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of this House' [of Commons] 'who powerfully interposed Book I,
and assisted in its preservation.' The allusion is to the Llfe'axd
Right Hon. Arthur Onslow, the then Speaker, who after- °0"^"£&
wards became one of the first Trustees of the Museum RoBEKT
established by the Act of 1753.
The Petitioners proceed to state that their most earnest Petition wishes are accomplished by seeing a Library, famed roughs an/ throughout Europe, with the generous gifts of Major ^nH"*t! Edwards annexed thereto, placed out of all further Cottoiii'u'
ill • ■ 'Appendix'
dangers from neglect, and that they rejoice to perceive (b.m.j. that the Museum of their own Founder is about to be enlarged by other rare and valuable collections. 'We are/ say they, 'fully persuaded that an edifice raised upon such a stately plan will, by degrees, be stored with benefactions and become a common Cabinet for preserving with safety all curiosities and whatsoever is choice or excellent in its kind. Moreover, being a new institution for the service of the learned world it will be an honour to the Nation, an ornament long wanted in this great city, and a distinguished event in the history of our times.' Then follows the passage which I have prefixed, by way of motto, to this first division of the volume now in the reader's ncrctoibro, hands.'
When these Petitioners went on to state to Parliament that 'no expression of gratitude can be too great ... for Recent doing honour to the memory of Sir Robert Cotton,' their AGAINST TDK assertion gave rise to no utterance of hostile feeling. They I^AnT were not even charged with undue laudation of their
ancestor. People who at that time troubled themselves to think of such matters at all, were agreed in regarding Sir Robert Cotton as unquestionably one of the worthies of England. Nowadays—as 1 have had occasion to show
already—there are many gainsayers. A distinguished historian (Mr. Gardiner) asperses Cotton's character both for statesmanship and for truthfulness; whilst a distinguished archaeologist (Mr. Brewer) charges him with embezzling records.
The first charge has been partly met, in these pages, by the simple apposition and collation of contemporary evidence. The reader has his choice between the cumulative testimony of several English peers and statesmen; and the unsupported testimony of one foreign diplomatist, who made it his boast to be the enemy of Englishmen, and whose hostility was graduated in tolerably exact accordance with the qualities and the deeds which have made England proud of them. The home witnesses gave their testimony whilst the events were still fresh in men's minds. They gave it in broad daylight, and with open doors. The foreign witness put his evidence into a secret dispatch, to be seen by no human eye, out of the Spanish Cabinet, until our own historian disinterred it, at Simancas, two centuries and a half after date. Nor is this quite all.
If Gondomar's account be true, not only was Sir Robert Cotton's life as a statesman a protracted lie, but his duplicity was so superbly cloaked as to deceive the most keen-sighted of his contemporaries. The men who sat habitually at his board in his days of health, and who ministered at his bedside in all the offices of tender friendship in his days of sickness and of death, were all wrong about his character. And there is this other little fact to boot: Sir Robert Cotton began his public life by as open a declaration of anti-Spanish policy in relation to the great question of the Netherlands as ever came from the lips of our Ralegh. He ended his public life with as staunch an adherence to the principles, both in Church and State, which the rulers of Spain abhorred as that which had been Booki, shown by Ralegh on the scaffold in Old Palace Yard, or urlll by Eliot in the dungeon of the Tower of London. Mean- „ g"" while, just in the mid-channel of his career, and in the RoBmT
prime of his faculties, Sir Robert Cotton threw himself, gratuitously, at the feet of Gondomar. He humbly asked leave to take Spanish service in the guise of a political slave. The historian's proposition is a bold one. And its evidence needs to be cogent. English readers now know quite enough about Gondomar to judge whether or not his sole testimony is sufficient to damn the fame of such a man as Cotton ;—to degrade him from the rank of an English worthy;—to brand him as a criminal virtually convicted of apostacy in religion, and of treason to his avowed convictions in politics ? *
