« PředchozíPokračovat »
Vol. IV. PART II.
ART. 1.-Epistola Ho-Eliana : Familiar Letters, domestic and
foreign, divided into four Books, partly Historical, Political, Philosophical, upon emergent occasions. By James Howell, 1688.
There is no mode more pleasant, and, perhaps, none more profitable, of acquiring historical knowledge, than by carefully gleaning those loose notices of the passing transactions of the day, which lie scattered over the letters of contemporary correspondents. These indirect bye-paths to the Temple of History may be somewhat more circuitous, but they often furnish us incidentally with a succession of picturesque peeps, that are infinitely more interesting than the bald naked view of the same objects, which is usually presented to the eye of the traveller who journies along the plain straight road of narrative. When shall we find so entertaining and so instructive an account of the most important period of the Roman history as in the Familiar Epistles of Cicero? The historian of the times may exhibit the actors upon the stage, but the letters of the parties themselves admit us, as it were, behind the scenes, and shew us the individuals as they really were, stripped of all their tinsel disguises of parade and pretension. In the pages of the one we see the mere spectacle of the puppet-shew; in the other we discover the secret strings which regulate the movements of the personages of the scene. In the one we behold nothing but the dial plate; in the other we are initiated into
VOL. IV. PART II.
the mysteries of that machinery by which the hands are constrained to point to a particular hour.
The charm which belongs to this sort of reading has led to the publication of whole libraries of letters, some of
which have been too evidently composed rather for the press than the post, and have thereby lost much of their interest. There is a principle of inquisitiveness in our nature which excites us to pry into that which was not intended for our perusal; while the very idea of its being got up and prepared for our inspection would do much towards extinguishing all our curiosity. Thus we can run through the letters of Cowper, even in the voluminous quartos of Mr. Hayley, without any feeling of weariness, because we feel assured that we are reading the careless effusions of tenderness and friendship, poured out from the overflowings of his heart and his fancy, in the unsuspecting, confidence of private correspondence; but we turn away with disgust from the laboured compositions of Anna Seward, who, intent upon posthumous publication, sits down with malice
prepense, not to say what she thinks, but to think what she shall say; and, carefully taking copies of every epistle she indites, leaves six enormous folios for the edification of posterity.
If there be any exception to the general rule that letters prepared for the press are the most sickening and tiresome of all compositions, it will certainly be found in the familiar letters of James Howell, commonly called Epistola Ho-Eliana, which compose one of the most curious volumes in English literature. Still we doubt whether this is an exception; for though some of them might have been (as Wood insinuates) compiled from memory during his confinement in the Fleet, there is, we think, sufficient internal evidence to prove that the greater part were written at the times, and from the places of their respective dates. They comprise one of the most interesting periods of the English history,—the reigns of James the First and Charles the First; and he seems to have been well acquainted with the leading characters of his time. · He tells us that he came tumbling out into the world a pure cadet, a true cosmopolite, not born to land, lease, house, or office. We collect from his correspondence that he carried a calf-leather satchel to school in Hereford ; and that he afterwards obtained a Fellowship in Jesus College, Oxford, which, he says, he “will reserve and lay by as a good warm garment against rough weather, if any fall on him." He was, besides, a great traveller, and few men before or since have given better descriptions of the countries he visited. His volume embraces the greatest variety of subjects, and he discusses all of them with the vigour and vivacity of a full and well-informed mind. His style, though somewhat infected with the quaintness peculiar to the age in which he lived, is a
favorable specimen of that strong nervous idiomatic English which prevailed before the period of the Restoration. Dr. Paley used to say, “ that the true epistolary style was to speak directly to the point. Howell seems to have been much of the same opinion. “We should,” says he, “write as we speak; and that is a true familiar letter which expresseth his mind as if he were discoursing with the party to whom he writes in short and succinct terms.” The motto of his book — Ut clavis portum, sic pandit Epistola pectus—is well illustrated by its contents; for his hand always seems to be the secretary of his heart. His language might, perhaps, be described as a species of cordiloquism; for he dips his pen, as it were, into his heart's blood, and pours out his whole soul upon his
We think we cannot employ our pages better than in making them the vehicle of copious extracts from this delightful but neglected writer.
We will begin with a little of the gossip of the court of James the First.
Touching the news of the time: Sir George Villiers, the new favorite, tapers up apace, and grows strong at court: his predecessor, the Earl of Somerset, hath got a lease of ninety years for his life, and so hath his articulate lady; called so for articling against the frigidity and impotence of her former lord. She was afraid that Coke, the Lord Chief Justice, (who had used such extraordinary art and industry in discovering all the circumstances of the poisoning of Overbury) would have made white Broth of them, but that the prerogative kept them from the pot: yet the subservient instruments, the lesser flies, could not break through, but lay entangled in the cobweb; amongst others Mistress Turner, the first inventress of yellow starch, was executed in a cobweb lawn ruff of that colour, at Tyburn; and with her, I believe, that yellow starch, which so much disfigured our nation and rendered them so ridiculous and fantastic, will receive its funeral. Sir Gervas Elways, Lieutenant of the Tower, was made a notable example of justice and terror to all officers of trust, for being accessary, and that in a passive way only, to the murder, yet he was hanged on Tower-bill; and the Caveat is very remarkable which he gave upon the gallows, that people should be very cautious how they make vows to heaven, for the breach of them seldom passes without a judgement, whereof he was a most ruthful example; for being in the Low Countries, and much given to gaming, he once made a solemn vow, (which he brake afterwards) that if he played above such a sum he might be hanged."
