there is still considerable uncertainty. But so much as this Book I, seems to be established. How the tract came, at the Life"' first, into Sir Robert Cotton's library there is no evidence whatever to shew.

Sib Robert


It is not the least curious point in this transaction that the Earl of Somerset should have been mixed up with it. He had been released from the Tower almost eight years before (namely, on the 28th of January, 1622), but was prohibited from living near the Court. At first, he was ordered to restrict himself to one or other of two old mansions in Oxfordshire—Caversham and Grey's Court. After

* Rrgiiters,

wards, his option was enlarged, by including, in the license, Aldenham, in Hertfordshire. It is evident that, after 4«(aoo.

than he was willing that Sir Robert should know. The letters are
without dates, after the fashion of the times, and this adds to their
obscurity. But one thing is plain. The writer ran away from London,
either when he knew that the first inquiry was imminent or thought it
probable that a renewed inquiry would be Bet on foot. In one of these
letters, after many professions of attachment, he writes thus: 'From
you, at this time, I should not have parted, if the exigence and penurie of
my life had not forc'd a silent retreat into myself, and my owne home at
Corpus Christi College;' and then, a fit of poesy—such as it was—coming
over him, he ends his letter metrically, as thus:

'The poore young Russian youth, that slave
Was to the Prince, and trustie knave
To my deere Harrie Wilde, when wee
Forsooke that Northern Barbarie,
Loe bending at my feete did saye
Thancks for my love, and kindely praye,
His evills that I would not beare
In minde,—the which none, truely, were.
This youth I well remember, and
In neere, loe, manner kisse your hand;
Hoping, of gentle courtesie,
You will no worse remember me.'

-MS. Harl. T002, f. 118.

Boo»i. Buckingham's death, he began to hope that a political unar career might be still possible for him. And statesmen Cotomtm1 ^e Bedford and Clare—as well as Cotton—kept up with him a correspondence.

More than once or twice, coming events had cast their preliminary shadows over Sir Robert, in relation to the very matter which so vexed his heart in the winter of 1629. 'Sir Robert Cotton's Library is threatened to be sealed up' is a sentence which made its occasional appearance in news-letters, long before King Charles hurried down to the Council Chamber to vent his indignation on the handing about of Dudley's 'Proposition to bridle Parliaments'

Bem Joksoh One cause of the rumour lay doubtless in the known


Vebsisto enmity between Buckingham and the great antiquary. This enmity, on one occasion, brought Ben Jonson into peril. Ben was fond of visiting Cotton House. He liked the master, and he liked the table; and he was wont to meet at it men with whom he could exchange genial talk. On one such occasion, just a year before the Florence pamphlet incident, some verses went round the table at Cotton House, with the dessert. They began, 'Enjoy thy bondage' and ended with the words 'England's ransom here doth lie.'' Only two months had then passed since Buckingham's assassination, and these verses were, or were supposed to be, addressed to Felton. We can now imagine more than one reason why such lines may have been curiously glanced at, over Sir Robert's table, without assuming that there was any triumphing over a fallen enemy; still less any approval of murder. But there seems to have been Domestic present one guest too many. Some informer told the alZli, story at Whitehall, and Jonson found himself accused jri0"1' of being the author of the obnoxious verses. He cleared himself; but not, it seems, without some difficulty and Booki,

Chnp. II.

annoyance. Life O*

Sis Robebt


The release from immediate restraint of the prisoner of November '29 was no concession to any prompting of Charles' own better nature. Fortunately for Sir Robert Cotton, his companions in the offence were peers. Their fellow-peers shewed, quietly but significantly, that continued restraint would need to be preceded by some open declaration of its cause. During the course of the proceedings which followed their release it was asserted—I do not know by whom—that not only had the 'Proposition' been copied, but that an 'Ansiver' to it had been either written, or drafted. And that the reply, like the original tract, would be found in Sir Robert's library.

