1753 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir William Cavendish

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 2:169-77.



William Cavendish, Baron Ogle, viscount Mansfield, earl, marquis, and duke of Newcastle, justly reckoned one of the most finished gentlemen, as well as the most distinguished patriot, general, and statesman of his age. He was son of Sir Charles Cavendish, youngest son of Sir William Cavendish, and younger brother of the first earl of Devonshire, by Katherine daughter of Cuthbert lord Ogle.

He was born in the year 1592, and discovered in his infancy a promptness of genius, and a love of literature. His father took care to have him instructed by the best masters in every science. He no sooner appeared at the court of King James I. than the reputation of his abilities drew the attention of that monarch Upon him, who made him a knight of the Bath 1610, at the creation of Henry Prince of Wales.

In 1617 his father died, who left him a great estate; and having interest at court, he was by letters patent, dated Nov. 3, 1620, raised to the dignity of a peer of the realm, by the stile and title of baron Ogle, and viscount Mansfield; and having no less credit with King Charles I. than he had with his father, in the third year of the reign of that prince, he was advanced to the higher title of earl of Newcastle upon Tyne, and at the same time he was created baron Cavendish of Balsover. Our author's attendance upon court, tho' it procured him honour, yet introduced him very early into difficulties; and it appears by Strafford's letters, that he did not stand well with the favourite duke of Buckingham, who was jealous of his growing interest, and was too penetrating not to discover, that the quickness of his lordship's parts would soon suggest some methods of rising independent of the favourite, and perhaps shaking his influence. "But these difficulties," says Clarendon, "(for he was deeply plunged in debt) tho' they put him on the thoughts of retirement, never in the least prevented him from demonstrating his loyalty when the King's cause demanded it."

Notwithstanding the earl's interest was not high with the ministers, yet he found means to gain and to preserve the attention of his Majesty, that in the year 1638, when it was thought necessary to take the Prince of Wales out of the hands of a woman, his Majesty appointed the earl his governor, and by entrusting to his tuition the heir apparent of his kingdoms, demonstrated the highest confidence in his abilities and honour.

In the spring of the year 1639, the troubles of Scotland breaking out, induced the King to assemble an army in the North, soon after which he went to put himself at the head of it, and in his way as splendidly entertained by the earl at his seat at Welbeck, as he had been some years before when he went into Scotland to be crowned, which in itself, tho' a trivial circumstance, yet such was the magnificence of this noble peer, that both these entertainments found a place in general histories, and are computed by the duchess of Newcastle who wrote the life of her lord, to have amounted to upwards of ten thousand pounds. He invited all the neighbouring gentry to pay their compliments to his Majesty, and partake of the feast, and Ben Johnson was employed in fitting such scenes and speeches as he could best devise; and Clarendon after mentioning the sumptuousness of those entertainment, obscures, that they had a tendency to corrupt the people, and inspire a wantonness, which never fails to prove detrimental to morals.

As such an expedition as the King's against the Scots required immense sums, and the King's treasury being very empty, his lordship contributed ten thousand pounds, and raised a troop of horse, consisting of about 200 knights and gentlemen, who served at their own charge, and was honoured with the title of the Prince's troop.

Tho' these instances of loyalty advanced him in the esteem of the King, yet they rather heightened than diminished the resentment of the ministers, of which the earl of Holland having given a stronger instance, than his lordship's patience could bear, he took notice of it in such a way, as contributed equally to sink his rival's reputation, and raise his own; and as there is something curious in the particular manner in which the earl of Holland's character suffered in this quarrel, we shall upon the authority of the duchess of Newcastle present it to the reader.

The troop which the earl of Newcastle raised was stiled the Prince's, but his lordship commanded it as captain. When the army drew near Berwick, he sent Sir William Carnaby to the earl of Holland, then general of the horse, to know where his troop should march; his answer was, next after the troops of the general officers the earl of Newcastle sent again to represent, that having the honour to march with the Prince's colours, he thought it not fit to march under any of the officers of the field; upon which the general of the horse repeated his orders, and the earl of Newcastle ordered the Prince's colours to be taken off the staff, and marched without any. When the service was over, his lordship sent Mr. Francis Palmer, with a challenge to the earl of Holland, who consented to a place, and hour of meeting; but when the earl of Newcastle came thither, he found not his antagonist, but his second. The business had been disclosed to the King, by whose authority (says Clarendon) the matter was composed; but before that time, the earl of Holland was never suspected to want courage; and indeed he was rather a cunning, penetrating, than a brave honest man, and was remarkably selfish in his temper.

The earl of Newcastle however found himself hard pressed by the ministerial faction, and being unwilling to give his Majesty any trouble about himself, he was generous enough to resign his place as governor to the Prince, and the marquis of Hertford was appointed in his room.

