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pieces, went afoot like William Lithgow, for “thirtie and sixe thousande of miles, perfitting his long nineteen years travel by surveying forty-eight kingdoms, twenty-one republics, ten absolute principalities, and two hundred islands," said William, finishing his journeys (and being himself finished, poor fellow !) by torture at Malaga, where he was arrested as an English spy. Of greater education than he was a son of the Archbishop of York, William Sandys, an accomplished gentleman, scholar, and traveller; to which titles James Howell also may lay claim. Born in Carmarthenshire in 1596 (one child of fifteen, as he tells us incidentally), Howell was educated at Hereford and Oxford, and repaired to London in 1617. There is abundant evidence that graduates of the Universities and gentlemen of good family were not averse to trade in that age; and, although the dramatists and courtiers satirized the citizens, still the sons of knights and noblemen sought employment of the merchants and chief traders for their sons.
James Howell was appointed steward of a London glass factory, and in 1619 went abroad in that capacity to perfect his knowledge and engage" gentlemen workmen.” He travelled till 1621, corresponding in the meantime with high dignitaries and noblemen (one of his brothers was Bishop of Bristol), and on his return still followed his stewardship. This connection of business with literature, which undoubtedly did him good, lasted for some time. Upon its cessation he became a travelling companion; then a Government agent to Spain--where he was witness to “ Babie's” and “Steenie's” romantic attempt at a Spanish marriage. Next he became Secretary to Lord Scrope as President of the North ; was then elected member for Richmond, in which post he remained nearly four years ; and afterwards went to Copenhagen as Secretary to the British Ambassador. In 1640 he was made Clerk of the Council by Charles I, and three years afterwards was, by the Parliament, imprisoned in the Fleet, where he maintained himself by translating and working for the booksellers. After the King's death he was released, and at the Restoration was made our first “historiographer royal,” in which position he continued using his pen till the year of the great fire, 1666, when he died.
From so busy a life we should expect much ; and we are not disappointed. Howell's thick volume of upwards of five hundred pages is full of observation, and is as amusing as the essays of Montaigne. His letters are addressed to all sorts of people—to the King, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Lady Digby, Secretary Conway, Sir Robert Mansell, Sir Sacvil Trevor, Captain Francis Bacon, Mr. Ben Jonson, Mr. Ed. Noy, and others. We are inclined to think that, with the method of a tradesman, he kept copies of all his letters; for, although some assert that he compiled them from memory when in the Fleet, they are often too full of amusing trivialities, of local touch and colouring, the most evanescent of qualities—in short, have too great an air of freshness to have originated in any other manner. They are, as we have before hinted, supposed to be the earliest specimens of epistolary literature in our language. Howell's
style seems to have been based
upon the precept contained in his motto:
Ut clavis portam, sic pandit Epistola pectus;
As keys do open chests,
He dedicates his letters to the King in a “Poem Royal,” dated Calendis Januarii, 1641, which contains some strong and excellent lines. He brings, he says:
No medals or rich stuff of Tyrian dye,
but something I will bring
in a word, his book of letters. In his
he defines what an epistle should be, in one written to Sir J. S. (John Smith) at Leeds Castle :
“ It was a quaint difference the ancients did put ’twixt a letter and an oration—that the one should be attir’d like a woman, the other like a man; the latter of the two is allowed large side-robes, as long periods, parentheses, similes, examples, and other parts of rhetorical flourishes ; but a letter or epistle should be short-coated and closelycouch'd; a hungerlin [a short scanty coat] becomes a letter more handsomely than a gown. Indeed, we should write as we speak; and that's a true familiar letter which
expresseth one's mind, as if he were discoursing with the party to whom he writes in short and succinct terms.
The tongue and the pen are both interpreters of the mind; but I hold the pen to be the more faithful of the two. The tongue, in udo posita, being seated in a moist slippery place, may fail and falter in her sudden extemporal expressions; but the pen, having the greater advantage of premeditation, is not so subject to error. Now, letters, though they be capable of any subject, are commonly either narratory, objurgatory, monitory, or congratulatory. There are some who, in lieu of letters, write Homelies; they preach when they should epistolize. There are others that turn them into tedious tractats ; and others that must go fraighted with meer Bartholomew ware, with trite and trivial phrases only, lifted with pedantic shreds of schoolboy verses.”
Really, Mr. Howell must have been reading, by prophetic vision, some of the vacation and lady-tourists' letters which are now-a-days issued. He is equally severe on the elder Balzac and the letter-writers of our “ transmarine” neighbours : “ Loose flesh without sinews, simpering lank hectic expressions, a bombast of words made up of finical and affected compliments, I cannot away with such sleazy stuff;" and luckily he has backbone enough to prevent his committing the faults which he so ardently condemns. In an early epistle to his father he tells us that, had he remained steward of the glass-house in Broad Street, he should “have melted away to nothing amidst those hot Venetians.” Captain Francis Bacon succeeded him in Broad Street, whilst Howell was taken into the employment of Sir Robert Mansell, who, with “ my Lord of Pembrook and divers others of the Prime Lords of the Court, had got a sole patent for the making of glass from pit-coal, only to save the huge loads of wood formerly used in the furnaces.” Here is the first hint of the improvement in the blast of our furnaces; but it would seem that the patent did not succeed. In the same letter he tells us something of the rise of the haughty Buckingham :
“ The new favorit Sir George Villiers tapers up a pace, and grows strong at Court. His predecessor, the Earl of Somerset, has got a lease of ninety years for his life, and so hath his Articulate lady; so called, because she articulated against the frigidity and impotence of her former lord. [This was the notorious Countess of Somerset celebrated in our State Trials.] She was afraid that Coke, the Lord Chief Justice, who had used extraordinary art and industry in discovering all the circumstances in the poysoning of Overbury, would have made white broth of them; but the Prerogative kept them from the pot. Yet the subservient instruments, the lesser flies, could not break thorow; amongst others, Mistriss Turner, the inventress of yellow starch, was executed in a cobweb lawn ruff of that colour at Tyburn, and with her, I believe, will disappear that yellow starch, which so much disfigured our nation and rendered them so ridiculous and fantastic.”
In the same letter Howell tells us of the execution of Sir Gervas Elway, Lieutenant of the Tower, who, on being hanged on Tower Hill as an accessory to the murder of Overbury, declared that the reason he suffered was through