, p. 88.

12 See Gifford’s Jonson, vol. vii. p. 78. This performance was in the Masque of Hymen, enacted at court in 1605, on the occasion of the marriage of the Earl of Essex to the daughter of the Earl of Suffolk.

13 Splendour ultimately ruined these works; they ended in gaudy dresses and expensive machinery, but poetry was not associated with them. The youthful days of Louis XIV. raised them to a height of costly luxuriance to sink them ever after in oblivion.



Des Maizeaux was an active literary man of his day, whose connexions with Bayle, St. Evremond, Locke, and Toland, and his name being set off by an F.R.S., have occasioned the dictionary-biographers to place him prominently among their “hommes illustres.” Of his private history 14 nothing seems known. Having something important to communicate respecting one of his friends, a far greater character, with whose fate he stands connected, even Des Maizeaux becomes an object of our inquiry.

He was one of those French refugees whom political madness or despair of intolerance had driven to our shores. The proscription of Louis XIV., which supplied us with our skilful workers in silk, also produced a race of the unemployed, who proved not to be as exquisite in the handicraft of book-making; such were Motteux, La Coste, Ozell, Durand, and others. Our author had come over in that tender state of youth, just in time to become half an Englishman: and he was so ambidextrous in the languages of the two great literary nations of Europe, that whenever he took up his pen, it is evident by his manuscripts, which I have examined, that it was mere accident which determined him to write in French or in English. Composing without genius, or even taste, without vivacity or force, the simplicity and fluency of his style were sufficient for the purposes of a ready dealer in all the minutiæ literariæ; literary anecdotes, curious quotations, notices of obscure books, and all that supellex which must enter into the history of literature, without forming a history. These little things, which did so well of themselves, without any connexion with anything else, became trivial when they assumed the form of voluminous minuteness; and Des Maizeaux at length imagined that nothing but anecdotes were necessary to compose the lives of men of genius! With this sort of talent he produced a copious life of Bayle, in which he told everything he possibly could; and nothing can be more tedious, and more curious: for though it be a grievous fault to omit nothing, and marks the writer to be deficient in the development of character, and that sympathy which throws inspiration over the vivifying page of biography, yet, to admit everything, has this merit—that we are sure to find what we want! Warburton poignantly describes our Des Maizeaux, in one of those letters to Dr. Birch which he wrote in the fervid age of study, and with the impatient vivacity of his genius, “Almost all the life-writers we have had before Toland and Des Maizeaux are indeed strange, insipid creatures; and yet I had rather read the worst of them, than be obliged to go through with this of Milton’s, or the other’s life of Boileau; where there is such a dull, heavy succession of long quotations 15 of uninteresting passages, that it makes their method quite nauseous. But the verbose, tasteless Frenchman seems to lay it down as a principle, that every life must be a book,—and, what is worse, it seems a book without a life; for what do we know of Boileau after all his tedious stuff?”

Des Maizeaux was much in the employ of the Dutch booksellers, then the great monopolisers in the literary mart of Europe. He supplied their “nouvelles littéraires” from England; but the work-sheet price was very mean in those days. I have seen annual accounts of Des Maizeaux settled to a line for four or five pounds; and yet he sent the “Novelties” as fresh as the post could carry them! He held a confidential correspondence with these great Dutch booksellers, who consulted him in their distresses; and he seems rather to have relieved them than himself. But if he got only a few florins at Rotterdam, the same “nouvelles littéraires” sometimes secured him valuable friends at London; for in those days, which perhaps are returning on us, an English author would often appeal to a foreign journal for the commendation he might fail in obtaining at home; and I have discovered, in more cases than one, that, like other smuggled commodities, the foreign article was often of home manufactory!

I give one of these curious bibliopolical distresses. Sauzet, a bookseller at Rotterdam, who judged too critically for the repose of his authors, seems to have been always fond of projecting a new “Journal;” tormented by the ideal excellence which he had conceived of such a work, it vexed him that he could never find the workmen! Once disappointed of the assistance he expected from a writer of talents, he was fain to put up with one he was ashamed of; but warily stipulated on very singular terms. He confided this precious literary secret to Des Maizeaux. I translate from his manuscript letter.

“I send you, my dear Sir, four sheets of the continuation of my journal, and I hope this second part will turn out better than the former. The author thinks himself a very able person; but I must tell you frankly, that he is a man without erudition, and without any critical discrimination; he writes pretty well, and turns passably what he says; but that is all! Monsieur Van Effen having failed in his promises to realise my hopes on this occasion, necessity compelled me to have recourse to him; but for six months only, and on 16 condition that he should not, on any account whatever, allow any one to know that he is the author of the journal; for his name alone would be sufficient to make even a passable book discreditable. As you are among my friends, I will confide to you in secrecy the name of this author; it is Mons. De Limiers.14 You see how much my interest is concerned that the author should not be known!” This anecdote is gratuitously presented to the editors of certain reviews, as a serviceable hint to enter into the same engagement with some of their own writers: for it is usually the De Limiers who expend their last puff in blowing their own name about the town.

In England, Des Maizeaux, as a literary man, made himself very useful to other men of letters, and particularly to persons of rank: and he found patronage and a pension,—like his talents, very moderate! A friend to literary men, he lived amongst them, from “Orator” Henley, up to Addison, Lord Halifax, and Anthony Collins. I find a curious character of our Des Maizeaux in the handwriting of Edward, Earl of Oxford, to whose father (Pope’s Earl of Oxford) and himself the nation owes the Harleian treasures. His lordship is a critic with high Tory principles, and high-church notions. “This Des Maizeaux is a great man with those who are pleased to be called Freethinkers, particularly with Mr. Anthony Collins, collects passages out of books for their writings. His Life of Chillingworth is wrote to please that set of men.” The secret history I am to unfold relates to Anthony Collins and Des Maizeaux. Some curious book-lovers will be interested in the personal history of an author they are well acquainted with, yet which has hitherto remained unknown. He tells his own story in a sort of epistolary petition he addressed to a noble friend, characteristic 17 of an author, who cannot be deemed unpatronised, yet whose name, after all his painful labours, might be inserted in my “Calamities of Authors.”

In this letter he announces his intention of publishing a Dictionary like Bayle; having written the life of Bayle, the next step was to become himself a Bayle; so short is the passage of literary delusion! He had published, as a specimen, the lives of Hales and Chillingworth. He complains that his circumstances have not allowed him to forward that work, nor digest the materials he had collected.

A work of that nature requires a steady application, free from the cares and avocations incident to all persons obliged to seek for their maintenance. I have had the misfortune to be in the case of those persons, and am now reduced to a pension on the Irish establishment, which, deducting the tax of four shillings in the pound, and other charges, brings me in about 40l. a year of our English money.15 This pension was granted to me in 1710, and I owe it chiefly to the friendship of Mr. Addison, who was then secretary to the Earl of Wharton, Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1711, 12, and 14, I was appointed one of the Commissioners of the Lottery by the interest of Lord Halifax.

And this is all I ever received from the Government, though I had some claim to the royal favour; for in 1710, when the enemies to our constitution were contriving its ruin, I wrote a pamphlet entitled “Lethe,” which was published in Holland, and afterwards translated into English, and twice printed in London; and being reprinted in Dublin, proved so offensive to the ministry in Ireland, that it was burnt by the hands of the hangman. But so it is, that after having showed on all occasions my zeal for the royal family, and endeavoured to make myself serviceable to the public by several books published; after forty years’ stay in England, and in an advanced age, I find myself and family destitute of a sufficient livelihood, and suffering from complaints in the head and impaired sight by constant application to my studies.

I am confident, my lord, he adds, that if the queen, to whom I was made known on occasion of Thuanus’s French translation, were acquainted with my present distress, she would be pleased to afford me some relief.16

Among the confidential literary friends of Des Maizeaux, he had the honour of ranking Anthony Collins, a great lover of literature, and a man of fine genius, and who, in a continued correspondence with our Des Maizeaux, treated 18 him as his friend, and employed him as his agent in his literary concerns. These, in the formation of an extensive library, were in a state of perpetual activity, and Collins was such a true lover of his books, that he drew up the catalogue with his own pen.17 Anthony Collins wrote several well-known works without prefixing his name; but having pushed too far his curious inquiries on some obscure and polemical points, he incurred the odium of a freethinker,—a term which then began to be in vogue, and which the French adopted by translating it, in their way, a strong thinker, or esprit fort. Whatever tendency to “liberalise” the mind from dogmas and creeds prevails in these works, the talents and learning of Collins were of the first class. His morals were immaculate, and his personal character independent; but the odium theologicum of those days contrived every means to stab in the dark, till the taste became hereditary with some. I shall mention a fact of this cruel bigotry, which occurred within my own observation, on one of the most polished men of the age. The late Mr. Cumberland, in the romance entitled his “Life,” gave this extraordinary fact, that Dr. Bentley, who so ably replied by his “Remarks,” under the name of Phileleutherus Lipsiensis, to Collins’s “Discourse on Free-thinking,” when, many years after, he discovered him fallen into great distress, conceiving that by having ruined Collins’s character as a writer for ever, he had been the occasion of his personal misery, he liberally contributed to his maintenance. In vain I mentioned to that elegant writer, who was not curious about facts, that this person could never have been Anthony Collins, who had always a plentiful fortune; and when it was suggested to him that this “A. Collins,” as he printed it, must have been Arthur Collins, the historical compiler, who was often in pecuniary difficulties, still he persisted in sending the lie down to posterity, totidem verbis, without alteration in his second edition, observing to a friend of mine, that “the story, while it told well, might serve as a striking instance of his great relative’s generosity; and that it should stand, because it could do no harm to any but to Anthony Collins, whom he considered as little short of an atheist.” So much for this pious fraud! but be it recollected that this Anthony Collins was the confidential friend of Locke, of whom Locke said, on 19 his dying bed, that “Collins was a man whom he valued in the first rank of those that he left behind him.” And the last words of Collins on his own death-bed were, that “he was persuaded he was going to that place which God had designed for them that love him.” The cause of true religion will never be assisted by using such leaky vessels as Cumberland’s wilful calumnies, which in the end must run out, and be found, like the present, mere empty fictions!

An extraordinary circumstance occurred on the death of Anthony Collins. He left behind him a considerable number of his own manuscripts, there was one collection formed into eight octavo volumes; and that they might be secured from the common fate of manuscripts, he bequeathed them all, and confided them to the care of our Des Maizeaux. The choice of Collins reflects honour on the character of Des Maizeaux, yet he proved unworthy of it! He suffered himself to betray his trust, practised on by the earnest desire of the widow, and perhaps by the arts of a Mr. Tomlinson, who appears to have been introduced into the family by the recommendation of Dean Sykes, whom at length he supplanted, and whom the widow, to save her reputation, was afterwards obliged to discard.18 In an unguarded moment he relinquished this precious legacy of the manuscripts, and accepted fifty guineas as a present. But if Des Maizeaux lost his honour in this transaction, he was at heart an honest man, who had swerved for a single moment; his conscience was soon awakened, and he experienced the most violent compunctions. It was in a paroxysm of this nature that he addressed the following letter to a mutual friend of the late Anthony Collins and himself.

January 6, 1730.


I am very glad to hear you are come to town, and as you are my best friend, now I have lost Mr. Collins, give me leave to open my heart to you, and to beg your assistance in an affair which highly concerns both Mr. Collins’s (your friend) and my own honour and reputation. The case, in few words, stands thus:—Mr. Collins by his last will and testament left me his manuscripts. Mr. Tomlinson, who first acquainted me with it, told me that Mrs. Collins should be glad to have them, and I made them over to her; whereupon she was pleased to present me with fifty guineas. I desired her at the same time to take care they should be kept safe and unhurt, which she promised to do. This was done the 25th of last month. Mr. Tomlinson, who managed all this affair, was present.


Now, having further considered that matter, I find that I have done a most wicked thing. I am persuaded that I have betrayed the trust of a person who, for twenty-six years, had given me continual instances of his friendship and confidence. I am convinced that I have acted contrary to the will and intention of my dear deceased friend; showed a disregard to the particular mark of esteem he gave me on that occasion; in short, that I have forfeited what is dearer to me than my own life—honour and reputation.

These melancholy thoughts have made so great an impression upon me, that I protest to you I can enjoy no rest; they haunt me everywhere, day and night. I earnestly beseech you, sir, to represent my unhappy case to Mrs. Collins. I acted with all the simplicity and uprightness of my heart; I considered that the MSS. would be as safe in Mrs. Collins’s hands as in mine; that she was no less obliged to preserve them than myself; and that, as the library was left to her, they might naturally go along with it. Besides, I thought I could not too much comply with the desire of a lady to whom I have so many obligations. But I see now clearly that this is not fulfilling Mr. Collins’s will, and that the duties of our conscience are superior to all other regards. But it is in her power to forgive and mend what I have done imprudently, but with a good intention. Her high sense of virtue and generosity will not, I am sure, let her take any advantage of my weakness; and the tender regard she has for the memory of the best of men, and the tenderest of husbands, will not suffer that his intentions should be frustrated, and that she should be the instrument of violating what is most sacred. If our late friend had designed that his MSS. should remain in her hands, he would certainly have left them to her by his last will and testament; his acting otherwise is an evident proof that it was not his intention.

All this I proposed to represent to her in the most respectful manner; but you will do it infinitely better than I can in this present distraction of mind; and I flatter myself that the mutual esteem and friendship which has continued so many years between Mr. Collins and you, will make you readily embrace whatever tends to honour his memory.

I send you the fifty guineas I received, which I do now look upon as the wages of iniquity; and I desire you to return them to Mrs. Collins, who, as I hope it of her justice, equity, and regard to Mr. Collins’s intentions, will be pleased to cancel my paper.

I am, &c.,

P. Des Maizeaux.

The manuscripts were never returned to Des Maizeaux; for seven years afterwards Mrs. Collins, who appears to have been a very spirited lady, addressed to him the following letter on the subject of a report, that she had permitted transcripts of these very manuscripts to get abroad. This occasioned an animated correspondence from both sides.

March 10, 1736-37.


I have thus long waited in expectation that you would ere this have called on Dean Sykes, as Sir B. Lucy said you intended, that I might have had some satisfaction in relation to a very unjust reproach—viz., that I, 21 or somebody that I had trusted, had betrayed some of the transcripts, or MSS., of Mr. Collins into the Bishop of London’s hands. I cannot, therefore, since you have not been with the dean as was desired, but call on you in this manner, to know what authority you had for such a reflection; or on what grounds you went for saying that these transcripts are in the Bishop of London’s hands. I am determined to trace out the grounds of such a report; and you can be no friend of mine, no friend of Mr. Collins, no friend to common justice, if you refuse to acquaint me, what foundation you had for such a charge. I desire a very speedy answer to this, who am, Sir,

Your servant,

Eliz. Collins.

To Mr. Des Maizeaux, at his lodgings next door to the Quakers’ burying-ground, Hanover-street, out of Long-Acre.



March 14, 1737.

I had the honour of your letter of the 10th inst., and as I find that something has been misapprehended, I beg leave to set this matter right.

Being lately with some honourable persons, I told them it had been reported that some of Mr. C.’s MSS. were fallen into the hands of strangers, and that I should be glad to receive from you such information as might enable me to disprove that report. What occasioned this surmise, or what particular MSS. were meant, I was not able to discover; so I was left to my own conjectures, which, upon a serious consideration, induced me to believe that it might relate to the MSS. in eight volumes in 8vo, of which there is a transcript. But as the original and the transcript are in your possession, if you please, madam, to compare them together, you may easily see whether they be both entire and perfect, or whether there be anything wanting in either of them. By this means you will assure yourself, and satisfy your friends, that several important pieces are safe in your hands, and that the report is false and groundless. All this I take the liberty to offer out of the singular respect I always professed for you, and for the memory of Mr. Collins, to whom I have endeavoured to do justice on all occasions, and particularly in the memoirs that have been made use of in the General Dictionary; and I hope my tender concern for his reputation will further appear when I publish his life.


April 6, 1737.


My ill state of health has hindered me from acknowledging sooner the receipt of yours, from which I hoped for some satisfaction in relation to your charge, in which I cannot but think myself very deeply concerned. You tell me now, that you was left to your own conjectures what particular MSS. were reported to have fallen into the hands of strangers, and that upon a serious consideration you was induced to believe that it might relate to the MSS. in eight vols. 8vo, of which there was a transcript.

I must beg of you to satisfy me very explicitly who were the persons that reported this to you, and from whom did you receive this information? You know that Mr. Collins left several MSS. behind him; what grounds had you for your conjecture that it related to the MSS. in eight vols., rather than to any other MSS. of which there was a transcript? I beg 22 that you will be very plain, and tell me what strangers were named to you; and why you said the Bishop of London, if your informer said stranger to you. I am so much concerned in this, that I must repeat it, if you have the singular respect for Mr. Collins which you profess, that you would help me to trace out this reproach, which is so abusive to, Sir,

Your servant,

Eliz. Collins.



I flattered myself that my last letter would have satisfied you, but I have the mortification to see that my hopes were vain. Therefore I beg leave once more to set this matter right. When I told you what had been reported, I acted, as I thought, the part of a true friend, by acquainting you that some of your MSS. had been purloined, in order that you might examine a fact which to me appeared of the last consequence; and I verily believe that everybody in my case would have expected thanks for such a friendly information. But instead of that I find myself represented as an enemy, and challenged to produce proofs and witnesses of a thing dropt in conversation, a hearsay, as if in those cases people kept a register of what they hear, and entered the names of the persons who spoke, the time, place, &c., and had with them persons ready to witness the whole, &c. I did own I never thought of such a thing, and whenever I happened to hear that some of my friends had some loss, I thought it my duty to acquaint them with such report, that they might inquire into the matter, and see whether there was any ground for it. But I never troubled myself with the names of the persons who spoke, as being a thing entirely needless and unprofitable.

Give me leave further to observe, that you are in no ways concerned in the matter, as you seem to be apprehensive you are. Suppose some MSS. have been taken out of your library, who will say you ought to bear the guilt of it? What man in his senses, who has the honour to know you, will say you gave your consent to such thing—that you was privy to it? How can you then take upon yourself an action to which you was neither privy and consenting? Do not such things happen every day, and do the losers think themselves injured or abused when they are talked of? Is it impossible to be betrayed by a person we confided in?

You call what I told you was a report, a surmise; you call it, I say, an information, and speak of informers as if there was a plot laid wherein I received the information: I thought I had the honour to be better known to you. Mr. Collins loved me and esteemed me for my integrity and sincerity, of which he had several proofs; how I have been drawn in to injure him, to forfeit the good opinion he had of me, and which, were he now alive, would deservedly expose me to his utmost contempt, is a grief which I shall carry to the grave. It would be a sort of comfort to me, if those who have consented I should be drawn in were in some measure sensible of the guilt towards so good, kind, and generous a man.

Thus we find that, seven years after Des Maizeaux had inconsiderately betrayed his sacred trust, his remorse was still awake; and the sincerity of his grief is attested by the affecting style which describes it: the spirit of his departed 23 friend seemed to be hovering about him, and, in his imagination, would haunt him to the grave.

The nature of these manuscripts; the cause of the earnest desire of retaining them by the widow; the evident unfriendliness of her conduct to Des Maizeaux; and whether these manuscripts, consisting of eight octavo volumes with their transcripts, were destroyed, or are still existing, are all circumstances which my researches have hitherto not ascertained.

14 Van Effen was a Dutch writer of some merit, and one of a literary knot of ingenious men, consisting of Sallengre, St. Hyacinthe, Prosper Marchand, &c., who carried on a smart review for those days, published at the Hague under the title of “Journal Littéraire.” They all composed in French; and Van Effen gave the first translations of our “Guardian,” “Robinson Crusoe,” and the “Tale of a Tub,” &c. He did something more, but not better; he attempted to imitate the “Spectator,” in his “Le Misanthrope,” 1726, which exhibits a picture of the uninteresting manners of a nation whom he could not make very lively.

De Limiers has had his name slipped into our biographical dictionaries. An author cannot escape the fatality of the alphabet; his numerous misdeeds are registered. It is said, that if he had not been so hungry, he would have given proofs of possessing some talent.

15 I find that the nominal pension was 3s. 6d. per diem on the Irish civil list, which amounts to above 63l. per annum. If a pension be granted for reward, it seems a mockery that the income should be so grievously reduced, which cruel custom still prevails.

16 This letter, or petition, was written in 1732. In 1743 he procured his pension to be placed on his wife’s life, and he died in 1745.

He was sworn in as gentleman of his majesty’s privy chamber in 1722—Sloane MSS. 4289.

17 There is a printed catalogue of his library.

18 This information is from a note found among Des Maizeaux’s papers; but its truth I have no means to ascertain.



Neology, or the novelty of words and phrases, is an innovation, which, with the opulence of our present language, the English philologer is most jealous to allow; but we have puritans or precisians of English, superstitiously nice! The fantastic coinage of affectation or caprice will cease to circulate from its own alloy; but shall we reject the ore of fine workmanship and solid weight? There is no government mint of words, and it is no statutable offence to invent a felicitous or daring expression unauthorised by Mr. Todd! When a man of genius, in the heat of his pursuits or his feelings, has thrown out a peculiar word, it probably conveyed more precision or energy than any other established word, otherwise he is but an ignorant pretender!

Julius Cæsar, who, unlike other great captains, is authority on words as well as about blows, wrote a large treatise on “Analogy,” in which that fine genius counselled to “avoid every unusual word as a rock!”19 The cautious Quintilian, as might be expected, opposes all innovation in language. “If the new word is well received, small is the glory; if rejected, it raises laughter.”20 This only marks the penury of his feelings in this species of adventure. The great legislator of words, who lived when his own language was at its acmé, seems undecided, yet pleaded for this liberty. “Shall that which the Romans allowed to Cæcilius and to Plautus be refused to Virgil and Varius?” The answer to the question might not be favourable to the inquirer. While a language is forming, writers are applauded for extending its limits; when established, for restricting themselves to them. But this is to imagine that a perfect language can exist! 24 The good sense and observation of Horace perceived that there may be occasions where necessity must become the mother of invented words:—

————Si forte necesse est

Indiciis monstrare recentibus abdita rerum.

If you write of things abstruse or new,

Some of your own inventing may be used,

So it be seldom and discreetly done.


But Horace’s canon for deciding on the legality of the new invention, or the standard by which it is to be tried, will not serve to assist the inventor of words:—

————licuit, semperque licebit,

Signatum præsente nota procudere nummum.21

This præsens nota, or public stamp, can never be affixed to any new coinage of words: for many received at a season have perished with it.22 The privilege of stamping words is reserved for their greatest enemy—Time itself! and the inventor of a new word must never flatter himself that he has secured the public adoption, for he must lie in his grave before he can enter the dictionary.

In Willes’ address to the reader, prefixed to the collection of Voyages published in 1577, he finds fault with Eden’s translation from Peter Martyr, for using words that “smelt too much of the Latine.” We should scarcely have expected 25 to find among them ponderouse, portentouse, despicable, obsequious, homicide, imbibed, destructive, prodigious. The only words he quotes, not thoroughly naturalised, are dominators, ditionaries, (subjects), solicitute (careful).

The Tatler, No. 230, introduces several polysyllables introduced by military narrations, “which (he says), if they attack us too frequently, we shall certainly put them to flight, and cut off the rear;” every one of them still keep their ground.

Half the French words used affectedly by Melantha, in Dryden’s Marriage à-la-Mode, as innovations in our language, are now in common use, naïveté, foible, chagrin, grimace, embarras, double entendre, equivoque, eclaircissement, ridicule, all these words, which she learns by heart to use occasionally, are now in common use. A Dr. Russel called Psalm-singers Ballad-singers, having found the Song of Solomon in an old translation, the Ballad of Ballads, for which he is reproached by his antagonist for not knowing that the signification of words alters with time; should I call him knave, he ought not to be concerned at it, for the Apostle Paul is also called a knave of Jesus Christ.23

Unquestionably, neology opens a wide door to innovation; scarcely has a century passed since our language was patched up with Gallic idioms, as in the preceding century it was piebald with Spanish, and with Italian, and even with Dutch. The political intercourse of islanders with their neighbours has ever influenced their language. In Elizabeth’s reign Italian phrases24 and Netherland words were imported; in James and Charles the Spanish framed the style of courtesy; in Charles the Second the nation and the language were equally Frenchified. Yet such are the sources from whence we have often derived some of the wealth of our language!


There are three foul corruptors of a language: caprice, affectation, and ignorance! Such fashionable cant terms as “theatricals,” and “musicals,” invented by the flippant Topham, still survive among his confraternity of frivolity. A lady eminent for the elegance of her taste, and of whom one of the best judges, the celebrated Miss Edgeworth, observed to me, that she spoke the purest and most idiomatic English she had ever heard, threw out an observation which might be extended to a great deal of our present fashionable vocabulary. She is now old enough, she said, to have lived to hear the vulgarisms of her youth adopted in drawing-room circles.25 To lunch, now so familiar from the fairest lips, in her youth was only known in the servants’ hall. An expression very rife of late among our young ladies, a nice man, whatever it may mean, whether that the man resemble a pudding or something more nice, conveys the offensive notion that they are ready to eat him up! When I was a boy, it was an age of bon ton; this good tone mysteriously conveyed a sublime idea of fashion; the term, imported late in the eighteenth century, closed with it. Twaddle for a while succeeded bore; but bore has recovered the supremacy. We want another Swift to give a new edition of his “Polite Conversation.” A dictionary of barbarisms too might be collected from some wretched neologists, whose pens are now at work! Lord Chesterfield, in his exhortations to conform to Johnson’s Dictionary, was desirous, however, that the great lexicographer should add as an appendix, “A neological dictionary, containing those polite, though perhaps not strictly grammatical, words and phrases commonly used, and sometimes understood by the beau-monde.”26 This last phrase was doubtless a contribution! Such a dictionary had already appeared in the French language, drawn up by two caustic critics, who in the Dictionnaire néologique à l’usage des beaux Esprits du Siècle collected together the numerous unlucky inventions of affectation, with their modern authorities! A collection of the fine words and phrases, culled from some very modern poetry, might show the real amount of the favours bestowed on us.


The attempts of neologists are, however, not necessarily to be condemned; and we may join with the commentators of Aulus Gellius, who have lamented the loss of a chapter of which the title only has descended to us. That chapter would have demonstrated what happens to all languages, that some neologisms, which at first are considered forced or inelegant, become sanctioned by use, and in time are quoted as authority in the very language which, in their early stage, they were imagined to have debased.

The true history of men’s minds is found in their actions; their wants are indicated by their contrivances; and certain it is that in highly cultivated ages we discover the most refined intellects attempting NEOLOGISMS.27 It would be a subject of great curiosity to trace the origin of many happy expressions, when, and by whom created. Plato substituted the term Providence for fate; and a new system of human affairs arose from a single word. Cicero invented several; to this philosopher we owe the term of moral philosophy, which before his time was called the philosophy of manners. But on this subject we are perhaps more interested by the modern than by the ancient languages. Richardson, the painter of the human heart, has coined some expressions to indicate its little secret movements, which are admirable: that great genius merited a higher education and more literary leisure than the life of a printer could afford. Montaigne created some bold expressions, many of which have not survived him; his incuriosité, so opposite to curiosity, well describes that state of negligence where we will not learn that of which we are ignorant. With us the word incurious was described by Heylin, 1656, as an unusual word; it has been appropriately adopted by our best writers, although we still want incuriosity. Charron invented étrangeté unsuccessfully, but which, says a French critic, would be the true substantive of the word étrange; our Locke is the solitary instance produced for “foreignness” for “remoteness or want of relation to something.” Malherbe borrowed from the Latin, insidieux, sécurité, which have been received; but a bolder word, dévouloir, by which he proposed to express cesser de vouloir, 28 has not. A term, however, expressive and precise. Corneille happily introduced invaincu in a verse in the Cid,

Vous êtes invaincu, mais non pas invincible.

Yet this created word by their great poet has not sanctioned this fine distinction among the French, for we are told that it is almost a solitary instance. Balzac was a great inventor of neologisms. Urbanité and féliciter were struck in his mint. “Si le mot féliciter n’est pas française, il le sera l’année qui vient;” so confidently proud was the neologist, and it prospered as well as urbanité, of which he says, “Quand l’usage aura muri parmi nous un mot de si mauvais gout, et corrigé l’amertume de la nouveauté qui s’y peut trouver, nous nous y accoutumerons comme aux autres que nous avons emprunté de la même langue.” Balzac was, however, too sanguine in some other words; for his délecter, his sériosité, &c. still retain their “bitterness of novelty.”

Menage invented a term of which an equivalent is wanting in our language; “J’ai fait prosateur à l’imitation de l’italien prosatore, pour dire un homme qui écrit en prose.” To distinguish a prose from a verse writer, we once had “a proser.” Drayton uses it; but this useful distinction has unluckily degenerated, and the current sense is so daily urgent, that the purer sense is irrecoverable.

When D’Albancourt was translating Lucian, he invented in French the words indolence and indolent, to describe a momentary languor, rather than that habitual indolence in which sense they are now accepted; and in translating Tacitus, he created the word turbulemment; but it did not prosper any more than that of temporisement. Segrais invented the word impardonnable, which, after having been rejected, was revived, and is equivalent to our expressive unpardonable. Molière ridiculed some neologisms of the Précieuses of his day; but we are too apt to ridicule that which is new, and which we often adopt when it becomes old. Molière laughed at the term s’encanailler, to describe one who assumed the manners of a blackguard; the expressive word has remained in the language. The meaning is disputed as well as the origin is lost of some novel terms. This has happened to a word in daily use—Fudge! It is a cant term not in Grose, and only traced by Todd not higher than to Goldsmith. It is, however, no invention of his. In a pamphlet, entitled “Remarks upon the Navy,” 1700, the term is declared to have been the name 29 of a certain nautical personage who had lived in the lifetime of the writer. “There was, sir, in our time, one Captain Fudge, commander of a merchantman, who upon his return from a voyage, how ill-fraught soever his ship was, always brought home his owners a good cargo of lies; so much that now, aboard ship, the sailors, when they hear a great lie told, cry out, ‘You fudge it!’” It is singular that such an obscure byword among sailors should have become one of the most popular in our familiar style; and not less, that recently at the bar, in a court of law, its precise meaning perplexed plaintiff and defendant and their counsel. I think it does not signify mere lies, but bouncing lies, or rhodomontades.

There are two remarkable French words created by the Abbé de Saint Pierre, who passed his meritorious life in the contemplation of political morality and universal benevolence—bienfaisance and gloriole. He invented gloriole as a contemptuous diminutive of glorie; to describe that vanity of some egotists, so proud of the small talents which they may have received from nature or from accident. Bienfaisance first appeared in this sentence: “L’Esprit de la vraie religion et le principal but de l’evangile c’est la bienfaisance, c’est-à-dire la pratique de la charité envers le prochain.” This word was so new, that in the moment of its creation this good man explained its necessity and origin. Complaining that “the word ‘charity’ is abused by all sorts of Christians in the persecution of their enemies, and even heretics affirm that they are practising Christian charity in persecuting other heretics, I have sought for a term which might convey to us a precise idea of doing good to our neighbours, and I can form none more proper to make myself understood than the term of bienfaisance, good-doing. Let those who like, use it; I would only be understood, and it is not equivocal.” The happy word was at first criticised, but at length every kind heart found it responded to its own feeling. Some verses from Voltaire, alluding to the political reveries of the good abbé, notice the critical opposition; yet the new word answered to the great rule of Horace.

Certain législateur, dont la plume féconde

Fit tant de vains projets pour le bien du monde,

Et qui depuis trente ans écrit pour des ingrats,

Vient de créer un mot qui manque à Vaugelas:

Ce mot est Bienfaisance; il me plaît, il rassemble

Si le cœur en est cru, bien des vertus ensemble.


Petits grammairiens, grands précepteurs de sots,

Qui pesez la parole et mesurez les mots,

Pareille expression vous semble hazardée,

Mais l’univers entier doit en cherir l’idée!

The French revolutionists, in their rage for innovation, almost barbarised the pure French of the Augustan age of their literature, as they did many things which never before occurred; and sometimes experienced feelings as transitory as they were strange. Their nomenclature was copious; but the revolutionary jargon often shows the danger and the necessity of neologisms. They form an appendix to the Academy Dictionary. Our plain English has served to enrich this odd mixture of philology and politics: Club, clubiste, comité, jure, juge de paix, blend with their terrorisme, lanterner, a verb active, lévee en masse, noyades, and the other verb active, septembriser, &c. The barbarous term demoralisation is said to have been the invention of the horrid capuchin Chabot; and the remarkable expression of arrière pensée belonged exclusively in its birth to the jesuitic astuteness of the Abbé Sieyes, that political actor, who, in changing sides, never required prompting in his new part!

A new word, the result of much consideration with its author, or a term which, though unknown to the language, conveys a collective assemblage of ideas by a fortunate designation, is a precious contribution of genius; new words should convey new ideas. Swift, living amidst a civil war of pamphlets, when certain writers were regularly employed by one party to draw up replies to the other, created a term not to be found in our dictionaries, but which, by a single stroke, characterises these hirelings; he called them answer-jobbers. We have not dropped the fortunate expression from any want of its use, but of perception in our lexicographers. The celebrated Marquis of Lansdowne introduced a useful word, which has of late been warmly adopted in France as well as in England—to liberalise; the noun has been drawn out of the verb—for in the marquis’s time that was only an abstract conception which is now a sect; and to liberalise was theoretically introduced before the liberals arose.28 It is curious to observe that as an adjective it had formerly in our language 31 a very opposite meaning to its recent one. It was synonymous with “libertine or licentious;” we have “a liberal villain” and “a most profane and liberal counsellor;” we find one declaring “I have spoken too liberally.” This is unlucky for the liberals, who will not—

Give allowance to our liberal jests

Upon their persons—

Beaumont and Fletcher.

Dr. Priestley employed a forcible, but not an elegant term, to mark the general information which had begun in his day; this he frequently calls “the spread of knowledge.” Burke attempted to brand with a new name that set of pert, petulant, sophistical sciolists, whose philosophy the French, since their revolutionary period, have distinguished as philosophism, and the philosophers themselves as philosophistes. He would have designated them as literators, but few exotic words will circulate; new words must be the coinage of our own language to blend with the vernacular idiom. Many new words are still wanted. We have no word by which we could translate the otium of the Latins, the dillettante of the Italians, the alembiqué of the French, as an epithet to describe that sublimated ingenuity which exhausts the mind, till, like the fusion of the diamond, the intellect itself disappears. A philosopher, in an extensive view of a subject in all its bearings, may convey to us the result of his last considerations by the coinage of a novel and significant expression, as this of Professor Dugald Stewart—political religionism. Let me claim the honour of one pure neologism. I ventured to introduce the term of Father-land to describe our natale solum; I have lived to see it adopted by Lord Byron and by Mr. Southey, and the word is now common. A lady has even composed both the words and the air of a song on “Father-land.” This energetic expression may therefore be considered as authenticated; and patriotism may stamp it with its glory and its affection. Father-land is congenial with the language in which we find that other fine expression mother-tongue. The patriotic neologism originated with me in Holland, when, in early life, it was my daily pursuit to turn over the glorious history of its independence under the title of Vaderlandsche Historie—the history of Father-land!

If we acknowledge that the creation of some neologisms may sometimes produce the beautiful, the revival of the dead 32 is the more authentic miracle; for a new word must long remain doubtful, but an ancient word happily recovered rests on a basis of permanent strength; it has both novelty and authority. A collection of picturesque words, found among our ancient writers, would constitute a precious supplement to the history of our language. Far more expressive than our term of executioner is their solemn one of the deathsman; than our vagabond, their scatterling; than our idiot or lunatic, their moonling,—a word which, Mr. Gifford observes, should not have been suffered to grow obsolete. Herrick finely describes by the term pittering the peculiar shrill and short cry of the grasshopper: the cry of the grasshopper is pit! pit! pit! quickly repeated. Envy “dusking the lustre” of genius is a verb lost for us, but which gives a more precise expression to the feeling than any other words which we could use.

The late Dr. Boucher, in the prospectus of his proposed Dictionary, did me the honour, then a young writer, to quote an opinion I had formed early in life of the purest source of neology, which is in the revival of old words.

Words that wise Bacon or brave Rawleigh spake!

We have lost many exquisite and picturesque expressions through the dulness of our lexicographers, or by the deficiency in that profounder study of our writers which their labours require far more than they themselves know. The natural graces of our language have been impoverished. The genius that throws its prophetic eye over the language, and the taste that must come from Heaven, no lexicographer imagines are required to accompany him amidst a library of old books!

19 Aulus Gellius, lib. i. c. 10.

20 Instit. lib. i. c. 5.

21 This verse was corrected by Bentley procudere nummum, instead of producere nomen, which the critics agree is one of his happy conjectures.

22 Henry Cockeram’s curious little “English Dictionarie, or an Interpretation of hard English words”, 12mo, 1631, professes to give in its first book “the choicest words themselves now in use, wherewith our language is inriched and become so copious.” Many have not survived, such as the following:—

Acyrologicall An improper speech.
Adacted Driven in by force.
Blandiloquy Flattering speech.
Compaginate To set together that which is broken.
Concessation Loytering.
Delitigate To scold, or chide vehemently.
Depalmate To give one a box on the ear.
Esuriate To hunger.
Strenuitie Activity.

Curiously enough, this author notes some words as those “now out of use, and onely used of some ancient writers,” but which we now commonly use. Such are the following:—

Abandon To forsake or cast off.
Abate To make lesse, diminish, or take from.

23 A most striking instance of the change of meaning in a word is in the old law-term let—“without let or hindrance;” meaning void of all opposition. Hence, “I will let you,” meant “I will hinder you;” and not as we should now think, “I will give you free leave.”

24 Shakspeare makes “Ancient Pistol” use a new-coined Italian word, when he speaks of being “better accommodated;” to the great delight of Justice Shallow, who exclaims, “It comes from accommodo—a good phrase!” And Ben Jonson, in his “Tale of a Tub,” ridicules Inigo Jones’s love of two words he often used:—

————If it conduce

To the design, whate’er is feasible,

I can express.

25 The term pluck, once only known to the prize-ring, has now got into use in general conversation, and also into literature, as a term indicative of ready courage.

26 Such terms as “patent to the public”—“normal condition”—“crass behaviour,” are the inventions of the last few years.

27 Shakspeare has a powerfully-composed line in the speech of the Duke of Burgundy, (Henry V. Act v. Sc. 2), when, describing the fields overgrown with weeds, he exclaims—

——The coulter rusts,

That should deracinate such savagery.

28 The “Quarterly Review” recently marked the word liberalise in italics as a strange word, undoubtedly not aware of its origin. It has been lately used by Mr. Dugald Stewart, “to liberalise the views.”—Dissert. 2nd part, p. 138.



In antique furniture we sometimes discover a convenience which long disuse had made us unacquainted with, and are surprised by the aptness which we did not suspect was concealed in its solid forms. We have found the labour of the workmen to have been as admirable as the material itself, which is still resisting the mouldering touch of time among those modern inventions, elegant and unsubstantial, which, often put together with unseasoned wood, are apt to warp and fly 33 into pieces when brought into use. We have found how strength consists in the selection of materials, and that, whenever the substitute is not better than the original, we are losing something in that test of experience, which all things derive from duration.

Be this as it may! I shall not unreasonably await for the artists of our novelties to retrograde into massive greatness, although I cannot avoid reminding them how often they revive the forgotten things of past times! It is well known that many of our novelties were in use by our ancestors! In the history of the human mind there is, indeed, a sort of antique furniture which I collect, not merely for their antiquity, but for the sound condition in which I still find them, and the compactness which they still show. Centuries have not worm-eaten their solidity! and the utility and delightfulness which they still afford make them look as fresh and as ingenious as any of our patent inventions.

By the title of the present article the reader has anticipated the nature of the old furniture to which I allude. I propose to give what, in the style of our times, may be called the Philosophy of Proverbs—a topic which seems virgin. The art of reading proverbs has not, indeed, always been acquired even by some of their admirers; but my observations, like their subject, must be versatile and unconnected; and I must bespeak indulgence for an attempt to illustrate a very curious branch of literature, rather not understood than quite forgotten.

Proverbs have long been in disuse. “A man of fashion,” observes Lord Chesterfield, “never has recourse to proverbs and vulgar aphorisms;” and, since the time his lordship so solemnly interdicted their use, they appear to have withered away under the ban of his anathema. His lordship was little conversant with the history of proverbs, and would unquestionably have smiled on those “men of fashion” of another stamp, who, in the days of Elizabeth, James, and Charles, were great collectors of them; would appeal to them in their conversations, and enforce them in their learned or their statesmanlike correspondence. Few, perhaps, even now, suspect that these neglected fragments of wisdom, which exist among all nations, still offer many interesting objects for the studies of the philosopher and the historian; and for men of the world still open an extensive school of human life and manners.


The home-spun adages, and the rusty “sayed-saws,” which remain in the mouths of the people, are adapted to their capacities and their humours. Easily remembered, and readily applied, these are the philosophy of the vulgar, and often more sound than that of their masters! whoever would learn what the people think, and how they feel, must not reject even these as insignificant. The proverbs of the street and of the market, true to nature, and lasting only because they are true, are records that the populace at Athens and at Rome were the same people as at Paris and at London, and as they had before been in the city of Jerusalem!

Proverbs existed before books. The Spaniards date the origin of their refranes que dicen las viejas tras el fuego, “sayings of old wives by their firesides,” before the existence of any writings in their language, from the circumstance that these are in the old romance or rudest vulgar idiom. The most ancient poem in the Edda, “the sublime speech of Odin,” abounds with ancient proverbs, strikingly descriptive of the ancient Scandinavians. Undoubtedly proverbs in the earliest ages long served as the unwritten language of morality, and even of the useful arts; like the oral traditions of the Jews, they floated down from age to age on the lips of successive generations. The name of the first sage who sanctioned the saying would in time be forgotten, while the opinion, the metaphor, or the expression, remained, consecrated into a proverb! Such was the origin of those memorable sentences by which men learnt to think and to speak appositely; they were precepts which no man could contradict, at a time when authority was valued more than opinion, and experience preferred to novelty. The proverbs of a father became the inheritance of a son; the mistress of a family perpetuated hers through her household; the workman condensed some traditional secret of his craft into a proverbial expression. When countries are not yet populous, and property has not yet produced great inequalities in its ranks, every day will show them how “the drunkard and the glutton come to poverty, and drowsiness clothes a man with rags.” At such a period he who gave counsel gave wealth.

It might therefore have been decided, à priori, that the most homely proverbs would abound in the most ancient writers—and such we find in Hesiod; a poet whose learning was not drawn from books. It could only have been in the 35 agricultural state that this venerable bard could have indicated a state of repose by this rustic proverb:—

Πηδάλιον μὲν ύπὲρ καπνοῦ καταδεῖο

Hang your plough-beam o’er the hearth!

The envy of rival workmen is as justly described by a reference to the humble manufacturers of earthenware as by the elevated jealousies of the literati and the artists of a more polished age. The famous proverbial verse in Hesiod’s Works and Days—

Καὶ κεραμεὺς κεραμεῖ κοτέει,

is literally, “The potter is hostile to the potter!”

The admonition of the poet to his brother, to prefer a friendly accommodation to a litigious lawsuit, has fixed a paradoxical proverb often applied,—

Πλέον ἢμισυ παντός,

The half is better than the whole!

In the progress of time, the stock of popular proverbs received accessions from the highest sources of human intelligence; as the philosophers of antiquity formed their collections, they increased in “weight and number.” Erasmus has pointed out some of these sources, in the responses of oracles; the allegorical symbols of Pythagoras; the verses of the poets; allusions to historical incidents; mythology and apologue; and other recondite origins. Such dissimilar matters, coming from all quarters, were melted down into this vast body of aphoristic knowledge. Those “words of the wise and their dark sayings,” as they are distinguished in that large collection which bears the name of the great Hebrew monarch, at length seem to have required commentaries; for what else can we infer of the enigmatic wisdom of the sages, when the royal parœmiographer classes among their studies, that of “understanding a proverb and the interpretation?” This elevated notion of “the dark sayings of the wise” accords with the bold conjecture of their origin which the Stagyrite has thrown out, who considered them as the wrecks of an ancient philosophy which had been lost to mankind by the fatal revolutions of all human things, and that those had been saved from the general ruin by their pithy elegance and their diminutive form; like those marine shells found on the tops of mountains, the relics of the Deluge! Even at a later period, the sage of 36 Cheronea prized them among the most solemn mysteries; and Plutarch has described them in a manner which proverbs may even still merit: “Under the veil of these curious sentences are hid those germs of morals which the masters of philosophy have afterwards developed into so many volumes.”

At the highest period of Grecian genius, the tragic and the comic poets introduced into their dramas the proverbial style. St. Paul quotes a line which still remains among the first exercises of our school-pens:—

Evil communications corrupt good manners.

It is a verse found in a fragment of Menander the comic poet:

Φθείρουσιν ἢθη χρήσθ᾽ ὁμιλίαι κακαί.

As this verse is a proverb, and the apostle, and indeed the highest authority, Jesus himself, consecrates the use of proverbs by their occasional application, it is uncertain whether St. Paul quotes the Grecian poet, or only repeats some popular adage. Proverbs were bright shafts in the Greek and Latin quivers; and when Bentley, by a league of superficial wits, was accused of pedantry for his use of some ancient proverbs, the sturdy critic vindicated his taste by showing that Cicero constantly introduced Greek proverbs into his writings,—that Scaliger and Erasmus loved them, and had formed collections drawn from the stores of antiquity.

Some difficulty has occurred in the definition. Proverbs must be distinguished from proverbial phrases, and from sententious maxims; but as proverbs have many faces, from their miscellaneous nature, the class itself scarcely admits of any definition. When Johnson defined a proverb to be “a short sentence frequently repeated by the people,” this definition would not include the most curious ones, which have not always circulated among the populace, nor even belong to them; nor does it designate the vital qualities of a proverb. The pithy quaintness of old Howell has admirably described the ingredients of an exquisite proverb to be sense, shortness, and salt. A proverb is distinguished from a maxim or an apophthegm by that brevity which condenses a thought or a metaphor, where one thing is said and another is to be applied. This often produces wit, and that quick pungency which excites surprise, but strikes with conviction; this gives it an epigrammatic turn. George Herbert entitled the small collection which he formed “Jacula Prudentium,” 37 Darts or Javelins! something hurled and striking deeply; a characteristic of a proverb which possibly Herbert may have borrowed from a remarkable passage in Plato’s dialogue of “Protagoras or the Sophists.”

The influence of proverbs over the minds and conversations of a whole people is strikingly illustrated by this philosopher’s explanation of the term to laconise,—the mode of speech peculiar to the Lacedæmonians. This people affected to appear unlearned, and seemed only emulous to excel the rest of the Greeks in fortitude and in military skill. According to Plato’s notion, this was really a political artifice, with a view to conceal their pre-eminent wisdom. With the jealousy of a petty state, they attempted to confine their renowned sagacity within themselves, and under their military to hide their contemplative character! The philosopher assures those who in other cities imagined they laconised, merely by imitating the severe exercises and the other warlike manners of the Lacedæmonians, that they were grossly deceived; and thus curiously describes the sort of wisdom which this singular people practised.

“If any one wish to converse with the meanest of the Lacedæmonians, he will at first find him, for the most part, apparently despicable in conversation; but afterwards, when a proper opportunity presents itself, this same mean person, like a skilful jaculator, will hurl a sentence, worthy of attention, short and contorted; so that he who converses with him will appear to be in no respect superior to a boy! That to laconise, therefore, consists much more in philosophising than in the love of exercise, is understood by some of the present age, and was known to the ancients, they being persuaded that the ability of uttering such sentences as these is the province of a man perfectly learned. The seven sages were emulators, lovers, and disciples of the Lacedæmonian erudition. Their wisdom was a thing of this kind, viz. short sentences uttered by each, and worthy to be remembered. These men, assembling together, consecrated to Apollo the first fruits of their wisdom; writing in the Temple of Apollo, at Delphi, those sentences which are celebrated by all men, viz. Know thyself! and Nothing too much! But on what account do I mention these things? To show that the mode of philosophy among the ancients was a certain laconic diction.”29


The “laconisms” of the Lacedæmonians evidently partook of the proverbial style: they were, no doubt, often proverbs themselves. The very instances which Plato supplies of this “laconising” are two most venerable proverbs.

All this elevates the science of proverbs, and indicates that these abridgments of knowledge convey great results, with a parsimony of words prodigal of sense. They have, therefore, preserved many “a short sentence, not repeated by the people.”

It is evident, however, that the earliest writings of every people are marked by their most homely, or domestic proverbs; for these were more directly addressed to their wants. Franklin, who may be considered as the founder of a people who were suddenly placed in a stage of civil society which as yet could afford no literature, discovered the philosophical cast of his genius, when he filled his almanacs with proverbs, by the ingenious contrivance of framing them into a connected discourse, delivered by an old man attending an auction. “These proverbs,” he tells us, “which contained the wisdom of many ages and nations, when their scattered counsels were brought together, made a great impression. They were reprinted in Britain, in a large sheet of paper, and stuck up in houses: and were twice translated in France, and distributed among their poor parishioners.” The same occurrence had happened with us ere we became a reading people. Sir Thomas Elyot, in the reign of Henry the Eighth, describing the ornaments of a nobleman’s house, among his hangings, and plate, and pictures, notices the engraving of proverbs “on his plate and vessels, which served the guests with a most opportune counsel and comments.” Later even than the reign of Elizabeth our ancestors had proverbs always before them, on everything that had room for a piece of advice on it; they had them painted in their tapestries, stamped on the most ordinary utensils, on the blades of their knives,30 the borders of their plates,31 and “conned them out 39 of goldsmiths’ rings.”32 The usurer, in Robert Greene’s “Groat’s worth of Wit,” compressed all his philosophy into the circle of his ring, having learned sufficient Latin to understand the proverbial motto of “Tu tibi cura!” The husband was reminded of his lordly authority when he only looked into his trencher, one of its learned aphorisms having descended to us,—

The calmest husbands make the stormiest wives.

The English proverbs of the populace, most of which are still in circulation, were collected by old John Heywood.33 They are arranged by Tusser for “the parlour—the guest’s chamber—the hall—table-lessons,” &c. Not a small portion of our ancient proverbs were adapted to rural life, when our ancestors lived more than ourselves amidst the works of God, 40 and less among those of men.34 At this time, one of our old statesmen, in commending the art of compressing a tedious discourse into a few significant phrases, suggested the use of proverbs in diplomatic intercourse, convinced of the great benefit which would result to the negotiators themselves, as well as to others! I give a literary curiosity of this kind. A member of the House of Commons, in the reign of Elizabeth, made a speech entirely composed of the most homely proverbs. The subject was a bill against double payments of book-debts. Knavish tradesmen were then in the habit of swelling out their book-debts with those who took credit, particularly to their younger customers. One of the members who began to speak “for very fear shook,” and stood silent. The nervous orator was followed by a blunt and true representative of the famed governor of Barataria, delivering himself thus—“It is now my chance to speak something, and that without humming or hawing. I think this law is a good law. Even reckoning makes long friends. As far goes the penny as the penny’s master. Vigilantibus non dormientibus jura subveniunt. Pay the reckoning overnight and ye shall not be troubled in the morning. If ready money be mensura publica, let every one cut his coat according to his cloth. When his old suit is in the wane, let him stay till that his money bring a new suit in the increase.”35

Another instance of the use of proverbs among our statesmen occurs in a manuscript letter of Sir Dudley Carlton, written in 1632, on the impeachment of Lord Middlesex, who, he says, is “this day to plead his own cause in the Exchequer-chamber, about an account of four-score thousand pounds laid to his charge. How his lordship sped I know not, but do remember well the French proverb, Qui mange de 41 l’oy du Roy chiera une plume quarante ans après. ‘Who eats of the king’s goose, will void a feather forty years after!’”

This was the era of proverbs with us; for then they were spoken by all ranks of society. The free use of trivial proverbs got them into disrepute; and as the abuse of a thing raises a just opposition to its practice, a slender wit affecting “a cross humour,” published a little volume of “Crossing of Proverbs, Cross-answers, and Cross-humours.” He pretends to contradict the most popular ones; but he has not always the genius to strike at amusing paradoxes.36

Proverbs were long the favourites of our neighbours; in the splendid and refined court of Louis the Fourteenth they gave rise to an odd invention. They plotted comedies and even fantastical ballets from their subjects. In these Curiosities of Literature I cannot pass by such eccentric inventions unnoticed.

A Comedy of proverbs is described by the Duke de la Vallière, which was performed in 1634 with prodigious success. He considers that this comedy ought to be ranked among farces; but it is gay, well-written, and curious for containing the best proverbs, which are happily introduced in the dialogue.

A more extraordinary attempt was a Ballet of proverbs. Before the opera was established in France, the ancient ballets formed the chief amusement of the court, and Louis the Fourteenth himself joined with the performers. The singular attempt of forming a pantomimical dance out of proverbs is quite French; we have a “ballet des proverbes, dansé par le Roi, in 1654.” At every proverb the scene changed, and adapted itself to the subject. I shall give two or three of the entrées that we may form some notion of these capriccios.


The proverb was—

Tel menace qui a grand peur.

He threatens who is afraid.

The scene was composed of swaggering scaramouches and some honest cits, who at length beat them off.

At another entrée the proverb was—

L’occasion fait le larron.

Opportunity makes the thief.

Opportunity was acted by le Sieur Beaubrun, but it is difficult to conceive how the real could personify the abstract personage. The thieves were the Duke d’Amville and Monsieur de la Chesnaye.

Another entrée was the proverb of—

Ce qui vient de la flute s’en va au tambour.

What comes by the pipe goes by the tabor.

A loose dissipated officer was performed by le Sieur l’Anglois; the Pipe by St. Aignan, and the Tabor by le Sieur le Comte! In this manner every proverb was spoken in action, the whole connected by dialogue. More must have depended on the actors than the poet.37

The French long retained this fondness for proverbs; for they still have dramatic compositions entitled proverbes, on a more refined plan. Their invention is so recent, that the term is not in their great dictionary of Trevoux. These proverbes are dramas of a single act, invented by Carmontel, who possessed a peculiar vein of humour, but who designed them only for private theatricals. Each proverb furnished a subject for a few scenes, and created a situation powerfully comic: it is a dramatic amusement which does not appear to have reached us, but one which the celebrated Catherine of Russia delighted to compose for her own society.

Among the middle classes of society to this day, we may observe that certain family proverbs are traditionally preserved: the favourite saying of a father is repeated by the sons; and frequently the conduct of a whole generation has been influenced by such domestic proverbs. This may be perceived in many of the mottos of our old nobility, which seem to have originated in some habitual proverb of the 43 founder of the family. In ages when proverbs were most prevalent, such pithy sentences would admirably serve in the ordinary business of life, and lead on to decision, even in its greater exigencies. Orators, by some lucky proverb, without wearying their auditors, would bring conviction home to their bosoms: and great characters would appeal to a proverb, or deliver that which in time by its aptitude became one. When Nero was reproached for the ardour with which he gave himself up to the study of music, he replied to his censurers by the Greek proverb, “An artist lives everywhere.” The emperor answered in the spirit of Rousseau’s system, that every child should be taught some trade. When Cæsar, after anxious deliberation, decided on the passage of the Rubicon (which very event has given rise to a proverb), rousing himself with a start of courage, he committed himself to Fortune, with that proverbial expression on his lips, used by gamesters in desperate play: having passed the Rubicon, he exclaimed, “The die is cast!” The answer of Paulus Æmilius to the relations of his wife, who had remonstrated with him on his determination to separate himself from her against whom no fault could be alleged, has become one of our most familiar proverbs. This hero acknowledged the excellences of his lady; but, requesting them to look on his shoe, which appeared to be well made, he observed, “None of you know where the shoe pinches!” He either used a proverbial phrase, or by its aptness it has become one of the most popular.

There are, indeed, proverbs connected with the characters of eminent men. They were either their favourite ones, or have originated with themselves. Such a collection would form a historical curiosity. To the celebrated Bayard are the French indebted for a military proverb, which some of them still repeat, “Ce que le gantelet gagne le gorgerin le mange”—“What the gauntlet gets, the gorget consumes.” That reflecting soldier well calculated the profits of a military life, which consumes, in the pomp and waste which are necessary for its maintenance, the slender pay it receives, and even what its rapacity sometimes acquires. The favourite proverb of Erasmus was Festina lente!—“Hasten slowly!”38 He wished it be inscribed wherever it could meet our eyes, on public buildings, and on our rings and seals. One of our own 44 statesmen used a favourite sentence, which has enlarged our stock of national proverbs. Sir Amias Pawlet, when he perceived too much hurry in any business, was accustomed to say, “Stay awhile, to make an end the sooner.” Oliver Cromwell’s coarse but descriptive proverb conveys the contempt he felt for some of his mean and troublesome coadjutors: “Nits will be lice!” The Italians have a proverb, which has been occasionally applied to certain political personages:—

Egli e quello che Dio vuole;

E sarà quello che Dio vorrà!

He is what God pleases;

He shall be what God wills!

Ere this was a proverb, it had served as an embroidered motto on the mystical mantle of Castruccio Castracani. That military genius, who sought to revolutionise Italy, and aspired to its sovereignty, lived long enough to repent the wild romantic ambition which provoked all Italy to confederate against him; the mysterious motto he assumed entered into the proverbs of his country! The Border proverb of the Douglases, “It were better to hear the lark sing than the mouse cheep,” was adopted by every Border chief, to express, as Sir Walter Scott observes, what the great Bruce had pointed out, that the woods and hills of their country were their safest bulwarks, instead of the fortified places which the English surpassed their neighbours in the arts of assaulting or defending. These illustrations indicate one of the sources of proverbs; they have often resulted from the spontaneous emotions or the profound reflections of some extraordinary individual, whose energetic expression was caught by a faithful ear, never to perish!

The poets have been very busy with proverbs in all the languages of Europe: some appear to have been the favourite lines of some ancient poem: even in more refined times, many of the pointed verses of Boileau and Pope have become proverbial. Many trivial and laconic proverbs bear the jingle of alliteration or rhyme, which assisted their circulation, and were probably struck off extempore; a manner which Swift practised, who was a ready coiner of such rhyming and ludicrous proverbs: delighting to startle a collector by his facetious or sarcastic humour, in the shape of an “old saying and 45 true.” Some of these rhyming proverbs are, however, terse and elegant: we have

Little strokes

Fell great oaks.

The Italian—

Chi duo lepri caccia

Uno perde, e l’altro lascia.

Who hunts two hares, loses one and leaves the other.

The haughty Spaniard—

El dar es honor,

Y el pedir dolor.

To give is honour, to ask is grief.

And the French—

Ami de table

Est variable.

The friend of the table

Is very variable.

The composers of these short proverbs were a numerous race of poets, who, probably, among the dreams of their immortality never suspected that they were to descend to posterity, themselves and their works unknown, while their extempore thoughts would be repeated by their own nation.

Proverbs were at length consigned to the people, when books were addressed to scholars; but the people did not find themselves so destitute of practical wisdom, by preserving their national proverbs, as some of those closet students who had ceased to repeat them. The various humours of mankind, in the mutability of human affairs, had given birth to every species; and men were wise, or merry, or satirical, and mourned or rejoiced in proverbs. Nations held an universal intercourse of proverbs, from the eastern to the western world; for we discover among those which appear strictly national, many which are common to them all. Of our own familiar ones several may be tracked among the snows of the Latins and the Greeks, and have sometimes been drawn from “The Mines of the East:” like decayed families which remain in obscurity, they may boast of a high lineal descent whenever they recover their lost title-deeds. The vulgar proverb, “To carry coals to Newcastle,” local and idiomatic 46 as it appears, however, has been borrowed and applied by ourselves; it may be found among the Persians: in the “Bustan” of Sadi we have Infers piper in Hindostan; “To carry pepper to Hindostan;” among the Hebrews, “To carry oil to the City of Olives;” a similar proverb occurs in Greek; and in Galland’s “Maxims of the East” we may discover how many of the most common proverbs among us, as well as some of Joe Miller’s jests, are of oriental origin.

The resemblance of certain proverbs in different nations, must, however, be often ascribed to the identity of human nature; similar situations and similar objects have unquestionably made men think and act and express themselves alike. All nations are parallels of each other! Hence all parœmiographers, or collectors of proverbs, complain of the difficulty of separating their own national proverbs from those which have crept into the language from others, particularly when nations have held much intercourse together. We have a copious collection of Scottish proverbs by Kelly, but this learned man was mortified at discovering that many which he had long believed to have been genuine Scottish, were not only English, but French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, and Greek ones; many of his Scottish proverbs are almost literally expressed among the fragments of remote antiquity. It would have surprised him further had he been aware that his Greek originals were themselves but copies, and might have been found in D’Herbelot, Erpenius, and Golius, and in many Asiatic works, which have been more recently introduced to the enlarged knowledge of the European student, who formerly found his most extended researches limited by Hellenistic lore.

Perhaps it was owing to an accidental circumstance that the proverbs of the European nations have been preserved in the permanent form of volumes. Erasmus is usually considered as the first modern collector, but he appears to have been preceded by Polydore Vergil, who bitterly reproaches Erasmus with envy and plagiarism, for passing by his collection without even a poor compliment for the inventor! Polydore was a vain, superficial writer, who prided himself in leading the way on more topics than the present. Erasmus, with his usual pleasantry, provokingly excuses himself, by acknowledging that he had forgotten his friend’s book! Few sympathise with the quarrels of authors; and since Erasmus has written a far better book than Polydore Vergil’s, the 47 original “Adagia” is left only to be commemorated in literary history as one of its curiosities.39

The “Adagia” of Erasmus contains a collection of about five thousand proverbs, gradually gathered from a constant study of the ancients. Erasmus, blest with the genius which could enliven a folio, delighted himself and all Europe by the continued accessions he made to a volume which even now may be the companion of literary men for a winter day’s fireside. The successful example of Erasmus commanded the imitation of the learned in Europe, and drew their attention to their own national proverbs. Some of the most learned men, and some not sufficiently so, were now occupied in this new study.

In Spain, Fernandez Nunes, a Greek professor, and the Marquis of Santellana, a grandee, published collections of their Refranes, or Proverbs, a term derived A REFERENDO, because it is often repeated. The “Refranes o Proverbios Castellanos,” par Cæsar Oudin, 1624, translated into French, is a valuable compilation. In Cervantes and Quevedo, the best practical illustrators, they are sown with no sparing hand. There is an ample collection of Italian proverbs, by Florio, who was an Englishman, of Italian origin, and who published “Il Giardino di Ricreatione” at London, so early as in 1591, exceeding six thousand proverbs; but they are unexplained, and are often obscure. Another Italian in England, Torriano, in 1649, published an interesting collection in the diminutive form of a twenty-fours. It was subsequent to these publications in England, that in Italy, Angelus Monozini, in 1604, published his collection; and Julius Varini, in 1642, produced his Scuola del Vulgo. In France, Oudin, after others had preceded him, published a collection of French proverbs, under the title of Curiosités Françoises. Fleury de Bellingen’s Explication de Proverbes François, on comparing it with Les Illustres Proverbes Historiques, a subsequent publication, I discovered to be the same work. It is the first attempt to render the study of proverbs somewhat amusing. The plan consists of a dialogue between a philosopher and a Sancho Pança, who blurts out his 48 proverbs with more delight than understanding. The philosopher takes that opportunity of explaining them by the events in which they originated, which, however, are not always to be depended on. A work of high merit on French proverbs is the unfinished one of the Abbé Tuet, sensible and learned. A collection of Danish proverbs, accompanied by a French translation, was printed at Copenhagen, in a quarto volume, 1761. England may boast of no inferior parœmiographers. The grave and judicious Camden, the religious Herbert, the entertaining Howell, the facetious Fuller, and the laborious Ray, with others, have preserved our national sayings. The Scottish have been largely collected and explained by the learned Kelly. An excellent anonymous collection, not uncommon, in various languages, 1707; the collector and translator was Dr. J. Mapletoft. It must be acknowledged, that although no nation exceeds our own in sterling sense, we rarely rival the delicacy, the wit, and the felicity of expression of the Spanish and the Italian, and the poignancy of some of the French proverbs.

The interest we may derive from the study of proverbs is not confined to their universal truths, nor to their poignant pleasantry; a philosophical mind will discover in proverbs a great variety of the most curious knowledge. The manners of a people are painted after life in their domestic proverbs; and it would not be advancing too much to assert, that the genius of the age might be often detected in its prevalent ones. The learned Selden tells us, that the proverbs of several nations were much studied by Bishop Andrews: the reason assigned was, because “by them he knew the minds of several nations, which,” said he, “is a brave thing, as we count him wise who knows the minds and the insides of men, which is done by knowing what is habitual to them.” Lord Bacon condensed a wide circuit of philosophical thought, when he observed that “the genius, wit, and spirit of a nation are discovered by their proverbs.”

Proverbs peculiarly national, while they convey to us the modes of thinking, will consequently indicate the modes of acting among a people. The Romans had a proverbial expression for their last stake in play, Rem ad triarios venisse, “the reserve are engaged!” a proverbial expression, from which the military habits of the people might be inferred; the triarii being their reserve. A proverb has preserved a curious custom of ancient coxcombry, which originally came from the 49 Greeks. To men of effeminate manners in their dress, they applied the proverb of Unico digitulo scalpit caput. Scratching the head with a single finger was, it seems, done by the critically nice youths in Rome, that they might not discompose the economy of their hair. The Arab, whose unsettled existence makes him miserable and interested, says, “Vinegar given is better than honey bought.” Everything of high esteem with him who is so often parched in the desert is described as milk—“How large his flow of milk!” is a proverbial expression with the Arab to distinguish the most copious eloquence. To express a state of perfect repose, the Arabian proverb is, “I throw the rein over my back;” an allusion to the loosening of the cords of the camels, which are thrown over their backs when they are sent to pasture. We discover the rustic manners of our ancient Britons in the Cambrian proverbs; many relate to the hedge. “The cleanly Briton is seen in the hedge: the horse looks not on the hedge but the corn: the bad husband’s hedge is full of gaps.” The state of an agricultural people appears in such proverbs as “You must not count your yearlings till May-day:” and their proverbial sentence for old age is, “An old man’s end is to keep sheep?” Turn from the vagrant Arab and the agricultural Briton to a nation existing in a high state of artificial civilization: the Chinese proverbs frequently allude to magnificent buildings. Affecting a more solemn exterior than all other nations, a favourite proverb with them is, “A grave and majestic outside is, as it were, the palace of the soul.” Their notion of a government is quite architectural. They say, “A sovereign may be compared to a hall; his officers to the steps that lead to it; the people to the ground on which they stand.” What should we think of a people who had a proverb, that “He who gives blows is a master, he who gives none is a dog?” We should instantly decide on the mean and servile spirit of those who could repeat it; and such we find to have been that of the Bengalese, to whom the degrading proverb belongs, derived from the treatment they were used to receive from their Mogul rulers, who answered the claims of their creditors by a vigorous application of the whip! In some of the Hebrew proverbs we are struck by the frequent allusions of that fugitive people to their own history. The cruel oppression exercised by the ruling power, and the confidence in their hope of change in the day of retribution, was delivered in this Hebrew proverb—“When the 50 tale of bricks is doubled, Moses comes!” The fond idolatry of their devotion to their ceremonial law, and to everything connected with their sublime Theocracy, in their magnificent Temple, is finely expressed by this proverb—“None ever took a stone out of the Temple, but the dust did fly into his eyes.” The Hebrew proverb that “A fast for a dream, is as fire for stubble,” which it kindles, could only have been invented by a people whose superstitions attached a holy mystery to fasts and dreams. They imagined that a religious fast was propitious to a religious dream; or to obtain the interpretation of one which had troubled their imagination. Peyssonel, who long resided among the Turks, observes that their proverbs are full of sense, ingenuity, and elegance, the surest test of the intellectual abilities of any nation. He said this to correct the volatile opinion of De Tott, who, to convey an idea of their stupid pride, quotes one of their favourite adages, of which the truth and candour are admirable; “Riches in the Indies, wit in Europe, and pomp among the Ottomans.”

The Spaniards may appeal to their proverbs to show that they were a high-minded and independent race. A Whiggish jealousy of the monarchical power stamped itself on this ancient one, Va el rey hasta do peude, y no hasta do quiere: “The king goes as far as he is able, not as far as he desires.” It must have been at a later period, when the national genius became more subdued, and every Spaniard dreaded to find under his own roof a spy or an informer, that another proverb arose, Con el rey y la inquisicion, chiton! “With the king and the Inquisition, hush!” The gravity and taciturnity of the nation have been ascribed to the effects of this proverb. Their popular but suppressed feelings on taxation, and on a variety of dues exacted by their clergy, were murmured in proverbs—Lo que no lleva Christo lleva el fisco! “What Christ takes not, the exchequer carries away!” They have a number of sarcastic proverbs on the tenacious gripe of the “abad avariento,” the avaricious priest, who, “having eaten the olio offered, claims the dish!” A striking mixture of chivalric habits, domestic decency, and epicurean comfort, appears in the Spanish proverb, La muger y la salsa a la mano de la lança: “The wife and the sauce by the hand of the lance;” to honour the dame, and to have the sauce near.

The Italian proverbs have taken a tinge from their deep and politic genius, and their wisdom seems wholly concentrated in their personal interests. I think every tenth proverb, 51 in an Italian collection, is some cynical or some selfish maxim: a book of the world for worldlings! The Venetian proverb, Pria Veneziana, poi Christiane: “First Venetian, and then Christian!” condenses the whole spirit of their ancient Republic into the smallest space possible. Their political proverbs no doubt arose from the extraordinary state of a people sometimes distracted among republics, and sometimes servile in petty courts. The Italian says, I popoli s’ammazzano, ed i principi s’abbracciano: “The people murder one another, and princes embrace one another.” Chi prattica co’ grandi, l’ultimo a tavola, e’l primo a strapazzi: “Who dangles after the great is the last at table, and the first at blows.” Chi non sa adulare, non sa regnare: “Who knows not to flatter, knows not to reign.” Chi serve in corte muore sul’ pagliato: “Who serves at court, dies on straw.” Wary cunning in domestic life is perpetually impressed. An Italian proverb, which is immortalised in our language, for it enters into the history of Milton, was that by which the elegant Wotton counselled the young poetic traveller to have—Il viso sciolto, ed i pensieri stretti, “An open countenance, but close thoughts.” In the same spirit, Chi parla semina, chi tace raccoglie: “The talker sows, the silent reaps;” as well as, Fatti di miele, e ti mangieran le mosche: “Make yourself all honey, and the flies will devour you.” There are some which display a deep knowledge of human nature: A Lucca ti vidi, à Pisa ti connobbi! “I saw you at Lucca, I knew you at Pisa!” Guardati d’aceto di vin dolce: “Beware of vinegar made of sweet wine;” provoke not the rage of a patient man!

Among a people who had often witnessed their fine country devastated by petty warfare, their notion of the military character was not usually heroic. Il soldato per far male è ben pagato: “The soldier is well paid for doing mischief.” Soldato, acqua, e fuoco, presto si fan luoco: “A soldier, fire, and water soon make room for themselves.” But in a poetical people, endowed with great sensibility, their proverbs would sometimes be tender and fanciful. They paint the activity of friendship, Chi ha l’amor nel petto, ha lo sprone à i fianchi: “Who feels love in the breast, feels a spur in his limbs:” or its generous passion, Gli amici legono la borsa con un filo di ragnatelo: “Friends tie their purse with a cobweb’s thread.” They characterised the universal lover by an elegant proverb—Appicare il Maio ad ogn’ uscio: “To 52 hang every door with May;” alluding to the bough which in the nights of May the country people are accustomed to plant before the door of their mistress. If we turn to the French, we discover that the military genius of France dictated the proverb Maille à maille se fait le haubergeon: “Link by link is made the coat of mail;” and, Tel coup de langue est pire qu’un coup de lance; “The tongue strikes deeper than the lance;” and Ce qui vient du tambour s’en retourne à la flute; “What comes by the tabor goes back with the pipe.” Point d’argent point de Suisse has become proverbial, observes an Edinburgh Reviewer; a striking expression, which, while French or Austrian gold predominated, was justly used to characterise the illiberal and selfish policy of the cantonal and federal governments of Switzerland, when it began to degenerate from its moral patriotism. The ancient, perhaps the extinct, spirit of Englishmen was once expressed by our proverb, “Better be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion;” i.e., the first of the yeomanry rather than the last of the gentry. A foreign philosopher might have discovered our own ancient skill in archery among our proverbs; for none but true toxophilites could have had such a proverb as, “I will either make a shaft or a bolt of it!” signifying, says the author of Ivanhoe, a determination to make one use or other of the thing spoken of: the bolt was the arrow peculiarly fitted to the cross-bow, as that of the long-bow was called a shaft. These instances sufficiently demonstrate that the characteristic circumstances and feelings of a people are discovered in their popular notions, and stamped on their familiar proverbs.

It is also evident that the peculiar, and often idiomatic, humour of a people is best preserved in their proverbs. There is a shrewdness, although deficient in delicacy, in the Scottish proverbs; they are idiomatic, facetious, and strike home. Kelly, who has collected three thousand, informs us, that, in 1725, the Scotch were a great proverbial nation; for that few among the better sort will converse any considerable time, but will confirm every assertion and observation with a Scottish proverb. The speculative Scotch of our own times have probably degenerated in prudential lore, and deem themselves much wiser than their proverbs. They may reply by a Scotch proverb on proverbs, made by a great man in Scotland, who, having given a splendid entertainment, was harshly told, that “Fools make feasts, and wise men eat 53 them;” but he readily answered, “Wise men make proverbs, and fools repeat them!”

National humour, frequently local and idiomatical, depends on the artificial habits of mankind, so opposite to each other; but there is a natural vein, which the populace, always true to nature, preserve, even among the gravest people. The Arabian proverb, “The barber learns his art on the orphan’s face;” the Chinese, “In a field of melons do not pull up your shoe; under a plum-tree do not adjust your cap;”—to impress caution in our conduct under circumstances of suspicion;—and the Hebrew one, “He that hath had one of his family hanged may not say to his neighbour, hang up this fish!” are all instances of this sort of humour. The Spaniards are a grave people, but no nation has equalled them in their peculiar humour. The genius of Cervantes partook largely of that of his country; that mantle of gravity, which almost conceals its latent facetiousness, and with which he has imbued his style and manner with such untranslatable idiomatic raciness, may be traced to the proverbial erudition of his nation. “To steal a sheep, and give away the trotters for God’s sake!” is Cervantic nature! To one who is seeking an opportunity to quarrel with another, their proverb runs, Si quieres dar palos a sur muger pidele al sol a bever, “Hast thou a mind to quarrel with thy wife, bid her bring water to thee in the sunshine!”—a very fair quarrel may be picked up about the motes in the clearest water! On the judges in Gallicia, who, like our former justices of peace, “for half a dozen chickens would dispense with a dozen of penal statutes,” A juezes Gallicianos, con los pies en las manos: “To the judges of Gallicia go with feet in hand;” a droll allusion to a present of poultry, usually held by the legs. To describe persons who live high without visible means, Los que cabritos venden, y cabras no tienen, de donde los vienen? “They that sell kids, and have no goats, how came they by them?” El vino no trae bragas, “Wine wears no breeches;” for men in wine expose their most secret thoughts. Vino di un oreja, “Wine of one ear!” is good wine; for at bad, shaking our heads, both our ears are visible; but at good the Spaniard, by a natural gesticulation lowering on one side, shows a single ear.

Proverbs abounding in sarcastic humour, and found among every people, are those which are pointed at rival countries. Among ourselves, hardly has a county escaped from some popular 54 quip; even neighbouring towns have their sarcasms, usually pickled in some unlucky rhyme. The egotism of man eagerly seizes on whatever serves to depreciate or to ridicule his neighbour: nations proverb each other; counties flout counties; obscure towns sharpen their wits on towns as obscure as themselves—the same evil principle lurking in poor human nature, if it cannot always assume predominance, will meanly gratify itself by insult or contempt. They expose some prevalent folly, or allude to some disgrace which the natives have incurred. In France, the Burgundians have a proverb, Mieux vaut bon repas que bel habit; “Better a good dinner than a fine coat.” These good people are great gormandizers, but shabby dressers; they are commonly said to have “bowels of silk and velvet;” this is, all their silk and velvet goes for their bowels! Thus Picardy is famous for “hot heads;” and the Norman for son dit et son dédit, “his saying and his unsaying!” In Italy the numerous rival cities pelt one another with proverbs: Chi ha a fare con Tosco non convien esser losco, “He who deals with a Tuscan must not have his eyes shut.” A Venetia chi vi nasce mal vi si pasce, “Whom Venice breeds, she poorly feeds.”

There is another source of national characteristics, frequently producing strange or whimsical combinations; a people, from a very natural circumstance, have drawn their proverbs from local objects, or from allusions to peculiar customs. The influence of manners and customs over the ideas and language of a people would form a subject of extensive and curious research. There is a Japanese proverb, that “A fog cannot be dispelled with a fan!” Had we not known the origin of this proverb, it would be evident that it could only have occurred to a people who had constantly before them fogs and fans; and the fact appears that fogs are frequent on the coast of Japan, and that from the age of five years both sexes of the Japanese carry fans. The Spaniards have an odd proverb to describe those who tease and vex a person before they do him the very benefit which they are about to confer—acting kindly, but speaking roughly; Mostrar primero la horca que le lugar, “To show the gallows before they show the town;” a circumstance alluding to their small towns, which have a gallows placed on an eminence, so that the gallows breaks on the eye of the traveller before he gets a view of the town itself.

The Cheshire proverb on marriage, “Better wed over the 55 mixon than over the moor,” that is, at home or in its vicinity; mixon alludes to the dung, &c., in the farm-yard, while the road from Chester to London is over the moorland in Staffordshire: this local proverb is a curious instance of provincial pride, perhaps of wisdom, to induce the gentry of that county to form intermarriages; to prolong their own ancient families, and perpetuate ancient friendships between them.

In the Isle of Man a proverbial expression forcibly indicates the object constantly occupying the minds of the inhabitants. The two Deemsters or judges, when appointed to the chair of judgment, declare they will render justice between man and man “as equally as the herring bone lies between the two sides:” an image which could not have occurred to any people unaccustomed to the herring-fishery. There is a Cornish proverb, “Those who will not be ruled by the rudder must be ruled by the rock”—the strands of Cornwall, so often covered with wrecks, could not fail to impress on the imaginations of its inhabitants the two objects from whence they drew this salutary proverb against obstinate wrongheads.

When Scotland, in the last century, felt its allegiance to England doubtful, and when the French sent an expedition to the Land of Cakes, a local proverb was revived, to show the identity of interests which affected both nations:

If Skiddaw hath a cap,

Scruffel wots full well of that.

These are two high hills, one in Scotland and one in England; so near, that what happens to the one will not be long ere it reach the other. If a fog lodges on the one, it is sure to rain on the other; the mutual sympathies of the two countries were hence deduced in a copious dissertation, by Oswald Dyke, on what was called “The Union-proverb,” which local proverbs of our country Fuller has interspersed in his “Worthies,” and Ray and Grose have collected separately.

I was amused lately by a curious financial revelation which I found in an opposition paper, where it appears that “Ministers pretend to make their load of taxes more portable, by shifting the burden, or altering the pressure, without, however, diminishing the weight; according to the Italian proverb, Accommodare le bisaccie nella strada, ‘To fit the load on 56 the journey:’” it is taken from a custom of the mule-drivers, who, placing their packages at first but awkwardly on the backs of their poor beasts, and seeing them ready to sink, cry out, “Never mind! we must fit them better on the road!” I was gratified to discover, by the present and some other modern instances, that the taste for proverbs was reviving, and that we were returning to those sober times, when the aptitude of a simple proverb would be preferred to the verbosity of politicians, Tories, Whigs, or Radicals!

There are domestic proverbs which originate in incidents known only to the natives of their province. Italian literature is particularly rich in these stores. The lively proverbial taste of that vivacious people was transferred to their own authors; and when these allusions were obscured by time, learned Italians, in their zeal for their national literature, and in their national love of story-telling, have written grave commentaries even on ludicrous, but popular tales, in which the proverbs are said to have originated. They resemble the old facetious contes, whose simplicity and humour still live in the pages of Boccaccio, and are not forgotten in those of the Queen of Navarre.

The Italians apply a proverb to a person who while he is beaten, takes the blows quietly:—

Per beato ch’ elle non furon pesche!

Luckily they were not peaches!

And to threaten to give a man—

Una pesca in un occhio.

A peach in the eye,

means to give him a thrashing. This proverb, it is said, originated in the close of a certain droll adventure. The community of the Castle Poggibonsi, probably from some jocular tenure observed on St. Bernard’s day, pay a tribute of peaches to the court of Tuscany, which are usually shared among the ladies in waiting, and the pages of the court. It happened one season, in a great scarcity of peaches, that the good people of Poggibonsi, finding them rather dear, sent, instead of the customary tribute, a quantity of fine juicy figs, which was so much disapproved of by the pages, that as soon as they got hold of them, they began in rage to empty the baskets on the heads of the ambassadors of the Poggibonsi, who, in attempting to fly as well as they could from the pulpy shower, half-blinded, 57 and recollecting that peaches would have had stones in them, cried out—

Per beato ch’ elle non furon pesche!

Luckily they were not peaches!

Fare le scalée di Sant’ Ambrogio; “To mount the stairs of Saint Ambrose,” a proverb allusive to the business of the school of scandal. Varchi explains it by a circumstance so common in provincial cities. On summer evenings, for fresh air and gossip, the loungers met on the steps and landing-places of the church of St. Ambrose: whoever left the party, “they read in his book,” as our commentator expresses it; and not a leaf was passed over! All liked to join a party so well informed of one another’s concerns, and every one tried to be the very last to quit it,—not “to leave his character behind!” It became a proverbial phrase with those who left a company, and were too tender of their backs, to request they would not “mount the stairs of St. Ambrose.” Jonson has well described such a company:

You are so truly fear’d, but not beloved

One of another, as no one dares break

Company from the rest, lest they should fall

Upon him absent.

There are legends and histories which belong to proverbs; and some of the most ancient refer to incidents which have not always been commemorated. Two Greek proverbs have accidentally been explained by Pausanias: “He is a man of Tenedos!” to describe a person of unquestionable veracity; and “To cut with the Tenedian axe;” to express an absolute and irrevocable refusal. The first originated in a king of Tenedos, who decreed that there should always stand behind the judge a man holding an axe, ready to execute justice on any one convicted of falsehood. The other arose from the same king, whose father having reached his island, to supplicate the son’s forgiveness for the injury inflicted on him by the arts of a step-mother, was preparing to land; already the ship was fastened by its cable to a rock; when the son came down, and sternly cutting the cable with an axe, sent the ship adrift to the mercy of the waves: hence, “to cut with the Tenedian axe,” became proverbial to express an absolute refusal. “Business to-morrow!” is another Greek proverb, applied to a person ruined by his own neglect. The fate of 58 an eminent person perpetuated the expression which he casually employed on the occasion. One of the Theban polemarchs, in the midst of a convivial party, received despatches relating to a conspiracy: flushed with wine, although pressed by the courier to open them immediately, he smiled, and in gaiety laying the letter under the pillow of his couch, observed, “Business to-morrow!” Plutarch records that he fell a victim to the twenty-four hours he had lost, and became the author of a proverb which was still circulated among the Greeks.

The philosophical antiquary may often discover how many a proverb commemorates an event which has escaped from the more solemn monuments of history, and is often the solitary authority of its existence. A national event in Spanish history is preserved by a proverb. Y vengar quiniento sueldos; “And revenge five hundred pounds!” An odd expression to denote a person being a gentleman! but the proverb is historical. The Spaniards of Old Castile were compelled to pay an annual tribute of five hundred maidens to their masters, the Moors; after several battles, the Spaniards succeeded in compromising the shameful tribute, by as many pieces of coin: at length the day arrived when they entirely emancipated themselves from this odious imposition. The heroic action was performed by men of distinction, and the event perpetuated in the recollections of the Spaniards by this singular expression, which alludes to the dishonourable tribute, was applied to characterise all men of high honour, and devoted lovers of their country.

