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James Howel, the son of a clergyman in Caermarthenshire, was born about 1596. He was initiated in grammar-learning at the Freeschool of Hereford, whence he removed to Jesus College, Oxford, of which his elder brother was a fellow. After taking his batchelor's degree, he quitted the university for London, where, by the interest of sir Robert Mansel, he was appointed steward to a patent-glass manufactory; and in 1619, was sent
r abroad by the company as their agent. He had thus an opportunity of visiting many commercial towns in Holland, Flanders, France,
* Howel should have come in somewhat before perhaps; but it is of little con
uence, as he is in the reign in which he most distinguished himself.
Spain, and Italy; and his mind was enlarged by the observation of new objects, and by the acquisition of many of the modern languages.
Soon after his return to London, in 1621, he was elected fellow of Jesus College, and after a short interval, accepted an offer to attend Mr. Richard Altham, son of baron Altham, in the tour of France. About 1624, being then in England, he obtained the office of secretary to lord Serope (afterwards earl of Sunderland) when president of the north. Residing now at York, the corporation of Richmond chose him for one of their representatives in the parliament of 1627.
In 1630, he accompanied Robert, earl of Leicester, appointed ambassador extraordinary to the court of Denmark, in quality of secretary. His next appointment of any consequence was that of clerk of the council. He was finally reduced however to the necessity of writing for bread; and by his writings rendered himself an object of suspicion both to the parliamentarians and royalists. He has had the credit of great loyalty; though from his quaint remark on the death of the king, this supposition is rendered somewhat questionable. He says, “ I will attend with patience how England will thrive, now that she is let blood in the basilical vein, and cured, as they say, of the king's evil.” After the restoration he was made historiographer-royal, and was the first who ever obtained that title in England. He died in 1656.
Howel was the author of various publications; but the only one which is now remembered is, his “ Familiar Letters," pedanti : cally entitled Epistola Hoeliane. They were first printed in 1645, and are said to be
partly historical, partly political, partly philosophical.” The greater part of them is said to have been composed in prison, and as letters, to be fictitious. They afford a lively picture of the times, and contain anecdotes not to be met with elsewhere. Notwithstanding some quaintness of wit and expression, they are justly considered as the best specimens of familiar letters which had then appeared in the language. Others of his letters, certainly genuine, written to lord Strafford, may be found among the papers of that nobleman,
To Christopher Jones, Esq. at Gray's-Inn, from Naples.
Honoured Father, I must still style you so, since I was adopted your son by so good a mother as Oxford : my mind lately prompted me, that I should commit a great solecism, if among the rest of my friends in England, I should leave you unsaluted, whom I love so dearly well, specially having such a fair and pregnant opportunity as the hand of this worthy gentleman, your cousin Morgan, who is now posting hence for England :' he will tell
you how it fares with me; how any time these thirty odd months I have been tossed from shore to shore, and passed under various meridians, and am now in this voluptuous and luxuriant city of Naples : and though these frequent removes and tumblings under climes of differing temper were not without some danger, yet the delight which accompanied them was far greater; and it is impossible for any man to conceive the true pleasure of peregrination, but he who actually enjoys and puts it in practice. Believe it, sir, that one year well employed abroad by one of mature judgment (which you know I want very much) advantageth more in point of useful and solid knowledge than three in any of our universities, You know running waters are the purest, so they that traverse the world up and down have the clearest understanding; being faithful eye-witnesses of those things which others receive but in trust, whereunto
they must yield an intuitive consent, and a kind of implicit faith. When I passed through some parts of Lombardy, among other things I observed the physiognomies and complexions of the people, men and women; and I thought I was in Wales, for divers of them have a cast of countenance, and a nearer resemblance with our nation, than
any saw yet: and the reason is obvious; for the Romans having been near upon three hundred years among us, where they had four legions (before the English nation or language had any being) by so long a coalition and tract of time the two nations must needs copulate and mix: insomuch that I believe there is yet remaining in Wales many of the Roman race, and divers in Italy of the British. Among other resemblances, one was in their prosody, and vein of versifying or rhyming, which is like our bards, who hold agnominations, and enforcing of consonant words or syllables, one upon the other, to be the greatest elegance. As for example, in Welsh, Tewgris, todyrris ty’r derrin, gwillt, &c. so have I seen divers old rhymes in Italian running so: Donne, 0 danno che felo affronto : Inselva salvo a me : Piu caro cuore, &c.
Being lately in Rome, among other pasquils, I met with one that was against the Scots; though it had come gall in it, yet it had a great deal of wit, especially towards the conclusion: so that I think if king James saw it, he would but laugh at it.