Wotton, Sir Henry

, an Englishman, eminent for learning and politics, was descended from a gentleman’s family by both parents, and was born at Boughton-hall in Kent, March ^0, 1568. The Wottons were of no inconsiderable distinction, having possessed this lordship for nearly three centuries. Sir Edward Wotton,“our statesman’s grandfather, was treasurer of Calais, and of the privycouncil to king Henry VIII. and was elder brother to the celebrated Dr. Nicholas Wotton, dean of Canterbury, the subject of our next article. Sir Robert Wotton, the father of these, was entrusted by king Edward i V. with the lieutenancy of Guisnes, and was knight-porter and comptroller of Calais; where he died and lies buried. Sir Henry’s elder brother, who was afterwards raised by king James J. | to the peerage by the title of lore) Wotton, was in 1585 sent by queen Elizabeth ambassador to that monarch in Scotland; and Dr. Robertson speaks of him, as” a man, gay, well-bred, and entertaining; who excelled in all the exercises, for which James had a passion, amused the young king by relating the adventures which he had met with, and the’obseYvations h,e had made during a long residence in foreign countries; but under the veil of these superficial qualities,“Dr. Robertson adds, that” he concealed a dangerous and intriguing spirit. He soon grew in favour with James, and while he was seemingly attentive only to pleasure and diversions, he acquired influence over the public councils, to a degree, which was indecent for strangers to possess."

Sir Henry was the only son of the second marriage of his father Thomas Wotton, esq. with Eleanora, daughter of sir William Finch, of Eastwell in Kent (ancestor to lord Winchelsea), and widow of Robert Morton, of the same county, esq. He was educated first under private tutors, and then sent to Winchester-school whence, in 1584, he was removed to New- college in Oxford. Here he was entered as a gentleman-commoner, and had his chamber in Hart-hall adjoining; and, for his chamber-fellow, Richard Baker, his countryman, afterwards a knight, and author of the well known “Chronicle” which goes by his name. Wotton did not continue long there, but went to Queen’s-college, where he became well versed in logic Uid philosophy-, and, being distinguished for his wit, was solicited to write a tragedy for private acting in that society, The name of it was “Tancredo” and Walton relates, “that it was so interwoven with sentences, and for the method and exact personating those humours, passions, and dispositions, which he proposed to represent, so performed, that the gravest of the society declared^ he had in a slight employment given an early and solid testimony of his future abilities.” In 1588 he supplicated the congregation of regents, that he might be admitted to the reading of any of the books of Aristotle’s logic, that is, be admitted to the degree of bachelor of arts; but “whether he was admitted to that or any other degree doth not appear,” says Wood, ^from the university registers;“although Walton tells us, that about his 20th year he proceeded master of arts, and at that time read in Latin three lectures de oculo, on the blessing of sight, which he illustrated by some beautiful passages aud apt reflexions. | In 1589 he lost his father, and was left with no other provision than a rent-charge of 100 marks a-year. Soon after, he left Oxford, betook himself to travel, and went into France, Germany, and Italy. He stayed but one year in France, and part of that at Geneva; where he became acquainted with Beza and Isaac Casaubon. Three years he spent in Germany, and five in Italy, where both in Rome, Venice, and Florence, he cultivated acquaintance with the most eminent men for learning and all manner of fine arts; for painting, sculpture, chemistry, and architecture; of all which he was an amateur and an excellent judge. After having spent nine years abroad, he returned to England highly accomplished, and with a great accumulation of knowledge of the countries through which he had passed. His wit and politeness so effectually recommended him to the earl of Essex that he first admitted him into his friendship, and afterwards made him one of his secretaries, the celebrated Mr. Henry Cuff being the other. (See Cuff.) He personally attended all the councils and employments of the earl, and continued with him till he was apprehended for high treason. Fearing now lest he might, from his intimate connexion, be involved in his patron’s ruin, he thought proper to retire, and was scarcely landed in France, when he heard that his master Essex was beheaded, and his friend Cuff hanged. He proceeded to Florence, and was received into great confidence by the grand duke of Tuscany. This place became the more agreeable to him, from his meeting with signor Vietta, a gentleman of Venice, with whom he had been formerly intimately acquainted, and who was now the grand duke’s secretary. It was during this retreat that Mr. Wotton drew up his” State of Christendom, or a most exact and curious discovery of many secret passages, and hidden myteries of the times." This was first printed, a thin fol. in 1657, and afterwards in 1677, with a small alteration in the title. It was here also that the grand duke having intercepted letters which discovered a design to take away the life of James VI. of Scotland, dispatched Wouon thither to give him notice of it. Wotton was on this account, as well as according to his instructions, to manage this affair with all possible secrecy: and therefore, having parted from the duke, he took the name and language of an Italian; and to avoid the line of English intelligence and danger, he posted into Norway, and from that country to Scotland, He found | the king at Stirling, and was admitted to him under the name of Octavio Baldi. He delivered his message and his letters to the king in Italian: then, stepping up and whis^ pering to his majesty, he told him he was an Englishman, requested a more private conference with him, and that he might be concealed during his stay in Scotland. He spent about three months with the king, who was highly entertained with him, and then returned to Florence, where, after a few months, the news of queen Elizabeth’s death, and of king James’s accession to the crown of England, arriyep!.