Pasquier, in his Récherches sur la France, reviewing the periodical changes of ancient families in feudal times, observes, that a proverb among the common people conveys the result of all his inquiries; for those noble houses, which in a single age declined from nobility and wealth to poverty and meanness, gave rise to the proverb, Cent ans bannières et cent ans civières! “One hundred years a banner and one hundred years a barrow!” The Italian proverb, Con l’Evangilio si diventa heretico, “With the gospel we become heretics,”—reflects the policy of the court of Rome; and must be dated at the time of the Reformation, when a translation of the Scriptures into the vulgar tongue encountered such an invincible opposition. The Scotch proverb, He that invented the maiden first hanselled it; that is, got the first of it! The maiden is that well-known beheading engine, revived by the French surgeon Guillotine. This proverb may be applied to one who falls a victim to his own ingenuity; the artificer 59 of his own destruction! The inventor was James, Earl of Morton, who for some years governed Scotland, and afterwards, it is said, very unjustly suffered by his own invention. It is a striking coincidence, that the same fate was shared by the French reviver; both alike sad examples of disturbed times! Among our own proverbs a remarkable incident has been commemorated; Hand over head, as the men took the Covenant! This preserves the manner in which the Scotch covenant, so famous in our history, was violently taken by above sixty thousand persons about Edinburgh, in 1638; a circumstance at that time novel in our own revolutionary history, and afterwards paralleled by the French in voting by “acclamation.” An ancient English proverb preserves a curious fact concerning our coinage. Testers are gone to Oxford, to study at Brazennose. When Henry the Eighth debased the silver coin, called testers, from their having a head stamped on one side; the brass, breaking out in red pimples on their silver faces, provoked the ill-humour of the people to vent itself in this punning proverb, which has preserved for the historical antiquary the popular feeling which lasted about fifty years, till Elizabeth reformed the state of the coinage. A northern proverb among us has preserved the remarkable idea which seems to have once been prevalent, that the metropolis of England was to be the city of York; Lincoln was, London is, York shall be! Whether at the time of the union of the crowns, under James the First, when England and Scotland became Great Britain, this city, from its centrical situation, was considered as the best adapted for the seat of government, or for some other cause which I have not discovered, this notion must have been prevalent to have entered into a proverb. The chief magistrate of York is the only provincial one who is allowed the title of Lord Mayor; a circumstance which seems connected with this proverb.

The Italian history of its own small principalities, whose well-being so much depended on their prudence and sagacity, affords many instances of the timely use of a proverb. Many an intricate negotiation has been contracted through a good-humoured proverb,—many a sarcastic one has silenced an adversary; and sometimes they have been applied on more solemn, and even tragical occasions. When Rinaldo degli Albizzi was banished by the vigorous conduct of Cosmo de’ Medici, Machiavel tells us the expelled man sent Cosmo a menace, in a proverb, La gallina covava! “The hen is 60 brooding!” said of one meditating vengeance. The undaunted Cosmo replied by another, that “There was no brooding out of the nest!”

I give an example of peculiar interest; for it is perpetuated by Dante, and is connected with the character of Milton.

When the families of the Amadei and the Uberti felt their honour wounded in the affront the younger Buondelmonte had put upon them, in breaking off his match with a young lady of their family, by marrying another, a council was held, and the death of the young cavalier was proposed as the sole atonement for their injured honour. But the consequences which they anticipated, and which afterwards proved so fatal to the Florentines, long suspended their decision. At length Moscha Lamberti suddenly rising, exclaimed, in two proverbs, “That those who considered everything would never conclude on anything!” closing with an ancient proverbial saying—cosa fatta capo ha! “a deed done has an end!” The proverb sealed the fatal determination, and was long held in mournful remembrance by the Tuscans; for, according to Villani, it was the cause and beginning of the accursed factions of the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. Dante has thus immortalised the energetic expression in a scene of the “Inferno.”

Ed un, ch’ avea l’una e l’altra man mozza,

Levando i moncherin per l’aura fosca,

Si che ’l sangue facea la faccia sozza,

Gridò:—“Ricorderati anche del Mosca,

Che dissi, lasso: Capo ha cosa fatta,

Che fu ’l mal seme della gente Tosca.”

———Then one

Maim’d of each hand, uplifted in the gloom

The bleeding stumps, that they with gory spots

Sullied his face, and cried—“Remember thee

Of Mosca too—I who, alas! exclaim’d

‘The deed once done, there is an end’—that proved

A seed of sorrow to the Tuscan race.”

Cary’s Dante.

This Italian proverb was adopted by Milton; for when deeply engaged in writing “The Defence of the People,” and warned that it might terminate in his blindness, he resolvedly concluded his work, exclaiming with great magnanimity, although the fatal prognostication had been accomplished, cosa fatta capo ha! Did this proverb also influence his awful 61 decision on that great national event, when the most honest-minded fluctuated between doubts and fears?

Of a person treacherously used, the Italian proverb says that he has eaten of

Le frutte di fratre Alberigo.

The fruit of brother Alberigo.

Landino, on the following passage of Dante, preserves the tragic story:—

———Io son fratre Alberigo,

Io son quel dalle frutta del mal orto

Che qui reprendo, &c.

Canto xxxiii.

“The friar Alberigo,” answered he,

“Am I, who from the evil garden pluck’d

Its fruitage, and am here repaid the date

More luscious for my fig.”

Cary’s Dante.

This was Manfred, the Lord of Fuenza, who, after many cruelties, turned friar. Reconciling himself to those whom he had so often opposed, to celebrate the renewal of their friendship he invited them to a magnificent entertainment. At the end of the dinner the horn blew to announce the dessert—but it was the signal of this dissimulating conspirator!—and the fruits which that day were served to his guests were armed men, who, rushing in, immolated their victims.

Among these historical proverbs none are more entertaining than those which perpetuate national events, connected with those of another people. When a Frenchman would let us understand that he has settled with his creditors, the proverb is J’ai payé tous mes Anglois: “I have paid all my English.” This proverb originated when John, the French king, was taken prisoner by our Black Prince. Levies of money were made for the king’s ransom, and for many French lords; and the French people have thus perpetuated the military glory of our nation, and their own idea of it, by making the English and their creditors synonymous terms. Another relates to the same event—Le Pape est devenu François, et Jesus Christ Anglais: “Now the Pope is become French and Jesus Christ English;” a proverb which arose when the Pope, exiled from Rome, held his court at Avignon in France; and 62 the English prospered so well, that they possessed more than half the kingdom. The Spanish proverb concerning England is well known—

Con todo el mondo guerra,

Y paz con Inglaterra!

War with the world,

And peace with England!

Whether this proverb was one of the results of their memorable armada, and was only coined after their conviction of the splendid folly which they had committed, I cannot ascertain. England must always have been a desirable ally to Spain against her potent rival and neighbour. The Italians have a proverb, which formerly, at least, was strongly indicative of the travelled Englishmen in their country, Inglese Italianato è un diavolo incarnato; “The Italianised Englishman is a devil incarnate.” Formerly there existed a closer intercourse between our country and Italy than with France. Before and during the reigns of Elizabeth and James the First that land of the elegant arts modelled our taste and manners: and more Italians travelled into England, and were more constant residents, from commercial concerns, than afterwards when France assumed a higher rank in Europe by her political superiority. This cause will sufficiently account for the number of Italian proverbs relating to England, which show an intimacy with our manners that could not else have occurred. It was probably some sarcastic Italian, and, perhaps, horologer, who, to describe the disagreement of persons, proverbed our nation—“They agree like the clocks of London!” We were once better famed for merry Christmases and their pies; and it must have been the Italians who had been domiciliated with us who gave currency to the proverb—Ha piu da fare che i forni di natale in Inghilterra: “He has more business than English ovens at Christmas.” Our pie-loving gentry were notorious, and Shakspeare’s folio was usually laid open in the great halls of our nobility to entertain their attendants, who devoured at once Shakspeare and their pasty. Some of those volumes have come down to us, not only with the stains, but inclosing even the identical piecrusts of the Elizabethan age.

I have thus attempted to develope the art of reading proverbs; but have done little more than indicate the 63 theory, and must leave the skilful student to the delicacy of the practice. I am anxious to rescue from prevailing prejudices these neglected stores of curious amusement, and of deep insight into the ways of man, and to point out the bold and concealed truths which are scattered in these collections. There seems to be no occurrence in human affairs to which some proverb may not be applied. All knowledge was long aphoristical and traditional, pithily contracting the discoveries which were to be instantly comprehended and easily retained. Whatever be the revolutionary state of man, similar principles and like occurrences are returning on us; and antiquity, whenever it is justly applicable to our times, loses its denomination, and becomes the truth of our own age. A proverb will often cut the knot which others in vain are attempting to untie. Johnson, palled with the redundant elegancies of modern composition, once said, “I fancy mankind may come in time to write all aphoristically, except in narrative; grow weary of preparation, and connexion, and illustration, and all those arts by which a big book is made.” Many a volume indeed has often been written to demonstrate what a lover of proverbs could show had long been ascertained by a single one in his favourite collections.

An insurmountable difficulty, which every paræmiographer has encountered, is that of forming an apt, a ready, and a systematic classification: the moral Linnæus of such a “systema naturæ” has not yet appeared. Each discovered his predecessor’s mode imperfect, but each was doomed to meet the same fate.40 The arrangement of proverbs has baffled the ingenuity of every one of their collectors. Our Ray, after long premeditation, has chosen a system with the appearance of an alphabetical order; but, as it turns out, his system is no system, and his alphabet is no alphabet. After ten years’ labour, the good man could only arrange his proverbs by commonplaces—by complete sentences—by phrases or forms of speech—by proverbial similes—and so on. All these are pursued in alphabetical order, “by the first 64 letter of the most ‘material word,’ or if there be more words ‘equally material,’ by that which usually stands foremost.” The most patient examiner will usually find that he wants the sagacity of the collector to discover that word which is “the most material,” or, “the words equally material.” We have to search through all that multiplicity of divisions, or conjuring boxes, in which this juggler of proverbs pretends to hide the ball.41

A still more formidable objection against a collection of proverbs, for the impatient reader, is their unreadableness. Taking in succession a multitude of insulated proverbs, their slippery nature resists all hope of retaining one in a hundred; the study of proverbs must be a frequent recurrence to a gradual collection of favourite ones, which we ourselves must form. The experience of life will throw a perpetual freshness over these short and simple texts; every day may furnish a new commentary; and we may grow old, and find novelty in proverbs by their perpetual application.

There are, perhaps, about twenty thousand proverbs among the nations of Europe: many of these have spread in their common intercourse; many are borrowed from the ancients, chiefly the Greeks, who themselves largely took them from the eastern nations. Our own proverbs are too often deficient in that elegance and ingenuity which are often found in the Spanish and the Italian. Proverbs frequently enliven conversation, or enter into the business of life in those countries, without any feeling of vulgarity being associated with them: they are too numerous, too witty, and too wise to cease to please by their poignancy and their aptitude. I have heard them fall from the lips of men of letters and of statesmen. When recently the disorderly state of the manufacturers of Manchester menaced an insurrection, a profound Italian politician observed to me, that it was not of a nature to alarm a great nation; for that the remedy was at hand, in the proverb of the Lazzaroni of Naples, Metà consiglio, metà esempio, metà denaro! “Half advice, half example, half money!” The result confirmed the truth of the proverb, which, had it been known at the time, might have quieted the honest fears of a great part of the nation.

Proverbs have ceased to be studied or employed in conversation 65 since the time we have derived our knowledge from books; but in a philosophical age they appear to offer infinite subjects for speculative curiosity. Originating in various eras, these memorials of manners, of events, and of modes of thinking, for historical as well as for moral purposes, still retain a strong hold on our attention. The collected knowledge of successive ages, and of different people, must always enter into some part of our own! Truth and nature can never be obsolete.

Proverbs embrace the wide sphere of human existence, they take all the colours of life, they are often exquisite strokes of genius, they delight by their airy sarcasm or their caustic satire, the luxuriance of their humour, the playfulness of their turn, and even by the elegance of their imagery, and the tenderness of their sentiment. They give a deep insight into domestic life, and open for us the heart of man, in all the various states which he may occupy—a frequent review of proverbs should enter into our readings; and although they are no longer the ornaments of conversation, they have not ceased to be the treasuries of Thought!

29 Taylor’s Translation of Plato’s works, vol v. p. 36.

30 Shakspeare satirically alludes to the quality of such rhymes in his Merchant of Venice, Act v. Sc. 1. Speaking of one

“—— whose poesy was

For all the world like cutler’s poetry

Upon a knife, Love me, and leave me not.”

31 One of the fruit trenchers, for such these roundels are called in the Gent. Mag. for 1798, p. 398, is engraved there, and the inscriptions of an entire set given.—See also the Supplement to that volume, p. 1187. The author of the “Art of English Poesie,” 1589, tells us they never contained above one verse, or two at the most, but the shorter the better. Two specimens may suffice the reader. One, under the symbol of a skull, thus morally discourses:—

“Content thyself with thine estate,

And send no poor wight from thy gate;

For why, this counsel I you give,

To learne to die, and die to live.”

On another, decorated with pictures of fruit, are these satirical lines:—

“Feed and be fat: hear’s pears and plums,

Will never hurt your teeth or spoil your gums.

And I wish those girls that painted are,

No other food than such fine painted fare.”

32 This constant custom of engraving “posies,” as they were termed, on rings, is noted by many authors of the Elizabethan era. Lilly, in his “Euphues,” addresses the ladies for a favourable judgment on his work, hoping it will be recorded “as you do the posies in your rings, which are always next to the finger not to be seene of him that holdeth you by the hand, and yet knowne by you that weare them on your hands.” They were always engraved withinside of the ring. A MS. of the time of Charles I. furnishes us with a single posy, of one line, to this effect—“This hath alloy; my love is pure.” From the same source we have the two following rhyming, or “double posies”—

“Constancy and heaven are round,

And in this the emblem’s found.”

“Weare me out, love shall not waste;

Love beyond tyme still is placed.”

33 Heywood’s “Dialogue, conteyninge the Number in Effecte of all the Proverbes in the English Tunge, 1561.” There are more editions of this little volume than Warton has noticed. There is some humour in his narrative, but his metre and his ribaldry are heavy taxes on our curiosity.

34 The whole of Tusser’s “Five Hundred Pointes of Good Husbandrie,” 1580, was composed in quaint couplets, long remembered by the peasantry for their homely worldly wisdom. One, constructed for the bakehouse, runs thus:—

“New bread is a drivell (waste);

Much crust is as evil.”

Another for the dairymaid assures her—

“Good dairie doth pleasure;

Ill dairie spends treasure.”

Another might rival any lesson of thrift:—

“Where nothing will last,

Spare such as thou hast.”

35 Townshend’s Historical Collections, p. 283.

36 It was published in 1616: the writer only catches at some verbal expressions—as, for instance:—

The vulgar proverb runs, “The more the merrier.”

The cross,—“Not so! one hand is enough in a purse.”

The proverb, “It is a great way to the bottom of the sea.”

The cross,—“Not so! it is but a stone’s cast.”

The proverb, “The pride of the rich makes the labours of the poor.”

The cross,—“Not so! the labours of the poor make the pride of the rich.”

The proverb, “He runs far who never turns.”

The cross,—“Not so! he may break his neck in a short course.”

37 It has been suggested that this whimsical amusement has been lately revived, to a certain degree, in the acting of charades among juvenile parties.

38 Now the punning motto of a noble family.

39 At the Royal institution there is a fine copy of Polydore Vergil’s “Adagia,” with his other work, curious in its day, De Inventoribus Rerum, printed by Frobenius, in 1521. The wood-cuts of this edition seem to me to be executed with inimitable delicacy, resembling a pencilling which Raphael might have envied.

40 Since the appearance of the present article, several collections of Proverbs have been attempted. A little unpretending volume, entitled “Select Proverbs of all Nations, with Notes and Comments, by Thomas Fielding, 1824,” is not ill arranged; an excellent book for popular reading. The editor of a recent miscellaneous compilation, “The Treasury of Knowledge,” has whimsically bordered the four sides of the pages of a Dictionary with as many proverbs. The plan was ingenious, but the proverbs are not. Triteness and triviality are fatal to a proverb.

41 A new edition of Ray’s book, with large additions, was published by Bohn, in 1855, under the title of “A Handbook of Proverbs.” It is a vast collection of “wise saws” of all ages and countries.



“There is nothing more common,” says the lively Voltaire, “than to read and to converse to no purpose. In history, in morals, in law, in physic, and in divinity, be careful of equivocal terms.” One of the ancients wrote a book to prove that there was no word which did not convey an ambiguous and uncertain meaning. If we possessed this lost book, our ingenious dictionaries of “synonyms” would not probably prove its uselessness. Whenever the same word is associated by the parties with different ideas, they may converse, or controverse, till “the crack of doom!” This with a little obstinacy and some agility in shifting his ground, makes the fortune of an opponent. While one party is worried in disentangling a meaning, and the other is winding and unwinding about him with another, a word of the kind we have mentioned, carelessly or perversely slipped into an argument, may prolong it for a century or two—as it has happened! Vaugelas, who passed his whole life in the study of words, would not allow that the sense was to determine the meaning of words; for, says he, it is the business of words to explain 66 the sense. Kant for a long while discovered in this way a facility of arguing without end, as at this moment do our political economists. “I beseech you,” exclaims a poetical critic, in the agony of a confusion of words, on the Pope controversy, “not to ask whether I mean this or that!” Our critic, positive that he has made himself understood, has shown how a few vague terms may admit of volumes of vindication. Throw out a word, capable of fifty senses, and you raise fifty parties! Should some friend of peace enable the fifty to repose on one sense, that innocent word, no longer ringing the tocsin of a party, would lie in forgetfulness in the Dictionary. Still more provoking when an identity of meaning is only disguised by different modes of expression, and when the term has been closely sifted, to their mutual astonishment both parties discover the same thing lying under the bran and chaff after this heated operation. Plato and Aristotle probably agreed much better than the opposite parties they raised up imagined; their difference was in the manner of expression, rather than in the points discussed. The Nominalists and the Realists, who once filled the world with their brawls, and who from irregular words came to regular blows, could never comprehend their alternate nonsense; “whether in employing general terms we use words or names only, or whether there is in nature anything corresponding to what we mean by a general idea?” The Nominalists only denied what no one in his senses would affirm; and the Realists only contended for what no one in his senses would deny; a hair’s breadth might have joined what the spirit of party had sundered!

Do we flatter ourselves that the Logomachies of the Nominalists and the Realists terminated with these scolding schoolmen? Modern nonsense, weighed against the obsolete, may make the scales tremble for awhile, but it will lose its agreeable quality of freshness, and subside into an equipoise. We find their spirit still lurking among our own metaphysicians! “Lo! the Nominalists and the Realists again!” exclaimed my learned friend, Sharon Turner, alluding to our modern doctrines on abstract ideas, on which there is still a doubt whether they are anything more than generalising terms.42 Leibnitz confused his philosophy by the term sufficient reason: for every existence, for every event, and for 67 every truth there must be a sufficient reason. This vagueness of language produced a perpetual misconception, and Leibnitz was proud of his equivocal triumphs in always affording a new interpretation! It is conjectured that he only employed his term of sufficient reason for the plain simple word of cause. Even Locke, who has himself so admirably noticed the “abuse of words,” has been charged with using vague and indefinite ones; he has sometimes employed the words reflection, mind, and spirit in so indefinite a way, that they have confused his philosophy: thus by some ambiguous expressions, our great metaphysician has been made to establish doctrines fatal to the immutability of moral distinctions. Even the eagle-eye of the intellectual Newton grew dim in the obscurity of the language of Locke. We are astonished to discover that two such intellects should not comprehend the same ideas; for Newton wrote to Locke, “I beg your pardon for representing that you struck at the root of morality in a principle laid down in your book of Ideas—and that I took you for a Hobbist!”43 The difference of opinion between Locke and Reid is in consequence of an ambiguity in the word principle, as employed by Reid. The removal of a solitary word may cast a luminous ray over a whole body of philosophy: “If we had called the infinite the indefinite,” says Condillac, in his Traité des Sensations, “by this small change of a word we should have avoided the error of imagining that we have a positive idea of infinity, from whence so many false reasonings have been carried on, not only by metaphysicians, but even by geometricians.” The word reason has been used with different meanings by different writers; reasoning and reason have been often confounded; a man may have an endless capacity for reasoning, without being much influenced by reason, and to be reasonable, perhaps differs from both! So Moliere tells us,

Raisonner est l’emploi de toute ma maison;

Et le raisonnement en bannit la raison!

In this research on “confusion of words,” might enter the voluminous history of the founders of sects, who have usually employed terms which had no meaning attached to them, or were so ambiguous that their real notions have never been comprehended; hence the most chimerical opinions have been 68 imputed to founders of sects. We may instance that of the Antinomians, whose remarkable denomination explains their doctrine, expressing that they were “against law!” Their founder was John Agricola, a follower of Luther, who, while he lived, had kept Agricola’s follies from exploding, which they did when he asserted that there was no such thing as sin, our salvation depending on faith, and not on works; and when he declaimed against the Law of God. To what length some of his sect pushed this verbal doctrine is known; but the real notions of this Agricola probably never will be! Bayle considered him as a harmless dreamer in theology, who had confused his head by Paul’s controversies with the Jews; but Mosheim, who bestows on this early reformer the epithets of ventosus and versipellis, windy and crafty! or, as his translator has it, charges him with “vanity, presumption, and artifice,” tells us by the term “law,” Agricola only meant the ten commandments of Moses, which he considered were abrogated by the Gospel, being designed for the Jews and not for the Christians. Agricola then, by the words the “Law of God,” and “that there was no such thing as sin,” must have said one thing and meant another! This appears to have been the case with most of the divines of the sixteenth century; for even Mosheim complains of “their want of precision and consistency in expressing their sentiments, hence their real sentiments have been misunderstood.” There evidently prevailed a great “confusion of words” among them! The grace suffisante and the grace efficace of the Jansenists and the Jesuits show the shifts and stratagems by which nonsense may be dignified. “Whether all men received from God sufficient grace for their conversion!” was an inquiry some unhappy metaphysical theologist set afloat: the Jesuits, according to their worldly system of making men’s consciences easy, affirmed it; but the Jansenists insisted, that this sufficient grace would never be efficacious, unless accompanied by special grace. “Then the sufficient grace, which is not efficacious, is a contradiction in terms, and worse, a heresy!” triumphantly cried the Jesuits, exulting over their adversaries. This “confusion of words” thickened, till the Jesuits introduced in this logomachy with the Jansenists papal bulls, royal edicts, and a regiment of dragoons! The Jansenists, in despair, appealed to miracles and prodigies, which they got up for public representation; but, above all, to their Pascal, whose immortal satire the Jesuits really felt 69 was at once “sufficient and efficacious,” though the dragoons, in settling a “confusion of words,” did not boast of inferior success to Pascal’s. Former ages had, indeed, witnessed even a more melancholy logomachy, in the Homoousion and the Homoiousion! An event which Boileau has immortalised by some fine verses, which, in his famous satire on L’Equivoque, for reasons best known to the Sorbonne, were struck out of the text.

D’une syllabe impie un saint mot augmenté

Remplit tous les esprits d’aigreurs si meurtrières—

Tu fis, dans une guerre et si triste et si longue,

Périr tant de Chrétiens, martyrs d’une diphthongue!

Whether the Son was similar to the substance of the Father, or of the same substance, depended on the diphthong oi, which was alternately rejected and received. Had they earlier discovered, what at length they agreed on, that the words denoted what was incomprehensible, it would have saved thousands, as a witness describes, “from tearing one another to pieces.” The great controversy between Abelard and St. Bernard, when the saint accused the scholastic of maintaining heretical notions of the Trinity, long agitated the world; yet, now that these confusers of words can no longer inflame our passions, we wonder how these parties could themselves differ about words to which we can attach no meaning whatever. There have been few councils or synods where the omission or addition of a word or a phrase might not have terminated an interminable logomachy! At the council of Basle, for the convenience of the disputants, John de Secubia drew up a treatise of undeclined words, chiefly to determine the signification of the particles from, by, but, and except, which it seems were perpetually occasioning fresh disputes among the Hussites and the Bohemians. Had Jerome of Prague known, like our Shakspeare, the virtue of an if, or agreed with Hobbes, that he should not have been so positive in the use of the verb is, he might have been spared from the flames. The philosopher of Malmsbury has declared that “Perhaps Judgment was nothing else but the composition or joining of two names of things, or modes, by the verb is.” In modern times the popes have more skilfully freed the church from this “confusion of words.” His holiness, on one occasion, standing in equal terror of the court of France, who protected the Jesuits, and of the court 70 of Spain, who maintained the cause of the Dominicans, contrived a phrase, where a comma or a full stop, placed at the beginning or the end, purported that his holiness tolerated the opinions which he condemned; and when the rival parties despatched deputations to the court of Rome to plead for the period, or advocate the comma, his holiness, in this “confusion of words,” flung an unpunctuated copy to the parties; nor was it his fault, but that of the spirit of party, if the rage of the one could not subside into a comma, nor that of the other close by a full period!

In jurisprudence much confusion has occurred in the uses of the term rights; yet the social union and human happiness are involved in the precision of the expression. When Montesquieu laid down, as the active principle of a republic, virtue, it seemed to infer that a republic was the best of governments. In the defence of his great work he was obliged to define the term; and it seems that by virtue he only meant political virtue, the love of the country.

In politics, what evils have resulted from abstract terms to which no ideas are affixed,—such as, “The Equality of Man—the Sovereignty or the Majesty of the People—Loyalty—Reform—even Liberty herself!—Public Opinion—Public Interest;” and other abstract notions, which have excited the hatred or the ridicule of the vulgar. Abstract ideas, as sounds, have been used as watchwords. The combatants will usually be found willing to fight for words to which, perhaps, not one of them has attached any settled signification. This is admirably touched on by Locke, in his chapter of “Abuse of Words.” “Wisdom, Glory, Grace, &c., are words frequent enough in every man’s mouth; but if a great many of those who use them should be asked what they mean by them, they would be at a stand, and know not what to answer—a plain proof that though they have learned those sounds, and have them ready at their tongue’s end, yet there are no determined ideas laid up in their minds which are to be expressed to others by them.”

When the American exclaimed that he was not represented in the House of Commons, because he was not an elector, he was told that a very small part of the people of England were electors. As they could not call this an actual representation, they invented a new name for it, and called it a virtual one. It imposed on the English nation, who could not object that others should be taxed rather than themselves; but with the 71 Americans it was a sophism! and this virtual representation, instead of an actual one, terminated in our separation; “which,” says Mr. Flood, “at the time appeared to have swept away most of our glory and our territory; forty thousand lives, and one hundred millions of treasure!”

That fatal expression which Rousseau had introduced, l’Egalité des Hommes, which finally involved the happiness of a whole people, had he lived he had probably shown how ill his country had understood. He could only have referred in his mind to political equality, but not an equality of possessions, of property, of authority, destructive of social order and of moral duties, which must exist among every people. “Liberty,” “Equality,” and “Reform” (innocent words!) sadly ferment the brains of those who cannot affix any definite notions to them; they are like those chimerical fictions in law, which declare the “sovereign immortal, proclaim his ubiquity in various places,” and irritate the feelings of the populace, by assuming that “the king can never do wrong!” In the time of James the Second “it is curious,” says Lord Russell, “to read the conference between the Houses on the meaning of the words ‘deserted’ and ‘abdicated,’ and the debates in the Lords whether or no there is an original contract between king and people.” The people would necessarily decide that “kings derived their power from them;” but kings were once maintained by a “right divine,” a “confusion of words,” derived from two opposite theories, and both only relatively true. When we listen so frequently to such abstract terms as “the majesty of the people,” “the sovereignty of the people,” whence the inference that “all power is derived from the people,” we can form no definite notions: it is “a confusion of words,” contradicting all the political experience which our studies or our observations furnish; for sovereignty is established to rule, to conduct, and to settle the vacillations and quick passions of the multitude. Public opinion expresses too often the ideas of one party in place; and public interest those of another party out! Political axioms, from the circumstance of having the notions attached to them unsettled, are applied to the most opposite ends! “In the time of the French Directory,” observes an Italian philosopher of profound views, “in the revolution of Naples, the democratic faction pronounced that ‘Every act of a tyrannical government is in its origin illegal;’ a proposition which at first sight seems self-evident, but which 72 went to render all existing laws impracticable.” The doctrine of the illegality of the acts of a tyrant was proclaimed by Brutus and Cicero, in the name of the senate, against the populace, who had favoured Cæsar’s perpetual dictatorship; and the populace of Paris availed themselves of it, against the National Assembly.

This “confusion of words,” in time-serving politics, has too often confounded right and wrong; and artful men, driven into a corner, and intent only on its possession, have found no difficulty in solving doubts, and reconciling contradictions. Our own history in revolutionary times abounds with dangerous examples from all parties; of specious hypotheses for compliance with the government of the day or the passions of parliament. Here is an instance in which the subtle confuser of words pretended to substitute two consciences, by utterly depriving a man of any! When the unhappy Charles the First pleaded that to pass the bill of attainder against the Earl of Strafford was against his conscience, that remarkable character of “boldness and impiety,” as Clarendon characterizes Williams, Archbishop of York, on this argument of conscience (a simple word enough), demonstrated “that there were two sorts of conscience, public and private; that his public conscience as a king might dispense with his private conscience as a man!” Such was the ignominious argument which decided the fate of that great victim of State! It was an impudent “confusion of words” when Prynne (in order to quiet the consciences of those who were uneasy at warring with the king) observed that the statute of twenty-fifth Edward the Third ran in the singular number—“If a man shall levy war against the king, and therefore could not be extended to the houses, who are many and public persons.” Later, we find Sherlock blest with the spirit of Williams, the Archbishop of York, whom we have just left. When some did not know how to charge and to discharge themselves of the oaths to James the Second and to William the Third, this confounder of words discovered that there were two rights, as the other had that there were two consciences; one was a providential right, and the other a legal right; one person might very righteously claim and take a thing, and another as righteously hold and keep it; but that whoever got the better had the providential right by possession; and since all authority comes from God, the people were obliged to transfer their allegiance to him as a king of God’s making; so that 73 he who had the providential right necessarily had the legal one! a very simple discovery, which must, however, have cost him some pains; for this confounder of words was himself confounded by twelve answers by non-jurors! A French politician of this stamp recently was suspended from his lectureship for asserting that the possession of the soil was a right; by which principle, any king reigning over a country, whether by treachery, crime, and usurpation, was a legitimate sovereign. For this convenient principle the lecturer was tried, and declared not guilty—by persons who have lately found their advantage in a confusion of words. In treaties between nations, a “confusion of words” has been more particularly studied; and that negotiator has conceived himself most dexterous who, by this abuse of words, has retained an arrière-pensée which may fasten or loosen the ambiguous expression he had so cautiously and so finely inlaid in his mosaic of treachery. A scene of this nature I draw out of “Mesnager’s Negociation with the Court of England.” When that secret agent of Louis the Fourteenth was negotiating a peace, an insuperable difficulty arose respecting the acknowledgment of the Hanoverian succession. It was absolutely necessary, on this delicate point, to quiet the anxiety of the English public and our allies; but though the French king was willing to recognise Anne’s title to the throne, yet the settlement in the house of Hanover was incompatible with French interests and French honour. Mesnager told Lord Bolingbroke that “the king, his master, would consent to any such article, looking the other way, as might disengage him from the obligation of that agreement, as the occasion should present.” This ambiguous language was probably understood by Lord Bolingbroke: at the next conference his lordship informed the secret agent “that the queen could not admit of any explanations, whatever her intentions might be; that the succession was settled by act of parliament; that as to the private sentiments of the queen, or of any about her, he could say nothing.” “All this was said with such an air, as to let me understand that he gave a secret assent to what I had proposed, &c.; but he desired me to drop the discourse.” Thus two great negotiators, both equally urgent to conclude the treaty, found an insuperable obstacle occur, which neither could control. Two honest men would have parted; but the “skilful confounder of words,” the French diplomatist, hit on an expedient; he wrote the words which afterwards appeared 74 in the preliminaries, “That Louis the Fourteenth will acknowledge the Queen of Great Britain in that quality, as also the succession of the crown according to the present settlement.” “The English agent,” adds the Frenchman, “would have had me add—on the house of Hanover, but this I entreated him not to desire of me.” The term present settlement, then, was that article which was looking the other way, to disengage his master from the obligation of that agreement, as occasion should present! that is, that Louis the Fourteenth chose to understand by the present settlement the old one, by which the British crown was to be restored to the Pretender! Anne and the English nation were to understand it in their own sense—as the new one, which transferred it to the house of Hanover!

When politicians cannot rely upon each other’s interpretation of one of the commonest words in our language, how can they possibly act together? The Bishop of Winchester has proved this observation, by the remarkable anecdote of the Duke of Portland and Mr. Pitt, who, with a view to unite parties, were to hold a conference on fair and equal terms. His grace did not object to the word fair, but the word equal was more specific and limited; and for a necessary preliminary, he requested Mr. Pitt to inform him what he understood by the word equal? Whether Pitt was puzzled by the question, or would not deliver up an arrière-pensée, he put off the explanation to the conference. But the duke would not meet Mr. Pitt till the word was explained; and this important negotiation was broken off by not explaining a simple word which appeared to require no explanation.

There is nothing more fatal in language than to wander from the popular acceptation of words; and yet this popular sense cannot always accord with precision of ideas, for it is itself subject to great changes.

Another source, therefore, of the abuse of words, is that mutability to which, in the course of time, the verbal edifice, as well as more substantial ones, is doomed. A familiar instance presents itself in the titles of tyrant, parasite, and sophist, originally honourable distinctions. The abuses of dominion made the appropriate title of kings odious; the title of a magistrate, who had the care of the public granaries of corn, at length was applied to a wretched flatterer for a dinner; and absurd philosophers occasioned a mere denomination to become a by-name. To employ such terms in their 75 primitive sense would now confuse all ideas; yet there is an affectation of erudition which has frequently revived terms sanctioned by antiquity. Bishop Watson entitled his vindication of the Bible “an apology:” this word, in its primitive sense, had long been lost for the multitude, whom he particularly addressed in this work, and who could only understand it in the sense they are accustomed to. Unquestionably, many of its readers have imagined that the bishop was offering an excuse for a belief in the Bible, instead of a vindication of its truth. The word impertinent, by the ancient jurisconsults, or law-counsellors, who gave their opinion on cases, was used merely in opposition to pertinentratio pertinens is a pertinent reason, that is, a reason pertaining to the cause in question, and a ratio impertinens, an impertinent reason, is an argument not pertaining to the subject.44 Impertinent then originally meant neither absurdity nor rude intrusion, as it does in our present popular sense. The learned Arnauld having characterised a reply of one of his adversaries by the epithet impertinent, when blamed for the freedom of his language, explained his meaning by giving this history of the word, which applies to our own language. Thus also with us the word indifferent has entirely changed: an historian, whose work was indifferently written, would formerly have claimed our attention. In the Liturgy it is prayed that “magistrates may indifferently minister justice.” Indifferently originally meant impartially. The word extravagant, in its primitive signification, only signified to digress from the subject. The Decretals, or those letters from the popes deciding on points of ecclesiastical discipline, were at length incorporated with the canon law, and were called extravagant by wandering out of the body of the canon law, being confusedly dispersed through that collection. When Luther had the Decretals publicly burnt at Wittemberg, the insult was designed for the pope, rather than as a condemnation of the canon law itself. Suppose, in the present case, two persons of opposite opinions. 76 The catholic, who had said that the decretals were extravagant, might not have intended to depreciate them, or make any concession to the Lutheran. What confusion of words has the common sense of the Scotch metaphysicians introduced into philosophy! There are no words, perhaps, in the language which may be so differently interpreted; and Professor Dugald Stewart has collected, in a curious note in the second volume of his “Philosophy of the Human Mind,” a singular variety of its opposite significations. The Latin phrase, sensus communis, may, in various passages of Cicero, be translated by our phrase common sense; but, on other occasions, it means something different; the sensus communis of the schoolmen is quite another thing, and is synonymous with conception, and referred to the seat of intellect; with Sir John Davies, in his curious metaphysical poem, common sense is used as imagination. It created a controversy with Beattie and Reid; and Reid, who introduced this vague ambiguous phrase in philosophical language, often understood the term in its ordinary acceptation. This change of the meaning of words, which is constantly recurring in metaphysical disputes, has made that curious but obscure science liable to this objection of Hobbes, “with many words making nothing understood!”

Controversies have been keenly agitated about the principles of morals, which resolve entirely into verbal disputes, or at most into questions of arrangement and classification, of little comparative moment to the points at issue. This observation of Mr. Dugald Stewart’s might be illustrated by the fate of the numerous inventors of systems of thinking or morals, who have only employed very different and even opposite terms in appearance to express the same thing. Some, by their mode of philosophising, have strangely unsettled the words self-interest and self-love; and their misconceptions have sadly misled the votaries of these systems of morals; as others also by such vague terms as “utility, fitness,” &c.

When Epicurus asserted that the sovereign good consisted in pleasure, opposing the unfeeling austerity of the Stoics by the softness of pleasurable emotions, his principle was soon disregarded; while his word, perhaps chosen in the spirit of paradox, was warmly adopted by the sensualist. Epicurus, of whom Seneca has drawn so beautiful a domestic scene, in whose garden a loaf, a Cytheridean cheese, and a draught 77 which did not inflame thirst,45 was the sole banquet, would have started indignantly at

The fattest hog in Epicurus’ sty!

Such are the facts which illustrate that principle in “the abuse of words,” which Locke calls “an affected obscurity arising from applying old words to new, or unusual significations.”

It was the same “confusion of words” which gave rise to the famous sect of the Sadducees. The master of its founder Sadoc, in his moral purity, was desirous of a disinterested worship of the Deity; he would not have men like slaves, obedient from the hope of reward or the fear of punishment. Sadoc drew a quite contrary inference from the intention of his master, concluding that there were neither rewards nor punishments in a future state. The result is a parallel to the fate of Epicurus. The morality of the master of Sadoc was of the most pure and elevated kind, but in the “confusion of words,” the libertines adopted them for their own purposes—and having once assumed that neither rewards nor punishments existed in the after-state, they proceeded to the erroneous consequence that man perished with his own dust!

The plainest words, by accidental associations, may suggest the most erroneous conceptions, and have been productive of the grossest errors. In the famous Bangorian controversy, one of the writers excites a smile by a complaint, arising from his views of the signification of a plain word, whose meaning he thinks had been changed by the contending parties. He says, “the word country, like a great many others, such as church and kingdom, is, by the Bishop of Bangor’s leave, become to signify a collection of ideas very different from its original meaning; with some it implies party, with others private opinion, and with most interest, and perhaps, in time, may signify some other country. When this good innocent word has been tossed backwards and forwards a little longer, some new reformer of language may arise to reduce it to its primitive signification—the real interest of Great Britain!” The antagonist of this controversialist probably retorted on him his own term of the real interest, which might be a very opposite one, according to their notions! It has been said, with what truth I know not, that it was by a mere confusion 78 of words that Burke was enabled to alarm the great Whig families, by showing them their fate in that of the French noblesse; they were misled by the similitude of names. The French noblesse had as little resemblance to our nobility as they have to the Mandarins of China. However it may be in this case, certain it is that the same terms misapplied have often raised those delusive notions termed false analogies. It was long imagined in this country, that the parliaments of France were somewhat akin to our own; but these assemblies were very differently constituted, consisting only of lawyers in courts of law. A misnomer confuses all argument. There is a trick which consists in bestowing good names on bad things. Vices, thus veiled, are introduced to us as virtues, according to an old poet,

As drunkenness, good-fellowship we call?

Sir Thomas Wiat.

Or the reverse, when loyalty may be ridiculed, as

The right divine of kings—to govern wrong!

The most innocent recreations, such as the drama, dancing, dress, have been anathematised by puritans, while philosophers have written elaborate treatises in their defence—the enigma is solved, when we discover that these words suggested a set of opposite notions to each.

But the nominalists and the realists, and the doctores fundatissimi, resolutissimi, refulgentes, profundi, and extatici, have left this heirloom of logomachy to a race as subtle and irrefragable! An extraordinary scene has recently been performed by a new company of actors, in the modern comedy of Political Economy; and the whole dialogue has been carried on in an inimitable “confusion of words!” This reasoning and unreasoning fraternity never use a term as a term, but for an explanation, and which employed by them all, signifies opposite things, but never the plainest! Is it not, therefore, strange that they cannot yet tell us what are riches? what is rent? what is value? Monsieur Say, the most sparkling of them all, assures us that the English writers are obscure, by their confounding, like Smith, the denomination of labour. The vivacious Gaul cries out to the grave Briton, Mr. Malthus, “If I consent to employ your word labour, you must understand me,” so and so! Mr. Malthus says, “Commodities are not exchanged for commodities 79 only; they are also exchanged for labour;” and when the hypochondriac Englishman, with dismay, foresees “the glut of markets,” and concludes that we may produce more than we can consume, the paradoxical Monsieur Say discovers that “commodities” is a wrong word, for it gives a wrong idea; it should be “productions;” for his axiom is, that “productions can only be purchased with productions.” Money, it seems, according to dictionary ideas, has no existence in his vocabulary; for Monsieur Say has formed a sort of Berkleian conception of wealth being immaterial, while we confine our views to its materiality. Hence ensues from this “confusion of words,” this most brilliant paradox,—that “a glutted market is not a proof that we produce too much but that we produce too little! for in that case there is not enough produced to exchange with what is produced!” As Frenchmen excel in politeness and impudence, Monsieur Say adds, “I revere Adam Smith; he is my master; but this first of political economists did not understand all the phenomena of production and consumption.” We, who remain uninitiated in this mystery of explaining the operations of trade by metaphysical ideas, and raising up theories to conduct those who never theorise, can only start at the “confusion of words,” and leave this blessed inheritance to our sons, if ever the science survive the logomachy.

Caramuel, a famous Spanish bishop, was a grand architect of words. Ingenious in theory, his errors were confined to his practice: he said a great deal and meant nothing; and by an exact dimension of his intellect, taken at the time, it appeared that “he had genius in the eighth degree, eloquence in the fifth, but judgment only in the second!” This great man would not read the ancients; for he had a notion that the moderns must have acquired all they possessed, with a good deal of their own “into the bargain.” Two hundred and sixty-two works, differing in breadth and length, besides his manuscripts, attest, that if the world would read his writings, they could need no other; for which purpose his last work always referred to the preceding ones, and could never be comprehended till his readers possessed those which were to follow. As he had the good sense to perceive that metaphysicians abound in obscure and equivocal terms, to avoid this “confusion of words,” he invented a jargon of his own; and to make “confusion worse confounded,” projected grammars and vocabularies by which we were to learn it; but it 80 is supposed that he was the only man who understood himself. He put every author in despair by the works which he announced. This famous architect of words, however, built more labyrinths than he could always get out of, notwithstanding his “cabalistical grammar,” and his “audacious grammar.”46 Yet this great Caramuel, the critics have agreed, was nothing but a puffy giant, with legs too weak for his bulk, and only to be accounted as a hero amidst a “confusion of words.”

Let us dread the fate of Caramuel! and before we enter into discussion with the metaphysician, first settle what he means by the nature of ideas; with the politician, his notion of liberty and equality; with the divine, what he deems orthodox; with the political economist, what he considers to be value and rent! By this means we may avoid, what is perpetually recurring, that extreme laxity or vagueness of words, which makes every writer, or speaker, complain of his predecessor, and attempt sometimes, not in the best temper, to define and to settle the signification of what the witty South calls “those rabble-charming words, which carry so much wildfire wrapt up in them.”

42 Turner’s “History of England,” i. 514

43 We owe this curious unpublished letter to the zeal and care of Professor Dugald Stewart, in his excellent “Dissertations.”

44 It is still a Chancery word. An answer in Chancery, &c., is referred for impertinence, reported impertinent—and the impertinence ordered to be struck out, meaning only what is immaterial or superfluous, tending to unnecessary expense. I am indebted for this explanation to my friend, Mr. Merivale; and to another learned friend, formerly in that court, who describes its meaning as “an excess of words or matter in the pleadings,” and who has received many an official fee for “expunging impertinence,” leaving, however, he acknowledges, a sufficient quantity to make the lawyers ashamed of their verbosity.

45 Sen. Epist. 21.

46 Baillet gives the dates and plans of these grammars. The cabalistic was published in Bruxelles, 1642, in 12mo. The audacious was in folio, printed at Frankfort, 1654.—Jugemens des Savans. Tome ii. 3me partie.



Political calumny is said to have been reduced into an art, like that of logic, by the Jesuits. This itself may be a political calumny! A powerful body, who themselves had practised the artifices of calumniators, may, in their turn, often have been calumniated. The passage in question was drawn out of one of the classical authors used in their colleges. Busembaum, a German Jesuit, had composed, in duodecimo, a “Medulla Theologiæ moralis,” where, among other casuistical propositions, there was found lurking in this old Jesuit’s “marrow” one which favoured regicide and assassination! Fifty editions of the book had passed unnoticed; till a new one appearing at the critical moment of Damien’s attempt, the duodecimo of the old scholastic Jesuit, which had now been amplified by its commentators into two folios, was considered not merely ridiculous, but dangerous. It was burnt 81 at Toulouse, in 1757, by order of the parliament, and condemned at Paris. An Italian Jesuit published an “apology” for this theory of assassination, and the same flames devoured it! Whether Busembaum deserved the honour bestowed on his ingenuity, the reader may judge by the passage itself.

“Whoever would ruin a person, or a government, must begin this operation by spreading calumnies, to defame the person or the government; for unquestionably the calumniator will always find a great number of persons inclined to believe him, or to side with him; it therefore follows, that whenever the object of such calumnies is once lowered in credit by such means, he will soon lose the reputation and power founded on that credit, and sink under the permanent and vindictive attacks of the calumniator.” This is the politics of Satan—the evil principle which regulates so many things in this world. The enemies of the Jesuits have formed a list of great names who had become the victims of such atrocious Machiavelism.47

This has been one of the arts practised by all political parties. Their first weak invention is to attach to a new faction a contemptible or an opprobrious nickname. In the history of the revolutions of Europe, whenever a new party has at length established its independence, the original denomination which had been fixed on them, marked by the passions of the party which bestowed it, strangely contrasts with the state of the party finally established!

The first revolutionists of Holland incurred the contemptuous name of “Les Gueux,” or the Beggars. The Duchess of Parma inquiring about them, the Count of Barlamont scornfully described them to be of this class; and it was flattery of the great which gave the name currency. The Hollanders accepted the name as much in defiance as with indignation, and acted up to it. Instead of brooches in their hats, they wore little wooden platters, such as beggars used, and foxes’ tails instead of feathers. On the targets of some of these Gueux they inscribed “Rather Turkish than Popish!” and had the print of a cock crowing, out of whose mouth was a label, Vive les Gueux par tout le monde! which was everywhere set up, and was the favourite sign of their inns. The Protestants in France, after a variety of nicknames to render them contemptible—such as Christodins, because they would 82 only talk about Christ, similar to our Puritans; and Parpaillots, or Parpirolles, a small base coin, which was odiously applied to them—at length settled in the well-known term of Huguenots, which probably was derived, as the Dictionnaire de Trévoux suggests, from their hiding themselves in secret places, and appearing at night, like King Hugon, the great hobgoblin of France. It appears that the term has been preserved by an earthen vessel without feet, used in cookery, which served the Huguenots on meagre days to dress their meat, and to avoid observation; a curious instance, where a thing still in use proves the obscure circumstance of its origin.

The atrocious insurrection, called La Jacquerie, was a term which originated in cruel derision. When John of France was a prisoner in England, his kingdom appears to have been desolated by its wretched nobles, who, in the indulgence of their passions, set no limits to their luxury and their extortion. They despoiled their peasantry without mercy, and when these complained, and even reproached this tyrannical nobility with having forsaken their sovereign, they were told that Jacque bon homme must pay for all. But Jack good-man came forward in person—a leader appeared under this fatal name, and the peasants revolting in madness, and being joined by all the cut-throats and thieves of Paris, at once pronounced condemnation on every gentleman in France! Froissart has the horrid narrative; twelve thousand of these Jacques bon hommes expiated their crimes; but the Jacquerie, who had received their first appellation in derision, assumed it as their nom de guerre.

In the spirited Memoirs of the Duke of Guise, written by himself, of his enterprise against the kingdom of Naples, we find a curious account of this political art of marking people by odious nicknames. “Gennaro and Vicenzo,” says the duke, “cherished underhand that aversion the rascality had for the better sort of citizens and civiller people, who, by the insolencies they suffered from these, not unjustly hated them. The better class inhabiting the suburbs of the Virgin were called black cloaks, and the ordinary sort of people took the name of lazars, both in French and English an old word for leprous beggar, and hence the lazaroni of Naples.” We can easily conceive the evil eye of a lazar when he encountered a black cloak! The Duke adds—“Just as, at the beginning of the revolution, the revolters in Flanders formerly took that 83 of beggars; those of Guienne, that of eaters; those of Normandy that of bare-feet; and of Beausse and Soulogne, of wooden-pattens.” In the late French revolution, we observed the extremes indulged by both parties chiefly concerned in revolution—the wealthy and the poor! The rich, who, in derision, called their humble fellow-citizens by the contemptuous term of sans-culottes, provoked a reacting injustice from the populace, who, as a dreadful return for only a slight, rendered the innocent term of aristocrate a signal for plunder or slaughter!

It is a curious fact that the French verb fronder, as well the noun frondeur, are used to describe those who condemn the measures of government; and more extensively, designates any hyperbolical and malignant criticism, or any sort of condemnation. These words have only been introduced into the language since the intrigues of Cardinal de Retz succeeded in raising a faction against Cardinal Mazarin, known in French history by the nickname of the Frondeurs, or the Slingers. It originated in pleasantry, although it became the password for insurrection in France, and the odious name of a faction. A wit observed, that the parliament were like those school-boys, who fling their stones in the pits of Paris, and as soon as they see the Lieutenant Civil, run away; but are sure to collect again directly he disappears. The comparison was lively, and formed the burthen of songs; and afterwards, when affairs were settled between the king and the parliament, it was more particularly applied to the faction of Cardinal de Retz, who still held out. “We encouraged the application,” says de Retz; “for we observed that the distinction of a name heated the minds of people; and one evening we resolved to wear hat-strings in the form of slings. A hatter, who might be trusted with the secret, made a great number as a new fashion, and which were worn by many who did not understand the joke; we ourselves were the last to adopt them, that the invention might not appear to have come from us. The effect of this trifle was immense; every fashionable article was now to assume the shape of a sling; bread, hats, gloves, handkerchiefs, fans, &c.; and we ourselves became more in fashion by this folly, than by what was essential.” This revolutionary term was never forgotten by the French, a circumstance which might have been considered as prognostic of that after-revolution, which de Retz had the imagination to project, but not the daring to establish. We 84 see, however, this great politician, confessing the advantages his party derived by encouraging the application of a by-name, which served “to heat the minds of people.”

It is a curious circumstance that I should have to recount in this chapter on “Political Nicknames” a familiar term with all lovers of art, that of Silhouette! This is well understood as a black profile; but it is more extraordinary that a term so universally adopted should not be found in any dictionary, either in that of L’Académie, or in Todd’s, and has not even been preserved, where it is quite indispensable, in Millin’s Dictionnaire des Beaux-Arts! It is little suspected that this innocent term originated in a political nickname! Silhouette was a minister of state in France in 1759; that period was a critical one; the treasury was in an exhausted condition, and Silhouette, a very honest man, who would hold no intercourse with financiers or loan-mongers, could contrive no other expedient to prevent a national bankruptcy, than excessive economy and interminable reform! Paris was not the metropolis, any more than London, where a Plato or a Zeno could long be minister of state without incurring all the ridicule of the wretched wits! At first they pretended to take his advice, merely to laugh at him:—they cut their coats shorter, and wore them without sleeves; they turned their gold snuff-boxes into rough wooden ones; and the new-fashioned portraits were now only profiles of a face, traced by a black pencil on the shadow cast by a candle on white paper! All the fashions assumed an air of niggardly economy, till poor Silhouette was driven into retirement, with all his projects of savings and reforms; but he left his name to describe the most economical sort of portrait, and one as melancholy as his own fate!

This political artifice of appropriating cant terms, or odious nicknames, could not fail to flourish among a people so perpetually divided by contending interests as ourselves; every party with us have had their watchword, which has served either to congregate themselves, or to set on the ban-dogs of one faction to worry and tear those of another. We practised it early, and we find it still prospering! The Puritan of Elizabeth’s reign survives to this hour; the trying difficulties which that wise sovereign had to overcome in settling the national religion, found no sympathy in either of the great divisions of her people; she retained as much of the catholic rites as might be decorous in the new religion, and 85 sought to unite, and not to separate, her children. John Knox, in the spirit of charity, declared, that “she was neither gude protestant, nor yet resolute papist; let the world judge quilk is the third.”

A jealous party arose, who were for reforming the reformation. In their attempt at more than human purity, they obtained the nickname of Puritans; and from their fastidiousness about very small matters, Precisians; these Drayton characterises as persons that for a painted glass window would pull down the whole church. At that early period these nicknames were soon used in an odious sense; for Warner, a poet in the reign of Elizabeth, says,—

If hypocrites why puritaines we term be asked, in breese,

’Tis but an ironised terme; good-fellow so spels theese!

Honest Fuller, who knew that many good men were among these Puritans, wished to decline the term altogether, under the less offensive one of Non-conformists. But the fierce and the fiery of this party, in Charles the First’s time had been too obtrusive not to fully merit the ironical appellative; and the peaceful expedient of our moderator dropped away with the page in which it was written. The people have frequently expressed their own notions of different parliaments by some apt nickname. In Richard the Second’s time, to express their dislike of the extraordinary and irregular proceedings of the lords against the sovereign, as well as their sanguinary measures, they called it “The wonder-working and the unmerciful parliament.” In Edward the Third’s reign, when the Black Prince was yet living, the parliament, for having pursued with severity the party of the Duke of Lancaster, was so popular, that the people distinguished it as the good parliament. In Henry the Third’s time, the parliament opposing the king, was called “Parliamentum insanum,” the mad parliament, because the lords came armed to insist on the confirmation of the great charter. A Scottish parliament, from its perpetual shiftings from place to place was ludicrously nicknamed the running parliament; in the same spirit we had our long parliament. The nickname of Pensioner parliament stuck to the House of Commons which sate nearly eighteen years without dissolution, under Charles the Second; and others have borne satirical or laudatory epithets. So true it is, as old Holingshed observed, “The common people will manie times give such bie names as 86 seemeth best liking to themselves.” It would be a curious speculation to discover the sources of the popular feeling; influenced by delusion, or impelled by good sense!

The exterminating political nickname of malignant darkened the nation through the civil wars: it was a proscription—and a list of good and bad lords was read by the leaders of the first tumults. Of all these inventions, this diabolical one was most adapted to exasperate the animosities of the people, so often duped by names. I have never detected the active man of faction who first hit on this odious brand for persons, but the period when the word changed its ordinary meaning was early; Charles, in 1642, retorts on the parliamentarians the opprobrious distinction, as “The true malignant party which has contrived and countenanced those barbarous tumults.” And the royalists pleaded for themselves, that the hateful designation was ill applied to them: “for by malignity you denote,” said they, “activity in doing evil, whereas we have always been on the suffering side in our persons, credits, and estates;” but the parliamentarians, “grinning a ghastly smile,” would reply, that “the royalists would have been malignant had they proved successful.” The truth is, that malignancy meant with both parties any opposition of opinion. At the same period the offensive distinctions of roundheads and cavaliers supplied the people with party names, who were already provided with so many religious as well as civil causes of quarrel; the cropt heads of the sullen sectaries and the people, were the origin of the derisory nickname; the splendid elegance and the romantic spirit of the royalists long awed the rabble, who in their mockery could brand them by no other appellation than one in which their bearers gloried. In the distracted times of early revolution, any nickname, however vague, will fully answer a purpose, although neither those who are blackened by the odium, nor those who cast it, can define the hateful appellative. When the term of delinquents came into vogue, it expressed a degree and species of guilt, says Hume, not exactly known or ascertained. It served, however, the end of those revolutionists who had coined it, by involving any person in, or colouring any action by, delinquency; and many of the nobility and gentry were, without any questions being asked, suddenly discovered to have committed the crime of delinquency! Whether honest Fuller be facetious or grave on this period of nicknaming parties I will not decide; but, 87 when he tells us that there was another word which was introduced into our nation at this time, I think at least that the whole passage is an admirable commentary on this party vocabulary. “Contemporary with malignants is the word plunder, which some make of Latin original, from planum dare, to level, to plane all to nothing! Others of Dutch extraction, as if it were to plume, or pluck the feathers of a bird to the bare skin.48 Sure I am we first heard of it in the Swedish wars; and if the name and thing be sent back from whence it came few English eyes would weep thereat.” All England had wept at the introduction of the word. The rump was the filthy nickname of an odious faction—the history of this famous appellation, which was at first one of horror, till it afterwards became one of derision and contempt, must be referred to another place. The rump became a perpetual whetstone for the loyal wits,49 till at length its former admirers, the rabble themselves, in town and country, vied with each other in “burning rumps” of beef, which were hung by chains on a gallows with a bonfire underneath, and proved how the people, like children, come at length to make a plaything of that which was once their bugbear.

Charles the Second, during the short holiday of the restoration—all holidays seem short!—and when he and the people were in good humour, granted anything to every one,—the mode of “Petitions” got at length very inconvenient, and the king in council declared that this petitioning was “A method set on foot by ill men to promote discontents among the people,” and enjoined his loving subjects not to subscribe them. The petitioners, however, persisted—when a new party rose to express their abhorrence of petitioning; both parties nicknamed each other the petitioners and the abhorrers! Their day was short, but fierce; the petitioners, however weak in their cognomen, were far the bolder of the two, for the commons were with them, and the abhorrers had expressed by their term rather the strength of their inclinations than of their numbers. Charles the Second said to a 88 petitioner from Taunton, “How dare you deliver me such a paper?” “Sir,” replied the petitioner from Taunton, “my name is Dare!” A saucy reply, for which he was tried, fined, and imprisoned; when lo! the commons petitioned again to release the petitioner! “The very name,” says Hume, “by which each party denominated its antagonists discovers the virulence and rancour which prevailed; for besides petitioner and abhorrer, this year is remarkable for being the epoch of the well-known epithets of whig and tory.” These silly terms of reproach, whig and tory, are still preserved among us, as if the palladium of British liberty was guarded by these exotic names, for they are not English, which the parties so invidiously bestow on each other. They are ludicrous enough in their origin. The friends of the court and the advocates of lineal succession were, by the republican party, branded with the title of tories, which was the name of certain Irish robbers;50 while the court party in return could find no other revenge than by appropriating to the covenanters and the republicans of that class the name of the Scotch beverage of sour milk, whose virtue they considered so expressive of their dispositions, and which is called whigg. So ridiculous in their origin were these pernicious nicknames, which long excited feuds and quarrels in domestic life, and may still be said to divide into two great parties this land of political freedom. But nothing becomes obsolete in political factions, and the meaner and more scandalous the name affixed by one party to another the more it becomes not only their rallying cry or their password, but even constitutes their glory. Thus the Hollanders long prided themselves on the humiliating nickname of “Les Gueux:” the protestants of France on the scornful one of the Huguenots; the non-conformists in England on the mockery of the puritan; and all parties have perpetuated their anger by their inglorious names. Swift was well aware of this truth in political history: “each party,” says that sagacious observer, “grows proud of that appellation which their adversaries at first intended as a reproach; of this sort were the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, Huguenots and Cavaliers.”

Nor has it been only by nicknaming each other by derisory or opprobrious terms that parties have been marked, but they 89 have also worn a livery, and practised distinctive manners. What sufferings did not Italy endure for a long series of years under those fatal party-names of the Guelphs and the Ghibellines; alternately the victors and the vanquished, the beautiful land of Italy drank the blood of her children. Italy, like Greece, opens a moving picture of the hatreds and jealousies of small republics; her Bianchi and her Neri, her Guelphs and her Ghibellines! In Bologna, two great families once shook that city with their divisions; the Pepoli adopted the French interests; the Maluezzi the Spanish. It was incurring some danger to walk the streets of Bologna, for the Pepoli wore their feathers on the right side of their caps, and the Maluezzi on the left. Such was the party-hatred of the two great Italian factions, that they carried their rancour even into their domestic habits; at table the Guelphs placed their knives and spoons longwise, and the Ghibellines across; the one cut their bread across, the other longwise. Even in cutting an orange they could not agree; for the Guelph cut his orange horizontally, and the Ghibelline downwards. Children were taught these artifices of faction—their hatreds became traditional, and thus the Italians perpetuated the full benefits of their party-spirit from generation to generation.51

Men in private life go down to their graves with some unlucky name, not received in baptism, but more descriptive and picturesque; and even ministers of state have winced at a political christening. Malagrida the Jesuit and Jemmy Twitcher were nicknames which made one of our ministers odious, and another contemptible.52 The Earl of Godolphin caught such fire at that of Volpone, that it drove him into the opposite party, for the vindictive purpose of obtaining the impolitical prosecution of Sacheverell, who, in his famous sermon, had first applied it to the earl, and unluckily it had stuck to him.

“Faction,” says Lord Orford, “is as capricious as fortune; wrongs, oppression, the zeal of real patriots, or the genius of false ones, may sometimes be employed for years in kindling substantial opposition to authority; in other seasons 90 the impulse of a moment, a ballad, a nickname, a fashion can throw a city into a tumult, and shake the foundations of a state.”

Such is a slight history of the human passions in politics! We might despair in thus discovering that wisdom and patriotism so frequently originate in this turbid source of party; but we are consoled when we reflect that the most important political principles are immutable: and that they are those which even the spirit of party must learn to reverence.

47 See Recueil Chronologique et Analytique de tout ce qui a fait en Portugal la Société de Jesus. Vol. ii. sect. 406.

48 Plunder, observed Mr. Douce, is pure Dutch or Flemish—Plunderen, from Plunder, which means property of any kind. May tells us it was brought by those officers who had returned from the wars of the Netherlands.

49 One of the best collections of political songs written during the great Civil War, is entitled “The Rump,” and has a curious frontispiece representing the mob burning rumps as described above.

50 The “History of the Tories and Rapparees” was a popular Irish chapbook a few years ago, and devoted to the daring acts of these marauders.

51 These curious particulars I found in a manuscript.

52 Lord Shelburne was named “Malagrida,” and Lord Sandwich was “Jemmy Twitcher;” a name derived from the chief of Macheath’s gang in the Beggar’s Opera.



The dogmatism of Johnson, and the fastidiousness of Gray, the critic who passed his days amidst “the busy hum of men,” and the poet who mused in cloistered solitude, have fatally injured a fine natural genius in Shenstone. Mr. Campbell, with a brother’s feeling, has (since the present article was composed) sympathised with the endowments and the pursuits of this poet; but the facts I had collected seemed to me to open a more important view. I am aware how lightly the poetical character of Shenstone is held by some great contemporaries—although this very poet has left us at least one poem of unrivalled originality. Mr. Campbell has regretted that Shenstone not only “affected that arcadianism” which “gives a certain air of masquerade in his pastoral character,” adopted by our earlier poets, but also has “rather incongruously blended together the rural swain with the disciple of virtù.” All this requires some explanation. It is not only as a poet, possessing the characteristics of poetry, but as a creator in another way, for which I claim the attention of the reader. I have formed a picture of the domestic life of a poet, and the pursuits of a votary of taste, both equally contracted in their endeavours, from the habits, the emotions, and the events which occurred to Shenstone.

Four material circumstances influenced his character, and were productive of all his unhappiness. The neglect he incurred in those poetical studies to which he had devoted his hopes; his secret sorrows in not having formed a domestic union, from prudential motives, with one whom he loved; the ruinous state of his domestic affairs, arising from a seducing 91 passion for creating a new taste in landscape gardening and an ornamented farm; and finally, his disappointment of that promised patronage, which might have induced him to have become a political writer; for which his inclinations, and, it is said, his talents in early life, were alike adapted: with these points in view, we may trace the different states of his mind, show what he did, and what he was earnestly intent to have done.

Why have the “Elegies” of Shenstone, which forty years ago formed for many of us the favourite poems of our youth, ceased to delight us in mature life? It is perhaps that these Elegies, planned with peculiar felicity, have little in their execution. They form a series of poetical truths, devoid of poetical expression; truths,—for notwithstanding the pastoral romance in which the poet has enveloped himself, the subjects are real, and the feelings could not, therefore, be fictitious.

In a Preface, remarkable for its graceful simplicity, our poet tells us, that “He entered on his subjects occasionally, as particular incidents in life suggested, or dispositions of mind recommended them to his choice.” He shows that “He drew his pictures from the spot, and, he felt very sensibly the affections he communicates.” He avers that all those attendants on rural scenery, and all those allusions to rural life, were not the counterfeited scenes of a town poet, any more than the sentiments, which were inspired by Nature. Shenstone’s friend Graves, who knew him in early life, and to his last days, informs us that these Elegies were written when he had taken the Leasowes into his own hands;53 and though his ferme ornée engaged his thoughts, he occasionally wrote them, “partly,” said Shenstone, “to divert my present impatience, and partly, as it will be a picture of most that passes in my own mind; a portrait which friends may value.” This, then, is the secret charm which acts so forcibly on the first emotions of our youth, at a moment when, not too difficult to be pleased, the reflected delineations of the habits and the affections, the hopes and the delights, with all the domestic associations of this poet, always true to Nature, reflect back that picture of ourselves which we instantly recognise. It is only as we advance in life that we lose the relish of our early simplicity, and that we discover that Shenstone was not endowed with high imagination.


These Elegies, with some other poems, may be read with a new interest when we discover them to form the true Memoirs of Shenstone. Records of querulous but delightful feelings! whose subjects spontaneously offered themselves from passing incidents; they still perpetuate emotions which will interest the young poet and the young lover of taste.

Elegy IV., the first which Shenstone composed, is entitled “Ophelia’s Urn,” and it was no unreal one! It was erected by Graves in Mickleton Church, to the memory of an extraordinary young woman, Utrecia Smith, the literary daughter of a learned but poor clergyman. Utrecia had formed so fine a taste for literature, and composed with such elegance in verse and prose, that an excellent judge declared that “he did not like to form his opinion of any author till he previously knew hers.” Graves had been long attached to her, but from motives of prudence broke off an intercourse with this interesting woman, who sunk under this severe disappointment. When her prudent lover, Graves, inscribed the urn, her friend Shenstone, perhaps more feelingly, commemorated her virtues and her tastes. Such, indeed, was the friendly intercourse between Shenstone and Utrecia, that in Elegy XVIII., written long after her death, she still lingered in his reminiscences. Composing this Elegy on the calamitous close of Somerville’s life, a brother bard, and victim to narrow circumstances, and which he probably contemplated as an image of his own, Shenstone tenderly recollects that he used to read Somerville’s poems to Utrecia:—

Oh, lost Ophelia; smoothly flow’d the day

To feel his music with my flames agree;

To taste the beauties of his melting lay,

To taste, and fancy it was dear to thee!

How true is the feeling! how mean the poetical expression!

The Seventh Elegy describes a vision, where the shadow of Wolsey breaks upon the author:

A graceful form appear’d,

White were his locks, with awful scarlet crown’d.

Even this fanciful subject was not chosen capriciously, but sprung from an incident. Once, on his way to Cheltenham, Shenstone missed his road, and wandered till late at night among the Cotswold Hills on this occasion he appears to 93 have made a moral reflection, which we find in his “Essays.” “How melancholy is it to travel late upon any ambitious project on a winter’s night, and observe the light of cottages, where all the unambitious people are warm and happy, or at rest in their beds.” While the benighted poet, lost among the lonely hills, was meditating on “ambitious projects,” the character of Wolsey arose before him; the visionary cardinal crossed his path, and busied his imagination. “Thou,” exclaims the poet,

Like a meteor’s fire,

Shot’st blazing forth, disdaining dull degrees.

Elegy vii.

And the bard, after discovering all the miseries of unhappy grandeur, and murmuring at this delay to the house of his friend, exclaims—

Oh if these ills the price of power advance,

Check not my speed where social joys invite!

The silent departure of the poetical spectre is fine:

The troubled vision cast a mournful glance,

And sighing, vanish’d in the shades of night.

And to prove that the subject of this elegy thus arose to the poet’s fancy, he has himself commemorated the incident that gave occasion to it, in the opening:—

On distant heaths, beneath autumnal skies,

Pensive I saw the circling shades descend;

Weary and faint, I heard the storm arise,

While the sun vanish’d like a faithless friend.

Elegy vii.

The Fifteenth Elegy, composed “in memory of a private family in Worcestershire,” is on the extinction of the ancient family of the Penns in the male line.54 Shenstone’s mother was a Penn; and the poet was now the inhabitant of their ancient mansion, an old timber-built house of the age of Elizabeth. The local description was a real scene—“the shaded pool”—“the group of ancient elms”—“the flocking rooks,” and the picture of the simple manners of his own ancestors, were realities; the emotions they excited were therefore genuine, and not one of those “mockeries” of amplification from the crowd of verse-writers.


The Tenth Elegy, “To Fortune, suggesting his Motive for repining at her Dispensations,” with his celebrated “Pastoral Ballad, in four parts.” were alike produced by what one of the great minstrels of our own times has so finely indicated when he sung—

The secret woes the world has never known;

While on the weary night dawn’d wearier day,

And bitterer was the grief devour’d alone.

In this Elegy Shenstone repines at the dispensations of Fortune, not for having denied him her higher gifts, nor that she compels him to

Check the fond love of art that fired my veins;

nor that some “dull dotard with boundless wealth” finds his “grating reed” preferred to the bard’s, but that the “tawdry shepherdess” of this dull dotard, by her “pride,” makes “the rural thane” despise the poet’s Delia.

Must Delia’s softness, elegance, and ease,

Submit to Marian’s dress? to Marian’s gold?

Must Marian’s robe from distant India please?

The simple fleece my Delia’s limbs infold!

Ah! what is native worth esteemed of clowns?

’Tis thy false glare, O Fortune! thine they see;

Tis for my Delia’s sake I dread thy frowns,

And my last gasp shall curses breathe on thee!

The Delia of our poet was not an “Iris en air.” Shenstone was early in life captivated by a young lady, whom Graves describes with all those mild and serene graces of pensive melancholy, touched by plaintive love-songs and elegies of woe, adapted not only to be the muse but the mistress of a poet. The sensibility of this passion took entire possession of his heart for some years, and it was in parting from her that he first sketched his exquisite “Pastoral Ballad.” As he retreated more and more into solitude, his passion felt no diminution. Dr. Nash informs us that Shenstone acknowledged that it was his own fault that he did not accept the hand of the lady whom he so tenderly loved; but his spirit could not endure to be a perpetual witness of her degradation in the rank of society, by an inconsiderate union with poetry and poverty. That such was his motive, we may infer from a passage in one of his letters. “Love, as it regularly tends to matrimony, requires 95 certain favours from fortune and circumstances to render it proper to be indulged in.” There are perpetual allusions to these “secret woes” in his correspondence; for, although he had the fortitude to refuse marriage, he had not the stoicism to contract his own heart in cold and sullen celibacy. He thus alludes to this subject, which so often excited far other emotions than those of humour:—“It is long since I have considered myself as undone. The world will not, perhaps, consider me in that light entirely till I have married my maid!”

It is probable that our poet had an intention of marrying his maid. I discovered a pleasing anecdote among the late Mr. Bindley’s collections, which I transcribed from the original. On the back of a picture of Shenstone himself, of which Dodsley published a print in 1780, the following energetic inscription was written by the poet on his new-year’s gift:—

“This picture belongs to Mary Cutler, given her by her master, William Shenstone, January 1st, 1754, in acknowledgment of her native genius, her magnanimity, her tenderness, and her fidelity.

“W. S.”


“The Progress of Taste; or the Fate of Delicacy,” is a poem on the temper and studies of the author; and “Economy; a Rhapsody addressed to Young Poets,” abounds with self-touches. If Shenstone created little from the imagination, he was at least perpetually under the influence of real emotions. This is the reason why his truths so strongly operate on the juvenile mind, not yet matured: and thus we have sufficiently ascertained the fact, as the poet himself has expressed it, “that he drew his pictures from the spot, and he felt very sensibly the affections he communicates.”

All the anxieties of a poetical life were early experienced by Shenstone. He first published some juvenile productions, under a very odd title, indicative of modesty, perhaps too of pride.55 And his motto of Contentus paucis lectoribus, even 96 Horace himself might have smiled at, for it only conceals the desire of every poet who pants to deserve many! But when he tried at a more elaborate poetical labour, “The Judgment of Hercules,” it failed to attract notice. He hastened to town, and he beat about literary coffee-houses; and returned to the country from the chase of Fame, wearied without having started it.

A breath revived him—but a breath o’erthrew.

Even “The Judgment of Hercules” between Indolence and Industry, or Pleasure and Virtue, was a picture of his own feelings; an argument drawn from his own reasonings; indicating the uncertainty of the poet’s dubious disposition; who finally by siding with Indolence, lost that triumph which his hero obtained by a directly opposite course.

In the following year begins that melancholy strain in his correspondence which marks the disappointment of the man who had staked too great a quantity of his happiness on the poetical die. This is the critical moment of life when our character is formed by habit, and our fate is decided by choice. Was Shenstone to become an active or contemplative being? He yielded to nature!56

It was now that he entered into another species of poetry, working with too costly materials, in the magical composition of plants, water, and earth; with these he created those emotions which his more strictly poetical ones failed to excite. He planned a paradise amidst his solitude. When we consider that Shenstone, in developing his fine pastoral ideas in the Leasowes, educated the nation into that taste for landscape-gardening, which has become the model of all Europe, this itself constitutes a claim on the gratitude of posterity.57 97 Thus the private pleasures of a man of genius may become at length those of a whole people. The creator of this new taste appears to have received far less notice than he merited. The name of Shenstone does not appear in the Essay on Gardening by Lord Orford: even the supercilious Gray only bestowed a ludicrous image on these pastoral scenes, which, however, his friend Mason has celebrated; and the genius of Johnson, incapacitated by nature to touch on objects of rural fancy, after describing some of the offices of the landscape designer, adds, that “he will not inquire whether they demand any great powers of mind.” Johnson, however, conveys to us his own feelings, when he immediately expresses them under the character of a “sullen and surly speculator.” The anxious life of Shenstone would, indeed, have been remunerated, could he have read the enchanting eulogium of Wheatley on the Leasowes; which, said he, “is a perfect picture of his mind—simple, elegant, and amiable; and will always suggest a doubt whether the spot inspired his verse, or whether in the scenes which he formed, he only realized the pastoral images which abound in his songs.” Yes! Shenstone would have been delighted, could he have heard that Montesquieu, on his return home, adorned his “Château gothique, mais orné de bois charmans, dont j’ai pris l’idée en Angleterre;” and Shenstone, even with his modest and timid nature, had been proud to have witnessed a noble foreigner, amidst memorials dedicated to Theocritus and Virgil, to Thomson and Gesner, raising in his grounds an inscription, in bad English, but in pure taste, to Shenstone himself for having displayed in his writings “a mind natural,” and in his Leasowes “laid Arcadian greens rural.” Recently Pindemonte 98 has traced the taste of English gardening to Shenstone. A man of genius sometimes receives from foreigners, who are placed out of the prejudices of his compatriots, the tribute of posterity!

Amidst these rural elegancies which Shenstone was raising about him, his muse has pathetically sung his melancholy feelings—

But did the Muses haunt his cell,

Or in his dome did Venus dwell?—

When all the structures shone complete,

Ah, me! ’twas Damon’s own confession,

Came Poverty, and took possession.

The Progress of Taste.

The poet observes, that the wants of philosophy are contracted, satisfied with “cheap contentment,” but

Taste alone requires

Entire profusion! days and nights, and hours

Thy voice, hydropic Fancy! calls aloud

For costly draughts.——


An original image illustrates that fatal want of economy which conceals itself amidst the beautiful appearances of taste:—

Some graceless mark,

Some symptom ill-conceal’d, shall soon or late

Burst like a pimple from the vicious tide

Of acid blood, proclaiming want’s disease

Amidst the bloom of show.


He paints himself:—

Observe Florelio’s mien;

Why treads my friend with melancholy step

That beauteous lawn? Why pensive strays his eye

O’er statues, grottos, urns, by critic art

Proportion’d fair? or from his lofty dome

Returns his eye unpleased, disconsolate?

The cause is, “criminal expense,” and he exclaims—

Sweet interchange

Of river, valley, mountain, woods, and plains,

How gladsome once he ranged your native turf,

Your simple scenes how raptured! ere Expense

Had lavish’d thousand ornaments, and taught

Convenience to perplex him, Art to pall,

Pomp to deject, and Beauty to displease.



While Shenstone was rearing hazels and hawthorns, opening vistas, and winding waters;

And having shown them where to stray,

Threw little pebbles in their way;

while he was pulling down hovels and cowhouses, to compose mottos and inscriptions for garden-seats and urns; while he had so finely obscured with a tender gloom the grove of Virgil, and thrown over, “in the midst of a plantation of yew, a bridge of one arch, built of a dusty-coloured stone, and simple even to rudeness,”58 and invoked Oberon in some Arcadian scene,

Where in cool grot and mossy cell

The tripping fauns and fairies dwell;

the solitary magician, who had raised all these wonders, was, in reality, an unfortunate poet, the tenant of a dilapidated farm-house, where the winds passed through, and the rains lodged, often taking refuge in his own kitchen—

Far from all resort of mirth,

Save the cricket on the hearth!

In a letter59 of the disconsolate founder of landscape gardening, our author paints his situation with all its misery—lamenting that his house is not fit to receive “polite friends, were they so disposed;” and resolved to banish all others, he proceeds:

“But I make it a certain rule, ‘arcere profanum vulgus.’ Persons who will despise you for the want of a good set of chairs, or an uncouth fire-shovel, at the same time that they can’t taste any excellence in a mind that overlooks those things; with whom it is in vain that your mind is furnished, if the walls are naked; indeed one loses much of one’s acquisitions in virtue by an hour’s converse with such as judge of merit by money—yet I am now and then impelled by the social passion to sit half an hour in my kitchen.”

But the solicitude of friends and the fate of Somerville, a neighbour and a poet, often compelled Shenstone to start amidst his reveries; and thus he has preserved his feelings and his irresolutions. Reflecting on the death of Somerville, he writes—


“To be forced to drink himself into pains of the body, in order to get rid of the pains of the mind, is a misery which I can well conceive, because I may, without vanity, esteem myself his equal in point of economy, and consequently ought to have an eye on his misfortunes—(as you kindly hinted to me about twelve o’clock, at the Feathers.)—I should retrench—I will—but you shall not see me—I will not let you know that I took it in good part—I will do it at solitary times as I may.”

Such were the calamities of “great taste” with “little fortune;” but in the case of Shenstone, these were combined with the other calamity of “mediocrity of genius.”

Here, then, at the Leasowes, with occasional trips to town in pursuit of fame, which perpetually eluded his grasp; in the correspondence of a few delicate minds, whose admiration was substituted for more genuine celebrity; composing diatribes against economy and taste, while his income was diminishing every year; our neglected author grew daily more indolent and sedentary, and withdrawing himself entirely into his own hermitage, moaned and despaired in an Arcadian solitude.60 The cries and the “secret sorrows” of Shenstone have come down to us—those of his brothers have not always! And shall dull men, because they have minds cold and obscure, like a Lapland year which has no summer, be permitted to exult over this class of men of sensibility and taste, but of moderate genius and without fortune? The passions and emotions of the heart are facts and dates only to those who possess them.

To what a melancholy state was our author reduced, when he thus addressed his friend:—

“I suppose you have been informed that my fever was in a great measure hypochondriacal, and left my nerves so extremely sensible, that even on no very interesting subjects, I could readily think myself into a vertigo; I had almost said an epilepsy; for surely I was oftentimes near it.”

The features of this sad portrait are more particularly made out in another place.


“Now I am come home from a visit, every little uneasiness is sufficient to introduce my whole train of melancholy considerations, and to make me utterly dissatisfied with the life I now lead, and the life which I foresee I shall lead. I am angry and envious, and dejected and frantic, and disregard all present things, just as becomes a madman to do. I am infinitely pleased (though it is a gloomy joy) with the application of Dr. Swift’s complaint, ‘that he is forced to die in a rage, like a poisoned rat in a hole.’ My soul is no more fitted to the figure I make, than a cable rope to a cambric needle; I cannot bear to see the advantages alienated, which I think I could deserve and relish so much more than those that have them.”

There are other testimonies in his entire correspondence. Whenever forsaken by his company he describes the horrors around him, delivered up “to winter, silence, and reflection;” ever foreseeing himself “returning to the same series of melancholy hours.” His frame shattered by the whole train of hypochondriacal symptoms, there was nothing to cheer the querulous author, who with half the consciousness of genius, lived neglected and unpatronised. His elegant mind had not the force, by his productions, to draw the celebrity he sighed after, to his hermitage.

Shenstone was so anxious for his literary character, that he contemplated on the posthumous fame which he might derive from the publication of his letters: see Letter lxxix., On hearing his letters to Mr. Whistler were destroyed; the act of a merchant, his brother, who being a very sensible man, as Graves describes, yet with the stupidity of a Goth, destroyed the whole correspondence of Shenstone, for “its sentimental intercourse.”—Shenstone bitterly regrets the loss, and says, “I would have given more money for the letters than it is allowable for me to mention with decency. I look upon my letters as some of my chefs-d’œuvre—they are the history of my mind for these twenty years past.” This, with the loss of Cowley’s correspondence, should have been preserved in the article, “of Suppressors and Dilapidators of Manuscripts.”

Towards the close of life, when his spirits were exhausted, and “the silly clue of hopes and expectations,” as he termed them, was undone, the notice of some persons of rank began to reach him. Shenstone, however, deeply colours the variable state of his own mind—”Recovering from a nervous fever, as I have since discovered by many concurrent 102 symptoms, I seem to anticipate a little of that ‘vernal delight’ which Milton mentions and thinks

———able to chase

All sadness but despair—

at least I begin to resume my silly clue of hopes and expectations.”

In a former letter he had, however, given them up: “I begin to wean myself from all hopes and expectations whatever. I feed my wild-ducks, and I water my carnations. Happy enough if I could extinguish my ambition quite, to indulge the desire of being something more beneficial in my sphere.—Perhaps some few other circumstances would want also to be adjusted.”

What were these “hopes and expectations,” from which sometimes he weans himself, and which are perpetually revived, and are attributed to “an ambition he cannot extinguish”? This article has been written in vain, if the reader has not already perceived, that they had haunted him in early life; sickening his spirit after the possession of a poetical celebrity, unattainable by his genius; some expectations too he might have cherished from the talent he possessed for political studies, in which Graves confidently says, that “he would have made no inconsiderable figure, if he had had a sufficient motive for applying his mind to them.” Shenstone has left several proofs of this talent.61 But his master-passion for literary fame had produced little more than anxieties and disappointments; and when he indulged his pastoral fancy in a beautiful creation on his grounds, it consumed the estate which it adorned. Johnson forcibly expressed his situation: “His death was probably hastened by his anxieties. He was a lamp that spent its oil in blazing. It is said, that if he had lived a little longer, he would have been assisted by a pension.”

53 This once-celebrated abode of the poet is situated at Hales-Owen, Shropshire.

54 This we learn from Dr. Nash’s History of Worcestershire.

55 While at college he printed, without his name, a small volume of verses, with this title, “Poems upon various Occasions, written for the Entertainment of the Author, and printed for the Amusement of a few Friends, prejudiced in his Favour.” Oxford, 1737. 12mo.—Nash’s “History of Worcestershire,” vol. i. p. 528.

I find this notice of it in W. Lowndes’s Catalogue; 4433 Shenstone (W.) Poems, 3l. 13s. 6d.—(Shenstone took uncommon pains to suppress this book, by collecting and destroying copies wherever he met with them.)—In, Longman’s Bibliotheca Anglo-Poetica, it is valued at 15l. Oxf. 1737. Mr. Harris informs me, that about the year 1770, Fletcher, the bookseller, at Oxford, had many copies of this first edition, which he sold at Eighteen pence each. These prices are amusing! The prices of books are connected with their history.

56 On this subject Graves makes a very useful observation. “In this decision the happiness of Mr. Shenstone was materially concerned. Whether he determined wisely or not, people of taste and people of worldly prudence will probably be of very different opinions. I somewhat suspect, that ‘people of worldly prudence’ are not half the fools that ‘people of taste’ insist they are.”

57 Shenstone’s farm was surrounded by winding walks, decorated with vases and statues, varied by wood and water, and occasionally embracing fine views over Frankley and Clent Hills, and the country about Cradley, Dudley, Rawley, and the intermediate places. Some of his vases were inscribed to the memory of relatives and friends. One had a Latin inscription to his cousin Maria, another was dedicated to Somerville his poet-friend. In different parts of his domain he constructed buildings at once useful and ornamental, destined to serve farm-purposes, but to be also grateful to the eye. A Chinese bridge led to a temple beside a lake, and near was a seat inscribed with the popular Shropshire toast to “all friends round the Wrekin,” the spot commanding a distant view of the hill so named. A wild path through a small wood led to an ingeniously constructed root-house, beside which a rivulet ran which helped to form the lake already mentioned; on its banks was a dedicatory urn to the Genio Loci. The general effect of the whole place was highly praised in the poet’s time. It was neglected at his death; and its description is now but a record of the past.

