Cuff, Henry

, a celebrated wit and scholar, but memorable chiefly for the peculiarity of his fate, was descended from a good family, though some have insinuated the contrary, and born at Hinton St. George in Somerset-' shire about 1560. He gave early marks of genius and application, and in 1576 was admitted of Trinity college in Oxford; where he soon distinguished himself by his knowledge of the Greek tongue, and an admirable faculty in disputing. He was elected scholar in May 1578, and was admitted fellow in May 1583, but had the misfortune to lose his fellowship for a witticism, which, either in jest or malice, he levelled at sir Thomas Pope, the founder of his college. Sir Thomas, we are told, had a singular whim, upon visiting some persons, of seizing whatever he could lay his hands on, and carrying it off under his gown or in his pocket; which, however, was not imputed to dishonesty, but to humour. This induced Cuff in one of his merry moments to say, “A pox! this is a poor beggarly college indeed: the plate that our founder stole, would build such another.” The president, hearing of this, ejected Cuff from his fellowship; not suffering prophane wit to be thus exercised within his walls, for fear perhaps that it should become contagious. Such is the story, as told by Wood, who says he had it from Dr. Bathurst; but | Mr. Warton has proved that he has misrepresented it, nor was Cuff removed by the president, but by a mandate from lady Powlett, the foundress, who first placed him there. Cuff’s merit, however, was so great, and his reputation for foaming so extraordinary, that he was, in 1586, elected probationer of Merton college by sir Henry Savile, then warden; and two years after made fellow. He was considered as a man capable of making a shining figure in life; and that he was much esteemed by sir Henry Savile, appears not only from the instance of kindness just mentioned, but also from a letter of his to the learned Camden, in which he gives him the highest character, and styles him his own and Camden’s intimate friend. He wrote a Greek epigram in commendation of Camden’s Britannia, which is prefixed to all the Latin editions, and to some of the English translations of it; and which has been much admired. He was afterwards promoted to the Greek professorship, and chosen proctor of the university in 1594. While Greek professor, he assisted Columbanius in the first edition of Longus’s elegant pastoral romance, printed at Florence in 1598.

At what time he left Oxford, or upon what occasion, does not appear; but there is some reason to believe, it was for the sake of travelling in order to improve himself. For he was always inclined rather to a busy, than to a retired life; and held, that learning was of little service to any man, if it did not qualify him for active pursuits. This disposition recommended him much to the favour of the celebrated Robert earl of Essex, who was himself equally fond of knowledge and business. Cuff became his secretary in 1596, when the earl was made lord lieutenant of Ireland; but it had been happier for him, if he could have contented himself with the easy and honourable situation, which his own learning, and the assistance of his friends in the university, had procured him. Even his outset was unfortunate; he accompanied the earl in his expedition against Cadiz, and after its successful conclusion, was dispatched with his lordship’s letters to England, and, when he had landed, endeavoured with the utmost speed, to arrive with them at the court. Beinsr, however, unfortunately taken ill on the road, he was obliged to send up the letters, inclosed in one of his own, to Mr. Reynoldes, another of the earl’s secretaries. Mr. Cuff, agreeably to Jarge instructions which he had received from his lordship, | had drawn up a discourse concerning the great action at Cadiz, which the earl purposed to be published as soon as possible, both to stop all vagrant rumours, and to inform those that were well affected, of the truth of the whole. It was at the same time to be so contrived, that neither his lordship’s name, nor Cuff’s, nor any other person’s, connected with the earl, should either be openly mentioned, used, or in such a manner insinuated, as that the most slender guess could be made, who was the penman. The publication was to have the appearance of a letter that came from Cadiz, and the title of it was to be, “A true relation of the action at Cadiz, the 21st of June, under the earl of Essex and the lord admiral, sent to a gentleman in court from one that served there in good place.” Sir Anthony Ashley, who was entrusted with the design, acted a treacherous part on this occasion. He betrayed the secret to the queen, and the lords of her council; the consequence of which was, that Mr. Fulke Grevill was charged by her majesty to command Mr. Cuff, upon pain of death, not to set forth any discourse concerning the expedition without her consent.