Sir Henry Wotton then returned to England, and, as it seems, not sooner than welcome, for king James, finding, among other officers of the late queen, sir Edward, who was afterwards lord Wotton, asked him, “if _he knew one Henry Wotton, who had spent much time in foreign travel?” Sir Edward replied, that “he knew him well, and that he was his brother.” Then the king asking, “Where he then was” was answered, “at Venice, or Florence; but would soon be at Paris.” The king ordered him to be sent for, and to be brought privately to him; which being done, the king took him into his arms, and saluted him by the nanie of Octavio Baldi. Then he knighted him, and nominated him ambassador to the republic of Venice; whither he went, accompanied by sir Albertus Morton, his nephew, who was his secretary, and Mr. William Bedel, a man of great learning and wisdom, and afterwards bishop of Kilrnore in Ireland, who was his chaplain. He continued many years in king James’s favour, and indeed never entirely forfeited it, although he had once the misfortune to displease his majesty, by an apparently trifling circumstance. In proceeding as ambassador to Venice, he passed through Germany, and stayed some days at Augsburg; where, happening to spend a social evening with some ingenious and learned men, whom he had before known in his travels, one Christopher Flecamore requested him to write some sentence in his Album, a paper book which the German gentry used to carry about with them for that purpose. Sir Henry Wotton, consenting to the motion, took occasion from some incidental discourse of the company, to write a definition of an ambassador in these words: “Legatus est vir bonus peregre missus ad memiendum Reipublicae causa:” which Walton says he would have interpreted thus; “An ambassador is an honest | man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” The word lie was the hinge on which this conceit turned, yet it was no conceit at all in Latin, and therefore could not bear the construction sir Henry, according to Walton, wished to have put upon it: so that when the Album fell afterwards into the hands of Caspar Scioppius (See Sciop­pjus), he printed it in his famous hook against king James, as a principle of the religion professed by that king, and his ambassador sir Henry Wotton; and in Venice it was presently after written in several glass windows, and spitefully declared to be sir Henry’s. This coming to the knowledge of king James, he apprehended it to be such an oversight, such weakness, or worse, that he expressed much anger against him; which caused sir Henry to write two apologies in Latin; one to Velserus at Augsburg, which was dispersed into the cities of Germany, and another to the king “de Gaspare Scioppio.” These gave such satisfaction that the king entirely forgave sir Henry, declaring publicly, that “he had commuted sufficiently for a greater offence.