58 Wheatley, on “Modern Gardening,” p. 172. Edition 5th.

59 In “Hull’s Collection,” vol. ii. letter ii.

60 Graves was supposed to have glanced at his friend Shenstone in his novel of “Columella; or, the Distressed Anchoret.” The aim of this work is to convey all the moral instruction I could wish to offer here to youthful genius. It is written to show the consequence of a person of education and talents retiring to solitude and indolence in the vigour of youth. Nichols’s “Literary Anecdotes,” vol. iii. p. 134. Nash’s “History of Worcestershire,” vol. i. p. 528.

61 See his “Letters” xl. and xli., and more particularly xlii. and xliii., with a new theory of political principles.



The secret history of this national edifice derives importance from its nature, and the remarkable characters involved in the unparalleled transaction. The great architect, when obstructed in the progress of his work by the irregular payments 103 of the workmen, appears to have practised one of his own comic plots to put the debts on the hero himself; while the duke, who had it much at heart to inhabit the palace of his fame, but tutored into wariness under the vigilant and fierce eye of Atossa,62 would neither approve nor disapprove, silently looked on in hope and in grief, from year to year, as the work proceeded, or as it was left at a stand. At length we find this comédie larmoyante wound up by the duchess herself, in an attempt utterly to ruin the enraged and insulted architect!63

Perhaps this was the first time that it had ever been resolved in parliament to raise a public monument of glory and gratitude—to an individual! The novelty of the attempt may serve as the only excuse for the loose arrangements which followed after parliament had approved of the design, without voting any specific supply for the purpose! The queen always issued the orders at her own expense, and commanded expedition; and while Anne lived, the expenses of the building were included in her majesty’s debts, as belonging to the civil list sanctioned by parliament.64

When George the First came to the throne, the parliament declared the debt to be the debt of the queen, and the king granted a privy seal as for other debts. The crown and the parliament had hitherto proceeded in perfect union respecting this national edifice. However, I find that the workmen were greatly in arrears; for when George the First ascended the throne, they gladly accepted a third part of their several debts!

The great architect found himself amidst inextricable difficulties. With the fertile invention which amuses in his comedies, he contrived an extraordinary scheme, by which he proposed to make the duke himself responsible for the building of Blenheim!


However much the duke longed to see the magnificent edifice concluded, he showed the same calm intrepidity in the building of Blenheim as he had in its field of action. Aware that if he himself gave any order, or suggested any alteration, he might be involved in the expense of the building, he was never to be circumvented—never to be surprised into a spontaneous emotion of pleasure or disapprobation; on no occasion, he declares, had he even entered into conversation with the architect (though his friend) or with any one acting under his orders, about Blenheim House! Such impenetrable prudence on all sides had often blunted the subdolous ingenuity of the architect and plotter of comedies!

In the absence of the duke, when abroad in 1705, Sir John contrived to obtain from Lord Godolphin, the friend and relative of the Duke of Marlborough, and probably his agent in some of his concerns, a warrant, constituting Vanbrugh surveyor, with power of contracting on the behalf of the Duke of Marlborough. How he prevailed on Lord Godolphin to get this appointment does not appear—his lordship probably conceived it was useful, and might assist in expediting the great work, the favourite object of the hero. This warrant, however, Vanbrugh kept entirely to himself; he never mentioned to the duke that he was in possession of any such power; nor, on his return, did he claim to have it renewed.

The building proceeded with the same delays, and the payments with the same irregularity; the veteran now foresaw what happened, that he should never be the inhabitant of his own house! The public money issued from the Treasury was never to be depended on; and after 1712, the duke took the building upon himself, for the purpose of accommodating the workmen. They had hitherto received what was called “crown pay,” which was high wages and uncertain payment—and they now gladly abated a third of their prices. But though the duke had undertaken to pay the workmen, this could make no alteration in the claims on the Treasury. Blenheim was to be built for Marlborough, not by him; it was a monument raised by the nation to their hero, not a palace to be built by their mutual contributions.

Whether Marlborough found that his own million might be slowly injured while the Treasury remained still obdurate, or that the architect was still more and more involved, I cannot tell; but in 1715, the workmen appear to have struck, and the old delays and stand-still again renewed. It was 105 then Sir John, for the first time, produced the warrant he had extracted from Lord Godolphin, to lay before the Treasury; adding, however, a memorandum, to prevent any misconception, that the duke was to be considered as the paymaster, the debts incurred devolving on the crown. This part of our secret history requires more development than I am enabled to afford: as my information is drawn from “the Case” of the Duke of Marlborough in reply to Sir John’s depositions, it is possible Vanbrugh may suffer more than he ought in this narration; which, however, incidentally notices his own statements.

A new scene opens! Vanbrugh not obtaining his claims from the Treasury, and the workmen becoming more clamorous, the architect suddenly turns round on the duke, at once to charge him with the whole debt.

The pitiable history of this magnificent monument of public gratitude, from its beginnings, is given by Vanbrugh in his deposition. The great architect represents himself as being comptroller of her majesty’s works; and as such was appointed to prepare a model, which model of Blenheim House her majesty kept in her palace, and gave her commands to issue money according to the direction of Mr. Travers, the queen’s surveyor-general; that the lord treasurer appointed her majesty’s own officers to supervise these works; that it was upon defect of money from the Treasury that the workmen grew uneasy; that the work was stopped, till further orders of money from the Treasury; that the queen then ordered enough to secure it from winter weather; that afterwards she ordered more for payment of the workmen; that they were paid in part; and upon Sir John’s telling them the queen’s resolution to grant them a further supply (after a stop put to it by the duchess’s order), they went on and incurred the present debt; that this was afterwards brought into the House of Commons as the debt of the crown, not owing from the queen to the Duke of Marlborough, but to the workmen, and this by the queen’s officers.

During the uncertain progress of the building, and while the workmen were often in deep arrears, it would seem that the architect often designed to involve the Marlboroughs in its fate and his own; he probably thought that some of their round million might bear to be chipped, to finish his great work, with which, too, their glory was so intimately connected. The famous duchess had evidently put the duke 106 on the defensive; but once, perhaps, was the duke on the point of indulging some generous architectural fancy, when lo! Atossa stepped forwards and “put a stop to the building.”

When Vanbrugh at length produced the warrant of Lord Godolphin, empowering him to contract for the duke, this instrument was utterly disclaimed by Marlborough; the duke declares it existed without his knowledge; and that if such an instrument for a moment was to be held valid, no man would be safe, but might be ruined by the act of another!

Vanbrugh seems to have involved the intricacy of his plot, till it fell into some contradictions. The queen he had not found difficult to manage; but after her death, when the Treasury failed in its golden source, he seems to have sat down to contrive how to make the duke the great debtor. Vanbrugh swears that “He himself looked upon the crown, as engaged to the Duke of Marlborough for the expense; but that he believes the workmen always looked upon the duke as their paymaster.” He advances so far, as to swear that he made a contract with particular workmen, which contract was not unknown to the duke. This was not denied; but the duke in his reply observes, that “he knew not that the workmen were employed for his account, or by his own agent:”—never having heard till Sir John produced the warrant from Lord Godolphin, that Sir John was “his surveyor!” which he disclaims.

Our architect, however opposite his depositions appear, contrived to become a witness to such facts as tended to conclude the duke to be the debtor for the building; and “in his depositions has taken as much care to have the guilt of perjury without the punishment of it, as any man could do.” He so managed, though he has not sworn to contradictions, that the natural tendency of one part of his evidence presses one way, and the natural tendency of another part presses the direct contrary way. In his former memorial, the main design was to disengage the duke from the debt; in his depositions, the main design was to charge the duke with the debt. Vanbrugh, it must be confessed, exerted not less of his dramatic than his architectural genius in the building of Blenheim!

“The Case” concludes with an eloquent reflection, where Vanbrugh is distinguished as the man of genius, though not, in this predicament, the man of honour. “If at last the 107 charge run into by order of the crown must be upon the duke, yet the infamy of it must go upon another, who was perhaps the only architect in the world capable of building such a house; and the only friend in the world capable of contriving to lay the debt upon one to whom he was so highly obliged.”

There is a curious fact in the depositions of Vanbrugh, by which we might infer that the idea of Blenheim House might have originated with the duke himself; he swears that “in 1704, the duke met him, and told him he designed to build a house, and must consult him about a model, &c.; but it was the queen who ordered the present house to be built with all expedition.”

The whole conduct of this national edifice was unworthy of the nation, if in truth the nation ever entered heartily into it. No specific sum had been voted in parliament for so great an undertaking; which afterwards was the occasion of involving all the parties concerned in trouble and litigation; threatened the ruin of the architect; and I think we shall see, by Vanbrugh’s letters, was finished at the sole charge, and even under the superintendence, of the duchess herself! It may be a question, whether this magnificent monument of glory did not rather originate in the spirit of party, in the urgent desire of the queen to allay the pride and jealousies of the Marlboroughs. From the circumstance to which Vanbrugh has sworn, that the duke had designed to have a house built by Vanbrugh, before Blenheim had been resolved on, we may suppose that this intention of the duke’s afforded the queen a suggestion of a national edifice.

Archdeacon Coxe, in his Life of Marlborough, has obscurely alluded to the circumstances attending the building of Blenheim. “The illness of the duke, and the tedious litigation which ensued, caused such delays, that little progress was made in the work at the time of his decease. In the interim a serious misunderstanding arose between the duchess and the architect, which forms the subject of a voluminous correspondence. Vanbrugh was in consequence removed, and the direction of the building confided to other hands, under her own immediate superintendence.”

This “voluminous correspondence” would probably afford “words that burn” of the lofty insolence of Atossa, and “thoughts that breathe” of the comic wit; it might too relate, in many curious points, to the stupendous fabric itself. 108 If her grace condescended to criticise its parts with the frank roughness she is known to have done to the architect himself, his own defence and explanations might serve to let us into the bewildering fancies of his magical architecture. Of that self-creation for which he was so much abused in his own day as to have lost his real avocation as an architect, and stands condemned for posterity in the volatile bitterness of Lord Orford, nothing is left for us but our own convictions—to behold, and to be for ever astonished!—But “this voluminous correspondence?” Alas! the historian of war and politics overlooks with contempt the little secret histories of art and of human nature!—and “a voluminous correspondence” which indicates so much, and on which not a solitary idea is bestowed, has only served to petrify our curiosity!

Of this quarrel between the famous duchess and Vanbrugh I have only recovered several vivacious extracts from confidential letters of Vanbrugh’s to Jacob Tonson. There was an equality of the genius of invention, as well as rancour, in her grace and the wit: whether Atossa, like Vanbrugh, could have had the patience to have composed a comedy of five acts I will not determine; but unquestionably she could have dictated many scenes with equal spirit. We have seen Vanbrugh attempting to turn the debts incurred by the building of Blenheim on the duke; we now learn, for the first time, that the duchess, with equal aptitude, contrived a counterplot to turn the debts on Vanbrugh!

“I have the misfortune of losing, for I now see little hopes of ever getting it, near 2000l. due to me for many years’ service, plague, and trouble, at Blenheim, which that wicked woman of ‘Marlborough’ is so far from paying me, that the duke being sued by some of the workmen for work done there, she has tried to turn the debt due to them upon me, for which I think she ought to be hanged.”

In 1722, on occasion of the duke’s death, Vanbrugh gives an account to Tonson of the great wealth of the Marlboroughs, with a caustic touch at his illustrious victims.

“The Duke of Marlborough’s treasure exceeds the most extravagant guess. The grand settlement, which it was suspected her grace had broken to pieces, stands good, and hands an immense wealth to Lord Godolphin and his successors. A round million has been moving about in loans on the land-tax, &c. This the Treasury knew before he died, and this 109 was exclusive of his ‘land;’ his 5000l. a year upon the post-office; his mortgages upon a distressed estate; his South-Sea stock; his annuities, and which were not subscribed in, and besides what is in foreign banks; and yet this man could neither pay his workmen their bills, nor his architect his salary.

“He has given his widow (may a Scottish ensign get her!) 10,000l. a year to spoil Blenheim her own way; 12,000l. a year to keep herself clean and go to law; 2000l. a year to Lord Rialton for present maintenance; and Lord Godolphin only 5000l. a year jointure, if he outlives my lady: this last is a wretched article. The rest of the heap, for these are but snippings, goes to Lord Godolphin, and so on. She will have 40,000l. a year in present.”

Atossa, as the quarrel heated and the plot thickened, with the maliciousness of Puck, and the haughtiness of an empress of Blenheim, invented the most cruel insult that ever architect endured!—one perfectly characteristic of that extraordinary woman. Vanbrugh went to Blenheim with his lady, in a company from Castle Howard, another magnificent monument of his singular genius.

“We staid two nights in Woodstock; but there was an order to the servants, under her grace’s own hand, not to let me enter Blenheim! and lest that should not mortify me enough, she having somehow learned that my wife was of the company, sent an express the night before we came there, with orders that if she came with the Castle Howard ladies, the servants should not suffer her to see either house, gardens, or even to enter the park: so she was forced to sit all day long and keep me company at the inn!”

This was a coup-de-théâtre in this joint comedy of Atossa and Vanbrugh! The architect of Blenheim, lifting his eyes towards his own massive grandeur, exiled to a dull inn, and imprisoned with one who required rather to be consoled, than capable of consoling the enraged architect!

In 1725, Atossa still pursuing her hunted prey, had driven it to a spot which she flattered herself would enclose it with the security of a preserve. This produced the following explosion!

“I have been forced into chancery by that B. B. B. the Duchess of Marlborough, where she has got an injunction upon me by her friend the late good chancellor (Earl of Macclesfield), who declared that I was never employed by the 110 duke, and therefore had no demand upon his estate for my services at Blenheim. Since my hands were thus tied up from trying by law to recover my arrear, I have prevailed with Sir Robert Walpole to help me in a scheme which I proposed to him, by which I got my money in spite of the hussy’s teeth. My carrying this point enrages her much, and the more because it is of considerable weight in my small fortune, which she has heartily endeavoured so to destroy as to throw me into an English Bastile, there to finish my days, as I began them, in a French one.”

Plot for plot! and the superior claims of one of practised invention are vindicated! The writer, long accustomed to comedy-writing, has excelled the self-taught genius of Atossa. The “scheme” by which Vanbrugh’s fertile invention, aided by Sir Robert Walpole, finally circumvented the avaricious, the haughty, and the capricious Atossa, remains untold, unless it is alluded to by the passage in Lord Orford’s “Anecdotes of Painting,” where he informs us that the “duchess quarrelled with Sir John, and went to law with him; but though he proved to be in the right, or rather because he proved to be in the right, she employed Sir Christopher Wren to build the house in St. James’s Park.”

I have to add a curious discovery respecting Vanbrugh himself, which explains a circumstance in his life not hitherto understood.

In all the biographies of Vanbrugh, from the time of Cibber’s Lives of the Poets, the early part of the life of this man of genius remains unknown. It is said he descended from an ancient family in Cheshire, which came originally from France, though by the name, which properly written would be Van Brugh, he would appear to be of Dutch extraction. A tale is universally repeated that Sir John once visiting France in the prosecution of his architectural studies, while taking a survey of some fortifications, excited alarm, and was carried to the Bastile: where, to deepen the interest of the story, he sketched a variety of comedies, which he must have communicated to the governor, who, whispering it doubtless as an affair of state to several of the noblesse, these admirers of “sketches of comedies”—English ones no doubt—procured the release of this English Molière. This tale is further confirmed by a very odd circumstance. Sir John built at Greenwich, on a spot still called “Van Brugh’s Fields,” two whimsical houses; one on the side of Greenwich 111 Park is still called “the Bastile-House,” built on its model, to commemorate this imprisonment.

Not a word of this detailed story is probably true! that the Bastile was an object which sometimes occupied the imagination of our architect, is probable; for by the letter we have just quoted, we discover from himself the singular incident of Vanbrugh’s having been born in the Bastile.65

Desirous, probably, of concealing his alien origin, this circumstance cast his early days into obscurity. He felt that he was a Briton in all respects but that of his singular birth. The father of Vanbrugh married Sir Dudley Carleton’s daughter. We are told he had “political connexions;” and one of his “political” tours had probably occasioned his confinement in that state-dungeon, where his lady was delivered of her burden of love. This odd fancy of building a “Bastile-House” at Greenwich, a fortified prison! suggested to his first life-writer the fine romance; which must now be thrown aside among those literary fictions the French distinguish by the softening and yet impudent term of “Anecdotes hasardées!” with which formerly Varillas and his imitators furnished their pages; lies which looked like facts!

62 The name by which Pope ruthlessly satirized Sarah Duchess of Marlborough.

63 I draw the materials of this secret history from an unpublished “Case of the Duke of Marlborough and Sir John Vanbrugh,” as also from some confidential correspondence of Vanbrugh with Jacob Tonson, his friend and publisher.

64 Parliament voted 500,000l. for the building, which was insufficient. The queen added thereto the honour of Woodstock, an appanage of the crown, on the simple condition of rendering at Windsor Castle every year on the anniversary of the victory of Blenheim, a flag adorned with three fleur-de-lys, “as acquittance for all manner of rents, suits and services due to the crown.”

65 Cunningham, in his “Lives of the British Architects,” does not incline to the conclusions above drawn. He says, “I suspect that Vanbrugh, in saying he began his days in the Bastile, meant only that he was its tenant in early life—at the commencement of his manhood.” The same author tells us that Vanbrugh’s grandfather fled from Ghent, his native city, to avoid the persecutions of the Duke of Alva, and established himself as a merchant in Walbrook, where his son lived after him, and where John Vanbrugh (afterwards the great architect) was born in the year 1666. His father was at this time Comptroller of the Treasury Chamber. Cunningham thinks the Cheshire part of the genealogy “unlikely to be true.”



Rawleigh exercised in perfection incompatible talents, and his character connects the opposite extremes of our nature! 112 His “Book of Life,” with its incidents of prosperity and adversity, of glory and humiliation, was as chequered as the novelist would desire for a tale of fiction. Yet in this mighty genius there lies an unsuspected disposition, which requires to be demonstrated, before it is possible to conceive its reality. From his earliest days, probably by his early reading of the romantic incidents of the first Spanish adventurers in the New World, he himself betrayed the genius of an adventurer, which prevailed in his character to the latest; and it often involved him in the practice of mean artifices and petty deceptions; which appear like folly in the wisdom of a sage; like ineptitude in the profound views of a politician; like cowardice in the magnanimity of a hero; and degrade by their littleness the grandeur of a character which was closed by a splendid death, worthy the life of the wisest and the greatest of mankind!

The sunshine of his days was in the reign of Elizabeth. From a boy, always dreaming of romantic conquests (for he was born in an age of heroism), and formed by nature for the chivalric gallantry of the court of a maiden queen, from the moment he with such infinite art cast his rich mantle over the miry spot, his life was a progress of glory. All about Rawleigh was as splendid as the dress he wore: his female sovereign, whose eyes loved to dwell on men who might have been fit subjects for “the Faerie Queene” of Spenser, penurious of reward, only recompensed her favourites by suffering them to make their own fortunes on sea and land; and Elizabeth listened to the glowing projects of her hero, indulging that spirit which could have conquered the world, to have laid the toy at the feet of the sovereign!

This man, this extraordinary being, who was prodigal of his life and fortune on the Spanish Main, in the idleness of peace could equally direct his invention to supply the domestic wants of every-day life, in his project of “an office for address.” Nothing was too high for his ambition, nor too humble for his genius. Pre-eminent as a military and a naval commander, as a statesman and a student, Rawleigh was as intent on forming the character of Prince Henry, as that prince was studious of moulding his own aspiring qualities by the genius of the friend whom he contemplated. Yet the active life of Rawleigh is not more remarkable than his contemplative one. He may well rank among the founders of our literature; for composing on a subject exciting little 113 interest, his fine genius has sealed his unfinished volume with immortality. For magnificence of eloquence, and massiveness of thought, we must still dwell on his pages.67 Such was the man who was the adored patron of Spenser; whom Ben Jonson, proud of calling other favourites “his sons,” honoured by the title of “his father;” and who left political instructions which Milton deigned to edit.

But how has it happened that, of so elevated a character, Gibbon has pronounced that it was “ambiguous,” while it is described by Hume as “a great but ill-regulated mind!”

There was a peculiarity in the character of this eminent man; he practised the cunning of an adventurer—a cunning most humiliating in the narrative! The great difficulty to overcome in this discovery is, how to account for a sage and a hero acting folly and cowardice, and attempting to obtain by circuitous deception what it may be supposed so magnanimous a spirit would only deign to possess himself of by direct and open methods.

Since the present article was written, a letter, hitherto unpublished, appears in the recent edition of Shakspeare which curiously and minutely records one of those artifices of the kind which I am about to narrate at length. When, under Elizabeth, Rawleigh was once in confinement, it appears that seeing the queen passing by, he was suddenly seized with a strange resolution of combating with the governor and his people, declaring that the mere sight of the queen had made him desperate, as a confined lover would feel at the sight of his mistress. The letter gives a minute narrative of Sir Walter’s astonishing conduct, and carefully repeats the warm romantic style in which he talked of his royal mistress, and his formal resolution to die rather than exist out of her presence.68 This extravagant scene, with all 114 its cunning, has been most elaborately penned by the ingenious letter-writer, with a hint to the person whom he addresses, to suffer it to meet the eye of their royal mistress, who could not fail of admiring our new “Orlando Furioso,” and soon after released this tender prisoner! To me it is evident that the whole scene was got up and concerted for the occasion, and was the invention of Rawleigh himself; the romantic incident he well knew was perfectly adapted to the queen’s taste. Another similar incident, in which I have been anticipated in the disclosure of the fact, though not of its nature, was what Sir Toby Matthews obscurely alludes to in his letters, of “the guilty blow he gave himself in the Tower;” a passage which had long excited my attention, till I discovered the curious incident in some manuscript letters of Lord Cecil. Rawleigh was then confined in the Tower for the Cobham conspiracy; a plot so absurd and obscure that one historian has called it a “state-riddle,” but for which, so many years after, Rawleigh so cruelly lost his life.

Lord Cecil gives an account of the examination of the prisoners involved in this conspiracy. “One afternoon, whilst divers of us were in the Tower examining some of these prisoners, Sir Walter attempted to murder himself; whereof, when we were advertised, we came to him, and found him in some agony to be unable to endure his misfortunes, and protesting innocency, with carelessness of life; and in that humour he had wounded himself under the right pap, but no way mortally, being in truth rather a cut than a stab, and now very well cured both in body and mind.”69 This feeble attempt at suicide, this “cut rather than stab,” I must place among those scenes in the life of Rawleigh so incomprehensible with the genius of the man. If it were nothing but one of those

Fears of the Brave!


we must now open another of the

Follies of the Wise!

Rawleigh returned from the wild and desperate voyage of Guiana, with misery in every shape about him.70 His son had perished; his devoted Keymis would not survive his reproach; and Rawleigh, without fortune and without hope, in sickness and in sorrow, brooded over the sad thought, that in the hatred of the Spaniard, and in the political pusillanimity of James, he was arriving only to meet inevitable death. With this presentiment, he had even wished to give up his ship to the crew, had they consented to land him in France; but he was probably irresolute in this decision at sea, as he was afterwards at land, where he wished to escape, and refused to fly: the clearest intellect was darkened, and magnanimity itself became humiliated, floating between the sense of honour and of life.

Rawleigh landed in his native county of Devon: his arrival was the common topic of conversation, and he was the object of censure or of commiseration: but his person was not molested, till the fears of James became more urgent than his pity.

The Cervantic Gondomar, whose “quips and quiddities” had concealed the cares of state, one day rushed into the presence of James, breathlessly calling out for “audience!” and compressing his “ear-piercing” message into the laconic abruptness of “piratas! piratas! piratas!” There was agony as well as politics in this cry of Gondomar, whose brother, the Spanish governor, had been massacred in this predatory expedition.71 The timid monarch, terrified at this tragical appearance of his facetious friend, saw at once the demands of the whole Spanish cabinet, and vented his palliative in a gentle proclamation. Rawleigh having settled his affairs in 116 the west, set off for London to appear before the king, in consequence of the proclamation. A few miles from Plymouth he was met by Sir Lewis Stucley, vice-admiral of Devon, a kinsman and a friend, who, in communication with government, had accepted a sort of surveillance over Sir Walter. It is said (and will be credited, when we hear the story of Stucley), that he had set his heart on the ship, as a probable good purchase; and on the person, against whom, to colour his natural treachery, he professed an old hatred. He first seized on Rawleigh more like the kinsman than the vice-admiral, and proposed travelling together to London, and baiting at the houses of the friends of Rawleigh. The warrant which Stucley in the meanwhile had desired was instantly despatched, and the bearer was one Manoury, a French empiric, who was evidently sent to act the part he did—a part played at all times, and the last title, in French politics, that so often had recourse to this instrument of state, is a Mouton!

Rawleigh still, however, was not placed under any harsh restraint: his confidential associate, Captain King, accompanied him; and it is probable, that if Rawleigh had effectuated his escape, he would have conferred a great favour on the government.

They could not save him at London. It is certain that he might have escaped; for Captain King had hired a vessel, and Rawleigh had stolen out by night, and might have reached it, but irresolutely returned home; another night, the same vessel was ready, but Rawleigh never came! The loss of his honour appeared the greater calamity.

As he advanced in this eventful journey, everything assumed a more formidable aspect. His friends communicated fearful advices; a pursuivant, or king’s messenger, gave a more menacing appearance; and suggestions arose in his own mind, that he was reserved to become a victim of state. When letters of commission from the Privy Council were brought to Sir Lewis Stucley, Rawleigh was observed to change countenance, exclaiming with an oath, “Is it possible my fortune should return upon me thus again?” He lamented, before Captain King, that he had neglected the opportunity of escape; and which, every day he advanced inland, removed him the more from any chance.

Rawleigh at first suspected that Manoury was one of those instruments of state who are sometimes employed when open measures are not to be pursued, or when the cabinet have not 117 yet determined on the fate of a person implicated in a state crime; in a word, Rawleigh thought that Manoury was a spy over him, and probably over Stucley too. The first impression in these matters is usually the right one; but when Rawleigh found himself caught in the toils, he imagined that such corrupt agents were to be corrupted. The French empiric was sounded, and found very compliant; Rawleigh was desirous by his aid to counterfeit sickness, and for this purpose invented a series of the most humiliating stratagems. He imagined that a constant appearance of sickness might produce delay, and procrastination, in the chapter of accidents, might end in pardon. He procured vomits from the Frenchman, and, whenever he chose, produced every appearance of sickness; with dimness of sight, dizziness in his head, he reeled about, and once struck himself with such violence against a pillar in the gallery, that there was no doubt of his malady. Rawleigh’s servant one morning entering Stucley’s chamber, declared that his master was out of his senses, for that he had just left him in his shirt upon all fours, gnawing the rushes upon the floor. On Stucley’s entrance, Rawleigh was raving, and reeling in strong convulsions. Stucley ordered him to be chafed and fomented, and Rawleigh afterwards laughed at this scene with Manoury, observing that he had made Stucley a perfect physician.

But Rawleigh found it required some more visible and alarming disease than such ridiculous scenes had exhibited. The vomits worked so slowly, that Manoury was fearful to repeat the doses. Rawleigh inquired whether the empiric knew of any preparation which could make him look ghastly, without injuring his health. The Frenchman offered a harmless ointment to act on the surface of the skin, which would give him the appearance of a leper. “That will do!” said Rawleigh, “for the lords will be afraid to approach me, and besides it will move their pity.” Applying the ointment to his brows, his arms, and his breast, the blisters rose, the skin inflamed, and was covered with purple spots. Stucley concluded that Rawleigh had the plague. Physicians were now to be called in; Rawleigh took the black silk ribbon from his poniard, and Manoury tightened it strongly about his arm, to disorder his pulse; but his pulse beat too strong and regular. He appeared to take no food, while Manoury secretly provided him. To perplex the learned doctors still more, Rawleigh had the urinal coloured by a drug of a strong 118 scent. The physicians pronounced the disease mortal, and that the patient could not be removed into the air without immediate danger. Awhile after, being in his bed-chamber undressed, and no one present but Manoury, Sir Walter held a looking-glass in his hand to admire his spotted face,72 and observed in merriment to his new confidant, “how they should one day laugh for having thus cozened the king, council, physicians, Spaniards, and all.” The excuse Rawleigh offered for this course of poor stratagems, so unworthy of his genius, was to obtain time and seclusion for writing his Apology, or Vindication of his Voyage, which has come down to us in his “Remains.” “The prophet David did make himself a fool, and suffered spittle to fall upon his beard, to escape from the hands of his enemies,” said Rawleigh in his last speech. Brutus, too, was another example. But his discernment often prevailed over this mockery of his spirit. The king licensed him to reside at his own house on his arrival in London; on which Manoury observed that the king showed by this indulgence that his majesty was favourably inclined towards him; but Rawleigh replied, “They used all these kinds of flatteries to the Duke of Biron, to draw him fairly into prison, and then they cut off his head. I know they have concluded among them that it is expedient that a man should die, to re-assure the traffick which I have broke with Spain.” And Manoury adds, from whose narrative we have all these particulars, that Sir Walter broke out into this rant: “If he could but save himself for this time, he would plot such plots as should make the king think himself happy to send for him again, and restore him to his estate, and would force the King of Spain to write into England in his favour.”

Rawleigh at length proposed a flight to France with Manoury, who declares it was then he revealed to Stucley what he had hitherto concealed, that Stucley might double his vigilance. Rawleigh now perceived that he had two rogues to bribe instead of one, and that they were playing into one another’s hands. Proposals are now made to Stucley through Manoury, who is as compliant as his brother-knave. 119 Rawleigh presented Stucley with a “jewel made in the fashion of hail powdered with diamonds, with a ruby in the midst.” But Stucley observing to his kinsman and friend, that he must lose his office of vice-admiral, which had cost him six hundred pounds, in case he suffered Rawleigh to escape; Rawleigh solemnly assured him that he should be no loser, and that his lady should give him one thousand pounds when they got into France or Holland. About this time the French quack took his leave: the part he had to act was performed: the juggle was complete: and two wretches had triumphed over the sagacity and magnanimity of a sage and a hero, whom misfortune had levelled to folly; and who, in violating the dignity of his own character, had only equalled himself with vulgar knaves; men who exulted that the circumventer was circumvented; or, as they expressed it, “the great cozener was cozened.” But our story does not here conclude, for the treacheries of Stucley were more intricate. This perfect villain had obtained a warrant of indemnity to authorise his compliance with any offer to assist Rawleigh in his escape; this wretch was the confidant and the executioner of Rawleigh; he carried about him a license to betray him, and was making his profit of the victim before he delivered him to the sacrifice. Rawleigh was still plotting his escape; at Salisbury he had despatched his confidential friend Captain King to London, to secure a boat at Tilbury; he had also a secret interview with the French agent. Rawleigh’s servant mentioned to Captain King, that his boatswain had a ketch73 of his own, and was ready at his service for “thirty pieces of silver;” the boatswain and Rawleigh’s servant acted Judas, and betrayed the plot to Mr. William Herbert, cousin to Stucley, and thus the treachery was kept among themselves as a family concern. The night for flight was now fixed, but he could not part without his friend Stucley, who had promised never to quit him; and who indeed, informed by his cousin Herbert, had suddenly surprised Rawleigh putting on a false beard. The party met at the appointed place; Sir Lewis Stucley with his son, and Rawleigh disguised. Stucley, in saluting King, asked whether he had not shown himself an honest man? King hoped he would continue so. They had not rowed twenty strokes, before the watermen observed, 120 that Mr. Herbert had lately taken boat, and made towards the bridge, but had returned down the river after them. Rawleigh instantly expressed his apprehensions, and wished to return home; he consulted King—the watermen took fright—Stucley acted his part well; damning his ill-fortune to have a friend whom he would save, so full of doubts and fears, and threatening to pistol the watermen if they did not proceed. Even King was overcome by the earnest conduct of Stucley, and a new spirit was infused into the rowers. As they drew near Greenwich a wherry crossed them. Rawleigh declared it came to discover them. King tried to allay his fears, and assured him that if once they reached Gravesend, he would hazard his life to get to Tilbury. But in these delays and discussions, the tide was failing; the watermen declared they could not reach Gravesend before morning; Rawleigh would have landed at Purfleet, and the boatswain encouraged him; for there it was thought he could procure horses for Tilbury. Sir Lewis Stucley too was zealous; and declared he was content to carry the cloak-bag on his own shoulders, for half-a-mile, but King declared that it was useless, they could not at that hour get horses to go by land.

They rowed a mile beyond Woolwich, approaching two or three ketches, when the boatswain doubted whether any of these were the one he had provided to furnish them. “We are betrayed!” cried Rawleigh, and ordered the watermen to row back: he strictly examined the boatswain; alas! his ingenuity was baffled by a shuffling villain, whose real answer appeared when a wherry hailed the boat: Rawleigh observed that it contained Herbert’s crew. He saw that all was now discovered. He took Stucley aside; his ingenious mind still suggesting projects for himself to return home in safety, or how Stucley might plead that he had only pretended to go with Rawleigh, to seize on his private papers. They whispered together, and Rawleigh took some things from his pocket, and handed them to Stucley; probably more “rubies powdered with diamonds.”—Some effect was instantaneously produced; for the tender heart of his friend Stucley relented, and he not only repeatedly embraced him with extraordinary warmth of affection, but was voluble in effusions of friendship and fidelity. Stucley persuaded Rawleigh to land at Gravesend, the strange wherry which had dogged them landing at the same time; these were people 121 belonging to Mr. Herbert and Sir William St. John, who, it seems, had formerly shared in the spoils of this unhappy hero. On Greenwich bridge, Stucley advised Captain King that it would be advantageous to Sir Walter, that King should confess that he had joined with Stucley to betray his master; and Rawleigh lent himself to the suggestion of Stucley, of whose treachery he might still be uncertain; but King, a rough and honest seaman, declared that he would not share in the odium. At the moment he refused, Stucley arrested the captain in the king’s name, committing him to the charge of Herbert’s men. They then proceeded to a tavern, but Rawleigh, who now viewed the monster in his true shape, observed, “Sir Lewis, these actions will not turn out to your credit;” and on the following day, when they passed through the Tower-gate, Rawleigh, turning to King, observed, “Stucley and my servant Cotterell have betrayed me. You need be in no fear of danger, but as for me, it is I who am the mark that is shot at.” Thus concludes the narrative of Captain King. The fate of Rawleigh soon verified the prediction.

This long narrative of treachery will not, however, be complete, unless we wind it up with the fate of the infamous Stucley. Fiction gives perfection to its narratives, by the privilege it enjoys of disposing of its criminals in the most exemplary manner; but the labours of the historian are not always refreshed by this moral pleasure. Retribution is not always discovered in the present stage of human existence, yet history is perhaps equally delightful as fiction, whenever its perfect catastrophes resemble those of romantic invention. The present is a splendid example.

I have discovered the secret history of Sir Lewis Stucley, in several manuscript letters of the times.

Rawleigh, in his admirable address from the scaffold, where he seemed to be rather one of the spectators than the sufferer, declared he forgave Sir Lewis, for he had forgiven all men; but he was bound in charity to caution all men against him, and such as he is! Rawleigh’s last and solemn notice of the treachery of his “kinsman and friend” was irrevocably fatal to this wretch. The hearts of the people were open to the deepest impressions of sympathy, melting into tears at the pathetic address of the magnanimous spirit who had touched them; in one moment Sir Lewis Stucley became an object of execration throughout the nation; he soon obtained 122 a new title, that of “Sir Judas,” and was shunned by every man. To remove the Cain-like mark, which God and men had fixed on him, he published an apology for his conduct; a performance which, at least for its ability, might raise him in our consideration; but I have since discovered, in one of the manuscript letter-writers, that it was written by Dr. Sharpe, who had been a chaplain to Henry Prince of Wales. The writer pleads in Stucley’s justification, that he was a state-agent; that it was lawful to lie for the discovery of treason; that he had a personal hatred towards Rawleigh, for having abridged his father of his share of some prize-money; and then enters more into Rawleigh’s character, who “being desperate of any fortune here, agreeable to the height of his mind, would have made up his fortune elsewhere, upon any terms against his sovereign and his country. Is it not marvel,” continues the personifier of Stucley, “that he was angry with me at his death for bringing him back? Besides, being a man of so great a wit, it was no small grief that a man of mean wit as I should be thought to go beyond him. No? Sic ars deluditur arte. Neque enim lex justior ulla est quam necis artifices arte perire suâ. [This apt latinity betrays Dr. Sharpe.] But why did you not execute your commission bravely [openly]?—Why? My commission was to the contrary, to discover his pretensions, and to seize his secret papers,” &c.74

But the doctor, though no unskilful writer, here wrote in vain; for what ingenuity can veil the turpitude of long and practised treachery? To keep up appearances, Sir Judas resorted more than usually to court; where, however, he was perpetually enduring rebuffs, or avoided, as one infected with the plague of treachery. He offered the king, in his own justification, to take the sacrament, that whatever he had laid to Rawleigh’s charge was true, and would produce two unexceptionable witnesses to do the like. “Why, then,” replied his majesty, “the more malicious was Sir Walter to utter these speeches at his death.” Sir Thomas Badger, who stood by, observed, “Let the king take off Stucley’s head, as Stucley has done Sir Walter’s, and let him at his death take the sacrament and his oath upon it, and I’ll believe him; but till Stucley loses his head, I shall credit Sir Walter Rawleigh’s bare affirmative before a thousand of Stucley’s oaths.” 123 When Stucley, on pretence of giving an account of his office, placed himself in the audience chamber of the lord admiral, and his lordship passed him without any notice, Sir Judas attempted to address the earl; but with a bitter look his lordship exclaimed—“Base fellow! darest thou, who art the scorn and contempt of men, offer thyself in my presence? Were it not in my own house, I would cudgel thee with my staff for presuming on this sauciness.” This annihilating affront Stucley hastened to convey to the king; his majesty answered him—“What wouldst thou have me do? Wouldst thou have me hang him? Of my soul, if I should hang all that speak ill of thee, all the trees of the country would not suffice, so great is the number!”

One of the frequent crimes of that age, ere the forgery of bank-notes existed, was the clipping of gold; and this was one of the private amusements suitable to the character of our Sir Judas. Treachery and forgery are the same crime in a different form. Stucley received out of the exchequer five hundred pounds, as the reward of his espionnage and perfidy. It was the price of blood, and was hardly in his hands ere it was turned into the fraudulent coin of “the cheater!” He was seized on in the palace of Whitehall, for diminishing the gold coin. “The manner of the discovery,” says the manuscript-writer, “was strange, if my occasions would suffer me to relate the particulars.” On his examination he attempted to shift the crime to his own son, who had fled; and on his man, who, being taken, in the words of the letter-writer, was “willing to set the saddle upon the right horse, and accused his master.” Manoury, too, the French empiric, was arrested at Plymouth for the same crime, and accused his worthy friend. But such was the interest of Stucley with government, bought, probably, with his last shilling, and, as one says, with his last shirt, that he obtained his own and his son’s pardon, for a crime that ought to have finally concluded the history of this blessed family.75 A more solemn and tragical catastrophe was reserved for the perfidious Stucley. He was deprived of his place of vice-admiral, and left destitute in the world. Abandoned by all human beings, and 124 most probably by the son whom he had tutored in the arts of villany, he appears to have wandered about, an infamous and distracted beggar. It is possible that even so seared a conscience may have retained some remaining touch of sensibility.

All are men,

Condemned alike to groan;

The tender for another’s pain,

The unfeeling for his own.

And Camden has recorded, among his historical notes on James the First, that in August, 1620, “Lewis Stucley, who betrayed Sir Walter Rawleigh, died in a manner mad.” Such is the catastrophe of one of the most perfect domestic tales; an historical example, not easily paralleled, of moral retribution.

The secret practices of the “Sir Judas” of the court of James the First, which I have discovered, throw light on an old tradition which still exists in the neighbourhood of Affeton, once the residence of this wretched man. The country people have long entertained a notion that a hidden treasure lies at the bottom of a well in his grounds, guarded by some supernatural power: a tradition no doubt originating in this man’s history, and an obscure allusion to the gold which Stucley received for his bribe, or the other gold which he clipped, and might have there concealed. This is a striking instance of the many historical facts which, though entirely unknown or forgotten, may be often discovered to lie hid, or disguised, in popular traditions.

66 Rawleigh, as was much practised to a much later period, wrote his name various ways. I have discovered at least how it was pronounced in his time—thus, Rawly. This may be additionally confirmed by the Scottish poet Drummond, who spells it (in his conversations with Ben Jonson) Raughley. The translation of Ortelius’ “Epitome of the Worlde,” 1603, is dedicated to Sir Walter Rawleigh. See vol. ii. p. 261, art. “Orthography of Proper Names.” It was also written Rawly by his contemporaries. He sometimes wrote it Ralegh, the last syllable probably pronounced ly, or lay. Ralegh appears on his official seal.

67 I shall give in the article “Literary Unions” a curious account how “Rawleigh’s History of the World” was composed, which has hitherto escaped discovery.

68 It is narrated in a letter to Sir Robert Cecil from Mr. (afterwards Sir) Arthur Gorges, and runs as follows:—“Upon a report of her majesty’s being at Sir George Carew’s, Sir W. Ralegh having gazed and sighed a long time at his study window, from whence he might discern the barges and boats about the Blackfriars stairs, suddenly brake out into a great distemper, and sware that his enemies had on purpose brought her majesty thither to break his gall in sunder with Tantalus’s torments, that when she went away he might see death before his eyes; with many such like conceits. And, as a man transported with passion, he sware to Sir George Carew that he would disguise himself, and get into a pair of oars to ease his mind but with a sight of the queen, or else he protested his heart would break.” This of course the gaoler refused, and so they fell to fighting, “scrambling and brawling like madmen,” until parted by Gorges. Sir Walter followed up his absurdity by another letter to Cecil, couched in the language of romance, in which he declares that, while the queen “was yet near at hand, that I might hear of her once in two or three days my sorrows were the less, but now my heart is cast into the depth of all misery.”

69 These letters were written by Lord Cecil to Sir Thomas Parry, our ambassador in France, and were transcribed from the copy-book of Sir Thomas Parry’s correspondence which is preserved in the Pepysian library at Cambridge.

70 He had undertaken the expedition immediately upon his release from the Tower in 1617. The king had never pardoned him, and his release was effected by bribing powerful court favourites, who worked upon the avarice of James I. by leading him to hope for the possession of Guiana, which, though discovered by the Spaniards, had never been conquered by them; and which Rawleigh promised to colonise.

71 This occurred during the attack on the town of St. Thomas; a settlement of the Spaniards near the gold mines. It ended disastrously to Rawleigh: his ships mutinied; and he never recovered his ill-fortune; but sailed to Newfoundland, and thence, after a second mutiny, returned to Plymouth.

72 A friend informs me, that he saw recently at a print-dealer’s a painted portrait of Sir Walter Rawleigh, with the face thus spotted. It is extraordinary that any artist should have chosen such a subject for his pencil; but should this be a portrait of the times, it shows that this strange stratagem had excited public attention.

73 A small coasting-vessel, made round at stem and stern like the Dutch boats. The word is still used in some English counties to denote a tub.

74 Stucley’s Humble Petition, touching the bringing up Sir W. Rawleigh, 4to. 1618; republished in Somers’ Tracts, vol. iii. 751.

75 The anecdotes respecting Stucley I have derived from manuscript letters, and they were considered to be of so dangerous a nature, that the writer recommends secrecy, and requests, after reading, that “they may be burnt.” With such injunctions I have generally found that the letters were the more carefully preserved.



The close of the life of Sir Walter Rawleigh was as extraordinary as many parts of his varied history; the promptitude and sprightliness of his genius, his carelessness of life, and the equanimity of this great spirit in quitting the world, can only be paralleled by a few other heroes and sages. Rawleigh was both! But it is not simply his dignified yet active conduct on the scaffold, nor his admirable speech on that occasion, circumstances by which many great men are judged, when their energies are excited for a moment to act so great 125 a part, before the eyes of the world assembled at their feet; it is not these only which claim our notice.

We may pause with admiration on the real grandeur of Rawleigh’s character, not from a single circumstance, however great, but from a tissue of continued little incidents, which occurred from the moment of his condemnation till he laid his head on the block. Rawleigh was a man of such mark, that he deeply engaged the attention of his contemporaries; and to this we owe the preservation of several interesting particulars of what he did and what he said, which have entered into his life; but all has not been told in the published narratives. Contemporary writers in their letters have set down every fresh incident, and eagerly caught up his sense, his wit, and, what is more delightful, those marks of the natural cheerfulness of his invariable presence of mind: nor could these have arisen from any affectation or parade, for we shall see that they served him even in his last tender farewell to his lady, and on many unpremeditated occasions.

I have drawn together into a short compass all the facts which my researches have furnished, not omitting those which are known, concerning the feelings and conduct of Rawleigh at these solemn moments of his life; to have preserved only the new would have been to mutilate the statue, and to injure the whole by an imperfect view.

Rawleigh one morning was taken out of his bed, in a fit of fever, and unexpectedly hurried, not to his trial, but to a sentence of death. The story is well known.—Yet pleading with “a voice grown weak by sickness and an ague he had at that instant on him,” he used every means to avert his fate: he did, therefore, value the life he could so easily part with. His judges, there, at least, respected their state criminal, and they addressed him in a tone far different from that which he had fifteen years before listened to from Coke. Yelverton, the attorney-general, said—“Sir Walter Rawleigh hath been as a star at which the world have gazed; but stars may fall, nay, they must fall, when they trouble the sphere where they abide.” And the lord chief-justice noticed Rawleigh’s great work:—“I know that you have been valiant and wise, and I doubt not but you retain both these virtues, for now you shall have occasion to use them. Your book is an admirable work; I would give you counsel, but I know you can apply unto yourself far better than I am able to give you.” But the judge ended with saying, “execution is granted.” It was 126 stifling Rawleigh with roses! the heroic sage felt as if listening to fame from the voice of death.

He declared that now being old, sickly, and in disgrace, and “certain were he allowed to live, to go to it again, life was wearisome to him, and all he entreated was to have leave to speak freely at his farewell, to satisfy the world that he was ever loyal to the king, and a true lover of the commonwealth; for this he would seal with his blood.”

Rawleigh, on his return to his prison, while some were deploring his fate, observed that “the world itself is but a larger prison, out of which some are daily selected for execution.”

That last night of his existence was occupied by writing what the letter-writer calls “a remembrancer to be left with his lady, to acquaint the world with his sentiments, should he be denied their delivery from the scaffold, as he had been at the bar of the King’s Bench.” His lady visited him that night, and amidst her tears acquainted him that she had obtained the favour of disposing of his body; to which he answered smiling, “It is well, Bess, that thou mayst dispose of that, dead, thou hadst not always the disposing of when it was alive.” At midnight he entreated her to leave him. It must have been then, that, with unshaken fortitude, Rawleigh sat down to compose those verses on his death, which being short, the most appropriate may be repeated.

Even such is Time, that takes on trust

Our youth, our joys, our all we have,

And pays us but with age and dust;

Who in the dark and silent grave,

When we have wandered all our ways,

Shuts up the story of our days!

He has added two other lines expressive of his trust in his resurrection. Their authenticity is confirmed by the writer of the present letter, as well as another writer, enclosing “half a dozen verses, which Sir Walter made the night before his death, to take his farewell of poetry, wherein he had been a scribbler even from his youth.” The enclosure is not now with the letter. Chamberlain, the writer, was an intelligent man of the world, but not imbued with any deep tincture of literature. On the same night Rawleigh wrote this distich on the candle burning dimly:—

Cowards fear to die; but courage stout,

Rather than live in snuff, will be put out.


At this solemn moment, before he lay down to rest, and at the instant of parting from his lady, with all his domestic affections still warm, to express his feelings in verse was with him a natural effusion, and one to which he had long been used. It is peculiar in the fate of Rawleigh, that having before suffered a long imprisonment with an expectation of a public death, his mind had been accustomed to its contemplation, and had often dwelt on the event which was now passing. The soul, in its sudden departure, and its future state, is often the subject of his few poems; that most original one of “The Farewell,”

Go, soul! the body’s guest,

Upon a thankless errand, &c.

is attributed to Rawleigh, though on uncertain evidence. But another, entitled “The Pilgrimage,” has this beautiful passage:—

Give me my scallop-shell of quiet,

My staff of truth to walk upon,

My scrip of joy immortal diet;

My bottle of salvation;

My gown of glory, Hope’s true gage,

And thus I’ll take my pilgrimage—

Whilst my soul, like a quiet palmer,

Travelleth towards the land of Heaven—

Rawleigh’s cheerfulness was so remarkable, and his fearlessness of death so marked, that the Dean of Westminster, who attended him, at first wondering at the hero, reprehended the lightness of his manner, but Rawleigh gave God thanks that he had never feared death, for it was but an opinion and an imagination; and as for the manner of death, he would rather die so than of a burning fever; and that some might have made shows outwardly, but he felt the joy within. The dean says, that he made no more of his death than if he had been to take a journey: “Not,” said he, “but that I am a great sinner, for I have been a soldier, a seaman, and a courtier.” The writer of a manuscript letter tells us, that the dean declared he died not only religiously, but he found him to be a man as ready and as able to give as to take instruction.

On the morning of his death he smoked, as usual, his favourite tobacco, and when they brought him a cup of excellent sack, being asked how he liked it, Rawleigh answered—“As the fellow, that, drinking of St. Giles’s bowl, as he went to 128 Tyburn, said, ‘that was good drink if a man might tarry by it.’”76 The day before, in passing from Westminster Hall to the Gate-house, his eye had caught Sir Hugh Beeston in the throng, and calling on him, Rawleigh requested that he would see him die to-morrow. Sir Hugh, to secure himself a seat on the scaffold, had provided himself with a letter to the sheriff, which was not read at the time, and Sir Walter found his friend thrust by, lamenting that he could not get there. “Farewell!” exclaimed Rawleigh, “I know not what shift you will make, but I am sure to have a place.” In going from the prison to the scaffold, among others who were pressing hard to see him, one old man, whose head was bald, came very forward, insomuch that Rawleigh noticed him, and asked “whether he would have aught of him?” The old man answered—“Nothing but to see him, and to pray God for him.” Rawleigh replied—“I thank thee, good friend, and I am sorry I have no better thing to return thee for thy good will.” Observing his bald head, he continued, “but take this night-cap (which was a very rich wrought one that he wore), for thou hast more need of it now than I.”

His dress, as was usual with him, was elegant, if not rich.77 Oldys describes it, but mentions, that “he had a wrought nightcap under his hat;” this we have otherwise disposed of; he wore a ruff-band, a black wrought velvet night-gown over a hare-coloured satin doublet, and a black wrought waistcoat; black cut taffety breeches, and ash-coloured silk stockings.

He ascended the scaffold with the same cheerfulness as he had passed to it; and observing the lords seated at a distance, some at windows, he requested they would approach him, as he wished that they should all witness what he had to say. The request was complied with by several. His speech is well known; but some copies contain matters not in others. When he finished, he requested Lord Arundel that the king would not suffer any libels to defame him after death.—“And now I have a long journey to go, and must take my leave.” “He embraced all the lords and other friends with such courtly compliments, as if he had met them at some feast,” 129 says a letter-writer. Having taken off his gown, he called to the headsman to show him the axe, which not being instantly done, he repeated, “I prithee let me see it, dost thou think that I am afraid of it?” He passed the edge lightly over his finger, and smiling, observed to the sheriff, “This is a sharp medicine, but a sound cure for all diseases,” and kissing it laid it down. Another writer has, “This is that that will cure all sorrows.” After this he went to three several corners of the scaffold, and kneeling down, desired all the people to pray for him, and recited a long prayer to himself. When he began to fit himself for the block, he first laid himself down to try how the block fitted him; after rising up, the executioner kneeled down to ask his forgiveness, which Rawleigh with an embrace gave, but entreated him not to strike till he gave a token by lifting up his hand, “and then, fear not, but strike home!” When he laid his head down to receive the stroke, the executioner desired him to lay his face towards the east. “It was no great matter which way a man’s head stood, so that the heart lay right,” said Rawleigh; but these were not his last words. He was once more to speak in this world with the same intrepidity he had lived in it—for, having lain some minutes on the block in prayer, he gave the signal; but the executioner, either unmindful, or in fear, failed to strike, and Rawleigh, after once or twice putting forth his hands, was compelled to ask him, “Why dost thou not strike? Strike! man!” In two blows he was beheaded; but from the first his body never shrunk from the spot by any discomposure of his posture, which, like his mind, was immovable.

“In all the time he was upon the scaffold, and before,” says one of the manuscript letter-writers, “there appeared not the least alteration in him, either in his voice or countenance; but he seemed as free from all manner of apprehension as if he had been come thither rather to be a spectator than a sufferer; nay, the beholders seemed much more sensible than did he, so that he hath purchased here in the opinion of men such honour and reputation, as it is thought his greatest enemies are they that are most sorrowful for his death, which they see is like to turn so much to his advantage.”

The people were deeply affected at the sight, and so much, that one said that “we had not such another head to cut off;” and another “wished the head and brains to be upon Secretary Naunton’s shoulders.” The observer suffered for this; 130 he was a wealthy citizen, and great newsmonger, and one who haunted Paul’s Walk. Complaint was made, and the citizen was summoned to the Privy Council. He pleaded that he intended no disrespect to Mr. Secretary, but only spoke in reference to the old proverb, that “two heads were better than one!” His excuse was allowed at the moment; but when afterwards called on for a contribution to St. Paul’s Cathedral, and having subscribed a hundred pounds, the Secretary observed to him, that “two are better than one, Mr. Wiemark!” Either from fear or charity, the witty citizen doubled his subscription.78

Thus died this glorious and gallant cavalier, of whom Osborne says, “His death was managed by him with so high and religious a resolution, as if a Roman had acted a Christian, or rather a Christian a Roman.”79

After having read the preceding article, we are astonished at the greatness, and the variable nature of this extraordinary man and this happy genius. With Gibbon, who once meditated to write his life, we may pause, and pronounce “his character ambiguous;” but we shall not hesitate to decide that Rawleigh knew better how to die than to live. “His glorious hours,” says a contemporary, “were his arraignment and execution;” but never will be forgotten the intermediate years of his lettered imprisonment; the imprisonment of the learned may sometimes be their happiest leisure.

76 In the old time, when prisoners were conveyed from Newgate to Tyburn, they stopped about midway at the “Old Hospital,” at St. Giles’s-in-the-fields, “and,” says Stow, “were presented with a great bowl of ale, thereof to drink at their pleasure, as to be their last refreshment in this life.”

77 Rawleigh’s love of dress is conspicuous in the early portraits of him we possess, and particularly so in the one engraved by Lodge.

78 The general impression was so much in disfavour of this judicial murder, that James thought it politic to publish an 8vo pamphlet, in 1618, entitled, “A Declaration of the Demeanor and Cariage of Sir Walter Raleigh, Knight, as well in his Voyage, as in and sithence his Returne: and of the true motives and inducements which occasioned his Maiestie to proceed in doing justice upon him, as hath beene done.” It takes the whole question apologetically of the licence given him to Guiana, “as his Majestie’s honour was in a manner engaged, not to deny unto his people the adventure and hope of such great riches” as the mines of that island might yield. It afterwards details his proceedings there, which are declared criminal, dangerous to his Majesty’s allies, and an abuse of his commission. It ends by defending his execution, “because he could not by law be judicially called in question, for that his former attainder of treason is the highest and last worke of the law (whereby hee was civiliter mortuus) his Maiestie was enforced (except attainders should become priviledges for all subsequent offences) to resolve to have him executed upon his former attainder.”

79 The chief particulars in this narrative are drawn from two manuscript letters of the day, in the Sloane Collection, under their respective dates, Nov. 3, 1618, Larkin to Sir Thos. Pickering; Oct. 13, 1618, Chamberlain’s letters.





A union of talents, differing in their qualities, might carry some important works to a more extended perfection. In a work of great enterprise, the aid of a friendly hand may be absolutely necessary to complete the labours of the projector, who may have neither the courage, the leisure, nor all necessary acquisitions for performing the favourite task which he has otherwise matured. Many great works, commenced by a master-genius, have remained unfinished, or have been deficient for want of this friendly succour. The public would have been grateful to Johnson, had he united in his dictionary the labours of some learned etymologist. Speed’s Chronicle owes most of its value, as it does its ornaments, to the hand of Sir Robert Cotton, and other curious researchers, who contributed entire portions. Goguet’s esteemed work of the “Origin of the Arts and Sciences” was greatly indebted to the fraternal zeal of a devoted friend. The still valued books of the Port Royal Society were all formed by this happy union. The secret history of many eminent works would show the advantages which may be derived from that combination of talents, differing in their nature. Cumberland’s masterly versions of the fragments of the Greek dramatic poets would never have been given to the poetical world, had he not accidentally possessed the manuscript notes of his relative, the learned Bentley. This treasure supplied that research in the most obscure works, which the volatile studies of Cumberland could never have explored; a circumstance which he concealed from the world, proud of the Greek erudition which he thus cheaply possessed. Yet by this literary union, Bentley’s vast erudition made those researches which Cumberland could not; and Cumberland gave the nation a copy of the domestic drama of Greece, of which Bentley was incapable.

There is a large work, which is still celebrated, of which the composition has excited the astonishment even of the philosophic Hume, but whose secret history remains yet to be disclosed. This extraordinary volume is “The History of the World by Rawleigh.” I shall transcribe Hume’s observations, that the reader may observe the literary phenomenon. 132 “They were struck with the extensive genius of the man, who being educated amidst naval and military enterprises, had surpassed in the pursuits of literature, even those of the most recluse and sedentary lives; and they admired his unbroken magnanimity, which at his age, and under his circumstances, could engage him to undertake and execute so great a work, as his History of the World.” Now when the truth is known, the wonderful in this literary mystery will disappear, except in the eloquent, the grand, and the pathetic passages interspersed in that venerable volume. We may, indeed, pardon the astonishment of our calm philosopher, when we consider the recondite matter contained in this work, and recollect the little time which this adventurous spirit, whose life was passed in fabricating his own fortune, and in perpetual enterprise, could allow to such erudite pursuits. Where could Rawleigh obtain that familiar acquaintance with the rabbins, of whose language he was probably entirely ignorant? His numerous publications, the effusions of a most active mind, though excellent in their kind, were evidently composed by one who was not abstracted in curious and remote inquiries, but full of the daily business and the wisdom of human life. His confinement in the Tower, which lasted several years, was indeed sufficient for the composition of this folio volume, and of a second which appears to have occupied him. But in that imprisonment it singularly happened that he lived among literary characters with most intimate friendship. There he joined the Earl of Northumberland, the patron of the philosophers of his age, and with whom Rawleigh pursued his chemical studies; and Serjeant Hoskins, a poet and a wit, and the poetical “father” of Ben Jonson, who acknowledged that “It was Hoskins who had polished him;” and that Rawleigh often consulted Hoskins on his literary works, I learn from a manuscript. But however literary the atmosphere of the Tower proved to Rawleigh, no particle of Hebrew, and perhaps little of Grecian lore, floated from a chemist and a poet. The truth is, that the collection of the materials of this history was the labour of several persons, who have not all been discovered. It has been ascertained that Ben Jonson was a considerable contributor; and there was an English philosopher from whom Descartes, it is said even by his own countrymen, borrowed largely—Thomas Hariot, whom Anthony Wood charges with infusing into Rawleigh’s volume philosophical notions, while 133 Rawleigh was composing his History of the World. But if Rawleigh’s pursuits surpassed even those of the most recluse and sedentary lives, as Hume observes, we must attribute this to a “Dr. Robert Burrel, Rector of Northwald, in the county of Norfolk, who was a great favourite of Sir Walter Rawleigh, and had been his chaplain. All, or the greatest part of the drudgery of Sir Walter’s History for criticisms, chronology, and reading Greek and Hebrew authors, was performed by him for Sir Walter.”80 Thus a simple fact, when discovered, clears up the whole mystery; and we learn how that knowledge was acquired, which, as Hume sagaciously detected, required “a recluse and sedentary life,” such as the studies and the habits of a country clergyman would have been in a learned age.

The secret history of another work, still more celebrated than the History of the World, by Sir Walter Rawleigh, will doubtless surprise its numerous admirers.

Without the aid of a friendly hand, we should probably have been deprived of the delightful History of Artists by Vasari: although a mere painter and goldsmith, and not a literary man, Vasari was blessed with the nice discernment of one deeply conversant with art, and saw rightly what was to be done, when the idea of the work was suggested by the celebrated Paulus Jovius as a supplement to his own work of the “Eulogiums of Illustrious Men.” Vasari approved of the 134 project; but on that occasion judiciously observed, not blinded by the celebrity of the literary man who projected it, that “It would require the assistance of an artist to collect the materials, and arrange them in their proper order; for although Jovius displayed great knowledge in his observations, yet he had not been equally accurate in the arrangement of his facts in his book of Eulogiums.” Afterwards, when Vasari began to collect his information, and consulted Paulus Jovius on the plan, although that author highly approved of what he saw, he alleged his own want of leisure and ability to complete such an enterprise; and this was fortunate: we should otherwise have had, instead of the rambling spirit which charms us in the volumes of Vasari, the verbose babble of a declaimer. Vasari, however, looked round for the assistance he wanted; a circumstance which Tiraboschi has not noticed: like Hogarth, he required a literary man for his scribe. I have discovered the name of the chief writer of the Lives of the Painters, who wrote under the direction of Vasari, and probably often used his own natural style, and conveyed to us those reflections which surely come from their source. I shall give the passage, as a curious instance where the secret history of books is often detected in the most obscure corners of research. Who could have imagined that in a collection of the lives de’ Santi e Beati dell’ Ordine de’ Predicatori, we are to look for the writer of Vasari’s lives? Don Serafini Razzi, the author of this ecclesiastical biography, has this reference: “Who would see more of this may turn to the Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, written for the greater part by Don Silvano Razzi, my brother, for the Signor Cavaliere M. Giorgio Vasari, his great friend.”81

The discovery that Vasari’s volumes were not entirely written by himself, though probably under his dictation, and unquestionably, with his communications, as we know that Dr. Morell wrote the “Analysis of Beauty” for Hogarth, will perhaps serve to clear up some unaccountable mistakes or 135 omissions which appear in that series of volumes, written at long intervals, and by different hands. Mr. Fuseli has alluded to them in utter astonishment; and cannot account for Vasari’s “incredible dereliction of reminiscence, which prompted him to transfer what he had rightly ascribed to Giorgione in one edition to the elder Parma in the subsequent ones.” Again: “Vasari’s memory was either so treacherous, or his rapidity in writing so inconsiderate, that his account of the Capella Sistina, and the stanze of Raffaello, is a mere heap of errors and unpardonable confusion.” Even Bottari, his learned editor, is at a loss how to account for his mistakes. Mr. Fuseli finely observes—“He has been called the Herodotus of our art; and if the main simplicity of his narrative, and the desire of heaping anecdote on anecdote, entitle him in some degree to that appellation, we ought not to forget that the information of every day adds something to the authenticity of the Greek historian, whilst every day furnishes matter to question the credibility of the Tuscan.” All this strongly confirms the suspicion that Vasari employed different hands at different times to write out his work. Such mistakes would occur to a new writer, not always conversant with the subject he was composing on, and the disjointed materials of which were often found in a disordered state. It is, however, strange that neither Bottari nor Tiraboschi appears to have been aware that Vasari employed others to write for him; we see that from the first suggestion of the work he had originally proposed that Paulus Jovius should hold the pen for him.

The principle illustrated in this article might be pursued; but the secret history of two great works so well known is as sufficient as twenty others of writings less celebrated. The literary phenomenon which had puzzled the calm inquiring Hume to cry out “a miracle!” has been solved by the discovery of a little fact on Literary Unions, which derives importance from this circumstance.82

80 I draw my information from a very singular manuscript in the Lansdowne collection, which I think has been mistaken for a boy’s ciphering book, of which it has much the appearance, No. 741, fo. 57, as it stands in the auctioneer’s catalogue. It appears to be a collection closely written, extracted out of Anthony Wood’s papers; and as I have discovered in the manuscript numerous notices not elsewhere preserved, I am inclined to think that the transcriber copied them from that mass of Anthony Wood’s papers, of which more than one sackful was burnt at his desire before him when dying. If it be so, this MS. is the only register of many curious facts.

Ben Jonson has been too freely censured for his own free censures, and particularly for one he made on Sir Walter Rawleigh, who, he told Drummond, “esteemed more fame than conscience. The best wits in England were employed in making his History; Ben himself had written a piece to him of the Punic War, which he altered and set in his book.” Jonson’s powerful advocate, Mr. Gifford, has not alleged a word in the defence of our great bard’s free conversational strictures; the secret history of Rawleigh’s great work had never been discovered; on this occasion, however, Jonson only spoke what he knew to be true—and there may have been other truths, in those conversations which were set down at random by Drummond, who may have chiefly recollected the satirical touches.

81 I find this quotation in a sort of polemical work of natural philosophy, entitled “Saggio di Storia Litteraria Fiorentina del Secolo XVII. da Giovanne Clemente Nelli,” Lucca, 1759, p. 58. Nelli also refers to what he had said on this subject in his Piante ad alzati di S.M. del Fiore, p. vi. e vii.; a work on architecture. See Brunet; and Haym, Bib. Ital. de Libri rari.

82 Mr. Patrick Fraser Tytler, in his recent biography of Sir Walter Rawleigh, a work of vigorous research and elegant composition, has dedicated to me a supernumerary article in his Appendix, entitled Mr. D’Israeli’s Errors!

He has inferred from the present article, that I denied that Rawleigh was the writer of his own great work!—because I have shown how great works may be advantageously pursued by the aid of “Literary Union.” It is a monstrous inference! The chimera which plays before his eyes is his own contrivance; he starts at his own phantasmagoria, and leaves me, after all, to fight with his shadow.

Mr. Tytler has not contradicted a single statement of mine. I have carefully read his article and my own, and I have made no alteration.

I may be allowed to add that there is much redundant matter in the article of Mr. Tytler; and, to use the legal style, there is much “impertinence,” which, with a little candour and more philosophy, he would strike his pen through, as sound lawyers do on these occasions.




There are objects connected with literary curiosity, whose very history, though they may never gratify our sight, is literary; and the originality of their invention, should they excite imitation, may serve to constitute a class. I notice a book-curiosity of this nature.

This extraordinary volume may be said to have contained the travels and adventures of Charles Magius, a noble Venetian; and this volume, so precious, consisted only of eighteen pages, composed of a series of highly-finished miniature paintings on vellum, some executed by the hand of Paul Veronese. Each page, however, may be said to contain many chapters; for, generally, it is composed of a large centre-piece, surrounded by ten small ones, with many apt inscriptions, allegories, and allusions; the whole exhibiting romantic incidents in the life of this Venetian nobleman. But it is not merely as a beautiful production of art that we are to consider it; it becomes associated with a more elevated feeling in the occasion which produced it. The author, who is himself the hero, after having been long calumniated, resolved to set before the eyes of his accusers the sufferings and adventures he could perhaps have but indifferently described: and instead of composing a tedious volume for his justification, invented this new species of pictorial biography. The author minutely described the remarkable situations in which fortune had placed him; and the artists, in embellishing the facts he furnished them with to record, emulated each other in giving life to their truth, and putting into action, before the spectator, incidents which the pen had less impressively exhibited. This unique production may be considered as a model to represent the actions of those who may succeed more fortunately by this new mode of perpetuating their history; discovering, by the aid of the pencil, rather than by their pen, the forms and colours of an extraordinary life.


It was when the Ottomans (about 1571) attacked the Isle of Cyprus, that this Venetian nobleman was charged by his republic to review and repair the fortifications. He was afterwards sent to the pope to negociate an alliance: he returned to the senate to give an account of his commission. Invested with the chief command, at the head of his troops, Magius threw himself into the island of Cyprus, and after a skilful defence, which could not prevent its fall, at Famagusta he was taken prisoner by the Turks, and made a slave. His age and infirmities induced his master, at length, to sell him to some Christian merchants; and after an absence of several years from his beloved Venice, he suddenly appeared, to the astonishment and mortification of a party who had never ceased to calumniate him; while his own noble family were compelled to preserve an indignant silence, having had no communications with their lost and enslaved relative. Magius now returned to vindicate his honour, to reinstate himself in the favour of the senate, and to be restored to a venerable parent amidst his family; to whom he introduced a fresh branch, in a youth of seven years old, the child of his misfortunes, who, born in trouble, and a stranger to domestic endearments, was at one moment united to a beloved circle of relations.

I shall give a rapid view of some of the pictures of this Venetian nobleman’s life. The whole series has been elaborately drawn up by the Duke de la Vallière, the celebrated book-collector, who dwells on the detail with the curiosity of an amateur.83

In a rich frontispiece, a Christ is expiring on the cross; Religion, leaning on a column, contemplates the Divinity, and Hope is not distant from her. The genealogical tree of the house of Magius, with an allegorical representation of Venice, its nobility, power, and riches: the arms of Magius, in which is inserted a view of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, of which he was made a knight; his portrait, with a Latin inscription: “I have passed through arms and the enemy, amidst fire and water, and the Lord conducted me to a safe 138 asylum, in the year of grace 1571.” The portrait of his son, aged seven years, finished with the greatest beauty, and supposed to have come from the hand of Paul Veronese; it bears this inscription: “Overcome by violence and artifice, almost dead before his birth, his mother was at length delivered of him, full of life, with all the loveliness of infancy; under the divine protection, his birth was happy, and his life with greater happiness shall be closed with good fortune.”

A plan of the Isle of Cyprus, where Magius commanded, and his first misfortune happened, his slavery by the Turks.—The painter has expressed this by an emblem of a tree shaken by the winds and scathed by the lightning; but from the trunk issues a beautiful green branch shining in a brilliant sun, with this device—“From this fallen trunk springs a branch full of vigour.”

The missions of Magius to raise troops in the province of La Puglia.—In one of these Magius is seen returning to Venice; his final departure,—a thunderbolt is viewed falling on his vessel—his passage by Corfu and Zante, and his arrival at Candia.

His travels to Egypt.—The centre figure represents this province raising its right hand extended towards a palm-tree, and the left leaning on a pyramid, inscribed “Celebrated throughout the world for her wonders.” The smaller pictures are the entrance of Magius into the port of Alexandria; Rosetta, with a caravan of Turks and different nations; the city of Grand Cairo, exterior and interior, with views of other places; and finally, his return to Venice.

His journey to Rome.—The centre figure an armed Pallas seated on trophies, the Tyber beneath her feet, a globe in her hands, inscribed Quod rerum victrix ac domina,—“Because she is the Conqueress and Mistress of the World.” The ten small pictures are views of the cities in the pope’s dominion. His first audience at the conclave forms a pleasing and fine composition.

His travels into Syria.—The principal figure is a female, emblematical of that fine country; she is seated in the midst of a gay orchard, and embraces a bundle of roses, inscribed Mundi deliciæ—“The delight of the universe.” The small compartments are views of towns and ports, and the spot where Magius collected his fleet.

His pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he was made a knight 139 of the Holy Sepulchre.—The principal figure represents Devotion, inscribed Ducit—“It is she who conducts me.” The compartments exhibit a variety of objects, with a correctness of drawing which is described as belonging to the class, and partaking of the charms of the pencil of Claude Lorraine. His vessel is first viewed in the roadstead at Venice beat by a storm; arrives at Zante to refresh; enters the port of Simiso; there having landed, he and his companions are proceeding to the town on asses, for Christians were not permitted to travel in Turkey on horses. In the church at Jerusalem the bishop, in his pontifical habit, receives him as a knight of the Holy Sepulchre, arraying him in the armour of Godfrey of Bouillon, and placing his sword in the hands of Magius. His arrival at Bethlehem, to see the cradle of the Lord—and his return by Jaffa with his companions, in the dress of pilgrims; the groups are finely contrasted with the Turks mingling amongst them.

The taking of the city of Famagusta, and his slavery.—The middle figure, with a dog at its feet, represents Fidelity, the character of Magius, who ever preferred it to his life or his freedom, inscribed Captivat—“She has reduced me to slavery.” Six smaller pictures exhibit the different points of the island of Cyprus where the Turks effected their descents. Magius retreating to Famagusta, which he long defended, and where his cousin, a skilful engineer, was killed. The Turks compelled to raise the siege, but return with greater forces—the sacking of the town and the palace, where Magius was taken.—One picture exhibits him brought before a bashaw, who has him stripped, to judge of his strength and fix his price, when, after examination, he is sent among other slaves. He is seen bound and tied up among his companions in misfortune—again he is forced to labour, and carries a cask of water on his shoulders.—In another picture, his master, finding him weak of body, conducts him to a slave-merchant to sell him. In another we see him leading an ass loaded with packages; his new master, finding him loitering on his way, showers his blows on him, while a soldier is seen purloining one of the packages from the ass. Another exhibits Magius sinking with fatigue on the sands, while his master would raise him up by an unsparing use of the bastinado. The varied details of these little paintings are pleasingly executed.

The close of his slavery.—The middle figure kneeling to Heaven, and a light breaking from it, inscribed, “He breaks 140 my chains,” to express the confidence of Magius. The Turks are seen landing with their pillage and their slaves.—In one of the pictures are seen two ships on fire; a young lady of Cyprus preferring death to the loss of her honour and the miseries of slavery, determined to set fire to the vessel in which she was carried; she succeeded, and the flames communicated to another.

His return to Venice.—The painter for his principal figure has chosen a Pallas, with a helmet on her head, the ægis on one arm, and her lance in the other, to describe the courage with which Magius had supported his misfortunes, inscribed Reducit—“She brings me back.” In the last of the compartments he is seen at the custom-house at Venice; he enters the house of his father; the old man hastens to meet him, and embraces him.

One page is filled by a single picture, which represents the senate of Venice, with the Doge on his throne; Magius presents an account of his different employments, and holds in his hand a scroll, on which is written, Quod commisisti perfeci; quod restat agendum, pare fide complectar—“I have done what you committed to my care; and I will perform with the same fidelity what remains to be done.” He is received by the senate with the most distinguished honours, and is not only justified, but praised and honoured.

The most magnificent of these paintings is the one attributed to Paul Veronese. It is described by the Duke de la Vallière as almost unparalleled for its richness, its elegance, and its brilliancy. It is inscribed Pater meus et fratres mei dereliquerunt me; Dominus autem assumpsit me!—“My father and my brothers abandoned me; but the Lord took me under his protection.” This is an allusion to the accusation raised against him in the open senate when the Turks took the Isle of Cyprus, and his family wanted either the confidence or the courage to defend Magius. In the front of this large picture, Magius leading his son by the hand, conducts him to be reconciled with his brothers and sisters-in-law, who are on the opposite side; his hand holds this scroll, Vos cogitastis de me malum; sed Deus convertit illud in bonum—”You thought ill of me; but the Lord has turned it to good.” In this he alludes to the satisfaction he had given the senate, and to the honours they had decreed him. Another scene is introduced, where Magius appears in a magnificent hall at a table in the midst of all his family, with 141 whom a general reconciliation has taken place: on his left hand are gardens opening with an enchanting effect, and magnificently ornamented, with the villa of his father, on which flowers and wreaths seem dropping on the roof, as if from heaven. In the perspective, the landscape probably represents the rural neighbourhood of Magius’s early days.

Such are the most interesting incidents which I have selected from the copious description of the Duke de la Vallière. The idea of this production is new: an autobiography in a series of remarkable scenes, painted under the eye of the describer of them, in which, too, he has preserved all the fulness of his feelings and his minutest recollections; but the novelty becomes interesting from the character of the noble Magius, and the romantic fancy which inspired this elaborate and costly curiosity. It was not, indeed, without some trouble that I have drawn up this little account; but while thus employed, I seemed to be composing a very uncommon romance.

83 The Duke’s description is not to be found, as might be expected, in his own valued catalogue, but was a contribution to Gaignat’s, ii. 16, where it occupies fourteen pages. This singular work sold at Gaignat’s sale for 902 livres. It was then the golden age of literary curiosity, when the rarest things were not ruinous; and that price was even then considered extraordinary, though the work was an unique. It must consist of about 180 subjects, by Italian artists.



It is an important principle in morals and in politics, not to mistake the cause for the pretext, nor the pretext for the cause, and by this means to distinguish between the concealed and the ostensible motive. On this principle, history might be recomposed in a new manner; it would not often describe circumstances and characters as they usually appear. When we mistake the characters of men, we mistake the nature of their actions; and we shall find in the study of secret history, that some of the most important events in modern history were produced from very different motives than their ostensible ones. Polybius, the most philosophical writer of the ancients, has marked out this useful distinction of cause and pretext, and aptly illustrates the observation by the facts which he explains. Amilcar, for instance, was the first author and contriver of the second Punic war, though he died ten years before the commencement of it. “A statesman,” says the wise and grave historian, “who knows not how to trace the origin of events, and discern the different sources from whence they take their rise, may be compared to a physician who neglects to inform himself of the causes of those distempers which he is called in to cure. Our pains can never be better employed than in searching out the causes 142 of events; for the most trifling incidents give birth to matters of the greatest moment and importance.” The latter part of this remark of Polybius points out another principle which has been often verified by history, and which furnished the materials of the little book of “Grands Evénemens par les petites Causes.”

Our present inquiry concerns “cause and pretext.”

Leo X. projected an alliance of the sovereigns of Christendom against the Turks. The avowed object was to oppose the progress of the Ottomans against the Mamelukes of Egypt, who were more friendly to the Christians; but the concealed motive with his holiness was to enrich himself and his family with the spoils of Christendom, and to aggrandise the papal throne by war; and such, indeed, the policy of these pontiffs had always been in those mad crusades which they excited against the East.

The Reformation, excellent as its results have proved in the cause of genuine freedom, originated in no purer source than human passions and selfish motives: it was the progeny of avarice in Germany, of novelty in France, and of love in England. The latter is elegantly alluded to by Gray—

And gospel-light first beam’d from Bullen’s eyes.

The Reformation is considered by the Duke of Nevers, in a work printed in 1590, as it had been by Francis I., in his Apology in 1537, as a coup-d’état of Charles V. towards universal monarchy. The duke says, that the emperor silently permitted Luther to establish his principles in Germany, that they might split the confederacy of the elective princes, and by this division facilitate their more easy conquest, and play them off one against another, and by these means to secure the imperial crown hereditary in the house of Austria. Had Charles V. not been the mere creature of his politics, and had he felt any zeal for the Catholic cause, which he pretended to fight for, never would he have allowed the new doctrines to spread for more than twenty years without the least opposition.

The famous League in France was raised for “religion and the relief of public grievances;” such was the pretext! After the princes and the people had alike become its victims, this “league” was discovered to have been formed by the pride and the ambition of the Guises, aided by the machinations of the Jesuits against the attempts of the Prince of 143 Condé to dislodge them from their “seat of power.” While the Huguenots pillaged, burnt, and massacred, declaring in their manifestoes that they were only fighting to release the king, whom they asserted was a prisoner of the Guises, the Catholics repaid them with the same persecution and the same manifestoes, declaring that they only wished to liberate the Prince of Condé, who was the prisoner of the Huguenots. The people were led on by the cry of “religion;” but this civil war was not in reality so much Catholic against Huguenot, as Guise against Condé. A parallel event occurred between our Charles I. and the Scotch Covenanters; and the king expressly declared, in “a large declaration, concerning the late tumults in Scotland,” that “religion is only pretended, and used by them as a cloak to palliate their intended rebellion,” which he demonstrated by the facts he alleged. There was a revolutionary party in France, which, taking the name of Frondeurs, shook that kingdom under the administration of Cardinal Mazarin, and held out for their pretext the public freedom. But that faction, composed of some of the discontented French princes and the mob, was entirely organized by Cardinal de Retz, who held them in hand, to check or to spur them as the occasion required, from a mere personal pique against Mazarin, who had not treated that vivacious genius with all the deference he exacted. This appears from his own Memoirs.

We have smiled at James I. threatening the States-general by the English ambassador, about Vorstius, a Dutch professor, who had espoused the doctrines of Arminius against those of the contra-remonstrants, or Calvinists; the ostensible subject was religious, or rather metaphysical-religious doctrines, but the concealed one was a struggle for predominance between the Pensionary Barnevelt, assisted by the French interest, and the Prince of Orange, supported by the English. “These were the real sources,” says Lord Hardwicke, a statesman and a man of letters, deeply conversant with secret and public history, and a far more able judge than Diodati the Swiss divine, and Brandt the ecclesiastical historian, who in the synod of Dort could see nothing but what appeared in it, and gravely narrated the idle squabbles on phrases concerning predestination or grace. Hales, of Eaton, who was secretary to the English ambassador at this synod, perfectly accords with the account of Lord Hardwicke. “Our synod,” writes that judicious observer, “goes 144 on like a watch; the main wheels upon which the whole business turns are least in sight; for all things of moment are acted in private sessions; what is done in public is only for show and entertainment.”

The cause of the persecution of the Jansenists was the jealousy of the Jesuits; the pretext was la grace suffisante. The learned La Croze observes, that the same circumstance occurred in the affair of Nestorius and the church of Alexandria; the pretext was orthodoxy, the cause was the jealousy of the church of Alexandria, or rather the fiery and turbulent Cyril, who personally hated Nestorius. The opinions of Nestorius, and the council which condemned them, were the same in effect. I only produce this remote fact to prove that ancient times do not alter the truth of our principle.

When James II. was so strenuous an advocate for toleration and liberty of conscience in removing the Test Act, this enlightened principle of government was only a pretext with that monk-ridden monarch; it is well known that the cause was to introduce and make the Catholics predominant in his councils and government. The result, which that eager and blind politician hurried on too fast, and which therefore did not take place, would have been that “liberty of conscience” would soon have become an “overt act of treason” before an inquisition of his Jesuits!

In all political affairs drop the pretexts and strike at the causes; we may thus understand what the heads of parties may choose to conceal.



A writer, whose learning gives value to his eloquence, in his Bampton Lectures has censured, with that liberal spirit so friendly to the cause of truth, the calumnies and rumours of parties, which are still industriously retailed, though they have been often confuted. Forged documents are still referred to, or tales unsupported by evidence are confidently quoted. Mr. Heber’s subject confined his inquiries to theological history; he has told us that “Augustin is not ashamed, in his dispute with Faustus, to take advantage of the popular slanders against the followers of Manes, though his own experience (for he had himself been of that sect) was 145 sufficient to detect this falsehood.” The Romanists, in spite of satisfactory answers, have continued to urge against the English protestant the romance of Parker’s consecration;84 while the protestant persists in falsely imputing to the catholic public formularies the systematic omission of the second commandment. “The calumnies of Rimius and Stinstra against the Moravian brethren are cases in point,” continues Mr. Heber. “No one now believes them, yet they once could deceive even Warburton!” We may also add the obsolete calumny of Jews crucifying boys—of which a monument raised to Hugh of Lincoln perpetuates the memory, and which a modern historian records without any scruple of doubt; several authorities, which are cited on this occasion, amount only to the single one of Matthew Paris, who gives it as a popular rumour. Such accusations usually happened when the Jews were too rich and the king was too poor!85

The falsehoods and forgeries raised by parties are overwhelming! It startles a philosopher, in the calm of his study, when he discovers how writers, who, we may presume, are searchers after truth, should, in fact, turn out to be searchers after the grossest fictions. This alters the habits of the literary man: it is an unnatural depravity of his pursuits—and it proves that the personal is too apt to predominate over the literary character.

I have already touched on the main point of the present article in the one on “Political Nicknames.” I have there shown how political calumny appears to have been reduced into an art; one of its branches would be that of converting forgeries and fictions into historical authorities.

