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Booii, Buckingham's death, he began to hope that a political LwEor' career might be still possible for him. And statesmen Cottom"t 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'
Beh Jonsoh One cause of the rumour lay doubtless in the known
AMD THE *
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 jwrtie present one guest too many. Some informer told the curtZi. story at Whitehall, and Jonson found himself accused "33""'' °f heing the author of the obnoxious verses. He cleared himself; but not, it seems, without some difficulty and Booki,
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 'Ansioer' 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 Whitaker, 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 seguttn, wrytings, of that nature, which may import prejudice to ^vpp' the government and His Majestie's service.' The new f^9i9i' search, it seems, had not the desired, or any important, not-w
'J tr > Whitehall.
result. (c. o.).
Hook i, A year passed away. The proceedings in the Star ull ll Chamber proved to be almost as fruitless, as had been the Co^tk0°"et vam' Dllt repeated searches which wearied the legs and perplexed the minds of Clerks of Council and of MessenD.,m,,nc gers of the Secretary's office. But the locks and seals were C*m.t 8^ kept on the Cottonian Library. Sir Robert and his Wn) son (afterwai"ds 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. Cotton's Under such circumstances it is not surprising that his
DKiim or . .... . i-i i Xt
Hkalth- friends noticed with anxiety his changed appearance. His Q""c«1ibul 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 12*., for so much the unor
druges will cum tow. I confes that way I worke is deare, ^0°"m yett must say, upon my life, that I will make' [you] 'as
sound and able of body, as at thirty-five,—and' [this] "^mmr
'within five weeks.' But the eye for which this naive » ^m,»
epistle was meant was an eye keen enough to detect the cotton difference between corn and chaff. 'I did,' replied Sir a[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, best, of the 'Hundred Merry Tales'
For now the husband—playing Vulcan's part,—
started in hot pursuit
To catch the lovers, and came raging up;
Book I, The victim of this plot was now in his sixtieth year. Lireor' Whatever may have been the sins of his youth, there was obvious risk in a contrivance to extort money by telling such a tale as that, about a man the fever of whose blood must »iucx*or needs have abated; even had he not been already broken Wemojj" down under cumulative weight of the sorrow and hunger Aoainstsir 0f tne heart. The intended victim, too, was a man with
troops of friends. But the conspirators, it is evident, thought that Sir Robert's known disgrace at Court would tell as a good counterpoise in their favour. A man already in circumstances of peril would, they thought, be likely to open his pursestrings rather than incur the burden of a new accusation.
On a June morning in 1630 Sir Robert Cotton received an urgent letter from an elderly woman—one Amphyllis Ferrers—who had the claim upon him of distant kinship, and upon whom, in that character, he had bestowed many kindnesses. The letter made a new appeal to his compassion; told him of the distresses of the writer's daughter —married not long before to a needy man—and besought him to pay them a visit; that he might judge of their necessities with his own eyes. Both mother and daughter lived together in Westminster, at no great distance from Cotton House.
Sir Robert paid the invited visit; was told of various family plans connected with the recent marriage, and, amongst other things, of a pressing need for some household furniture. When the talk turned upon furniture, he was asked to look, himself, at an upstairs room, and form his own opinion about the request. Both mother and daughter went up with him; but the three had hardly entered the room, when a loud battering noise was heard on the other side of the thin wall which separated them