* I have dwelt, somewhat protractedly, on this one interesting point in Cotton's history,—pressing as are the limits prescribed to this volume, —under the belief that many readers will bear in mind that Sir Robert's misfortune beneath the recent disinterment of ambassadorial despatches, written to foreign courts, is not an exceptional misfortune. Sir Walter Ralegh has fared still worse, in Mr. Gardiner's able hands, by being held up to public scorn as a knavish liar, upon the uncorroborated testimony of certain avowed and bitter enemies of England. See Prince Charles and the Spanish Marriage (1869), vol. i, Chaps, l and 2, passim. Readers of the admirable History of England by Mr. Froude—and who has not read that history ?—will easily call to mind several not dissimilar instances. Nor is it at all surprising that it should be so. The most warily judicial of intellects can never be quite independent of that factitious charm which there will always be—over and above the legitimate charm—in telling an old story from an entirely new point of view. If, besides the attraction of mere novelty, there Bhould chance to have been a keen burst of search over a difficult country, before the eager searcher could succeed in running down his quarry, he would be more than human if, in the moment of victory, he could weigh and balance with exact precision the real value of the hard-won spoil. At present, historians are too keenly chasing after new evidence to be able to estimate quite fairly its relative importance or net result. The most part both of writers and of readers are far too busy over newly-discovered Book I, From the nature of things the second charge cannot be L.rniND so directly, so compactly, or so effectively met. Almost o" s"CT1B a third of the manuscripts which form the most important cmo" section of the Cotton Library consist of, or contain, Papers of State. Of these a very considerable proportion once belonged to the State. How came they to pass into the hands of Sir Robert Cotton? mr- By Mr. Brewer the question has been answered, un
Bkewer'3 1 • • 1 11 -1 T • PITA*
AccousTor hesitatingly and exhaustively. Large portions of the DipC'oton's lomatic Correspondence of Henry The Eighth were, he oisTM" says. 'carried off in 1614, if not before, by Sir Robert Pafkrs. t Cotton. . . . The original bundles appear to have been 'broken up under the keepership of Agarde, when the 'Treasury of the Exchequer was rifled of its most precious 'contents to augment the collections of Sir R. Cotton. Z'ftTu1 '... For the early years of Henry, his [Sir Robert's] feCof 'collections are more numerous, and even more interesting, Henry viii, 'than the documents in the English, the French, or the u. 'PP'TU1' ' Spanish Archives. They are equally authentic. ... By 'what fraud or negligence they found their way into the 'possession of Sir Robert Cotton it is not for me to 'inquire.'
No writer can be better qualified to speak with authority on such a topic as this than is Mr. Brewer. Familiar with State Papers and with records of all kinds for a very long period, he has won the deep respect of all students of our history by the uses to which his knowledge has been applied. But the ablest writer will sometimes write
materials to adjust with any approach to impartial fairness the vital question of comparative credibility. But the time for doing that must needs come, by and bye. Meanwhile, the fame of not a few of our old and true worthies will—in all probability—suffer some degree of momentary eclipse; just as that of Ralegh and Cotton has suffered.
hastily. The most impartial inquirer will now and then Booei, reach a conclusion by overleaping part of the evidence. toT'L
The sweeping passage which I have quoted, like other oi'sm""1 passages in Mr. Riley's preface to Liber Custumarum, £^KTM previously noticed, leaves altogether out of view three or four whole classes of testimony—chains not links— having a vital bearing on the issue. For example—
I. It disregards the fact that certain bundles of State ^^7"*°" letters and papers were given by the King's order to ^""^ Sir Robert Cotton, during the reign of James The First. G»tm»>-. These, indeed, were commanded to be 'subscriptions and | 41*. seqq. signatures of Princes and great men, attached to letters lR H ) otherwise unimportant.' But who is to tell us what was
the estimate of 'importance' in papers of State formed, two centuries and a half ago, by James, who gave the order, or by Sir Thomas Wilson, who received it?
II. It disregards the fact that long before, as well as long after, that known order of 1618, Sir Robert's possession of papers once the property of the Government was so published and so recognized as to imply, by fair induction, that the possession must have been—as far as he was concerned—a lawful one. In his own writings, he iterates and reiterates reference to national documents then in his own collection. His references are specific and minute. Secretaries of State write to him, asking leave to inspect original Treaties (sometimes in order to lay them before the King in person) and promising to return them promptly. Law Officers of the Crown desire him kindly £^ieM to afford them opportunities for collating public instruments, »i>ovc, 1021,
rr . , ,. • .-11 • Marcl'i *"<1
preserved at Cotton House, with public instruments still in pastim; also the repositories of the Crown. cc. 0).
III. It leaves out of sight the fact that in the correspondence of Sir Edward Coke with Sir Robert Cotton