When one nation is at war with another, there is no doubt that the two governments connive at, and often encourage, the most atrocious libels on each other, to madden the people to 146 preserve their independence, and contribute cheerfully to the expenses of the war. France and England formerly complained of Holland—the Athenians employed the same policy against the Macedonians and Persians. Such is the origin of a vast number of supposititious papers and volumes, which sometimes, at a remote date, confound the labours of the honest historian, and too often serve the purposes of the dishonest, with whom they become authorities. The crude and suspicious libels which were drawn out of their obscurity in Cromwell’s time against James the First have overloaded the character of that monarch, yet are now eagerly referred to by party writers, though in their own days they were obsolete and doubtful. During the civil wars of Charles the First such spurious documents exist in the forms of speeches which were never spoken; of letters never written by the names subscribed; printed declarations never declared; battles never fought, and victories never obtained! Such is the language of Rushworth, who complains of this evil spirit of party forgeries, while he is himself suspected of having rescinded or suppressed whatever was not agreeable to his patron Cromwell. A curious, and perhaps a necessary list might be drawn up of political forgeries of our own, which have been sometimes referred to as genuine, but which are the inventions of wits and satirists! Bayle ingeniously observes, that at the close of every century such productions should be branded by a skilful discriminator, to save the future inquirer from errors he can hardly avoid. “How many are still kept in error by the satires of the sixteenth century! Those of the present age will be no less active in future ages, for they will still be preserved in public libraries.”

The art and skill with which some have fabricated a forged narrative render its detection almost hopeless. When young Maitland, the brother to the secretary, in order to palliate the crime of the assassination of the Regent Murray, was employed to draw up a pretended conference between him, Knox, and others, to stigmatise them by the odium of advising to dethrone the young monarch, and to substitute the regent for their sovereign, Maitland produced so dramatic a performance, by giving to each person his peculiar mode of expression, that this circumstance long baffled the incredulity of those who could not in consequence deny the truth of a narrative apparently so correct in its particulars! “The fiction of the warming-pan enclosing the young Pretender brought more 147 adherents to the cause of the Whigs than the Bill of Rights,” observes Lord John Russell.

Among such party narratives, the horrid tale of the bloody Colonel Kirk has been worked up by Hume with all his eloquence and pathos; and, from its interest, no suspicion has arisen of its truth. Yet, so far as it concerns Kirk, or the reign of James the Second, or even English history, it is, as Ritson too honestly expresses it, “an impudent and a bare-faced lie!” The simple fact is told by Kennet in a few words: he probably was aware of the nature of this political fiction. Hume was not, indeed, himself the fabricator of the tale; but he had not any historical authority. The origin of this fable was probably a pious fraud of the Whig party, to whom Kirk had rendered himself odious; at that moment stories still more terrifying were greedily swallowed, and which, Ritson insinuates, have become a part of the history of England. The original story, related more circumstantially, though not more affectingly, nor perhaps more truly, may be found in Wanley’s “Wonders of the Little World,”86 which I give, relieving it from the tediousness of old Wanley.

A governor of Zealand, under the bold Duke of Burgundy, had in vain sought to seduce the affections of the beautiful wife of a citizen. The governor imprisons the husband on an accusation of treason; and when the wife appeared as the suppliant, the governor, after no brief eloquence, succeeded as a lover, on the plea that her husband’s life could only be spared by her compliance. The woman, in tears and in aversion, and not without a hope of vengeance only delayed, lost her honour! Pointing to the prison, the governor told her, “If you seek your husband, enter there, and take him along with you!” The wife, in the bitterness of her thoughts, yet not without the consolation that she had snatched her husband from the grave, passed into the prison; there in a cell, to her astonishment and horror, she beheld the corpse of her husband laid out in a coffin, ready for burial! Mourning over it, she at length returned to the governor, fiercely exclaiming, “You have kept your word! you have restored to me my husband! and be assured the favour shall be repaid!” The inhuman villain, terrified in the presence of his intrepid victim, attempted to appease her vengeance, and more, to win her to his wishes. Returning home, she assembled her friends, 148 revealed her whole story, and under their protection she appealed to Charles the Bold, a strict lover of justice, and who now awarded a singular but an exemplary catastrophe. The duke first commanded that the criminal governor should instantly marry the woman whom he had made a widow, and at the same time sign his will, with a clause importing that should he die before his lady he constituted her his heiress. All this was concealed from both sides, rather to satisfy the duke than the parties themselves. This done, the unhappy woman was dismissed alone! The governor was conducted to the prison to suffer the same death he had inflicted on the husband of his wife; and when this lady was desired once more to enter the prison, she beheld her second husband headless in his coffin as she had her first! Such extraordinary incidents in so short a period overpowered the feeble frame of the sufferer; she died—leaving a son, who inherited the rich accession of fortune so fatally obtained by his injured and suffering mother.

Such is the tale of which the party story of Kirk appeared to Ritson to have been a rifacimento; but it is rather the foundation than the superstructure. This critic was right in the general, but not in the particular. It was not necessary to point out the present source, when so many others of a parallel nature exist. This tale, universally told, Mr. Douce considers as the origin of Measure for Measure, and was probably some traditional event; for it appears sometimes with a change of names and places, without any of incident. It always turns on a soldier, a brother or a husband, executed; and a wife, a sister, a deceived victim, to save them from death. It was, therefore, easily transferred to Kirk, and Pomfret’s poem of “Cruelty and Lust” long made the story popular. It could only have been in this form that it reached the historian, who, it must be observed, introduces it as a “story commonly told of him;” but popular tragic romances should not enter into the dusty documents of a history of England, and much less be particularly specified in the index! Belleforest, in his old version of the tale, has even the circumstance of the “captain, who having seduced the wife under the promise to save her husband’s life, exhibited him soon afterwards through the window of her apartment suspended on a gibbet.” This forms the horrid incident in the history of “the bloody Colonel,” and served the purpose of a party, who wished to bury him in odium. Kirk was a soldier of fortune, and a loose 149 liver, and a great blusterer, who would sometimes threaten to decimate his own regiment, but is said to have forgotten the menace the next day. Hateful as such military men will always be, in the present instance Colonel Kirk has been shamefully calumniated by poets and historians, who suffer themselves to be duped by the forgeries of political parties!87

While we are detecting a source of error into which the party feelings of modern historians may lead them, let us confess that they are far more valuable than the ancient; for to us at least the ancients have written history without producing authorities! Modern historians must furnish their readers with the truest means to become their critics, by providing them with their authorities; and it is only by judiciously appreciating these that we may confidently accept their discoveries. Unquestionably the ancients have often introduced into their histories many tales similar to the story of Kirk—popular or party forgeries! The mellifluous copiousness of Livy conceals many a tale of wonder; the graver of Tacitus etches many a fatal stroke; and the secret history of Suetonius too often raises a suspicion of those whispers, Quid rex in aurem reginæ dixerit, quid Juno fabulata sit cum Jove. It is certain that Plutarch has often told, and varied too in the telling, the same story, which he has applied to different persons. A critic in the Ritsonian style has said of the grave Plutarch, Mendax ille Plutarchus qui vitas oratorum, dolis et erroribus consutas, olim conscribillavit.88 “That lying Plutarch, who formerly scribbled the lives of the orators, made up of falsities and blunders!” There is in Italian a scarce book, of a better design than execution, of the Abbate Lancellotti, Farfalloni degli Antichi Historici.—“Flim-flams of the Ancients.” Modern historians have to dispute their passage to immortality step by step; and however fervid be their eloquence, their real test as to value must be brought to the humble references in their margin. Yet these must not 150 terminate our inquiries; for in tracing a story to its original source we shall find that fictions have been sometimes grafted on truths or hearsays, and to separate them as they appeared in their first stage is the pride and glory of learned criticism.

84 Absurdly reported to have taken place at a meeting in the Nag’s-head Tavern, Cheapside.

85 M. Michel published in Paris, in 1834, a collection of poems and ballads concerning Hugh of Lincoln, which were all very popular at home and abroad in the Middle Ages. One of these, preserved in an Anglo-Norman MS. in the Bibliothèque Royale at Paris, was evidently constructed to be sung by the people soon after the event, which is stated to have happened in the reign of our Henry III.; but there are many ballads comparatively modern which show how carefully the story was kept before the populace; and may be seen in the collections of Bishop Percy, Jameson, Motherwell, &c.

86 Book iii. ch. 29, sec. 18.

87 A story still more absurd was connected with the name of Colonel Lunsford, a soldier who consistently defended Charles I., and was killed in 1643. It is related by Echard as reported of him, that he would kill and eat the children of the opposite party. This horridly grotesque imputation has been preserved in the political ballads and poetry of the day. Cleveland ridicules it in one of his poems, where he makes a Roundhead declare—

“He swore he saw, when Lunsford fell,

A child’s arm in his pocket.”

88 Taylor, Annot. ad Lysiam.



A people denied the freedom of speech or of writing have usually left some memorials of their feelings in that silent language which addresses itself to the eye. Many ingenious inventions have been contrived to give vent to their suppressed indignation. The voluminous grievance which they could not trust to the voice or the pen they have carved in wood, or sculptured on stone; and have sometimes even facetiously concealed their satire among the playful ornaments designed to amuse those of whom they so fruitlessly complained! Such monuments of the suppressed feelings of the multitude are not often inspected by the historian—their minuteness escapes all eyes but those of the philosophical antiquary; nor are these satirical appearances always considered as grave authorities, which unquestionably they will be found to be by a close observer of human nature. An entertaining history of the modes of thinking, or the discontents of a people, drawn from such dispersed efforts in every æra, would cast a new light of secret history over many dark intervals.

Did we possess a secret history of the Saturnalia, it would doubtless have afforded some materials for the present article. In those revels of venerable radicalism, when the senate was closed, and the Pileus, or cap of liberty, was triumphantly worn, all things assumed an appearance contrary to what they were; and human nature, as well as human laws, might be said to have been parodied. Among so many whimsical regulations in favour of the licentious rabble, there was one which forbad the circulation of money; if any one offered the coin of the state, it was to be condemned as an act of madness, and the man was brought to his senses by a penitential fast for that day. An ingenious French antiquary seems to have discovered a class of wretched medals, cast in lead or copper, which formed the circulating medium of these mob lords, who, to ridicule the idea of money, used the basest metals, stamping them with grotesque figures, or odd devices—such 151 as a sow; a chimerical bird; an imperator in his car, with a monkey behind him; or an old woman’s head, Acca Laurentia, either the traditional old nurse of Romulus, or an old courtesan of the same name, who bequeathed the fruits of her labours to the Roman people! As all things were done in mockery, this base metal is stamped with S. C., to ridicule the Senatûs consulto, which our antiquary happily explains,89 in the true spirit of this government of mockery, Saturnalium consulto, agreeing with the legend of the reverse, inscribed in the midst of four tali, or bones, which they used as dice, Qui ludit arram det, quod satis sit—“Let them who play give a pledge, which will be sufficient.” This mock-money served not only as an expression of the native irony of the radical gentry of Rome during their festival, but, had they spoken their mind out, meant a ridicule of money itself; for these citizens of equality have always imagined that society might proceed without this contrivance of a medium which served to represent property in which they themselves must so little participate.

A period so glorious for exhibiting the suppressed sentiments of the populace as were these Saturnalia, had been nearly lost for us, had not some notions been preserved by Lucian; for we glean but sparingly from the solemn pages of the historian, except in the remarkable instance which Suetonius has preserved of the arch-mime who followed the body of the Emperor Vespasian at his funeral. This officer, as well as a similar one who accompanied the general to whom they granted a triumph, and who was allowed the unrestrained licentiousness of his tongue, were both the organs of popular feeling, and studied to gratify the rabble, who were their real masters. On this occasion the arch-mime, representing both the exterior personage and the character of Vespasian, according to custom, inquired the expense of the funeral? He was answered, “ten millions of sesterces!” In 152 allusion to the love of money which characterised the emperor, his mock representative exclaimed, “Give me the money, and, if you will, throw my body into the Tiber!”

All these mock offices and festivals among the ancients I consider as organs of the suppressed opinions and feelings of the populace, who were allowed no other, and had not the means of the printing ages to leave any permanent records. At a later period, before the discovery of the art which multiplies with such facility libels or panegyrics, when the people could not speak freely against those rapacious clergy who sheared the fleece and cared not for the sheep, many a secret of popular indignation was confided not to books (for they could not read), but to pictures and sculptures, which are books which the people can always read. The sculptors and illuminators of those times no doubt shared in common the popular feelings, and boldly trusted to the paintings or the carvings which met the eyes of their luxurious and indolent masters their satirical inventions. As far back as in 1300, we find in Wolfius90 the description of a picture of this kind, in a MS. of Æsop’s Fables found in the Abbey of Fulda, among other emblems of the corrupt lives of the churchmen. The present was a wolf, large as life, wearing a monkish cowl, with a shaven crown, preaching to a flock of sheep, with these words of the apostle in a label from his mouth—“God is my witness how I long for you all in my bowels!” And underneath was inscribed—“This hooded wolf is the hypocrite of whom is said in the Gospel, ‘Beware of false prophets!’” Such exhibitions were often introduced into articles of furniture. A cushion was found in an old abbey, in which was worked a fox preaching to geese, each goose holding in his bill his praying beads! In the stone wall, and on the columns of the great church at Strasburg, was once viewed a number of wolves, bears, foxes, and other mischievous animals, carrying holy water, crucifixes, and tapers; and others more indelicate. These, probably as old as the year 1300, were engraven in 1617 by a protestant; and were not destroyed till 1685, by the pious rage of the catholics, who seemed at length to have rightly construed these silent lampoons; and in their turn broke to pieces the protestant images, as the others had done the papistical dolls. The carved seats and stalls in our own cathedrals exhibit subjects not only strange and satirical, 153 but even indecent.91 At the time they built churches they satirised the ministers; a curious instance how the feelings of the people struggle to find a vent. It is conjectured that rival orders satirised each other, and that some of the carvings are caricatures of certain monks. The margins of illuminated manuscripts frequently contain ingenious caricatures, or satirical allegories. In a magnificent chronicle of Froissart I observed several. A wolf, as usual, in a monk’s frock and cowl, stretching his paw to bless a cock, bending its head submissively to the wolf: or a fox with a crosier, dropping beads, which a cock is picking up; to satirise the blind devotion of the bigots; perhaps the figure of the cock alluded to our Gallic neighbours. A cat in the habit of a nun, holding a platter in its paws to a mouse approaching to lick it; alluding to the allurements of the abbesses to draw young women into their convents; while sometimes I have seen a sow in an abbess’s veil, mounted on stilts: the sex marked by the sow’s dugs. A pope sometimes appears to be thrust by devils into a cauldron; and cardinals are seen roasting on spits! These ornaments must have been generally executed by the monks themselves; but these more ingenious members of the ecclesiastical order appear to have sympathised with the people, like the curates in our church, and envied the pampered abbot and the purple bishop. Churchmen were the usual objects of the suppressed indignation of the people in those days; but the knights and feudal lords have not always escaped from the “curses not loud, but deep,” of their satirical pencils.

As the Reformation, or rather the Revolution, was hastening, this custom became so general, that in one of the dialogues of Erasmus, where two Franciscans are entertained by their host, it appears that such satirical exhibitions were hung up as common furniture in the apartments of inns. The facetious genius of Erasmus either invents or describes one which he had seen of an ape in the habit of a Franciscan sitting by a sick man’s bed, dispensing ghostly counsel, holding up a crucifix in one hand, while with the other he is filching a purse out of the sick man’s pocket. Such are “the straws” by which we may always observe from what corner the wind rises! Mr. Dibdin has recently informed us, that Geyler, whom he calls “the herald of the Reformation,” 154 preceding Luther by twelve years, had a stone chair or pulpit in the cathedral at Strasburg, from which he delivered his lectures, or rather rolled the thunders of his anathemas against the monks. This stone pulpit was constructed under his own superintendence, and is covered with very indecent figures of monks and nuns, expressly designed by him to expose their profligate manners. We see Geyler doing what for centuries had been done!

In the curious folios of Sauval, the Stowe of France, there is a copious chapter, entitled “Hérétiques, leurs attentats.” In this enumeration of their attempts to give vent to their suppressed indignation, it is very remarkable that, preceding the time of Luther, the minds of many were perfectly Lutheran respecting the idolatrous worship of the Roman Church; and what I now notice would have rightly entered into that significant Historia Reformationis ante Reformationem, which was formerly projected by continental writers.

Luther did not consign the pope’s decretals to the flames till 1520—this was the first open act of reformation and insurrection, for hitherto he had submitted to the court of Rome. Yet in 1490, thirty years preceding this great event, I find a priest burnt for having snatched the host in derision from the hands of another celebrating mass. Twelve years afterwards, 1502, a student repeated the same deed, trampling on it; and in 1523, the resolute death of Anne de Bourg, a counsellor in the parliament of Paris, to use the expression of Sauval, “corrupted the world.” It is evident that the Huguenots were fast on the increase. From that period I find continued accounts which prove that the Huguenots of France, like the Puritans of England, were most resolute iconoclasts. They struck off the heads of Virgins and little Jesuses, or blunted their daggers by chipping the wooden saints, which were then fixed at the corners of streets. Every morning discovered the scandalous treatment they had undergone in the night. Then their images were painted on the walls, but these were heretically scratched and disfigured: and, since the saints could not defend themselves, a royal edict was published in their favour, commanding that all holy paintings in the streets should not be allowed short of ten feet from the ground! They entered churches at night, tearing up or breaking down the prians, the bénitoires, the crucifixes, the colossal ecce-homos, which they did not always succeed in dislodging for want of time or tools. 155 Amidst these battles with wooden adversaries, we may smile at the frequent solemn processions instituted to ward off the vengeance of the parish saint; the wooden was expiated by a silver image, secured by iron bars and attended by the king and the nobility, carrying the new saint, with prayers that he would protect himself from the heretics!

In an early period of the Reformation, an instance occurs of the art of concealing what we wish only the few should comprehend, at the same time that we are addressing the public. Curious collectors are acquainted with “The Olivetan Bible;” this was the first translation published by the protestants, and there seems no doubt that Calvin was the chief, if not the only translator; but at that moment not choosing to become responsible for this new version, he made use of the name of an obscure relative, Robert Pierre Olivetan. Calvin, however, prefixed a Latin preface, remarkable for delivering positions very opposite to those tremendous doctrines of absolute predestination which, in his theological despotism, he afterwards assumed. De Bure describes this first protestant Bible not only as rare, but, when found, as usually imperfect, much soiled and dog-eared, as the well-read first edition of Shakspeare, by the perpetual use of the multitude. But a curious fact has escaped the detection both of De Bure and Beloe; at the end of the volume are found ten verses, which, in a concealed manner, authenticate the translation; and which no one, unless initiated into the secret, could possibly suspect. The verses are not poetical, but I give the first sentence:—

Lecteur entends, si vérité adresse

Viens donc ouyr instament sa promesse

Et vif parler———&c.

The first letters of every word of these ten verses form a perfect distich, containing information important to those to whom the Olivetan Bible was addressed.

Les Vaudois, peuple évangélique,

Ont mis ce thrésor en publique.

An anagram would have been too inartificial a contrivance to have answered the purpose of concealing from the world at large this secret. There is an adroitness in the invention of the initial letters of all the words through these ten verses. They contained a communication necessary to authenticate 156 the version, but which, at the same time, could not be suspected by any person not intrusted with the secret.

When the art of medal-engraving was revived in Europe, the spirit we are now noticing took possession of those less perishable and more circulating vehicles. Satiric medals were almost unknown to the ancient mint, notwithstanding those of the Saturnalia, and a few which bear miserable puns on the unlucky names of some consuls. Medals illustrate history, and history reflects light on medals; but we should not place such unreserved confidence on medals as their advocates, who are warm in their favourite study. It has been asserted that medals are more authentic memorials than history itself; but a medal is not less susceptible of the bad passions than a pamphlet or an epigram. Ambition has its vanity, and engraves a dubious victory; and Flattery will practise its art, and deceive us in gold! A calumny or a fiction on metal may be more durable than on a fugitive page; and a libel has a better chance of being preserved when the artist is skilful, than simple truths when miserably executed. Medals of this class are numerous, and were the precursors of those political satires exhibited in caricature prints.92 There is a large collection of wooden cuts about the time of Calvin, where the Romish religion is represented by the most grotesque forms which the ridicule of the early Reformers could invent. More than a thousand figures attest the exuberant satire of the designers. This work is equally rare and costly.93

Satires of this species commenced in the freedom of the Reformation; for we find a medal of Luther in a monk’s habit, satirically bearing for its reverse Catherine de Bora, the nun whom this monk married; the first step of his personal reformation! Nor can we be certain that Catherine was not more concerned in that great revolution than appears in the voluminous Lives we have of the great reformer. However, the reformers were as great sticklers for medals as the “papelins.” Of Pope John VIII., an effeminate voluptuary, we have a medal with his portrait, inscribed Pope Joan! and another of Innocent X., dressed as a woman holding a spindle; the reverse, his famous mistress, Donna Olympia, dressed as 157 a Pope, with the tiara on her head, and the keys of St. Peter in her hands!94

When, in the reign of Mary, England was groaning under Spanish influence, and no remonstrance could reach the throne, the queen’s person and government were made ridiculous to the people’s eyes by prints or pictures “representing her majesty naked, meagre, withered, and wrinkled, with every aggravated circumstance of deformity that could disgrace a female figure, seated in a regal chair; a crown on her head, surrounded with M. R. and A. in capitals, accompanied by small letters; Maria Regina Angliæ! a number of Spaniards were sucking her to skin and bone, and a specification was added of the money, rings, jewels, and other presents with which she had secretly gratified her husband Philip.”95 It is said that the queen suspected some of her own council of this invention, who alone were privy to these transactions. It is, however, in this manner that the voice which is suppressed by authority comes at length in another shape to the eye.

The age of Elizabeth, when the Roman pontiff and all his adherents were odious to the people, produced a remarkable caricature, and ingenious invention—a gorgon’s head! A church bell forms the helmet; the ornaments, instead of the feathers, are a wolf’s head in a mitre devouring a lamb, an ass’s head with spectacles reading, a goose holding a rosary: the face is made out with a fish for the nose, a chalice and water for the eye, and other priestly ornaments for the shoulder and breast, on which rolls of parchment pardons hang.96

A famous bishop of Munster, Bernard de Galen, who, in his charitable violence for converting protestants, got himself into such celebrity that he appears to have served as an excellent sign-post to the inns in Germany, was the true church 158 militant: and his figure was exhibited according to the popular fancy. His head was half mitre and half helmet; a crosier in one hand and a sabre in the other; half a rochet and half a cuirass: he was made performing mass as a dragoon on horseback, and giving out the charge when he ought the Ite, missa est! He was called the converter! and the “Bishop of Munster” became popular as a sign-post in German towns; for the people like fighting men, though they should even fight against themselves.

It is rather curious to observe of this new species of satire, so easily distributed among the people, and so directly addressed to their understandings, that it was made the vehicle of national feeling. Ministers of state condescended to invent the devices. Lord Orford says that caricatures on cards were the invention of George Townshend in the affair of Byng, which was soon followed by a pack. I am informed of an ancient pack of cards which has caricatures of all the Parliamentarian Generals, which might be not unusefully shuffled by a writer of secret history.97 We may be surprised to find the grave Sully practising this artifice on several occasions. In the civil wars of France the Duke of Savoy had taken by surprise Saluces, and struck a medal; on the reverse a centaur appears shooting with a bow and arrow, with the legend Opportune! But when Henry the Fourth had reconquered the town, he published another, on which Hercules appears killing the centaur, with the word Opportunius. The great minister was the author of this retort!98 A medal of the Dutch ambassador at the court of France, Van Beuninghen, whom the French represent as a haughty burgomaster, but who had the vivacity of a Frenchman and the haughtiness of a Spaniard, as Voltaire characterises him, is said to have been the occasion of the Dutch war in 1672; but wars will be hardly made for an idle medal. Medals may, however, indicate a preparatory war. Louis the Fourteenth was so often compared to the 159 sun at its meridian, that some of his creatures may have imagined that, like the sun, he could dart into any part of Europe as he willed, and be as cheerfully received.99 The Dutch minister, whose Christian name was Joshua, however, had a medal struck of Joshua stopping the sun in his course, inferring that this miracle was operated by his little republic. The medal itself is engraven in Van Loon’s voluminous Histoire Médallique du Pays Bas, and in Marchand’s Dictionnaire Historique, who labours to prove against twenty authors that the Dutch ambassador was not the inventor; it was not, however, unworthy of him, and it conveyed to the world the high feeling of her power which Holland had then assumed. Two years after the noise about this medal the republic paid dear for the device; but thirty years afterwards this very burgomaster concluded a glorious peace, and France and Spain were compelled to receive the mediation of the Dutch Joshua with the French Sun.100 In these vehicles of national satire, it is odd that the phlegmatic Dutch, more than any other nation, and from the earliest period of their republic, should have indulged freely, if not licentiously. It was a republican humour. Their taste was usually gross. We owe to them, even in the reign of Elizabeth, a severe medal on Leicester, who, having retired in disgust from the government of their provinces, struck a medal with his bust, reverse a dog and sheep,

Non gregem, sed ingratos invitus desero;

on which the angry juvenile states struck another, representing an ape and young ones; reverse, Leicester near a fire,

Fugiens fumum, incidit in ignem.

Another medal, with an excellent portrait of Cromwell, was struck by the Dutch. The Protector, crowned with laurels, is on his knees, laying his head in the lap of the commonwealth, but loosely exhibiting himself to the French and Spanish ambassadors with gross indecency: the Frenchman, covered with fleur de lis, is pushing aside the grave Don, and disputes with him the precedence—Retire-toy; l’honneur 160 appartient au roy mon maitre, Louis le Grand. Van Loon is very right in denouncing this same medal, so grossly flattering to the English, as most detestable and indelicate! But why does Van Loon envy us this lumpish invention? why does the Dutchman quarrel with his own cheese? The honour of the medal we claim, but the invention belongs to his country. The Dutch went on commenting in this manner on English affairs from reign to reign. Charles the Second declared war against them in 1672 for a malicious medal, though the States-General offered to break the die, by purchasing it of the workman for one thousand ducats; but it served for a pretext for a Dutch war, which Charles cared more about than the mala bestia of his exergue. Charles also complained of a scandalous picture which the brothers de Witt had in their house, representing a naval battle with the English. Charles the Second seems to have been more sensible to this sort of national satire than we might have expected in a professed wit; a race, however, who are not the most patient in having their own sauce returned to their lips. The king employed Evelyn to write a history of the Dutch war, and “enjoined him to make it a little keen, for the Hollanders had very unhandsomely abused him in their pictures, books, and libels.” The Dutch continued their career of conveying their national feeling on English affairs more triumphantly when their Stadtholder ascended an English throne. The birth of the Pretender is represented by the chest which Minerva gave to the daughters of Cecrops to keep, and which, opened, discovered an infant with a serpent’s tail: Infantemque vident apporrectumque draconem; the chest perhaps alluding to the removes of the warming-pan; and, in another, James and a Jesuit flying in terror, the king throwing away a crown and sceptre, and the Jesuit carrying a child; Ite missa est, the words applied from the mass.101 But in these contests of national feeling, while the grandeur of Louis the Fourteenth did not allow of these ludicrous and satirical exhibitions, and while the political idolatry which his forty Academicians paid to him exhausted itself in the splendid fictions of a series of famous medals, amounting to nearly four hundred, it appears that we were not without our reprisals; for I find Prosper Marchand, who writes as a Hollander, 161 censuring his own country for having at length adulated the grand monarque by a complimentary medal. He says—“The English cannot be reproached with a similar debonaireté.” After the famous victories of Marlborough, they indeed inserted in a medal the head of the French monarch and the English queen, with this inscription, Ludovicus Magnus, Anna Major. Long ere this one of our queens had been exhibited by ourselves with considerable energy. On the defeat of the Armada, Elizabeth, Pinkerton tells us, struck a medal representing the English and Spanish fleets, Hesperidum regem devicit virgo. Philip had medals dispersed in England of the same impression, with this addition, Negatur. Est meretrix vulgi. These the queen suppressed, but published another medal, with this legend:—

Hesperidum regem devicit virgo; negatur,

Est meretrix vulgi; res eo deterior.

An age fertile in satirical prints was the eventful æra of Charles the First: they were showered from all parties, and a large collection of them would admit of a critical historical commentary, which might become a vehicle of the most curious secret history. Most of them are in a bad style, for they are allegorical; yet that these satirical exhibitions influenced the eyes and minds of the people is evident from an extraordinary circumstance. Two grave collections of historical documents adopted them. We are surprised to find prefixed to Rushworth’s and Nalson’s historical collections two such political prints! Nalson’s was an act of retributive justice; but he seems to have been aware that satire in the shape of pictures is a language very attractive to the multitude, for he has introduced a caricature print in the solemn folio of the Trial of Charles the First.102 Of the happiest of these political prints is one by Taylor the Water-poet, not included in his folio, but prefixed to his “Mad Fashions, Odd Fashions, or the Emblems of these Distracted Times.” It is the figure of a man whose eyes have left their sockets, and whose legs have usurped the place of his arms; a horse on 162 his hind legs is drawing a cart; a church is inverted; fish fly in the air; a candle burns with the flame downwards; and the mouse and rabbit are pursuing the cat and the fox!

The animosities of national hatred have been a fertile source of these vehicles of popular feeling—which discover themselves in severe or grotesque caricatures. The French and the Spaniards mutually exhibit one another under the most extravagant figures. The political caricatures of the French in the seventeenth century are numerous. The badauds of Paris amused themselves for their losses by giving an emetic to a Spaniard, to make him render up all the towns his victories had obtained: seven or eight Spaniards are seen seated around a large turnip, with their frizzled mustachios, their hats en pot-à-beurre; their long rapiers, with their pummels down to their feet, and their points up to their shoulders; their ruffs stiffened by many rows, and pieces of garlick stuck in their girdles. The Dutch were exhibited in as great variety as the uniformity of frogs would allow. We have largely participated in the vindictive spirit which these grotesque emblems keep up among the people; they mark the secret feelings of national pride. The Greeks despised foreigners, and considered them only as fit to be slaves;103 the ancient Jews, inflated with a false idea of their small territory, would be masters of the world: the Italians placed a line of demarcation for genius and taste, and marked it by their mountains. The Spaniards once imagined that the conferences of God with Moses on Mount Sinai were in the Spanish language. If a Japanese become the friend of a foreigner, he is considered as committing treason to his emperor, and rejected as a false brother in a country which, we are told, is figuratively called Tenka, or the Kingdom under the Heavens. John Bullism is not peculiar to Englishmen; and patriotism is a noble virtue when it secures our independence without depriving us of our humanity.

The civil wars of the League in France, and those in England under Charles the First, bear the most striking resemblance; and in examining the revolutionary scenes exhibited by the graver in the famous Satire Ménippée, we discover the foreign artist revelling in the caricature of his ludicrous and 163 severe exhibition; and in that other revolutionary period of La Fronde, there was a mania for political songs; the curious have formed them into collections; and we not only have “the Rump Songs” of Charles the First’s times, but have repeated this kind of evidence of the public feeling at many subsequent periods.104 Caricatures and political songs might with us furnish a new sort of history; and perhaps would preserve some truths, and describe some particular events not to be found in more grave authorities.

89 Baudelot de Dairval, de l’Utilité des Voyages, ii. 645. There is a work, by Ficoroni, on these lead coins or tickets. They are found in the cabinets of the curious medallist. Pinkerton, in referring to this entertaining work, regrets that “such curious remains have almost escaped the notice of medallists, and have not yet been arranged in one class, or named. A special work on them would be highly acceptable.” The time has perhaps arrived when antiquaries may begin to be philosophers, and philosophers antiquaries! The unhappy separation of erudition from philosophy, and of philosophy from erudition, has hitherto thrown impediments in the progress of the human mind and the history of man.

90 Lect. Mem. i. ad. an. 1300.

91 Many specimens may be seen in Carter’s curious volumes on “Ancient Architecture and Painting.”

92 The series published during the wars in the Low Countries are the most remarkable, and may be seen in the volumes by Van Loon.

93 Mr. Douce possessed a portion of this very curious collection: for a complete one De Bure asked about twenty pounds.

94 The Roman satirists also invented a tale to ridicule what they dared not openly condemn, in which it was asserted that a play called The Marriage of the Pope was enacted before Cromwell, in which the Donna having obtained the key of Paradise from Innocent, insists on that of Purgatory also, that she may not be sent there when he is wearied of her. “The wedding” is then kept by a ball of monks and nuns, delighted to think they may one day marry also. Such was the means the Romans took to notify their sense of the degradation of the pope.

95 Warton’s “Life of Sir Thomas Pope,” p. 58.

96 This ancient caricature, so descriptive of the popular feelings, is tolerably given in Malcolm’s history of “Caricaturing,” plate ii. fig. 1.

97 This pack was probably executed in Holland in the time of Charles the Second. There are other sets of political cards of the same reign, particularly one connected with the so-called “popish plots,” and the murder of Sir Edmundbury Godfrey. The South-Sea Bubble was made the subject of a similar pack, after it had exploded.

98 The royal house of Navarre was fancifully derived by the old heraldic writers from Hispalus, the son of Hercules; and the pageant provided by the citizens of Avignon to greet his entrance there in 1600, was entirely composed in reference thereto, and Henry indicated in its title, L’Hercule Gaulois Triumphant.

99 He took for a device and motto on his shield on the occasion of tilting-matches and court festivities, a representation of the sun in splendour, and the words, Nec Pluribus Impar.

100 The history of this medal is useful in more than one respect; and may be found in Prosper Marchand.

101 Another represents the young prince holding the symbol of the Romish faith in his right hand, and crowning himself with the left; Truth opens a door below and discovers Father Petre, as the guiding influence of all.

102 It represents Cromwell as an armed monster, carrying the three kingdoms captive at his feet in a triumphal car driven by the devil over the body of liberty, and the decapitated Charles I. The state of the people is emblematized by a bird flying from its cage to be devoured by a hawk; and sheep breaking from the fold to be set on by ravening wolves.

103 A passage may be found in Aristotle’s Politics, vol. i. c. 3-7; where Aristotle advises Alexander to govern the Greeks like his subjects, and the barbarians like slaves; for that the one he was to consider as companions, and the other as creatures of an inferior race.

104 The following may be mentioned as the most important of these collections:—

“Rome rhymed to Death.” 1683.

“A Collection of the newest and most ingenious Poems, Songs, Catches, &c, against Popery.” 1689.

“Poems on Affairs of State.” 1703-7.

“Whig and Tory; or, Wit on both sides.” 1712.

“Political Merriment; or, Truths told to some Tune.” 1714.



The art of judging of the characters of persons by their handwriting can only have any reality when the pen, acting without restraint, becomes an instrument guided by, and indicative of, the natural dispositions. But regulated as the pen is now too often by a mechanical process, which the present race of writing-masters seem to have contrived for their own convenience, a whole school exhibits a similar handwriting; the pupils are forced in their automatic motions, as if acted on by the pressure of a steam-engine; a bevy of beauties will now write such fac-similes of each other, that in a heap of letters presented to the most sharp-sighted lover to select that of his mistress—though, like Bassanio among the caskets, his happiness should be risked on the choice—he would despair of fixing on the right one, all appearing to have come from the same rolling-press. Even brothers of different tempers have been taught by the same master to 164 give the same form to their letters, the same regularity to their line, and have made our handwritings as monotonous as are our characters in the present habits of society. The true physiognomy of writing will be lost among our rising generation: it is no longer a face that we are looking on, but a beautiful mask of a single pattern; and the fashionable handwriting of our young ladies is like the former tight-lacing of their mothers’ youthful days, when every one alike had what was supposed to be a fine shape!

Assuredly nature would prompt every individual to have a distinct sort of writing, as she has given a peculiar countenance—a voice—and a manner. The flexibility of the muscles differs with every individual, and the hand will follow the direction of the thoughts and the emotions and the habits of the writers. The phlegmatic will portray his words, while the playful haste of the volatile will scarcely sketch them; the slovenly will blot and efface and scrawl, while the neat and orderly-minded will view themselves in the paper before their eyes. The merchant’s clerk will not write like the lawyer or the poet. Even nations are distinguished by their writing; the vivacity and variableness of the Frenchman, and the delicacy and suppleness of the Italian, are perceptibly distinct from the slowness and strength of pen discoverable in the phlegmatic German, Dane, and Swede. When we are in grief, we do not write as we should in joy. The elegant and correct mind, which has acquired the fortunate habit of a fixity of attention, will write with scarcely an erasure on the page, as Fenelon, and Gray, and Gibbon; while we find in Pope’s manuscripts the perpetual struggles of correction, and the eager and rapid interlineations struck off in heat. Lavater’s notion of handwriting is by no means chimerical; nor was General Paoli fanciful, when he told Mr. Northcote that he had decided on the character and dispositions of a man from his letters, and the handwriting.

Long before the days of Lavater, Shenstone in one of his letters said, “I want to see Mrs. Jago’s handwriting, that I may judge of her temper.” One great truth must however be conceded to the opponents of the physiognomy of writing; general rules only can be laid down. Yet the vital principle must be true that the handwriting bears an analogy to the character of the writer, as all voluntary actions are characteristic of the individual. But many causes operate to counteract or obstruct this result. I am intimately acquainted 165 with the handwritings of five of our great poets. The first in early life acquired among Scottish advocates a handwriting which cannot be distinguished from that of his ordinary brothers; the second, educated in public schools, where writing is shamefully neglected, composes his sublime or sportive verses in a school-boy’s ragged scrawl, as if he had never finished his tasks with the writing-master; the third writes his highly-wrought poetry in the common hand of a merchant’s clerk, from early commercial avocations; the fourth has all that finished neatness which polishes his verses; while the fifth is a specimen of a full mind, not in the habit of correction or alteration; so that he appears to be printing down his thoughts, without a solitary erasure. The handwriting of the first and third poets, not indicative of their character, we have accounted for; the others are admirable specimens of characteristic autographs.106

Oldys, in one of his curious notes, was struck by the distinctness of character in the handwritings of several of our kings. He observed nothing further than the mere fact, and did not extend his idea to the art of judging of the natural character by the writing. Oldys has described these handwritings with the utmost correctness, as I have often verified. I shall add a few comments.

“Henry the Eighth wrote a strong hand, but as if he had seldom a good pen.”—The vehemence of his character conveyed itself into his writing; bold, hasty, and commanding, I have no doubt the assertor of the Pope’s supremacy and its triumphant destroyer split many a good quill.

“Edward the Sixth wrote a fair legible hand.”—We have this promising young prince’s diary, written by his own hand; in all respects he was an assiduous pupil, and he had scarcely learnt to write and to reign when we lost him.

“Queen Elizabeth writ an upright hand, like the bastard Italian.” She was indeed a most elegant caligrapher, whom Roger Ascham107 had taught all the elegancies of the pen. The French editor of the little autographical work I have noticed has given the autograph of her name, which she usually wrote in a very large tall character, and painfully 166 elaborate. He accompanies it with one of the Scottish Mary, who at times wrote elegantly, though usually in uneven lines; when in haste and distress of mind, in several letters during her imprisonment which I have read, much the contrary. The French editor makes this observation: ”Who could believe that these writings are of the same epoch? The first denotes asperity and ostentation; the second indicates simplicity, softness, and nobleness. The one is that of Elizabeth, queen of England; the other that of her cousin, Mary Stuart. The difference of these two handwritings answers most evidently to that of their characters.”

“James the First writ a poor ungainly character, all awry, and not in a straight line.” James certainly wrote a slovenly scrawl, strongly indicative of that personal negligence which he carried into all the little things of life; and Buchanan, who had made him an excellent scholar, may receive the disgrace of his pupil’s ugly scribble, which sprawls about his careless and inelegant letters.

“Charles the First wrote a fair open Italian hand, and more correctly perhaps than any prince we ever had.” Charles was the first of our monarchs who intended to have domiciliated taste in the kingdom, and it might have been conjectured from this unfortunate prince, who so finely discriminated the manners of the different painters, which are in fact their handwritings, that he would not have been insensible to the elegancies of the pen.

“Charles the Second wrote a little fair running hand, as if wrote in haste, or uneasy till he had done.” Such was the writing to have been expected from this illustrious vagabond, who had much to write, often in odd situations, and could never get rid of his natural restlessness and vivacity.

“James the Second writ a large fair hand.” It is characterised by his phlegmatic temper, as an exact detailer of occurrences, and the matter-of-business genius of the writer.

“Queen Anne wrote a fair round hand;” that is the writing she had been taught by her master, probably without any alteration of manner naturally suggested by herself; the copying hand of a common character.108

The subject of autographs associates itself with what has 167 been dignified by its professors as caligraphy, or the art of beautiful writing. As I have something curious to communicate on that subject considered professionally, it shall form our following article.

105 A small volume which I met with at Paris, entitled “L’Art de juger du Caractère des Hommes sur leurs Ecritures,” is curious for its illustrations, consisting of twenty-four plates, exhibiting fac-similes of the writing of eminent and other persons, correctly taken from the original autographs. Since this period both France and Germany have produced many books devoted to the use of the curious in autographs. In our own country J.T. Smith published a curious collection of fac-similes of letters, chiefly from literary characters.

106 It will be of interest to the reader to note the names of these poets in the consecutive order they are alluded to. They are Scott, Byron, Rogers, Moore, and Campbell.

107 He was also the tutor of Lady Jane Grey, and the author of one of our earliest and best works on education.

108 Since this article was written, Nichols has published a cleverly-executed series of autographs of royal, noble, and illustrious persons of Great Britain, in which the reader may study the accuracy of the criticism above given.



There is a very apt letter from James the First to Prince Henry when very young, on the neatness and fairness of his handwriting. The royal father suspecting that the prince’s tutor, Mr., afterwards Sir Adam, Newton, had helped out the young prince in the composition, and that in this specimen of caligraphy he had relied also on the pains of Mr. Peter Bales, the great writing-master, for touching up his letters, his majesty shows a laudable anxiety that the prince should be impressed with the higher importance of the one over the other. James shall himself speak. “I confess I long to receive a letter from you that may be wholly yours, as well matter as form; as well formed by your mind as drawn by your fingers; for ye may remember, that in my book to you I warn you to beware with (of) that kind of wit that may fly out at the end of your fingers; not that I commend not a fair handwriting; sed hoc facito, illud non omittito: and the other is multo magis præcipuum.” Prince Henry, indeed, wrote with that elegance which he borrowed from his own mind; and in an age when such minute elegance was not universal among the crowned heads of Europe. Henry IV., on receiving a letter from Prince Henry, immediately opened it, a custom not usual with him, and comparing the writing with the signature, to decide whether it were of one hand, Sir George Carew, observing the French King’s hesitation, called Mr. Douglas to testify to the fact; on which Henry the Great, admiring an art in which he had little skill, and looking on the neat elegance of the writing before him, politely observed, “I see that in writing fair, as in other things, the elder must yield to the younger.”

Had this anecdote of neat writing reached the professors of caligraphy, who in this country have put forth such painful panegyrics on the art, these royal names had unquestionably blazoned their pages. Not indeed that these penmen require any fresh inflation; for never has there been a race of professors in any art who have exceeded in solemnity and 168 pretensions the practitioners in this simple and mechanical craft. I must leave to more ingenious investigators of human nature to reveal the occult cause which has operated such powerful delusions on these “Vive la Plume!” men, who have been generally observed to possess least intellectual ability in proportion to the excellence they have obtained in their own art. I suspect this maniacal vanity is peculiar to the writing-masters of England; and I can only attribute the immense importance which they have conceived of their art to the perfection to which they have carried the art of short-hand writing; an art which was always better understood, and more skilfully practised, in England than in any other country. It will surprise some when they learn that the artists in verse and colours, poets and painters, have not raised loftier pretensions to the admiration of mankind. Writing-masters, or caligraphers, have had their engraved “effigies,” with a Fame in flourishes, a pen in one hand and a trumpet in the other; and fine verses inscribed, and their very lives written! They have compared

The nimbly-turning of their silver quill

to the beautiful in art and the sublime in invention; nor is this wonderful, since they discover the art of writing, like the invention of language, in a divine original; and from the tablets of stone which the Deity himself delivered, they trace their German broad text, or their fine running-hand. One, for “the bold striking of those words, Vive la Plume,” was so sensible of the reputation that this last piece of command of hand would give the book which he thus adorned, and which his biographer acknowledges was the product of about a minute,—(but then how many years of flourishing had that single minute cost him!)—that he claims the glory of an artist; observing,—

We seldom find

The man of business with the artist join’d.

Another was flattered that his writing could impart immortality to the most wretched compositions!—

And any lines prove pleasing, when you write.

Sometimes the caligrapher is a sort of hero:—

To you, you rare commander of the quill,

Whose wit and worth, deep learning, and high skill,

Speak you the honour of Great Tower Hill!


The last line became traditionally adopted by those who were so lucky as to live in the neighbourhood of this Parnassus. But the reader must form some notion of that charm of caligraphy which has so bewitched its professors, when,

Soft, bold, and free, your manuscripts still please.

How justly bold in Snell’s improving hand

The pen at once joins freedom with command!

With softness strong, with ornaments not vain,

Loose with proportion, and with neatness plain;

Not swell’d, not full, complete in every part,

And artful most, when not affecting art.

And these describe those pencilled knots and flourishes, “the angels, the men, the birds, and the beasts,” which, as one of them observed, he could


Even by the gentle motion of his hand,

all the speciosa miracula of caligraphy;

Thy tender strokes, inimitably fine,

Crown with perfection every flowing line;

And to each grand performance add a grace,

As curling hair adorns a beauteous face:

In every page new fancies give delight,

And sporting round the margin charm the sight.

One Massey, a writing-master, published in 1763, “The Origin and Progress of Letters.” The great singularity of this volume is “a new species of biography never attempted before in English.” This consists of the lives of “English Penmen,” otherwise writing-masters! If some have foolishly enough imagined that the sedentary lives of authors are void of interest from deficient incident and interesting catastrophe, what must they think of the barren labours of those who, in the degree they become eminent, to use their own style, in the art of “dish, dash, long-tail fly,” the less they become interesting to the public; for what can the most skilful writing-master do but wear away his life in leaning over his pupil’s copy, or sometimes snatch a pen to decorate the margin, though he cannot compose the page? Montaigne has a very original notion on writing-masters: he says that some of those caligraphers who had obtained promotion by their excellence in the art, afterwards affected to write carelessly, lest their promotion should be suspected to have been owing to such an ordinary acquisition!


Massey is an enthusiast, fortunately for his subject. He considers that there are schools of writing, as well as of painting or sculpture; and expatiates with the eye of fraternal feeling on “a natural genius, a tender stroke, a grand performance, a bold striking freedom, and a liveliness in the sprigged letters, and pencilled knots and flourishes;” while this Vasari of writing-masters relates the controversies and the libels of many a rival pen-nibber. “George Shelley, one of the most celebrated worthies who have made a shining figure in the commonwealth of English caligraphy, born I suppose of obscure parents, because brought up in Christ’s Hospital, yet under the humble blue-coat he laid the foundation of his caligraphic excellence and lasting fame, for he was elected writing-master to the hospital.” Shelley published his “Natural Writing;” but, alas! Snell, another blue-coat, transcended the other. He was a genius who would “bear no brother near the throne.”—“I have been informed that there were jealous heart-burnings, if not bickerings, between him and Col. Ayres, another of our great reformers in the writing commonweal, both eminent men, yet, like our most celebrated poets Pope and Addison, or, to carry the comparison still higher, like Cæsar and Pompey, one could bear no superior, and the other no equal.” Indeed, the great Snell practised a little stratagem against Mr. Shelley, for which, if writing-masters held courts-martial, this hero ought to have appeared before his brothers. In one of his works he procured a number of friends to write letters, in which Massey confesses “are some satyrical strokes upon Shelley,” as if he had arrogated too much to himself in his book of “Natural Writing.” They find great fault with pencilled knots and sprigged letters. Shelley, who was an advocate for ornaments in fine penmanship, which Snell utterly rejected, had parodied a well-known line of Herbert’s in favour of his favourite decorations:—

A Knot may take him who from letters flies,

And turn delight into an exercise.

These reflections created ill-blood, and even an open difference amongst several of the superior artists in writing. The commanding genius of Snell had a more terrific contest when he published his “Standard Rules,” pretending to have demonstrated them as Euclid would. “This proved a bone of contention, and occasioned a terrific quarrel between Mr. 171 Snell and Mr. Clark. This quarrel about ‘Standard Rules’ ran so high between them, that they could scarce forbear scurrilous language therein, and a treatment of each other unbecoming gentlemen! Both sides in this dispute had their abettors; and to say which had the most truth and reason, non nostrum est tantas componere lites; perhaps both parties might be too fond of their own schemes. They should have left them to people to choose which they liked best.” A candid politician is our Massey, and a philosophical historian too; for he winds up the whole story of this civil war by describing its result, which happened as all such great controversies have ever closed. “Who now-a-days takes those Standard Rules, either one or the other, for their guide in writing?” This is the finest lesson ever offered to the furious heads of parties, and to all their men; let them meditate on the nothingness of their “Standard Rules,” by the fate of Mr. Snell.

It was to be expected, when once these writing-masters imagined that they were artists, that they would be infected with those plague-spots of genius—envy, detraction, and all the jalousie du métier. And such to this hour we find them! An extraordinary scene of this nature has long been exhibited in my neighbourhood, where two doughty champions of the quill have been posting up libels in their windows respecting the inventor of a new art of writing, the Carstairian, or the Lewisian? When the great German philosopher asserted that he had discovered the method of fluxions before Sir Isaac, and when the dispute grew so violent that even the calm Newton sent a formal defiance in set terms, and got even George the Second to try to arbitrate (who would rather have undertaken a campaign), the method of fluxions was no more cleared up than the present affair between our two heroes of the quill.

A recent instance of one of these egregious caligraphers may be told of the late Tomkins. This vainest of writing-masters dreamed through life that penmanship was one of the fine arts, and that a writing-master should be seated with his peers in the Academy! He bequeathed to the British Museum his opus magnum—a copy of Macklin’s Bible, profusely embellished with the most beautiful and varied decorations of his pen; and as he conceived that both the workman and the work would alike be darling objects with posterity, he left something immortal with the legacy, his fine 172 bust, by Chantrey, unaccompanied by which they were not to receive the unparalleled gift! When Tomkins applied to have his bust, our great sculptor abated the usual price, and, courteously kind to the feelings of the man, said that he considered Tomkins as an artist! It was the proudest day of the life of our writing-master!

But an eminent artist and wit now living, once looking on this fine bust of Tomkins, declared, that “this man had died for want of a dinner!”—a fate, however, not so lamentable as it appeared! Our penman had long felt that he stood degraded in the scale of genius by not being received at the Academy, at least among the class of engravers; the next approach to academic honour he conceived would be that of appearing as a guest at their annual dinner. These invitations are as limited as they are select, and all the Academy persisted in considering Tomkins as a writing-master! Many a year passed, every intrigue was practised, every remonstrance was urged, every stratagem of courtesy was tried; but never ceasing to deplore the failure of his hopes, it preyed on his spirits, and the luckless caligrapher went down to his grave—without dining at the Academy! This authentic anecdote has been considered as “satire improperly directed”—by some friend of Mr. Tomkins—but the criticism is much too grave! The foible of Mr. Tomkins as a writing-master presents a striking illustration of the class of men here delineated. I am a mere historian—and am only responsible for the veracity of this fact. That “Mr. Tomkins lived in familiar intercourse with the Royal Academicians of his day, and was a frequent guest at their private tables,” and moreover was a most worthy man, I believe—but is it less true that he was ridiculously mortified by being never invited to the Academic dinner, on account of his caligraphy? He had some reason to consider that his art was of the exalted class to which he aspired to raise it, when this friend concludes his eulogy of this writing-master thus—“Mr. Tomkins, as an artist, stood foremost in his own profession, and his name will be handed down to posterity with the Heroes and Statesmen, whose excellences his penmanship has contributed to illustrate and to commemorate.” I always give the Pour and the Contre!

Such men about such things have produced public contests, combats a l’outrance, where much ink was spilled by the knights in a joust of goose-quills; these solemn trials have often occurred in the history of writing-masters, which is 173 enlivened by public defiances, proclamations, and judicial trials by umpires! The prize was usually a golden pen of some value. One as late as in the reign of Anne took place between Mr. German and Mr. More. German having courteously insisted that Mr. More should set the copy, he thus set it, ingeniously quaint!

As more, and More, our understanding clears,

So more and more our ignorance appears.

The result of this pen-combat was really lamentable; they displayed such an equality of excellence that the umpires refused to decide, till one of them espied that Mr. German had omitted the tittle of an i! But Mr. More was evidently a man of genius, not only by his couplet, but in his “Essay on the Invention of Writing,” where occurs this noble passage: “Art with me is of no party. A noble emulation I would cherish, while it proceeded neither from, nor to malevolence. Bales had his Johnson, Norman his Mason, Ayres his Matlock and his Shelley; yet Art the while was no sufferer. The busybody who officiously employs himself in creating misunderstandings between artists, may be compared to a turn-stile, which stands in every man’s way, yet hinders nobody; and he is the slanderer who gives ear to the slander.”109

Among these knights of the “Plume volante,” whose chivalric exploits astounded the beholders, must be distinguished Peter Bales in his joust with David Johnson. In this tilting-match the guerdon of caligraphy was won by the greatest of caligraphers; its arms were assumed by the victor, azure, a pen or; while the “golden pen,” carried away in triumph, was painted with a hand over the door of the caligrapher. The history of this renowned encounter was only traditionally known, till with my own eyes I pondered on this whole trial of skill in the precious manuscript of the champion himself; who, like Cæsar, not only knew how to win victories, but also to record them. Peter Bales was a hero of such transcendent eminence, that his name has entered into our history. Holinshed chronicles one of his curiosities of microscopic writing at a time when the taste prevailed for admiring writing which no eye could read! In the compass of a silver penny this caligrapher put more things than would fill several of these pages. He presented Queen 174 Elizabeth with the manuscript set in a ring of gold covered with a crystal; he had also contrived a magnifying glass of such power, that, to her delight and wonder, her majesty read the whole volume, which she held on her thumb-nail, and “commended the same to the lords of the council and the ambassadors;” and frequently, as Peter often heard, did her majesty vouchsafe to wear this caligraphic ring.110

“Some will think I labour on a cobweb”—modestly exclaimed Bales in his narrative, and his present historian much fears for himself! The reader’s gratitude will not be proportioned to my pains, in condensing such copious pages into the size of a “silver penny,” but without its worth!

For a whole year had David Johnson affixed a challenge “To any one who should take exceptions to this my writing and teaching.” He was a young friend of Bales, daring and longing for an encounter; yet Bales was magnanimously silent, till he discovered that he was “doing much less in writing and teaching” since this public challenge was proclaimed! He then set up his counter-challenge, and in one hour afterwards Johnson arrogantly accepted it, “in a most despiteful and disgraceful manner.” Bales’s challenge was delivered “in good terms.” “To all Englishmen and strangers.” It was to write for a gold pen of twenty pounds value in all kinds of hands, “best, straightest, and fastest,” and most kind of ways; “a full, a mean, a small, with line, and without line; in a slow set hand, a mean facile hand, and a fast running hand;” and further, “to write truest and speediest, most secretary and clerk-like, from a man’s mouth, reading or pronouncing, either English or Latin.”

Young Johnson had the hardihood now of turning the tables on his great antagonist, accusing the veteran Bales of arrogance. Such an absolute challenge, says he, was never witnessed by man, “without exception of any in the world!” And a few days after meeting Bales, “of set purpose to affront and disgrace him what he could, showed Bales a piece 175 of writing of secretary’s hand, which he had very much laboured in fine abortive parchment,”111 uttering to the challenger these words: “Mr. Bales, give me one shilling out of your purse, and if within six months you better, or equal this piece of writing, I will give you forty pounds for it.” This legal deposit of the shilling was made, and the challenger, or appellant, was thereby bound by law to the performance.

The day before the trial a printed declaration was affixed throughout the city, taunting Bales’s “proud poverty,” and his pecuniary motives, as “a thing ungentle, base, and mercenary, and not answerable to the dignity of the golden pen!” Johnson declares he would maintain his challenge for a thousand pounds more, but for the respondent’s inability to perform a thousand groats. Bales retorts on the libel; declares it as a sign of his rival’s weakness, “yet who so bold as blind Bayard, that hath not a word of Latin to cast at a dog, or say Bo! to a goose!”

On Michaelmas day, 1595, the trial opened before five judges: the appellant and the respondent appeared at the appointed place, and an ancient gentleman was intrusted with “the golden pen.” In the first trial, for the manner of teaching scholars, after Johnson had taught his pupil a fortnight, he would not bring him forward! This was awarded in favour of Bales.

The second, for secretary and clerk-like writing, dictating to them both in English and in Latin, Bales performed best, being first done; written straightest without line, with true orthography: the challenger himself confessing that he wanted the Latin tongue, and was no clerk!

The third and last trial for fair writing in sundry kinds of hands, the challenger prevailed for the beauty and most “authentic proportion,” and for the superior variety of the Roman hand. In the court hand the respondent exceeded the appellant, and likewise in the set text; and in bastard secretary was also somewhat perfecter.

At length Bales, perhaps perceiving an equilibrium in the judicial decision, to overwhelm his antagonist presented what he distinguishes as his “masterpiece,” composed of secretary and Roman hand four ways varied, and offering the defendant to let pass all his previous advantages if he could better this 176 specimen of caligraphy! The challenger was silent! At this moment some of the judges perceiving that the decision must go in favour of Bales, in consideration of the youth of the challenger, lest he might be disgraced to the world, requested the other judges not to pass judgment in public. Bales assures us, that he in vain remonstrated; for by these means the winning of the golden pen might not be so famously spread as otherwise it would have been. To Bales the prize was awarded. But our history has a more interesting close; the subtle Machiavelism of the first challenger!

When the great trial had closed, and Bales, carrying off the golden pen, exultingly had it painted and set up for his sign, the baffled challenger went about reporting that he had won the golden pen, but that the defendant had obtained the same by “plots and shifts, and other base and cunning practices.” Bales vindicated his claim, and offered to show the world his “masterpiece” which had acquired it. Johnson issued an “Appeal to all Impartial Penmen,” which he spread in great numbers through the city for ten days, a libel against the judges and the victorious defendant! He declared that there had been a subtle combination with one of the judges concerning the place of trial; which he expected to have been “before penmen,” but not before a multitude like a stage-play, and shouts and tumults, with which the challenger had hitherto been unacquainted. The judges were intended to be twelve; but of the five, four were the challenger’s friends, honest gentlemen, but unskilled in judging of most hands; and he offered again forty pounds to be allowed in six months to equal Bales’s masterpiece. And he closes his “appeal” by declaring that Bales had lost in several parts of the trial, neither did the judges deny that Bales possessed himself of the golden pen by a trick! Before judgment was awarded, alleging the sickness of his wife to be extreme, he desired she might have a sight of the golden pen to comfort her! The ancient gentleman who was the holder, taking the defendant’s word, allowed the golden pen to be carried to the sick wife; and Bales immediately pawned it, and afterwards, to make sure work, sold it at a great loss, so that when the judges met for their definite sentence, nor pen nor pennyworth was to be had! The judges being ashamed of their own conduct, were compelled to give such a verdict as suited the occasion.

Bales rejoins: he publishes to the universe the day and the hour when the judges brought the golden pen to his house, 177 and while he checks the insolence of this Bobadil, to show himself no recreant, assumes the golden pen for his sign.

Such is the shortest history I could contrive of this chivalry of the pen; something mysteriously clouds over the fate of the defendant; Bales’s history, like Cæsar’s, is but an ex-parte evidence. Who can tell whether he has not slurred over his defeats, and only dwelt on his victories?

There is a strange phrase connected with the art of the caligrapher, which I think may be found in most, if not in all modern languages, to write like an angel! Ladies have been frequently compared with angels; they are beautiful as angels, and sing and dance like angels; but, however intelligible these are, we do not so easily connect penmanship with the other celestial accomplishments. This fanciful phrase, however, has a very human origin. Among those learned Greeks who emigrated to Italy, and afterwards into France, in the reign of Francis I., was one Angelo Vergecio, whose beautiful caligraphy excited the admiration of the learned. The French monarch had a Greek fount cast, modelled by his writing. The learned Henry Stephens, who, like our Porson for correctness and delicacy, was one of the most elegant writers of Greek, had learnt the practice from our Angelo. His name became synonymous for beautiful writing, and gave birth to the vulgar proverb or familiar phrase to write like an angel!

109 I have not met with More’s book, and am obliged to transcribe this from the Biog. Brit.

110 Howes, in his Chronicle under date 1576, has thus narrated the story:—“A strange piece of work, and almost incredible, was brought to pass by an Englishman from within the city of London, and a clerk of the Chancery, named Peter Bales, who by his industry and practice of his pen contrived and writ, within the compass of a penny, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, a prayer to God, a prayer for the queen, his posy, his name, the day of the month, the year of our Lord, and the reign of the queen: and at Hampton Court he presented the same to the queen’s majesty.”

111 This was written in the reign of Elizabeth. Holyoke notices “virgin-perchment made of an abortive skin; membrana virgo.” Peacham, on “Drawing,” calls parchment simply an abortive.



It is remarkable that the country which has long lost its political independence may be considered as the true parent of modern history. The greater part of their historians have abstained from the applause of their contemporaries, while they have not the less elaborately composed their posthumous folios, consecrated solely to truth and posterity! The true principles of national glory are opened by the grandeur of the minds of these assertors of political freedom. It was their indignant spirit, seeking to console its injuries by confiding them to their secret manuscripts, which raised up this singular phenomenon in the literary world.

Of the various causes which produced such a lofty race of patriots, one is prominent. The proud recollections of their Roman fathers often troubled the dreams of the sons. The 178 petty rival republics, and the petty despotic principalities, which had started up from some great families, who at first came forward as the protectors of the people from their exterior enemies or their interior factions, at length settled into a corruption of power; a power which had been conferred on them to preserve liberty itself! These factions often shook, by their jealousies, their fears, and their hatreds, that divided land, which groaned whenever they witnessed the “Ultramontanes” descending from their Alps and their Apennines. Petrarch, in a noble invective, warmed by Livy and ancient Rome, impatiently beheld the French and the Germans passing the mounts. “Enemies,” he cries, “so often conquered prepare to strike with swords which formerly served us to raise our trophies: shall the mistress of the world bear chains forged by hands which she has so often bound to their backs?” Machiavel, in his “Exhortations to Free Italy from the Barbarians,” rouses his country against their changeable masters, the Germans, the French, and the Spaniards; closing with the verse of Petrarch, that short shall be the battle for which virtue arms to show the world—

che l’ antico valore

Ne gl’ Italici cuor non è ancor morto.

Nor has this sublime patriotism declined even in more recent times; I cannot resist from preserving in this place a sonnet by Filicaja, which I could never read without participating in the agitation of the writer for the ancient glory of his degenerated country! The energetic personification of the close perhaps surpasses even his more celebrated sonnet, preserved in Lord Byron’s notes to the fourth canto of “Childe Harold.”

Dov’ è Italia, il tuo braccio? e a che ti servi

Tu dell’ altrui? non è s’ io scorgo il vero,

Di chi t’ offende il defensor men fero:

Ambe nemici sono, ambo fur servi.

Così dunque l’ onor, così conservi

Gli avanzi tu del glorioso Impero?

Cosi al valor, cosi al valor primiero

Che a te fede giurò, la fede osservi?

Or va; repudia il valor prisco, e sposa

L’ ozio, e fra il sangue, i gemiti, e le strida

Nel periglio maggior dormi e riposa!

Dormi, Adultera vil! fin che omicida

Spada ultrice ti svegli, e sonnacchiosa,

E nuda in braccio al tuo fedel t’uccida!


Oh, Italy! where is thine arm? What purpose serves

So to be helped by others? Deem I right,

Among offenders thy defender stands?

Both are thy enemies—both were thy servants!

Thus dost thou honour—thus dost thou preserve

The mighty boundaries of the glorious empire?

And thus to Valour, to thy pristine Valour

That swore its faith to thee, thy faith thou keep’st?

Go! and divorce thyself from thy old Valiance,

And marry Idleness: and midst the blood,

The heavy groans and cries of agony,

In thy last danger sleep, and seek repose!

Sleep, vile Adulteress! the homicidal sword

Vengeful shall waken thee! and lull’d to slumber,

While naked in thy minion’s arms, shall strike!

Among the domestic contests of Italy the true principles of political freedom were developed; and in that country we may find the origin of that philosophical history which includes so many important views and so many new results unknown to the ancients.

Machiavel seems to have been the first writer who discovered the secret of what may be called comparative history. He it was who first sought in ancient history for the materials which were to illustrate the events of his own times, by fixing on analogous facts, similar personages, and parallel periods. This was enlarging the field of history, and opening a new combination for philosophical speculation. His profound genius advanced still further; he not only explained modern by ancient history, but he deduced those results or principles founded on this new sort of evidence which guided him in forming his opinions. History had hitherto been, if we except Tacitus, but a story well told; and by writers of limited capacity, the detail and number of facts had too often been considered as the only valuable portion of history. An erudition of facts is not the philosophy of history; an historian unskilful in the art of applying his facts amasses impure ore, which he cannot strike into coin. The chancellor D’Aguesseau, in his instructions to his son on the study of history, has admirably touched on this distinction. “Minds which are purely historical mistake a fact for an argument; they are so accustomed to satisfy themselves by repeating a great number of facts and enriching their memory, that they become incapable of reasoning on principles. It often happens that the result of their knowledge breeds confusion and universal indecision; for their facts, often contradictory, only 180 raise up doubts. The superfluous and the frivolous occupy the place of what is essential and solid, or at least so overload and darken it that we must sail with them in a sea of trifles to get to firm land. Those who only value the philosophical part of history fall into an opposite extreme; they judge of what has been done by that which should be done; while the others always decide on what should be done by that which has been: the first are the dupes of their reasoning, the second of the facts which they mistake for reasoning. We should not separate two things which ought always to go in concert, and mutually lend an aid, reason and example! Avoid equally the contempt of some philosophers for the science of facts, and the distaste or the incapacity which those who confine themselves to facts often contract for whatever depends on pure reasoning. True and solid philosophy should direct us in the study of history, and the study of history should give perfection to philosophy.” Such was the enlightened opinion, as far back as at the beginning of the seventeenth century, of the studious chancellor of France, before the more recent designation of Philosophical History was so generally received, and so familiar on our title-pages.

From the moment that the Florentine secretary conceived the idea that the history of the Roman people, opening such varied spectacles of human nature, served as a point of comparison to which he might perpetually recur to try the analogous facts of other nations and the events passing under his own eye, a new light broke out and ran through the vast extents of history. The maturity of experience seemed to have been obtained by the historian in his solitary meditation. Livy in the grandeur of Rome, and Tacitus in its fated decline, exhibited for Machiavel a moving picture of his own republics—the march of destiny in all human governments! The text of Livy and Tacitus revealed to him many an imperfect secret—the fuller truth he drew from the depth of his own observations on his own times. In Machiavel’s “Discourses on Livy” we may discover the foundations of our Philosophical History.

The example of Machiavel, like that of all creative genius, influenced the character of his age, and his history of Florence produced an emulative spirit among a new dynasty of historians.

The Italian historians have proved themselves to be an extraordinary race, for they devoted their days to the composition 181 of historical works which they were certain could not see the light during their lives! They nobly determined that their works should be posthumous, rather than be compelled to mutilate them for the press. These historians were rather the saints than the martyrs of history; they did not always personally suffer for truth, but during their protracted labour they sustained their spirit by anticipating their glorified after-state.

Among these Italian historians must be placed the illustrious Guicciardini, the friend of Machiavel. No perfect edition of this historian existed till recent times. The history itself was posthumous; nor did his nephew venture to publish it till twenty years after the historian’s death. He only gave the first sixteen books, and these castrated. The obnoxious passages consisted of some statements relating to the papal court, then so important in the affairs of Europe; some account of the origin and progress of the papal power; some eloquent pictures of the abuses and disorders of that corrupt court; and some free caricatures on the government of Florence. The precious fragments were fortunately preserved in manuscript, and the Protestants procured transcripts which they published separately, but which were long very rare.112 All the Italian editions continued to be reprinted in the same truncated condition, and appear only to have been reinstated in the immortal history so late as in 1775! Thus, it required two centuries before an editor could venture to give the world the pure and complete text of the manuscript of the lieutenant-general of the papal army, who had been so close and so indignant an observer of the Roman cabinet.

Adriani, whom his son entitles gentiluomo Fiorentino, the writer of the pleasing dissertation “on the Ancient Painters noticed by Pliny,” prefixed to his friend Vasari’s biographies, wrote as a continuation of Guicciardini, a history of his own times in twenty-two books, of which Denina gives the highest character for its moderate spirit, and from which De Thou has largely drawn, and commends for its authenticity. Our author, however, did not venture to publish his history during his lifetime: it was after his death that his son became the editor.

Nardi, of a noble family and high in office, famed for a 182 translation of Livy which rivals its original in the pleasure it affords, in his retirement from public affairs wrote a history of Florence, which closes with the loss of the liberty of his country in 1531. It was not published till fifty years after his death; even then the editors suppressed many passages which are found in manuscript in the libraries of Florence and Venice, with other historical documents of this noble and patriotic historian.

About the same time the senator Philip Nerli was writing his “Commentarj de’ fatti civili,” which had occurred in Florence. He gave them with his dying hand to his nephew, who presented the MSS. to the Grand Duke; yet, although this work is rather an apology than a crimination of the Medici family for their ambitious views and their overgrown power, probably some state-reason interfered to prevent the publication, which did not take place till 150 years after the death of the historian!

Bernardo Segni composed a history of Florence still more valuable, which shared the same fate as that of Nerli. It was only after his death that his relatives accidentally discovered this history of Florence, which the author had carefully concealed during his lifetime. He had abstained from communicating to any one the existence of such a work while he lived, that he might not be induced to check the freedom of his pen, nor compromise the cause and the interests of truth. His heirs presented it to one of the Medici family, who threw it aside. Another copy had been more carefully preserved, from which it was printed in 1713, about 150 years after it had been written. It appears to have excited great curiosity, for Lenglet du Fresnoy observes that the scarcity of this history is owing to the circumstance “of the Grand Duke having bought up the copies.” Du Fresnoy, indeed, has noticed more than once this sort of address of the Grand Duke; for he observes on the Florentine history of Bruto that the work was not common, the Grand Duke having bought up the copies to suppress them. The author was even obliged to fly from Italy for having delivered his opinions too freely on the house of the Medici. This honest historian thus expresses himself at the close of his work:—“My design has but one end—that our posterity may learn by these notices the root and the causes of so many troubles which we have suffered, while they expose the malignity of those men who have raised them up or prolonged them, as 183 well as the goodness of those who did all which they could to turn them away.”

It was the same motive, the fear of offending the great personages or their families, of whom these historians had so freely written, which deterred Benedetto Varchi from publishing his well-known “Storie Fiorentine,” which was not given to the world till 1721, a period which appears to have roused the slumbers of the literary men of Italy to recur to their native historians. Varchi, who wrote with so much zeal the history of his fatherland, is noticed by Nardi as one who never took an active part in the events he records; never having combined with any party, and living merely as a spectator. This historian closes the narrative of a horrid crime of Peter Lewis Farnese with this admirable reflection: “I know well this story, with many others which I have freely exposed, may hereafter prevent the reading of my history; but also I know, that besides what Tacitus has said on this subject, the great duty of an historian is not to be more careful of the reputation of persons than is suitable with truth, which is to be preferred to all things, however detrimental it may be to the writer.”113


Such was that free manner of thinking and of writing which prevailed in these Italian historians, who, often living in the midst of the ruins of popular freedom, poured forth their injured feelings in their secret pages; without the hope, and perhaps without the wish, of seeing them published in their lifetime: a glorious example of self-denial and lofty patriotism!

Had it been inquired of these writers why they did not publish their histories, they might have answered, in nearly the words of an ancient sage, “Because I am not permitted to write as I would; and I would not write as I am permitted.” We cannot imagine that these great men were in the least insensible to the applause they denied themselves; they were not of tempers to be turned aside; and it was the highest motive which can inspire an historian, a stern devotion to truth, which reduced them to silence, but not to inactivity! These Florentine and Venetian historians, ardent with truth, and profound in political sagacity, were writing these legacies of history solely for their countrymen, hopeless of their gratitude! If a Frenchman114 wrote the English history, that labour was the aliment of his own glory; if Hume and Robertson devoted their pens to history, the motive of the task was less glorious than their work; but here we discover a race of historians, whose patriotism alone instigated their secret labour, and who substituted for fame and fortune that mightier spirit, which, amidst their conflicting passions, has developed the truest principles, and even the errors, of Political Freedom!

None of these historians, we have seen, published their works in their lifetime. I have called them the saints of history, rather than the martyrs. One, however, had the intrepidity to risk this awful responsibility, and he stands forth among the most illustrious and ill-fated examples of historical martyrdom!

This great historian is Giannone, whose civil history of the kingdom of Naples is remarkable for its profound inquiries concerning the civil and ecclesiastical constitution, the laws and customs of that kingdom. With some interruptions 185 from his professional avocations at the bar, twenty years were consumed in writing this history. Researches on ecclesiastical usurpations, and severe strictures on the clergy, are the chief subjects of his bold and unreserved pen. These passages, curious, grave, and indignant, were afterwards extracted from the history by Vernet, and published in a small volume, under the title of “Anecdotes Ecclésiastiques,” 1738. When Giannone consulted with a friend on the propriety of publishing his history, his critic, in admiring the work, predicted the fate of the author. “You have,” said he, “placed on your head a crown of thorns, and of very sharp ones.” The historian set at nought his own personal repose, and in 1723 this elaborate history saw the light. From that moment the historian never enjoyed a day of quiet! Rome attempted at first to extinguish the author with his work; all the books were seized on; and copies of the first edition are of extreme rarity. To escape the fangs of inquisitorial power, the historian of Naples flew from Naples on the publication of his immortal work. The fugitive and excommunicated author sought an asylum at Vienna, where, though he found no friend in the emperor, Prince Eugene and other nobles became his patrons. Forced to quit Vienna, he retired to Venice, when a new persecution arose from the jealousy of the state-inquisitors, who one night landed him on the borders of the pope’s dominions. Escaping unexpectedly with his life to Geneva, he was preparing a supplemental volume to his celebrated history, when, enticed by a treacherous friend to a catholic village, Giannone was arrested by an order of the King of Sardinia; his manuscripts were sent to Rome, and the historian imprisoned in a fort. It is curious that the imprisoned Giannone wrote a vindication of the rights of the King of Sardinia, against the claims of the court of Rome. This powerful appeal to the feelings of this sovereign was at first favourably received; but, under the secret influence of Rome, the Sardinian monarch, on the extraordinary plea that he kept Giannone as a prisoner of state that he might preserve him from the papal power, ordered that the vindicator of his rights should be more closely confined than before; and, for this purpose, transferred his state-prisoner to the citadel of Turin, where, after twelve years of persecution and of agitation, our great historian closed his life!

Such was the fate of this historical martyr, whose work 186 the catholic Haym describes as opera scritta con molto fuoco e troppa libertà. He hints that this history is only paralleled by De Thou’s great work. This Italian history will ever be ranked among the most philosophical. But, profound as was the masculine genius of Giannone, such was his love of fame, that he wanted the intrepidity requisite to deny himself the delight of giving his history to the world, though some of his great predecessors had set him a noble and dignified example.

One more observation on these Italian historians. All of them represent man in his darkest colours; their drama is terrific; the actors are monsters of perfidy, of inhumanity, and inventors of crimes which seem to want a name! They were all “princes of darkness;” and the age seemed to afford a triumph of Manicheism! The worst passions were called into play by all parties. But if something is to be ascribed to the manners of the times, much more may be traced to that science of politics, which sought for mastery in an undefinable struggle of ungovernable political power; in the remorseless ambition of the despots, and the hatreds and jealousies of the republics. These Italian historians have formed a perpetual satire on the contemptible simulation and dissimulation, and the inexpiable crimes of that system of politics, which has derived a name from one of themselves—the great, may we add, the calumniated, Machiavel?

112 They were printed at Basle in 1569—at London in 1595—in Amsterdam, 1663. How many attempts to echo the voice of suppressed truth—Haym’s Bib. Ital. 1803.

113 My friend, Mr. Merivale, whose critical research is only equalled by the elegance of his taste, has supplied me with a note which proves but too well that even writers who compose uninfluenced by party feelings, may not, however, be sufficiently scrupulous in weighing the evidence of the facts which they collect. Mr. Merivale observes, “The strange and improbable narrative with which Varchi has the misfortune of closing his history, should not have been even hinted at without adding, that it is denounced by other writers as a most impudent forgery, invented years after the occurrence is supposed to have happened, by the ‘Apostate’ bishop Petrus Paulus Vergerius.” See its refutation in Amiani, “Hist. di Fano,” ii. 149, et seq. 160.

“Varchi’s character as an historian cannot but suffer greatly from his having given it insertion on such authority. The responsibility of an author for the truth of what he relates should render us very cautious of giving credit to the writers of memoirs not intended to see the light till a distant period. The credibility of Vergerius, as an acknowledged libeller of Pope Paul III. and his family, appears still more conclusively from his article in Bayle, note K.” It must be added, that the calumny of Vergerius may be found in Wolfius’s Lect. Mem. ii. 691, in a tract de Idolo Lauretano, published 1556. Varchi is more particular in his details of this monstrous tale. Vergerius’s libels, universally read at the time though they were collected afterwards, are now not to be met with, even in public libraries. Whether there was any truth in the story of Peter Lewis Farnese I know not; but crimes of as monstrous a dye occur in the authentic Guicciardini. The story is not yet forgotten, since in the last edition of Haym’s Biblioteca Italiana, the best edition is marked as that which at p. 639 contains “la sceleratezza di Pier Lewis Farnese.” I am of opinion that Varchi believed the story, by the solemnity of his proposition. Whatever be its truth, the historian’s feeling was elevated and intrepid.

114 Rapin.



Our ministers and court favourites, as well as those on the Continent, practised a very impolitical custom, and one likely to be repeated, although it has never failed to cast a popular odium on their names, exciting even the envy of their equals—in the erection of palaces for themselves, which outvied those of their sovereign; and which, to the eyes of the populace, appeared as a perpetual and insolent exhibition of what they deemed the ill-earned wages of peculation, oppression, and court-favour. We discover the seduction of this passion for ostentation, this haughty sense of their power, and this self-idolatry, even among the most prudent and the wisest of our ministers; and not one but lived to lament over this vain act of imprudence. To these ministers the noble simplicity of Pitt will ever form an admirable contrast; while 187 his personal character, as a statesman, descends to posterity unstained by calumny.

The houses of Cardinal Wolsey appear to have exceeded the palaces of the sovereign in magnificence; and potent as he was in all the pride of pomp, the “great cardinal” found rabid envy pursuing him so close at his heels, that he relinquished one palace after the other, and gave up as gifts to the monarch what, in all his overgrown greatness, he trembled to retain for himself. The state satire of that day was often pointed at this very circumstance, as appears in Skelton’s “Why come ye not to Court?” and Roy’s “Rede me, and be not wrothe.”115 Skelton’s railing rhymes leave their bitter teeth in his purple pride; and the style of both these satirists, if we use our own orthography, shows how little the language of the common people has varied during three centuries.

Set up a wretch on high

In a throne triumphantly;

Make him a great state

And he will play check-mate

With royal majesty——

The King’s Court

Should have the excellence,

But Hampton Court

Hath the pre-eminence;

And Yorke Place116

With my Lord’s grace,

To whose magnificence

Is all the confluence,

Suits, and supplications;

Embassies of all nations.

Roy, in contemplating the palace, is maliciously reminded of the butcher’s lad, and only gives plain sense in plain words.

Hath the Cardinal any gay mansion?

Great palaces without comparison,

Most glorious of outward sight,


And within decked point-device,117

More like unto a paradise

Than an earthly habitation.

He cometh then of some noble stock?

His father could match a bullock,

A butcher by his occupation.

Whatever we may now think of the structure, and the low apartments of Wolsey’s palace, it is described not only in his own times, but much later, as of unparalleled magnificence; and indeed Cavendish’s narrative of the Cardinal’s entertainment of the French ambassadors gives an idea of the ministerial prelate’s imperial establishment very puzzling to the comprehension of a modern inspector. Six hundred persons, I think, were banqueted and slept in an abode which appears to us so mean, but which Stowe calls “so stately a palace.” To avoid the odium of living in this splendid edifice, Wolsey presented it to the king, who, in recompense, suffered the Cardinal occasionally to inhabit this wonder of England, in the character of keeper of the king’s palace;118 so that Wolsey only dared to live in his own palace by a subterfuge! This perhaps was a tribute which ministerial haughtiness paid to popular feeling, or to the jealousy of a royal master.

I have elsewhere shown the extraordinary elegance and prodigality of expenditure of Buckingham’s residences; they were such as to have extorted the wonder even of Bassompierre, and unquestionably excited the indignation of those who lived in a poor court, while our gay and thoughtless minister alone could indulge in the wanton profusion.

But Wolsey and Buckingham were ambitious and adventurous; they rose and shone the comets of the political horizon of Europe. The Roman tiara still haunted the imagination of the Cardinal: and the egotistic pride of having out-rivalled 189 Richelieu and Olivarez, the nominal ministers but the real sovereigns of Europe, kindled the buoyant spirits of the gay, the gallant, and the splendid Villiers. But what “folly of the wise” must account for the conduct of the profound Clarendon, and the sensible Sir Robert Walpole, who, like the other two ministers, equally became the victims of this imprudent passion for the ostentatious pomp of a palace. This magnificence looked like the vaunt of insolence in the eyes of the people, and covered the ministers with a popular odium.

Clarendon House is now only to be viewed in a print; but its story remains to be told. It was built on the site of Grafton-street; and when afterwards purchased by Monk, the Duke of Albemarle, he left his title to that well-known street. It was an edifice of considerable extent and grandeur. Clarendon reproaches himself in his Life for “his weakness and vanity” in the vast expense incurred in this building, which he acknowledges had “more contributed to that gust of envy that had so violently shaken him, than any misdemeanour that he was thought to have been guilty of.” It ruined his estate; but he had been encouraged to it by the royal grant of the land, by that passion for building to which he owns “he was naturally too much inclined,” and perhaps by other circumstances, among which was the opportunity of purchasing the stones which had been designed for the rebuilding of St. Paul’s; but the envy it drew on him, and the excess of the architect’s proposed expense, had made his life “very uneasy, and near insupportable.” The truth is, that when this palace was finished, it was imputed to him as a state-crime; all the evils in the nation, which were then numerous, pestilence, conflagration, war, and defeats, were discovered to be in some way connected with Clarendon House, or, as it was popularly called, either Dunkirk House, or Tangier Hall, from a notion that it had been erected with the golden bribery which the chancellor had received for the sale of Dunkirk and Tangiers.119 He was reproached with having profaned the sacred stones dedicated to the use of the church. The great but unfortunate master of this palace, who, from a private lawyer, had raised himself by alliance even to royalty, the father-in-law of the Duke of York, it 190 was maliciously suggested, had persuaded Charles the Second to marry the Infanta of Portugal, knowing (but how Clarendon obtained the knowledge his enemies have not revealed) that the Portuguese princess was not likely to raise any obstacle to the inheritance of his own daughter to the throne. At the Restoration, among other enemies, Clarendon found that the royalists were none of the least active; he was reproached by them for preferring those who had been the cause of their late troubles. The same reproach was incurred on the restoration of the Bourbons. It is perhaps more political to maintain active men, who have obtained power, than to reinstate inferior talents, who at least have not their popularity. This is one of the parallel cases which so frequently strike us in exploring political history; and the ultras of Louis the Eighteenth were only the royalists of Charles the Second. There was a strong popular delusion carried on by the wits and the Misses who formed the court of Charles the Second, that the government was as much shared by the Hydes as the Stuarts. We have in the state-poems, an unsparing lampoon, entitled “Clarendon’s House-warming;” but a satire yielding nothing to it in severity I have discovered in manuscript; and it is also remarkable for turning chiefly on a pun of the family name of the Earl of Clarendon. The witty and malicious rhymer, after making Charles the Second demand the Great Seal, and resolve to be his own chancellor, proceeds, reflecting on the great political victim:

Lo! his whole ambition already divides

The sceptre between the Stuarts and the Hydes.

Behold in the depth of our plague and wars,

He built him a palace out-braves the stars;

Which house (we Dunkirk, he Clarendon, names)

Looks down with shame upon St. James;

But ’tis not his golden globe that will save him,

Being less than the custom-house farmers gave him;

His chapel for consecration calls,

Whose sacrilege plundered the stones from Paul’s.

When Queen Dido landed she bought as much ground

As the Hyde of a lusty fat bull would surround;

But when the said Hyde was cut into thongs,

A city and kingdom to Hyde belongs;

So here in court, church, and country, far and wide,

Here’s nought to be seen but Hyde! Hyde! Hyde!

Of old, and where law the kingdom divides,

’Twas our Hydes of land, ’tis now land of Hydes!

