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Domenic Conupondnice, James 1, vol. i,
f. 3 (R. IL).
chiefly from the Earls of Castilia, about 500 years since,’ and the then King of Spain was ‘yet in the infancy of his kingdom.’
Two minor and ancillary arguments in this tract are also notable: The Spanish throne, says COTTON, hath not, as hath the English and French, ‘ that virtue to endow the king therein invested with the power to heal the king’s evil; for into France do yearly come multitudes of Spaniards to be healed thereof.’ And he further alleges that ‘absolute power of the King of England, which in other kingdoms is much restrained.’ The time was to come when the close friend and fellow-combatant of ELIOT and the other framers of the great ‘ Petition of Right’ would rank himself with the foremost in ‘ much restraining ’ the kingly power in England, and would discover ample warrant in ancient precedents for every step of the process. But, as yet, that time was afar ofi‘.
Immediately on the accession of King JAMES, Sir Robert COTTON greeted the new monarch with two other and far more remarkable tractates on a subject bearing closely on our relations with Spain. Their political interest, as contributions to the history of public opinion, is great. Their biographical interest is still greater. But I postpone the consideration of them until we reach a momentous crisis in Sir Robert’s life on which they have a vital bearing. He also wrote,—almost simultaneously,——a much more courtierlike ‘ Discourse of Iris lliajesty’s descent from fire Samoa Kinys,’ which was graciously welcomed. In the following September he received the honour of knighthood. In J AMEs’ first Parliament he sat-for the County of Huntingdon, in fellowship with Sir Oliver CROMWELL, uncle of the future Protector. There is no evidence that at this period
he took any active part in debate. Nor did he, at any time, win distinction as a debater. But in the labours Of Committees he was soon both zealous and prominent. Two classes Of questions, in particular, appear to have engaged his attention :—questions of Church discipline, and questions of administrative reform. He also assisted Bacon in the difficult attempt to frame acceptable measures for a union with Scotland.
The fame of his library and of his museum Of antiquities continued to spread farther and wider. He had many agents on the Continent who sought diligently to augment his collections. His correspondence with men who were busied in like pursuits both at home and abroad increased. Much of it has survived. On that interesting point at which a glance has been cast already, its witness is uniform. He was always as ready to impart as he was eager to collect. Few, if any, important works of historical research were carried on in his day to which he did not, in some way or other, give generous furtherance. At a time when he was most busy in forming his own library, he helped BODLEY to lay the foundation of the noble library at Oxford.
Readers who can call to mind even mere fragments of that superabundant evidence which tells Of the neglect throughout much of the Tudor period of the public archives of the realm, can feel little surprise that Sir Robert COTTON should have been able to collect a multitude of documents which had once been the property of the nation, or of the sovereign. Those who are most familiar with that evidence ought to be the first to remember that, under the known circumstances of the time, the presumption of honest acquisition is stronger than that of dishonest, whenever conclusive proof of either is absent. English State Papers
had passed into the possession not only of English antiquarians, but of English booksellers—and not a few of them into that of foreigners—before COTTON was born. Other considerations bearing on this matter, and tending as it seems in a like direction, belong to a later period of Sir Robert’s life. There is, however, a very weighty one which stands at the threshold of his career as a collector.
Almost the earliest incident which is recorded of COTTON’s youthful days, is his concurrence in a petition in which Queen ELIZABETH was entreated to establish a Public and National Library, and to honour it with her own name. Its especial and prime object was to be the collection and preservation, as public property, of the monuments of our English history. The proposal was not altogether new. It was a much improved revival of a project which Dr. John DEE had once submitted, in an immature form, to Queen MARY. It was the reiteration of an earnest request which had been made to Queen ELIZABETH byArchbishop PARKER, at a time when COTTON was still in his cradle. The joint petition of COTTON and CAMDEN met with as little success as had attended the entreaties of those who had taken the same path before them. The petitioners were willing to bind themselves, and others like-minded, to incur ‘ costs, and charges,’ for the eflectual attainment of their patriotic object, on the condition of royal patronage and royal fellowworking with them in its pursuit. When COTTON, upon bare presumptions, is charged to be an embezzler of records, this Petition comes to have a very obvious relevancy to the matter in question. The relevancy is enhanced by the fact that two, at least, of those who had (at various times) concurred in promoting its object, gave to the Library of their fellow-labourer in the field of antiquity, manuscripts and records which, had the issue of their project been
otherwise, they would have given to the ‘ Public Library of Boon,
Queen ELIZABETH,’ in express trust for their fellow-countrymen at large.
Indirectly, this same petition has also its bearing on a curious passage relating to Sir Robert COTTON which occurs among the Minute-books of the Corporation of London, and which has recently been printed by Mr. RILEY, in his preface to Liber Custumarum.
On the 10th of November, 1607, the Court of Aldermen of London recorded the following minute: ‘It is this day ordered, that Mr. Chamberlain, Mr. Town Clerk, Mr. EDMONDS, and Mr. Robert SMITH, or any three of them, shall repair to Sir Robert COTTON, from this Court, and require him to deliver to the City’s use three of the City’s books w/Iic/z have been long time missiny—the first book called Liécr Custumarum ; the second, called Liber Leyum Antz'quorum ; and the thirde, called Fletewode, which are affirmed to be in his custody.’ Of the results of the interview of Master Chamberlain and his fellow-ambassadors with COTTON no precise account has been preserved. It is plain, however, from the sequel, that they found the matter to be one for which such extremely curt ‘requisition ’ was scarcely the appropriate mode of setting to work. The Corporation appealed in vain to the Lord Privy Seal NORTHAMPTON; and they had afterwards to solicit the mediation with COTTON of two of their own members—Sir John J OLLES and another—who were personally known to 'him. Their interposition was alike ineffectual. Of the interview we have no report; but Sir Robert, it is clear, asserted his right to retain the City books (or rather portions of books) which were then in his hands, and he did retain them. They now form part of the well-known and very valuable Cottonian MS., ‘ Claudius D. XI.’
That these London records had once belonged to the citizens is now unquestioned. That Cotton—both in 1607 and again in the following year—asserted a title, of some sort, to those of them which were then in his hands, seems also to be established. Is the fair inference this; "l‘heir then holder, in 1607, had obtained them wrongfully, and he persisted, despite all remonstrance, in his wrongful possession'? Is it not rather to be inferred that, whosoever may have been the original wrongdoer, Sir Robert COTTON had acquired them by a lawful purchase? If that should have been the fact, he may possibly have had a valid reason for declining tO give what he had, ineffectually and rudely, been commanded to restore.
On the other hand,‘ it is impossible to defend Sir Robert’s occasional mode of dealing with MSS.,—some of which, it is plain, were but lent to him,——when, by misplacement of leaves, or by insertions, and sometimes by both together, he confused their true sequence and aspect. Of this unjustifiable manipulation I shall have to speak hereafter.
The years which followed close upon this little civic interlude were amongst the busiest years Of COT'I‘ON’s public life. He testified the sincerity of his desire tO serve his country faithfully, by the choice Of the subjects to the study of which he voluntarily bent his powers.
Abuses in the management of the navy and of naval establishments have been at most periods of our history fruitful topics for reformers, competent or other. In the early years of J AMES there was a special tendency to the increase of such abuses in the growing unfitness for exertion of the Lord High Admiral. NOTTINGHAM had yet many years to live,—near as he had been to the threescore and ten when the new reign began. But even his large