This somewhat inexplicable circumstance in the story is nowhere mentioned, I think, except in a Minute of the Privy Council. The Minute runs thus :—

'A Warrant directed to Thomas Mewtas, Esq and

Laurence Wh Itaker, Esq. [Clerksof Council] autorising them to accompanie Sir Robert Cotton, Knight, to his house and assist him in searching amongst the papers in his studie or elsewhere, for certaine notes or draughtes for an answer to a "Proposition" pretended to be made "for His Majesties Service" touching the securing of His Estate, and also to seeke diligently amongst his papers, and lykewise the trunkes and chambers of Mr. James, and [of] Flood, Sir Robert Cotton's servant, as well for anie such notes, as also for coppies of the said "Proposition," and for other Regit tart, wrytings, of that nature, which may import prejudice to Vol^tpp' the government and His Majestie's service.' The new J^j498' search, it seems, had not the desired, or any important, ^J0^ result. (c o.).

[ocr errors]

Book i, A year passed away. The proceedings in the Star Lik 0/ Chamber proved to be almost as fruitless, as had been the co^o0"" vau1' ^ut rePeated> searches which wearied the legs and perplexed the minds of Clerks of Council and of MessenDomestic gers of the Secretary's office. But the locks and seals were still kept on the Cottonian Library. Sir Robert and his son (afterwards Sir Thomas) petitioned the King over and over again. But Charles had set his face as a flint, and would not listen. In vain he was told that the Manuscripts were perishing by neglect; and that, as they occupied some of the best rooms, the continued locking up made their owner to be like a prisoner, in his own house. In order to go into any one of them he had to send to Whitehall, to request the presence of a Clerk of the Council. Cottos-s Under such circumstances it is not surprising that his

DECLINE Or . | • 1 1 XT'

Health.- friends noticed with anxiety his changed appearance. His Qulc"^1 ruddy countenance became sallow and haggard. It grew, says his associate D'ewes, to be of 'a blackish paleness near to the semblance and hue of a dead visage.' His somewhat portly frame stooped and waned. Life had still some charms for him,—so long at least as he could hope even faintly, for an opportunity of returning, at last, to his beloved studies. He was told of the growing repute of a certain Dr. Frodsham, who combined (it seems) experiments at the retort and still of the chemist, with the clinical practice of the physician,—when he could get it. Sir Robert sent for him and desired that he would bring a certain restorative balsam, or other nostrum, that had become the talk of the town. The worthy practitioner preferred to send his answer in writing. With great frankness, he said to his correspondent: 'I have now an

extraordinary occasion for money Neither

is it my accustomed manner to distil for any body, without


some payment beforehand. So, noble Sir, if pleas you, Booki, send here, by this berer, £17 and 12s., for so much the una* druges will cum tow. I confes that way I worke is deare, c'0TMTMERT yett must say, upon my life, that I will make' [you] 'as sound-and able of body, as at thirty-five,—and' [this] JJJ^Jfj|u. 'within five weeks.' But the eye for which this naive H i'TM^TM

to Sir R.

epistle was meant was an eye keen enough to detect the cotton difference between corn and chaff. 'I did,' replied Sir fb[M-)' Robert, 'expect something of fact, to make me confident; before I could venture either my trial or my purse. . . Promises I have often met and rejected. Error of judgment must be, to me, of more loss than the money.'

By way of addition to the combined anxieties of failing health, and of a bitter grief, there came now to be heaped upon Cotton's shoulders the heavier burden of a conspiracy to assail his moral character.

Large as had been his expenditure on his noble collections, and openhanded as was his manner of life and of giving, Sir Robert Cotton was still wealthy. Some persons who had benefited by his repeated generosity thought they saw an opening, in the summer of 1630, to increase the gain by a clever and lucrative plot. The method they took reads, nowadays, less like a real incident in English literary biography, than like one of those—

. . . last, beat, of the 'Hundred Merry Tales'
Of how [a grave and learned sage] devised
To carry off a spouse that moped too much,
And cured her of the vapours in a trice;

For now the husband—playing Vulcan's part,—

started in hot pursuit

To catch the lovers, and came raging up;
Cast then his net, and call'd neighbours to see
The convicts in their rosy impudence.

« ElőzőTovább »