Clarendon House was a palace, which had been raised with 191 at least as much fondness as pride; and Evelyn tells us that the garden was planned by himself and his lordship; but the cost, as usual, trebled the calculation, and the noble master grieved in silence amidst this splendid pile of architecture.120 Even when in his exile the sale was proposed to pay his debts, and secure some provision for his younger children, he honestly tells us that “he remained so infatuated with the delight he had enjoyed, that though he was deprived of it, he hearkened very unwillingly to the advice.” In 1683 Clarendon House met its fate, and was abandoned to the brokers, who had purchased it for its materials. An affecting circumstance is recorded by Evelyn on this occasion. In returning to town with the Earl of Clarendon, the son of the great earl, “in passing by the glorious palace his father built but a few years before, which they were now demolishing, being sold to certain undertakers,121 I turned my head the contrary way till the coach was gone past by, lest I might minister occasion of speaking of it, which must needs have grieved him, that in so short a time this pomp was fallen.” A feeling of infinite delicacy, so perfectly characteristic of Evelyn!

And now to bring down this subject to times still nearer. We find that Sir Robert Walpole had placed himself exactly in the situation of the great minister we have noticed; we have his confession to his brother Lord Walpole, and to his friend Sir John Hynde Cotton. The historian of this minister observes, that his magnificent building at Houghton drew on him great obloquy. On seeing his brother’s house at Wolterton, Sir Robert expressed his wishes that he had contented himself with a similar structure. In the reign of Anne, Sir Robert, sitting by Sir John Hynde Cotton, alluding to a sumptuous house which was then building by Harley, observed, that to construct a great house was a high act of imprudence in any minister! It was a long time after, when he had become prime minister, that he forgot the whole result of the present article, and pulled down his family mansion 192 at Houghton to build its magnificent edifice; it was then Sir John Hynde Cotton reminded him of the reflection which he had made some years ago: the reply of Sir Robert is remarkable—“Your recollection is too late; I wish you had reminded me of it before I began building, for then it might have been of service to me!”

The statesman and politician then are susceptible of all the seduction of ostentation and the pride of pomp! Who would have credited it? But bewildered with power, in the magnificence and magnitude of the edifices which their colossal greatness inhabits, they seem to contemplate on its image!

Sir Francis Walsingham died and left nothing to pay his debts, as appears by a curious fact noticed in the anonymous life of Sir Philip Sidney prefixed to the Arcadia, and evidently written by one acquainted with the family history of his friend and hero. The chivalric Sidney, though sought after by court beauties, solicited the hand of the daughter of Walsingham, although, as it appears, she could have had no other portion than her own virtues and her father’s name. “And herein,” observes our anonymous biographer, “he was exemplary to all gentlemen not to carry their love in their purses.” On this he notices this secret history of Walsingham:

“This is that Sir Francis who impoverished himself to enrich the state, and indeed made England his heir; and was so far from building up of fortune by the benefit of his place, that he demolished that fine estate left him by his ancestors to purchase dear intelligence from all parts of Christendom. He had a key to unlock the pope’s cabinet; and, as if master of some invisible whispering-place, all the secrets of Christian princes met at his closet. Wonder not then if he bequeathed no great wealth to his daughter, being privately interred in the choir of Paul’s, as much indebted to his creditors though not so much as our nation is indebted to his memory.”

Some curious inquirer may afford us a catalogue of great ministers of state who have voluntarily declined the augmentation of their private fortune, while they devoted their days to the noble pursuits of patriotic glory! The labour of this research will be great, and the volume small!

115 Skelton’s satire is accessible to the reader in the Rev. Alexander Dyce’s edition of the poet’s works. Roy’s poem was printed abroad about 1525, and is of extreme rarity, as the cardinal spared no labour and expense to purchase and destroy all the copies. A second edition was printed at Wesel in 1546. Its author, who had been a friar, was ultimately burned in Portugal for heresy.

116 The palace of Wolsey, as Archbishop of York, which he had furnished in the most sumptuous manner; after his disgrace it became a royal residence under the name of Whitehall.—Note in Dyce’s ed. of Skelton’s Works.

117 Point-device, a term explained by Mr. Douce. He thinks that it is borrowed from the labours of the needle, as we have point-lace, so point-device, i. e., point, a stitch, and devise, devised or invented; applied to describe anything uncommonly exact, or worked with the nicety and precision of stitches made or devised by the needle.—Illustrations of Shakspeare, i. 93. But Mr. Gifford has since observed that the origin of the expression is, perhaps, yet to be sought for: he derives it from a mathematical phrase, à point devisé, or a given point, and hence exact, correct, &c.—Ben Jonson, vol. iv. 170. See, for various examples, Mr. Nares’s Glossary, art. Point-devise.

118 Lyson’s “Environs,” v. 58

119 Burnet says, “Others called it Holland House, because he was believed to be no friend to the war: so it was given out that he had money from the Dutch.”

120 At the gateway of the Three Kings Inn, near Dover-street, in Piccadilly, are two pilasters with Corinthian capitals, which belonged to Clarendon House, and are perhaps the only remains of that edifice.

121 An old term for contractors. Evelyn tells us they were “certain rich bankers and mechanics, who gave for it, and the ground about it, 35,000l.” They built streets and houses on the site to their great profit, the ground comprising twenty-four acres of land.




Such was the title of a famous political tract, which was issued at a moment when a people, in a state of insurrection, put forth a declaration that taxation was tyranny! It was not against an insignificant tax they protested, but against taxation itself! and in the temper of the moment this abstract proposition appeared an insolent paradox. It was instantly run down by that everlasting party which, so far back as in the laws of our Henry the First, are designated by the odd descriptive term of acephali, a people without heads!122 the strange equality of levellers!

These political monsters in all times have had an association of ideas of taxation and tyranny, and with them one name instantly suggests the other! This happened to one Gigli of Sienna, who published the first part of a dictionary of the Tuscan language,123 of which only 312 leaves amused the Florentines; these having had the honour of being consigned to the flames by the hands of the hangman for certain popular errors; such as, for instance, under the word Gran Duca we find Vedi Gabelli! (see Taxes!) and the word Gabella was explained by a reference to Gran Duca! Grand-duke and taxes were synonymes, according to this mordacious lexicographer! Such grievances, and the modes of expressing them, are equally ancient. A Roman consul, by levying a tax on salt during the Punic war, was nicknamed Salinator, and condemned by “the majesty” of the 194 people! He had formerly done his duty to the country, but the salter was now his reward! He retired from Rome, let his beard grow, and by his sordid dress and melancholy air evinced his acute sensibility. The Romans at length wanted the salter to command the army—as an injured man, he refused—but he was told that he should bear the caprice of the Roman people with the tenderness of a son for the humours of a parent! He had lost his reputation by a productive tax on salt, though this tax had provided an army and obtained a victory!

Certain it is that Gigli and his numerous adherents are wrong: for were they freed from all restraints as much as if they slept in forests and not in houses; were they inhabitants of wilds and not of cities, so that every man should be his own lawgiver, with a perpetual immunity from all taxation, we could not necessarily infer their political happiness. There are nations where taxation is hardly known, for the people exist in such utter wretchedness, that they are too poor to be taxed; of which the Chinese, among others, exhibit remarkable instances. When Nero would have abolished all taxes, in his excessive passion for popularity, the senate thanked him for his good will to the people, but assured him that this was a certain means not of repairing, but of ruining the commonwealth. Bodin, in his curious work “The Republic,” has noticed a class of politicians who are in too great favour with the people. “Many seditious citizens, and desirous of innovations, did of late years promise immunity of taxes and subsidies to our people; but neither could they do it, or if they could have done it, they would not; or if it were done, should we have any commonweal, being the ground and foundation of one.”124

The undisguised and naked term of “taxation” is, however, so odious to the people, that it may be curious to observe the arts practised by governments, and even by the people themselves, to veil it under some mitigating term. In the first breaking out of the American troubles, they probably would have yielded to the mother-country the right of 195 taxation, modified by the term regulation (of their trade); this I infer from a letter of Dr. Robertson, who observes, that “the distinction between taxation and regulation is mere folly!” Even despotic governments have condescended to disguise the contributions forcibly levied, by some appellative which should partly conceal its real nature. Terms have often influenced circumstances, as names do things; and conquest or oppression, which we may allow to be synonymes, apes benevolence whenever it claims as a gift what it exacts as a tribute.

A sort of philosophical history of taxation appears in the narrative of Wood, in his “Inquiry on Homer.” He tells us that “the presents (a term of extensive signification in the East) which are distributed annually by the bashaw of Damascus to the several Arab princes through whose territory he conducts the caravan of pilgrims to Mecca, are, at Constantinople, called a free gift, and considered as an act of the sultan’s generosity towards his indigent subjects; while, on the other hand, the Arab Sheikhs deny even a right of passage through the districts of their command, and exact those sums as a tax due for the permission of going through their country. In the frequent bloody contests which the adjustment of these fees produces, the Turks complain of robbery, and the Arabs of invasion.”125

Here we trace taxation through all its shifting forms, accommodating itself to the feelings of the different people; the same principle regulated the alternate terms proposed by the buccaneers, when they asked what the weaker party was sure to give, or when they levied what the others paid only as a common toll.

When Louis the Eleventh of France beheld his country exhausted by the predatory wars of England, he bought a peace of our Edward the Fourth by an annual sum of fifty thousand crowns, to be paid at London, and likewise granted pensions to the English ministers. Holinshed and all our historians call this a yearly tribute; but Comines, the French memoir-writer, with a national spirit, denies that these gifts were either pensions or tributes. “Yet,” says Bodin, a Frenchman also, but affecting a more philosophical indifference, “it must be either the one or the other; though I confess, that those who receive a pension to obtain peace, 196 commonly boast of it as if it were a tribute!”126 Such are the shades of our feelings in this history of taxation and tribute. But there is another artifice of applying soft names to hard things, by veiling a tyrannical act by a term which presents no disagreeable idea to the imagination. When it was formerly thought desirable, in the relaxation of morals which prevailed in Venice, to institute the office of censor, three magistrates were elected bearing this title; but it seemed so harsh and austere in that dissipated city, that these reformers of manners were compelled to change their title; when they were no longer called censors, but I signori sopra il bon vivere della città, all agreed on the propriety of the office under the softened term. Father Joseph, the secret agent of Cardinal Richelieu, was the inventor of lettres de cachet, disguising that instrument of despotism by the amusing term of a sealed letter. Expatriation would have been merciful compared with the result of that billet-doux, a sealed letter from his majesty!

Burke reflects with profound truth—“Abstract liberty, like other mere abstractions, is not to be found. Liberty inheres in some sensible object; and every nation has formed to itself some favourite point, which, by way of eminence, becomes the criterion of their happiness. It happened that the great contests for freedom in this country were from the earliest times chiefly upon the question of taxing. Most of the contests in the ancient commonwealths turned primarily on the right of election of magistrates, or on the balance among the several orders of the state. The question of money was not with them so immediate. But in England it was otherwise. On this point of taxes the ablest pens and most eloquent tongues have been exercised; the greatest spirits have acted and suffered.”127

One party clamorously asserts that taxation is their grievance, while another demonstrates that the annihilation of taxes would be their ruin! The interests of a great nation, among themselves, are often contrary to each other, and each seems alternately to predominate and to decline. “The sting of taxation,” observes Mr. Hallam, “is wastefulness; but it is difficult to name a limit beyond which taxes will not be borne without impatience when faithfully applied.” In plainer words, this only signifies, we presume, that Mr. Hallam’s 197 party would tax us without “wastefulness!” Ministerial or opposition, whatever be the administration, it follows that “taxation is no tyranny;” Dr. Johnson then was terribly abused in his day for a vox et præterea nihil!

Still shall the innocent word be hateful, and the people will turn even on their best friend, who in administration inflicts a new impost; as we have shown by the fate of the Roman Salinator! Among ourselves, our government, in its constitution, if not always in its practice, long had a consideration towards the feelings of the people, and often contrived to hide the nature of its exactions by a name of blandishment. An enormous grievance was long the office of purveyance. A purveyor was an officer who was to furnish every sort of provision for the royal house, and sometimes for great lords, during their progresses or journeys. His oppressive office, by arbitrarily fixing the market prices, and compelling the countrymen to bring their articles to market, would enter into the history of the arts of grinding the labouring class of society; a remnant of feudal tyranny! The very title of this officer became odious; and by a statute of Edward III. the hateful name of purveyor was ordered to be changed into acheteur or buyer!128 A change of name, it was imagined, would conceal its nature! The term often devised, strangely contrasted with the thing itself. Levies of money were long raised under the pathetic appeal of benevolences. When Edward IV. was passing over to France, he obtained, under this gentle demand, money towards “the great journey,” and afterwards having “rode about the more part of the lands, and used the people in such fair manner, that they were liberal in their gifts;” old Fabian adds, “the which way of the levying of this money was after-named a benevolence.” Edward IV. was courteous in this newly-invented style, and was besides the handsomest tax-gatherer in his kingdom! His royal presence was very dangerous to the purses of his loyal subjects, particularly to those of the females. In his progress, having kissed a widow for having contributed a larger sum than was expected from her estate, she was so overjoyed at the singular honour and delight, that she doubled her benevolence, and a second kiss had ruined her! In the succeeding reign of Richard III. the term had already lost the freshness of its innocence. In the speech which the 198 Duke of Buckingham delivered from the hustings in Guildhall, he explained the term to the satisfaction of his auditors, who even then were as cross-humoured as the livery of this day, in their notions of what now we gently call “supplies.” “Under the plausible name of benevolence, as it was held in the time of Edward IV., your goods were taken from you much against your will, as if by that name was understood that every man should pay, not what he pleased, but what the king would have him;” or, as a marginal note in Buck’s Life of Richard III. more pointedly has it, that “the name of benevolence signified that every man should pay, not what he of his own good will list, but what the king of his good will list to take.”129 Richard III., whose business, like that of all usurpers, was to be popular, in a statute even condemns this “benevolence” as “a new imposition,” and enacts that “none shall be charged with it in future; many families having been ruined under these pretended gifts.” His successor, however, found means to levy “a benevolence;” but when Henry VIII. demanded one, the citizens of London appealed to the act of Richard III. Cardinal Wolsey insisted that the law of a murderous usurper should not be enforced. One of the common council courageously replied, that “King Richard, conjointly with parliament, had enacted many good statutes.” Even then the citizen seems to have comprehended the spirit of our constitution—that taxes should not be raised without the consent of parliament!

Charles the First, amidst his urgent wants, at first had hoped, by the pathetic appeal to benevolences, that he should have touched the hearts of his unfriendly commoners; but the term of benevolence proved unlucky. The resisters of taxation took full advantage of a significant meaning, which had long been lost in the custom: asserting by this very term that all levies of money were not compulsory, but the voluntary gifts of the people. In that political crisis, when in the fulness of time all the national grievances which had hitherto been kept down started up with one voice, the courteous term strangely contrasted with the rough demand. Lord Digby said “the granting of subsidies, under so preposterous 199 a name as of a benevolence, was a malevolence.” And Mr. Grimstone observed, that “they have granted a benevolence, but the nature of the thing agrees not with the name.” The nature indeed had so entirely changed from the name, that when James I. had tried to warm the hearts of his “benevolent” people, he got “little money, and lost a great deal of love.” “Subsidies,” that is grants made by parliament, observes Arthur Wilson, a dispassionate historian, “get more of the people’s money, but exactions enslave the mind.”

When benevolences had become a grievance, to diminish the odium they invented more inviting phrases. The subject was cautiously informed that the sums demanded were only loans; or he was honoured by a letter under the Privy Seal; a bond which the king engaged to repay at a definite period; but privy seals at length got to be hawked about to persons coming out of church. “Privy Seals,” says a manuscript letter, “are flying thick and threefold in sight of all the world, which might surely have been better performed in delivering them to every man privately at home.” The general loan, which in fact was a forced loan, was one of the most crying grievances under Charles I. Ingenious in the destruction of his own popularity, the king contrived a new mode of “secret instructions to commissioners.”130 They were to find out persons who could bear the largest rates. How the commissioners were to acquire this secret and inquisitorial knowledge appears in the bungling contrivance. It is one of their orders that after a number of inquiries have been put to a person, concerning others who had spoken against loan-money, and what arguments they had used, this person was to be charged in his majesty’s name, and upon his allegiance, not to disclose to any other the answer he had given. A striking instance of that fatuity of the human mind, when a weak government is trying to do what it knows not how to perform: it was seeking to obtain a secret purpose by the most open and general means: a self-destroying principle!

Our ancestors were children in finance; their simplicity has been too often described as tyranny! but from my soul do I believe, on this obscure subject of taxation, that old Burleigh’s advice to Elizabeth includes more than all the squabbling pamphlets of our political economists,—“Win hearts, and you have their hands and purses!

122 Cowel’s “Interpreter,” art. Acephali. This by-name we unexpectedly find in a grave antiquarian law-dictionary! probably derived from Pliny’s description of a people whom some travellers had reported to have found in this predicament, in their fright and haste in attempting to land on a hostile shore among savages. To account for this fabulous people, it has been conjectured they wore such high coverings, that their heads did not appear above their shoulders, while their eyes seemed to be placed in their breasts. How this name came to be introduced into the laws of Henry the First remains to be told by some profound antiquary; but the allusion was common in the middle ages. Cowel says, “Those are called acephali who were the levellers of that age, and acknowledged no head or superior.”

123 Vocabulario di Santa Caterina e della Lingua Sanese, 1717. This pungent lexicon was prohibited at Rome by desire of the court of Florence. The history of this suppressed work may be found in Il Giornale de’ Letterati d’ Italia, tomo xxix. 1410. In the last edition of Haym’s “Biblioteca Italiana,” 1803, it is said to be reprinted at Manilla, nell’ Isole Fillippine!—For the book-licensers it is a great way to go for it.

124 Bodin’s “Six Books of a Commonwealth,” translated by Richard Knolles, 1606. A work replete with the practical knowledge of politics, and of which Mr. Dugald Stewart has delivered a high opinion. Yet this great politician wrote a volume to anathematise those who doubted the existence of sorcerers and witches, &c., whom he condemns to the flames! See his “Demonomanie des Sorciers,” 1593.

125 Wood’s “Inquiry on Homer,” p. 153.

126 Bodin’s “Commonweal,” translated by R. Knolles, p. 148. 1606.

127 Burke’s Works, vol. i. 288.

128 The modern word cheater is traced by some authors to this term, which soon became odious to the populace.

129 Daines Barrington, in “Observations on the Statutes,” gives the marginal note of Buck as the words of the duke; they certainly served his purpose to amuse, better than the veracious ones; but we expect from a grave antiquary inviolable authenticity. The duke is made by Barrington a sort of wit, but the pithy quaintness is Buck’s.

130 These “Private Instructions to the Commissioners for the General Loan” may be found in Rushworth, i. 418.




Montaigne was fond of reading minute accounts of the deaths of remarkable persons; and, in the simplicity of his heart, old Montaigne wished to be learned enough to form a collection of these deaths, to observe “their words, their actions, and what sort of countenance they put upon it.” He seems to have been a little over curious about deaths, in reference, no doubt, to his own, in which he was certainly deceived; for we are told that he did not die as he had promised himself,—expiring in the adoration of the mass; or, as his preceptor Buchanan would have called it, in “the act of rank idolatry.”

I have been told of a privately printed volume, under the singular title of “The Book of Death,” where an amateur has compiled the pious memorials of many of our eminent men in their last moments: and it may form a companion-piece to the little volume on “Les grands hommes qui sont morts en plaisantant.” This work, I fear, must be monotonous; the deaths of the righteous must resemble each other; the learned and the eloquent can only receive in silence that hope which awaits “the covenant of the grave.” But this volume will not establish any decisive principle, since the just and the religious have not always encountered death with indifference, nor even in a fit composure of mind.

The functions of the mind are connected with those of the body. On a death-bed a fortnight’s disease may reduce the firmest to a most wretched state; while, on the contrary, the soul struggles, as it were in torture, in a robust frame. Nani, the Venetian historian, has curiously described the death of Innocent the Tenth, who was a character unblemished by vices, and who died at an advanced age, with too robust a constitution. Dopo lunga e terribile agonia, con dolore e con pena, seperandosi l’anima da quel corpo robusto, egli spiro ai sette di Genuaro, nel ottantesimo primo de suoi anno. “After a long and terrible agony, with great bodily pain and difficulty, his soul separated itself from that robust frame, and expired in his eighty-first year.”

Some have composed sermons on death, while they passed many years of anxiety, approaching to madness, in contemplating their own. The certainty of an immediate separation from all our human sympathies may, even on a death-bed 201 suddenly disorder the imagination. The great physician of our times told me of a general, who had often faced the cannon’s mouth, dropping down in terror, when informed by him that his disease was rapid and fatal. Some have died of the strong imagination of death. There is a print of a knight brought on the scaffold to suffer; he viewed the headsman; he was blinded, and knelt down to receive the stroke. Having passed through the whole ceremony of a criminal execution, accompanied by all its disgrace, it was ordered that his life should be spared. Instead of the stroke from the sword, they poured cold water over his neck. After this operation the knight remained motionless; they discovered that he had expired in the very imagination of death! Such are among the many causes which may affect the mind in the hour of its last trial. The habitual associations of the natural character are most likely to prevail, though not always. The intrepid Marshal Biron disgraced his exit by womanish tears and raging imbecility; the virtuous Erasmus, with miserable groans, was heard crying out, Domine! Domine! fac finem! fac finem! Bayle having prepared his proof for the printer, pointed to where it lay, when dying. The last words which Lord Chesterfield was heard to speak were, when the valet, opening the curtains of the bed, announced Mr. Dayroles, “Give Dayroles a chair!” “This good breeding,” observed the late Dr. Warren, his physician, “only quits him with his life.” The last words of Nelson were, “Tell Collingwood to bring the fleet to an anchor.” The tranquil grandeur which cast a new majesty over Charles the First on the scaffold, appeared when he declared, “I fear not death! Death is not terrible to me!” And the characteristic pleasantry of Sir Thomas More exhilarated his last moments, when, observing the weakness of the scaffold, he said, in mounting it, “I pray you, see me up safe, and for my coming down, let me shift for myself!” Sir Walter Rawleigh passed a similar jest when going to the scaffold.131

My ingenious friend Dr. Sherwen has furnished me with the following anecdotes of death:—In one of the bloody battles fought by the Duke d’Enghien, two French noblemen 202 were left wounded among the dead on the field of battle. One complained loudly of his pains; the other, after long silence, thus offered him consolation: “My friend, whoever you are, remember that our God died on the cross, our king on the scaffold; and if you have strength to look at him who now speaks to you, you will see that both his legs are shot away.”

At the murder of the Duke d’Enghien, the royal victim looking at the soldiers, who had pointed their fusees, said, “Grenadiers! lower your arms, otherwise you will miss, or only wound me!” To two of them who proposed to tie a handkerchief over his eyes, he said, “A loyal soldier who has been so often exposed to fire and sword can see the approach of death with naked eyes and without fear.”

After a similar caution on the part of Sir George Lisle, or Sir Charles Lucas, when murdered in nearly the same manner at Colchester, by the soldiers of Fairfax, the loyal hero, in answer to their assertions and assurances that they would take care not to miss him, nobly replied, “You have often missed me when I have been nearer to you in the field of battle.”

When the governor of Cadiz, the Marquis de Solano, was murdered by the enraged and mistaken citizens, to one of his murderers, who had run a pike through his back, he calmly turned round and said, “Coward, to strike there! Come round—if you dare face—and destroy me!”

Abernethy, in his Physiological Lectures, has ingeniously observed that “Shakspeare has represented Mercutio continuing to jest, though conscious that he was mortally wounded; the expiring Hotspur thinking of nothing but honour; and the dying Falstaff still cracking his jests upon Bardolph’s nose. If such facts were duly attended to, they would prompt us to make a more liberal allowance for each other’s conduct, under certain circumstances, than we are accustomed to do.” The truth seems to be, that whenever the functions of the mind are not disturbed by “the nervous functions of the digestive organs,” the personal character predominates even in death, and its habitual associations exist to its last moments. Many religious persons may have died without showing in their last moments any of those exterior acts, or employing those fervent expressions, which the collector of “The Book of Death” would only deign to chronicle; their hope is not gathered in their last hour.

203 Yet many have delighted to taste of death long before they have died, and have placed before their eyes all the furniture of mortality. The horrors of a charnel-house is the scene of their pleasure. The “Midnight Meditations” of Quarles preceded Young’s “Night Thoughts” by a century, and both these poets loved preternatural terror.

If I must die, I’ll snatch at everything

That may but mind me of my latest breath;

Death’s-heads, Graves, Knells, Blacks,132 tombs, all these shall bring

Into my soul such useful thoughts of death,

That this sable king of fears

Shall not catch me unawares.—Quarles.

But it may be doubtful whether the thoughts of death are useful, whenever they put a man out of the possession of his faculties. Young pursued the scheme of Quarles: he raised about him an artificial emotion of death: he darkened his sepulchral study, placing a skull on his table by lamp-light; as Dr. Donne had his portrait taken, first winding a sheet over his head and closing his eyes; keeping this melancholy picture by his bed-side as long as he lived, to remind him of his mortality133. Young, even in his garden, had his conceits of death: at the end of an avenue was viewed a seat of an admirable chiaro-oscuro, which, when approached, presented only a painted surface, with an inscription, alluding to the deception of the things of this world. To be looking at “the mirror which flatters not;” to discover ourselves only as a skeleton with the horrid life of corruption about us, has been among those penitential inventions, which have often ended in shaking the innocent by the pangs which are only natural to the damned.134 Without adverting to those numerous testimonies, the diaries of fanatics, I shall offer a picture of an accomplished and innocent lady, in a curious and unaffected 204 transcript she has left of a mind of great sensibility, where the preternatural terror of death might perhaps have hastened the premature one she suffered.

From the “Reliquiæ Gethinianæ,”135 I quote some of Lady Gethin’s ideas on “Death.”—“The very thoughts of death disturb one’s reason; and though a man may have many excellent qualities, yet he may have the weakness of not commanding his sentiments. Nothing is worse for one’s health than to be in fear of death. There are some so wise as neither to hate nor fear it; but for my part I have an aversion for it; and with reason; for it is a rash inconsiderate thing, that always comes before it is looked for; always comes unseasonably, parts friends, ruins beauty, laughs at youth, and draws a dark veil over all the pleasures of life.—This dreadful evil is but the evil of a moment, and what we cannot by any means avoid; and it is that which makes it so terrible to me; for were it uncertain, hope might diminish some part of the fear; but when I think I must die, and that I may die every moment, and that too a thousand several ways, I am in such a fright as you cannot imagine. I see dangers where, perhaps, there never were any. I am persuaded ’tis happy to be somewhat dull of apprehension in this case; and yet the best way to cure the pensiveness of the thoughts of death is to think of it as little as possible.” She proceeds by enumerating the terrors of the fearful, who “cannot enjoy themselves in the pleasantest places, and although they are neither on sea, river, or creek, but in good health in their chamber, yet are they so well instructed with the fear of dying, that they do not measure it only by the present dangers that wait on us.—Then is it not best to submit to God? But some people cannot do it as they would; and though they are not destitute of reason, but perceive they are to blame, yet at the same time that their reason condemns them their imagination makes their hearts feel what it pleases.”

Such is the picture of an ingenious and a religious mind, drawn by an amiable woman, who, it is evident, lived always in the fear of death. The Gothic skeleton was ever haunting her imagination. In Dr. Johnson the same horror was suggested by the thoughts of death. When Boswell once in conversation persecuted Johnson on this subject, whether we 205 might not fortify our minds for the approach of death; he answered in a passion, “No, sir! let it alone! It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives! The art of dying is not of importance, it lasts so short a time!” But when Boswell persisted in the conversation, Johnson was thrown into such a state of agitation, that he thundered out “Give us no more of this!” and, further, sternly told the trembling and too curious philosopher, “Don’t let us meet to-morrow!”

It may be a question whether those who by their preparatory conduct have appeared to show the greatest indifference for death, have not rather betrayed the most curious art to disguise its terrors. Some have invented a mode of escaping from life in the midst of convivial enjoyment. A mortuary preparation of this kind has been recorded of an amiable man, Moncriff, the author of “Histoire des Chats” and “L’Art de Plaire,” by his literary friend La Place, who was an actor in, as well as the historian of, the singular narrative. One morning La Place received a note from Moncriff, requesting that “he would immediately select for him a dozen volumes most likely to amuse, and of a nature to withdraw the reader from being occupied by melancholy thoughts.” La Place was startled at the unusual request, and flew to his old friend, whom he found deeply engaged in being measured for a new peruke, and a taffety robe-de-chambre, earnestly enjoining the utmost expedition. “Shut the door!” said Moncriff, observing the surprise of his friend. “And now that we are alone, I confide my secret: on rising this morning, my valet in dressing me showed me on this leg this dark spot—from that moment I knew I was ‘condemned to death;’ but I had presence of mind enough not to betray myself.” “Can a head so well organised as yours imagine that such a trifle is a sentence of death?”—“Don’t speak so loud, my friend! or rather deign to listen a moment. At my age it is fatal! The system from which I have derived the felicity of a long life has been, that whenever any evil, moral or physical, happens to us, if there is a remedy, all must be sacrificed to deliver us from it—but in a contrary case, I do not choose to wrestle with destiny and to begin complaints, endless as useless! All that I request of you, my friend, is to assist me to pass away the few days which remain for me, free from all cares, of which otherwise they might be too susceptible. But do not think,” he added with warmth, “that I mean to elude the religious duties of a citizen, which so many of late affect 206 to contemn. The good and virtuous curate of my parish is coming here under the pretext of an annual contribution, and I have even ordered my physician, on whose confidence I can rely. Here is a list of ten or twelve persons, friends beloved! who are mostly known to you. I shall write to them this evening, to tell them of my condemnation; but if they wish me to live, they will do me the favour to assemble here at five in the evening, where they may be certain of finding all those objects of amusement, which I shall study to discover suitable to their tastes. And you, my old friend, with my doctor, are two on whom I most depend.”

La Place was strongly affected by this appeal—neither Socrates, nor Cato, nor Seneca looked more serenely on the approach of death.

“Familiarise yourself early with death!” said the good old man with a smile—“It is only dreadful for those who dread it!”

During ten days after this singular conversation, the whole of Moncriff’s remaining life, his apartment was open to his friends, of whom several were ladies; all kinds of games were played till nine o’clock; and that the sorrows of the host might not disturb his guests, he played the chouette at his favourite game of picquet; a supper, seasoned by the wit of the master, concluded at eleven. On the tenth night, in taking leave of his friend, Moncriff whispered to him, “Adieu, my friend! to-morrow morning I shall return your books!” He died, as he foresaw, the following day.

I have sometimes thought that we might form a history of this fear of death, by tracing the first appearances of the skeleton which haunts our funereal imagination. In the modern history of mankind we might discover some very strong contrasts in the notion of death entertained by men at various epochs. The following article will supply a sketch of this kind.

131 To these may be added Queen Anne Boleyn. Kingston, the Lieutenant of the Tower, in a letter to Cromwell, records that she remarked of her own execution, “‘I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck;’ and she put her hands about it, laughing heartily. Truly, this lady has much joy and pleasure in death.”

132 Blacks was the term for mourning in James the First and Charles the First’s time.

133 It was from this picture his stone effigy was constructed for his tomb in old St. Paul’s. This mutilated figure, which withstood the great fire of London, is still preserved in the crypt of the present cathedral.

134 A still more curious fashion in this taste for mortuary memorials originated at the court of Henry II. of France; whose mistress, Diana of Poitiers, being a widow; mourning colours of black and white became the fashion at court. Watches in the form of skulls were worn; jewels and pendants in the shape of coffins; and rings decorated with skulls and skeletons.

135 My discovery of the nature of this rare volume, of what is original and what collected, will be found in volume ii. of this work.



Euthanasia! Euthanasia! an easy death! was the exclamation of Augustus; it was what Antoninus Pius enjoyed; and it is that for which every wise man will pray, said Lord Orrery, when perhaps he was contemplating the close of Swift’s life.


The ancients contemplated death without terror, and met it with indifference. It was the only divinity to which they never sacrificed, convinced that no human being could turn aside its stroke. They raised altars to Fever, to Misfortune, to all the evils of life; for these might change! But though they did not court the presence of death in any shape, they acknowledged its tranquillity; and in the beautiful fables of their allegorical religion, Death was the daughter of Night, and the sister of Sleep; and ever the friend of the unhappy! To the eternal sleep of death they dedicated their sepulchral monuments—Æternali somno!136 If the full light of revelation had not yet broken on them, it can hardly be denied that they had some glimpses and a dawn of the life to come, from the many allegorical inventions which describe the transmigration of the soul. A butterfly on the extremity of an extinguished lamp, held up by the messenger of the gods intently gazing above, implied a dedication of that soul; Love, with a melancholy air, his legs crossed, leaning on an inverted torch, the flame thus naturally extinguishing itself, elegantly denoted the cessation of human life; a rose sculptured on a sarcophagus, or the emblems of epicurean life traced on it, in a skull wreathed by a chaplet of flowers, such as they wore at their convivial meetings, a flask of wine, a patera, and the small bones used as dice: all these symbols were indirect allusions to death, veiling its painful recollections. They did not pollute their imagination with the contents of a charnel-house. The sarcophagi of the ancients rather recall to us the remembrance of the activity of life; for they are sculptured with battles or games, in basso relievo; a sort of tender homage paid to the dead, observes Mad. de Staël, with her peculiar refinement of thinking.

It would seem that the Romans had even an aversion to mention death in express terms, for they disguised its very name by some periphrasis, such as discessit e vita, “he has departed from life;” and they did not say that their friend had died, but that he had lived; vixit! In the old Latin chronicles, and even in the Fœdera and other documents of the middle ages, we find the same delicacy about using the fatal word Death, especially when applied to kings and great people. “Transire à Sæculo—Vitam suam mutare—Si quid de eo humanitùs contigerit, &c.” I am indebted to Mr. 208 Merivale for this remark. Even among a people less refined, the obtrusive idea of death has been studiously avoided: we are told that when the Emperor of Morocco inquires after any one who has recently died, it is against etiquette to mention the word “death;” the answer is “his destiny is closed!” But this tenderness is only reserved for “the elect” of the Mussulmen. A Jew’s death is at once plainly expressed: “He is dead, sir! asking your pardon for mentioning such a contemptible wretch!” i. e. a Jew! A Christian’s is described by ”The infidel is dead!” or, “The cuckold is dead.”

The ancient artists have so rarely attempted to personify Death, that we have not discovered a single revolting image of this nature in all the works of antiquity.137—To conceal its deformity to the eye, as well as to elude its suggestion to the mind, seems to have been an universal feeling, and it accorded with a fundamental principle of ancient art; that of never permitting violent passion to produce in its representation distortion of form. This may be observed in the Laocoon, where the mouth only opens sufficiently to indicate the suppressed agony of superior humanity, without expressing the loud cry of vulgar suffering. Pausanias considered as a personification of death a female figure, whose teeth and nails, long and crooked, were engraven on a coffin of cedar, which enclosed the body of Cypselus; this female was unquestionably only one of the Parcæ, or the Fates, “watchful to cut the thread of life.” Hesiod describes Atropos indeed as having sharp teeth and long nails, waiting to tear and devour the dead; but this image was of a barbarous era. Catullus ventured to personify the Sister Destinies as three Crones; “but in general,” Winkelmann observes, “they are portrayed as beautiful virgins, with winged heads, one of whom is always in the attitude of writing on a scroll.” Death was a nonentity to the ancient artist. Could he exhibit what represents nothing? Could he animate into action what lies in a state of eternal tranquillity? Elegant 209 images of repose and tender sorrow were all he could invent to indicate the state of death. Even the terms which different nations have bestowed on a burial-place are not associated with emotions of horror. The Greeks called a burying-ground by the soothing term of Cœmeterion, or “the sleeping-place;” the Jews, who had no horrors of the grave, by Beth-haim, or, “the house of the living;” the Germans, with religious simplicity, “God’s-field.” The Scriptures had only noticed that celestial being “the Angel of Death,”—graceful, solemn, and sacred!

Whence, then, originated that stalking skeleton, suggesting so many false and sepulchral ideas, and which for us has so long served as the image of death?

When the Christian religion spread over Europe, the world changed! the certainty of a future state of existence, by the artifices of wicked worldly men, terrified instead of consoling human nature; and in the resurrection the ignorant multitude seemed rather to have dreaded retribution, than to have hoped for remuneration. The Founder of Christianity everywhere breathes the blessedness of social feelings. It is “Our Father!” whom he addresses. The horrors with which Christianity was afterwards disguised arose in the corruptions of Christianity among those insane ascetics who, misinterpreting “the Word of Life,” trampled on nature; and imagined that to secure an existence in the other world it was necessary not to exist in the one in which God had placed them. The dominion of mankind fell into the usurping hands of those imperious monks whose artifices trafficed with the terrors of ignorant and hypochondriac “Kaisers and kings.” The scene was darkened by penances and by pilgrimages, by midnight vigils, by miraculous shrines, and bloody flagellations; spectres started up amidst their ténèbres; millions of masses increased their supernatural influence. Amidst this general gloom of Europe, their troubled imaginations were frequently predicting the end of the world. It was at this period that they first beheld the grave yawn, and Death, in the Gothic form of a gaunt anatomy, parading through the universe! The people were frightened as they viewed, everywhere hung before their eyes, in the twilight of their cathedrals, and their “pale cloisters,” the most revolting emblems of death. They startled the traveller on the bridge; they stared on the sinner in the carvings of his table and chair; the spectre moved in the 210 hangings of the apartment; it stood in the niche, and was the picture of their sitting-room; it was worn in their rings, while the illuminator shaded the bony phantom in the margins of their “Horæ,” their primers, and their breviaries. Their barbarous taste perceived no absurdity in giving action to a heap of dry bones, which could only keep together in a state of immovability and repose; nor that it was burlesquing the awful idea of the resurrection, by exhibiting the incorruptible spirit under the unnatural and ludicrous figure of mortality drawn out of the corruption of the grave.

An anecdote of these monkish times has been preserved by old Gerard Leigh; and as old stories are best set off by old words, Gerard speaketh! “The great Maximilian the emperor came to a monastery in High Almaine (Germany), the monks whereof had caused to be curiously painted the charnel of a man, which they termed—Death! When that well-learned emperor had beholden it awhile, he called unto him his painter, commanding to blot the skeleton out, and to paint therein the image of—a fool. Wherewith the abbot, humbly beseeching him to the contrary, said ‘It was a good remembrance!’—‘Nay,’ quoth the emperor, ‘as vermin that annoyeth man’s body cometh unlooked for, so doth death, which here is but a fained image, and life is a certain thing, if we know to deserve it.’”138 The original mind of Maximilian the Great is characterized by this curious story of converting our emblem of death into a parti-coloured fool; and such satirical allusions to the folly of those who persisted in their notion of the skeleton were not unusual with the artists of those times; we find the figure of a fool sitting with some drollery between the legs of one of these skeletons.139

This story is associated with an important fact. After they had successfully terrified the people with their charnel-house figure, a reaction in the public feelings occurred, for the skeleton was now employed as a medium to convey the most facetious, satirical, and burlesque notions of human life. Death, which had so long harassed their imaginations, suddenly changed into a theme fertile in coarse humour. The Italians were too long accustomed to the study of the beautiful to allow their pencil to sport with deformity; but the 211 Gothic taste of the German artists, who could only copy their own homely nature, delighted to give human passions to the hideous physiognomy of a noseless skull; to put an eye of mockery or malignity into its hollow socket, and to stretch out the gaunt anatomy into the postures of a Hogarth; and that the ludicrous might be carried to its extreme, this imaginary being, taken from the bone-house, was viewed in the action of dancing! This blending of the grotesque with the most disgusting image of mortality, is the more singular part of this history of the skeleton, and indeed of human nature itself!

“The Dance of Death,” erroneously considered as Holbein’s, with other similar Dances, however differently treated, have one common subject which was painted in the arcades of burying-grounds, or on town-halls, and in market-places. The subject is usually “The Skeleton” in the act of leading all ranks and conditions to the grave, personated after nature, and in the strict costume of the times. This invention opened a new field for genius; and when we can for a moment forget their luckless choice of their bony and bloodless hero, who to amuse us by a variety of action becomes a sort of horrid Harlequin in these pantomimical scenes, we may be delighted by the numerous human characters, which are so vividly presented to us. The origin of this extraordinary invention is supposed to be a favourite pageant, or religious mummery, invented by the clergy, who in these ages of barbarous Christianity always found it necessary to amuse, as well as to frighten the populace; a circumstance well known to have occurred in so many other grotesque and licentious festivals they allowed the people. The practice of dancing in churches and church-yards was interdicted by several councils; but it was found convenient in those rude times. It seems probable that the clergy contrived the present dance, as more decorous and not without moral and religious emotions. This pageant was performed in churches, in which the chief characters in society were supported in a sort of masquerade, mixing together in a general dance, in the course of which every one in his turn vanished from the scene, to show how one after the other died off. The subject was at once poetical and ethical; and the poets and painters of Germany adopting the skeleton, sent forth this chimerical Ulysses of another world to roam among the men and manners of their own. A popular poem was composed, 212 said to be by one Macaber, which name seems to be a corruption of St. Macaire; the old Gaulish version, reformed, is still printed at Troyes, in France, with the ancient blocks of woodcuts, under the title of “La Grande Danse Macabre des Hommes et des Femmes.” Merian’s “Todten Tanz,” or the “Dance of the Dead,” is a curious set of prints of a Dance of Death from an ancient painting, I think not entirely defaced, in a cemetery at Basle, in Switzerland. It was ordered to be painted by a council held there during many years, to commemorate the mortality occasioned by a plague in 1439. The prevailing character of all these works is unquestionably grotesque and ludicrous; not, however, that genius, however barbarous, could refrain in this large subject of human life from inventing scenes often imagined with great delicacy of conception, and even great pathos. Such is the new-married couple, whom Death is leading, beating a drum; and in the rapture of the hour, the bride seems, with a melancholy look, not insensible of his presence; or Death is seen issuing from the cottage of the poor widow with her youngest child, who waves his hand sorrowfully, while the mother and the sister vainly answer; or the old man, to whom Death is playing on a psaltery, seems anxious that his withered fingers should once more touch the strings, while he is carried off in calm tranquillity. The greater part of these subjects of death are, however, ludicrous; and it may be a question, whether the spectators of these Dances of Death did not find their mirth more excited than their religious emotions. Ignorant and terrified as the people were at the view of the skeleton, even the grossest simplicity could not fail to laugh at some of those domestic scenes and familiar persons drawn from among themselves. The skeleton, skeleton as it is, in the creation of genius, gesticulates and mimics, while even its hideous skull is made to express every diversified character, and the result is hard to describe; for we are at once amused and disgusted with so much genius founded on so much barbarism.140

When the artist succeeded in conveying to the eye the 213 most ludicrous notions of death, the poets also discovered in it a fertile source of the burlesque. The curious collector is acquainted with many volumes where the most extraordinary topics have been combined with this subject. They made the body and the soul debate together, and ridicule the complaints of a damned soul! The greater part of the poets of the time were always composing on the subject of Death in their humorous pieces.141 Such historical records of the public mind, historians, intent on political events, have rarely noticed.

Of a work of this nature, a popular favourite was long the one entitled “Le faut mourir, et les Excuses Inutiles qu’on apporte à cette Necessité; Le tout en vers burlesques, 1658.” Jacques Jacques, a canon of Ambrun, was the writer, who humorously says of himself that he gives his thoughts just as they lie on his heart, without dissimulation—“For I have nothing double about me except my name! I tell thee some of the most important truths in laughing; it is for thee d’y penser tout à bon.” This little volume was procured for me with some difficulty in France; and it is considered as one of the happiest of this class of death-poems, of which I know not of any in our literature.

Our canon of Ambrun, in facetious rhymes, and with the naïveté of expression which belongs to his age, and an idiomatic turn fatal to a translator, excels in pleasantry; his haughty hero condescends to hold very amusing dialogues with all classes of society, and delights to confound their “excuses inutiles.” The most miserable of men, the galley-slave, the mendicant, alike would escape when he appears to them. “Were I not absolute over them,” Death exclaims, “they would confound me with their long speeches; but I have business, and must gallop on!” His geographical rhymes are droll.

Ce que j’ai fait dans l’Afrique

Je le fais bien dans l’Amérique;

On l’appelle monde nouveau

Mais ce sont des brides à veau;

Nulle terre à moy n’est nouvelle

Je vay partout sans qu’on m’appelle;

Mon bras de tout temps commanda

Dans le pays du Canada;

J’ai tenu de tout temps en bride

La Virginie et la Floride,


Et j’ai bien donné sur le bec

Aux Français du fort de Kebec.

Lorsque je veux je fais la nique

Aux Incas, aux rois de Mexique;

Et montre aux Nouveaux Grénadins

Qu’ils sont des foux et des badins.

Chacun sait bien comme je matte

Ceux du Brésil et de la Plate,

Ainsi que les Taupinembous—

En un mot, je fais voir à tout

Que ce que naît dans la nature,

Doit prendre de moy tablature!142

The perpetual employments of Death display copious invention with a facility of humour.

Egalement je vay rangeant,

Le conseiller et le serjent,

Le gentilhomme et le berger,

Le bourgeois et le boulanger,

Et la maistresse et la servante

Et la nièce comme la tante;

Monsieur l’abbé, monsieur son moine,

Le petit clerc et le chanoine;

Sans choix je mets dans mon butin

Maistre Claude, maistre Martin,

Dame Luce, dame Perrete, &c.

J’en prends un dans le temps qu’il pleure

A quelque autre, au contraire à l’heure

Qui démésurément il rit;

Je donne le coup qui le frit.

J’en prends un, pendant qu’il se lève;

En se couchant l’autre j’enlève.

Je prends le malade et le sain

L’un aujourd’hui, l’autre le demain.

J’en surprends un dedans son lit,

L’autre à l’estude quand il lit.

J’en surprends un le ventre plein

Je mène l’autre par la faim.

J’attrape l’un pendant qu’il prie,

Et l’autre pendant qu’il renie;

J’en saisis un au cabaret

Entre le blanc et le clairet,

L’autre qui dans son oratoire

A son Dieu rend honneur et gloire:

J’en surprends un lorsqu’il se psame

Le jour qu’il èpouse sa femme,

L’autre le jour que plein de deuil

La sieune il voit dans le cercueil;


Un à pied et l’autre à cheval,

Dans le jeu l’un, et l’autre au bal;

Un qui mange et l’autre qui boit,

Un qui paye et l’autre qui doit,

L’un en été lorsqu’il moissonne,

L’autre eu vendanges dans l’automne,

L’un criant almanachs nouveaux—

Un qui demande son aumosne

L’autre dans le temps qu’il la donne,

Je prends le bon maistre Clément,

Au temps qu’il prend un lavement,

Et prends la dame Catherine

Le jour qu’elle prend médecine.

This veil of gaiety in the old canon of Ambrun covers deeper and more philosophical thoughts than the singular mode of treating so solemn a theme. He has introduced many scenes of human life which still interest, and he addresses the “teste à triple couronne,” as well as the “forçat de galère,” who exclaims, “Laissez-moi vivre dans mes fers,” “le gueux,” the “bourgeois,” the “chanoine,” the “pauvre soldat,” the “médecin;” in a word, all ranks in life are exhibited, as in all the “Dances of Death.” But our object in noticing these burlesque paintings and poems is to show that after the monkish Goths had opened one general scene of melancholy and tribulation over Europe, and given birth to that dismal skeleton of death, which still terrifies the imagination of many, a reaction of feeling was experienced by the populace, who at length came to laugh at the gloomy spectre which had so long terrified them!

136 Montfaucon, “L’Antiquité Expliquée,” i. 362.

137 A representation of Death by a skeleton appears among the Egyptians: a custom more singular than barbarous prevailed, of enclosing a skeleton of beautiful workmanship in a small coffin, which the bearer carried round at their entertainments; observing, “After death you will resemble this figure: drink, then! and be happy.” A symbol of Death in a convivial party was not designed to excite terrific or gloomy ideas, but a recollection of the brevity of human life.

138 “The Accidence of Armorie,” p. 199.

139 A woodcut preserved in Mr. Dibdin’s Bibliographical Decameron, i. 35.

140 My greatly-lamented friend, the late Mr. Douce, has poured forth the most curious knowledge on this singular subject, of “The Dance of Death.” This learned investigator has reduced Macaber to a nonentity, but not “The Macaber Dance,” which has been frequently painted. Mr. Douce’s edition is accompanied by a set of woodcuts, which have not unsuccessfully copied the exquisite originals of the Lyons wood-cutter.

141 Goujet, “Bib. Françoise,” vol. x. 185.

142 Tablature d’un luth, Cotgrave says, is the belly of a lute, meaning “all in nature must dance to my music!”



Peter Heylin was one of the popular writers of his times, like Fuller and Howell, who, devoting their amusing pens to subjects which deeply interested their own busy age, will not be slighted by the curious.143 We have nearly outlived their divinity, but not their politics. Metaphysical absurdities are 216 luxuriant weeds which must be cut down by the scythe of Time; but the great passions branching from the tree of life are still “growing with our growth.”

There are two biographies of our Heylin, which led to a literary quarrel of an extraordinary nature; and, in the progress of its secret history, all the feelings of rival authorship were called out.

Heylin died in 1662. Dr. Barnard, his son-in-law, and a scholar, communicated a sketch of the author’s life to be prefixed to a posthumous folio, of which Heylin’s son was the editor. This Life was given by the son, but anonymously, which may not have gratified the author, the son-in-law.144

Twenty years had elapsed when, in 1682, appeared “The Life of Dr. Peter Heylin, by George Vernon.” The writer, alluding to the prior Life prefixed to the posthumous folio, asserts that, in borrowing something from Barnard, Barnard had also “Excerpted passages out of my papers, the very words as well as matter, when he had them in his custody, as any reader may discern who will be at the pains of comparing the Life now published with what is extant before the Keimalea Ecclesiastica;” the quaint, pedantic title, after the fashion of the day, of the posthumous folio.

This strong accusation seemed countenanced by a dedication to the son and the nephew of Heylin. Roused now into action, the indignant Barnard soon produced a more complete Life, to which he prefixed “A necessary Vindication.” This is an unsparing castigation of Vernon, the literary pet whom the Heylins had fondled in preference to their learned relative.145 The long-smothered family grudge, the suppressed mortifications of literary pride, after the subterraneous grumblings of twenty years, now burst out, and the volcanic particles flew 217 about in caustic pleasantries and sharp invectives; all the lava of an author’s vengeance, mortified by the choice of an inferior rival.

It appears that Vernon had been selected by the son of Heylin, in preference to his brother-in-law, Dr. Barnard, from some family disagreement. Barnard tells us, in describing Vernon, that “No man, except himself, who was totally ignorant of the doctor, and all the circumstances of his life, would have engaged in such a work, which was never primarily laid out for him, but by reason of some unhappy differences, as usually fall out in families; and he, who loves to put his oar in troubled waters, instead of closing them up, hath made them wider.”

Barnard tells his story plainly. Heylin the son, intending to have a more elaborate Life of his father prefixed to his works, Dr. Barnard, from the high reverence in which he held the memory of his father-in-law, offered to contribute it. Many conferences were held, and the son entrusted him with several papers. But suddenly his caprice, more than his judgment, fancied that George Vernon was worth John Barnard. The doctor affects to describe his rejection with the most stoical indifference. He tells us—“I was satisfied, and did patiently expect the coming forth of the work, not only term after term, but year after year—a very considerable time for such a tract. But at last, instead of the Life, came a letter to me from a bookseller in London, who lived at the sign of the Black Boy, in Fleet-street.”146

Now, it seems that he who lived at the Black Boy had combined with another who lived at the Fleur de Luce, and that the Fleur de Luce had assured the Black Boy that Dr. Barnard was concerned in writing the Life of Heylin—this was a strong recommendation. But lo! it appeared that “one Mr. Vernon, of Gloucester,” was to be the man! a gentle, thin-skinned authorling, who bleated like a lamb, and was so fearful to trip out of its shelter, that it allows the Black Boy and the Fleur de Luce to communicate its papers to any one they choose, and erase or add at their pleasure.147


It occurred to the Black Boy, on this proposed arithmetical criticism, that the work required addition, subtraction, and division; that the fittest critic, on whose name, indeed, he had originally engaged in the work, was our Dr. Barnard; and he sent the package to the doctor, who resided near Lincoln.

The doctor, it appears, had no appetite for a dish dressed by another, while he himself was in the very act of the cookery; and it was suffered to lie cold for three weeks at the carrier’s.

But entreated and overcome, the good doctor at length sent to the carrier’s for the life of his father-in-law. “I found it, according to the bookseller’s description, most lame and imperfect; ill begun, worse carried on, and abruptly concluded.” The learned doctor exercised that plenitude of power with which the Black Boy had invested him—he very obligingly showed the author in what a confused state his materials lay together, and how to put them in order—

Nec facundia deseret hunc, nec lucidus ordo.

If his rejections were copious, to show his good-will as well as his severity, his additions were generous, though he used the precaution of carefully distinguishing by “distinct paragraphs” his own insertions amidst Vernon’s mass, with a gentle hint that “He knew more of Heylin than any man now living, and ought therefore to have been the biographer.” He returned the MS. to the gentleman with great civility, but none he received back! When Vernon pretended to ask for improvements, he did not imagine that the work was to be improved by being nearly destroyed; and when he asked for correction, he probably expected all might end in a compliment.

The narrative may now proceed in Dr. Barnard’s details of his doleful mortifications, in being “altered and mangled” by Mr. Vernon.

“Instead of thanks from him (Vernon), and the return of common civility, he disfigured my papers, that no sooner came into his hands, but he fell upon them as a lion rampant, or the cat upon the poor cock in the fable, saying, Tu hodie mihi discerperis—so my papers came home miserably clawed, blotted, and blurred; whole sentences dismembered, and pages scratched out; several leaves omitted which ought to be printed,—shamefully he used my copy; so that before it 219 was carried to the press, he swooped away the second part of the Life wholly from it—in the room of which he shuffled in a preposterous conclusion at the last page, which he printed in a different character, yet could not keep himself honest, as the poet saith,

Dicitque tua pagina, fur es.


For he took out of my copy Dr. Heylin’s dream, his sickness, his last words before his death, and left out the burning of his surplice. He so mangled and metamorphosed the whole Life I composed, that I may say as Sosia did, Egomet mihi non credo, ille alter Sosia me malis mulcavit modisPlaut.”

Dr. Barnard would have “patiently endured these wrongs;” but the accusation Vernon ventured on, that Barnard was the plagiary, required the doctor “to return the poisoned chalice to his own lips,” that “himself was the plagiary both of words and matter.” The fact is, that this reciprocal accusation was owing to Barnard having had a prior perusal of Heylin’s papers, which afterwards came into the hands of Vernon: they both drew their water from the same source. These papers Heylin himself had left for “a rule to guide the writer of his life.”

Barnard keenly retorts on Vernon for his surreptitious use of whole pages from Heylin’s works, which he has appropriated to himself without any marks of quotation. “I am no such excerptor (as he calls me); he is of the humour of the man who took all the ships in the Attic haven for his own, and yet was himself not master of any one vessel.”


“But all this while I misunderstand him, for possibly he meaneth his own dear words I have excerpted. Why doth he not speak in plain, downright English, that the world may see my faults? For every one doth not know what is excerpting. If I have been so bold to pick or snap a word from him, I hope I may have the benefit of the clergy. What words have I robbed him of?—and how have I become the richer for them? I was never so taken with him as to be once tempted to break the commandments, because I love plain speaking, plain writing, and plain dealing, which he does not: I hate the word excerpted, and the action imported in it. However, he is a fanciful man, and thinks there is no 220 elegancy nor wit but in his own way of talking. I must say as Tully did, Malim equidem indisertam prudentiam quam stultam loquacitatem.”

In his turn he accuses Vernon of being a perpetual transcriber, and for the Malone minuteness of his history.

“But how have I excerpted his matter? Then I am sure to rob the spittle-house; for he is so poor and put to hard shifts, that he has much ado to compose a tolerable story, which he hath been hammering and conceiving in his mind for four years together, before he could bring forth his fœtus of intolerable transcriptions to molest the reader’s patience and memory. How doth he run himself out of breath, sometimes for twenty pages and more, at other times fifteen, ordinarily nine and ten, collected out of Dr. Heylin’s old books, before he can take his wind again to return to his story! I never met with such a transcriber in all my days; for want of matter to fill up a vacuum, of which his book was in much danger, he hath set down the story of Westminster, as long as the Ploughman’s Tale in Chaucer, which to the reader would have been more pertinent and pleasant. I wonder he did not transcribe bills of Chancery, especially about a tedious suit my father had for several years about a lease at Norton.”

In his raillery of Vernon’s affected metaphors and comparisons, “his similitudes and dissimilitudes strangely hooked in, and fetched as far as the Antipodes,” Barnard observes, “The man hath also a strange opinion of himself that he is Dr. Heylin; and because he writes his Life, that he hath his natural parts, if not acquired. The soul of St. Augustin (say the schools) was Pythagorically transfused into the corpse of Aquinas; so the soul of Dr. Heylin into a narrow soul. I know there is a question in philosophy, An animæ sint œquales?—whether souls be alike? But there’s a difference between the spirits of Elijah and Elisha: so small a prophet with so great a one!”

Dr. Barnard concludes by regretting that good counsel came now unseasonably, else he would have advised the writer to have transmitted his task to one who had been an ancient friend of Dr. Heylin, rather than ambitiously have assumed it, who was a professed stranger to him, by reason of which no better account could be expected from him than what he has given. He hits off the character of this piece of biography—“A Life to the half; an imperfect creature, 221 that is not only lame (as the honest bookseller said), but wanteth legs, and all other integral parts of a man; nay, the very soul that should animate a body like Dr. Heylin. So that I must say of him, as Plutarch does of Tib. Gracchus, ‘that he is a bold undertaker and rash talker of those matters he does not understand.’ And so I have done with him, unless he creates to himself and me a future trouble!”

Vernon appears to have slunk away from the duel. The son of Heylin stood corrected by the superior Life produced by their relative; the learned and vivacious Barnard probably never again ventured to alter and improve the works of an author kneeling and praying for corrections. These bleating lambs, it seems, often turn out roaring lions!148

143 Dr. Heylin’s principal work, “Ecclesia Restaurata; or, the History of the Reformation of the Church of England,” was reprinted at the Cambridge University press, for “the Ecclesiastical History Society,” in 2 vols. 8vo, 1849, under the able editorship of J. C. Robertson, M.A., Vicar of Bekesbourne, Kent. The introductory account of Heylin has enabled us to correct the present article in some particulars, and add a few useful notes.

144 Dr. John Barnard married the daughter of Heylin, when he lived at Abingdon, near Oxford. He afterwards became rector of the rich living of Waddington, near Lincoln, of which he purchased the perpetual advowson, holding also the sinecure of Gedney, in the same county. He was ultimately made Prebendary of Asgarby, in the church of Lincoln, and died at Newark, on a journey, in August, 1683. His rich and indolent life would naturally hold out few inducements for literary labour.

145 Mr. George Vernon, according to Wood (Athen. Oxon. iv. 606), was made Chaplain of All Souls’ College, afterwards Rector of Sarsden, near Churchill, in Oxfordshire, of Bourton-on-the-Water, in Gloucestershire, and of St. John and St. Michael, in the city of Gloucester. Wood enumerates several works by him, so that he was evidently more of a “literary man” than Barnard, who enjoyed “learned ease” to a great degree, and was evidently only to be aroused by something flagitious.

146 This was Harper, a bookseller, who had undertaken a republication of the Ecclesia Vindicata, and other tracts by Heylin, to which the Life was to be prefixed.

147 The author had “desired Mr. Harper to communicate the papers to whom he pleases, and cross out or add what is thought convenient.” A leave very few literary men would give!

148 The most curious part of the story remains yet to be told. Dr. Barnard was mistaken in his imputations, and Vernon was not the really blamable party. We tell the tale in Mr. Robertson’s words in the work already alluded to.—“Who was the party guilty of these outrages? Barnard assumed that it could be no other than Vernon; but the truth seems to be that the Rector of Bourton had nothing whatever to do with the matter. The publisher had called in a more important adviser—Dr. Barlow, Bishop of Lincoln (Ath. Oxon. iii. 567; iv. 606); the mutilations of Barnard’s MS. were really the work, not of the obscure Gloucestershire clergyman, but of the indignant author’s own diocesan; and we need not hesitate to ascribe the abruptness of the conclusion, and the smallness of the type in which it is printed, to Mr. Harper’s economical desire to save the expense of an additional sheet.” Thus “Bishop Barlow and the bookseller had made the mischief between the parties, who, instead of attempting a private explanation, attacked each other in print.”



TheMéthode pour étudier l’ Histoire,” by the Abbé Lenglet du Fresnoy, is a master-key to all the locked-up treasures of ancient and modern history, and to the more secret stores of the obscurer memorialists of every nation. The history of this work and its author are equally remarkable. The man was a sort of curiosity in human nature, as his works are in literature. Lenglet du Fresnoy is not a writer merely laborious; without genius, he still has a hardy originality in his manner of writing and of thinking; and his vast and restless curiosity fermenting his immense book-knowledge, with a freedom verging on cynical causticity, led to the pursuit of uncommon topics. Even the prefaces to the works which he edited 222 are singularly curious, and he has usually added bibliothèques, or critical catalogues of authors, which we may still consult for notices on the writers of romances—of those on literary subjects—on alchymy, or the hermetic philosophy; of those who have written on apparitions, visions, &c.; an historical treatise on the secret of confession, &c.; besides those “Pièces Justificatives,” which constitute some of the most extraordinary documents in the philosophy of history. His manner of writing secured him readers even among the unlearned; his mordacity, his sarcasm, his derision, his pregnant interjections, his unguarded frankness, and often his strange opinions, contribute to his reader’s amusement more than comports with his graver tasks; but his peculiarities cannot alter the value of his knowledge, whatever they may sometimes detract from his opinions; and we may safely admire the ingenuity, without quarrelling with the sincerity of the writer, who having composed a work on L’Usage des Romans, in which he gaily impugned the authenticity of all history, to prove himself not to have been the author, ambidexterously published another of L’Histoire justifiée contre les Romans; and perhaps it was not his fault that the attack was spirited, and the justification dull.

This “Méthode” and his “Tablettes Chronologiques,” of nearly forty other publications are the only ones which have outlived their writer; volumes, merely curious, are exiled to the shelf of the collector; the very name of an author merely curious—that shadow of a shade—is not always even preserved by a dictionary-compiler in the universal charity of his alphabetical mortuary.

The history of this work is a striking instance of those imperfect beginnings, which have often closed in the most important labours. This admirable “Méthode” made its first meagre appearance in two volumes in 1713. It was soon reprinted at home and abroad, and translated into various languages. In 1729 it assumed the dignity of four quartos; but at this stage it encountered the vigilance of government, and the lacerating hand of a celebrated censeur, Gros de Boze. It is said, that from a personal dislike of the author, he cancelled one hundred and fifty pages from the printed copy submitted to his censorship. He had formerly approved of the work, and had quietly passed over some of these obnoxious passages: it is certain that Gros de Boze, in 223 a dissertation on the Janus of the ancients in this work, actually erased a high commendation of himself,149 which Lenglet had, with unusual courtesy, bestowed on Gros de Boze; for as a critic he is most penurious of panegyric, and there is always a caustic flavour even in his drops of honey. This censeur either affected to disdain the commendation, or availed himself of it as a trick of policy. This was a trying situation for an author, now proud of a great work, and who himself partook more of the bull than of the lamb. He who winced at the scratch of an epithet, beheld his perfect limbs bruised by erasures and mutilated by cancels. This sort of troubles indeed was not unusual with Lenglet. He had occupied his old apartment in the Bastile so often, that at the sight of the officer who was in the habit of conducting him there, Lenglet would call for his nightcap and snuff; and finish the work he had then in hand at the Bastile, where, he told Jordan, that he made his edition of Marot. He often silently restituted an epithet or a sentence which had been condemned by the censeur, at the risk of returning once more; but in the present desperate affair he took his revenge by collecting the castrations into a quarto volume, which was sold clandestinely. I find, by Jordan, in his Voyage Littéraire, who visited him, that it was his pride to read these cancels to his friends, who generally, but secretly, were of opinion that the decision of the censeur was not so wrong as the hardihood of Lenglet insisted on. All this increased the public rumour, and raised the price of the cancels. The craft and mystery of authorship was practised by Lenglet to perfection; and he often exulted, not only in the subterfuges by which he parried his censeurs, but in his bargains with his booksellers, who were equally desirous to possess, while they half feared to enjoy, his uncertain or his perilous copyrights. When the unique copy of the Méthode, in its pristine state, before it had suffered any dilapidations, made its appearance at the sale of the curious library of the censeur Gros de Boze, it provoked a Roxburgh competition, where the collectors, eagerly outbidding each other, the price of this uncastrated copy reached to 1500 livres; and even more extraordinary in the history of French bibliography, than in our own. The curious may now find all these cancel sheets, or castrations, 224 preserved in one of those works of literary history, to which the Germans have contributed more largely than other European nations, and I have discovered that even the erasures, or bruises, are amply furnished in another bibliographical record.150

This Méthode, after several later editions, was still enlarging itself by fresh supplements; and having been translated by men of letters in Europe, by Coleti in Italy, by Mencken in Germany, and by Dr. Rawlinson in England, these translators have enriched their own editions by more copious articles, designed for their respective nations. The sagacity of the original writer now renovated his work by the infusions of his translators; like old Æson, it had its veins filled with green juices; and thus his old work was always undergoing the magic process of rejuvenescence.151

The personal character of our author was as singular as many of the uncommon topics which engaged his inquiries; these we might conclude had originated in mere eccentricity, or were chosen at random. But Lenglet has shown no deficiency of judgment in several works of acknowledged utility; and his critical opinions, his last editor has shown, have, for the greater part, been sanctioned by the public voice. It is curious to observe how the first direction which the mind of a hardy inquirer may take, will often account for that variety of uncommon topics he delights in, and which, on a closer examination, may be found to bear an invisible connexion with some preceding inquiry. As there is an association of ideas, so in literary history there is an association of research; and a very judicious writer may thus be impelled to compose on subjects which may be deemed strange or injudicious.

This observation may be illustrated by the literary history of Lenglet du Fresnoy. He opened his career by addressing a letter and a tract to the Sorbonne, on the extraordinary 225 affair of Maria d’Agreda, abbess of the nunnery of the Immaculate Conception in Spain, whose mystical Life of the Virgin, published on the decease of the abbess, and which was received with such rapture in Spain, had just appeared at Paris, where it excited the murmurs of the pious, and the inquiries of the curious. This mystical Life was declared to be founded on apparitions and revelations experienced by the abbess. Lenglet proved, or asserted, that the abbess was not the writer of this pretended Life, though the manuscript existed in her handwriting; and secondly, that the apparitions and revelations recorded were against all the rules of apparitions and revelations which he had painfully discovered. The affair was of a delicate nature. The writer was young and incredulous; a grey-beard, more deeply versed in theology, replied, and the Sorbonnists silenced our philosopher in embryo.

Lenglet confined these researches to his portfolio; and so long a period as fifty-five years had elapsed before they saw the light. It was when Calmet published his Dissertations on Apparitions, that the subject provoked Lenglet to return to his forsaken researches. He now published all he had formerly composed on the affair of Maria d’Agreda, and two other works; the one, “Traité historique et dogmatique sur les Apparitions, les Visions, et les Révélations particulières,” in two volumes; and “Recueil de Dissertations anciennes et nouvelles, sur les Apparitions, &c.,” with a catalogue of authors on this subject, in four volumes. When he edited the Roman de la Rose, in compiling the glossary of this ancient poem, it led him to reprint many of the earliest French poets; to give an enlarged edition of the Arrêts d’Amour, that work of love and chivalry, in which his fancy was now so deeply embedded; while the subject of Romance itself naturally led to the taste of romantic productions which appeared in “L’Usage des Romans,” and its accompanying copious nomenclature of all romances and romance-writers, ancient and modern. Our vivacious Abbé had been bewildered by his delight in the works of a chemical philosopher; and though he did not believe in the existence of apparitions, and certainly was more than a sceptic in history, yet it is certain that the “grande œuvre” was an article in his creed; it would have ruined him in experiments, if he had been rich enough to have been ruined. It altered his health; and the most important result of his chemical studies appears to have been the invention of a syrup, in which he had great confidence; but its trial blew 226 him up into a tympany, from which he was only relieved by having recourse to a drug, also of his own discovery, which, in counteracting the syrup, reduced him to an alarming state of atrophy. But the mischances of the historian do not enter into his history: and our curiosity must be still eager to open Lenglet’s “Histoire de la Philosophie Hermétique,” accompanied by a catalogue of the writers in this mysterious science, in two volumes: as well as his enlarged edition of the works of a great Paracelsian, Nicholas le Fevre. This philosopher was appointed by Charles the Second superintendent over the royal laboratory at St. James’s: he was also a member of the Royal Society, and the friend of Boyle, to whom he communicated the secret of infusing young blood into old veins, with a notion that he could renovate that which admits of no second creation.152 Such was the origin of Du Fresnoy’s active curiosity on a variety of singular topics, the germs of which may be traced to three or four of our author’s principal works.

Our Abbé promised to write his own life, and his pugnacious vivacity, and hardy frankness, would have seasoned a piece of autobiography; an amateur has, however, written it in the style which amateurs like, with all the truth he could discover, enlivened by some secret history, writing the life of Lenglet with the very spirit of Lenglet: it is a mask taken from the very features of the man, not the insipid wax-work of an hyperbolical éloge-maker.153

Although Lenglet du Fresnoy commenced in early life his 227 career as a man of letters, he was at first engaged in the great chase of political adventure; and some striking facts are recorded, which show his successful activity. Michault describes his occupations by a paraphrastical delicacy of language, which an Englishman might not have so happily composed. The minister for foreign affairs, the Marquis de Torcy, sent Lenglet to Lille, where the court of the Elector of Cologne was then held: “He had particular orders to watch that the two ministers of the elector should do nothing prejudicial to the king’s affairs.” He seems, however, to have watched many other persons, and detected many other things. He discovered a captain, who agreed to open the gates of Mons to Marlborough, for 100,000 piastres; the captain was arrested on the parade, the letter of Marlborough was found in his pocket, and the traitor was broken on the wheel. Lenglet denounced a foreign general in the French service, and the event warranted the prediction. His most important discovery was that of the famous conspiracy of Prince Cellamar, one of the chimerical plots of Alberoni; to the honour of Lenglet, he would not engage in its detection unless the minister promised that no blood should be shed. These successful incidents in the life of an honourable spy were rewarded with a moderate pension.—Lenglet must have been no vulgar intriguer; he was not only perpetually confined by his very patrons when he resided at home, for the freedom of his pen, but I find him early imprisoned in the citadel of Strasburgh for six months: it is said for purloining some curious books from the library of the Abbé Bignon, of which he had the care. It is certain that he knew the value of the scarcest works, and was one of those lovers of bibliography who trade at times in costly rarities. At Vienna he became intimately acquainted with the poet Rousseau, and Prince Eugene. The prince, however, who suspected the character of our author, long avoided him. Lenglet insinuated himself into the favour of the prince’s librarian; and such was his bibliographical skill, that this acquaintance ended in Prince Eugene laying aside his political dread, and preferring the advice of Lenglet to his librarian’s, to enrich his magnificent library. When the motive of Lenglet’s residence at Vienna became more and more suspected, Rousseau was employed to watch him; and not yet having quarrelled with his brother spy, he could only report that the Abbé Lenglet was every morning occupied in working on his “Tablettes Chronologiques,” a work not 228 worthy of alarming the government; that he spent his evenings at a violin-player’s married to a Frenchwoman, and returned home at eleven. As soon as our historian had discovered that the poet was a brother spy and newsmonger on the side of Prince Eugene, their reciprocal civilities cooled. Lenglet now imagined that he owed his six months’ retirement in the citadel of Strasburgh to the secret officiousness of Rousseau: each grew suspicious of the other’s fidelity; and spies are like lovers, for their mutual jealousies settled into the most inveterate hatred. One of the most defamatory libels is Lenglet’s intended dedication of his edition of Marot to Rousseau, which being forced to suppress in Holland, by order of the States-general; at Brussels, by the intervention of the Duke of Aremberg; and by every means the friends of the unfortunate Rousseau could contrive; was, however, many years afterwards at length subjoined by Lenglet to the first volume of his work on Romances; where an ordinary reader may wonder at its appearance unconnected with any part of the work. In this dedication, or “Éloge Historique,” he often addresses “Mon cher Rousseau,” but the irony is not delicate, and the calumny is heavy. Rousseau lay too open to the unlicensed causticity of his accuser. The poet was then expatriated from France for a false accusation against Saurin, in attempting to fix on him those criminal couplets, which so long disturbed the peace of the literary world in France, and of which Rousseau was generally supposed to be the writer; but of which on his death-bed he solemnly protested that he was guiltless. The coup-de-grace is given to the poet, stretched on this rack of invective, by just accusations on account of those infamous epigrams, which appear in some editions of that poet’s works; a lesson for a poet, if poets would be lessoned, who indulge their imagination at the cost of their happiness, and seem to invent crimes, as if they themselves were criminals.

But to return to our Lenglet. Had he composed his own life, it would have offered a sketch of political servitude and political adventure, in a man too intractable for the one, and too literary for the other. Yet to the honour of his capacity, we must observe that he might have chosen his patrons, would he have submitted to patronage. Prince Eugene at Vienna; Cardinal Passionei at Rome; or Mons. Le Blanc, the French minister, would have held him on his own terms. But “Liberty and my books!” was the secret ejaculation of 229 Lenglet; and from that moment all things in life were sacrificed to a jealous spirit of independence, which broke out in his actions as well as in his writings; and a passion for study for ever crushed the worm of ambition.

He was as singular in his conversation, which, says Jordan, was extremely agreeable to a foreigner, for he delivered himself without reserve on all things, and on all persons, seasoned with secret and literary anecdotes. He refused all the conveniences offered by an opulent sister, that he might not endure the restraint of a settled dinner-hour. He lived to his eightieth year, still busied, and then died by one of those grievous chances, to which aged men of letters are liable: our caustic critic slumbered over some modern work, and, falling into the fire was burnt to death. Many characteristic anecdotes of the Abbé Lenglet have been preserved in the Dictionnaire Historique, but I shall not repeat what is of easy recurrence.

149 This fact appears in the account of the minuter erasures.

150 The castrations are in Beyeri Memoriæ historico-criticæ Librorum rariorum, p. 166. The bruises are carefully noted in the Catalogue of the Duke de la Valière, 4467. Those who are curious in such singularities will be gratified by the extraordinary opinions and results in Beyer; and which after all were purloined from a manuscript “Abridgment of Universal History,” which was drawn up by Count de Boulainvilliers, and more adroitly than delicately inserted by Lenglet in his own work. The original manuscript exists in various copies, which were afterwards discovered. The minuter corrections, in the Duke de la Valière’s catalogue, furnish a most enlivening article in the dryness of bibliography.

151 The last edition, enlarged by Drouet, is in fifteen volumes, but is not later than 1772. It is still an inestimable manual for the historical student, as well as his Tablettes Chronologiques.

152 The “Dictionnaire Historique,” 1789, in their article Nich. Le Fevre, notices the third edition of his “Course of Chemistry,” that of 1664, in two volumes; but the present one of Lenglet du Fresnoy’s is more recent, 1751, enlarged into five volumes, two of which contain his own additions. I have never met with this edition, and it is wanting at the British Museum. Le Fevre published a tract on the great cordial of Sir Walter Rawleigh, which may be curious.

153 This anonymous work of “Mémoires de Monsieur l’Abbé Lenglet du Fresnoy,” although the dedication is signed G. P., is written by Michault, of Dijon, as a presentation copy to Count de Vienne in my possession proves. Michault is the writer of two volumes of agreeable “Mélanges Historiques et Philologiques;” and the present is a very curious piece of literary history. The “Dictionnaire Historique” has compiled the article of Lenglet entirely from this work; but the Journal des Sçavans was too ascetic in this opinion. Etoit-ce la peine de faire un livre pour apprendre au public qu’un homme de lettres fut espion, escroc, bizarre, fougueux, cynique, incapable d’amitié, de soumission aux loix? &c. Yet they do not pretend that the bibliography of Lenglet du Fresnoy is at all deficient in curiosity.



A learned friend, in his very agreeable “Trimestre, or a Three Months’ Journey in France and Switzerland,” could not pass through the small town of Trevoux without a literary association of ideas which should accompany every man of letters in his tours, abroad or at home. A mind well-informed cannot travel without discovering that there are objects constantly presenting themselves, which suggest literary, historical, and moral facts. My friend writes, “As you proceed nearer to Lyons you stop to dine at Trevoux, on the left bank of the Saone. On a sloping hill, down to the water-side, rises an amphitheatre, crowned with an ancient Gothic castle, in venerable ruin; under it is the small town of Trevoux, well known for its Journal and Dictionary, which latter is almost an encyclopædia, as there are few things of which something is not said in that most valuable compilation, and the whole was printed at Trevoux. The knowledge of this circumstance greatly enhances the delight of any visitor who has consulted the book, and is acquainted with its merit; and must add much to his local pleasures.”

A work from which every man of letters may be continually deriving such varied knowledge, and which is little known but to the most curious readers, claims a place in these volumes; nor is the history of the work itself without interest. Eight 230 large folios, each consisting of a thousand closely printed pages, stand like a vast mountain, of which, before we climb, we may be anxious to learn the security of the passage. The history of dictionaries is the most mutable of all histories; it is a picture of the inconstancy of the knowledge of man; the learning of one generation passes away with another; and a dictionary of this kind is always to be repaired, to be rescinded, and to be enlarged.

The small town of Trevoux gave its name to an excellent literary journal, long conducted by the Jesuits, and to this dictionary—as Edinburgh has to its Critical Review and Annual Register, &c. It first came to be distinguished as a literary town from the Duc du Maine, as prince sovereign of Dombes,154 transferring to this little town of Trevoux not only his parliament and other public institutions, but also establishing a magnificent printing-house, in the beginning of the last century. The duke, probably to keep his printers in constant employ, instituted the “Journal de Trévoux;” and this perhaps greatly tended to bring the printing-house into notice, so that it became a favourite with many good writers, who appear to have had no other connexion with the place; and this dictionary borrowed its first title, which it always preserved, merely from the place where it was printed. Both the journal and the dictionary were, however, consigned to the care of some learned Jesuits; and perhaps the place always indicated the principles of the writers, of whom none were more eminent for elegant literature than the Jesuits.155

The first edition of this dictionary sprung from the spirit of rivalry, occasioned by a French dictionary published in Holland, by the protestant Basnage de Beauval. The duke set his Jesuits hastily to work; who, after a pompous announcement that this dictionary was formed on a plan suggested by their patron, did little more than pillage Furetière, and rummage Basnage, and produced three new folios without any novelties; they pleased the Duc du Maine, and no one else. This was in 1704. Twenty years after, it was republished and improved; and editions increasing, the volumes succeeded each other, till it reached to its present 231 magnitude and value in eight large folios, in 1771, the only edition now esteemed. Many of the names of the contributors to this excellent collection of words and things, the industry of Monsieur Barbier has revealed in his “Dictionnaire des Anonymes,” art. 10782. The work, in the progress of a century, evidently became a favourite receptacle with men of letters in France, who eagerly contributed the smallest or largest articles with a zeal honourable to literature and most useful to the public. They made this dictionary their commonplace book for all their curious acquisitions; every one competent to write a short article, preserving an important fact, did not aspire to compile the dictionary, or even an entire article in it; but it was a treasury in which such mites collected together formed its wealth; and all the literati may be said to have engaged in perfecting these volumes during a century. In this manner, from the humble beginnings of three volumes, in which the plagiary much more than the contributor was visible, eight were at length built up with more durable materials, and which claim the attention and the gratitude of the student.

The work, it appears, interested the government itself, as a national concern, from the tenor of the following anecdotes.

Most of the minor contributors to this great collection were satisfied to remain anonymous; but as might be expected among such a number, sometimes a contributor was anxious to be known to his circle; and did not like this penitential abstinence of fame. An anecdote recorded of one of this class will amuse: A Monsieur Lautour du Chatel, avocat au parlement de Normandie, voluntarily devoted his studious hours to improve this work, and furnished nearly three thousand articles to the supplement of the edition of 1752. This ardent scholar had had a lively quarrel thirty years before with the first authors of the dictionary. He had sent them one thousand three hundred articles, on condition that the donor should be handsomely thanked in the preface of the new edition, and further receive a copy en grand papier. They were accepted. The conductors of the new edition, in 1721, forgot all the promises—nor thanks, nor copy! Our learned avocat, who was a little irritable, as his nephew who wrote his life acknowledges, as soon as the great work appeared, astonished, like Dennis, that “they were rattling his own thunder,” without saying a word, quits his country town, and ventures, half dead with sickness and indignation, 232 on an expedition to Paris, to make his complaint to the chancellor; and the work was deemed of that importance in the eye of government, and so zealous a contributor was considered to have such an honourable claim, that the chancellor ordered, first, that a copy on large paper should be immediately delivered to Monsieur Lautour, richly bound and free of carriage; and secondly, as a reparation of the unperformed promise, and an acknowledgment of gratitude, the omission of thanks should be inserted and explained in the three great literary journals of France; a curious instance, among others, of the French government often mediating, when difficulties occurred in great literary undertakings, and considering not lightly the claims and the honours of men of letters.

Another proof, indeed, of the same kind, concerning the present work, occurred after the edition of 1752. One Jamet l’aîné, who had with others been usefully employed on this edition, addressed a proposal to government for an improved one, dated from the Bastile. He proposed that the government should choose a learned person, accustomed to the labour of the researches such a work requires; and he calculated, that if supplied with three amanuenses, such an editor would accomplish his task in about ten or twelve years, the produce of the edition would soon repay all the expenses and capital advanced. This literary projector did not wish to remain idle in the Bastile. Fifteen years afterwards the last improved edition appeared, published by the associated booksellers of Paris.

As for the work itself, it partakes of the character of our Encyclopædias; but in this respect it cannot be safely consulted, for widely has science enlarged its domains and corrected its errors since 1771. But it is precious as a vast collection of ancient and modern learning, particularly in that sort of knowledge which we usually term antiquarian and philological. It is not merely a grammatical, scientific, and technical dictionary, but it is replete with divinity, law, moral philosophy, critical and historical learning, and abounds with innumerable miscellaneous curiosities. It would be difficult, whatever may be the subject of inquiry, to open it, without the gratification of some knowledge neither obvious nor trivial. I heard a man of great learning declare, that whenever he could not recollect his knowledge he opened Hoffman’s Lexicon Universale Historicum, where he was sure to find what he had lost. The works are similar; and 233 valuable as are the German’s four folios, the eight of the Frenchman may safely be recommended as their substitute, or their supplement. As a Dictionary of the French Language it bears a peculiar feature, which has been presumptuously dropped in the Dictionnaire de l’Académie; the last invents phrases to explain words, which therefore have no other authority than the writer himself! this of Trevoux is furnished, not only with mere authorities, but also with quotations from the classical French writers—an improvement which was probably suggested by the English Dictionary of Johnson. One nation improves by another.

154 It was always acknowledged as an independent state by the French kings from the time of Philip Augustus. It had its own parliament, and the privilege also of coining its own money.

155 The house in which the Jesuits resided, having the shield of arms of their order over its portal, still remains at Trevoux.



It is, perhaps, somewhat mortifying in our literary researches to discover that our own literature has been only known to the other nations of Europe comparatively within recent times. We have at length triumphed over our continental rivals in the noble struggles of genius, and our authors now see their works printed even at foreign presses, while we are furnishing with our gratuitous labours nearly the whole literature of a new empire; yet so late as in the reign of Anne, our poets were only known by the Latin versifiers of the “Musæ Anglicanæ;” and when Boileau was told of the public funeral of Dryden, he was pleased with the national honours bestowed on genius, but he declared that he never heard of his name before. This great legislator of Parnassus has never alluded to one of our own poets, so insular then was our literary glory! The most remarkable fact, or perhaps assertion, I have met with, of the little knowledge which the Continent had of our writers, is a French translation of Bishop Hall’s “Characters of Virtues and Vices.” It is a duodecimo, printed at Paris, of 109 pages, 1610, with this title Charactères de Vertus et de Vices; tirés de l’Anglois de M. Josef Hall. In a dedication to the Earl of Salisbury, the translator informs his lordship that “ce livre est la première traduction de l’Anglois jamais imprimée en aucun vulgaire”—the first translation from the English ever printed in any modern language! Whether the translator is a bold liar, or an ignorant blunderer, remains to be ascertained; at all events it is a humiliating demonstration of the small progress which our home literature had made abroad in 1610!


