Sackville, Thomas

, lord Buckhurst and earl of Dorset, an eminent statesman and poet, was born at Withyam in Sussex, in 1527. He was the son of sir Richard Sackville, who died in 1566, by Winifred Brydges (afterwards marchioness of Winchester), and grandson of John Sackville, esq. who died in 1557, by Anne Boleyne, sister of sir Thomas Boleyne, earl of Wiltshire and great grandson of Richard Sackviiie, esq. who died in 1524, by Isabel, daughter of John Digges, of Digues 1 s place in Barham, Kent, of a family which for many succeeding generations produced men of learning and genius. He was first of the university of Oxford, and, as it is supposed, of Hart-hall, now Hertford-college; but taking no degree there, he removed to Cambridge, where he commenced master of arts, and afterwards was a student of the Inner Temple. At both universities he became celebrated both as a Latin and English poet, and carried the same taste and talents to the Temple, where he wrote his tragedy of “Gorboduc,” which was exhibited in the great hall by the students of that society, as part of a Christmas entertainment, and afterwards before queen Elizabeth at Whitehall^ Jan. 18, 1561. It was surreptitiously printed in 1563, under the title of “The Tragedy of Gorboduc,” 4to; but a correct edition under the inspection of the authors (for he was assisted by Thomas Norton), appeared in 1571, entitled “The Tragedie of Ferrex and Porrex.” Another edition appeared in 1569, notwithstanding which, for many years it had so | feompletely disappeared, that Dryden and Oldham, in the reign of Charles II. do not appear to have seen it, though they pretended to criticise it; and even Wood knew just as little of it, as is plain from his telling us that it was written in old English rhyme. Pope took a fancy to retrieve this play from oblivion, and Spence being employed to set it off with all possible advantage, it was printed pompously in 1736, 8vo, with a preface by the editor. Spence, speaking of his lordship as a poet, declares, that “the dawn of our English poetry was in Chaucer’s time, but that it shone out in him too bright all at once to last long. The succeeding age was dark and overcast. There was indeed some glimmerings of genius again in Henry VIII‘s time but our poetry had never what could be called a fair settled day-light till towards the end of queen Elizabeth’s reign. It was between these two periods, that lord Buckhurst wrote; after the earl of Surrey, and before Spenser.” Warton’s opinion of this tragedy is not very favourable. He thinks it never was a favourite with our ancestors, and fell into oblivion on account of the nakedness anil uninteresting nature of the plot, the tedious length of the speeches, the want of discrimination of character, and almost a total absence of pathetic or critical situations. Yet he allows that the language of “Gorboduc” has great merit and perspicuity, and that it is entirely free from the tumid phraseology of a subsequent age of play-writing.

Sackville is said by Warton to have been the inventor and principal contributor to that celebrated collection of historical legends* entitled “The Mirror for Magistrates,” first edited in 1559 by William Baldwin; but sir Egerton Brydges thinks there is some reason to doubt this, as Sackville’s “Induction,” and “Legend of the duke of Buckingham,” did not appear appended to that work till the second edition in 1563. The reader, however, has now an opportunity of examining the evidence on this point in the very accurate and splendid edition of this work just published by Joseph Haslewood, esq. It is allowed that Sackville’ s share exceeds in dignity and genius all the other contributions to the work. The “Induction” contains some of the finest strains of English poetry, and some of the most magnificent personifications of abstract ideas in our language; exceeding Spenser in dignity, and not short of h^m in brilliance; and the “Complaint of Henry duke | 6f Buckingham” is written, says Warton, with a force and even elegance of expression, a copiousness of phraseology, and an exactness of versification, not to be found in any other part of the collection. 1

