Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

supposing that Sir Henry in this sentence only intended a poor English pun, and forgot that the Latin translation failed to convey his joke. Wotton, we may be sure, thought in Latin, when he wrote the words; and his jest was not without some sharp earnestness.

Indeed, Sir Henry's opinion of the position of an ambassador may be gathered from another anecdote which Walton relates of him :

A friend of Sir Henry Wotton's, being desirous of the employment of an ambassador, came to Eton, and requested from him some experimental rules for his prudent and safe carriage in his negotiations ; to whom he willingly gave this for an infallible aphorism :

“That to be in safety to himself and serviceable to his country, he should always and on all occasions speak the truth. (It seems a State-paradox.) For, says Sir Henry Wotton, you shall never be believed ; and by this means your truth will secure yourself, if you shall ever be called to any account; and 'twill also put your adversaries (who will still hunt counter) to a loss in all their disquisitions and undertakings."

Wotton, indeed, seems to have thought that all travelers, though not diplomatists, required some degree of Machiavellian skill. Milton, when about to leave England for his travels in France and Italy, obtained an introduction to Sir Henry, and received from him, among other directions, the celebrated precept of prudence—“I pensieri stretti, ed il viso sciolto." "The thoughts reserved, but the countenance open."

After his first Venetian embassage, Wotton was employed by James in missions to the United Provinces, the Duke of Savoy, to the Emperor, and other German princes on the affairs of the unfortunate Elector Palatine. He was also twice again sent ambassador to. Venice; and his final return from “ that pleasant country's land” was not till James' death in 1624. Wotton thus passed nearly twenty years as a diplomatist in foreign courts, during which, as well as during his former travels

Πολλών ανθρώπων ΐδεν άστρα και νοον έγνω. Wotton, like Ulysses, thus gained deep insight into the human inind, and also into the varying manners and conventional standards of right and wrong, which prevail among different men, and which the Latin poet indicates, when he translates the Homeric line by

“Qui mores hominum multorum vidit et urbes." This knowledge produced in Wotton, not the misanthropy which it too often has generated in men of a less kindly temperament, but a charitable spirit in dealing with each individual phase of human weakness, and a truly catholic love of goodness and of honesty, wherever found, and by whomsoever displayed. The patience which he eminently possessed, was sorely tried during the first year after his final return to England. Large sums were due to him from the state, for his diplomatic expenses ; he had been forced to sell his little patriraony; and the sordid cares of daily and domestic want were now pressing hard on him in the decline of life. In this strait he received from the Crown the Provostship of Eton, when it fell vacant in July, 1625. His feelings on obtaining it may best be expressed in the language of Walton, who, doubtless, had often heard them from Sir Henry's own lips.

It pleased God, that in this juncture of time the Provostship of his Majesty's College of Eton became void by the death of Thomas Murray, for which there were (as the place deserved) many earnest and powerful suitors to the king. Sir Henry, who had for many years (like Sisiphus) rolled the restless stone of a state employment, and knowing experimentally, that the great blessing of sweet content was not to be found in multitudes of men or business, and that a college was the fittest place to nourish holy thoughts, and to afford rest

, both to his body and mind, which his age (being now almost threescore years) seemed to require; did therefore use his own, and the interest of all his friends, to procure it. By which means, and quitting the king of his promised reversionary offices, and a pieco of honest policy, (which I have not time to relate,) he got a grant of it from his Majesty.

Being thus settled according to the desires of his heart, bis first study was the statutes of the College; by which he conceived himself bound to enter into holy orders, which he did ; being made deacon with convenient speed. Shortly after, as he came in his surplice from the church service, an old friend, a person of quality, met him so attired, and joyed him ; to whom Sir Henry Wotton replied, " I thank God and the King, by whose goodness I now am in this condition ; a condition, which that Emperor Charles the Fifth seemed to approre: who, after so many remarkable victories, when his glory was great in the eyes of all men, freely gave his crown, and the cares that attended it, to Philip his son, making a holy retreat to a cloisteral life, where he might by devout meditations consult with God, (which the rich or busy men seldom do,) and have leisure both to examine the errors of his life past, and prepare for that great day, wherein all flesh must make an account of their actions. And after a kind of tempestuous life, I now have the like advantage from Him that makes the outgoings of the morning to praise him ;' even from my God, who I daily magnify for this particular mercy, of an exemption from business, a quiet mind and a liberal maintenance, even in this part of my life, when my age and infirmities seem to sound me a retreat from the pleasures of this world, and invite me to contemplation ; in which I have ever taken the greatest felicity.”

And now to speak a little of the employment of his times. After his customnary public devotions, his use was to retire into his study, and there to spend some hours in reading the Bible, and authors in divinity, closing up his meditations with private prayer ; this was, for the most part, his employment in the forenoon. But when he was once sat to dinner, then nothing but cheerful thoughts possessed his mind; and those still increased by constant company at his table, of such persons as brought thither additions both of learning and pleasure. But some part of most days was usually spent in philosophical conclusions. Nor did he forget his innate pleasure of angling; which he would usually call his idle time, not idly spent : saying, he would rather live five May months, than forty Decembers.