After this embassy, he was sent twice more to Venice, once to the States of the United Provinces, twice to Charles Emanuel duke of Savoy, once to the united princes of Upper Germany; also to the archduke Leopold, to the duke of Wittemberg, to the imperial cities of Strasburgh and Ulm, and lastly to the emperor Ferdinand II. He returned to England the year before king James died; and brought with him many servants, of which some were German and Italian artists, and who became rather burthensome to him; for notwithstanding the many public services in which he had been employed, he had by no means improved his private fortune, which was also impaired by his liberality and want of ceconomy. As some recompense, which may at first appear rather a singular one for a man who had spent his days as a courtier and ambassador, he was in 1623 appointed provost of Eton-college. But in fact this situation was very agreeable to him, for he was now desirous of retiring from the bustle of life, and passing the evening of his days in studious pursuits. Whoever peruses his “Remains,” must perceive that he had much of the literary character, and finding now that the statutes of the college required the provost to be io holy orders, he was ordained deacon, and seemed to begin a new life. His usual course now was, after his customary public | devotions, to retire into his study, and there daily spend some hours in reading the Bible, and works of divinity, closing those studies with a private prayer. His afternoons he spent partly in philosophical studies, and partly in conversation with his friends, or in some recreation, particularly angling. His sentiments and temper during his latter days will best appear by what he said, on one occasion, when visited by the learned John Hales, then a fellow of Eton. “I have in my passage to my grave met with most of those joys of which a discursive soul is capable and have been entertained with more inferior pleasures than the souls of men are usually made partakers of. Nevertheless, in this voyage I have not always floated on the calm sea of content; but have often met with cross winds and storms, and with many troubles of mind and temptations to evil. And yet though I have been, and am a man compassed about with human frailties, Almighty God has by his grace prevented me from making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience; the thought of which is now the joy of my heart, and I most humbly praise him for it. And I humbly acknowledge, that it was not myself, but he that hath kept me to this gr^at age, and let him take the glory of his great mercy. And, my dear friend, I now see that I draw near my harbour of death; that harbour will secure me from all the future storms and waves of this restless world; and I praise God I am willing to leave it, and expect a better; that world wherein dwelleth righteousness; and I long for it.

Sir Henry Wotton died in December 1639, and was buried in the chapel belonging to the college. In his will he appointed this epitaph to be put over his grave: “Hie jacet hujus sententine primus auctor, Disputandi Pruritus Ecclesite Scabies. Nomen alias quasre:” that is, “Here lies the first author of this sentence: ‘ The itch of disputation is the scab of the church.’ Seek his name elsewhere.

Sir Henry Wotton was a man of eminent learning and abilities, and greatly esteemed by his contemporaries. His knowledge was very extensive, and his taste perhaps not inferior to that of any man of his time. Among other proofs of it, he was among the first who were delighted with Milton’s mask of Comus; and although Mr. Warton has pronounced him to be “on the whole a mixed and desultory character,” he has found an able defender in a living author of equal taste and judgment, who observes on Mr. | Warton’s expression, that “this in a strict sense may be true, but surely not in the way of censure. He mingled the character of an active statesman with that of a recluse scholar; and he wandered from the crooked and thorny intrigues of diplomacy into the flowery paths of the muses. But is it not high praise to have been thus desultory?” The same writer says of sir Henry as a poet, “It may be true, that sir Henry’s genius was not suited to the” higher conceptions of Milton. His mind was subtle and elegant rather than sublime. In truth the habits of a diplomatist, and of a great poet, are altogether incompatible,“but” for moral and didactic poetry, the experience of a statesman does not disqualify him," and of this species, sir Henry has left some exquisite specimens. He seems to have lived in a perpetual struggle between his curiosity respecting the world, fomented by his ambition, and his love of books, contemplation, and quiet. His letters to sir Edmund Bacon, who married his niece, prove his strong family affections. His heart appears to have been moulded with a high degree of moral tenderness. This, both the sentiments attributed to him by Walton, and the cast of his poems, sufficiently evince.