I come now to notice a contemporary writer, professedly writing the history of our Poetry, of which his knowledge will open to us as we proceed with our enlightened and amateur historian.

Father Quadrio’s Della Storia e dell’ ragione d’ ogni Poesia,—is a gigantic work, which could only have been projected and persevered in by some hypochondriac monk, who, to get rid of the ennui of life, could discover no pleasanter way than to bury himself alive in seven monstrous closely-printed quartos, and every day be compiling something on a subject which he did not understand. Fortunately for Father Quadrio, without taste to feel, and discernment to decide, nothing occurred in this progress of literary history and criticism to abridge his volumes and his amusements; and with diligence and erudition unparalleled, he has here built up a receptacle for his immense, curious, and trifling knowledge on the poetry of every nation. Quadrio is among that class of authors whom we receive with more gratitude than pleasure, fly to sometimes to quote, but never linger to read; and fix on our shelves, but seldom have in our hands.

I have been much mortified, in looking over this voluminous compiler, to discover, although he wrote so late as about 1750, how little the history of English poetry was known to foreigners. It is assuredly our own fault. We have too long neglected the bibliography and the literary history of our own country. Italy, Spain, and France have enjoyed eminent bibliographers—we have none to rival them. Italy may justly glory in her Tiraboschi and her Mazzuchelli; Spain in the Bibliothecas of Nicholas Antonio; and France, so rich in bibliographical treasures, affords models to every literary nation of every species of literary history. With us, the partial labour of the hermit Anthony for the Oxford writers, compiled before philosophical criticism existed in the nation; and Warton’s History of Poetry, which was left unfinished at its most critical period, when that delightful antiquary of taste had just touched the threshold of his Paradise—these are the sole great labours to which foreigners might resort, but these will not be found of much use to them. The neglect of our own literary history has, therefore, occasioned the errors, sometimes very ridiculous ones, of foreign writers respecting our authors. Even the lively Chaudon, in his “Dictionnaire Historique,” gives the most extraordinary accounts of most of the English writers. Without an English 235 guide to attend such weary travellers, they have too often been deceived by the mirages of our literature. They have given blundering accounts of works which do exist, and chronicled others which never did exist; and have often made up the personal history of our authors, by confounding two or three into one. Chaudon, mentioning Dryden’s tragedies, observes, that Atterbury translated two into Latin verse, entitled Achitophel and Absalom!156

Of all these foreign authors, none has more egregiously failed than this good Father Quadrio. In this universal history of poetry, I was curious to observe what sort of figure we made, and whether the fertile genius of our original poets had struck the foreign critic with admiration or with critical censure. But little was our English poetry known to its universal historian. In the chapter on those who have cultivated “la melica poesia in propria lingua tra, Tedeschi, Fiamminghi e Inglesi,”157 we find the following list of English poets.

“Of John Gower; whose rhymes and verses are preserved in manuscript in the college of the most Holy Trinity, in Cambridge.

“Arthur Kelton, flourished in 1548, a skilful English poet: he composed various poems in English; also he lauds the Cambrians and their genealogy.

“The works of William Wycherly, in English prose and verse.”

These were the only English poets whom Quadrio at first could muster together! In his subsequent additions he caught the name of Sir Philip Sidney with an adventurous criticism, “le sue poesie assai buone.” He then was lucky enough to pick up the title—not the volume, surely—which was one of the rarest; “Fiori poetici de A. Cowley,” which he calls “poesie amorose:” this must mean that early volume of Cowley’s, published in his thirteenth year, under the title of “Poetical Blossoms.” Further he laid hold of “John Donne” by the skirt, and “Thomas Creech,” at whom he made a full pause, informing his Italians that “his poems are reputed by his nation as ‘assai buone.’” He has also 236 “Le opere di Guglielmo;” but to this Christian name, as it would appear, he had not ventured to add the surname. At length, in his progress of inquiry, in his fourth volume (for they were published at different periods), he suddenly discovers a host of English poets—in Waller, Duke of Buckingham, Lord Roscommon, and others, among whom is Dr. Swift; but he acknowledges their works have not reached him. Shakspeare at length appears on the scene; but Quadrio’s notions are derived from Voltaire, whom, perhaps, he boldly translates. Instead of improving our drama, he conducted it a totale rovina nelle sue farse monstruose, che si chiaman tragedie; alcune scene vi abbia luminose e belle e alcuni tratti si trovono terribili e grandi. Otway is said to have composed a tragic drama on the subject of “Venezia Salvata;” he adds with surprise, “ma affatto regolare.” Regularity is the essence of genius with such critics as Quadrio. Dryden is also mentioned; but the only drama specified is “King Arthur.” Addison is the first Englishman who produced a classical tragedy; but though Quadrio writes much about the life of Addison, he never alludes to the Spectator.

We come now to a more curious point. Whether Quadrio had read our comedies may be doubtful; but he distinguishes them by very high commendation. Our comedy, he says, represents human life, the manners of citizens and the people, much better than the French and Spanish comedies, in which all the business of life is mixed up with love affairs. The Spaniards had their gallantry from the Moors, and their manners from chivalry; to which they added their tumid African taste, differing from that of other nations. I shall translate what he now adds of English comedy.

“The English, more skilfully even than the French, have approximated to the true idea of comic subjects, choosing for the argument of their invention the customary and natural objects of the citizens and the populace. And when religion and decorum were more respected in their theatres, they were more advanced in this species of poetry, and merited not a little praise, above their neighbouring nations. But more than the English and the French (to speak according to pure and bare truth) have the Italians signalised themselves.” A sly, insinuating criticism! But, as on the whole, for reasons which I cannot account for, Father Quadrio seems to have relished our English comedy, we must 237 value his candour. He praises our comedy; “per il bello ed il buono;” but, as he is a methodical Aristotelian, he will not allow us that liberty in the theatre which we are supposed to possess in parliament—by delivering whatever we conceive to the purpose. His criticism is a specimen of the irrefragable. “We must not abandon legitimate rules to give mere pleasure thereby; because pleasure is produced by, and flows from, the beautiful; and the beautiful is chiefly drawn from the good order and unity in which it consists!”

Quadrio succeeded in discovering the name of one of our greatest comic geniuses; for, alluding to our diversity of action in comedy, he mentions in his fifth volume, page 148,—“Il celebre Benjanson, nella sua commedia intitolato Bartolommeo Foicere, e in quella altra commedia intitolato Ipsum Veetz.” The reader may decipher the poet’s name with his Fair; but it required the critical sagacity of Mr. Douce to discover that by Ipsum Veetz we are to understand Shadwell’s comedy of Epsom Wells. The Italian critic had transcribed what he and his Italian printer could not spell. We have further discovered the source of his intelligence in St. Evremond, who had classed Shadwell’s comedy with Ben Jonson’s. To such shifts is the writer of an universal history d’ ogni Poesia miserably reduced!

Towards the close of the fifth volume we at last find the sacred muse of Milton,—but, unluckily, he was a man “di pochissima religione,” and spoke of Christ like an Arian. Quadrio quotes Ramsay for Milton’s vomiting forth abuse on the Roman Church. His figures are said to be often mean, unworthy of the majesty of his subject; but in a later place, excepting his religion, our poet, it is decided on, is worthy “di molti laudi.”

Thus much for the information the curious may obtain on English poetry from its universal history. Quadrio unquestionably writes with more ignorance than prejudice against us: he has not only highly distinguished the comic genius of our writers, and raised it above that of our neighbours, but he has also advanced another discovery, which ranks us still higher for original invention, and which, I am confident, will be as new as it is extraordinary to the English reader.

Quadrio, who, among other erudite accessories to his work, has exhausted the most copious researches on the origin of Punch and Harlequin, has also written, with equal curiosity and value, the history of Puppet-shows. But whom has he 238 lauded? whom has he placed paramount, above all other people, for their genius of invention in improving this art!—The English! and the glory which has hitherto been universally conceded to the Italian nation themselves, appears to belong to us! For we, it appears, while others were dandling and pulling their little representatives of human nature into such awkward and unnatural motions, first invented pulleys, or wires, and gave a fine and natural action to the artificial life of these gesticulating machines!

We seem to know little of ourselves as connected with the history of puppet-shows; but in an article in the curious Dictionary of Trevoux, I find that John Brioché, to whom had been attributed the invention of Marionnettes, is only to be considered as an improver; in his time (but the learned writers supply no date) an Englishman discovered the secret of moving them by springs, and without strings; but the Marionnettes of Brioché were preferred for the pleasantries which he made them deliver. The erudite Quadrio appears to have more successfully substantiated our claims to the pulleys or wires, or springs of the puppets, than any of our own antiquaries; and perhaps the uncommemorated name of this Englishman was that Powell, whose Solomon and Sheba were celebrated in the days of Addison and Steele; the former of whom has composed a classical and sportive Latin poem on this very subject. But Quadrio might well rest satisfied that the nation which could boast of its Fantoccini, surpassed, and must ever surpass the puny efforts of a doll-loving people!

156 Even recently, il Cavaliere Onofrio Boni, in his Eloge of Lanzi, in naming the three Augustan periods of modern literature, fixes them, for the Italians, under Leo the Tenth; for the French, under Louis the Fourteenth, or the Great; and for the English, under Charles the Second!

157 Quadrio, vol. ii. p. 416.



In Professor Dugald Stewart’s first Dissertation on the Progress of Philosophy, I find this singular and significant term. It has occasioned me to reflect on those contests for religion, in which a particular faith has been made the ostensible pretext, while the secret motive was usually political. The historians, who view in religious wars only religion itself, have written large volumes, in which we may never discover that they have either been a struggle to obtain predominance, or an expedient to secure it. The hatreds of ambitious men have disguised their own purposes, while Christianity has borne the odium of loosening a 239 destroying spirit among mankind; which, had Christianity never existed, would have equally prevailed in human affairs. Of a moral malady, it is not only necessary to know the nature, but to designate it by a right name, that we may not err in our mode of treatment. If we call that religious which we shall find for the greater part is political, we are likely to be mistaken in the regimen and the cure.

Fox, in his “Acts and Monuments,” writes the martyrology of the Protestants in three mighty folios; where, in the third, “the tender mercies” of the Catholics are “cut in wood” for those who might not otherwise be enabled to read or spell them. Such pictures are abridgments of long narratives, but they leave in the mind a fulness of horror. Fox made more than one generation shudder; and his volume, particularly this third, chained to a reading-desk in the halls of the great, and in the aisles of churches, often detained the loiterer, as it furnished some new scene of papistical horrors to paint forth on returning to his fireside. The protestants were then the martyrs, because, under Mary, the protestants had been thrown out of power.

Dodd has opposed to Fox three curious folios, which he calls “The Church History of England,” exhibiting a most abundant martyrology of the catholics, inflicted by the hands of the protestants; who in the succeeding reign of Elizabeth, after long trepidations and balancings, were confirmed into power. He grieves over the delusion and seduction of the black-letter romance of honest John Fox, which he says, “has obtained a place in protestant churches next to the Bible, while John Fox himself is esteemed little less than an evangelist.”158 Dodd’s narratives are not less pathetic: for the situation of the catholic, who had to secrete himself, as well as to suffer, was more adapted for romantic adventures, than even the melancholy but monotonous story of the protestants tortured in the cell, or bound to the stake. These catholics, however, were attempting all sorts of intrigues; and the saints and martyrs of Dodd, to the parliament of England, were only traitors and conspirators!

Heylin, in his history of the Puritans and the Presbyterians, blackens them for political devils. He is the Spagnolet of history, delighting himself with horrors at which the 240 painter himself must have started. He tells of their “oppositions” to monarchical and episcopal government; their “innovations” in the church; and their “embroilments” of the kingdoms. The sword rages in their hands; treason, sacrilege, plunder; while “more of the blood of Englishmen had poured like water within the space of four years, than had been shed in the civil wars of York and Lancaster in four centuries!”

Neal opposes a more elaborate history; where these “great and good men,” the puritans and the presbyterians, “are placed among the reformers;” while their fame is blanched into angelic purity. Neal and his party opined that the protestant had not sufficiently protested, and that the reformation itself needed to be reformed. They wearied the impatient Elizabeth and her ardent churchmen; and disputed with the learned James, and his courtly bishops, about such ceremonial trifles, that the historian may blush or smile who has to record them. And when the puritan was thrown out of preferment, and seceded into separation, he turned into a presbyter. Nonconformity was their darling sin, and their sullen triumph.

Calamy, in four painful volumes, chronicles the bloodless martyrology of the two thousand silenced and ejected ministers. Their history is not glorious, and their heroes are obscure; but it is a domestic tale. When the second Charles was restored, the presbyterians, like every other faction, were to be amused, if not courted. Some of the king’s chaplains were selected from among them, and preached once. Their hopes were raised that they should, by some agreement, be enabled to share in that ecclesiastical establishment which they had so often opposed; and the bishops met the presbyters in a convocation at the Savoy. A conference was held between the high church, resuming the seat of power, and the low church, now prostrate; that is, between the old clergy who had recently been mercilessly ejected by the new, who in their turn were awaiting their fate. The conference was closed with arguments by the weaker, and votes by the stronger. Many curious anecdotes of this conference have come down to us. The presbyterians, in their last struggle, petitioned for indulgence; but oppressors who had become petitioners, only showed that they possessed no longer the means of resistance. This conference was followed up by the Act of Uniformity, which took place on Bartholomew day, 241 August 24, 1652: an act which ejected Calamy’s two thousand ministers from the bosom of the established church. Bartholomew day with this party was long paralleled, and perhaps is still, with the dreadful French massacre of that fatal saint’s day. The calamity was rather, however, of a private than of a public nature. The two thousand ejected ministers were indeed deprived of their livings; but this was, however, a happier fate than what has often occurred in these contests for the security of political power. This ejection was not like the expulsion of the Moriscoes, the best and most useful subjects of Spain, which was a human sacrifice of half a million of men, and the proscription of many Jews from that land of Catholicism; or the massacre of thousands of Huguenots, and the expulsion of more than a hundred thousand by Louis the Fourteenth from France. The presbyterian divines were not driven from their fatherland, and compelled to learn another language than their mother-tongue. Destitute as divines, they were suffered to remain as citizens; and the result was remarkable. These divines could not disrobe themselves of their learning and their piety, while several of them were compelled to become tradesmen: among these the learned Samuel Chandler, whose literary productions are numerous, kept a bookseller’s shop in the Poultry.

Hard as this event proved in its result, it was, however, pleaded, that “It was but like for like.” And that the history of “the like” might not be curtailed in the telling, opposed to Calamy’s chronicle of the two thousand ejected ministers stands another, in folio magnitude, of the same sort of chronicle of the clergy of the Church of England, with a title by no means less pathetic.

This is Walker’s “Attempt towards recovering an Account of the Clergy of the Church of England who were sequestered, harassed, &c., in the late Times.” Walker is himself astonished at the size of his volume, the number of his sufferers, and the variety of the sufferings. “Shall the church,” says he, “not have the liberty to preserve the history of her sufferings, as well as the separation to set forth an account of theirs? Can Dr. Calamy be acquitted for publishing the history of the Bartholomew sufferers, if I am condemned for writing that of the sequestered loyalists?” He allows that “the number of the ejected amounts to two thousand,” and there were no less than 242 “seven or eight thousand of the episcopal clergy imprisoned, banished, and sent a starving,” &c. &c.

Whether the reformed were martyred by the catholics, or the catholics executed by the reformed; whether the puritans expelled those of the established church, or the established church ejected the puritans, all seems reducible to two classes, conformists and non-conformists, or, in the political style, the administration and the opposition. When we discover that the heads of all parties are of the same hot temperament, and observe the same evil conduct in similar situations; when we view honest old Latimer with his own hands hanging a mendicant friar on a tree, and, the government changing, the friars binding Latimer to the stake; when we see the French catholics cutting out the tongues of the protestants, that they might no longer protest; the haughty Luther writing submissive apologies to Leo the Tenth and Henry the Eighth for the scurrility with which he had treated them in his writings, and finding that his apologies were received with contempt, then retracting his retractations; when we find that haughtiest of the haughty, John Knox, when Elizabeth first ascended the throne, crouching and repenting of having written his famous excommunication against all female sovereignty; or pulling down the monasteries, from the axiom that when the rookery was destroyed, the rooks would never return; when we find his recent apologist admiring, while he apologises for, some extraordinary proofs of Machiavelian politics, an impenetrable mystery seems to hang over the conduct of men who profess to be guided by the bloodless code of Jesus. But try them by a human standard, and treat them as politicians, and the motives once discovered, the actions are understood!

Two edicts of Charles the Fifth, in 1555, condemned to death the Reformed of the Low Countries, even should they return to the catholic faith, with this exception, however, in favour of the latter, that they shall not be burnt alive, but that the men shall be beheaded, and the women buried alive! Religion could not, then, be the real motive of the Spanish cabinet, for in returning to the ancient faith that point was obtained; but the truth is, that the Spanish government considered the reformed as rebels, whom it was not safe to re-admit to the rights of citizenship. The undisguised fact appears in the codicil to the will of the emperor, when he solemnly declares that he had written to the Inquisition 243 “to burn and extirpate the heretics,” after trying to make Christians of them, because he is convinced that they never can become sincere catholics; and he acknowledges that he had committed a great fault in permitting Luther to return free on the faith of his safe-conduct, as the emperor was not bound to keep a promise with a heretic. “It is because that I destroyed him not, that heresy has now become strong, which I am convinced might have been stifled with him in its birth.”159 The whole conduct of Charles the Fifth in this mighty revolution was, from its beginning, censured by contemporaries as purely political. Francis the First observed that the emperor, under the colour of religion, was placing himself at the head of a league to make his way to a predominant monarchy. “The pretext of religion is no new thing,” writes the Duke of Nevers. “Charles the Fifth had never undertaken a war against the Protestant princes but with the design of rendering the Imperial crown hereditary in the house of Austria; and he has only attacked the electoral princes to ruin them, and to abolish their right of election. Had it been zeal for the catholic religion, would he have delayed from 1519 to 1549 to arm? That he might have extinguished the Lutheran heresy, which he could easily have done in 1526, but he considered that this novelty would serve to divide the German princes, and he patiently waited till the effect was realised.”160

Good men of both parties, mistaking the nature of these religious wars, have drawn horrid inferences! The “dragonnades” of Louis XIV. excited the admiration of Bruyère; and Anquetil, in his “Esprit de la Ligue,” compares the revocation of the Edict of Nantes to a salutary amputation. The massacre of St. Bartholomew in its own day, and even recently, has found advocates; a Greek professor at the time asserted that there were two classes of protestants in France—political and religious; and that “the late ebullition of public vengeance was solely directed against the former.” Dr. M’Crie, cursing the catholic with a catholic’s curse, execrates “the stale sophistry of this calumniator.” But should we allow that the Greek professor who advocated their national crime was the wretch the calvinistic doctor 244 describes, yet the nature of things cannot be altered by the equal violence of Peter Charpentier and Dr. M’Crie.

This subject of “Political Religionism” is indeed as nice as it is curious; politics have been so cunningly worked into the cause of religion, that the parties themselves will never be able to separate them; and to this moment the most opposite opinions are formed concerning the same events and the same persons. When public disturbances broke out at Nismes on the first restoration of the Bourbons, the protestants, who there are numerous, declared that they were persecuted for religion, and their cry, echoed by their brethren the dissenters, resounded in this country. We have not forgotten the ferment it raised here; much was said, and something was done. Our minister, however, persisted in declaring that it was a mere political affair. It is clear that our government was right on the cause, and those zealous complainants wrong, who only observed the effect; for as soon as the Bourbonists had triumphed over the Bonapartists, we heard no more of those sanguinary persecutions of the protestants of Nismes, of which a dissenter has just published a large history. It is a curious fact, that when two writers at the same time were occupied in a Life of Cardinal Ximenes, Flechier converted the cardinal into a saint, and every incident in his administration was made to connect itself with his religious character; Marsollier, a writer very inferior to Flechier, shows the cardinal merely as a politician. The elegances of Flechier were soon neglected by the public, and the deep interests of truth soon acquired, and still retain, for the less elegant writer the attention of the statesman.

A modern historian has observed that “the affairs of religion were the grand fomenters and promoters of the Thirty Years’ War, which first brought down the powers of the North to mix in the politics of the Southern states.” The fact is indisputable, but the cause is not so apparent. Gustavus Adolphus, the vast military genius of his age, had designed, and was successfully attempting, to oppose the overgrown power of the imperial house of Austria, which had long aimed at an universal monarchy in Europe; a circumstance which Philip IV. weakly hinted at to the world when he placed this motto under his arms—“Sine ipso factum est nihil;” an expression applied to Jesus Christ by St. John!

158 “Fox’s Martyrs,” as the book was popularly called, was often chained to a reading-desk in churches; one is still thus affixed at Cirencester; it thus received equal honour with the Bible.

159 Llorente’s “Critical History of the Inquisition.”

160 Naudé, “Considérations Politiques,” p. 115. See a curious note in Hart’s “Life of Gustavus Adolphus,” ii. 129.




An enlightened toleration is a blessing of the last age—it would seem to have been practised by the Romans, when they did not mistake the primitive Christians for seditious members of society; and was inculcated even by Mahomet, in a passage in the Koran, but scarcely practised by his followers. In modern history it was condemned when religion was turned into a political contest under the aspiring house of Austria—and in Spain—and in France. It required a long time before its nature was comprehended—and to this moment it is far from being clear, either to the tolerators or the tolerated.

It does not appear that the precepts or the practice of Jesus and the apostles inculcate the compelling of any to be Christians;161 yet an expression employed in the nuptial parable of the great supper, when the hospitable lord commanded the servant, finding that he had still room to accommodate more guests, to go out in the highways and hedges, and “compel them to come in, that my house may be filled,” was alleged as an authority by those catholics who called themselves “the converters,” for using religious force, which, still alluding to the hospitable lord, they called “a charitable and salutary violence.” It was this circumstance which produced Bayle’s “Commentaire Philosophique sur ces Paroles de Jesus Christ,” published under the supposititious name of an Englishman, as printed at Canterbury in 1686, but really at Amsterdam. It is curious that Locke published his first letter on “Toleration” in Latin at Gouda, in 1689—the second in 1690—and the third in 1692. Bayle opened the mind of Locke, and some time after quotes Locke’s Latin letter with high commendation.162 The caution of both writers in publishing in foreign places, however, indicates the prudence which it was deemed necessary to observe in writing in favour of toleration.

These were the first philosophical attempts; but the 246 earliest advocates for toleration may be found among the religious controversialists of a preceding period; it was probably started among the fugitive sects who had found an asylum in Holland. It was a blessing which they had gone far to find, and the miserable, reduced to humane feelings, are compassionate to one another. With us the sect called “the Independents” had, early in our revolution under Charles the First, pleaded for the doctrine of religious liberty, and long maintained it against the presbyterians. Both proved persecutors when they possessed power. The first of our respectable divines who advocated this cause were Jeremy Taylor, in his “Discourse on the Liberty of Prophesying,” 1647, and Bishop Hall, who had pleaded the cause of moderation in a discourse about the same period.163 Locke had no doubt examined all these writers. The history of opinions is among the most curious of histories; and I suspect that Bayle was well acquainted with the pamphlets of our sectarists, who, in their flight to Holland, conveyed those curiosities of theology, which had cost them their happiness and their estates: I think he indicates this hidden source of his ideas by the extraordinary ascription of his book to an Englishman, and fixing the place of its publication at Canterbury!

Toleration has been a vast engine in the hands of modern politicians. It was established in the United Provinces of Holland, and our numerous non-conformists took refuge in that asylum for disturbed consciences; it attracted a valuable community of French refugees; it conducted a colony of Hebrew fugitives from Portugal; conventicles of Brownists, quakers’ meetings, French churches, and Jewish synagogues, and (had it been required) Mahometan mosques, in Amsterdam, were the precursors of its mart, and its exchange; the moment they could preserve their consciences sacred to themselves, 247 they lived without mutual persecution, and mixed together as good Dutchmen.

The excommunicated part of Europe seemed to be the most enlightened, and it was then considered as a proof of the admirable progress of the human mind, that Locke and Clarke and Newton corresponded with Leibnitz, and others of the learned in France and Italy. Some were astonished that philosophers who differed in their religious opinions should communicate among themselves with so much toleration.164

It is not, however, clear that had any one of these sects at Amsterdam obtained predominance, which was sometimes attempted, they would have granted to others the toleration they participated in common. The infancy of a party is accompanied by a political weakness which disables it from weakening others.

The catholic in this country pleads for toleration; in his own he refuses to grant it. Here, the presbyterian, who had complained of persecution, once fixed in the seat of power, abrogated every kind of independence among others. When the flames consumed Servetus at Geneva, the controversy began, whether the civil magistrate might punish heretics, which Beza, the associate of Calvin, maintained; he triumphed in the small predestinating city of Geneva; but the book he wrote was fatal to the protestants a few leagues distant, among a majority of catholics. Whenever the protestants complained of the persecutions they suffered, the catholics, for authority and sanction, never failed to appeal to the volume of their own Beza.

M. Necker de Saussure has recently observed on “what trivial circumstances the change or the preservation of the established religion in different districts of Europe has depended!” When the Reformation penetrated into Switzerland, the government of the principality of Neufchatel, wishing to allow liberty of conscience to all their subjects, invited each parish to vote “for or against the adoption of the new worship; and in all the parishes, except two, the majority of suffrages declared in favour of the protestant communion.” The inhabitants of the small village of Cressier had also assembled; and forming an even number, there happened to be an equality of votes for and against 248 the change of religion. A shepherd being absent, tending the flocks on the hills, they summoned him to appear and decide this important question: when, having no liking to innovation, he gave his voice in favour of the existing form of worship; and this parish remained catholic, and is so at this day, in the heart of the protestant cantons.

I proceed to some facts which I have arranged for the history of Toleration. In the Memoirs of James the Second, when that monarch published “The Declaration for Liberty of Conscience,” the catholic reasons and liberalises like a modern philosopher: he accuses “the jealousy of our clergy, who had degraded themselves into intriguers; and like mechanics in a trade, who are afraid of nothing so much as interlopers—they had therefore induced indifferent persons to imagine that their earnest contest was not about their faith, but about their temporal possessions. It was incongruous that a church, which does not pretend to be infallible, should constrain persons, under heavy penalties and punishments, to believe as she does: they delighted, he asserted, to hold an iron rod over dissenters and catholics; so sweet was dominion, that the very thought of others participating in their freedom made them deny the very doctrine they preached.” The chief argument the catholic urged on this occasion was “the reasonableness of repealing laws which made men liable to the greatest punishments for that it was not in their power to remedy, for that no man could force himself to believe what he really did not believe.”165

Such was the rational language of the most bigoted of zealots!—The fox can bleat like the lamb. At the very moment James the Second was uttering this mild expostulation, in his own heart he had anathematised the nation; for I have seen some of the king’s private papers, which still exist; they consist of communications, chiefly by the most bigoted priests, with the wildest projects, and most infatuated prophecies and dreams, of restoring the true catholic faith in England! Had the Jesuit-led monarch retained the English throne, the language he now addressed to the nation would have been no longer used; and in that case it would have served his protestant subjects. He asked for toleration, to become intolerant! He devoted himself, not to the hundredth 249 part of the English nation; and yet he was surprised that he was left one morning without an army! When the catholic monarch issued this declaration for “liberty of conscience,” the Jekyll of his day observed, that “it was but scaffolding: they intend to build another house, and when that house (Popery) is built, they will take down the scaffold.”166

When presbytery was our lord, they who had endured the tortures of persecution, and raised such sharp outcries for freedom, of all men were the most intolerant: hardly had they tasted of the Circean cup of dominion, ere they were transformed into the most hideous or the most grotesque monsters of political power. To their eyes toleration was an hydra, and the dethroned bishops had never so vehemently declaimed against what, in ludicrous rage, one of the high-flying presbyterians called “a cursed intolerable toleration!” They advocated the rights of persecution; and “shallow Edwards,” as Milton calls the author of “The Gangræna,” published a treatise against toleration. They who had so long complained of “the licensers,” now sent all the books they condemned to penal fires. Prynne now vindicated the very doctrines under which he himself had so severely suffered; assuming the highest possible power of civil government, even to the infliction of death on its opponents. Prynne lost all feeling for the ears of others!

The idea of toleration was not intelligible for too long a period in the annals of Europe: no parties probably could conceive the idea of toleration in the struggle for predominance. Treaties are not proffered when conquest is the concealed object. Men were immolated! a massacre was a sacrifice! medals were struck to commemorate these holy persecutions!167 The destroying angel, holding in one hand a cross, and in the other a sword, with these words—Vgonottorum Strages, 1572—“The massacre of the Huguenots”—proves 250 that toleration will not agree with that date.168 Castelnau, a statesman and a humane man, was at a loss how to decide on a point of the utmost importance to France. In 1532 they first began to burn the Lutherans or Calvinists, and to cut out the tongues of all protestants, “that they might no longer protest.” According to Father Paul, fifty thousand persons had perished in the Netherlands, by different tortures, for religion. But a change in the religion of the state, Castelnau considered, would occasion one in the government: he wondered how it happened, that the more they punished with death, it only increased the number of the victims: martyrs produced proselytes. As a statesman, he looked round the great field of human actions in the history of the past; there he discovered that the Romans were more enlightened in their actions than ourselves; that Trajan commanded Pliny the younger not to molest the Christians for their religion, but should their conduct endanger the state, to put down illegal assemblies; that Julian the Apostate expressly forbad the execution of the Christians, who then imagined that they were securing their salvation by martyrdom; but he ordered all their goods to be confiscated—a severe punishment—by which Julian prevented more than he could have done by persecutions. “All this,” he adds, “we read in ecclesiastical history.”169 Such were the sentiments of Castelnau, in 1560. Amidst perplexities of state necessity, and of our common humanity, the notion of toleration had not entered into the views of the statesman. It was also at this time that De Sainctes, a great controversial writer, declared, that had the fires lighted for the destruction of Calvinism not been extinguished, the sect had not spread! About half a century subsequent to this period, Thuanus was, perhaps, the first great mind who appears to have insinuated to the French monarch and his nation, that they might live at peace with heretics; by which avowal he called down on himself the haughty indignation of Rome, and a declaration that the man who spoke in favour of heretics must necessarily be one of the first class. Hear the afflicted historian: “Have men no compassion, after forty years passed full of continual miseries? Have they no fear after the loss of the Netherlands, 251 occasioned by the frantic obstinacy which marked the times? I grieve that such sentiments should have occasioned my book to have been examined with a rigour that amounts to calumny.” Such was the language of Thuanus, in a letter written in 1606;170 which indicates an approximation to toleration, but which term was not probably yet found in any dictionary. We may consider, as so many attempts at toleration, the great national synod of Dort, whose history is amply written by Brandt; and the mitigating protestantism of Laud, to approximate to the ceremonies of the Roman church; but the synod, after holding about two hundred sessions, closed, dividing men into universalists and semi-universalists, supralapsarians and sublapsarians! The reformed themselves produced the remonstrants; and Laud’s ceremonies ended in placing the altar eastward, and in raising the scaffold for the monarchy and the hierarchy. Error is circuitous when it will do what it has not yet learnt. They were pressing for conformity to do that which, a century afterwards, they found could only be done by toleration.

The secret history of toleration among certain parties has been disclosed to us by a curious document, from that religious Machiavel, the fierce ascetic republican John Knox, a calvinistical Pope. “While the posterity of Abraham,” says that mighty and artful reformer, “were few in number, and while they sojourned in different countries, they were merely required to avoid all participation in the idolatrous rites of the heathen; but as soon as they prospered into a kingdom, and had obtained possession of Canaan, they were strictly charged to suppress idolatry, and to destroy all the monuments and incentives. The same duty was now incumbent on the professors of the true religion in Scotland. Formerly, when not more than ten persons in a county were enlightened, it would have been foolishness to have demanded of the nobility the suppression of idolatry. But now, when knowledge had been increased,” &c.171 Such are the men who cry out for toleration during their state of political weakness, but who cancel the bond by which they hold their tenure whenever they “obtain possession of Canaan.” The only commentary on this piece of the secret history of toleration is the acute remark of Swift:—“We are fully convinced that we shall always tolerate them, but not that they will tolerate us.”


The truth is that toleration was allowed by none of the parties! and I will now show the dilemmas into which each party thrust itself.

When the kings of England would forcibly have established episcopacy in Scotland, the presbyters passed an act against the toleration of dissenters from presbyterian doctrines and discipline; and thus, as Guthrie observes, they were committing the same violence on the consciences of their brethren which they opposed in the king. The presbyterians contrived their famous covenant to dispossess the royalists of their livings; and the independents, who assumed the principle of toleration in their very name, shortly after enforced what they called the engagement, to eject the presbyterians! In England, where the dissenters were ejected, their great advocate Calamy complains that the dissenters were only making use of the same arguments which the most eminent reformers had done in their noble defence of the reformation against the papists; while the arguments of the established church against the dissenters were the same which were urged by the papists against the protestant reformation!172 When the presbyterians 253 were our masters, and preached up the doctrine of passive obedience in spiritual matters to the civil power, it was unquestionably passing a self-condemnation on their own recent opposition and detraction of the former episcopacy. Whenever men act from a secret motive entirely contrary to their ostensible one, such monstrous results will happen; and as extremes will join, however opposite they appear in their beginnings, John Knox and Father Petre, in office, would have equally served James the Second as confessor and prime minister!

A fact relating to the famous Justus Lipsius proves the difficulty of forming a clear notion of toleration. This learned man, after having been ruined by the religious wars of the Netherlands, found an honourable retreat in a professor’s chair at Leyden, and without difficulty abjured papacy. He published some political works: and adopted as his great principle, that only one religion should be allowed to a people, and that no clemency should be granted to non-conformists, who, he declares, should be pursued by sword and fire: in this manner a single member would be cut off to preserve the body sound. Ure, seca—are his words. Strange notions these in a protestant republic; and, in fact, in Holland it was approving of all the horrors of their oppressors, the Duke d’Alva and Philip the Second, from which they had hardly recovered.173 It was a principle by which we must inevitably infer, says Bayle, that in Holland no other mode of religious belief but one sect should be permitted; and that those Pagans who had hanged the missionaries of the gospel had done what they ought. Lipsius found himself sadly embarrassed when refuted by Theodore Cornhert,174 the firm advocate of political and religious freedom, and at length Lipsius, that protestant with a catholic heart, was forced to eat his 254 words, like Pistol his onion, declaring that the two objectionable words, ure, seca, were borrowed from medicine, meaning not literally fire and sword, but a strong efficacious remedy, one of those powerful medicines to expel poison. Jean de Serres, a warm Huguenot, carried the principle of toleration so far in his “Inventaire générale de l’Histoire de France,” as to blame Charles Martel for compelling the Frisans, whom he had conquered, to adopt Christianity! “A pardonable zeal,” he observes, “in a warrior; but in fact the minds of men cannot be gained over by arms, nor that religion forced upon them, which must be introduced into the hearts of men by reason.” It is curious to see a protestant, in his zeal for toleration, blaming a king for forcing idolaters to become Christians; and to have found an opportunity to express his opinions in the dark history of the eighth century, is an instance how historians incorporate their passions in their works, and view ancient facts with modern eyes.

The protestant cannot grant toleration to the catholic, unless the catholic ceases to be a papist; and the Arminian church, which opened its wide bosom to receive every denomination of Christians, nevertheless were forced to exclude the papists, for their passive obedience to the supremacy of the Roman pontiff. The catholic has curiously told us, on this word toleration, that Ce mot devient fort en usage à mesure que le nombre des tolérans augmente.175 It was a word which seemed of recent introduction, though the book is modern! The protestants have disputed much how far they might tolerate, or whether they should tolerate at all; “a difficulty,” triumphantly exclaims the catholic, “which they are not likely ever to settle, while they maintain their principles of pretended reformation; the consequences which naturally follow excite horror to the Christian. It is the weak who raise such outcries for toleration; the strong find authority legitimate.”

A religion which admits not of toleration cannot be safely tolerated, if there is any chance of its obtaining a political ascendancy.

When Priscillian and six of his followers were condemned to torture and execution for asserting that the three persons of the Trinity were to be considered as three different acceptions of the same being, Saint Ambrose and Saint Martin 255 asserted the cause of offended humanity, and refused to communicate with the bishops who had called out for the blood of the Priscillianists; but Cardinal Baronius, the annalist of the church, was greatly embarrassed to explain how men of real purity could abstain from applauding the ardent zeal of the persecution: he preferred to give up the saints rather than to allow of toleration—for he acknowledges that the toleration which these saints would have allowed was not exempt from sin.176

In the preceding article, “Political Religionism,” we have shown how to provide against the possible evil of the tolerated becoming the tolerators! Toleration has been suspected of indifference to religion itself; but with sound minds, it is only an indifference to the logomachies of theology—things “not of God, but of man,” that have perished, and that are perishing around us!

161 Bishop Barlow’s “Several Miscellaneous and Weighty Cases of Conscience Resolved,” 1692. His “Case of a Toleration in Matters of Religion,” addressed to Robert Boyle, p. 39. This volume was not intended to have been given to the world, a circumstance which does not make it the less curious.

162 In the article Sancterius. Note F.

163 Recent writers among our sectarists assert that Dr. Owen was the first who wrote in favour of toleration, in 1648! Another claims the honour for John Goodwin, the chaplain of Oliver Cromwell, who published one of his obscure polemical tracts in 1644, among a number of other persons who, at that crisis, did not venture to prefix their names to pleas in favour of toleration, so delicate and so obscure did this subject then appear! In 1651, they translated the liberal treatise of Grotius, De Imperio Summarum Potestatum circa Sacra, under the title of “The Authority of the Highest Powers about Sacred Things.” London, 8vo, 1651. To the honour of Grotius, the first of philosophical reformers, be it recorded, that he displeased both parties!

164 J. P. Rabaut, “sur la Revolution Française,” p. 27.

165 “Life of James the Second, from his own Papers,” ii 114.

166 This was a Baron Wallop. From Dr. H. Sampson’s Manuscript Diary.

167 It is curious to observe that the catholics were afterwards ashamed of these indiscretions; they were unwilling to own that there were any medals which commemorate massacres. Thuanus, in his 53rd book, has minutely described them. The medals, however, have become excessively scarce; but copies inferior to the originals have been sold. They had also pictures on similar subjects, accompanied by insulting inscriptions, which latter they have effaced, sometimes very imperfectly. See Hollis’s “Memoirs,” p. 312-14. This enthusiast advertised in the papers to request travellers to procure them.

168 The Sala Regia of the Vatican has still upon its walls a painting by Vasari of this massacre, among the other important events in the history of the Popes similarly commemorated.

169 “Mémoires de Michel de Castelnau,” liv. i. c. 4.

170 “Life of Thuanus, by the Rev. J. Collinson,” p. 115.

171 Dr. M’Crie’s “Life of John Knox,” ii. 122.

172 I quote from an unpublished letter, written so late as in 1749, addressed to the author of “The Free and Candid Disquisition,” by the Rev. Thomas Allen, rector of Kettering, Northamptonshire. However extravagant his doctrine appears to us, I suspect that it exhibits the concealed sentiments of even some protestant churchmen! This rector of Kettering attributes the growth of schism to the negligence of the clergy, and seems to have persecuted both the archbishops, “to his detriment,” as he tells us, with singular plans of reform borrowed from monastic institutions. He wished to revive the practice inculcated by a canon of the counsel of Laodicea of having prayers ad horam nonam et ad vesperam—prayers twice a day in the churches. But his grand project take in his own words:—

“I let the archbishop know that I had composed an irenicon, wherein I prove the necessity of an ecclesiastical power over consciences in matters of religion, which utterly silences their arguments who plead so hard for toleration. I took my scheme from ‘A Discourse of Ecclesiastical Polity,’ wherein the authority of the civil magistrate over the consciences of subjects in matters of external religion is asserted; the mischiefs and inconveniences of toleration are represented, and all pretences pleaded in behalf of liberty of conscience are fully answered. If this book were reprinted and considered, the king would know his power and the people their duty.”

The rector of Kettering seems not to have known that the author of this “Discourse on Ecclesiastical Polity” was the notorious Parker, immortalised by the satire of Marvell. This political apostate, from a republican and presbyterian, became a furious advocate for arbitrary government in church and state! He easily won the favour of James the Second, who made him Bishop of Oxford! His principles were so violent that Father Petre, the confessor of James, made sure of him! This letter of the rector of Kettering, in adopting the system of such a catholic bishop, confirms my suspicion that toleration is condemned as an evil among some protestants!

173 The cruelties practised by the Protestant against the Catholic party are pictured and described in Arnoudt Van Geluwe’s book, “Over de Ontledinghe van dry verscheyden Niew-Ghereformeerde Martelaers Boecken,” published at Antwerp in 1656.

174 Cornhert was one of the fathers of Dutch literature, and even of their arts. He was the composer of the great national air of William of Orange; he was too a famous engraver, the master of Goltzius. On his death-bed he was still writing against the persecution of heretics.

175 “Dictionnaire de Trevoux,” ad vocem Tolerance. Printed in 1771.

176 Sismondi, “Hist. des Français,” i. 41. The character of the first person who introduced civil persecution into the Christian church has been described by Sulpicius Severus. See Dr. Maclaine’s note in his translation of Mosheim’s “Ecclesiastical History,” vol. i. 428.



An original document now lying before me, the autograph letter of Charles the Ninth, will prove, that the unparalleled massacre, called by the world religious, was, in the French cabinet, considered merely as political; one of those revolting state expedients which a pretended instant necessity has too often inflicted on that part of a nation which, like the undercurrent, subterraneously works its way, and runs counter to the great stream, till the critical moment arrives when one or the other must cease.

The massacre began on St. Bartholomew day, in August, 1572, lasted in France during seven days: that awful event interrupted the correspondence of our court with that of France. A long silence ensued; the one did not dare to tell the tale which the other could not listen to. But sovereigns know how to convert a mere domestic event into a political expedient. Charles the Ninth, on the birth of a daughter, sent over an ambassador extraordinary to request Elizabeth to stand as sponsor: by this the French monarch obtained a double purpose; it served to renew his interrupted intercourse 256 with the silent queen, and alarmed the French protestants by abating their hopes, which long rested on the aid of the English queen.

The following letter, dated 8th February, 1573, is addressed by the king to La Motte Fénélon, his resident ambassador at London. The king in this letter minutely details a confidential intercourse with his mother, Catharine of Medicis, who, perhaps, may have dictated this letter to the secretary, although signed by the king with his own hand.177 Such minute particulars could only have been known to herself. The Earl of Wolchester (Worcester) was now taking his departure, having come to Paris on the baptism of the princess; and accompanied by Walsingham, our resident ambassador, after taking leave of Charles, had the following interview with Catharine de Medicis. An interview with the young monarch was usually concluded by a separate audience with his mother, who probably was still the directress of his councils.

The French court now renewed their favourite project of marrying the Duke d’Alençon with Elizabeth. They had long wished to settle this turbulent spirit, and the negotiation with Elizabeth had been broken off in consequence of the massacre at Paris. They were somewhat uneasy lest he should share the fate of his brother, the Duke of Anjou, who had not long before been expedited on the same fruitless errand; and Elizabeth had already objected to the disparity of their ages, the Duke of Alençon, being only seventeen, and the maiden queen six-and-thirty; but Catharine observed that Alençon was only one year younger than his brother, against whom this objection had not occurred to Elizabeth, for he had been sent back upon another pretext—some difficulty which the queen had contrived about his performing mass in his own house.

After Catharine de Medicis had assured the Earl of Worcester of her great affection for the Queen of England, and 257 her and the king’s strict intention to preserve it, and that they were therefore desirous of this proposed marriage taking place, she took this opportunity of inquiring of the Earl of Worcester the cause of the queen his mistress’s marked coolness toward them. The narrative becomes now dramatic.

“On this Walsingham, who kept always close by the side of the count, here took on himself to answer, acknowledging that the said count had indeed been charged to speak on this head; and he then addressed some words in English to Worcester. And afterwards the count gave to my lady and mother to understand, that the queen his mistress had been waiting for an answer on two articles; the one concerning religion, and the other for an interview. My lady and mother instantly replied, that she had never heard any articles mentioned, on which she would not have immediately satisfied the Sieur Walsingham, who then took up the word; first observing that the count was not accustomed to business of this nature, but that he himself knew for certain that the cause of this negotiation for marriage not being more advanced, was really these two unsettled points: that his mistress still wished that the point of religion should be cleared up; for that they concluded in England that this business was designed only to amuse and never to be completed (as happened in that of my brother the Duke of Anjou); and the other point concerned the interview between my brother the Duke of Alençon; because some letters which may have been written between the parties178 in such sort of matters, could not have the same force which the sight and presence of both the persons would undoubtedly have. But, he added, another thing, which had also greatly retarded this business, was what had happened lately in this kingdom; and during such troubles, proceeding from religion, it could not have been well timed to have spoken with them concerning the said marriage; and that himself and those of his nation had been in great fear in this kingdom, thinking that we intended to extirpate all those of the said religion. On this, my lady and mother answered him instantly and in order: 258 That she was certain that the queen his mistress could never like nor value a prince who had not his religion at heart; and whoever would desire to have this otherwise, would be depriving him of what we hold dearest in this world; That he might recollect that my brother had always insisted on the freedom of religion, and that it was from the difficulty of its public exercise, which he always insisted on, which had broken off this negotiation: the Duke d’Alençon will be satisfied when this point is agreed on, and will hasten over to the queen, persuaded that she will not occasion him the pain and the shame of passing over the seas without happily terminating this affair. In regard to what has occurred these latter days, that he must have seen how it happened by the fault of the chiefs of those who remained here; for when the late admiral was treacherously wounded at Nôtre Dame, he knew the affliction it threw us into (fearful that it might have occasioned great troubles in this kingdom), and the diligence we used to verify judicially whence it proceeded; and the verification was nearly finished, when they were so forgetful, as to raise a conspiracy, to attempt the lives of myself, my lady and mother, and my brothers, and endanger the whole state; which was the cause, that to avoid this, I was compelled, to my very great regret, to permit what had happened in this city; but as he had witnessed, I gave orders to stop, as soon as possible, this fury of the people, and place every one in repose. On this, the Sieur Walsingham replied to my lady and mother, that the exercise of the said religion had been interdicted in this kingdom. To which she also answered, that this had not been done but for a good and holy purpose; namely, that the fury of the catholic people might the sooner be allayed, who else had been reminded of the past calamities, and would again have been let loose against those of the said religion, had they continued to preach in this kingdom. Also should these once more fix on any chiefs, which I will prevent as much as possible, giving him clearly and pointedly to understand, that what is done here is much the same as what has been done, and is now practised by the queen his mistress in her kingdom. For she permits the exercise but of one religion, although there are many of her people who are of another; and having also, during her reign, punished those of her subjects whom she found seditious and rebellious. It is true this has been done by the laws, but I indeed could not act in the same manner; 259 for finding myself in such imminent peril, and the conspiracy raised against me and mine, and my kingdom, ready to be executed, I had no time to arraign and try in open justice as much as I wished, but was constrained, to my very great regret, to strike the blow (lascher le main) in what has been done in this city.”

This letter of Charles the Ninth, however, does not here conclude. “My lady and mother” plainly acquaints the Earl of Worcester and Sir Francis Walsingham, that her son had never interfered between their mistress and her subjects, and in return expects the same favour; although, by accounts they had received from England, many ships were arming to assist their rebels at Rochelle. “My lady and mother” advances another step, and declares that Elizabeth by treaty is bound to assist her son against his rebellious subjects; and they expect, at least, that Elizabeth will not only stop these armaments in all her ports, but exemplarily punish the offenders. I resume the letter.

“And on hearing this, the said Walsingham changed colour, and appeared somewhat astonished, as my lady and mother well perceived by his face; and on this he requested the Count of Worcester to mention the order which he knew the queen his mistress had issued to prevent these people from assisting those of La Rochelle; but that in England, so numerous were the seamen and others who gained their livelihood by maritime affairs, and who would starve without the entire freedom of the seas, that it was impossible to interdict them.”

Charles the Ninth encloses the copy of a letter he had received from London, in part agreeing with an account the ambassador had sent to the king, of an English expedition nearly ready to sail for La Rochelle, to assist his rebellious subjects. He is still further alarmed, that Elizabeth foments the wartegeux, and assists underhand the discontented. He urges the ambassador to hasten to the queen, to impart these complaints in the most friendly way, as he knows the ambassador can well do, and as, no doubt, Walsingham will have already prepared her to receive. Charles entreats Elizabeth to prove her good faith by deeds and not by words; to act openly on a point which admits of no dissimulation. The best proof of her friendship will be the marriage; and the ambassador, after opening this business to her chief ministers, who the king thinks are desirous of this projected marriage, 260 is then “to acquaint the queen with what has passed between her ambassadors and myself.”

Such is the first letter on English affairs which Charles the Ninth despatched to his ambassador, after an awful silence of six months, during which time La Motte Fénélon was not admitted into the presence of Elizabeth. The apology for the massacre of St. Bartholomew comes from the king himself, and contains several remarkable expressions, which are at least divested of that style of bigotry and exultation we might have expected: on the contrary, this sanguinary and inconsiderate young monarch, as he is represented, writes in a subdued and sorrowing tone, lamenting his hard necessity, regretting he could not have recourse to the laws, and appealing to others for his efforts to check the fury of the people, which he himself had let loose. Catharine de Medicis, who had governed him from the tender age of eleven years, when he ascended the throne, might unquestionably have persuaded him that a conspiracy was on the point of explosion. Charles the Ninth died young, and his character is unfavourably viewed by the historians. In the voluminous correspondence which I have examined, could we judge by state letters of the character of him who subscribes them, we must form a very different notion; they are so prolix, and so earnest, that one might conceive they were dictated by the young monarch himself!

177 All the numerous letters which I have seen of Charles the Ninth, now in the possession of Mr. Murray, are carefully signed by himself, and I have also observed postscripts written with his own hand: they are always countersigned by his secretary. I mention this circumstance, because, in the Dictionnaire Historique, it is said that Charles, who died young, was so given up to the amusements of his age, that he would not even sign his despatches, and introduced the custom of secretaries subscribing for the king. This voluminous correspondence shows the falsity of this statement. History is too often composed of popular tales of this stamp.

178 These love-letters of Alençon to our Elizabeth are noticed by Camden, who observes, that the queen became wearied by receiving so many; and to put an end to this trouble, she consented that the young duke should come over, conditionally, that he should not be offended if her suitor should return home suitless.



In a curious treatise on “Divination,” or the knowledge of future events, Cicero has preserved a complete account of the state-contrivances which were practised by the Roman government to instil among the people those hopes and fears by which they regulated public opinion. The pagan creed, now become obsolete and ridiculous, has occasioned this treatise to be rarely consulted; it remains, however, as a chapter in the history of man!

To these two books of Cicero on “Divination,” perhaps a third might be added, on political and moral prediction. The principles which may even raise it into a science are self-evident; they are drawn from the heart of man, and they depend on the nature and connexion of human events! We presume we shall demonstrate the positive existence of such 261 a faculty; a faculty which Lord Bacon describes of “making things future and remote as present.” The aruspex, the augur, and the astrologer have vanished with their own superstitions; but the moral and the political predictor, proceeding on principles authorised by nature and experience, has become more skilful in his observations on the phenomena of human history; and it has often happened that a tolerable philosopher has not made an indifferent prophet.

No great political or moral revolution has occurred which has not been accompanied by its prognostic; and men of a philosophic cast of mind in their retirement, freed from the delusions of parties and of sects, at once intelligent in the quicquid agunt homines, while they are withdrawn from their conflicting interests, have rarely been confounded by the astonishment which overwhelms those who, absorbed in active life, are the mere creatures of sensation, agitated by the shadows of truth, the unsubstantial appearances of things! Intellectual nations are advancing in an eternal circle of events and passions which succeed each other, and the last is necessarily connected with its antecedent; the solitary force of some fortuitous incident only can interrupt this concatenated progress of human affairs.

That every great event has been accompanied by a presage or prognostic, has been observed by Lord Bacon. “The shepherds of the people should understand the prognostics of state tempests; hollow blasts of wind seemingly at a distance, and secret swellings of the sea, often precede a storm.” Such were the prognostics discerned by the politic Bishop Williams in Charles the First’s time, who clearly foresaw and predicted the final success of the Puritanic party in our country: attentive to his own security, he abandoned the government and sided with the rising opposition, at the moment when such a change in public affairs was by no means apparent.179

In this spirit of foresight our contemplative antiquary Dugdale must have anticipated the scene which was approaching in 1641, in the destruction of our ancient monuments in cathedral churches. He hurried on his itinerant labours of taking draughts and transcribing inscriptions, as he says, “to preserve them for future and better times.” Posterity owes to the prescient spirit of Dugdale the ancient Monuments of England, which bear the marks of the haste, as well as the zeal, which have perpetuated them.


Continental writers formerly employed a fortunate expression, when they wished to have an Historia Reformationis ante Reformationem: this history of the Reformation would have commenced at least a century before the Reformation itself! A letter from Cardinal Julian to Pope Eugenius the Fourth, written a century before Luther appeared, clearly predicts the Reformation and its consequences. He observed that the minds of men were ripe for something tragical; he felt the axe striking at the root, and the tree beginning to bend, and that his party, instead of propping it, were hastening its fall.180 In England, Sir Thomas More was not less prescient in his views; for when his son Roper was observing to him that the Catholic religion, under “the Defender of the Faith,” was in a most flourishing state, the answer of More was an evidence of political foresight—“Truth, it is, son Roper! and yet I pray God that we may not live to see the day that we would gladly be at league and composition with heretics, to let them have their churches quietly to themselves, so that they would be contented to let us have ours quietly to ourselves.” Whether our great chancellor predicted from a more intimate knowledge of the king’s character, or from some private circumstances which may not have been recorded for our information, of which I have an obscure suspicion, remains to be ascertained. The minds of men of great political sagacity were unquestionably at that moment full of obscure indications of the approaching change; Erasmus, when at Canterbury before the tomb of Becket, observing it loaded with a vast profusion of jewels, wished that those had been distributed among the poor, and that the shrine had been only adorned with boughs and flowers; “For,” said he, “those who have heaped up all this mass of treasure will one day be plundered, and fall a prey to those who are in power;”—a prediction literally fulfilled about twenty years after it was made. The unknown author of the Visions of Piers Ploughman, who wrote in the reign of Edward the Third,181 surprised the world by a famous prediction of the fall of the religious houses from the hand of a 263 king.182 The event was realised, two hundred years afterwards, by our Henry the Eighth. The protestant writers have not scrupled to declare that in this instance he was divino numine afflatus. But moral and political prediction is not inspiration; the one may be wrought out by man, the other descends from God. The same principle which led Erasmus to predict that those who were “in power” would destroy the rich shrines, because no other class of men in society could mate with so mighty a body as the monks, conducted the author of Piers Ploughman to the same conclusion; and since power only could accomplish that great purpose, he fixed on the highest as the most likely; and thus the wise prediction was, so long after, literally accomplished!

Sir Walter Rawleigh foresaw the future consequences of the separatists and the sectaries in the national church, and the very scene his imagination raised in 1530 has been exhibited, to the letter of his description, two centuries after the prediction! His memorable words are—“Time will even bring it to pass, if it were not resisted, that God would be turned out of churches into barns, and from thence again into the fields and mountains, and under hedges—all order of discipline and church government left to newness of opinion and men’s fancies, and as many kinds of religion spring up as there are parish churches within England.” We are struck by the profound genius of Tacitus, who clearly foresaw the calamities which so long ravaged Europe on the fall of the Roman Empire, in a work written five hundred years before the event! In that sublime anticipation of the future, he observed—“When the Romans shall be hunted out from those countries which they have conquered, what will then happen? The revolted people, freed from their master oppressor, will not be able to subsist without 264 destroying their neighbours, and the most cruel wars will exist among all these nations.”

We are told that Solon at Athens, contemplating on the port and citadel of Munychia, suddenly exclaimed, “How blind is man to futurity! Could the Athenians foresee what mischief this will do their city, they would even eat it with their own teeth to get rid of it!”—a prediction verified more than two hundred years afterwards! Thales desired to be buried in an obscure quarter of Milesia, observing that that very spot would in time be the forum. Charlemagne, in his old age, observing from the window of a castle a Norman descent on his coast, tears started in the eyes of the aged monarch. He predicted that since they dared to threaten his dominions while he was yet living, what would they do when he should be no more!—a melancholy prediction, says De Foix, of their subsequent incursions, and of the protracted calamities of the French nation during a whole century!

There seems to be something in minds which take in extensive views of human nature which serves them as a kind of divination, and the consciousness of this faculty has even been asserted by some. Cicero appeals to Atticus how he had always judged of the affairs of the republic as a good diviner; and that its overthrow had happened as he had foreseen fourteen years before.183 Cicero had not only predicted what happened in his own times, but also what occurred long after, according to the testimony of Cornelius Nepos. The philosopher, indeed, affects no secret revelation, nor visionary second-sight; he honestly tells us that this art had been acquired merely by study and the administration of public affairs, while he reminds his friend of several remarkable instances of his successful predictions. “I do not divine human events by the arts practised by the augurs, but I use other signs.” Cicero then expresses himself with the guarded obscurity of a philosopher who could not openly ridicule the prevailing superstitions; but we perfectly comprehend the nature of his “signs” when, in the great pending event of the rival conflicts of Pompey and of Cæsar, he shows the means he used for his purpose. “On one side I consider the humour and genius of Cæsar, and on the other the condition and the manner of civil wars.”184 In a word, 265 the political diviner foretold events by their dependence on general causes, while the moral diviner, by his experience of the personal character, anticipated the actions of the individual. Others, too, have asserted the possession of this faculty. Du Vair, a famous chancellor of France, imagined the faculty was intuitive with him: by his own experience he had observed the results of this curious and obscure faculty, and at a time when the history of the human mind was so imperfectly comprehended, it is easy to account for the apparent egotism of this grave and dignified character. “Born,” says he, “with constitutional infirmity, a mind and body but ill adapted to be laborious, with a most treacherous memory, enjoying no gift of nature, yet able at all times to exercise a sagacity so great that I do not know, since I have reached manhood, that anything of importance has happened to the state, to the public, or to myself in particular, which I had not foreseen.”185 This faculty seems to be described by a remarkable expression employed by Thucydides in his character of Themistocles, of which the following is given as a close translation: “By a species of sagacity peculiarly his own, for which he was in no degree indebted either to early education or after study, he was supereminently happy in forming a prompt judgment in matters that admitted but little time for deliberation; at the same time that he far surpassed all in his deductions of the future from the past, or was the best guesser of the future from the past.”186 Should this faculty of moral and political prediction be ever considered as a science, we can even furnish it with a denomination; for the writer of the Life of Sir Thomas Browne prefixed to his works, in claiming the honour of it for that philosopher, calls it “the Stochastic,” a term derived from the Greek and from archery, meaning “to shoot at a mark.” This eminent genius, it seems, often “hit the white.” Our biographer declares, that “though he were no prophet, yet in that faculty which comes nearest to it, he excelled, i. e., the Stochastic, wherein he was seldom mistaken as to future events, as well public as private.”


We are not, indeed, inculcating the fanciful elements of an occult art. We know whence its principles may be drawn; and we may observe how it was practised by the wisest among the ancients. Aristotle, who collected all the curious knowledge of his times, has preserved some remarkable opinions on the art of divination. In detailing the various subterfuges practised by the pretended diviners of his day, he reveals the secret principle by which one of them regulated his predictions. He frankly declared that the future being always very obscure, while the past was easy to know, his predictions had never the future in view; for he decided from the past as it appeared in human affairs, which, however, lie concealed from the multitude.187 Such is the true principle by which a philosophical historian may become a skilful diviner.

Human affairs make themselves; they grow out of one another, with slight variations; and thus it is that they usually happen as they have happened. The necessary dependence of effects on causes, and the similarity of human interests and human passions, are confirmed by comparative parallels with the past. The philosophic sage of holy writ truly deduced the important principle, that “the thing that hath been is that which shall be.” The vital facts of history, deadened by the touch of chronological antiquarianism, are restored to animation when we comprehend the principles which necessarily terminate in certain results, and discover the characters among mankind who are the usual actors in these scenes. The heart of man beats on the same eternal springs; and whether he advances or retrogrades, he cannot escape out of the march of human thought. Hence, in the most extraordinary revolutions we discover that the time and the place only have changed; for even when events are not strictly parallel, we detect the same conducting principles. Scipio Ammirato, one of the great Italian historians, in his curious discourses on Tacitus, intermingles ancient examples with the modern; that, he says, all may see how the truth of things is not altered by the changes and diversities of time. Machiavel drew his illustrations of modern history from the ancient.

When the French Revolution recalled our attention to a similar eventful period in our own history, the neglected 267 volumes which preserved the public and private history of our Charles the First and Cromwell were collected with eager curiosity. Often the scene existing before us, even the very personages themselves, opened on us in these forgotten pages. But as the annals of human nature did not commence with those of Charles the First, we took a still more retrograde step, and it was discovered in this wider range, that in the various governments of Greece and Rome, the events of those times had been only reproduced. Among them the same principles had terminated in the same results, and the same personages had figured in the same drama. This strikingly appeared in a little curious volume, entitled, “Essai sur l’Histoire de la Révolution Françoise, par une Société d’Auteurs Latins,” published at Paris in 1801. This “Society of Latin Authors,” who have written so inimitably the history of the French Revolution, consist of the Roman historians themselves! By extracts ingeniously applied, the events of that melancholy period are so appositely described, indeed so minutely narrated, that they will not fail to surprise those who are not accustomed to detect the perpetual parallels which we meet with in philosophical history.

Many of these crises in history are close resemblances of each other. Compare the history of “The League” in France with that of our own civil wars. We are struck by the similar occurrences performed by the same political characters who played their part on both those great theatres of human action. A satirical royalist of those times has commemorated the motives, the incidents, and the personages in the “Satire Ménippée de la Vertu du Catholicon d’Espagne;” and this famous “Satire Ménippée” is a perfect Hudibras in prose! The writer discovers all the bitter ridicule of Butler in his ludicrous and severe exhibition of the “Etats de Paris,” while the artist who designed the satirical prints becomes no contemptible Hogàrth. So much are these public events alike in their general spirit and termination, that they have afforded the subject of a printed but unpublished volume, entitled “Essai sur les Revolutions.”188 The whole work 268 was modelled on this principle. “It would be possible,” says the eloquent writer, “to frame a table or chart in which all the given imaginable events of the history of a people would be reduced to a mathematical exactness.” The conception is fanciful, but its foundation lies deep in truth.

A remarkable illustration of the secret principle divulged by Aristotle, and described by Thucydides, appears in the recent confession of a man of genius among ourselves. When Mr. Coleridge was a political writer in the Morning Post and Courier, at a period of darkness and utter confusion, that writer was then conducted by a tract of light, not revealed to ordinary journalists, on the Napoleonic empire. “Of that despotism in masquerade” he decided by “the state of Rome under the first Cæsars;” and of the Spanish American Revolution, by taking the war of the United Provinces with Philip the Second as the groundwork of the comparison. “On every great occurrence,” he says, “I endeavoured to discover, in past history the event that most nearly resembled it. I procured the contemporary historians, memorialists, and pamphleteers. Then fairly subtracting the points of difference from those of likeness, as the balance favoured the former or the latter, I conjectured that the result would be the same or different. In the essays ‘On the Probable Final Restoration of the Bourbons,’ I feel myself authorised to affirm, by the effect produced on many intelligent men, that were the dates wanting, it might have been suspected that the essays had been written within the last twelve months.”189

In moral predictions on individuals, many have discovered the future character. The revolutionary character of Cardinal de Retz, even in his youth, was detected by the sagacity of Mazarin. He then wrote the history of the conspiracy of Fiesco, with such vehement admiration of his hero, that the Italian politician, after its perusal, predicted that the young author would be one of the most turbulent spirits of the age! The father of Marshal Biron, even amid the glory of his son, discovered the cloud which, invisible to others, was to obscure it. The father, indeed, well knew the fiery passions of his son. “Biron,” said the domestic seer, “I advise thee, when peace takes place, to go and plant cabbages in thy garden, otherwise I warn thee, thou wilt lose thy head on the scaffold!” 269 Lorenzo de’ Medici had studied the temper of his son Piero; for Guicciardini informs us that he had often complained to his most intimate friends that “he foresaw the imprudence and arrogance of his son would occasion the ruin of his family.” There is a remarkable prediction of James the First of the evils likely to ensue from Laud’s violence, in a conversation given by Hacket, which the king held with Archbishop Williams. When the king was hard pressed to promote Laud, he gave his reasons why he intended to “keep Laud back from all place of rule and authority, because I find he hath a restless spirit, and cannot see when matters are well, but loves to toss and change, and to bring things to a pitch of reformation floating in his own brain, which endangers the steadfastness of that which is in a good pass. I speak not at random; he hath made himself known to me to be such an one.” James then gives the circumstances to which he alludes; and at length, when, still pursued by the archbishop, then the organ of Buckingham, as usual, this king’s good nature too easily yielded; he did not, however, without closing with this prediction: “Then take him to you!—but, on my soul, you will repent it!” The future character of Cromwell was apparent to two of our great politicians. “This coarse unpromising man,” said Lord Falkland, pointing to Cromwell, “will be the first person in the kingdom, if the nation comes to blows!” And Archbishop Williams told Charles the First confidentially, “There was that in Cromwell which foreboded something dangerous, and wished his majesty would either win him over to him, or get him taken off.” The Marquis of Wellesley’s incomparable character of Bonaparte predicted his fall when highest in his glory; that great statesman then poured forth the sublime language of philosophical prophecy. “His eagerness of power is so inordinate; his jealousy of independence so fierce; his keenness of appetite so feverish in all that touches his ambition, even in the most trifling things, that he must plunge into dreadful difficulties. He is one of an order of minds that by nature make for themselves great reverses.”

Lord Mansfield was once asked, after the commencement of the French Revolution, when it would end? His lordship replied, “It is an event without precedent, and therefore without prognostic.” The truth, however, is, that it had both. Our own history had furnished a precedent in the times of Charles the First. And the prognostics were so redundant, 270 that a volume might be collected of passages from various writers who had predicted it. However ingenious might be a history of the Reformation before it occurred, the evidence could not be more authentic and positive than that of the great moral and political revolution which we have witnessed in our own days.

A prediction which Bishop Butler threw out in a sermon before the House of Lords, in 1741, does honour to his political sagacity, as well as to his knowledge of human nature; he calculated that the irreligious spirit would produce, some time or other, political disorders similar to those which, in the seventeenth century, had arisen from religious fanaticism. “Is there no danger,” he observed, “that all this may raise somewhat like that levelling spirit, upon atheistical principles, which in the last age prevailed upon enthusiastic ones? Not to speak of the possibility that different sorts of people may unite in it upon these contrary principles!” All this literally has been accomplished! Leibnitz, indeed, foresaw the results of those selfish, and at length demoralizing, opinions, which began to prevail through Europe in his day. These disorganizing principles, conducted by a political sect, who tried “to be worse than they could be,” as old Montaigne expresses it; a sort of men who have been audaciously congratulated as “having a taste for evil;” exhibited to the astonished world the dismal catastrophe the philosopher predicted. I shall give this remarkable passage. “I find that certain opinions approaching those of Epicurus and Spinoza, are, little by little, insinuating themselves into the minds of the great rulers of public affairs, who serve as the guides of others, and on whom all matters depend; besides, these opinions are also sliding into fashionable books, and thus they are preparing all things to that general revolution which menaces Europe; destroying those generous sentiments of the ancients, Greek and Roman, which preferred the love of country and public good, and the cares of posterity, to fortune and even to life. Our public spirits,190 as the English call them, excessively diminish, and are no more in fashion, and will be still less while the least vicious of these men preserve only one principle, which they call honour; a principle 271 which only keeps them from not doing what they deem a low action, while they openly laugh at the love of country—ridicule those who are zealous for public ends—and when a well-intentioned man asks what will become of their posterity, they reply ‘Then, as now!’ But it may happen to these persons themselves to have to endure those evils which they believe are reserved for others. If this epidemical and intellectual disorder could be corrected, whose bad effects are already visible, those evils might still be prevented; but if it proceeds in its growth, Providence will correct man by the very revolution which must spring from it. Whatever may happen indeed, all must turn out as usual for the best in general, at the end of the account, although this cannot happen without the punishment of those who contribute even to general good by their evil actions.” The most superficial reader will hardly require a commentary on this very remarkable passage; he must instantly perceive how Leibnitz, in the seventeenth century, foresaw what has occurred in the eighteenth; and the prediction has been verified in the history of the actors in the late revolution, while the result, which we have not perhaps yet had, according to Leibnitz’s own exhilarating system of optimism, is an eduction of good from evil.

A great genius, who was oppressed by malignant rivals in his own times, has been noticed by Madame de Staël, as having left behind him an actual prophecy of the French Revolution: this was Guibert, who, in his Commentary on Folard’s Polybius, published in 1727, declared that “a conspiracy is actually forming in Europe, by means at once so subtle and efficacious, that I am sorry not to have come into the world thirty years later to witness its result. It must be confessed that the sovereigns of Europe wear very bad spectacles. The proofs of it are mathematical, if such proofs ever were, of a conspiracy.” Guibert unquestionably foresaw the anti-monarchical spirit gathering up its mighty wings, and rising over the universe! but could not judge of the nature of the impulse which he predicted; prophesying from the ideas in his luminous intellect, he seems to have been far more curious about, than certain of, the consequences. Rousseau even circumstantially predicted the convulsions of modern Europe. He stood on the crisis of the French Revolution, which he vividly foresaw, for he seriously advised the higher classes of society to have their children taught some 272 useful trade; a notion highly ridiculed on the first appearance of the Emile: but at its hour the awful truth struck! He, too, foresaw the horrors of that revolution; for he announced that Emile designed to emigrate, because, from the moral state of the people, a virtuous revolution had become impossible.191 The eloquence of Burke was often oracular; and a speech of Pitt, in 1800, painted the state of Europe as it was only realised fifteen years afterwards.

But many remarkable predictions have turned out to be false. Whenever the facts on which the prediction is raised are altered in their situation, what was relatively true ceases to operate as a general principle. For instance, to that striking anticipation which Rousseau formed of the French revolution, he added, by way of note, as remarkable a prediction on monarchy. Je tiens pour impossible que les grandes monarchies de l’Europe aient encore long tems à durer; toutes ont brillé et tout état qui brille est sur son declin. The predominant anti-monarchical spirit among our rising generation seems to hasten on the accomplishment of the prophecy; but if an important alteration has occurred in the nature of things, we may question the result. If by looking into the past, Rousseau found facts which sufficiently proved that nations in the height of their splendour and corruption had closed their career by falling an easy conquest to barbarous invaders, who annihilated the most polished people at a single blow; we now find that no such power any longer exists in the great family of Europe: the state of the question is therefore changed. It is now how corrupt nations will act against corrupt nations equally enlightened? But if the citizen of Geneva drew his prediction of the extinction of monarchy in Europe from that predilection for democracy which assumes that a republic must necessarily produce more happiness to the people than a monarchy, then 273 we say that the fatal experiment was again repeated since the prediction, and the fact proved not true! The excess of democracy inevitably terminates in a monarchical state; and were all the monarchies in Europe at present republics, a philosopher might safely predict the restoration of monarchy!

If a prediction be raised on facts which our own prejudices induce us to infer will exist, it must be chimerical. We have an Universal Chronicle of the Monk Carion, printed in 1532, in which he announces that the world was about ending,192 as well as his chronicle of it; that the Turkish empire would not last many years; that after the death of Charles the Fifth the empire of Germany would be torn to pieces by the Germans themselves. This monk will no longer pass for a prophet; he belongs to that class of historians who write to humour their own prejudices, like a certain lady-prophetess, who, in 1811, predicted that grass was to grow in Cheapside about this time!193 The monk Carion, like others of greater 274 name, had miscalculated the weeks of Daniel, and wished more ill to the Mahometans than suit the Christian cabinets of Europe to inflict on them; and, lastly, the monastic historian had no notion that it would please Providence to prosper the heresy of Luther! Sir James Mackintosh once observed, “I am sensible that in the field of political prediction veteran sagacity has often been deceived.” Sir James alluded to the memorable example of Harrington, who published a demonstration of the impossibility of re-establishing monarchy in England six months before the restoration of Charles the Second! But the author of the Oceana was a political fanatic, who ventured to predict an event, not by other similar events, but by a theoretical principle which he had formed, that “the balance of power depends on that of property.” Harrington, in his contracted view of human nature, had dropped out of his calculation all the stirring passions of ambition and party, and the vacillations of the multitude. A similar error of a great genius occurs in De Foe. “Child,” says Mr. George Chalmers, “foreseeing from experience that men’s conduct must finally be decided by their principles, foretold the colonial revolt. De Foe, allowing his prejudices to obscure his sagacity, reprobated that suggestion, because he deemed interest a more strenuous prompter than enthusiasm.” The predictions of Harrington and De Foe are precisely such as we might expect from a petty calculator, a political economist, who can see nothing farther than immediate results; but the true philosophical predictor was Child, who had read the past. It is probable that the American emancipation from the mother country of England was foreseen twenty or thirty years before it occurred, though not perhaps by the administration. Lord Orford, writing in 1754, under the ministry of the Duke of Newcastle, blames “The instructions to the governor of New York, which seemed better calculated for the latitude of Mexico, and for a Spanish tribunal, than for a free British settlement, and in such opulence and such haughtiness, that suspicions had long been conceived of their meditating to throw 275 off the dependence on their mother-country.” If this was written at the time, as the author asserts, it is a very remarkable passage, observes the noble editor of his memoirs. The prognostics or presages of this revolution it may now be difficult to recover; but it is evident that Child, before the time when Lord Orford wrote this passage, predicted the separation on true and philosophical principles.

Even when the event does not always justify the prediction, the predictor may not have been the less correct in his principles of divination. The catastrophe of human life, and the turn of great events, often prove accidental. Marshal Biron, whom we have noticed, might have ascended the throne instead of the scaffold; Cromwell and De Retz might have become only the favourite general or the minister of their sovereigns. Fortuitous events are not comprehended in the reach of human prescience; such must be consigned to those vulgar superstitions which presume to discover the issue of human events, without pretending to any human knowledge. There is nothing supernatural in the prescience of the philosopher.

Sometimes predictions have been condemned as false ones, which, when scrutinised, we can scarcely deem to have failed: they may have been accomplished, and they may again revolve on us. In 1749 Dr. Hartley published his “Observations on Man,” and predicted the fall of the existing governments and hierarchies in two simple propositions; among others—

Prop. 81. It is probable that all the civil governments will be overturned.

Prop. 82. It is probable that the present forms of church-government will be dissolved.

Many were alarmed at these predicted falls of church and state. Lady Charlotte Wentworth asked Hartley when these terrible things would happen. The answer of the predictor was not less awful: “I am an old man, and shall not live to see them; but you are a young woman, and probably will see them.” In the subsequent revolutions of America and of France, and perhaps now of Spain, we can hardly deny that these predictions had failed. A fortuitous event has once more thrown back Europe into its old corners: but we still revolve in a circle, and what is now dark and remote may again come round, when time has performed its great cycle. There was a prophetical passage in Hooker’s 276 Ecclesiastical Polity regarding the church which long occupied the speculations of its expounders. Hooker indeed seemed to have done what no predictor of events should do; he fixed on the period of its accomplishment. In 1597 he declared that it would “peradventure fall out to be threescore and ten years, or if strength do awe, into fourscore.” Those who had outlived the revolution in 1641, when the long parliament pulled down the ecclesiastical establishment, and sold the church-lands—a circumstance which Hooker had contemplated—and were afterwards returned to their places on the Restoration, imagined that the prediction had not yet been completed, and were looking with great anxiety towards the year 1677, for the close of this extraordinary prediction! When Bishop Barlow, in 1675, was consulted on it, he endeavoured to dissipate the panic, by referring to an old historian, who had reproached our nation for their proneness to prophecies!194 The prediction of the venerable Hooker in truth had been fully accomplished, and the event had occurred without Bishop Barlow having recurred to it; so easy it seems to forget what we dislike to remember! The period of time was too literally taken, and seems to have been only the figurative expression of man’s age in scriptural language which Hooker had employed; but no one will now deny that this prescient sage had profoundly foreseen the results of that rising party, whose designs on church and state were clearly depicted in his own luminous view.

The philosophical predictor, in foretelling a crisis from the appearance of things, will not rashly assign the period of time; for the crisis which he anticipates is calculated on by that inevitable march of events which generate each other in human affairs; but the period is always dubious, being either retarded or accelerated by circumstances of a nature incapable of entering into this moral arithmetic. It is probable that a revolution similar to that of France would have occurred in this country, had it not been counteracted by the genius of Pitt. In 1618 it was easy to foretell by the political prognostic that a mighty war throughout Europe must necessarily 277 occur. At that moment, observes Bayle, the house of Austria aimed at a universal monarchy; the consequent domineering spirit of the ministers of the Emperor and the King of Spain, combined with their determination to exterminate the new religion, excited a reaction to this imperial despotism; public opinion had been suppressed, till every people grew impatient; while their sovereigns, influenced by national feeling, were combining against Austria. But Austria was a vast military power, and her generals were the first of their class. The efforts of Europe would then be often repulsed! This state of affairs prognosticated a long war!—and when at length it broke out it lasted thirty years! The approach and the duration of the war might have been predicted; but the period of its termination could not have been foreseen.

There is, however, a spirit of political vaticination which presumes to pass beyond the boundaries of human prescience; it has been often ascribed to the highest source of inspiration by enthusiasts; but since “the language of prophecy” has ceased, such pretensions are not less impious than they are unphilosophical. Knox the reformer possessed an extraordinary portion of this awful prophetic confidence: he appears to have predicted several remarkable events, and the fates of some persons. We are told that, condemned to a galley at Rochelle, he predicted that “within two or three years he should preach the gospel at Saint Giles’s in Edinburgh;” an improbable event, which happened. Of Mary and Darnley, he pronounced that, “as the king, for the queen’s pleasure, had gone to mass, the Lord, in his justice, would make her the instrument of his overthrow.” Other striking predictions of the deaths of Thomas Maitland, and of Kirkaldy of Grange, and the warning he solemnly gave to the Regent Murray not to go to Linlithgow, where he was assassinated, occasioned a barbarous people to imagine that the prophet Knox had received an immediate communication from Heaven. A Spanish friar and almanac-maker predicted, in clear and precise words, the death of Henry the Fourth of France; and Pieresc, though he had no faith in the vain science of astrology, yet, alarmed at whatever menaced the life of a beloved monarch, consulted with some of the king’s friends, and had the Spanish almanac laid before his majesty. That high-spirited monarch thanked them for their solicitude, but utterly slighted the prediction: the event occurred, and in 278 the following year the Spanish friar spread his own fame in a new almanac. I have been occasionally struck at the Jeremiads of honest George Withers, the vaticinating poet of our civil wars: some of his works afford many solemn predictions. We may account for many predictions of this class without the intervention of any supernatural agency. Among the busy spirits of a revolutionary age, the heads of a party, such as Knox, have frequently secret communications with spies or with friends. In a constant source of concealed information, a shrewd, confident, and enthusiastic temper will find ample matter for mysterious prescience. Knox exercised that deep sagacity which took in the most enlarged views of the future, as appears by his Machiavelian foresight on the barbarous destruction of the monasteries and the cathedrals—“The best way to keep the rooks from returning, is to pull down their nests.” In the case of the prediction of the death of Henry the Fourth, by the Spanish friar, it resulted either from his being acquainted with the plot, or from his being made an instrument for their purpose by those who were. It appears that rumours of Henry’s assassination were rife in Spain and Italy before the event occurred. Such vaticinators as George Withers will always rise in those disturbed times which his own prosaic metre has forcibly depicted:—

It may be on that darkness, which they find

Within their hearts, a sudden light hath shin’d,

Making reflections of some things to come,

Which leave within them musings troublesome

To their weak spirits; or too intricate

For them to put in order, and relate.

They act as men in ecstasies have done—

Striving their cloudy visions to declare—

And I, perhaps, among these may be one

That was let loose for service to be done:

I blunder out what worldly-prudent men

Count madnesse.—P. 7.195

Separating human prediction from inspired prophecy, we only ascribe to the faculties of man that acquired prescience which we have demonstrated that some great minds have unquestionably exercised. We have discovered its principles in the necessary dependence of effects on general causes, and we have shown that, impelled by the same motives, and circumscribed by the same passions, all human affairs revolve 279 in a circle; and we have opened the true source of this yet imperfect science of moral and political prediction, in an intimate but a discriminative knowledge of the past.

Authority is sacred, when experience affords parallels and analogies. If much which may overwhelm when it shall happen can be foreseen, the prescient statesman and moralist may provide defensive measures to break the waters, whose streams they cannot always direct; and the venerable Hooker has profoundly observed, that “the best things have been overthrown, not so much by puissance and might of adversaries, as through defect of council in those that should have upheld and defended the same.”196

The philosophy of history blends the past with the present, and combines the present with the future: each is but a portion of the other! The actual state of a thing is necessarily determined by its antecedent, and thus progressively through the chain of human existence; while “the present is always full of the future,” as Leibnitz has happily expressed the idea.

A new and beautiful light is thus thrown over the annals of mankind, by the analogies and the parallels of different ages in succession. How the seventeenth century has influenced the eighteenth; and the results of the nineteenth as they shall appear in the twentieth, might open a source of predictions, to which, however difficult it might be to affix their dates, there would be none in exploring into causes, and tracing their inevitable effects.

The multitude live only among the shadows of things in the appearances of the present; the learned, busied with the past, can only trace whence and how all comes; but he who is one of the people, and one of the learned, the true philosopher, views the natural tendency and terminations which are preparing for the future!

179 See Rushworth, vol. i. p. 420. His language was decisive.

180 This letter is in the works of Æneas Sylvius; a copious extract is given by Bossuet, in his “Variations.” See also Mosheim, Cent. xiii. part ii. chap. 2, note m.

181 Though it cannot be positively asserted it is generally believed that the author was Robert Longlande, a monk of Malvern. See introduction to Wright’s edition of “The Vision.” The latter part of the year 1362 is believed to be the time of its composition.

182 The passage is so remarkable as to be worth giving here, for the immediate reference of such readers as may not have ready access to the original. We modernize the spelling from Mr. Wright’s edition:—

But there shall come a king,

And confess you religious,

And award you as the Bible telleth

For breaking of your rule.


And then shall the Abbot of Abingdon

And all his issue for ever,

Have a knock of a king,

And incurable the wound.

183 Ep. ad Att. Lib. x. Ep. 4.

184 Ep. ad Att. Lib. vi. Ep. 6.

185 This remarkable confession I find in Menage’s “Observations sur la Langue Françoise,” Part II. p. 110.

186 Οὶκείᾳ γὰρ ξυνέσει, καἱ οὔτε προμαθὡν ἐς αὐτἡν οὐδὲν, οὔτ᾽ ἐπιμαθὼν τῶν τε παραχρῆμα δἰ ἐλαχίστης βουλῆς κράτιστος γνώμων, καὶ τῶν μελλόντων ἐπιπλεῖστον τοῦ γενησομένου ἄριστος εἰκαστής.—Thucydides, lib. i.

187 Arist. Rhet. lib. vii. c. 5.

188 This work was printed in London as a first volume, but remained unpublished. This singularly curious production was suppressed, but reprinted at Paris. It has suffered the most cruel mutilations. I read with surprise and instruction the single copy which I was assured was the only one saved from the havoc of the entire edition. The writer was the celebrated Chateaubriand.

189 “Biographia Literaria; or, Biographical Sketches of my Literary Life and Opinions.” By S.T. Coleridge, Esq. 1807. Vol. i. p. 214.

190 Public spirit, and public spirits, were about the year 1700 household words with us. Leibnitz was struck by their significance, but it might now puzzle us to find synonyms, or even to explain the very terms themselves.

191 This extraordinary passage is at the close of the third book of Emile, to which I must refer the reader. It is curious, however, to observe, that in 1760 Rousseau poured forth the following awful predictions, which were considered quite absurd:—“Vous vous fiez à l’ordre actuel de la société, sans songer que cet ordre est sujet à des révolutions inévitables—le grand devient petit, le riche devient pauvre, le monarque devient sujet—nous approchons l’état de crise et du siècle des révolutions. Que fera donc dans la bassesse ce satrape que vous n’aurez élevé que pour la grandeur? Que fera dans la pauvreté, ce publicain qui ne sçait vivre que d’or? Que fera, dépourvu de tout, ce fastueux imbecille qui ne sait point user de lui-même?” &c. &c.