A little farther on we catch a glimpse of Sir Walter Raleigh.
“ The news that keeps greatest noise here now, is the return of Sir Walter Raleigh from his mine of gold in Guiana, which, at first, was like to be such a hopeful boon voyage, but it seems that that golden mine is proved a mere chimera, an imaginary airy mine; and, indeed, his majesty had never any other conceit of it: but what will not one in captivity (as Sir Walter was) promise, to regain his freedom? who would not promise not only mines, but mountains of gold, for liberty? And it is pity such a knowing well-weighed knight had not had a better fortune; for the Destiny, (I mean that brave ship, which he built himself, of that name, that carried him thither,) will prove a fatal destiny to him. Sir Walter landed at Plymouth, whence he thought to make an escape; and some say he hath tạmpered with his body by physic to make him look sickly, that he may be the more pitied, and permitted to lie in his own house. Count Gondomar, the Spanish Ambassador, speaks high language; and sending lately to desire audience of his majesty, he said, he had but one word to tell him : his majesty wondering what might be delivered in one word; when he came before him, 'he said only, Pirates! Pirates! Pirates! and so departed.”
In the year 1619, Howell was employed by a large glass manufactory to travel abroad as their agent, and in this capacity he visited the principal places in Holland, France, Italy, and Spain. His descriptions of Amsterdam and Paris are particularly spirited and picturesque. He found France still grieving for the loss of Henry the Fourth, who had been assassinated about ten years before his visit to that country.
“ Never was king so much lamented as this; there are a world not only of his pictures, but statues up and down France; and there is scarce a market town but hath him erected in the market place, or over some gate, not upon sign posts, as our Henry the Eighth. And by a public act of parliament, which was confirmed in the Consistory at Rome, he was entitled Henry the Great, and so placed in the Temple of Immortality. A notable prince he was, and of an admirable temper of body and mind; he had a graceful facetious way to gain both love and awe: he would never be transported beyond himself with choler, but he would pass by any thing with some repartee, some witty strain, wherein he was excellent. I will instance a few which were told me by a good hand. One day he was charged by the Duke of Bouillon to have changed his religion : he answered, no, cousin, I have changed no religion, but an opinion: and the Cardinal Perron being by, he enjoined him to write a treatise in his vindication; the cardinal was long about the work, and when the king asked from time to time where his book was, he would still answer him, that he expected some manuscripts from Rome before he could finish it. It happened one day that the king took the cardinal along with him to look on his new workmen and new buildings at the Louvre; and passing by one corner, which had been a long time begun but left unfinished, the king asked the chief mason why that corner was not all this while perfected ? Sir, it is because I want some choice stones : no, no, said the king, looking upon the cardinal, it is because thou wantest manuscripts from Rome. Another time, when at the siege of Amiens, he having sent for the Count of Soissons (who had one hundred thousand francs a year pen-'
sion from the crown) to assist him in those wars, and that the Count excused himself by reason of his years and poverty, and all that he could do now was to pray for his majesty, which he would do heartily: this answer being brought to the king, he replied, will my cousin, the Count of Soissons, do nothing else but pray for me? Tell him that prayer without fasting is not available ; therefore I will make my cousin fast also from his pension of one hundred thousand per annum.
The following letter from Venice to Mr. Richard Altham at Gray's Inn, presents a lively picture of the author's impressions upon surveying that celebrated city, -now so lamentably fallen from its ancient greatness.
“ I have now, a good while since, taken footing in Venice, this admired maiden city, so called, because she was never deflowered by any enemy since she had a being; not since her, Rialto was first erected, which is now about twelve ages ago.
I protest to you, at my first landing I was for some days ravished with the beauties of this maid, with her lovely countenance. I admired her magnificent buildings, her marvellous situation, her dainty smooth neat streets, whereon you may walk most days in the year in a silk stocking and satten slippers without soiling them ; nor can the streets of Paris be so foul as these are fair. This
beauteous maid hath been often attempted to be vitiated; some have courted her, some bribed her, some would have forced her, yet she has still preserved her chastity entire; and though she hath lived so many ages, and passed so many shrewd brunts, yet she continueth fresh to this very day, without the least wrinkle of old age, or any symptoms of decay, whereunto political bodies, as well as natural, used to be liable. Besides, she hath wrestled with the greatest potentates upon earth : the emperor, the king of France, and most of the other princes of Christendom, in that famous league of Cambray, would have sank her; but she bore up still within her lakes, and broke that league in pieces by her wit. The Grand Turk hath been often at her, and though he could not have his will of her, yet he took away the richest jewel she wore in her coronet, and put it in his turban; I mean the kingdom of Cyprus, the only royal gem she had : he hath set upon her skirts often since, and though she closed with him sometimes, yet she came off still with her honour, &c.
I would I had you here with a wish, and you would not desire in haste to be at Gray's Inn; though I hold your walks to be the pleasantest place about London, and that you have there the choicest society. · I pray present my kind commendations to all there, and service at Bishopsgate-street, and let me hear from you by the next post.”
afterwards, we find him at Madrid,
upon mercantile business, at the period of Lord Bristol's embassy, and during the negociation for the proposed marriage between Prince Charles and the Infanta of Spain. It is interesting to read an