A common love of angling created and cemented the friendship between Sir Henry Wotton and Izaak Walton. We owe to it the exquisite biography which Walton wrote of his friend, and the collection of Sir Henry's works, which Walton edited after Wotton's death. The spot where the two friends loved to practice the patient art of the rod and line is well known, and deservedly honored. About a quarter of a mile below the college, at one of the most picturesque bends of the river, there is, or was, au ancient eel fishery, called Black Pots.

One of the most exquisite passages in Walton's book on angling is devoted to the just praises of Sir Henry Wotton, and incorporates some poetry of the good Provost, which we may well believe to have been composed at Black Pots, and which also merits quotation for its beauty

My next and last example shall be that undervaluer of money, the late Provost of Eton College, Sir Henry Wotton, a man with whom I have often fished and conversed, a man whose foreign employments in the service of this nation, and whose experience, learning, wit, and cheerfulness made his company to be esteemed one of the delights of mankind : this man, whose very approbation of angling were sufficient to convince any modest censurer of it, this man was also a most dear lover and frequent practicer of the art of angling; of which he would say, “ 'Twas an employment for his idle time, which was then not idly spent: for angling was after a tedious study a rest to his mind, a cheerer of his spirits, a diverter of sadness, a calmer of unquiet thoughts, a moderator of passions, a procurer of contentedness ;” and that it “ begat habits of peace and patience in those that professed and practiced it.”. Indeed, my friend, you will find angling to be like the virtue of humility, which has a calmness of spirit, and a world of other blessings attending upon it.

Sir, this was the saying of that learned man, and I do easily believe that peace and patience and a calm content did cohabit in the cheerful heart of Sir Henry Wotton; because I know that when he was beyond seventy years of age he made this description of a part of the present pleasure that possessed him, as he sat quietly in a summer's evening on a bank a-fishing; it is a description of the spring, which, because it glided as soft and sweetly from his pen, as that river does at this time, by which it was then made, I shall repeat unto you.

ON A BANK AS I SATE A-FISHING.

A DESCRIPTION OF THE SPRING,
And now all Nature seemed in love,
The lusty sap began to move;
New juice did stir th' embracing vines,
And birds had drawn their valentines.
The jealous trout, that low did lie,
Rose at a well dissembled fly.
There stood my friend, with patient skill,
Attending of his trembling quill.
Already were the eaves possessed
With the swift pilgrim's daubéd nest.
The groves already did rejoice
In Philomel's triumphing voice.
The showers were short ; the weather mild;
The morning fresh, the evening smiled.
The fields and gardens were beset
With tulip, crocus, violet;
And now, though late, the modest rose
Did more than half a blush disclose.
Thus all looked gay, all full of cheer,

To welcome the new liveried year.
These were the thoughts that then possessed the undisturbed mind of Sir
Henry Wotton.

Eton received great benefit from the zeal with which Sir Henry devoted himself to the improvement of the school ; and from the sound sense and kindly spirit with which that zeal was accompanied. Boyle, in his autobiographical fragment, when he describes his own early education, speaks with praise and fondness of Wotton. He says that Sir Henry was not only a fine gentleman himself, but skilled in making others so, and he expressly mentions that the school was then very much thronged with the young nobility of the land. Walton thus farther describes Sir Henry's life as Provost :

[graphic]
[graphic]

He was a great lover of his neighbors, and a bountiful entertainer of them very often at his table, where his meat was choice, and his discourse better. He was a constant cherisher of all those youths in that school, in whom he found either a constant diligence, or a genius that prompted them to learning; for whose encouragement he was (besides many other things of necessity and beauty) at the charge of setting up in it two rows of pillars, on which he caused to be choicely drawn, the pictures of divers of the most famous Greek and Latin historians, poets, and orators; persuading them not to neglect rhetoric, because Almighty God has left mankind affections to be wrought upon: And he would often say, That none despised eloquence, but such dull souls as were not capable of it. He would also often make choice of observations, out of those historians and poets : but he would never leave the school without dropping some choice Greek or Latin apothegm or sentence; such as were worthy of a room in the memory of a growing scholar. He was pleased constantly to breed up one or more hopeful youths, which he picked out of the school, and took into his own domestic care, and to attend him at his meals ; out of whose discourse and behavior, he gathered observations for the better completing of his intended work of education ; of which, by his still striving to make the whole better, he lived to leave but part to posterity. He was a great enemy to wrangling disputes on religion : concerning which I shall say a little, both to testify that, and to show the readiness of his wit. Having in Rome made acquaintance with a pleasant priest, who invited him one evening to hear their vesper music at church, the priest seeing Sir Henry stand obscurely in a corner, sends to him by a boy of the choir this question writ in a small piece of paper : Where was your religion to be found before Luther ? To which question Sir Henry Wotton presently under-writ: My religion was to be found then, where yours is not to be found now, in the written Word of God. To another that asked him, Whether a Papist may be saved ? he replied, You may be saved without knowing that. Look to yourself. To another, whose earnestness exceeded his knowledge, and was still railing against the Papists, he gave this advice : Pray, Sir, forbear till you have studied the points better ; for the wise Italians have a proverbHe that understands amiss, concludes worse ; and take heed of thinking, the farther you go from the Church of Rome, the nearer you are to God.