192 This prediction of the end of the world is one of the most popular hallucinations, warmly received by many whenever it is promulgated. It had the most marked effect when the cycle of a thousand years after the birth of Christ was approaching completion; and the world was assured that was the limit of its present state. Numerous acts of piety were performed. Churches were built, religious houses founded, and asceticism became the order of the day, until the dreaded year was completed without the accompaniment of the supernatural horrors so generally feared; the world soon relapsed into forgetfulness, and went on as before. Very many prophecies have since been promulgated; and in defiance of such repeated failures are still occasionally indulged in by persons from whom better things might be expected. Richard Brothers, in the last century, and more than one reverend gentleman in the present one, have been bold enough to fix an exact time for the event: but it has passed as quietly as the thousandth anniversary noted above.

193 One of the most effective prophecies against London, and which frightened for the time a very large number of its inhabitants, was that given out in the spring of 1750, after a slight shock of an earthquake was felt in London, and it was prophesied that another should occur which would destroy the town and all its inhabitants. All the roads were thronged with persons flying to the country a day or two before the threatened event; and they were all unmercifully ridiculed when the day passed over quietly. Walpole in one of his amusing letters speaks of a party who went “to an inn ten miles out of town, where they are to play at brag till five in the morning, and then come back—I suppose, to look for the bones of their husbands and families under the rubbish!” Jokers who were out late amused themselves by bawling in the watchmen’s voice, “Past four o’clock, and a dreadful earthquake!” A pamphlet purporting to be “a full and true account” of this earthquake which never happened, was “printed for Tim Tremor, in Fleet-street, 1750,” and made the vehicle for much personal satire. Thus it is stated that the “Commissioners of Westminster-bridge have ordered this calamity to be entered in their books, as a glorious excuse for the next sinking pier;” and that the town received some comfort upon hearing that “the Inns of Court were all sunk, and several orders were given that no one should assist in bringing any one lawyer above ground.”

194 An eye-witness of the great fire of London has noted the difficulty of obtaining effective assistance in endeavouring to stay its progress, owing to the superstition which seized many persons, because a prophecy of Mother Shipton’s was quoted to show that London was doomed to hopeless and entire destruction.

195 “A Dark Lantherne, offering a dim Discovery, intermixed with Remembrances, Predictions, &c. 1652.”

196 Hooker wrote this about 1560, and he wrote before the Siècle des Révolutions had begun, even among ourselves! He penetrated into this important principle merely by the force of his own meditation. At this moment, after more practical experience in political revolutions, a very intelligent French writer, in a pamphlet, entitled “M. da Villèle,” says, “Experience proclaims a great truth—namely, that revolutions themselves cannot succeed, except when they are favoured by a portion of the Government.” He illustrates the axiom by the different revolutions which have occurred in his nation within these thirty years. It is the same truth, traced to its source by another road.




Modern philosophy, theoretical or experimental, only amuses while the action of discovery is suspended or advances; the interest ceases with the inquirer when the catastrophe is ascertained, as in the romance whose dénouement turns on a mysterious incident, which, once unfolded, all future agitation ceases. But in the true infancy of science, philosophers were as imaginative a race as poets: marvels and portents, undemonstrable and undefinable, with occult fancies, perpetually beginning and never ending, were delightful as the shifting cantos of Ariosto. Then science entranced the eye by its thaumaturgy; when they looked through an optic tube, they believed they were looking into futurity; or, starting at some shadow darkening the glassy globe, beheld the absent person; while the mechanical inventions of art were toys and tricks, with sometimes an automaton, which frightened them with life.

The earlier votaries of modern philosophy only witnessed, as Gaffarel calls his collection, “Unheard-of Curiosities.” This state of the marvellous, of which we are now for ever deprived, prevailed among the philosophers and the virtuosi in Europe, and with ourselves, long after the establishment of the Royal Society. Philosophy then depended mainly on authority—a single one, however, was sufficient: so that when this had been repeated by fifty others, they had the authority of fifty honest men—whoever the first man might have been! They were then a blissful race of children, rambling here and there in a golden age of innocence and ignorance, where at every step each gifted discoverer whispered to the few, some half-concealed secret of nature, or played with some toy of art; some invention which with great difficulty performed what, without it, might have been done with great ease. The cabinets of the lovers of mechanical arts formed enchanted apartments, where the admirers feared to stir or look about them; while the philosophers themselves half imagined they were the very thaumaturgi, for which the world gave them too much credit, at least for their quiet! Would we run after the shadows in this gleaming land of moonshine, or sport with these children in the fresh morning of science, ere Aurora had scarcely peeped on the hills, we must enter into their feelings, view with their eyes, and 281 believe all they confide to us; and out of these bundles of dreams sometimes pick out one or two for our own dreaming. They are the fairy tales and the Arabian Nights’ entertainments of science. But if the reader is stubbornly mathematical and logical, he will only be holding up a great torch against the muslin curtain, upon which the fantastic shadows playing upon it must vanish at the instant. It is an amusement which can only take place by carefully keeping himself in the dark.197

What a subject, were I to enter on it, would be the narratives of magical writers! These precious volumes have been so constantly wasted by the profane, that now a book of real magic requires some to find it, as well as a great magician to use it. Albertus Magnus, or Albert the Great, as he is erroneously styled—for this sage only derived this enviable epithet from his surname De Groot, as did Hugo Grotius—this sage, in his “Admirable Secrets,” delivers his opinion that these books of magic should be most preciously preserved; for, he prophetically added, the time is arriving when they would be understood! It seems they were not intelligible in the thirteenth century; but if Albertus has not miscalculated, in the present day they may be! Magical terms with talismanic figures may yet conceal many a secret; gunpowder came down to us in a sort of anagram, and the kaleidoscope, with all its interminable multiplications of forms, lay at hand for two centuries in Baptista Porta’s “Natural Magic.” The abbot Trithemius, in a confidential letter, happened to call himself a magician, perhaps at the moment he thought himself one, and sent three or four leaves stuffed with the names of devils and with their evocations. At the death of his friend these leaves fell into the unworthy hands of the prior, who was so frightened on the first glance at the diabolical nomenclature, that he raised the country against the abbot, and Trithemius was nearly a lost man! Yet, after all, this evocation of devils has reached us in his “Steganographia,” and proves to be only one of this ingenious abbot’s polygraphic attempts at secret writing; for he had flattered himself that he had invented a mode of concealing his thoughts from all the world, while he communicated them to a friend. Roger Bacon promised to raise thunder and lightning, and disperse clouds by dissolving them into rain. The first magical process has been 282 obtained by Franklin; and the other, of far more use to our agriculturists, may perchance be found lurking in some corner which has been overlooked in the “Opus majus” of our “Doctor mirabilis.” Do we laugh at their magical works of art? Are we ourselves such indifferent artists? Cornelius Agrippa, before he wrote his “Vanity of the Arts and Sciences,” intended to reduce into a system and method the secret of communicating with spirits and demons.198 On good authority, that of Porphyrius, Psellus, Plotinus, Jamblichus—and on better, were it necessary to allege it—he was well assured that the upper regions of the air swarmed with what the Greeks called dæmones, just as our lower atmosphere is full of birds, our waters of fish, and our earth of insects. Yet this occult philosopher, who knew perfectly eight languages, and married two wives, with whom he had never exchanged a harsh word in any of them, was everywhere avoided as having by his side, for his companion, a personage no less than a demon! This was a great black dog, whom he suffered to stretch himself out among his magical manuscripts, or lie on his bed, often kissing and patting him, and feeding him on choice morsels. Yet for this would Paulus Jovius and all the world have had him put to the ordeal of fire and fagot! The truth was afterwards boldly asserted by Wierus, his learned domestic, who believed that his master’s dog was really nothing more than what he appeared! “I believe,” says he, “that he was a real natural dog; he was indeed black, but of a moderate size, and I have often led him by a string, and called him by the French name Agrippa had given him, Monsieur! and he had a female who was called Mademoiselle! I wonder how authors of such great character should write so absurdly on his vanishing at his death, nobody knows how!” But as it is probable that Monsieur and Mademoiselle must have generated some puppy demons, Wierus ought to have been more circumstantial.

Albertus Magnus, for thirty years, had never ceased working at a man of brass, and had cast together the qualities of his materials under certain constellations, which threw such 283 a spirit into his man of brass, that it was reported his growth was visible; his feet, legs, thighs, shoulders, neck, and head, expanded, and made the city of Cologne uneasy at possessing one citizen too mighty for them all. This man of brass, when he reached his maturity, was so loquacious, that Albert’s master, the great scholastic Thomas Aquinas, one day, tired of his babble, and declaring it was a devil, or devilish, with his staff knocked the head off; and, what was extraordinary, this brazen man, like any human being thus effectually silenced, “word never spake more.” This incident is equally historical and authentic; though whether heads of brass can speak, and even prophesy, was indeed a subject of profound inquiry even at a later period.199 Naudé, who never questioned their vocal powers, and yet was puzzled concerning the nature of this new species of animal, has no doubt most judiciously stated the question, Whether these speaking brazen heads had a sensitive and reasoning nature, or whether demons spoke in them? But brass has not the faculty of providing its own nourishment, as we see in plants, and therefore they were not sensitive; and as for the act of reasoning, these brazen heads presumed to know nothing but the future: with the past and the present they seemed totally unacquainted, so that their memory and their observation were very limited; and as for the future, that is always doubtful and obscure—even to heads of brass! This learned man then infers that “These brazen heads could have no reasoning faculties, for nothing altered their nature; they said what they had to say, which no one could contradict; and having said their say, you might have broken the head for anything more that you could have got out of it. Had they had any life in them, would they not have moved as well as spoken? Life itself is but motion, but they had no lungs, no spleen; and, in fact, though they spoke, they had no tongue. Was a devil in them? I think not. Yet why should men have taken all this trouble to make, not a man, but a trumpet?”

Our profound philosopher was right not to agitate the question whether these brazen heads had ever spoken. Why 284 should not a man of brass speak, since a doll can whisper, a statue play chess,200 and brass ducks have performed the whole process of digestion?201 Another magical invention has been ridiculed with equal reason. A magician was annoyed, as philosophers still are, by passengers in the street; and he, particularly so, by having horses led to drink under his window. He made a magical horse of wood, according to one of the books of Hermes, which perfectly answered its purpose, by frightening away the horses, or rather the grooms! the wooden horse, no doubt, gave some palpable kick. The same magical story might have been told of Dr. Franklin, who finding that under his window the passengers had discovered a spot which they made too convenient for themselves, he charged it with his newly-discovered electrical fire. After a few remarkable incidents had occurred, which at a former period would have lodged the great discoverer of electricity in the Inquisition, the modern magician succeeded just as well as the ancient, who had the advantage of conning over the books of Hermes. Instead of ridiculing these works of magic, let us rather become magicians ourselves!

The works of the ancient alchemists have afforded numberless discoveries to modern chemists: nor is even their grand operation despaired of. If they have of late not been so renowned, this has arisen from a want of what Ashmole calls “apertness;” a qualification early inculcated among these illuminated sages. We find authentic accounts of some who have lived three centuries, with tolerable complexions, possessed of nothing but a crucible and a bellows! but they were so unnecessarily mysterious, that whenever such a person 285 was discovered, he was sure in an instant to disappear, and was never afterwards heard of.

In the “Liber Patris Sapientiæ” this selfish cautiousness is all along impressed on the student for the accomplishment of the great mystery. In the commentary on this precious work of the alchemist Norton, who counsels,

Be thou in a place secret, by thyself alone,

That no man see or hear what thou shalt say or done.

Trust not thy friend too much wheresoe’er thou go,

For he thou trustest best, sometyme may be thy foe;

Ashmole observes, that “Norton gives exceeding good advice to the student in this science where he bids him be secret in the carrying on of his studies and operations, and not to let any one know of his undertakings but his good angel and himself:” and such a close and retired breast had Norton’s master, who,

When men disputed of colours of the rose,

He would not speak, but kept himself full close!

We regret that by each leaving all his knowledge to “his good angel and himself,” it has happened that “the good angels” have kept it all to themselves!

It cannot, however, be denied, that if they could not always extract gold out of lead, they sometimes succeeded in washing away the pimples on ladies’ faces, notwithstanding that Sir Kenelm Digby poisoned his most beautiful lady, because, as Sancho would have said, he was one of those who would “have his bread whiter than the finest wheaten.” Van Helmont, who could not succeed in discovering the true elixir of life, however hit on the spirit of hartshorn, which for a good while he considered was the wonderful elixir itself, restoring to life persons who seemed to have lost it. And though this delightful enthusiast could not raise a ghost, yet he thought he had; for he raised something aerial from spa-water, which mistaking for a ghost, he gave it that very name; a name which we still retain in gas, from the German geist, or ghost! Paracelsus carried the tiny spirits about him in the hilt of his great sword! Having first discovered the qualities of laudanum, this illustrious quack made use of it as an universal remedy, and distributed it in the form of pills, which he carried in the basket-hilt of his sword; the operations he performed were as rapid as they seemed magical. Doubtless we 286 have lost some inconceivable secrets by some unexpected occurrences, which the secret itself it would seem ought to have prevented taking place. When a philosopher had discovered the art of prolonging life to an indefinite period, it is most provoking to find that he should have allowed himself to die at an early age! We have a very authentic history from Sir Kenelm Digby himself, that when he went in disguise to visit Descartes at his retirement at Egmond, lamenting the brevity of life, which hindered philosophers getting on in their studies, the French philosopher assured him that “he had considered that matter; to render a man immortal was what he could not promise, but that he was very sure it was possible to lengthen out his life to the period of the patriarchs.” And when his death was announced to the world, the Abbé Picot, an ardent disciple, for a long time would not believe it possible; and at length insisted, that if it had occurred, it must have been owing to some mistake of the philosopher’s.

The late Holcroft, Loutherbourg, and Cosway, imagined that they should escape the vulgar era of scriptural life by reorganizing their old bones, and moistening their dry marrow; their new principles of vitality were supposed by them to be found in the powers of the mind; this seemed more reasonable, but proved to be as little efficacious as those other philosophers, who imagine they have detected the hidden principle of life in the eels frisking in vinegar, and allude to “the bookbinder who creates the book-worm!”

Paracelsus has revealed to us one of the grandest secrets of nature. When the world began to dispute on the very existence of the elementary folk, it was then that he boldly offered to give birth to a fairy, and has sent down to posterity the recipe. He describes the impurity which is to be transmuted into such purity, the gross elements of a delicate fairy, which, fixed in a phial, placed in fuming dung, will in due time settle into a full-grown fairy, bursting through its vitreous prison—on the vivifying principle by which the ancient Egyptians hatched their eggs in ovens. I recollect, at Dr. Farmer’s sale, the leaf which preserved this recipe for making a fairy, forcibly folded down by the learned commentator; from which we must infer the credit he gave to the experiment. There was a greatness of mind in Paracelsus, who, having furnished a recipe to make a fairy, had the delicacy to refrain from its formation. Even Baptista Porta, 287 one of the most enlightened philosophers, does not deny the possibility of engendering creatures which, “at their full growth, shall not exceed the size of a mouse;” but he adds, “they are only pretty little dogs to play with.” Were these akin to the fairies of Paracelsus?202

They were well convinced of the existence of such elemental beings; frequent accidents in mines showed the potency of the metallic spirits, which so tormented the workmen in some of the German mines by blindness, giddiness, and sudden sickness, that they have been obliged to abandon mines well known to be rich in silver. A metallic spirit at one sweep annihilated twelve miners, who were all found dead together. The fact was unquestionable; and the safety-lamp was undiscovered.

Never was a philosophical imagination more beautiful than that exquisite Palingenesis, as it has been termed from the Greek, or a regeneration: or rather the apparitions of animals and plants. Schott, Kircher, Gaffarel, Borelli, Digby, and the whole of that admirable school, discovered in the ashes of plants their primitive forms, which were again raised up by the force of heat. Nothing, they say, perishes in nature; all is but a continuation, or a revival. The semina of resurrection are concealed in extinct bodies, as in the blood of man; the ashes of roses will again revive into roses, though smaller and paler than if they had been planted; unsubstantial and unodoriferous, they are not roses which grow on rose-trees, but their delicate apparitions; and, like apparitions, they are seen but for a moment! The process of the Palingenesis, this picture of immortality, is described. These philosophers having burnt a flower, by calcination disengaged the salts from its ashes, and deposited them in a glass phial; a chemical mixture acted on it, till in the fermentation they assumed a bluish and a spectral hue. This dust, thus excited by heat, shoots upwards into its primitive forms; by sympathy the parts unite, and while each is returning to its destined place, we see distinctly the stalk, the leaves, and the flower arise; it is the pale spectre of a flower coming slowly forth from its ashes. The heat passes away, the magical scene declines, till the whole matter again precipitates itself into the chaos at the bottom. This vegetable phoenix lies thus concealed in its cold ashes till the presence 288 of heat produces this resurrection—in its absence it returns to its death. Thus the dead naturally revive; and a corpse may give out its shadowy re-animation when not too deeply buried in the earth. Bodies corrupted in their graves have risen, particularly the murdered; for murderers are apt to bury their victims in a slight and hasty manner. Their salts, exhaled in vapour by means of their fermentation, have arranged themselves on the surface of the earth, and formed those phantoms, which at night have often terrified the passing spectator, as authentic history witnesses. They have opened the graves of the phantom, and discovered the bleeding corpse beneath; hence it is astonishing how many ghosts may be seen at night, after a recent battle, standing over their corpses! On the same principle, my old philosopher Gaffarel conjectures on the raining of frogs; but these frogs, we must conceive, can only be the ghosts of frogs; and Gaffarel himself has modestly opened this fact by a “peradventure.” A more satisfactory origin of ghosts modern philosophy has not afforded.

And who does not believe in the existence of ghosts? for, as Dr. More forcibly says—“That there should be so universal a fame and fear of that which never was, nor is, nor can be ever in the world, is to me the greatest miracle of all. If there had not been, at some time or other, true miracles, it had not been so easy to impose on the people by false. The alchemist would never go about to sophisticate metals to pass them off for true gold and silver, unless that such a thing was acknowledged as true gold and silver in the world.”

The pharmacopœia of those times combined more of morals with medicine than our own. They discovered that the agate rendered a man eloquent and even witty; a laurel leaf placed on the centre of the skull fortified the memory; the brains of fowls and birds of swift wing wonderfully helped the imagination. All such specifics have now disappeared, and have greatly reduced the chances of an invalid recovering that which perhaps he never possessed. Lentils and rape-seed were a certain cure for the small-pox, and very obviously—their grains resembling the spots of this disease. They discovered that those who lived on “fair” plants became fair, those on fruitful ones were never barren: on the principle that Hercules acquired his mighty strength by feeding on the marrow of lions. But their talismans, provided they were genuine, seem to have been wonderfully operative; and 289 had we the same confidence, and melted down the guineas we give physicians, engraving on them talismanic figures, I would answer for the good effects of the experiment. Naudé, indeed, has utterly ridiculed the occult virtues of talismans, in his defence of Virgil, accused of being a magician: the poet, it seems, cast into a well a talisman of a horse-leech, graven on a plate of gold, to drive away the great number of horse-leeches which infested Naples. Naudé positively denies that talismans ever possessed any such occult virtues: Gaffarel regrets that so judicious a man as Naudé should have gone this length, giving the lie to so many authentic authors; and Naudé’s paradox is indeed as strange as his denial; he suspects the thing is not true because it is so generally told! “It leads one to suspect,” says he, “as animals are said to have been driven away from so many places by these talismans, whether they were ever driven from any one place.” Gaffarel, suppressing by his good temper his indignant feelings at such reasoning, turns the paradox on its maker:—“As if, because of the great number of battles that Hannibal is reported to have fought with the Romans, we might not, by the same reason, doubt whether he fought any one with them.” The reader must be aware that the strength of the argument lies entirely with the firm believer in talismans. Gaffarel, indeed, who passed his days in collecting “Curiosités inouïes,” is a most authentic historian of unparalleled events, even in his own times! Such as that heavy rain in Poitou, which showered down “petites bestioles,” little creatures like bishops with their mitres, and monks with their capuchins over their heads; it is true, afterwards they all turned into butterflies!

The museums, the cabinets, and the inventions of our early virtuosi were the baby-houses of philosophers. Baptista Porta, Bishop Wilkins, and old Ashmole, were they now living, had been enrolled among the quiet members of “The Society of Arts,” instead of flying in the air, collecting “a wing of the phœnix, as tradition goes;” or catching the disjointed syllables of an old doting astrologer. But these early dilettanti had not derived the same pleasure from the useful inventions of the aforesaid “Society of Arts” as they received from what Cornelius Agrippa, in a fit of spleen, calls “things vain and superfluous, invented to no other end but for pomp and idle pleasure.” Baptista Porta was more skilful in the mysteries of art and nature than any man in his day. Having 290 founded the Academy degli Oziosi, he held an inferior association in his own house, called di Secreti, where none was admitted but those elect who had communicated some secret; for, in the early period of modern art and science, the slightest novelty became a secret, not to be confided to the uninitiated. Porta was unquestionably a fine genius, as his works still show; but it was his misfortune that he attributed his own penetrating sagacity to his skill in the art of divination. He considered himself a prognosticator; and, what was more unfortunate, some eminent persons really thought he was. Predictions and secrets are harmless, provided they are not believed: but his Holiness finding Porta’s were, warned him that magical sciences were great hindrances to the study of the Bible, and paid him the compliment to forbid his prophesying. Porta’s genius was now limited to astonish, and sometimes to terrify, the more ingenious part of I Secreti. On entering his cabinet, some phantom of an attendant was sure to be hovering in the air, moving as he who entered moved; or he observed in some mirror that his face was twisted on the wrong side of his shoulders, and did not quite think that all was right when he clapped his hand on it; or passing through a darkened apartment a magical landscape burst on him, with human beings in motion, the boughs of trees bending, and the very clouds passing over the sun; or sometimes banquets, battles, and hunting-parties were in the same apartment. “All these spectacles my friends have witnessed!” exclaims the self-delighted Baptista Porta. When his friends drank wine out of the same cup which he had used, they were mortified with wonder; for he drank wine, and they only water! or on a summer’s day, when all complained of the sirocco, he would freeze his guests with cold air in the room; or, on a sudden, let off a flying dragon to sail along with a cracker in its tail, and a cat tied on his back; shrill was the sound, and awful was the concussion; so that it required strong nerves, in an age of apparitions and devils, to meet this great philosopher when in his best humour. Albertus Magnus entertained the Earl of Holland, as that earl passed through Cologne, in a severe winter, with a warm summer scene, luxuriant in fruits and flowers. The fact is related by Trithemius—and this magical scene connected with his vocal head, and his books De Secretis Mulierum, and De Mirabilibus, confirmed the accusations they raised against the great Albert for being a magician. His 291 apologist, Theophilus Raynaud, is driven so hard to defend Albertus, that he at once asserts the winter changed to summer and the speaking head to be two infamous flams! He will not believe these authenticated facts, although he credits a miracle which proves the sanctity of Albertus,—after three centuries, the body of Albert the Great remained as sweet as ever!

“Whether such enchauntments,” as old Mandeville cautiously observeth, two centuries preceding the days of Porta, were “by craft or by nygromancye, I wot nere.” But that they were not unknown to Chaucer, appears in his “Frankelein’s Tale,” where, minutely describing them, he communicates the same pleasure he must himself have received from the ocular illusions of “the Tregetoure,” or “Jogelour.” Chaucer ascribes the miracle to a “naturall magique!” in which, however, it was as unsettled whether the “Prince of Darkness” was a party concerned.

For I am siker that there be sciences

By which men maken divers apparences

Swiche as thise subtil tregetoures play.

For oft at festes have I wel herd say

That tregetoures, within an halle large,

Have made come in a water and a barge,

And in the halle rowen up and doun.

Sometime hath semed come a grim leoun,

And sometime floures spring as in a mede,

Sometime a vine and grapes white and rede,

Sometime a castel al of lime and ston,

And whan hem liketh voideth it anon:

Thus semeth it to every mannes sight.

Bishop Wilkins’s museum was visited by Evelyn, who describes the sort of curiosities which occupied and amused the children of science. “Here, too, there was a hollow statue, which gave a voice, and uttered words by a long concealed pipe that went to its mouth, whilst one speaks through it at a good distance:” a circumstance which, perhaps, they were not then aware revealed the whole mystery of the ancient oracles, which they attributed to demons rather than to tubes, pulleys, and wheels. The learned Charles Patin, in his scientific travels, records, among other valuable productions of art, a cherry-stone, on which were engraven about a dozen and a half of portraits! Even the greatest of human geniuses, Leonardo da Vinci, to attract the royal patronage, created a lion which ran before the French monarch, dropping 292 fleurs de lis from its shaggy breast. And another philosopher who had a spinnet which played and stopped at command, might have made a revolution in the arts and sciences, had the half-stifled child that was concealed in it not been forced, unluckily, to crawl into daylight, and thus it was proved that a philosopher might be an impostor!

The arts, as well as the sciences, at the first institution of the Royal Society, were of the most amusing class. The famous Sir Samuel Moreland had turned his house into an enchanted palace. Everything was full of devices, which showed art and mechanism in perfection: his coach carried a travelling kitchen; for it had a fire-place and grate, with which he could make a soup, broil cutlets, and roast an egg; and he dressed his meat by clock-work. Another of these virtuosi, who is described as “a gentleman of superior order, and whose house was a knickknackatory,” valued himself on his multifarious inventions, but most in “sowing salads in the morning, to be cut for dinner.” The house of Winstanley, who afterwards raised the first Eddystone lighthouse, must have been the wonder of the age. If you kicked aside an old slipper, purposely lying in your way, up started a ghost before you; or if you sat down in a certain chair, a couple of gigantic arms would immediately clasp you in. There was an arbour in the garden, by the side of a canal; you had scarcely seated yourself when you were sent out afloat to the middle of the canal—from whence you could not escape till this man of art and science wound you up to the arbour. What was passing at the “Royal Society” was also occurring at the “Académie des Sciences” at Paris. A great and gouty member of that philosophical body, on the departure of a stranger, would point to his legs, to show the impossibility of conducting him to the door; yet the astonished visitor never failed finding the virtuoso waiting for him on the outside, to make his final bow! While the visitor was going down stairs, this inventive genius was descending with great velocity in a machine from the window: so that he proved, that if a man of science cannot force nature to walk down stairs, he may drive her out at the window!

If they travelled at home, they set off to note down prodigies. Dr. Plott, in a magnificent project of journeying through England, for the advantage of “Learning and Trade,” and the discovery of “Antiquities and other Curiosities,” for which he solicited the royal aid which Leland enjoyed, 293 among other notable designs, discriminates a class thus: “Next I shall inquire of animals; and first of strange people.”—“Strange accidents that attend corporations or families, as that the deans of Rochester ever since the foundation by turns have died deans and bishops; the bird with a white breast that haunts the family of Oxenham near Exeter just before the death of any of that family; the bodies of trees that are seen to swim in a pool near Brereton in Cheshire, a certain warning to the heir of that honourable family to prepare for the next world.” And such remarkables as “Number of children, such as the Lady Temple, who before she died saw seven hundred descended from her.”203 This fellow of the Royal Society, who lived nearly to 1700, was requested to give an edition of Pliny: we have lost the benefit of a most copious commentary! Bishop Hall went to “the Spa.” The wood about that place was haunted not only by “freebooters, but by wolves and witches; although these last are ofttimes but one.” They were called loups-garoux; and the Greeks, it seems, knew them by the name of λυκάνθρωποι, men-wolves: witches that have put on the shapes of those cruel beasts. “We sawe a boy there, whose half-face was devoured by one of them near the village; yet so, as that the eare was rather cut than bitten off.” Rumour had spread that the boy had had half his face devoured; when it was examined, it turned out that his ear had only been scratched! However, there can be no doubt of the existence of “witch-wolves;” for Hall saw at Limburgh “one of those miscreants executed, who confessed on the wheel to have devoured two-and-forty children in that form.” They would probably have found it difficult to have summoned the mothers who had lost the children. But observe our philosopher’s reasoning: “It would aske a large volume to scan this problem of lycanthropy.” He had laboriously collected all the evidence, and had added his arguments: the result offers a curious instance of acute reasoning on a wrong principle.204


Men of science and art then passed their days in a bustle of the marvellous. I will furnish a specimen of philosophical correspondence in a letter to old John Aubrey. The writer betrays the versatility of his curiosity by very opposite discoveries. “My hands are so full of work that I have no time to transcribe for Dr. Henry More an account of the Barnstable apparition—Lord Keeper North would take it kindly from you—give a sight of this letter from Barnstable to Dr. Whitchcot.” He had lately heard of a Scotchman who had been carried by fairies into France; but the purpose of his present letter is to communicate other sort of apparitions than the ghost of Barnstable. He had gone to Glastonbury, “to pick up a few berries from the holy thorn which flowered every Christmas day.”205 The original thorn had been cut down by a military saint in the civil wars; but the trade of the place was not damaged, for they had contrived not to have a single holy thorn, but several, “by grafting and inoculation.”206 He promises to send these “berries;” but requests Aubrey to inform “that person of quality who had rather have a bush, that it was impossible to get one for him. I am told,” he adds, “that there is a person about Glastonbury who hath a nursery of them, which he sells for a crown a piece,” but they are supposed not to be “of the right kind.”

The main object of this letter is the writer’s “suspicion of gold in this country;” for which he offers three reasons. Tacitus says there was gold in England, and that Agrippa came to a spot where he had a prospect of Ireland—from 295 which place he writes; secondly, that “an honest man” had in this spot found stones from which he had extracted good gold, and that he himself “had seen in the broken stones a clear appearance of gold;” and thirdly, “there is a story which goes by tradition in that part of the country, that in the hill alluded to there was a door into a hole, that when any wanted money they used to go and knock there, that a woman used to appear, and give to such as came.207 At a time one by greediness or otherwise gave her offence, she flung to the door, and delivered this old saying, still remembered in the country:

‘When all the Daws be gone and dead,

Then.... Hill shall shine gold red.’

My fancy is, that this relates to an ancient family of this name, of which there is now but one man left, and he not likely to have any issue.” These are his three reasons; and some mines have perhaps been opened with no better ones! But let us not imagine that this great naturalist was credulous; for he tells Aubrey that “he thought it was but a monkish tale forged in the abbey so famous in former time; but as I have learned not to despise our forefathers, I question whether this may not refer to some rich mine in the hill, formerly in use, but now lost. I shall shortly request you to discourse with my lord about it, to have advice, &c. In the mean time it will be best to keep all private for his majesty’s service, his lordship’s, and perhaps some private person’s benefit.” But he has also positive evidence: “A mason not long ago coming to the renter of the abbey for a freestone, and sawing it, out came divers pieces of gold of £3 10s. value apiece, of ancient coins. The stone belonged to some chimney-work; the gold was hidden in it, perhaps, when the Dissolution was near.” This last incident of finding coins in a chimney-piece, which he had accounted for very rationally, serves only to confirm his dream, that they were coined out 296 of the gold of the mine in the hill; and he becomes more urgent for “a private search into these mines, which I have, I think, a way to.” In the postscript he adds an account of a well, which by washing, wrought a cure on a person deep in the king’s evil. “I hope you don’t forget your promise to communicate whatever thing you have relating to your Idea.”

This promised Idea of Aubrey may be found in his MSS., under the title of “The Idea of Universal Education.” However whimsical, one would like to see it. Aubrey’s life might furnish a volume of these philosophical dreams: he was a person who from his incessant bustle and insatiable curiosity was called “The Carrier of Conceptions of the Royal Society.” Many pleasant nights were “privately” enjoyed by Aubrey and his correspondent about the “Mine in the Hill;” Ashmole’s manuscripts at Oxford contain a collection of many secrets of the Rosicrucians; one of the completest inventions is “a Recipe how to walk invisible.” Such were the fancies which rocked the children of science in their cradles! and so feeble were the steps of our curious infancy!—But I start in my dreams! dreading the reader may also have fallen asleep!

“Measure is most excellent,” says one of the oracles; “to which also we being in like manner persuaded, O most friendly and pious Asclepiades, here finish”—the dreams at the dawn of philosophy!

197 Godwin’s amusing Lives of the Necromancers abound in marvellous stories of the supernatural feats of these old students.

198 Agrippa was the most fortunate and honoured of occult philosophers. He was lodged at courts, and favoured by all his contemporaries. Scholars like Erasmus spoke of him with admiration; and royalty constantly sought his powers of divination. But in advanced life he was accused of sorcery, and died poor in 1534.

199 One of the most popular of our old English prose romances, “The Historie of Fryer Bacon,” narrates how he had intended to “wall England about with brass,” by means of such a brazen head, had not the stupidity of a servant prevented him. The tale may be read in Thoms’ “Collection of Early English Prose Romances.”

200 The allusion here is to the automaton chess-player, first exhibited by Kempelen (its inventor) in England about 1785. The figure was habited as a Turk, and placed behind a chest, this was opened by the exhibitor to display the machinery, which seemed to give the figure motion, while playing intricate games of chess with any of the spectators. But it has been fully demonstrated that this chest could conceal a full-grown man, who could place his arm down that of the figure, and direct its movements in the game; the machinery being really constructed to hide him, and disarm suspicion. As the whole trick has been demonstrated by diagrams, the marvellous nature of the machinery is exploded.

201 This brass duck was the work of a very ingenious mechanist, M. Vaucanson; it is reported to have uttered its natural voice, moved its wings, drank water, and ate corn. In 1738, he delighted the Parisians by a figure of a shepherd which played on a pipe and beat a tabor; and a flute-player who performed twelve tunes.

202 This great charlatan, after many successful impositions, ended his life in poverty in the hospital at Saltzbourg, in 1541.

203 Similar popular fallacies may be seen carefully noted in R. Burton’s “Admirable Curiosities, Rarities, and Wonders in England, Scotland, and Ireland,” 1684. It is one of those curious volumes of “folk-lore” sent out by Nat. Crouch the bookseller, under a fictitious name.

204 Hall’s postulate is, that God’s work could not admit of any substantial change, which is above the reach of all infernal powers; but “Herein the divell plays the double sophister; the sorcerer with sorcerers. Hee both deludes the witch’s conceit and the beholder’s eyes.” In a word, Hall believes in what he cannot understand! Yet Hall will not believe one of the Catholic miracles of “the Virgin of Louvain,” though Lipsius had written a book to commemorate “the goddess,” as Hall sarcastically calls her. Hall was told, with great indignation, in the shop of the bookseller of Lipsius, that when James the First had just looked over this work, he flung it down, vociferating “Damnation to him that made it, and to him that believes it!”

205 Thousands flocked to see this “miracle” in the middle ages, and their presence brought great wealth to the abbey. It was believed to have grown miraculously from the staff used by St. Joseph. It appears to have been brought from Palestine, and merely to have flowered in accordance with its natural season, though differing with ours.

206 Taylor, the water poet, in his “Wonders of the West,” 1649, says that a slip was preserved by a vintner dwelling at Glastonbury, when the soldiers cut down the tree; that he set it in his garden, “and he with others did tell me that the same doth likewise bloom on the 25th day of December, yearly.”

207 Many of these tales of treasures in hills, are now reduced to the simple facts of discoveries being made of coins and personal ornaments, in tumuli of Roman and Saxon settlers in England. In the British Museum is a gold breastplate found in a grave at Mold, in Flintshire. The grave-hills of Bohemia have furnished the museum at Vienna with a large number of gold objects of great size and value. In Russia the dead have been found placed between large plates of pure gold in the centre of such tumuli; and in Ireland very large and valuable gold personal ornaments have been frequently found in grave-hills.



Literary forgeries recently have been frequently indulged in, and it is urged that they are of an innocent nature; but impostures more easily practised than detected leave their mischief behind, to take effect at a distant period; and as I shall show, may entrap even the judicious! It may require no high exertion of genius to draw up a grave account of an ancient play-wright whose name has never reached us, or to give an extract from a volume inaccessible to our inquiries and, as dulness is no proof of spuriousness, forgeries, in time, mix with authentic documents.208


We have ourselves witnessed versions of Spanish and Portuguese poets, which are passed on their unsuspicious readers without difficulty, but in which no parts of the pretended originals can be traced; and to the present hour, whatever antiquaries may affirm, the poems of Chatterton209 and Ossian210 are veiled in mystery!

If we possessed the secret history of the literary life of George Steevens, it would display an unparalleled series of arch deception and malicious ingenuity. He has been happily characterised by Gifford as “the Puck of Commentators!” Steevens is a creature so spotted over with literary forgeries and adulterations, that any remarkable one about the time he flourished may be attributed to him. They were the habits of a depraved mind, and there was a darkness in his character many shades deeper than belonged to Puck; even in the playfulness of his invention there was usually a turn of personal malignity, and the real object was not so much to raise a laugh, as to “grin horribly a ghastly smile,” on the individual. It is more than rumoured that he carried his ingenious malignity into the privacies of domestic life; and it is to be regretted that Mr. Nichols, who might have furnished much secret history of this extraordinary literary forger, has, from delicacy, mutilated his collective vigour.

George Steevens usually commenced his operations by opening some pretended discovery in the evening papers, which were then of a more literary cast than they are at present; the St. James’s Chronicle, the General Evening Post, or the Whitehall, were they not dead in body and in spirit, would now bear witness to his successful efforts. The late Mr. Boswell told me, that Steevens frequently wrote notes on Shakspeare, purposely to mislead or entrap Malone, and obtain for himself an easy triumph in the next edition! Steevens loved to assist the credulous in getting up for them some strange new thing, dancing them about with a Will-o’-the-wisp—now alarming them by a shriek of laughter! and now like a grinning Pigwigging sinking them chin-deep into a 298 quagmire! Once he presented them with a fictitious portrait of Shakspeare, and when the brotherhood were sufficiently divided in their opinions, he pounced upon them with a demonstration, that every portrait of Shakspeare partook of the same doubtful authority! Steevens usually assumed a nom de guerre of Collins, a pseudo-commentator, and sometimes of Amner, who was discovered to be an obscure puritanic minister who never read text or notes of a play-wright, whenever he explored into a “thousand notable secrets” with which he has polluted the pages of Shakspeare! The marvellous narrative of the upas-tree of Java, which Darwin adopted in his plan of “enlisting imagination under the banner of science,” appears to have been another forgery which amused our “Puck.” It was first given in the London Magazine, as an extract from a Dutch traveller, but the extract was never discovered in the original author, and “the effluvia of this noxious tree, which through a district of twelve or fourteen miles had killed all vegetation, and had spread the skeletons of men and animals, affording a scene of melancholy beyond what poets have described, or painters delineated,” is perfectly chimerical. A splendid flim-flam! When Dr. Berkenhout was busied in writing, without much knowledge or skill, a history of our English authors, Steevens allowed the good man to insert a choice letter by George Peele, giving an account of a “merry meeting at the Globe,” wherein Shakspeare said Ben Jonson and Ned Alleyne are admirably made to perform their respective parts. As the nature of the “Biographia Literaria” required authorities, Steevens ingeniously added, “Whence I copied this letter I do not recollect.” However, he well knew it came from the “Theatrical Mirror,” where he had first deposited the precious original, to which he had unguardedly ventured to affix the date of 1600; unluckily, Peele was discovered to have died two years before he wrote his own letter! The date is adroitly dropped in Berkenhout! Steevens did not wish to refer to his original, which I have often seen quoted as authority. One of these numerous forgeries of our Puck appears in an article in Isaac Reed’s catalogue, art. 8708. “The Boke of the Soldan, conteyninge strange matters touchynge his lyfe and deathe, and the ways of his course, in two partes, 12mo,” with this marginal note by Reed—“The foregoing was written by George Steevens, Esq., from whom I received it. It was composed merely to impose on ‘a literary friend,’ and had its effect; for he was so far deceived as to its 299 authenticity, that he gave implicit credit to it, and put down the person’s name in whose possession the original books were supposed to be.”

One of the sort of inventions which I attribute to Steevens has been got up with a deal of romantic effect, to embellish the poetical life of Milton; and unquestionably must have sadly perplexed his last matter-of-fact editor, who is not a man to comprehend a flim-flam!—for he has sanctioned the whole fiction, by preserving it in his biographical narrative! The first impulse of Milton to travel in Italy is ascribed to the circumstance of his having been found asleep at the foot of a tree in the vicinity of Cambridge, when two foreign ladies, attracted by the loveliness of the youthful poet, alighted from their carriage, and having admired him for some time as they imagined unperceived, the youngest, who was very beautiful, drew a pencil from her pocket, and having written some lines, put the paper with her trembling hand into his own! But it seems,—for something was to account how the sleeping youth could have been aware of these minute particulars, unless he had been dreaming them,—that the ladies had been observed at a distance by some friends of Milton, and they explained to him the whole silent adventure. Milton on opening the paper read four verses from Guarini, addressed to those “human stars,” his own eyes! On this romantic adventure, Milton set off for Italy, to discover the fair “incognita,” to which undiscovered lady we are told we stand indebted for the most impassioned touches in the Paradise Lost! We know how Milton passed his time in Italy, with Dati, and Gaddi, and Frescobaldi, and other literary friends, amidst its academies, and often busied in book-collecting. Had Milton’s tour in Italy been an adventure of knight-errantry, to discover a lady whom he had never seen, at least he had not the merit of going out of the direct road to Florence and Rome, nor of having once alluded to this Dame de ses pensées, in his letters or inquiries among his friends, who would have thought themselves fortunate to have introduced so poetical an adventure in the numerous canzoni they showered on our youthful poet.

This historiette, scarcely fitted for a novel, first appeared where generally Steevens’s literary amusements were carried on, in the General Evening Post, or the St. James’s Chronicle: and Mr. Todd, in the improved edition of Milton’s Life, obtained this spurious original, where the reader may 300 find it; but the more curious part of the story remains to be told. Mr. Todd proceeds, “The preceding highly-coloured relation, however, is not singular; my friend, Mr. Walker, points out to me a counterpart in the extract from the preface to Poésies de Marguerite-Eleanore Clotilde, depuis Madame de Surville, Poète François du XV. Siècle. Paris, 1803.”

And true enough we find among “the family traditions” of the same Clotilde, that Justine de Levis, great-grandmother of this unknown poetess of the fifteenth century, walking in a forest, witnessed the same beautiful spectacle which the Italian Unknown had at Cambridge; never was such an impression to be effaced, and she could not avoid leaving her tablets by the side of the beautiful sleeper, declaring her passion in her tablets by four Italian verses! The very number our Milton had meted to him! Oh! these four verses! they are as fatal in their number as the date of Peele’s letter proved to George Steevens! Something still escapes in the most ingenious fabrication which serves to decompose the materials. It is well our veracious historian dropped all mention of Guarini—else that would have given that coup de grace—a fatal anachronism! However, his invention supplied him with more originality than the adoption of this story and the four verses would lead us to infer. He tells us how Petrarch was jealous of the genius of his Clotilde’s grandmother, and has even pointed out a sonnet which, “among the traditions of the family,” was addressed to her! He narrates, that the gentleman, when he fairly awoke, and had read the “four verses,” set off for Italy, which he run over till he found Justine, and Justine found him, at a tournament at Modena! This parallel adventure disconcerted our two grave English critics—they find a tale which they wisely judge improbable, and because they discover the tale copied, they conclude that “it is not singular!” This knot of perplexity is, however, easily cut through, if we substitute, which we are fully justified in, for “Poète du XV. Siècle”—“du XIX. Siècle.” The “Poésies” of Clotilde are as genuine a fabrication as Chatterton’s; subject to the same objections, having many ideas and expressions which were unknown in the language at the time they are pretended to have been composed, and exhibiting many imitations of Voltaire and other poets. The present story of the four Italian verses, and the beautiful 301 Sleeper, would be quite sufficient evidence of the authenticity of “the family traditions” of Clotilde, depuis Madame de Surville, and also of Monsieur De Surville himself; a pretended editor, who is said to have found by mere accident the precious manuscript, and while he was copying from the press, in 1793, these pretty poems, for such they are, of his grande tante, was shot in the Reign of Terror, and so completely expired, that no one could ever trace his existence! The real editor, who we must presume to be the poet, published them in 1803.

Such, then, is the history of a literary forgery! A Puck composes a short romantic adventure, which is quietly thrown out to the world in a newspaper or a magazine; some collector, such as the late Mr. Bindley, who procured for Mr. Todd his original, as idle at least as he is curious, houses the forlorn fiction—and it enters into literary history! A French Chatterton picks up the obscure tale, and behold, astonishes the literary inquirers of the very country whence the imposture sprung! But the four Italian verses, and the Sleeping Youth! Oh! Monsieur Vanderbourg! for that gentleman is the ostensible editor of Clotilde’s poesies of the fifteenth century, some ingenious persons are unlucky in this world! Perhaps one day we may yet discover that this “romantic adventure” of Milton and Justine de Levis is not so original as it seems—it may lie hid in the Astrée of D’Urfé, or some of the long romances of the Scuderies, whence the English and the French Chattertons may have drawn it. To such literary inventors we say with Swift:—

——— Such are your tricks;

But since you hatch, pray own your chicks!

Will it be credited that for the enjoyment of a temporary piece of malice, Steevens would even risk his own reputation as a poetical critic? Yet this he ventured, by throwing out of his edition the poems of Shakspeare, with a remarkable hyper-criticism, that “the strongest act of parliament that could be framed would fail to compel readers into their service.” Not only he denounced the sonnets of Shakspeare, but the sonnet itself, with an absurd question, “What has truth or nature to do with sonnets?” The secret history of this unwarrantable mutilation of a great author by his editor was, as I was informed by the late Mr. Boswell, merely done to spite his rival commentator Malone, who had taken extraordinary 302 pains in their elucidation. Steevens himself had formerly reprinted them, but when Malone from these sonnets claimed for himself one ivy leaf of a commentator’s pride, behold, Steevens in a rage would annihilate even Shakspeare himself, that he might gain a triumph over Malone! In the same spirit, but with more caustic pleasantry, he opened a controversy with Malone respecting Shakspeare’s wife! It seems that the poet had forgotten to mention his wife in his copious will; and his recollection of Mrs. Shakspeare seems to mark the slightness of his regard, for he only introduced by an interlineation, a legacy to her of his “second best bed with the furniture”—and nothing more! Malone naturally inferred that the poet had forgot her, and so recollected her as more strongly to mark how little he esteemed her. He had already, as it is vulgarly expressed, “cut her off, not indeed with a shilling, but with an old bed!”211 All this seems judicious, till Steevens asserts the conjugal affection of the bard, tells us, that the poet having, when in health, provided for her by settlement, or knowing that her father had already done so (circumstances entirely conjectural), he bequeathed to her at his death not merely an old piece of furniture, but, perhaps, as a mark of peculiar tenderness,

The very bed that on his bridal night

Received him to the arms of Belvidera!

Steevens’ severity of satire marked the deep malevolence of his heart; and Murphy has strongly pourtrayed him in his address to the Malevoli.

Such another Puck was Horace Walpole! The King of Prussia’s “Letter” to Rousseau, and “The Memorial” pretended to have been signed by noblemen and gentlemen, were fabrications, as he confesses, only to make mischief. It well became him, whose happier invention, the Castle of Otranto, was brought forward in the guise of forgery, so unfeelingly to have reprobated the innocent inventions of a Chatterton.

We have Pucks busied among our contemporaries: whoever shall discover their history will find it copious though intricate; the malignity at least will exceed tenfold the merriment.

208 A remarkable instance is afforded in the present work; see the note to the article on Newspapers, in Vol. I., detailing one which has spread falsity to an enormous extent throughout our general literature.

209 The pretended “antique manuscripts” preserved among the Chatterton papers in the British Museum, as well as the fac-simile of the “Yellow Roll,” published in the Cambridge edition of Chatterton’s works, are, however, so totally unlike the writing of the era to which they purport to belong, that no doubt need be entertained as to their falsity.

210 They are, however, so far determined by the fragments of Gaelic originals, since published by Scottish antiquaries, that the amplifications of Macpherson can be detected.

211 Mr. Charles Knight, in his edition of Shakspeare, first clearly pointed out the true nature of the bequest. The great poet’s estates, with the exception of a copyhold tenement, expressly mentioned in the will, were freehold. His wife was entitled to dower, or a life interest of one-third of the proceeds arising from lands or tenements the property of Shakspeare, and which were of considerable value, she was thus amply provided for by the clear and undeniable operation of the law of England. Mr. Halliwell has further proved that such bequests were the constant modes of showing regard to such relatives as were well provided for by the usual legal course of events; and he adds, “so far from this bequest being one of slight importance, and exhibiting small esteem, it was the usual mode of expressing a mark of great affection.”




The preceding article has reminded me of a subject by no means incurious to the lovers of literature. A large volume might be composed on literary impostors; their modes of deception, however, were frequently repetitions; particularly those at the restoration of letters, when there prevailed a mania for burying spurious antiquities, that they might afterwards be brought to light to confound their contemporaries. They even perplex us at the present day. More sinister forgeries have been performed by Scotchmen, of whom Archibald Bower, Lauder, and Macpherson, are well known.

Even harmless impostures by some unexpected accident have driven an unwary inquirer out of the course. George Steevens must again make his appearance for a memorable trick played on the antiquary Gough. This was the famous tombstone on which was engraved the drinking-horn of Hardyknute, to indicate his last fatal carouse; for this royal Dane died drunk! To prevent any doubt, the name, in Saxon characters, was sufficiently legible. Steeped in pickle to hasten a precocious antiquity, it was then consigned to the corner of a broker’s shop, where the antiquarian eye of Gough often pored on the venerable odds and ends; it perfectly succeeded on the “Director of the Antiquarian Society.” He purchased the relic for a trifle, and dissertations of a due size were preparing for the Archæologia!212 Gough never forgave himself nor Steevens for this flagrant act of ineptitude. On every occasion in the Gentleman’s Magazine, when compelled 304 to notice this illustrious imposition, he always struck out his own name, and muffled himself up under his titular office of “The Director!” Gough never knew that this “modern antique” was only a piece of retaliation. In reviewing Masters’s Life of Baker he found two heads, one scratched down from painted glass by George Steevens, who would have passed it off for a portrait of one of our kings. Gough, on the watch to have a fling at George Steevens, attacked his graphic performance, and reprobated a portrait which had nothing human in it! Steevens vowed, that wretched as Gough deemed his pencil to be, it should make “The Director” ashamed of his own eyes, and be fairly taken in by something scratched much worse. Such was the origin of his adoption of this fragment of a chimney-slab, which I have seen, and with a better judge wondered at the injudicious antiquary, who could have been duped by the slight and ill-formed scratches, and even with a false spelling of the name, which, however, succeeded in being passed off as a genuine Saxon inscription: but he had counted on his man.213 The trick is not so original as it seems. One De Grassis had engraved on marble the epitaph of a mule, which he buried in his vineyard: some time after, having ordered a new plantation on the spot, the diggers could not fail of disinterring what lay ready for them. The inscription imported that one Publius Grassus had raised this monument to his mule! De Grassis gave it out as an odd coincidence of names, and a prophecy about his own mule! It was a simple joke! The marble was thrown by, and no more thought of. Several years after it rose into celebrity, for with the erudite it then 305 passed for an ancient inscription, and the antiquary Poracchi inserted the epitaph in his work on “Burials.” Thus De Grassis and his mule, equally respectable, would have come down to posterity, had not the story by some means got wind! An incident of this nature is recorded in Portuguese history, contrived with the intention to keep up the national spirit, and diffuse hopes of the new enterprise of Vasco de Gama, who had just sailed on a voyage of discovery to the Indies. Three stones were discovered near Cintra, bearing in ancient characters a Latin inscription; a sibylline oracle addressed prophetically “To the Inhabitants of the West!” stating that when these three stones shall be found, the Ganges, the Indus, and the Tagus should exchange their commodities! This was the pious fraud of a Portuguese poet, sanctioned by the approbation of the king. When the stones had lain a sufficient time in the damp earth, so as to become apparently antique, our poet invited a numerous party to a dinner at his country-house; in the midst of the entertainment a peasant rushed in, announcing the sudden discovery of this treasure! The inscription was placed among the royal collections as a sacred curiosity! The prophecy was accomplished, and the oracle was long considered genuine!

In such cases no mischief resulted; the annals of mankind were not confused by spurious dynasties and fabulous chronologies; but when literary forgeries are published by those whose character hardly admits of a suspicion that they are themselves the impostors, the difficulty of assigning a motive only increases that of forming a decision; to adopt or reject them may be equally dangerous.

In this class we must place Annius of Viterbo,214 who published a pretended collection of historians of the remotest antiquity, some of whose names had descended to us in the works of ancient writers, while their works themselves had been lost. Afterwards he subjoined commentaries to confirm their authority by passages from known authors. These at first were eagerly accepted by the learned; the blunders of the presumed editor, one of which was his mistaking the 306 right name of the historian he forged, were gradually detected, till at length the imposture was apparent! The pretended originals were more remarkable for their number than their volume; for the whole collection does not exceed 171 pages, which lessened the difficulty of the forgery; while the commentaries which were afterwards published must have been manufactured at the same time as the text. In favour of Annius, the high rank he occupied at the Roman Court, his irreproachable conduct, and his declaration that he had recovered some of these fragments at Mantua, and that others had come from Armenia, induced many to credit these pseudo-historians. A literary war soon kindled; Niceron has discriminated between four parties engaged in this conflict. One party decried the whole of the collection as gross forgeries; another obstinately supported their authenticity; a third decided that they were forgeries before Annius possessed them, who was only credulous; while a fourth party considered them as partly authentic, and ascribed their blunders to the interpolations of the editor, to increase their importance. Such as they were, they scattered confusion over the whole face of history. The false Berosus opens his history before the deluge, when, according to him, the Chaldeans through preceding ages had faithfully preserved their historical evidences! Annius hints, in his commentary, at the archives and public libraries of the Babylonians: the days of Noah comparatively seemed modern history with this dreaming editor. Some of the fanciful writers of Italy were duped: Sansovino, to delight the Florentine nobility, accommodated them with a new title of antiquity in their ancestor Noah, Imperatore e monarcha delle genti, visse e morì in quelle parti. The Spaniards complained that in forging these fabulous origins of different nations, a new series of kings from the ark of Noah had been introduced by some of their rhodomontade historians to pollute the sources of their history. Bodin’s otherwise valuable works are considerably injured by Annius’s supposititious discoveries. One historian died of grief, for having raised his elaborate speculations on these fabulous originals; and their credit was at length so much reduced, that Pignori and Maffei both announced to their readers that they had not referred in their works to the pretended writers of Annius! Yet, to the present hour, these presumed forgeries are not always given up. The problem remains unsolved—and the silence of the respectable Annius, 307 in regard to the forgery, as well as what he affirmed when alive, leave us in doubt whether he really intended to laugh at the world by these fairy tales of the giants of antiquity. Sanchoniathon, as preserved by Eusebius, may be classed among these ancient writings or forgeries, and has been equally rejected and defended.

Another literary forgery, supposed to have been grafted on those of Annius, involved the Inghirami family. It was by digging in their grounds that they discovered a number of Etruscan antiquities, consisting of inscriptions, and also fragments of a chronicle, pretended to have been composed sixty years before the vulgar era. The characters on the marbles were the ancient Etruscan, and the historical work tended to confirm the pretended discoveries of Annius. They were collected and enshrined in a magnificent folio by Curtius Inghirami, who, a few years after, published a quarto volume exceeding one thousand pages to support their authenticity. Notwithstanding the erudition of the forger, these monuments of antiquity betrayed their modern condiment.215 There were uncial letters which no one knew; but these were said to be undiscovered ancient Etruscan characters; it was more difficult to defend the small italic letters, for they were not used in the age assigned to them; besides that, there were dots on the letter i, a custom not practised till the eleventh century. The style was copied from the Latin of the Psalms and the Breviary; but Inghirami discovered that there had been an intercourse between the Etruscans and the Hebrews, and that David had imitated the writings of Noah and his descendants! Of Noah the chronicle details speeches and anecdotes!

The Romans, who have preserved so much of the Etruscans, had not, however, noticed a single fact recorded in these Etruscan antiquities. Inghirami replied that the manuscript was the work of the secretary of the college of the Etrurian augurs, who alone was permitted to draw his materials from the archives, and who, it would seem, was the only scribe who has favoured posterity with so much secret history. It was urged in favour of the authenticity of these Etruscan monuments, that Inghirami was so young an antiquary at 308 the time of the discovery, that he could not even explain them; and that when fresh researches were made on the spot, other similar monuments were also disinterred, where evidently they had long lain; the whole affair, however contrived, was confined to the Inghirami family. One of them, half a century before, had been the librarian of the Vatican, and to him is ascribed the honour of the forgeries which he buried where he was sure they would be found. This, however, is a mere conjecture! Inghirami, who published and defended their authenticity, was not concerned in their fabrication; the design was probably merely to raise the antiquity of Volaterra, the family estate of the Inghirami; and for this purpose one of its learned branches had bequeathed his posterity a collection of spurious historical monuments, which tended to overturn all received ideas on the first ages of history.216

It was probably such impostures, and those of false decretals of Isidore, which were forged for the maintenance of the papal supremacy, and for eight hundred years formed the fundamental basis of the canon law, the discipline of the church, and even the faith of Christianity, which led to the monstrous pyrrhonism of father Hardouin, who, with immense erudition, had persuaded himself that, excepting the Bible and Homer, Herodotus, Plautus, Pliny the elder, with fragments of Cicero, Virgil, and Horace, all the remains of classical literature were forgeries of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries! In two dissertations he imagined that he had proved that the Æneid was not written by Virgil, nor the Odes of Horace by that poet. Hardouin was one of those wrong-headed men who, once having fallen into a delusion, whatever afterwards occurs to them on their favourite subject only tends to strengthen it. He died in his own faith! He seems not to have been aware that by ascribing such prodigal inventions as Plutarch, Thucydides, Livy, Tacitus, and other historians, to the men he did, he was raising up an unparalleled age of learning and genius when monks could only write meagre chronicles, while learning and genius themselves lay in an enchanted slumber with a suspension of all their vital powers.


There are numerous instances of the forgeries of smaller documents. The Prayer-book of Columbus, presented to him by the Pope, which the great discoverer of a new world bequeathed to the Genoese republic, has a codicil in his own writing, as one of the leaves testifies, but as volumes composed against its authenticity deny. The famous description in Petrarch’s Virgil, so often quoted, of his first rencontre with Laura in the church of St. Clair on a Good Friday, 6th April, 1327, it has been recently attempted to be shown is a forgery. By calculation, it appears that the 6th April, 1327, fell on a Monday! The Good Friday seems to have been a blunder of the manufacturer of the note. He was entrapped by reading the second sonnet, as it appears in the printed editions!

Era il giorno ch’ al sol si scolorana

Per la pietà del suo fattore i rai.

“It was on the day when the rays of the sun were obscured by compassion for his Maker.” The forger imagined this description alluded to Good Friday and the eclipse at the Crucifixion. But how stands the passage in the MS. in the Imperial Library of Vienna, which Abbé Costaing has found?

Era il giorno ch’ al sol di color raro

Parve la pietà da suo fattore, ai rai

Quand Io fu preso; e non mi guardai

Che ben vostri occhi dentro mi legaro.

“It was on the day that I was captivated, devotion for its Maker appeared in the rays of a brilliant sun, and I did not well consider that it was your eyes that enchained me!”

The first meeting, according to the Abbé Costaing, was not in a church, but in a meadow—as appears by the ninety-first sonnet. The Laura of Sade was not the Laura of Petrarch, but Laura de Baux, unmarried, and who died young, residing in the vicinity of Vaucluse. Petrarch had often viewed her from his own window, and often enjoyed her society amidst her family.217 If the Abbé Costaing’s discovery 310 be confirmed, the good name of Petrarch is freed from the idle romantic passion for a married woman. It would be curious if the famous story of the first meeting with Laura in the church of St. Clair originated in the blunder of the forger’s misconception of a passage which was incorrectly printed, as appears by existing manuscripts!

Literary forgeries have been introduced into bibliography; dates have been altered; fictitious titles affixed; and books have been reprinted, either to leave out or to interpolate whole passages! I forbear entering minutely into this part of the history of literary forgery, for this article has already grown voluminous. When we discover, however, that one of the most magnificent of amateurs, and one of the most critical of bibliographers, were concerned in a forgery of this nature, it may be useful to spread an alarm among collectors. The Duke de la Vallière, and the Abbé de St. Leger once concerted together to supply the eager purchaser of literary rarities with a copy of De Tribus Impostoribus, a book, by the date, pretended to have been printed in 1598, though probably a modern forgery of 1698. The title of such a work had long existed by rumour, but never was a copy seen by man! Works printed with this title have all been proved to be modern fabrications. A copy, however, of the introuvable original was sold at the Duke de la Vallière’s sale! The history of this volume is curious. The Duke and the Abbé having manufactured a text, had it printed in the old Gothic character, under the title, De Tribus Impostoribus. They proposed to put the great bibliopolist, De Bure, in good humour, whose agency would sanction the imposture. They were afterwards to dole out copies at twenty-five louis each, which would have been a reasonable price for a book which no one ever saw! They invited De Bure to dinner, flattered and cajoled him, and, as they imagined, at a moment they had wound him up to their pitch, they exhibited their manufacture; the keen-eyed glance of the renowned cataloguer of the “Bibliographie Instructive” instantly shot like lightning over it, and, like lightning, destroyed the whole edition. He not only discovered the forgery, but reprobated it! He refused his sanction; and the forging Duke and Abbé, in confusion, suppressed the livre introuvable; but they owed a grudge to the honest bibliographer, and attempted to write down the work whence the De Bures derive their fame.


Among the extraordinary literary impostors of our age—if we except Lauder, who, detected by the Ithuriel pen of Bishop Douglas, lived to make his public recantation of his audacious forgeries, and Chatterton, who has buried his inexplicable story in his own grave, a tale, which seems but half told—we must place a man well known in the literary world under the assumed name of George Psalmanazar. He composed his autobiography as the penance of contrition, not to be published till he was no more, when all human motives have ceased which might cause his veracity to be suspected. The life is tedious; but I have curiously traced the progress of the mind in an ingenious imposture, which is worth preservation. The present literary forgery consisted of personating a converted islander of Formosa: a place then little known but by the reports of the Jesuits, and constructing a language and a history of a new people and a new religion, entirely of his own invention! This man was evidently a native of the south of France; educated in some provincial college of the Jesuits, where he had heard much of their discoveries of Japan; he had looked over their maps, and listened to their comments. He forgot the manner in which the Japanese wrote; but supposed, like orientalists, they wrote from the right to the left, which he found difficult to manage. He set about excogitating an alphabet; but actually forgot to give names to his letters, which afterwards baffled him before literary men.

He fell into gross blunders; having inadvertently affirmed that the Formosans sacrificed eighteen thousand male infants annually, he persisted in not lessening the number. It was proved to be an impossibility in so small an island, without occasioning a depopulation. He had made it a principle in this imposture never to vary when he had once said a thing. All this was projected in haste, fearful of detection by those about him.

He was himself surprised at his facility of invention, and the progress of his forgery. He had formed an alphabet, a considerable portion of a new language, a grammar, a new division of the year into twenty months, and a new religion! He had accustomed himself to write his language; but being an inexpert writer with the unusual way of writing backwards, he found this so difficult, that he was compelled to change the complicated forms of some of his letters. He now finally quitted his home, assuming the character of a Formosan convert, who had been educated by the Jesuits. He was then 312 in his fifteenth or sixteenth year. To support his new character, he practised some religious mummeries; he was seen worshipping the rising and setting sun. He made a prayer-book with rude drawings of the sun, moon, and stars, to which he added some gibberish prose and verse, written in his invented character, muttering or chanting it, as the humour took him. His custom of eating raw flesh seemed to assist his deception more than the sun and moon.218

In a garrison at Sluys he found a Scotch regiment in the Dutch pay; the commander had the curiosity to invite our Formosan to confer with Innes, the chaplain to his regiment. This Innes was probably the chief cause of the imposture being carried to the extent it afterwards reached. Innes was a clergyman, but a disgrace to his cloth. As soon as he fixed his eye on our Formosan, he hit on a project; it was nothing less than to make Psalmanazar the ladder of his own ambition, and the stepping-place for him to climb up to a good living! Innes was a worthless character; as afterwards appeared, when by an audacious imposition Innes practised on the Bishop of London, he avowed himself to be the author of an anonymous work, entitled “A Modest Inquiry after Moral Virtue;” for this he obtained a good living in Essex: the real author, a poor Scotch clergyman, obliged him afterwards to disclaim the work in print, and to pay him the profit of the edition which Innes had made! He lost his character, and retired to the solitude of his living; if not penitent, at least mortified.

Such a character was exactly adapted to become the foster-father of imposture. Innes courted the Formosan, and easily won on the adventurer, who had hitherto in vain sought for a patron. Meanwhile no time was lost by Innes to inform the unsuspicious and generous Bishop of London of the prize he possessed—to convert the Formosan was his ostensible pretext; to procure preferment his concealed motive. It is curious enough to observe, that the ardour of conversion died away in Innes, and the most marked neglect of his convert prevailed, while the answer of the bishop was protracted or doubtful. He had at first proposed to our Formosan impostor to procure his discharge, and convey him to England; this was eagerly consented to by our pliant adventurer. A few Dutch schellings, and fair words, kept him in good humour; 313 but no letter coming from the bishop, there were fewer words, and not a stiver! This threw a new light over the character of Innes to the inexperienced youth. Psalmanazar sagaciously now turned all his attention to some Dutch ministers; Innes grew jealous lest they should pluck the bird which he had already in his net. He resolved to baptize the impostor—which only the more convinced Psalmanazar that Innes was one himself; for before this time Innes had practised a stratagem on him which had clearly shown what sort of a man his Formosan was.

This stratagem was this: he made him translate a passage in Cicero, of some length, into his pretended language, and give it him in writing; this was easily done, by Psalmanazar’s facility of inventing characters. After Innes had made him construe it, he desired to have another version of it on another paper. The proposal, and the arch manner of making it, threw our impostor into the most visible confusion. He had had but a short time to invent the first paper, less to recollect it; so that in the second transcript not above half the words were to be found which existed in the first. Innes assumed a solemn air, and Psalmanazar was on the point of throwing himself on his mercy, but Innes did not wish to unmask the impostor; he was rather desirous of fitting the mask closer to his face. Psalmanazar, in this hard trial, had given evidence of uncommon facility, combined with a singular memory. Innes cleared his brow, smiled with a friendly look, and only hinted in a distant manner that he ought to be careful to be better provided for the future! An advice which Psalmanazar afterwards bore in mind, and at length produced the forgery of an entire new language; and which, he remarkably observes, “by what I have tried since I came into England, I cannot say but I could have compassed it with less difficulty than can be conceived had I applied closely to it.” When a version of the catechism was made into the pretended Formosan language, which was submitted to the judgment of the first scholars, it appeared to them grammatical, and was pronounced to be a real language, from the circumstance that it resembled no other! and they could not conceive that a stripling could be the inventor of a language. If the reader is curious to examine this extraordinary imposture, I refer him to that literary curiosity, “An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, with Accounts of the Religion, Customs and Manners of the Inhabitants, by George Psalmanazar, a Native of 314 the said Isle,” 1704; with numerous plates, wretched inventions! of their dress! religious ceremonies! their tabernacle and altars to the sun, the moon, and the ten stars! their architecture! the viceroy’s castle! a temple! a city house! a countryman’s house! and the Formosan alphabet! In his conferences before the Royal Society with a Jesuit just returned from China, the Jesuit had certain strong suspicions that our hero was an impostor. The good father remained obstinate in his own conviction, but could not satisfactorily communicate it to others; and Psalmanazar, after politely asking pardon for the expression, complains of the Jesuit that “he lied most impudently,” mentitur impudentissime! Dr. Mead absurdly insisted Psalmanazar was a Dutchman or a German; some thought him a Jesuit in disguise, a tool of the non-jurors; the Catholics thought him bribed by the Protestants to expose their church; the Presbyterians that he was paid to explode their doctrine, and cry up episcopacy! This fabulous history of Formosa seems to have been projected by his artful prompter Innes, who put Varenius into Psalmanazar’s hands to assist him; trumpeted forth in the domestic and foreign papers an account of this converted Formosan; maddened the booksellers to hurry the author, who was scarcely allowed two months to produce this extraordinary volume; and as the former accounts which the public possessed of this island were full of monstrous absurdities and contradictions, these assisted the present imposture. Our forger resolved not to describe new and surprising things as they had done, but rather studied to clash with them, probably that he might have an opportunity of pretending to correct them. The first edition was immediately sold; the world was more divided than ever in opinion; in a second edition he prefixed a vindication!—the unhappy forger got about twenty guineas for an imposture, whose delusion spread far and wide! Some years afterwards Psalmanazar was engaged in a minor imposture; one man had persuaded him to father a white composition called the Formosan japan! which was to be sold at a high price! It was curious for its whiteness, but it had its faults. The project failed, and Psalmanazar considered the miscarriage of the white Formosan japan as a providential warning to repent of all his impostures of Formosa!

Among these literary forgeries may be classed several ingenious ones fabricated for a political purpose. We had certainly 315 numerous ones during our civil wars in the reign of Charles the First. This is not the place to continue the controversy respecting the mysterious Eikon Basiliké, which has been ranked among them, from the ambiguous claim of Gauden.219 A recent writer who would probably incline not to leave the monarch, were he living, not only his head but the little fame he might obtain by the “Verses” said to be written by him at Carisbrook Castle, would deprive him also of these. Henderson’s death-bed recantation is also reckoned among them; and we have a large collection of “Letters of Sir Henry Martin to his Lady of Delight,” which were the satirical effusions of a wit of that day, but by the price they have obtained, are probably considered as genuine ones, and exhibit an amusing picture of his loose rambling life.220 There is a ludicrous speech of the strange Earl of Pembroke, which was forged by the inimitable Butler. Sir John Birkenhead, a great humourist and wit, had a busy pen in these spurious letters and speeches.221

212 I have since been informed that this famous invention was originally a flim-flam of a Mr. Thomas White, a noted collector and dealer in antiquities. But it was Steevens who placed it in the broker’s shop, where he was certain of catching the antiquary. When the late Mr. Pegge, a profound brother, was preparing to write a dissertation on it, the first inventor of the flam stepped forward to save any further tragical termination; the wicked wit had already succeeded too well.

213 The stone may be found in the British Museum. HARDCNVT is the reading on the Harthacnut stone; but the true orthography of the name is HARÐACNVT. It was reported to have been discovered in Kennington-lane, where the palace of the monarch was said to have been located, and the inscription carefully made in Anglo-Saxon characters, was to the effect that “Here Hardcnut drank a wine horn dry, stared about him, and died.”

Sylvanus Urban, my once excellent and old friend, seems a trifle uncourteous on this grave occasion.—He tells us, however, that “The history of this wanton trick, with a fac-simile of Schnebbelie’s drawing, may be seen in his volume lx. p. 217.” He says that this wicked contrivance of George Steevens was to entrap this famous draughtsman! Does Sylvanus then deny that “the Director” was not also “entrapped?” and that he always struck out his own name in the proof-sheets of the Magazine, substituting his official designation, by which the whole society itself seemed to screen “the Director!”

214 He was a Dominican monk, his real name being Giovanni Nanni, which he Latinized in conformity with the custom of his era. He was born 1432, and died 1502. His great work, Antiquitatem Rariorum, professes to contain the works of Manetho, Berosus, and other authors of equal antiquity.

215 A forgery of a similar character has been recently effected in the débris of the Chapelle St. Eloi (Département de L’Eure, France), where many inscriptions connected with the early history of France were exhumed, which a deputation of antiquaries, convened to examine their authenticity, have since pronounced to be forgeries!

216 The volume of these pretended Antiquities is entitled Etruscarum Antiquitatum Fragmenta, fo. Franc. 1637. That which Inghirami published to defend their authenticity is in Italian, Discorso sopra l’Opposizioni fatte all’ Antichita Toscane, 4to, Firenze, 1645.

217 I draw this information from a little “new year’s gift,” which my learned friend, the Rev. S. Weston, presented to his friends in 1822, entitled “A Visit to Vaucluse,” accompanied by a Supplement. He derives his account apparently from a curious publication of L’Abbé Costaing de Pusigner d’Avignon, which I with other inquirers have not been able to procure, but which it is absolutely necessary to examine, before we can decide on the very curious but unsatisfactory accounts we have hitherto possessed of the Laura of Petrarch.

218 For some further notices of Psalmanazar and his literary labours, we may refer the reader to vol. i. p. 137, note.

219 The question has been discussed with great critical acumen by Dr. Wordsworth.

220 Since this was published I have discovered that Harry Martin’s Letters are not forgeries, but I cannot immediately recover my authority.

221 One of the most amusing of these tricks was perpetrated on William Prynne, the well-known puritanic hater of the stage, by some witty cavalier. Prynne’s great work, “Histriomastix, the Player’s Scourge; or, Actor’s Tragedy,” an immense quarto, of 1100 pages, was a complete condemnation of all theatrical amusements; but in 1649 appeared a tract of four leaves, entitled “Mr. William Prynne, his Defence of Stage Playes; or, a Retractation of a former Book of his called Histriomastix.” It must have astonished many readers in his own day, and would have passed for his work in more modern times, but for the accidental preservation of a single copy of a handbill Prynne published disclaiming the whole thing. His style is most amusingly imitated throughout, and his great love for quoting authorities in his margin. He is made to complain that “this wicked and tyrannical army did lately in a most inhumane, cruell, rough, and barbarous manner, take away the poor players from their houses, being met there to discharge the duty of their callings: as if this army were fully bent, and most trayterously and maliciously set, to put down and depresse all the King’s friends, not only in the parliament but in the very theatres; they have no care of covenant or any thing else.” And he is further made to declare, in spite of “what the malicious, clamorous, and obstreperous people” may object, that he once wrote against stage-plays,—that it was “when I had not so clear a light as now I have.” We can fancy the amusement this pamphlet must have been to many readers during the great Civil War.




An honest historian at times will have to inflict severe stroke on his favourites. This has fallen to my lot, for in the course of my researches, I have to record that we have both forgers and purloiners, as well as other more obvious impostors, in the republic of letters! The present article descends to relate anecdotes of some contrivances to possess our literary curiosities by other means than by purchase; and the only apology which can be alleged for the splendida peccata, as St. Austin calls the virtues of the heathen, of the present innocent criminals, is their excessive passion for literature, and otherwise the respectability of their names. According to Grose’s “Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue,” we have had celebrated collectors, both in the learned and vulgar idioms. But one of them, who had some reasons too to be tender on this point, distinguished this mode of completing his collections, not by book-stealing, but by book-coveting. On some occasions, in mercy, we must allow of softening names. Were not the Spartans allowed to steal from one another, and the bunglers only punished?

It is said that Pinelli made occasional additions to his literary treasures sometimes by his skill in an art which lay much more in the hand than in the head: however, as Pinelli never stirred out of his native city but once in his lifetime, when the plague drove him from home, his field of action was so restricted, that we can hardly conclude that he could have been so great an enterpriser in this way. No one can have lost their character by this sort of exercise in a confined circle, and be allowed to prosper! A light-fingered Mercury would hardly haunt the same spot: however, this is as it may be! It is probable that we owe to this species of accumulation many precious manuscripts in the Cottonian collection. It appears by the manuscript note-book of Sir Nicholas Hyde, chief justice of the King’s Bench from the second to the seventh year of Charles the First, that Sir Robert Cotton had in his library, records, evidences, ledger-books, original letters, and other state papers, belonging to the king; for the attorney-general of that time, to prove this, showed a copy of the pardon which Sir Robert had obtained from King James for embezzling records, &c.222


Gough has more than insinuated that Rawlinson and his friend Umfreville “lie under very strong suspicions;” and he asserts that the collector of the Wilton treasures made as free as Dr. Willis with his friend’s coins.223 But he has also put forth a declaration relating to Bishop More, the famous collector, that “the bishop collected his library by plundering those of the clergy in his diocese; some he paid with sermons or more modern books; others, less civilly, only with a quid illiterati cum libris?” This plundering then consisted rather of cajoling others out of what they knew not how to value; and this is an advantage which every skilful lover of books must enjoy over those whose apprenticeship has not expired. I have myself been plundered by a very dear friend of some such literary curiosities, in the days of my innocence and of his precocity of knowledge. However, it does appear that Bishop More did actually lay violent hands in a snug corner on some irresistible little charmer; which we gather from a precaution adopted by a friend of the bishop, who one day was found busy in hiding his rarest books, and locking up as many as he could. On being asked the reason of this odd occupation, the bibliopolist ingenuously replied, “The Bishop of Ely dines with me to-day.” This fact is quite clear, and here is another as indisputable. Sir Robert Saville writing to Sir Robert Cotton, appointing an interview with the founder of the Bodleian Library, cautions Sir Robert, that “If he held any book so dear as that he would be loath to lose it, he should not let Sir Thomas out of his sight, but set ‘the boke’ aside beforehand.” A surprise and detection of this nature has been revealed in a piece of secret history by Amelot de la Houssaie, which terminated in very important political consequences. He assures us that the personal dislike which Pope Innocent X. bore to the French had originated in his youth, when cardinal, from having been detected in the library of an eminent French collector, of having purloined a most rare volume. The delirium of a collector’s rage overcame even French politesse; the Frenchman not only openly accused his illustrious culprit, but was resolved that he should not quit the library without replacing the precious 318 volume—from accusation and denial both resolved to try their strength: but in this literary wrestling-match the book dropped out of the cardinal’s robes!—and from that day he hated the French—at least their more curious collectors!

Even an author on his dying bed, at those awful moments, should a collector be by his side, may not be considered secure from his too curious hands. Sir William Dugdale possessed the minutes of King James’s life, written by Camden, till within a fortnight of his death; as also Camden’s own life, which he had from Hacket, the author of the folio life of Bishop Williams: who, adds Aubrey, “did filch it from Mr. Camden, as he lay a dying!” He afterwards corrects his information, by the name of Dr. Thorndyke, which, however, equally answers our purpose, to prove that even dying authors may dread such collectors!

The medalists have, I suspect, been more predatory than these subtractors of our literary treasures; not only from the facility of their conveyance, but from a peculiar contrivance which of all those things which admit of being secretly purloined, can only be practised in this department—for they can steal and no human hand can search them with any possibility of detection; they can pick a cabinet and swallow the curious things, and transport them with perfect safety, to be digested at their leisure. An adventure of this kind happened to Baron Stosch, the famous antiquary. It was in looking over the gems of the royal cabinet of medals, that the keeper perceived the loss of one; his place, his pension, and his reputation were at stake: and he insisted that Baron Stosch should be most minutely examined; in this dilemma, forced to confession, this erudite collector assured the keeper of the royal cabinet, that the strictest search would not avail: “Alas, sir! I have it here within,” he said, pointing to his breast—an emetic was suggested by the learned practitioner himself, probably from some former experiment. This was not the first time that such a natural cabinet had been invented; the antiquary Vaillant, when attacked at sea by an Algerine, zealously swallowed a whole series of Syrian kings; when he landed at Lyons, groaning with his concealed treasure, he hastened to his friend, his physician, and his brother antiquary Dufour,—who at first was only anxious to inquire of his patient, whether the medals were of the higher empire? Vaillant showed two or three, of which nature had kindly relieved 319 him. A collection of medals was left to the city of Exeter, and the donor accompanied the bequest by a clause in his will, that should a certain antiquary, his old friend and rival, be desirous of examining the coins, he should be watched by two persons, one on each side. La Croze informs us in his life, that the learned Charles Patin, who has written a work on medals, was one of the present race of collectors: Patin offered the curators of the public library at Basle to draw up a catalogue of the cabinet of Amberback there preserved, containing a good number of medals; but they would have been more numerous, had the catalogue-writer not diminished both them and his labour, by sequestrating some of the most rare, which was not discovered till this plunderer of antiquity was far out of their reach.

When Gough touched on this odd subject in the first edition of his “British Topography,” “An Academic” in the Gentleman’s Magazine for August 1772, insinuated that this charge of literary pilfering was only a jocular one; on which Gough, in his second edition, observed that this was not the case, and that “one might point out enough light-fingered antiquaries in the present age, to render such a charge extremely probable against earlier ones.” The most extraordinary part of this slight history is, that our public denouncer some time after proved himself to be one of these “light-fingered antiquaries:” the deed itself, however, was more singular than disgraceful. At the disinterment of the remains of Edward the First, around which thirty years ago assembled our most erudite antiquaries, Gough was observed, as Steevens used to relate, in a wrapping great-coat of unusual dimensions; that witty and malicious “Puck,” so capable himself of inventing mischief, easily suspected others, and divided his glance as much on the living piece of antiquity as on the elder. In the act of closing up the relics of royalty, there was found wanting an entire fore-finger of Edward the First; and as the body was perfect when opened, a murmur of dissatisfaction was spreading, when “Puck” directed their attention to the great antiquary in the watchman’s great-coat—from whence—too surely was extracted Edward the First’s great fore-finger!—so that “the light-fingered antiquary” was recognised ten years after he denounced the race, when he came to “try his hand.”224

222 Lansdowne MSS. 888, in the former printed catalogue, art. 79.

223 Coins are the most dangerous things which can be exhibited to a professed collector. One of the fraternity, who died but a few years since, absolutely kept a record of his pilferings; he succeeded in improving his collection by attending sales also, and changing his own coins for others in better preservation.

224 It is probable that this story of Gough’s pocketing the fore-finger of Edward the First, was one of the malicious inventions of George Steevens, after he discovered that the antiquary was among the few admitted to the untombing of the royal corpse; Steevens himself was not there! Sylvanus Urban (the late respected John Nichols), who must know much more than he cares to record of “Puck,”—has, however, given the following “secret history” of what he calls “ungentlemanly and unwarrantable attacks” on Gough by Steevens. It seems that Steevens was a collector of the works of Hogarth, and while engaged in forming his collection, wrote an abrupt letter to Gough to obtain from him some early impressions, by purchase or exchange. Gough resented the manner of his address by a rough refusal, for it is admitted to have been “a peremptory one.” Thus arose the implacable vengeance of Steevens, who used to boast that all the mischievous tricks he played on the grave antiquary, who was rarely over-kind to any one, was but a pleasant kind of revenge.




The history of Lord Bacon would be that of the intellectual faculties, and a theme so worthy of the philosophical biographer remains yet to be written. The personal narrative of this master-genius or inventor must for ever be separated from the scala intellectûs he was perpetually ascending: and the domestic history of this creative mind must be consigned to the most humiliating chapter in the volume of human life; a chapter already sufficiently enlarged, and which has irrefutably proved how the greatest minds are not freed from the infirmities of the most vulgar.

The parent of our philosophy is now to be considered in a new light, one which others do not appear to have observed. My researches into contemporary notices of Bacon have often convinced me that his philosophical works, in his own days and among his own countrymen, were not only not comprehended, but often ridiculed, and sometimes reprobated; that they were the occasion of many slights and mortifications which this depreciated man endured; but that from a very early period in his life, to that last record of his feelings which appears in his will, this “servant of posterity,” as he prophetically called himself, sustained his mighty spirit with the confidence of his own posthumous greatness. Bacon cast his views through the maturity of ages, and perhaps amidst the sceptics and the rejectors of his plans, may have felt at times all that idolatry of fame, which has now consecrated his philosophical works.

At college, Bacon discovered how “that scrap of Grecian knowledge, the peripatetic philosophy,” and the scholastic babble, could not serve the ends and purposes of knowledge; 321 that syllogisms were not things, and that a new logic might teach us to invent and judge by induction. He found that theories were to be built upon experiments. When a young man, abroad, he began to make those observations on nature, which afterwards led on to the foundations of the new philosophy. At sixteen, he philosophised; at twenty-six, he had framed his system into some form; and after forty years of continued labours, unfinished to his last hour, he left behind him sufficient to found the great philosophical reformation.

On his entrance into active life, study was not however his prime object. With his fortune to make, his court connexions and his father’s example opened a path for ambition. He chose the practice of common law as his means, while his inclinations were looking upwards to political affairs as his end. A passion for study, however, had strongly marked him; he had read much more than was required in his professional character, and this circumstance excited the mean jealousies of the minister Cecil, and the Attorney-General Coke. Both were mere practical men of business, whose narrow conceptions and whose stubborn habits assume that whenever a man acquires much knowledge foreign to his profession, he will know less of professional knowledge than he ought. These men of strong minds, yet limited capacities, hold in contempt all studies alien to their habits.