He was afterwards involved in all the misfortunes of that unhappy earl, and did not escape partaking of his fate. Upon the sudden reverse of the earl’s fortunes, Cuff was not only involved, but looked upon as the chief if not the sole cause and author of his misfortunes. Thus, when the earl was tried and condemned, February ly, 1601, and solicited by the divines who attended him while under sentence, he not only confessed matters prejudicial to Cuff, but likewise charged him to his face with being the author of all his misfortunes, and the person who principally persuaded him to pursue violent measures. Sir Henry Neville, also, being involved in this unhappy business, mentioned Cuff as the person who invited him to the meeting at JDrury-house; where the plot for forcing the earl’s way to the queen by violence was concerted. Cuff was brought to his trial March 5th following, and although he defended himself with great steadiness and spirit, was convicted, and executed at Tyburn, March 30, 1601; dying, it is said, with great constancy and courage. He declared, at the place of execution, that “he was not in the least concerned in that wild commotion which was raised by a particular great but unadvised earl, but shut up that whole day within the house, where he spent his | time in very melancholy reflections: that he never persuaded any man to take up arms against the queen, but was most heartily concerned for being -an instrument of bringing that worthy gentleman sir Henry Neville into danger, and did most earnestly intreat his pardon, &c.*” His character has been harshly treated by lord* Bacon, sir Henry Wotton, and other writers. Camden also, who knew him intimately, and had lived many years in great friendship with him, says that he was a man of most exquisite learning and penetrating wit, but of a seditious and perverse disposition. Others are milder in their censures 5 and all allow him to have been a very able and learned man. He wrote a book in English, a very little before his death, which was printed about six years after, under this title: “The differences of the ages of man’s life, together with the original causes, progress, and end thereof,1607, 8vo. It has been printed more than once since, and commended as a curious and philosophical piece. Wood says, that he left behind him other things ready for the press, which were never published. Bishop Tanner has given us the title of one; viz. “De rebus gestis in sancto concilio Nicaeno;” or, The transactions in the holy council of Nice, translated out of Greek into Latin, and believed to have been the work of Gelasius Cyricenus, which was transcribed from the original in the Vatican library by Cuff. And in the “Epistolae Francisci et Johannis Hotomanorum, Patris et Filii, et clarorum Virorum ad eos,” are several letters by Cuff, to John Hotman. These are said to exhibit distinguished marks of genius and learning; to be written in elegant Latin; and to contain some curious particulars. Mr. Warton informs us that, notwithstanding the severe check he received at Trinity college, he presented several volumes to the library. The manner of his death deprived him, as may


In vol. I. of the Annual Register, and the —Gent. Mag. vol. XLIII. the following remarkable speech is given, we know not upon what authority, as the dying speech of Mr. Cuff: “I am here adjudged to die, for acting an act never plotted, for plotting a plot never acted. Justice will have her course; accusers must be heard; greatness will have the victory. Scholars and martialists (though learning and valour should have the pre-eminence) in England must die like dogs, and be hanged. To mislike this were but folly: to dispute it, but time lost: to alter it, impossible. But to endure it, is manly; and to scorn it, magnanimity. The queen is displeased, the lawyers injurious, and death terrible. But I crave pardon of the queen; forgive the lawyers, and the world; desire to be forgiven; and welcome death.” This speech is at least characteristic.

| easily be imagined, of a monument an old friend, however, ventured to embalm his memory in the following epitaph:

"Doctus eras Græcé, felixquc tibi fuit alpha,

At fuit infelix omega, Cuife, tumn."

Which has been thus translated:

"Thou wast indeed well read in Greek;

Thy alpha too was crown’d with hope:

But, oh! though sad the truth I speak,

Thy omega proved but a rope."


Biog. Brit.—Fuller’s Worthies.—Ath. Ox. vol. I.—Warton’s Life of Sir T. Pope, p. 250.—Tanner.