Having by these productions established the reputation of being the best poet in his time, he laid down his pen, and assumed the character of the statesman, in which he also became very eminent. He found leisure, however, to make the tour of France and Italy; and was on some account or other in prison at Rome, when the news arrived of his father sir Richard Sackville’s death in 1566. Upon this, he obtained his release,‘ returned home, ente’red into the possession of a vast inheritance, and soon after was promoted to the peerage by the title of lord Buckhurst. He enjoyed this accession of honour and fortune too liberally for a while, but soon saw his error. Some attribute his being reclaimed to‘ the queen,- but others say, that the indignity of being kept in waiting by an alderman, of whom he had occasion to 1 borrow money, made so deep an impression oft him,“ibat he resolved from that moment to be an eeconomisi. By the queen he was received into particalar favour, and employed in many very important affairs- In 1587 he was sent ambassador to the United Provinces’,” upon 1 their complaints against the earl of Leicester ’j and y though he discharged that nice and hazardous trust with- great integrity, yet the favourite prevailed with his mistress to call him home, and confine him to his house for nine Or ten months; which command lord Buckhurst is said to have submitted to so obsequiously, than in all the time he never would endure, openly or secretly, by day or by night, to see either wife or child. His enemy, however, dying, her majesty’s favour returned to him more strongly than ever. He was made knight of the garter in 1590; and chancellor of Oxford in 1591, by the queen’s special interposition. In 1589 he was joined with the treasurer Burleigh in negotiating a peace with Spain; and, upon the death of Burleigh the same year, succeeded him in his office; by virtue of which he became in a manner prime minister, and as such exerted himself vigorously for the public good and her majesty’s safety.

Upon the death of Elizabeth, the administration of the kingdom devolving on him with other counsellors, they unanimously proclaimed king James; and that king renewed his patent of lord high-treasurer for life; before his | arrival in England, and even before his lordship waited on his majesty. In March 1604 he was created earl of Dorset. tie was one of those whom his majesty consulted and confided in upon all occasions; and he lived in the highest esteem and reputation, without any extraordinary decay of health, till 1607. Then he was seized at his house at tlorsley, in Surrey, with a disorder, which reduced him so, that his life was despaired of. At this crisis, the king sent him a gold ring enamelled black, set with twenty diamonds; and this message, that “his majesty wished him a speedy and perfect recovery, with all happy and good success, and that he might live as long as the diamonds of that ring did endure, and in token thereof required him to wear it, and keep it for his sake.” He recovered this illness to all appearance but soon after; as he was attending at the council-table, he dropped down, and immediately expired. This sudden death, which happened April 19, 1608, was occasioned by a particular kind of dropsy on. the brain. He was interred with great solemnity in Westminster-abbey; his funeral sermon being preached by his chaplain Dr. Abbot, afterwards abp. of Canterbury. Sit Robert Naunton writes of him in the following terms “They much comoiend his elocution, but more the excellency of his pen. He was a scholar, and a person of quick dispatch; faculties that yet run in the blood: and they say of him, that his secretaries did little for him by way of inditement, wherein they could seldom please him, he was so facete and choice in his phrase and style. I find not that he was any ways inured in the factions of the court, which were all his time strong, and in every man’s note; the Howards and the Cecils on the one part, my lord of Essex; &c. on the other part for he held the staff of the treasury fast in his hand, which once in a year made them all beholden to him. And the truth is, as he was a wise man and a stout, he had no reason to be a partaker; for he stood sure in blood atid grace, and was wholly intentive to the queen’s services and such were his abilities, that she received assiduous proofs of his sufficiency and it has been thought, that she might have mure cunning instruments, but none of a more strong judgment and confidence in his ways, which are symptoms of magnanimity and fidelity.” Lord Orford says, that “iew first ministers have left so fair a character, and that hU family disdained | the office of an apology for it, against some little cavils, which spreta exolescunt; si irascare, agnita videntur.

Several of his letters are printed in the Cabala; besides which there is a Latin letter of his to Dr. Bartholomew Clerke, prefixed to that author’s Latin translation from the Italian of Castiglione’s “Courtier,” entitled, “De Curiali sive Aulico,” first printed at London about 1571. This he wrote while envoy at Paris. Indeed his early taste and learning never forsook him, but appeared in the exercise of his more formal political functions. He was, says Warton, frequently disgusted at the pedantry and official barbarity of style, in which the public letters and instruments were usually framed. Even in the decisions and pleadings of the Star-chamber court, he practised and encouraged an unaccustomed style of eloquent and graceful oratory. 1


Collins’s Peerage, by sir E. Bridges. Warton’s History of Poetry. Biog. Brit. Bibliographer, vol. I. Haslewood’s edition of the IVJirror for Magistrates, 1815, 4to. Park’s edit, of the Royal and Noble Authors,