Bacon early aspired to the situation of Solicitor-General; the court of Elizabeth was divided into factions; Bacon adopted the interests of the generous Essex, which were inimical to the party of Cecil. The queen, from his boyhood, was delighted by conversing with her “young lord-keeper,” as she early distinguished the precocious gravity and the ingenious turn of mind of the future philosopher. It was unquestionably to attract her favour, that Bacon presented to the queen his “Maxims and Elements of the Common Law,” not published till after his death. Elizabeth suffered her minister to form her opinions on the legal character of Bacon. It was alleged that Bacon was addicted to more general pursuits than law, and the miscellaneous books which he was known to have read confirmed the accusation. This was urged as a reason why the post of Solicitor-General should not be conferred on a man of speculation, more likely to distract than to direct her affairs. Elizabeth, in the height of that political prudence which marked her character, was swayed by the vulgar notion of Cecil, and believed 322 that Bacon, who afterwards filled the situation both of Solicitor-General and Lord Chancellor, was “a man rather of show than of depth.” We have recently been told by a great lawyer that “Bacon was a master.”

On the accession of James the First, when Bacon still found the same party obstructing his political advancement, he appears, in some momentary fit of disgust, to have meditated on a retreat into a foreign country; a circumstance which has happened to several of our men of genius, during a fever of solitary indignation. He was for some time thrown out of the sunshine of life, but he found its shade more fitted for contemplation; and, unquestionably, philosophy was benefited by his solitude at Gray’s Inn. His hand was always on his work, and better thoughts will find an easy entrance into the mind of those who feed on their thoughts, and live amidst their reveries. In a letter on this occasion, he writes, “My ambition now I shall only put upon my pen, whereby I shall be able to maintain memory and merit, of the times succeeding.” And many years after, when he had finally quitted public life, he told the king, “I would live to study, and not study to live: yet I am prepared for date obolum Belisario; and, I that have borne a bag, can bear a wallet.”

Ever were the times succeeding in his mind. In that delightful Latin letter to Father Fulgentio, where, with the simplicity of true grandeur, he takes a view of all his works, and in which he describes himself as “one who served posterity,” in communicating his past and his future designs, he adds that ”they require some ages for the ripening of them.” There, while he despairs of finishing what was intended for the sixth part of his Instauration, how nobly he despairs! “Of the perfecting this I have cast away all hopes; but in future ages, perhaps, the design may bud again.” And he concludes by avowing, that the zeal and constancy of his mind in the great design, after so many years, had never become cold and indifferent. He remembers how, forty years ago, he had composed a juvenile work about those things, which with confidence, but with too pompous a title, he had called Temporis Partus Maximus; the great birth of time! Besides the public dedication of his Novum Organum to James the First, he accompanied it with a private letter. He wishes the king’s favour to the work, which he accounts as much as a hundred years’ time; 323 for he adds, “I am persuaded the work will gain upon men’s minds in ages.”

In his last will appears his remarkable legacy of fame. “My name and memory I leave to foreign nations, and to mine own countrymen, after some time be past over.” Time seemed always personated in the imagination of our philosopher, and with time he wrestled with a consciousness of triumph.

I shall now bring forward sufficient evidence to prove how little Bacon was understood, and how much he was even despised, in his philosophical character.

In those prescient views by which the genius of Verulam has often anticipated the institutions and the discoveries of succeeding times, there was one important object which even his foresight does not appear to have contemplated. Lord Bacon did not foresee that the English language would one day be capable of embalming all that philosophy can discover, or poetry can invent; that his country would at length possess a national literature of its own, and that it would exult in classical compositions which might be appreciated with the finest models of antiquity. His taste was far unequal to his invention. So little did he esteem the language of his country, that his favourite works are composed in Latin; and he was anxious to have what he had written in English preserved in that “universal language which may last as long as books last.” It would have surprised Bacon to have been told, that the most learned men in Europe have studied English authors to learn to think and to write. Our philosopher was surely somewhat mortified, when in his dedication of the Essays he observed, that “of all my other works my Essays have been most current; for that, as it seems, they come home to men’s business and bosoms.” It is too much to hope to find in a vast and profound inventor a writer also who bestows immortality on his language. The English language is the only object in his great survey of art and of nature, which owes nothing of its excellence to the genius of Bacon.

He had reason indeed to be mortified at the reception of his philosophical works; and Dr. Rawley, even some years after the death of his illustrious master, had occasion to observe, that “His fame is greater and sounds louder in foreign parts abroad than at home in his own nation”; thereby verifying that divine sentence, a prophet is not without honour, 324 save in his own country and in his own house. Even the men of genius, who ought to have comprehended this new source of knowledge thus opened to them, reluctantly entered into it; so repugnant are we suddenly to give up ancient errors which time and habit have made a part of ourselves. Harvey, who himself experienced the sluggish obstinacy of the learned, which repelled a great but a novel discovery, could, however, in his turn deride the amazing novelty of Bacon’s Novum Organum. Harvey said to Aubrey, that “Bacon was no great philosopher; he writes philosophy like a lord chancellor.” It has been suggested to me that Bacon’s philosophical writings have been much overrated.—His experimental philosophy from the era in which they were produced must be necessarily defective: the time he gave to them could only have been had at spare hours; but like the great prophet on the mount, Bacon was doomed to view the land afar, which he himself could never enter.

Bacon found but small encouragement for his new learning among the most eminent scholars, to whom he submitted his early discoveries. A very copious letter by Sir Thomas Bodley on Bacon’s desiring him to return the manuscript of the Cogitata et Visa, some portion of the Novum Organum, has come down to us; it is replete with objections to the new philosophy. “I am one of that crew,” says Sir Thomas, “that say we possess a far greater holdfast of certainty in the sciences than you will seem to acknowledge.” He gives a hint too that Solomon complained “of the infinite making of books in his time;” that all Bacon delivers is only “by averment without other force of argument, to disclaim all our axioms, maxims, &c., left by tradition from our elders unto us, which have passed all probations of the sharpest wits that ever were;” and he concludes that the end of all Bacon’s philosophy, by “a fresh creating new principles of sciences, would be to be dispossessed of the learning we have;” and he fears that it would require as many ages as have marched before us that knowledge should be perfectly achieved. Bodley truly compares himself to “the carrier’s horse which cannot blanch the beaten way in which I was trained.”225

Bacon did not lose heart by the timidity of the “carrier’s horse:” a smart vivacious note in return shows his quick apprehension.


“As I am going to my house in the country, I shall want my papers, which I beg you therefore to return. You are slothful, and you help me nothing, so that I am half in conceit you affect not the argument; for myself I know well you love and affect. I can say no more, but non canimus surdis, respondent omnia sylvæ. If you be not of the lodgings chalked up, whereof I speak in my preface, I am but to pass by your door. But if I had you a fortnight at Gorhambury, I would make you tell another tale; or else I would add a cogitation against libraries, and be revenged on you that way.”

A keen but playful retort of a great author too conscious of his own views to be angry with his critic! The singular phrase of the lodgings chalked up is a sarcasm explained by this passage in “The Advancement of Learning.” “As Alexander Borgia was wont to say of the expedition of the French for Naples, that they came with chalk in their hands to mark up their lodgings, and not with weapons to fight; so I like better that entry of truth that cometh peaceably with chalk to mark up those minds which are capable to lodge and harbour it, than that which cometh with pugnacity and contention.”226 The threatened agitation against libraries must have caused Bodley’s cheek to tingle.

Let us now turn from the scholastic to the men of the world, and we shall see what sort of notion these critics entertained of the philosophy of Bacon. Chamberlain writes, “This week the lord chancellor hath set forth his new work, called Instauratio Magna, or a kind of Novum Organum of all philosophy. In sending it to the king, he wrote that he wished his majesty might be so long in reading it as he hath been in composing and polishing it, which is well near thirty years. I have read no more than the bare title, and am not greatly encouraged by Mr. Cuffe’s judgment,227 who having long since perused it, gave this censure, that a fool could not have written such a work, and a wise man would not.” A month or two afterwards we find that “the king cannot forbear sometimes in reading the lord chancellor’s last book 326 to say, that it is like the peace of God, that surpasseth all understanding.”

Two years afterwards the same letter-writer proceeds with another literary paragraph about Bacon. “This lord busies himself altogether about books, and hath set out two lately, Historia Ventorum and De Vitâ et Morte, with promise of more. I have yet seen neither of them, because I have not leisure; but if the Life of Henry the Eighth (the Seventh), which they say he is about, might come out after his own manner (meaning his Moral Essays), I should find time and means enough to read it.” When this history made its appearance, the same writer observes, “My Lord Verulam’s history of Henry the Seventh is come forth; I have not read much of it, but they say it is a very pretty book.”228

Bacon, in his vast survey of human knowledge, included even its humbler provinces, and condescended to form a collection of apophthegms: his lordship regretted the loss of a collection made by Julius Cæsar, while Plutarch indiscriminately drew much of the dregs. The wits, who could not always comprehend his plans, ridiculed the sage. I shall now quote a contemporary poet, whose works, for by their size they may assume that distinction, were never published. A Dr. Andrews wasted a sportive pen on fugitive events; but though not always deficient in humour and wit, such is the freedom of his writings, that they will not often admit of quotation. The following is indeed but a strange pun on Bacon’s title, derived from the town of St. Albans and his collection of apophthegms:—


When learned Bacon wrote Essays,

He did deserve and hath the praise;

But now he writes his Apophthegms,

Surely he dozes or he dreams;

One said, St. Albans now is grown unable,

And is in the high-road way—to Dunstable [i. e., Dunce-table.]

To the close of his days were Lord Bacon’s philosophical pursuits still disregarded and depreciated by ignorance and 327 envy, in the forms of friendship or rivality. I shall now give a remarkable example. Sir Edward Coke was a mere great lawyer, and, like all such, had a mind so walled in by law-knowledge, that in its bounded views it shut out the horizon of the intellectual faculties, and the whole of his philosophy lay in the statutes. In the library at Holkham there will be found a presentation copy of Lord Bacon’s Novum Organum, the Instauratio Magna, 1620. It was given to Coke, for it bears the following note on the title-page, in the writing of Coke:—

Edw. Coke, Ex dono authoris,

Auctori consilium

Instaurare paras veterum documenta sophorum

Instaura leges, justitiamque prius.

The verses not only reprove Bacon for going out of his profession, but must have alluded to his character as a prerogative lawyer, and his corrupt administration of the chancery. The book was published in October, 1620, a few months before his impeachment. And so far one may easily excuse the causticity of Coke; but how he really valued the philosophy of Bacon appears by this: in this first edition there is a device of a ship passing between Hercules’s pillars; the plus ultra, the proud exultation of our philosopher. Over this device Coke has written a miserable distich in English, which marks his utter contempt of the philosophical pursuits of his illustrious rival. This ship passing beyond the columns of Hercules he sarcastically conceits as “The Ship of Fools,” the famous satire of the German Sebastian Brandt, translated by Alexander Barclay.

It deserveth not to be read in schools,

But to be freighted in the Ship of Fools.

Such then was the fate of Lord Bacon; a history not written by his biographers, but which may serve as a comment on that obscure passage dropped from the pen of his chaplain, and already quoted, that he was more valued abroad than at home.

225 This letter may be found in Reliquiæ Bodleianæ, p. 369.

226 I have been favoured with this apt illustration by an anonymous communicator, who dates from the “London University.” I request him to accept my grateful acknowledgments.

227 Henry Cuffe, secretary to Robert, Earl of Essex, and executed, being concerned in his treason. A man noted for his classical acquirements and his genius, who perished early in life.

228 Chamberlain adds the price of this moderate-sized folio, which was six shillings. It would be worth the while of some literary student to note the prices of our earlier books, which are often found written upon them by their original possessor. A rare tract first purchased for twopence has often realized four guineas or more in modern days.




It is an extraordinary circumstance in our history, that the succession to the English dominion, in two remarkable cases, was never settled by the possessors of the throne themselves during their lifetime; and that there is every reason to believe that this mighty transfer of three kingdoms became the sole act of their ministers, who considered the succession merely as a state expedient. Two of our most able sovereigns found themselves in this predicament: Queen Elizabeth and the Protector Cromwell! Cromwell probably had his reasons not to name his successor; his positive election would have dissatisfied the opposite parties of his government, whom he only ruled while he was able to cajole them. He must have been aware that latterly he had need of conciliating all parties to his usurpation, and was probably as doubtful on his death-bed whom to appoint his successor as at any other period of his reign. Ludlow suspects that Cromwell was “so discomposed in body or mind, that he could not attend to that matter; and whether he named any one is to me uncertain.” All that we know is the report of the Secretary Thurlow and his chaplains, who, when the protector lay in his last agonies, suggested to him the propriety of choosing his eldest son, and they tell us that he agreed to this choice. Had Cromwell been in his senses, he would have probably fixed on Henry, the lord-lieutenant of Ireland, rather than on Richard, or possibly had not chosen either of his sons!

Elizabeth, from womanish infirmity, or from state-reasons, could not endure the thoughts of her successor; and long threw into jeopardy the politics of all the cabinets of Europe, each of which had its favourite candidate to support. The legitimate heir to the throne of England was to be the creature of her breath, yet Elizabeth would not speak him into existence! This had, however, often raised the discontents of the nation, and we shall see how it harassed the queen in her dying hours. It is even suspected that the queen still retained so much of the woman, that she could never overcome her perverse dislike to name a successor; so that, according to this opinion, she died and left the crown to the mercy of a party! This would have been acting unworthy of the magnanimity of her great character—and as it is ascertained that the queen was very sensible that she lay in a 329 dying state several days before the natural catastrophe occurred, it is difficult to believe that she totally disregarded so important a circumstance. It is therefore, reasoning à priori, most natural to conclude that the choice of a successor must have occupied her thoughts, as well as the anxieties of her ministers; and that she would not have left the throne in the same unsettled state at her death as she had persevered in during her whole life. How did she express herself when bequeathing the crown to James the First, or did she bequeath it at all?

In the popular pages of her female historian Miss Aikin, it is observed that “the closing scene of the long and eventful life of Queen Elizabeth was marked by that peculiarity of character and destiny which attended her from the cradle, and pursued her to the grave.” The last days of Elizabeth were indeed most melancholy—she died a victim of the higher passions, and perhaps as much of grief as of age, refusing all remedies and even nourishment. But in all the published accounts, I can nowhere discover how she conducted herself respecting the circumstance of our present inquiry. The most detailed narrative, or as Gray the poet calls it, “the Earl of Monmouth’s odd account of Queen Elizabeth’s death,” is the one most deserving notice; and there we find the circumstance of this inquiry introduced. The queen at that moment was reduced to so sad a state, that it is doubtful whether her majesty was at all sensible of the inquiries put to her by her ministers respecting the succession. The Earl of Monmouth says, “On Wednesday, the 23rd of March, she grew speechless. That afternoon, by signs, she called for her council, and by putting her hand to her head when the King of Scots was named to succeed her, they all knew he was the man she desired should reign after her.” Such a sign as that of a dying woman putting her hand to her head was, to say the least, a very ambiguous acknowledgment of the right of the Scottish monarch to the English throne. The “odd” but very naïve account of Robert Cary, afterwards Earl of Monmouth, is not furnished with dates, nor with the exactness of a diary. Something might have occurred on a preceding day which had not reached him. Camden describes the death-bed scene of Elizabeth; by this authentic writer it appears that she had confided her state-secret of the succession to the lord admiral (the Earl of Nottingham); and when the earl found the queen almost at 330 her extremity, he communicated her majesty’s secret to the council, who commissioned the lord admiral, the lord keeper, and the secretary, to wait on her majesty, and acquaint her that they came in the name of the rest to learn her pleasure in reference to the succession. The queen was then very weak, and answered them with a faint voice, that she had already declared, that as she held a regal sceptre, so she desired no other than a royal successor. When the secretary requested her to explain herself, the queen said, “I would have a king succeed me; and who should that he but my nearest kinsman, the King of Scots?” Here this state conversation was put an end to by the interference of the archbishop advising her majesty to turn her thoughts to God. “Never,” she replied, “has my mind wandered from him.”

An historian of Camden’s high integrity would hardly have forged a fiction to please the new monarch: yet Camden has not been referred to on this occasion by the exact Birch, who draws his information from the letters of the French ambassador, Villeroy; information which it appears the English ministers had confided to this ambassador; nor do we get any distinct ideas from Elizabeth’s more recent popular historian, who could only transcribe the account of Cary. He had told us a fact which he could not be mistaken in, that the queen fell speechless on Wednesday, 23rd of March, on which day, however, she called her council, and made that sign with her hand, which, as the lords choose to understand, for ever united the two kingdoms. But the noble editor of Cary’s Memoirs (the Earl of Cork and Orrery) has observed that “the speeches made for Elizabeth on her death-bed are all forged.” Echard, Rapin, and a long string of historians, make her say faintly (so faintly indeed that it could not possibly be heard), “I will that a king succeed me, and who should that be but my nearest kinsman, the King of Scots?” A different account of this matter will be found in the following memoirs. “She was speechless, and almost expiring, when the chief councillors of state were called into her bedchamber. As soon as they were perfectly convinced that she could not utter an articulate word, and scarce could hear or understand one, they named the King of Scots to her, a liberty they dared not to have taken if she had been able to speak; she put her hand to her head, which was probably at 331 that time in agonising pain. The lords, who interpreted her signs just as they pleased, were immediately convinced that the motion of her hand to her head was a declaration of James the Sixth as her successor. What was this but the unanimous interpretation of persons who were adoring the rising sun?”

This is lively and plausible; but the noble editor did not recollect that “the speeches made by Elizabeth on her death-bed,” which he deems “forgeries,” in consequence of the circumstance he had found in Cary’s Memoirs, originate with Camden, and were only repeated by Rapin and Echard, &c. I am now to confirm the narrative of the elder historian, as well as the circumstance related by Cary, describing the sign of the queen a little differently, which happened on Wednesday, 23rd. A hitherto unnoticed document pretends to give a fuller and more circumstantial account of this affair, which commenced on the preceding day, when the queen retained the power of speech; and it will be confessed that the language here used has all that loftiness and brevity which was the natural style of this queen. I have discovered a curious document in a manuscript volume formerly in the possession of Petyt, and seemingly in his own handwriting. I do not doubt its authenticity, and it could only have come from some of the illustrious personages who were the actors in that solemn scene, probably from Cecil. This memorandum is entitled

“Account of the last words of Queen Elizabeth about her Successor.

“On the Tuesday before her death, being the twenty-third of March, the admiral being on the right side of her bed, the lord keeper on the left, and Mr. Secretary Cecil (afterwards Earl of Salisbury) at the bed’s feet, all standing, the lord admiral put her in mind of her speech concerning the succession had at Whitehall, and that they, in the name of all the rest of her council, came unto her to know her pleasure who should succeed; whereunto she thus replied:

I told you my seat had been the seat of kings, and I will have no rascal to succeed me. And who should succeed me but a king?

“The lords not understanding this dark speech, and looking one on the other; at length Mr. Secretary boldly asked her what she meant by those words, that no rascal should succeed her. Whereto she replied, that her meaning was, that a king 332 should succeed: and who, quoth she, should, that be but our cousin of Scotland?

“They asked her whether that were her absolute resolution? whereto she answered, I pray you trouble me no more; for I will have none but him. With which answer they departed.

“Notwithstanding, after again, about four o’clock in the afternoon the next day, being Wednesday, after the Archbishop of Canterbury and other divines had been with her, and left her in a manner speechless, the three lords aforesaid repaired unto her again, asking her if she remained in her former resolution, and who should succeed her? but not being able to speak, was asked by Mr. Secretary in this sort, ‘We beseech your majesty, if you remain in your former resolution, and that you would have the King of Scots to succeed you in your kingdom, show some sign unto us: whereat, suddenly heaving herself upwards in her bed, and putting her arms out of bed, she held her hands jointly over her head in manner of a crown; whence as they guessed, she signified that she did not only wish him the kingdom, but desire continuance of his estate: after which they departed, and the next morning she died. Immediately after her death, all the lords, as well of the council as other noblemen that were at the court, came from Richmond to Whitehall by six o’clock in the morning, where other noblemen that were in London met them. Touching the succession, after some speeches of divers competitors and matters of state, at length the admiral rehearsed all the aforesaid premises which the late queen had spoken to him, and to the lord keeper, and Mr. Secretary (Cecil), with the manner thereof; which they, being asked, did affirm to be true upon their honour.”

Such is this singular document of secret history. I cannot but value it as authentic, because the one part is evidently alluded to by Camden, and the other is fully confirmed by Cary; and besides this, the remarkable expression of “rascal” is found in the letter of the French ambassador. There were two interviews with the queen, and Cary appears only to have noticed the last on Wednesday, when the queen lay speechless. Elizabeth all her life had persevered in an obstinate mysteriousness respecting the succession, and it harassed her latest moments. The second interview of her ministers may seem to us quite supernumerary; but Cary’s “putting her hand to her head,” too meanly describes the “joining her hands in manner of a crown.”




Calumnies and sarcasms have reduced the character of James the First to contempt among general readers; while the narrative of historians, who have related facts in spite of themselves, is in perpetual contradiction with their own opinions. Perhaps no sovereign has suffered more by that art, which is described by an old Irish proverb, of “killing a man by lies.” The surmises and the insinuations of one party, dissatisfied with the established government in church and state; the misconceptions of more modern writers, who have not possessed the requisite knowledge; and the anonymous libels, sent forth at a particular period to vilify the Stuarts; all these cannot be treasured up by the philosopher as the authorities of history. It is at least more honourable to resist popular prejudice than to yield to it a passive obedience; and what we can ascertain it would be a dereliction of truth to conceal. Much can be substantiated in favour of the domestic affections and habits of this pacific monarch; and those who are more intimately acquainted with the secret history of the times will perceive how erroneously the personal character of this sovereign is exhibited in our popular historians, and often even among the few who, with better information, have re-echoed their preconceived opinions.

Confining myself here to his domestic character, I shall not touch on the many admirable public projects of this monarch, which have extorted the praise, and even the admiration, of some who have not spared their pens in his disparagement. James the First has been taxed with pusillanimity and foolishness; this monarch cannot, however, be reproached with having engendered them! All his children, in whose education their father was so deeply concerned, sustained through life a dignified character and a high spirit. The short life of Henry was passed in a school of prowess, and amidst an academy of literature. Of the king’s paternal solicitude, even to the hand and the letter-writing of Prince Henry when young, I have preserved a proof in the article of “The History of Writing-masters.” Charles the First, in his youth more particularly designed for a studious life, with a serious character, was, however, never deficient in active bravery and magnanimous fortitude. Of Elizabeth, the Queen of Bohemia, tried as she was by such vicissitudes of fortune, it is 334 much to be regretted that the interesting story remains untold; her buoyant spirits rose always above the perpetual changes of a princely to a private state—a queen to an exile! The father of such children derives some distinction for capacity, in having reared such a noble offspring; and the king’s marked attention to the formation of his children’s minds was such as to have been pointed out by Ben Jonson, who, in his “Gipsies Metamorphosed,” rightly said of James, using his native term—

You are an honest, good man, and have care of your Bearns (bairns).

Among the flouts and gibes so freely bespattering the personal character of James the First, is one of his coldness and neglect of his queen. It would, however, be difficult to prove by any known fact that James was not as indulgent a husband as he was a father. Yet even a writer so well informed as Daines Barrington, who, as a lawyer, could not refrain from lauding the royal sage during his visit to Denmark, on his marriage, for having borrowed three statutes from the Danish code, found the king’s name so provocative of sarcasm, that he could not forbear observing, that James “spent more time in those courts of judicature than in attending upon his destined consort.”—“Men of all sorts have taken a pride to gird at me,” might this monarch have exclaimed. But everything has two handles, saith the ancient adage. Had an austere puritan chosen to observe that James the First, when abroad, had lived jovially; and had this historian then dropped silently the interesting circumstance of the king’s “spending his time in the Danish courts of judicature,” the fact would have borne him out in his reproof; and Francis Osborne, indeed, has censured James for giving marks of his uxoriousness! There was no deficient gallantry in the conduct of James the First to his queen; the very circumstance, that when the Princess of Denmark was driven by a storm back to Norway, the king resolved to hasten to her, and consummate his marriage in Denmark, was itself as romantic an expedition as afterwards was that of his son’s into Spain, and betrays no mark of that tame pusillanimity with which he stands overcharged.

The character of the queen of James the First is somewhat obscure in our public history, for in it she makes no prominent figure; while in secret history she is more apparent. Anne of Denmark was a spirited and enterprising woman; and it appears from a passage in Sully, whose authority should 335 weigh with us, although we ought to recollect that it is the French minister who writes, that she seems to have raised a court faction against James, and inclined to favour the Spanish and catholic interests; yet it may be alleged as a strong proof of James’s political wisdom, that the queen was never suffered to head a formidable party, though she latterly might have engaged Prince Henry in that court opposition. The bonhommie of the king, on this subject, expressed with a simplicity of style which, though it may not be royal, is something better, appears in a letter to the queen, which has been preserved in the appendix to Sir David Dalrymple’s collections. It is without date, but written when in Scotland, to quiet the queen’s suspicions, that the Earl of Mar, who had the care of Prince Henry, and whom she wished to take out of his hands, had insinuated to the king that her majesty was strongly disposed to any “popish or Spanish course.” This letter confirms the representation of Sully; but the extract is remarkable for the manly simplicity of style which the king used.

“I say over again, leave these froward womanly apprehensions, for I thank God I carry that love and respect unto you which, by the law of God and nature, I ought to do to my wife, and mother of my children; but not for that ye are a king’s daughter; for whether ye were a king’s daughter, or a cook’s daughter, ye must be all alike to me since my wife. For the respect of your honourable birth and descent I married you; but the love and respect I now bear you is because that ye are my married wife, and so partaker of my honour, as of my other fortunes. I beseech you excuse my plainness in this, for casting up of your birth is a needless impertinent (that is, not pertinent) argument to me. God is my witness, I ever preferred you to my bairns, much more than to a subject.”

In an ingenious historical dissertation, but one perfectly theoretical, respecting that mysterious transaction the Gowrie conspiracy, Pinkerton has attempted to show that Anne of Denmark was a lady somewhat inclined to intrigue, and that “the king had cause to be jealous.” He confesses that “he cannot discover any positive charge of adultery against Anne of Denmark, but merely of coquetry.”229 To what these accusations amount it would be difficult to say. The progeny of 336 James the First sufficiently bespeak their family resemblance. If it be true, that “the king had ever reason to be jealous,” and yet that no single criminal act of the queen’s has been recorded, it must be confessed that one or both of the parties were singularly discreet and decent; for the king never complained, and the queen was never accused, if we except this burthen of an old Scottish ballad,

O the bonny Earl of Murray,

He was the queen’s love.

Whatever may have happened in Scotland, in England the queen appears to have lived occupied chiefly by the amusements of the court, and not to have interfered with the arcana of state. She appears to have indulged a passion for the elegancies and splendours of the age, as they were shown in those gorgeous court masques with which the taste of James harmonized, either from his gallantry for the queen, or his own poetic sympathy. But this taste for court masques could not escape the slur and scandal of the puritanic, and these “high-flying fancies” are thus recorded by honest Arthur Wilson, whom we summon into court as an indubitable witness of the mutual cordiality of this royal couple. In the spirit of his party, and like Milton, he censures the taste, but likes it. He says, “The court being a continued maskarado, where she (the queen) and her ladies, like so many sea-nymphs or Nereides, appeared often in various dresses, to the ravishment of the beholders; the king himself not being a little delighted with such fluent elegancies as made the night more glorious than the day.”230 This is a direct proof that James was by no means cold or negligent in his attentions to his queen; and the letter which has been given is the picture of his mind. That James the First was fondly indulgent to his queen, and could perform an act of chivalric gallantry with all the generosity of passion, and the ingenuity of an elegant mind, a pleasing anecdote which I have discovered in an unpublished letter of the day will show. I give it in the words of the writer.


August, 1613.

“At their last being at Theobalds, about a fortnight ago, the queen, shooting at a deer, mistook her mark, and killed 337 Jewel, the king’s most principal and special hound; at which he stormed exceedingly awhile; but after he knew who did it, he was soon pacified, and with much kindness wished her not to be troubled with it, for he should love her never the worse: and the next day sent her a diamond worth two thousand pounds as a legacy from his dead dog. Love and kindness increased daily between them.”

Such is the history of a contemporary living at court, very opposite to that representation of coldness and neglect with which the king’s temper has been so freely aspersed; and such too is the true portrait of James the First in domestic life. His first sensations were thoughtless and impetuous; and he would ungracefully thunder out an oath, which a puritan would set down in his “tables,” while he omitted to note that this king’s forgiveness and forgetfulness of personal injuries were sure to follow the feeling they had excited.

229 The historical dissertation is appended to the first volume of Mr. Malcolm Laing’s “History of Scotland,” who thinks that “it has placed that obscure transaction in its genuine light.”

230 See the article on Court Masques in the early pages of the present volume for notices of the elaborate splendour and costliness of these favourite displays.



Mr. Maurice, in his animated Memoirs, has recently acquainted us with a fact which may be deemed important in the life of a literary man. He tells us, “We have been just informed that Sir William Jones invariably read through every year the works of Cicero, whose life indeed was the great exemplar of his own.” The same passion for the works of Cicero has been participated by others. When the best means of forming a good style were inquired of the learned Arnauld, he advised the daily study of Cicero; but it was observed that the object was not to form a Latin, but a French style: “In that case,” replied Arnauld, “you must still read Cicero.”

A predilection for some great author, among the vast number which must transiently occupy our attention, seems to be the happiest preservative for our taste: accustomed to that excellent author whom we have chosen for our favourite, we may in this intimacy possibly resemble him. It is to be feared that, if we do not form such a permanent attachment, we may be acquiring knowledge, while our enervated taste becomes less and less lively. Taste embalms the knowledge which otherwise cannot preserve itself. He who has long been intimate with one great author will always be found to be a formidable antagonist; he has saturated his mind with the 338 excellences of genius; he has shaped his faculties insensibly to himself by his model, and he is like a man who ever sleeps in armour, ready at a moment! The old Latin proverb reminds us of this fact, Cave ab homine unius libri: Be cautious of the man of one book!

Pliny and Seneca give very safe advice on reading: that we should read much, but not many books—but they had no “monthly list of new publications!” Since their days others have favoured us with “Methods of Study,” and “Catalogues of Books to be Read.” Vain attempts to circumscribe that invisible circle of human knowledge which is perpetually enlarging itself! The multiplicity of books is an evil for the many; for we now find an helluo librorum not only among the learned, but, with their pardon, among the unlearned; for those who, even to the prejudice of their health, persist only in reading the incessant book-novelties of our own time, will after many years acquire a sort of learned ignorance. We are now in want of an art to teach how books are to be read, rather than not to read them: such an art is practicable. But amidst this vast multitude still let us be “the man of one book,” and preserve an uninterrupted intercourse with that great author with whose mode of thinking we sympathise, and whose charms of composition we can habitually retain.

It is remarkable that every great writer appears to have a predilection for some favourite author; and, with Alexander, had they possessed a golden casket, would have enshrined the works they so constantly turned over. Demosthenes felt such delight in the history of Thucydides, that, to obtain a familiar and perfect mastery of his style, he re-copied his history eight times; while Brutus not only was constantly perusing Polybius, even amidst the most busy periods of his life, but was abridging a copy of that author on the last awful night of his existence, when on the following day he was to try his fate against Antony and Octavius. Selim the Second had the Commentaries of Cæsar translated for his use; and it is recorded that his military ardour was heightened by the perusal. We are told that Scipio Africanus was made a hero by the writings of Xenophon. When Clarendon was employed in writing his history, he was in a constant study of Livy and Tacitus, to acquire the full and flowing style of the one, and the portrait-painting of the other: he records this circumstance in a letter. Voltaire had usually on his table 339 the Athalie of Racine, and the Petit Carême of Massillon; the tragedies of the one were the finest model of French verse, the sermons of the other of French prose. “Were I obliged to sell my library,” exclaimed Diderot, “I would keep back Moses, Homer, and Richardson;” and, by the éloge which this enthusiastic writer composed on our English novelist, it is doubtful, had the Frenchman been obliged to have lost two of them, whether Richardson had not been the elected favourite. Monsieur Thomas, a French writer, who at times displays high eloquence and profound thinking, Herault de Sechelles tells us, studied chiefly one author, but that author was Cicero; and never went into the country unaccompanied by some of his works. Fénélon was constantly employed on his Homer; he left a translation of the greater part of the Odyssey, without any design of publication, but merely as an exercise for style. Montesquieu was a constant student of Tacitus, of whom he must be considered a forcible imitator. He has, in the manner of Tacitus, characterised Tacitus: “That historian,” he says, “who abridged everything, because he saw everything.” The famous Bourdaloue re-perused every year Saint Paul, Saint Chrysostom, and Cicero. “These,” says a French critic, “were the sources of his masculine and solid eloquence.” Grotius had such a taste for Lucan, that he always carried a pocket edition about him, and has been seen to kiss his hand-book with the rapture of a true votary. If this anecdote be true, the elevated sentiments of the stern Roman were probably the attraction with the Batavian republican. The diversified reading of Leibnitz is well known; but he still attached himself to one or two favourites: Virgil was always in his hand when at leisure, and Leibnitz had read Virgil so often, that even in his old age he could repeat whole books by heart; Barclay’s Argenis was his model for prose; when he was found dead in his chair, the Argenis had fallen from his hands. Rabelais and Marot were the perpetual favourites of La Fontaine; from one he borrowed his humour, and from the other his style. Quevedo was so passionately fond of the Don Quixote of Cervantes, that often in reading that unrivalled work he felt an impulse to burn his own inferior compositions: to be a sincere admirer and a hopeless rival is a case of authorship the hardest imaginable. Few writers can venture to anticipate the award of posterity; yet perhaps Quevedo had not even been what he was without the perpetual excitement he received from his 340 great master. Horace was the friend of his heart to Malherbe; he laid the Roman poet on his pillow, took him in the fields, and called his Horace his breviary. Plutarch, Montaigne, and Locke, were the three authors constantly in the hands of Rousseau, and he has drawn from them the groundwork of his ideas in his Emile. The favourite author of the great Earl of Chatham was Barrow; and on his style he had formed his eloquence, and had read his great master so constantly, as to be able to repeat his elaborate sermons from memory. The great Lord Burleigh always carried Tully’s Offices in his pocket; Charles V. and Buonaparte had Machiavel frequently in their hands; and Davila was the perpetual study of Hampden: he seemed to have discovered in that historian of civil wars those which he anticipated in the land of his fathers.

These facts sufficiently illustrate the recorded circumstance of Sir William Jones’s invariable habit of reading his Cicero through every year, and exemplify the happy result for him, who, amidst the multiplicity of his authors, still continues in this way to be “the man of one book.”



A startling literary prophecy, recently sent forth from our oracular literature, threatens the annihilation of public libraries, which are one day to moulder away!

Listen to the vaticinator! “As conservatories of mental treasures, their value in times of darkness and barbarity was incalculable; and even in these happier days, when men are incited to explore new regions of thought, they command respect as depots of methodical and well-ordered references for the researches of the curious. But what in one state of society is invaluable, may at another be worthless; and the progress which the world has made within a very few centuries has considerably reduced the estimation which is due to such establishments. We will say more—”231 but enough! This idea of striking into dust “the god of his idolatry,” the Dagon of his devotion, is sufficient to terrify the bibliographer, who views only a blind Samson pulling down the pillars of his temple!

This future universal inundation of books, this superfluity of knowledge, in billions and trillions, overwhelms the imaginnation! 341 It is now about four hundred years since the art of multiplying books has been discovered; and an arithmetician has attempted to calculate the incalculable of these four ages of typography, which he discovers have actually produced 3,641,960 works! Taking each work at three volumes, and reckoning only each impression to consist of three hundred copies, which is too little, the actual amount from the presses of Europe will give to 1816, 3,277,764,000 volumes! each of which being an inch thick, if placed on a line, would cover 6069 leagues! Leibnitz facetiously maintained that such would be the increase of literature, that future generations would find whole cities insufficient to contain their libraries. We are, however, indebted to the patriotic endeavours of our grocers and trunkmakers, alchemists of literature! they annihilate the gross bodies without injuring the finer spirits. We are still more indebted to that neglected race, the bibliographers!

The science of books, for so bibliography is sometimes dignified, may deserve the gratitude of a public, who are yet insensible of the useful zeal of those book-practitioners, the nature of whose labours is yet so imperfectly comprehended. Who is this vaticinator of the uselessness of public libraries? Is he a bibliognoste, or a bibliographe, or a bibliomane, or a bibliophile, or a bibliotaphe? A bibliothecaire, or a bibliopole, the prophet cannot be; for the bibliothecaire is too delightfully busied among his shelves, and the bibliopole is too profitably concerned in furnishing perpetual additions to admit of this hyperbolical terror of annihilation!232

Unawares, we have dropped into that professional jargon which was chiefly forged by one who, though seated in the “scorner’s chair,” was the Thaumaturgus of books and manuscripts. The Abbé Rive had acquired a singular taste and curiosity, not without a fermenting dash of singular charlatanerie, in bibliography: the little volumes he occasionally put forth are things which but few hands have touched. He knew well, that for some books to be noised about, they should not be read: this was one of those recondite mysteries of his, which we may have occasion farther to 342 reveal. This bibliographical hero was librarian to the most magnificent of book-collectors, the Duke de la Vallière. The Abbé Rive was a strong but ungovernable brute, rabid, surly, but très-mordant. His master, whom I have discovered to have been the partner of the cur’s tricks, would often pat him; and when the bibliognostes, and the bibliomanes were in the heat of contest, let his “bull-dog” loose among them, as the duke affectionately called his librarian. The “bull-dog” of bibliography appears, too, to have had the taste and appetite of the tiger of politics, but he hardly lived to join the festival of the guillotine. I judge of this by an expression he used to one complaining of his parish priest, whom he advised to give “une messe dans son ventre!” He had tried to exhaust his genius in La Chasse aux Bibliographes et aux Antiquaires mal avisés, and acted Cain with his brothers! All Europe was to receive from him new ideas concerning books and manuscripts. Yet all his mighty promises fumed away in projects; and though he appeared for ever correcting the blunders of others, this French Ritson left enough of his own to afford them a choice of revenge. His style of criticism was perfectly Ritsonian. He describes one of his rivals as l’insolent et très-insensé auteur de l’Almanach de Gotha, on the simple subject of the origin of playing-cards!

The Abbé Rive was one of those men of letters, of whom there are not a few who pass all their lives in preparations. Dr. Dibdin, since the above was written, has witnessed the confusion of the mind and the gigantic industry of our bibliognoste, which consisted of many trunks full of memoranda. The description will show the reader to what hard hunting these book-hunters voluntarily doom themselves, with little hope of obtaining fame! “In one trunk were about six thousand notices of MSS. of all ages. In another were wedged about twelve thousand descriptions of books in all languages, except those of French and Italian; sometimes with critical notes. In a third trunk was a bundle of papers relating to the History of the Troubadours. In a fourth was a collection of memoranda and literary sketches connected with the invention of arts and sciences, with pieces exclusively bibliographical. A fifth trunk contained between two and three thousand cards, written upon each side, respecting a collection of prints. In a sixth trunk were contained his papers respecting earthquakes, volcanoes, and geographical 343 subjects.”233 This Ajax flagellifer of the bibliographical tribe, who was, as Dr. Dibdin observes, “the terror of his acquaintance, and the pride of his patron,” is said to have been in private a very different man from his public character; all which may be true, without altering a shade of that public character. The French Revolution showed how men, mild and even kind in domestic life, were sanguinary and ferocious in their public.

The rabid Abbé Rive gloried in terrifying, without enlightening his rivals; he exulted that he was devoting to “the rods of criticism and the laughter of Europe the bibliopoles,” or dealers in books, who would not get by heart his “Catechism” of a thousand and one questions and answers: it broke the slumbers of honest De Bure, who had found life was already too short for his own “Bibliographie Instructive.”

The Abbé Rive had contrived to catch the shades of the appellatives necessary to discriminate book amateurs; and of the first term he is acknowledged to be the inventor.

A bibliognoste, from the Greek, is one knowing in title-pages and colophons, and in editions; the place and year when printed; the presses whence issued; and all the minutiæ of a book.

A bibliographe is a describer of books and other literary arrangements.

A bibliomane is an indiscriminate accumulator, who blunders faster than he buys, cock-brained, and purse-heavy!

A bibliophile, the lover of books, is the only one in the class who appears to read them for his own pleasure.

A bibliotaphe buries his books, by keeping them under lock, or framing them in glass cases.

I shall catch our bibliognoste in the hour of book-rapture! It will produce a collection of bibliographical writers, and show to the second-sighted Edinburgher what human contrivances have been raised by the art of more painful writers than himself—either to postpone the day of universal annihilation, 344 or to preserve for our posterity, three centuries hence, the knowledge which now so busily occupies us, and transmit to them something more than what Bacon calls “Inventories” of our literary treasures.

“Histories, and literary bibliothèques (or bibliothecas), will always present to us,” says La Rive, “an immense harvest of errors, till the authors of such catalogues shall be fully impressed by the importance of their art; and, as it were, reading in the most distant ages of the future the literary good and evil which they may produce, force a triumph from the pure devotion to truth, in spite of all the disgusts which their professional tasks involve; still patiently enduring the heavy chains which bind down those who give themselves up to this pursuit, with a passion which resembles heroism.

“The catalogues of bibliothèques fixes (or critical, historical, and classified accounts of writers) have engendered that enormous swarm of bibliographical errors, which have spread their roots, in greater or less quantities, in all our bibliographers.” He has here furnished a long list, which I shall preserve in the note.234

The list, though curious, is by no means complete. Such are the men of whom the Abbé Rive speaks with more respect than his accustomed courtesy. “If such,” says he, “cannot escape from errors, who shall? I have only marked them out to prove the importance of bibliographical history. A writer of this sort must occupy himself with more regard for his reputation than his own profit, and yield himself up entirely to the study of books.”

The mere knowledge of books, which has been called an erudition of title-pages, may be sufficient to occupy the life of some; and while the wits and “the million” are ridiculing these hunters of editions, who force their passage through secluded spots, as well as course in the open fields, it will be found that this art of book-knowledge may turn out to be a very philosophical pursuit, and that men of great name have 345 devoted themselves to labours more frequently contemned than comprehended. Apostolo Zeno, a poet, a critic, and a true man of letters, considered it as no small portion of his glory to have annotated Fontanini, who, himself an eminent prelate, had passed his life in forming his Bibliotheca Italiana. Zeno did not consider that to correct errors and to enrich by information this catalogue of Italian writers was a mean task. The enthusiasm of the Abbé Rive considered bibliography as a sublime pursuit, exclaiming on Zeno’s commentary on Fontanini—“He chained together the knowledge of whole generations for posterity, and he read in future ages.”

There are few things by which we can so well trace the history of the human mind as by a classed catalogue, with dates of the first publication of books; even the relative prices of books at different periods, their decline and then their rise, and again their fall, form a chapter in this history of the human mind; we become critics even by this literary chronology, and this appraisement of auctioneers. The favourite book of every age is a certain picture of the people. The gradual depreciation of a great author marks a change in knowledge or in taste.

But it is imagined that we are not interested in the history of indifferent writers, and scarcely in that of the secondary ones. If none but great originals should claim our attention, in the course of two thousand years we should not count twenty authors! Every book, whatever be its character, may be considered as a new experiment made by the human understanding; and as a book is a sort of individual representation, not a solitary volume exists but may be personified, and described as a human being. Hints start discoveries: they are usually found in very different authors who could go no further; and the historian of obscure books is often preserving for men of genius indications of knowledge, which without his intervention we should not possess! Many secrets we discover in bibliography. Great writers, unskilled in this science of books, have frequently used defective editions, as Hume did the castrated Whitelocke; or, like Robertson, they are ignorant of even the sources of the knowledge they would give the public; or they compose on a subject which too late they discover had been anticipated. Bibliography will show what has been done, and suggest to our invention what is wanted. Many have often protracted their journey in a road which had already been worn out by the wheels which had traversed 346 it: bibliography unrolls the whole map of the country we purpose travelling over—the post-roads and the by-paths.

Every half-century, indeed, the obstructions multiply; and the Edinburgh prediction, should it approximate to the event it has foreseen, may more reasonably terrify a far distant posterity. Mazzuchelli declared, after his laborious researches in Italian literature, that one of his more recent predecessors, who had commenced a similar work, had collected notices of forty thousand writers—and yet, he adds, my work must increase that number to ten thousand more! Mazzuchelli said this in 1753; and the amount of nearly a century must now be added, for the presses of Italy have not been inactive.

But the literature of Germany, of France, and of England has exceeded the multiplicity of the productions of Italy, and an appalling population of authors swarm before the imagination.235 Hail then the peaceful spirit of the literary historian, which sitting amidst the night of time, by the monuments of genius, trims the sepulchral lamps of the human mind! Hail to the literary Reaumur, who by the clearness of his glasses makes even the minute interesting, and reveals to us the world of insects! These are guardian spirits who, at the close of every century standing on its ascent, trace out the old roads we had pursued, and with a lighter line indicate the new ones which are opening, from the imperfect attempts, and even the errors of our predecessors!

231 “Edinburgh Review,” vol. xxxiv, 384.

232 Will this writer pardon me for ranking him, for a moment, among those “generalisers” of the age who excel in what a critical friend has happily discriminated as ambitious writing? that is, writing on any topic, and not least strikingly on that of which they know least; men otherwise of fine taste, and who excel in every charm of composition.

233 The late Wm. Upcott possessed, in a large degree, a similar taste for miscellaneous collections. He never threw an old hat away, but used it as a receptacle for certain “cuttings” from books and periodicals on some peculiar subjects. He had filled a room with hats and trunks thus crammed; but they were sacrificed at his death for want of necessary arrangement.

234 Gessner—Simler—Bellarmin—L’Abbé—Mabillon—Montfaucon—Moreri—Bayle—Baillet—Niceron—Dupin—Cave—Warton—Casimir Oudin—Le Long—Goujet—Wolfius—John Albert Fabricius—Argelati—Tiraboschi—Nicholas Antonio—Walchius—Struvius—Brucker—Scheuchzer—Linnæus—Seguier—Haller—Adamson—Manget—Kestner—Eloy—Douglas—Weidler—Hailbronner—Montucla—Lalande—Bailly—Quadrio—Morhoff—Stollius—Funccius—Schelhorn—Engles—Beyer—Gerdesius—Vogts—Freytag—David Clement—Chevillier—Maittaire—Orlandi—Prosper Marchand—Schoeplin—De Boze—Abbé Sallier—and de Saint Leger.

235 The British Museum Library now numbers more than 500,000 volumes. The catalogue alone forms a small library.




Poland, once a potent and magnificent kingdom, when it sunk into an elective monarchy, became “venal thrice an age.” That country must have exhibited many a diplomatic scene of intricate intrigue, which although they could not appear in its public, have no doubt been often consigned to its secret, history. With us the corruption of a rotten borough has sometimes exposed the guarded proffer of one party, and the dexterous chaffering of the other: but a masterpiece of diplomatic finesse and political invention, electioneering viewed on the most magnificent scale, with a kingdom to be 347 canvassed, and a crown to be won and lost, or lost and won in the course of a single day, exhibits a political drama, which, for the honour and happiness of mankind, is of rare and strange occurrence. There was one scene in this drama which might appear somewhat too large for an ordinary theatre; the actors apparently were not less than fifty to a hundred thousand; twelve vast tents were raised on an extensive plain, a hundred thousand horses were in the environs—and palatines and castellans, the ecclesiastical orders, with the ambassadors of the royal competitors, all agitated by the ceaseless motion of different factions during the six weeks of the election, and of many preceding months of preconcerted measures and vacillating opinions, now were all solemnly assembled at the diet.—Once the poet, amidst his gigantic conception of a scene, resolved to leave it out:

So vast a throng the stage can ne’er contain—

Then build a new, or act it in a plain!

exclaimed “La Mancha’s knight,” kindling at a scene so novel and so vast!

Such an electioneering negotiation, the only one I am acquainted with, is opened in the “Discours” of Choisin, the secretary of Montluc, Bishop of Valence, the confidential agent of Catharine de’ Medici, and who was sent to intrigue at the Polish diet, to obtain the crown of Poland for her son the Duke of Anjou, afterwards Henry the Third. This bold enterprise at first seemed hopeless, and in its progress encountered growing obstructions; but Montluc was one of the most finished diplomatists that the genius of the Gallic cabinet ever sent forth. He was nicknamed in all the courts of Europe, from the circumstance of his limping, “le Boiteux;” our political bishop was in cabinet intrigues the Talleyrand of his age, and sixteen embassies to Italy, Germany, England, Scotland, and Turkey, had made this “connoisseur en hommes” an extraordinary politician!

Catharine de’ Medici was infatuated with the dreams of judicial astrology; her pensioned oracles had declared that she should live to see each of her sons crowned, by which prediction probably they had only purposed to flatter her pride and her love of dominion. They, however, ended in terrifying the credulous queen; and she, dreading to witness a throne in France, disputed perhaps by fratricides, anxiously sought a separate crown for each of her three sons. She had 348 been trifled with in her earnest negotiations with our Elizabeth; twice had she seen herself baffled in her views in the Dukes of Alençon and of Anjou. Catharine then projected a new empire for Anjou, by incorporating into one kingdom Algiers, Corsica, and Sardinia; but the other despot, he of Constantinople, Selim the Second, dissipated the brilliant speculation of our female Machiavel. Charles the Ninth was sickly, jealous, and desirous of removing from the court the Duke of Anjou, whom two victories had made popular, though he afterwards sunk into a Sardanapalus. Montluc penetrated into the secret wishes of Catharine and Charles, and suggested to them the possibility of encircling the brows of Anjou with the diadem of Poland, the Polish monarch then being in a state of visible decline. The project was approved; and, like a profound politician, the bishop prepared for an event which might be remote, and always problematical, by sending into Poland a natural son of his, Balagny, as a disguised agent; his youth, his humble rank, and his love of pleasure, would not create any alarm among the neighbouring powers, who were alike on the watch to snatch the expected spoil; but as it was necessary to have a more dexterous politician behind the curtain, he recommended his secretary, Choisnin, as a travelling tutor to a youth who appeared to want one.

Balagny proceeded to Poland, where, under the veil of dissipation, and in the midst of splendid festivities, with his trusty adjutant, this hair-brained boy of revelry began to weave those intrigues which were afterwards to be knotted, or untied, by Montluc himself. He had contrived to be so little suspected, that the agent of the emperor had often disclosed important secrets to his young and amiable friend. On the death of Sigismond Augustus, Balagny, leaving Choisnin behind to trumpet forth the virtues of Anjou, hastened to Paris to give an account of all which he had seen or heard. But poor Choisnin found himself in a dilemma among those who had so long listened to his panegyrics on the humanity and meek character of the Duke of Anjou; for the news of St. Bartholomew’s massacre had travelled faster than the post; and Choisnin complains that he was now treated as an impudent liar, and the French prince as a monster. In vain he assured them that the whole was an exaggerated account, a mere insurrection of the people, or the effects of a few private enmities, praying the indignant Poles to suspend their 349 decision till the bishop came: “Attendez le Boiteux!” cried he, in agony.

Meanwhile, at Paris, the choice of a proper person for this embassy had been difficult to settle. It was a business of intrigue more than of form, and required an orator to make speeches and addresses in a sort of popular assembly; for though the people, indeed, had no concern in the diet, yet the greater and the lesser nobles and gentlemen, all electors, were reckoned at one hundred thousand. It was supposed that a lawyer who could negotiate in good Latin, and one, as the French proverb runs, who could aller et parler, would more effectually puzzle their heads, and satisfy their consciences to vote for his client. Catharine at last fixed on Montluc himself, from the superstitious prejudice, which, however, in this case accorded with philosophical experience, that “Montluc had ever been lucky in his negotiations.”

Montluc hastened his departure from Paris; and it appears that our political bishop had, by his skilful penetration into the French cabinet, foreseen the horrible catastrophe which occurred very shortly after he had left it; for he had warned the Count de Rochefoucault to absent himself; but this lord, like so many others, had no suspicions of the perfidious projects of Catharine and her cabinet. Montluc, however, had not long been on his journey ere the news reached him, and it occasioned innumerable obstacles in his progress, which even his sagacity had not calculated on. At Strasburgh he had appointed to meet some able coadjutors, among whom was the famous Joseph Scaliger; but they were so terrified by Les Matinées Parisiennes, that Scaliger flew to Geneva, and would not budge out of that safe corner: and the others ran home, not imagining that Montluc would venture to pass through Germany, where the protestant indignation had made the roads too hot for a catholic bishop. But Montluc had set his cast on the die. He had already passed through several hair-breadth escapes from the stratagems of the Guise faction, who more than once attempted to hang or drown the bishop, who, they cried out, was a Calvinist; the fears and jealousies of the Guises had been roused by this political mission. Among all these troubles and delays, Montluc was most affected by the rumour that the election was on the point of being made, and that the plague was universal throughout Poland, so that he must have felt that he might be too late for the one, and too early for the other.


At last Montluc arrived, and found that the whole weight of this negotiation was to fall on his single shoulders; and further, that he was to sleep every night on a pillow of thorns. Our bishop had not only to allay the ferment of the popular spirit of the evangelicals, as the protestants were then called, but even of the more rational catholics of Poland. He had also to face those haughty and feudal lords, of whom each considered himself the equal of the sovereign whom he created, and whose avowed principle was, and many were incorrupt, that their choice of a sovereign should be regulated solely by the public interest; and it was hardly to be expected that the emperor, the czar, and the King of Sweden would prove unsuccessful rivals to the cruel, and voluptuous, and bigoted duke of Anjou, whose political interests were too remote and novel to have raised any faction among these independent Poles.

The crafty politician had the art of dressing himself up in all the winning charms of candour and loyalty; a sweet flow of honeyed words melted on his lips, while his heart, cold and immovable as a rock, stood unchanged amidst the most unforeseen difficulties.

The emperor had set to work the Abbé Cyre in a sort of ambiguous character, an envoy for the nonce, to be acknowledged or disavowed as was convenient; and by his activity he obtained considerable influence among the Lithuanians, the Wallachians, and nearly all Prussia, in favour of the Archduke Ernest. Two Bohemians, who had the advantage of speaking the Polish language, had arrived with a state and magnificence becoming kings rather than ambassadors. The Muscovite had written letters full of golden promises to the nobility, and was supported by a palatine of high character; a perpetual peace between two such great neighbours was too inviting a project not to find advocates; and this party, Choisnin observes, appeared at first the most to be feared. The King of Sweden was a close neighbour, who had married the sister of their late sovereign, and his son urged his family claims as superior to those of foreigners. Among these parties was a patriotic one, who were desirous of a Pole for their monarch; a king of their fatherland, speaking their mother-tongue, one who would not strike at the independence of his country, but preserve its integrity from the stranger. This popular party was even agreeable to several of the foreign powers themselves, who did not like to see a 351 rival power strengthening itself by so strict a union with Poland; but in this choice of a sovereign from among themselves, there were at least thirty lords who equally thought that they were the proper wood of which kings should be carved out. The Poles therefore could not agree on the Pole who deserved to be a Piaste; an endearing title for a native monarch, which originated in the name of the family of the Piastis, who had reigned happily over the Polish people for the space of five centuries! The remembrance of their virtues existed in the minds of the honest Poles in this affectionate title, and their party were called the Piastis.

Montluc had been deprived of the assistance he had depended on from many able persons, whom the massacre of St. Bartholomew had frightened away from every French political connexion. He found that he had himself only to depend on. We are told that he was not provided with the usual means which are considered most efficient in elections, nor possessed the interest nor the splendour of his powerful competitors: he was to derive all his resources from diplomatic finesse. The various ambassadors had fixed and distant residences, that they might not hold too close an intercourse with the Polish nobles. Of all things, he was desirous to obtain an easy access to these chiefs, that he might observe, and that they might listen. He who would seduce by his own ingenuity must come in contact with the object he would corrupt. Yet Montluc persisted in not approaching them without being sought after, which answered his purpose in the end. One favourite argument which our Talleyrand had set afloat, was to show that all the benefits which the different competitors had promised to the Poles were accompanied by other circumstances which could not fail to be ruinous to the country: while the offer of his master, whose interests were remote, could not be adverse to those of the Polish nation: so that much good might be expected from him, without any fear of accompanying evil. Montluc procured a clever Frenchman to be the bearer of his first despatch, in Latin, to the diet; which had hardly assembled, ere suspicions and jealousies were already breaking out. The emperor’s ambassadors had offended the pride of the Polish nobles by travelling about the country without leave, and resorting to the infanta; and besides, in some intercepted letters the Polish nation was designated as gens barbara et gens inepta. “I do not think that the said letter was really written by the said ambassadors, 352 who were statesmen too politic to employ such unguarded language,” very ingeniously writes the secretary of Montluc.

However, it was a blow levelled at the imperial ambassadors; while the letter of the French bishop, composed “in a humble and modest style,” began to melt their proud spirits, and two thousand copies of the French bishop’s letter were eagerly spread.

“But this good fortune did not last more than four-and twenty hours,” mournfully writes our honest secretary; “for suddenly the news of the fatal day of St. Bartholomew arrived, and every Frenchman was detested.”

Montluc, in this distress, published an apology for les Matinées Parisiennes, which he reduced to some excesses of the people, the result of a conspiracy plotted by the protestants; and he adroitly introduced as a personage his master Anjou, declaring that “he scorned to oppress a party whom he had so often conquered with sword in hand.” This pamphlet, which still exists, must have cost the good bishop some invention; but in elections the lie of the moment serves a purpose; and although Montluc was in due time bitterly recriminated on, still the apology served to divide public opinion.

Montluc was a whole cabinet to himself: he dispersed another tract in the character of a Polish gentleman, in which the French interests were urged by such arguments, that the leading chiefs never met without disputing; and Montluc now found that he had succeeded in creating a French party. The Austrian then employed a real Polish gentleman to write for his party; but this was too genuine a production, for the writer wrote too much in earnest; and in politics we must not be in a passion.

The mutual jealousies of each party assisted the views of our negotiator; they would side with him against each other. The archduke and the czar opposed the Turk; the Muscovite could not endure that Sweden should be aggrandised by this new crown; and Denmark was still more uneasy. Montluc had discovered how every party had its vulnerable point, by which it could be managed. The cards had now got fairly shuffled, and he depended on his usual good play.

Our bishop got hold of a palatine to write for the French cause in the vernacular tongue; and appears to have held a more mysterious intercourse with another palatine, Albert Lasky. Mutual accusations were made in the open diet: the 353 Poles accused some Lithuanian lords of having contracted certain engagements with the czar; these in return accused the Poles, and particularly this Lasky, with being corrupted by the gold of France. Another circumstance afterwards arose; the Spanish ambassador had forty thousand thalers sent to him, but which never passed the frontiers, as this fresh supply arrived too late for the election. “I believe,” writes our secretary with great simplicity, “that this money was only designed to distribute among the trumpeters and the tabourines.” The usual expedient in contested elections was now evidently introduced; our secretary acknowledging that Montluc daily acquired new supporters, because he did not attempt to gain them over merely by promises—resting his whole cause on this argument, that the interest of the nation was concerned in the French election.

Still would ill fortune cross our crafty politician when everything was proceeding smoothly. The massacre was refreshed with more damning particulars; some letters were forged, and others were but too true; all parties, with rival intrepidity, were carrying on a complete scene of deception. A rumour spread that the French king disavowed his accredited agent, and apologised to the emperor for having yielded to the importunities of a political speculator, whom he was now resolved to recall. This somewhat paralysed the exertions of those palatines who had involved themselves in the intrigues of Montluc, who was now forced patiently to wait for the arrival of a courier with renewed testimonials of his diplomatic character from the French court. A great odium was cast on the French in the course of this negotiation by a distribution of prints, which exposed the most inventive cruelties practised by the Catholics on the Reformed; such as women cleaved in half in the act of attempting to snatch their children from their butchers; while Charles the Ninth and the Duke of Anjou were hideously represented in their persons, and as spectators of such horrid tragedies, with words written in labels, complaining that the executioners were not zealous enough in this holy work. These prints, accompanied by libels and by horrid narratives, inflamed the popular indignation, and more particularly the women, who were affected to tears, as if these horrid scenes had been passing before their eyes.

Montluc replied to the libels as fast as they appeared, while he skilfully introduced the most elaborate panegyrics 354 on the Duke of Anjou; and in return for the caricatures, he distributed two portraits of the king and the duke, to show the ladies, if not the diet, that neither of these princes had such ferocious and inhuman faces. Such are the small means by which the politician condescends to work his great designs; and the very means by which his enemies thought they should ruin his cause, Montluc adroitly turned to his own advantage. Anything of instant occurrence serves electioneering purposes, and Montluc eagerly seized this favourable occasion to exhaust his imagination on an ideal sovereign, and to hazard, with address, anecdotes, whose authenticity he could never have proved, till he perplexed even unwilling minds to be uncertain whether that intolerant and inhuman duke was not the most heroic and most merciful of princes. It is probable that the Frenchman abused even the license of the French éloge, for a noble Pole told Montluc that he was always amplifying his duke with such ideal greatness, and attributing to him such immaculate purity of sentiment, that it was inferred there was no man in Poland who could possibly equal him; and that his declaration, that the duke was not desirous of reigning over Poland to possess the wealth and grandeur of the kingdom, and that he was solely ambitious of the honour to be the head of such a great and virtuous nobility, had offended many lords, who did not believe that the duke sought the Polish crown merely to be the sovereign of a virtuous people.

These Polish statesmen appear, indeed, to have been more enlightened than the subtle politician perhaps calculated on; for when Montluc was over anxious to exculpate the Duke of Anjou from having been an actor in the Parisian massacre, a noble Pole observed, “That he need not lose his time at framing any apologies; for if he could prove that it was the interest of the country that the duke ought to be elected their king, it was all that was required. His cruelty, were it true, would be no reason to prevent his election, for we have nothing to dread from it: once in our kingdom, he will have more reason to fear us than we him, should he ever attempt our lives, our property, or our liberty.”

Another Polish lord, whose scruples were as pious as his patriotism was suspicious, however observed that, in his conferences with the French bishop, the bishop had never once mentioned God, whom all parties ought to implore to touch the hearts of the electors in the choice of God’s “anointed.” 355 Montluc might have felt himself unexpectedly embarrassed at the religious scruples of this lord, but the politician was never at a fault. “Speaking to a man of letters, as his lordship was,” replied the French bishop, “it was not for him to remind his lordship what he so well knew; but since he had touched on the subject, he would, however, say, that were a sick man desirous of having a physician, the friend who undertook to procure one would not do his duty should he say it was necessary to call in one whom God had chosen to restore his health; but another who should say that the most learned and skilful is he whom God has chosen, would be doing the best for the patient, and evince most judgment. By a parity of reason we must believe that God will not send an angel to point out the man whom he would have his anointed; sufficient for us that God has given us a knowledge of the requisites of a good king; and if the Polish gentlemen choose such a sovereign, it will be him whom God has chosen.” This shrewd argument delighted the Polish lord, who repeated the story in different companies, to the honour of the bishop. “And in this manner,” adds the secretary with great naïveté, “did the sieur, strengthened by good arguments, divulge his opinions, which were received by many, and run from hand to hand.”

Montluc had his inferior manœuvres. He had to equipoise the opposite interests of the Catholics and the Evangelists, or the Reformed: it was mingling fire and water without suffering them to hiss, or to extinguish one another. When the imperial ambassadors gave fêtes to the higher nobility only, they consequently offended the lesser. The Frenchman gave no banquets, but his house was open to all at all times, who were equally welcome. “You will see that the fêtes of the imperialists will do them more harm than good,” observed Montluc to his secretary.

Having gained over by every possible contrivance a number of the Polish nobles, and showered his courtesies on those of the inferior orders, at length the critical moment approached, and the finishing hand was to be put to the work. Poland, with the appearance of a popular government, was a singular aristocracy of a hundred thousand electors, consisting of the higher and the lower nobility, and the gentry; the people had no concern with the government. Yet still it was to be treated by the politician as a popular government, where those who possessed the greatest influence over such large 356 assemblies were orators, and he who delivered himself with the most fluency and the most pertinent arguments would infallibly bend every heart to the point he wished. The French bishop depended greatly on the effect which his oration was to produce when the ambassadors were respectively to be heard before the assembled diet; the great and concluding act of so many tedious and difficult negotiations—“which had cost my master,” writes the ingenuous secretary, “six months’ daily and nightly labours; he had never been assisted or comforted by any but his poor servants, and in the course of these six months had written ten reams of paper, a thing which for forty years he had not used himself to.”

Every ambassador was now to deliver an oration before the assembled electors, and thirty-two copies were to be printed, to present one to each palatine, who in his turn was to communicate it to his lords. But a fresh difficulty occurred to the French negotiator; as he trusted greatly to his address influencing the multitude, and creating a popular opinion in his favour, he regretted to find that the imperial ambassador would deliver his speech in the Bohemian language, so that he would be understood by the greater part of the assembly; a considerable advantage over Montluc, who could only address them in Latin. The inventive genius of the French bishop resolved on two things which had never before been practised: first, to have his Latin translated into the vernacular idiom; and, secondly, to print an edition of fifteen hundred copies in both languages, and thus to obtain a vast advantage over the other ambassadors, with their thirty-two manuscript copies, of which each copy was used to be read to 1200 persons. The great difficulty was to get it secretly translated and printed. This fell to the management of Choisnin, the secretary. He set off to the castle of the palatine, Solikotski, who was deep in the French interest; Solikotski despatched the version in six days. Hastening with the precious MS. to Cracow, Choisnin flew to a trusty printer, with whom he was connected; the sheets were deposited every night at Choisnin’s lodgings, and at the end of a fortnight the diligent secretary conducted the 1500 copies in secret triumph to Warsaw.

Yet this glorious labour was not ended; Montluc was in no haste to deliver his wonder-working oration, on which the fate of a crown seemed to depend. When his turn came to be heard, he suddenly fell sick; the fact was, that he wished 357 to speak last, which would give him the advantage of replying to any objection raised by his rivals, and admit also of an attack on their weak points.

He contrived to obtain copies of their harangues, and discovered five points which struck at the French interest. Our poor bishop had now to sit up through the night to re-write five leaves of his printed oration, and cancel five which had been printed; and worse! he had to get them by heart, and to have them translated and inserted, by employing twenty scribes day and night. “It is scarcely credible what my master went through about this time,” saith the historian of his “gestes.”

The council or diet was held in a vast plain. Twelve pavilions were raised to receive the Polish nobility and the ambassadors. One of a circular form was supported by a single mast, and was large enough to contain 6000 persons, without any one approaching the mast nearer than by twenty steps, leaving this space void to preserve silence; the different orders were placed around; the archbishop and the bishops, the palatines, the castellans, each according to their rank. During the six weeks of the sittings of the diet, 100,000 horses were in the environs, yet forage and every sort of provisions abounded. There were no disturbances, not a single quarrel occurred, although there wanted not in that meeting for enmities of long standing. It was strange, and even awful, to view such a mighty assembly preserving the greatest order, and every one seriously intent on this solemn occasion.

At length the elaborate oration was delivered: it lasted three hours, and Choisnin assures us not a single auditor felt weary. “A cry of joy broke out from the tent, and was re-echoed through the plain, when Montluc ceased: it was a public acclamation; and had the election been fixed for that moment, when all hearts were warm, surely the duke had been chosen without a dissenting voice.” Thus writes, in rapture, the ingenuous secretary; and in the spirit of the times communicates a delightful augury attending this speech, by which evidently was foreseen its happy termination. “Those who disdain all things will take this to be a mere invention of mine,” says honest Choisnin: “but true it is, that while the said sieur delivered his harangue, a lark was seen all the while upon the mast of the pavilion, singing and warbling, which was remarked by a great number of lords, because the lark is accustomed only to rest itself on the earth: the most 358 impartial confessed this to be a good augury.236 Also it was observed, that when the other ambassadors were speaking, a hare, and at another time a hog, ran through the tent; and when the Swedish ambassador spoke, the great tent fell half-way down. This lark singing all the while did no little good to our cause; for many of the nobles and gentry noticed this curious particularity, because when a thing which does not commonly happen occurs in a public affair, such appearances give rise to hopes either of good or of evil.”

The singing of this lark in favour of the Duke of Anjou is not so evident as the cunning trick of the other French agent, the political Bishop of Valence, who now reaped the full advantage of his 1500 copies over the thirty-two of his rivals. Every one had the French one in hand, or read it to his friends; while the others, in manuscript, were confined to a very narrow circle.

The period from the 10th of April to the 6th of May, when they proceeded to the election, proved to be an interval of infinite perplexities, troubles, and activity; it is probable that the secret history of this period of the negotiations was never written. The other ambassadors were for protracting the election, perceiving the French interest prevalent: but delay would not serve the purpose of Montluc, he not being so well provided with friends and means on the spot as the others were. The public opinion which he had succeeded in creating, by some unforeseen circumstance might change.

During this interval, the bishop had to put several agents of the other parties hors de combat. He got rid of a formidable adversary in the Cardinal Commendon, an agent of the pope’s, whom he proved ought not to be present at the election, and the cardinal was ordered to take his departure. A bullying colonel was set upon the French negotiator, and went about from tent to tent with a list of the debts of the Duke of Anjou, to show that the nation could expect nothing profitable from a ruined spendthrift. The page of a Polish count flew to Montluc for protection, entreating permission to accompany the bishop on his return to Paris. The servants of the count pursued the page; but this young gentleman had so insinuated himself into the favour of the bishop, that 359 he was suffered to remain. The next day the page desired Montluc would grant him the full liberty of his religion, being an evangelical, that he might communicate this to his friends, and thus fix them to the French party. Montluc was too penetrating for this young political agent, whom he discovered to be a spy, and the pursuit of his fellows to have been a farce; he sent the page back to his master, the evangelical count, observing that such tricks were too gross to be played on one who had managed affairs in all the courts of Europe before he came into Poland.

Another alarm was raised by a letter from the grand vizier of Selim the Second, addressed to the diet, in which he requested that they would either choose a king from among themselves, or elect the brother of the King of France. Some zealous Frenchman at the Sublime Porte had officiously procured this recommendation from the enemy of Christianity; but an alliance with Mahometanism did no service to Montluc, either with the catholics or the evangelicals. The bishop was in despair, and thought that his handiwork of six months’ toil and trouble was to be shook into pieces in an hour. Montluc, being shown the letter, instantly insisted that it was a forgery, designed to injure his master the duke. The letter was attended by some suspicious circumstances; and the French bishop, quick at expedients, snatched at an advantage which the politician knows how to lay hold of in the chapter of accidents. “The letter was not sealed with the golden seal, nor enclosed in a silken purse or cloth of gold; and farther, if they examined the translation,” he said, “they would find that it was not written on Turkish paper.” This was a piece of the sieur’s good fortune, for the letter was not forged; but owing to the circumstance that the Boyar of Wallachia had taken out the letter to send a translation with it, which the vizier had omitted, it arrived without its usual accompaniments; and the courier, when inquired after, was kept out of the way: so that, in a few days, nothing more was heard of the great vizier’s letter. “Such was our fortunate escape,” says the secretary, “from the friendly but fatal interference of the sultan, than which the sieur dreaded nothing so much.”

Many secret agents of the different powers were spinning their dark intrigues; and often, when discovered or disconcerted, the creatures were again at their “dirty work.” These agents were conveniently disavowed or acknowledged 360 by their employers. The Abbé Cyre was an active agent of the emperor’s, and though not publicly accredited, was still hovering about. In Lithuania he had contrived matters so well as to have gained over that important province for the archduke; and was passing through Prussia to hasten to communicate with the emperor, but “some honest men,” quelques bons personnages, says the French secretary, and no doubt some good friends of his master, “took him by surprise, and laid him up safely in the castle of Marienburgh, where truly he was a little uncivilly used by the soldiers, who rifled his portmanteau and sent us his papers, when we discovered all his foul practices.” The emperor, it seems, was angry at the arrest of his secret agent; but as no one had the power of releasing the Abbé Cyre at that moment, what with receiving remonstrances and furnishing replies, the time passed away, and a very troublesome adversary was in safe custody during the election. The dissensions between the catholics and the evangelicals were always on the point of breaking out; but Montluc succeeded in quieting these inveterate parties by terrifying their imaginations with sanguinary civil wars, and invasions of the Turks and the Tartars. He satisfied the catholics with the hope that time would put an end to heresy, and the evangelicals were glad to obtain a truce from persecution. The day before the election Montluc found himself so confident, that he despatched a courier to the French court, and expressed himself in the true style of a speculative politician, that des douze tables du Damier nous en avons les Neufs assurés.

There were preludes to the election; and the first was probably in acquiescence with a saturnalian humour prevalent in some countries, where the lower orders are only allowed to indulge their taste for the mockery of the great at stated times and on fixed occasions. A droll scene of a mock election, as well as combat, took place between the numerous Polish pages, who, saith the grave secretary, are still more mischievous than our own: these elected among themselves four competitors, made a senate to burlesque the diet, and went to loggerheads. Those who represented the archduke were well beaten, the Swede was hunted down, and for the Piastis, they seized on a cart belonging to a gentleman, laden with provisions, broke it to pieces, and burnt the axle-tree, which in that country is called a piasti, and cried out The Piasti is burnt! nor could the senators at the diet that day 361 command any order or silence. The French party wore white handkerchiefs in their hats, and they were so numerous as to defeat the others.

The next day, however, opened a different scene; “the nobles prepared to deliberate, and each palatine in his quarters was with his companions on their knees, and many with tears in their eyes, chanting a hymn to the Holy Ghost; it must be confessed that this looked like a work of God,” says our secretary, who probably understood the manœuvring of the mock combat, or the mock prayers, much better than we may. Everything tells at an election, burlesque or solemnity!

The election took place, and the Duke of Anjou was proclaimed King of Poland—but the troubles of Montluc did not terminate. When they presented certain articles for his signature, the bishop discovered that these had undergone material alterations from the proposals submitted to him before the proclamation; these alterations referred to a disavowal of the Parisian massacre; the punishment of its authors, and toleration in religion. Montluc refused to sign, and cross-examined his Polish friends about the original proposals; one party agreed that some things had been changed, but that they were too trivial to lose a crown for; others declared that the alterations were necessary to allay the fears, or secure the safety, of the people. Our Gallic diplomatist was outwitted, and after all his intrigues and cunning, he found that the crown of Poland was only to be delivered on conditional terms.

In this dilemma, with a crown depending on a stroke of his pen,—remonstrating, entreating, arguing, and still delaying, like “Ancient Pistol” swallowing his leek, he witnessed with alarm some preparations for a new election, and his rivals on the watch with their protests. Montluc, in despair, signed the conditions—“assured, however,” says the secretary, who groans over this finale, “that when the elected monarch should arrive, the states would easily be induced to correct them, and place things in statu quo, as before the proclamation. I was not a witness, being then despatched to Paris with the joyful news, but I heard that the sieur evesque it was thought would have died in this agony, of being reduced to the hard necessity either to sign, or to lose the fruits of his labours. The conditions were afterwards for a long while disputed in France.” De Thou informs us, in lib. lvii. of his 362 history, that Montluc after signing these conditions wrote to his master, that he was not bound by them, because they did not concern Poland in general, and that they had compelled him to sign, what at the same time he had informed them his instructions did not authorise. Such was the true Jesuitic conduct of a grey-haired politician, who at length found that honest plain sense could embarrass and finally entrap the creature of the cabinet, the artificial genius of diplomatic finesse.

The secretary, however, views nothing but his master’s glory in the issue of this most difficult negotiation; and the triumph of Anjou over the youthful archduke, whom the Poles might have moulded to their will, and over the King of Sweden, who claimed the crown by his queen’s side, and had offered to unite his part of Livonia with that which the Poles possessed. He labours hard to prove that the palatines and the castellans were not pratiqués, i.e., had their votes bought up by Montluc, as was reported; from their number and their opposite interests, he confesses that the sieur evesque slept little, while in Poland, and that he only gained over the hearts of men by that natural gift of God which acquired him the title of the happy ambassador. He rather seems to regret that France was not prodigal of her purchase-money, than to affirm that all palatines were alike scrupulous of their honour.

One more fact may close this political sketch; a lesson of the nature of court gratitude! The French court affected to receive Choisnin with favour, but their suppressed discontent was reserved for “the happy ambassador!” Affairs had changed; Charles the Ninth was dying, and Catharine de’ Medici in despair for a son to whom she had sacrificed all; while Anjou, already immersed in the wantonness of youth and pleasure, considered his elevation to the throne of Poland as an exile which separated him from his depraved enjoyments! Montluc was rewarded only by incurring disgrace; Catharine de’ Medici and the Duke of Anjou now looked coldly on him, and expressed their dislike of his successful mission. “The mother of kings,” as Choisnin designates Catharine de’ Medici, to whom he addresses his memoirs, with the hope of awakening her recollections of the zeal, the genius, and the success of his old master, had no longer any use for her favourite; and Montluc found, as the commentator 363 of Choisnin expresses in a few words, an important truth in political morality, that “at court the interest of the moment is the measure of its affections and its hatreds.”237

236 Our honest secretary reminds me of a passage in Geoffrey of Monmouth, who says, “At this place an eagle spoke while the wall of the town was building; and indeed I should not have failed transmitting the speech to posterity had I thought it true as the rest of the history.”

237 I have drawn up this article, for the curiosity of its subject and its details, from the “Discours au vray de tout ce qui s’est fait et passé pour l’entière Négociation de l’Election du Roi de Pologne, divisés en trois livres, par Jehan Choisnin du Chatelleraud, naguères Secrétaire de M. l’Evesque de Valence,” 1574.



Recently more than one of our learned judges from the bench have perhaps astonished their auditors by impressing them with an old-fashioned notion of residing more on their estates than the fashionable modes of life and the esprit de société, now overpowering all other esprit, will ever admit. These opinions excited my attention to a curious circumstance in the history of our manners—the great anxiety of our government, from the days of Elizabeth till much later than those of Charles the Second, to preserve the kingdom from the evils of an overgrown metropolis. The people themselves indeed participated in the same alarm at the growth of the city; while, however, they themselves were perpetuating the grievance which they complained of.

It is amusing to observe, that although the government was frequently employing even their most forcible acts to restrict the limits of the metropolis, the suburbs were gradually incorporating with the city, and Westminster at length united itself to London. Since that happy marriage, their fertile progenies have so blended together, that little Londons are no longer distinguishable from the ancient parent; we have succeeded in spreading the capital into a county, and have verified the prediction of James the First, “that England will shortly be London, and London England.”

“I think it a great object,” said Justice Best, in delivering his sentiments in favour of the Game Laws, “that gentlemen should have a temptation to reside in the country, amongst their neighbours and tenantry, whose interests must be materially advanced by such a circumstance. The links of society are thereby better preserved, and the mutual advantages 364 and dependence of the higher and lower classes on one another are better maintained. The baneful effects of our present system we have lately seen in a neighbouring country, and an ingenious French writer has lately shown the ill consequences of it on the continent.”238

These sentiments of a living luminary of the law afford some reason of policy for the dread which our government long entertained on account of the perpetual growth of the metropolis; the nation, like a hypochondriac, was ludicrously terrified that their head was too monstrous for their body, and that it drew all the moisture of life from the middle and the extremities. Proclamations warned and exhorted; but the very interference of a royal prohibition seemed to render the crowded city more charming. In vain the statute against new buildings was passed by Elizabeth; in vain during the reigns of James the First and both the Charleses we find proclamations continually issuing to forbid new erections.

James was apt to throw out his opinions in these frequent addresses to the people, who never attended to them: his majesty notices “those swarms of gentry, who through the instigation of their wives, or to new-model and fashion their daughters (who if they were unmarried, marred their reputations, and if married, lost them), did neglect their country hospitality, and cumber the city, a general nuisance to the kingdom.”—He addressed the Star Chamber to regulate “the exorbitancy of the new buildings about the city, which were but a shelter for those who, when they had spent their estates in coaches, lacqueys, and fine clothes like Frenchmen, lived miserably in their houses like Italians; but the honour of the English nobility and gentry is to be hospitable among their tenants.” Once conversing on this subject, the monarch threw out that happy illustration, which has been more than once noticed, that “Gentlemen resident on their estates were like ships in port; their value and magnitude were felt and acknowledged; but when at a distance, as their size seemed insignificant, so their worth and importance were not duly estimated.”239


A manuscript writer of the times complains of the breaking up of old family establishments, all crowding to “upstart London.” “Every one strives to be a Diogenes in his house, and an emperor in the streets; not caring if they sleep in a tub, so they may be hurried in a coach: giving that allowance to horses and mares that formerly maintained houses full of men; pinching many a belly to paint a few backs, and burying all the treasures of the kingdom into a few citizens’ coffers; their woods into wardrobes, their leases into laces, and their goods and chattels into guarded coats and gaudy toys.” Such is the representation of an eloquent contemporary; and however contracted might have been his knowledge of the principles of political economy, and of that prosperity which a wealthy nation is said to derive from its consumption of articles of luxury, the moral effects have not altered, nor has the scene in reality greatly changed.

The government not only frequently forbade new buildings within ten miles of London, but sometimes ordered them to be pulled down—after they had been erected for several years. Every six or seven years proclamations were issued. In Charles the First’s reign, offenders were sharply prosecuted by a combined operation, not only against houses, but against persons.240 Many of the nobility and gentry, in 1632, were informed against for having resided in the city, contrary to the late proclamation. And the Attorney-General was then fully occupied in filing bills of indictment against them, as well as ladies, for staying in town. The following curious “information” in the Star Chamber will serve our purpose.

The Attorney-General informs his majesty that both Elizabeth and James, by several proclamations, had commanded that “persons of livelihood and means should reside in their counties, and not abide or sojourn in the city of London, 366 so that counties remain unserved.” These proclamations were renewed by Charles the First, who had observed “a greater number of nobility and gentry, and abler sort of people, with their families, had resorted to the cities of London and Westminster, residing there, contrary to the ancient usage of the English nation”—“by their abiding in their several counties where their means arise, they would not only have served his majesty according to their ranks, but by their housekeeping in those parts the meaner sort of people formerly were guided, directed and relieved.” He accuses them of wasting their estates in the metropolis, which would employ and relieve the common people in their several counties. The loose and disorderly people that follow them, living in and about the cities, are so numerous, that they are not easily governed by the ordinary magistrates: mendicants increase in great number—the prices of all commodities are highly raised, &c. The king had formerly proclaimed that all ranks who were not connected with public offices, at the close of forty days’ notice, should resort to their several counties, and with their families continue their residence there. And his majesty further warned them “Not to put themselves to unnecessary charge in providing themselves to return in winter to the said cities, as it was the king’s firm resolution to withstand such great and growing evil.” The information concludes with a most copious list of offenders, among whom are a great number of nobility, and ladies and gentlemen, who were accused of having lived in London for several months after the given warning of forty days. It appears that most of them, to elude the grasp of the law, had contrived to make a show of quitting the metropolis, and, after a short absence, had again returned; “and thus the service of your majesty and your people in the several counties have been neglected and undone.”

Such is the substance of this curious information, which enables us at least to collect the ostensible motives of this singular prohibition. Proclamations had hitherto been considered little more than the news of the morning, and three days afterwards were as much read as the last week’s newspapers. They were now, however, resolved to stretch forth the strong arm of law, and to terrify by an example. The constables were commanded to bring in a list of the names of strangers, and the time they proposed to fix their residence in their parishes. A remarkable victim on this occasion was a 367 Mr. Palmer, a Sussex gentleman, who was brought ore tenus into the Star Chamber for disobeying the proclamation for living in the country. Palmer was a squire of 1000l. per annum, then a considerable income. He appears to have been some rich bachelor; for in his defence he alleged that he had never been married, never was a housekeeper, and had no house fitting for a man of his birth to reside in, as his mansion in the country had been burnt down within two years. These reasons appeared to his judges to aggravate rather than extenuate his offence; and after a long reprimand for having deserted his tenants and neighbours, they heavily fined him in one thousand pounds.241

The condemnation of this Sussex gentleman struck a terror through a wide circle of sojourners in the metropolis. I find accounts, pathetic enough, of their “packing away on all sides for fear of the worst;” and gentlemen “grumbling that they should be confined to their houses:” and this was sometimes backed too by a second proclamation, respecting “their wives and families, and also widows,” which was “durus sermo to the women. It is nothing pleasing to all,” says the letter-writer, “but least of all to the women.” “To encourage gentlemen to live more willingly in the country,” says another letter-writer, “all game-fowl, as pheasants, partridges, ducks, as also hares, are this day by proclamation forbidden to be dressed or eaten in any inn.” Here we find realized the argument of Mr. Justice Best in favour of the game-laws.

It is evident that this severe restriction must have produced great inconvenience to certain persons who found a residence in London necessary for their pursuits. This appears from the manuscript diary of an honest antiquary, S