He was a great enemy to wrangling and disputes about religion and used to cut inquiries short by witticisms. To one who asked him, “Whether a Papist may be saved” he replied, “You may be saved without knowing that look to yourself.” To another, who was railing at the papists with more zeal than knowledge, he gave this advice: “Pray, Sir, forbear, till you have studied the points better; for, the wise Italians have this proverb, c He that understands amiss concludes worse;‘ and beware of thinking, that, the farther you go from the church of Rome, the nearer you are to God.” One or two more of his bons mots are preserved. A pleasant priest of his acquaintance at Rome invited him one evening to hear their vespermusic, and seeing him standing in an obscure corner of the church, sent a boy to him with this question, writ upon a scrap of paper, “Where was your religion to be found before Luther?” To which sir Henry sent back underwritten, “Where yours is not to be found, in the written word of God.” Another evening, sir Henry sent a boy of the choir with this question to his friend: “Do you believe those many thousands of poor Christians damned who were excommunicated because the popeand the duke of | Venice could not agree about their temporalities?” To which the priest underwrit in French, “Excusez moi, Monsieur.

Sir Henry Wotton had proposed, after he was settled at Eton, to write the “Life of Martin Luther, 7 ’ and in it” The History of the Reformation,“as it was carried on in Germany. Ho had made some progress in this work, when Charles I. prevailed with him to iay.that aside, and to apply himself to the writing of a history of England He proceeded to sketch out some short characters as materials, which are in his” Reliquiae," but proceeded no farther.

His works separately or collectively published were, I. “Epistola de Gaspare Scioppio,” Amberg, 1613, 8vo. 2. “Epistola ad Marcum Vc-lserum duuaivirum Augustas Vindelic. arm. 1612.” 3. “The Elements of Architecture,” Lond. 1624, 4to, a treatise still held in estimation. It was translated into Latin, and annexed to the works of Vitruvius, and to Freart’s “Parallel of the ancient architecture with the modern.” 4. “Plausus et Vota ad regem e Scotia reducem,” Lond. 1633, small folio, reprinted in Lamphire’s “Monarchia Britannica,” Oxtord, 1681, 8vo. 5. “Parallel bttween Robert earl of Essex and George late duke.,of Bucks,London, 1641, 4to, not remarkable for the judgment displayed. There were scarcely any parallelisms in the two characters. 6, “Short View of the life and death of George Duke of Bucks,London, 1642, 4to. 7. “Difference and disparity between the estates and conditions of George duke of Bucks and Robert earl of Essex.” 8. “Characters of, and observations on some kings of England.” 9. “The election of the new duke of Venice after the death of Giovanni Bembo.” 10. “Philosophical Survey of Education, or moral Architecture.” 11. “Aphorisms of Education.” 12. “The great Action between Pompey and Caesar extracted out of the Roman and Greek writers.” 13. “Meditations on the 22d chapter of Genesis.” 14. “Meditations on Christmas day.” 15. “Letters to and characters of certain personages.” 16. “Various Poems.” All or most of these pieces are published together in a volume entitled “Reliquiae Wotton ianae,” at London, 1651, 1654, 1672, and 1685, in 8vo. 17. “Letters to sir Edmund Bacon,London, 1661, 8vo, reprinted with some editions of “Reliquiae Wottonianae.” 18. “Letters to the Lord Zouch,” printed at the end of “Reliquiae Wottonianae” in the edition of 1685, 19. “The State of | Christendom; or a more exact and curious discovery of many secret passages and hidden mysteries of the times,” Loridon, 1657, folio, reprinted at London in 1667, folio, with this title; “The State of Christendom, giving a perfect and exact discovery of many political intrigues and secret mysteries of state practised in most of the courts of Europe, with an account of their several claims, interests, and pretensions.” 20. He hath also several letters to George duke of Bucks in the “Cabala, Mysteries of State,London, 1654, 4to, and in “Cabala, or Scrinia sacra,London, 1663, folio. 21. “Journal of his Embassies to Venice,” a manuscript fairly written, formerly in the library of Edward lord Conway. 22. “Three propositions to the Count d’Angosciola in matter of duel, comprehending (as it seems) the latitude of that subject;” a manuscript some time in the library of Ralph Sheldon, esq.; and since in that of the college of arms. 1


Life by Walton, Biog. Brit. Life by sir Egerton Bry<1ges in the Bibliographer, vul II. Burnet’s Life of Bede'. Has wood’s Alumni Etonenses. Topographer, vol. 1.