Sir Henry's own letter to King Charles, in which he explains the motives through which he took holy orders, is preserved in the collection of his works, and it were injustice to his memory not to cite it :MY MOGT DEAR AND DREAD SOVEREIGN, —

As I gave your Majesty foreknowledge of my intention to enter into the Church, and had your gracious approvement therein, so I hold it a sacred duty to your Majesty, and satisfaction to myself, to inform you likewise by mine own band, both how far I have proceeded and upon what motives ; that it may appear unto your Majesty (as I hope it will) an act of conscience and of reason, and not greediness and ambition. Your Majesty will be therefore pleased to know that I have lately taken the degree of Deacon; and so far am I from aiming at any higher flight out of my former sphere, that there I intend to rest. Perhaps I want not some persuaders, who, measuring me by their affections, or by your Majesty's goodness, and not by mine own defects or ends, would make me think that yet before I do die I might become a great prelate. "And I need no persuasion to tell me, that if I would undertake the pastor function, I could peradventure by casualty, out of the patronages belonging to your Royal College, without further troubling of your Majesty, cast some good benefice upon myself, whereof we have one, if it were vacant, that is worth more than my Provostship. But as they were strucken with horror who beheld the majesty of the Lord descending upon the Mount Sinai, so, God knows, the nearer I approach to contemplate His greatness, the more I tremble to assume any cure of souls even in the lowest degree, that were bought at so high a price. Premant torcular qui vindemiarunt. Let them press the grapes, and fill the vessels, and taste the wine, that have gathered the vintage. But shall I sit and do nothing in the porch of God's house, wherounto I am entered ? God himself forbid, who was the supreme mover.

What service, then, do I propound to the Church? or what contentment to my own mind? First, for the point of conscience, I can now hold my place canonically, which I held before but dispensatively, and withal I can exercise an archidiaconal authority annexed thereunto, though of small extent, and no benefit, yet sometimes of pious and necessary use. I comfort myself also with this Christian hope, that gentlemen and knights' sops, who are trained up with us in a seminary of Churchmen, (which was the will of the holy Founder,) will by my example (without vanity be it spoken) not be ashamed, after the sight of courtly weeds, to put on a surplice. Lastly, I consider that this resolution which I have taken is not unsuitable even to my civil employments abroad, of which for the most part religion was the subject; nor to my observations, which have been spent that way in discovery of the Roman arts and practices, whereof I hope to yield the world some account, though rather by my pen than by my voice. For though I must humbly confess that both my conceptions and expressions be weak, yet I do more trust my deliberation than my memory: or if your Majesty will give me leave to paint myself in higher terms, I think I shall be bolder against the faces of men. This I conceived to be a piece of my own character ; so as my private study must be my theater, rather than a pulpit; and my books my auditors, as they are all my treasure. Howsoever, if I can produce nothing else for the use of Church and State, yet it shall be comfort enough to the little remnant of my life, to compose some hymns unto His endless glory, who hath called me, (for which His Name be ever blessed,) though late to His service, yet early to the knowledge of His truth and sense of His mercy. To which ever commending your Majesty and your royal action with most hearty and humble prayers, I rest,

Your Majesty's most devoted poor servant. Sir Henry passed fifteen honorable, useful, and happy years as Provost of Eton. He designed several literary works, among which was a life of Luther, which, at the King's request, he laid aside in order to commence a history of England; but he made but little progress in this last-mentioned work. He also wrote some portions of an intended treatise on Education, which he styled Moral Architecture, to distinguish it from a former treatise, published by him, on Architecture, which was justly celebrated for the soundness of its principles and the grace of its style.

Sir Henry Wotton died on the fifth of December, 1639. He was never married. He was buried according to his desire, in the Chapel of the College, and on his monument was placed, as directed by him in his last will, the following inscription :

Hic jacet hujus sententiæ primus Auctor:
DISPUTANDI PRURITUS ECCLESIARUM SCABIES.

Nomen alias qucere
Which may be rendered as follows:

Here lies the first Author of this sentence:
THR ITCH OF DISPUTATION WILL PROVE THE SCAB OF THE CHURCH

Inquire his name elsewhere.

« AnteriorContinua »