His lordship having no more business at court, and being unwilling to expose himself further to the machinations of his enemies, thought proper to retire to the country, where he remained quiet till he received his Majesty's orders to revisit Hull: Tho' this order came at twelve o'clock at night, yet such was his unshaken loyalty and affection, that he went directly, and tho' forty miles distant, he entered the place with only three or four servants early the next morning. He offered to his Majesty, says Clarendon, to have secured for him that important fortress, and all the magazines that were in it; but instead of receiving such a command, he had instructions sent him to obey the orders of the Parliament, who suspecting his principles not to be favourable to the schemes of opposition then engaged in, called him to attend the service of the house; and some disaffected members formed a design to have attacked him, but his character being unexceptionable, their scheme proved abortive, and he had leave to retire again into the country. This he willingly did, as he saw the affairs of state hastening to confusion and his country ready to be steeped in blood, and sacrificed to the fury of party. But when the opposition rose high, and it would have been cowardice to have remained unactive, he embraced the royal cause, accepted a commission for raising men, to take care of the town of Newcastle, and the four adjoining counties, in which he was so expeditious and successful, that his Majesty constituted him general of all the forces raised North of Trent and likewise general and commander in chief of such as might be raised in the counties of Lincoln, Nottingham, Chester, Leicester, Rutland, Cambridge, Huntingdon, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex, with power to confer the honour of knighthood, coin money, print, and set forth such declarations as should seem to him expedient: of all which extensive powers tho' freely conferred, and without reserve, his lordship made a very sparing use; but with respect to the more material point of raising men, his lordship prosecuted it with such diligence, that in three months he had an army of eight thousand horse, foot, and dragoons, with which he marched directly into Yorkshire; and his forces having defeated the enemy at Pierce Bridge, his lordship advanced to York, where Sir Thomas Glenham, the governor, presented him with the keys, and the earl of Cumberland and many of the nobility resorted thither to compliment, and assist his lordship.

In the course of the civil war, we find the earl of Newcastle very successful in his master's service, he more than once defeated Sir Thomas Fairfax the general of the Parliament, and won several important forts and battles; for which his Majesty in gratitude for his services, by letters patent, dated the 27th of Oct 1643, advanced him to the dignity of marquis of Newcastle; and in the preamble of his patent, all his services (says Dugdale) are mentioned with suitable encomiums.

In the year 1624, after Prince Rupert had been successful in raising the siege of York, and flushed with the prosperity of his arms, against the consent of the marquis, he risked the battle of Marston Moor, in which the marquis's infantry were cut to pieces. Seeing the King's affairs in these counties totally undone, he made the best of his way to Scarborough, and from thence with a few of the principal officers of his army took shipping for Hamburgh, and left his estates, which were valued at upwards of twenty thousand pounds per ann. to be plundered by the Parliament's forces. After staying six months at Hamburgh, he went by sea to Amsterdam, and from thence made a journey to Paris, where he continued for some time, and where, notwithstanding the vast estate he had when the civil war broke out, his circumstances were now so bad, that himself and his young wife, were reduced to pawn their cloaths for sustenance. He removed afterwards to Antwerp, that he might be nearer his own country, and there, tho' under very great difficulties, he resided for several years, while the Parliament in the mean time levied vast sums upon his estate, insomuch that the computation of what he lost by the disorders of those times, tho' none of the particulars can be disproved, amount to an incredible sum; but notwithstanding all there severities of fortune, he never lost his spirit, and was often heard to say, that if he was not much mistaken, the clouds of adversity which then hung over his country, would be dispersed at last by the King's restoration that rebellion would entangle itself in its own toils, and after an interval of havock and confusion, order would return once more by the restoration of an exiled Prince. Notwithstanding the hardships of an eighteen years banishment, in which he experienced variety of wretchedness, he retained his vigour to the last. He was honoured by persons of the highest distinction abroad, and Don John of Austria and several princes of Germany visited him. But what comforted him most was the company frequently of his young King, who in the midst of his sufferings bestowed upon him the most noble Order of the Garter. The gloomy period at last came to an end, and the marquis returned to his country with his sovereign; and by letters patent dated the 26th of march 1664, he was advanced to the dignity of earl of Ogle, and duke of Newcastle. He spent the evening of his days in a country retirement, and indulged himself in those studies, with which he was most affected

This noble person from his earliest youth was celebrated for his love of the muses, and was the great patron of the poets, in the reign of King Charles I. This propension has drawn on him, tho' very unjustly, the censure of some grave men. Lord Clarendon mentions it, with decency; but Sir Philip Warwick, in his history of the rebellion, loses all patience and thinks it sufficient to ruin this great general's character, that he appointed Sir William Davenant, a poet, his lieutenant general of the ordnance, insinuating that it was impossible a man could have a turn for poetry, and a capacity for any thing else at the same time; in which observation, Sir Philip has given a convincing proof of his ignorance of poetry, and want of taste. The example of the glorious Sidney is sufficient to confute this historian; and did not Mr. Chillingworth combat with great success, though in other branches of literature, against the Papal church, by the din of reason and argument, and at the same time served as engineer in the royal army with great ability? The truth is, this worthy nobleman having himself a taste for the liberal arts, was always pleased to have men of genius about him, and had the pleasure to rescue necessitous merit from obscurity. Ben Johnson was one of his favourites, and he addressed to him some of his verses, which may be seen in his works.

In the busy scenes of life it does not appear that this nobleman suffered his thoughts to stray so far from his employment, as to turn author; but in his exile, resuming his old taste of breaking and managing horses, (than which there cannot be a more manly exercise) he thought fit to publish his sentiments upon a subject of which he was perfectly master. The title is, The New Method for managing Horses, with cuts, Antwerp 1658. This book was first written in English, and afterwards translated into French, by his lordship's directions.

This great man died in the possession of the highest honours and fairest reputation the 25th of December 1676, in the 84th year of his age. His grace was twice married, but had issue only by his first lady. His titles descended to his son, Henry earl of Ogle, who was the last heir male of his family, and died 1691, with whom the title of Newcastle in the line of Cavendish became extinct.

In his exile he wrote two comedies, viz.

The Country Captain, a Comedy, printed at Antwerp 1649, afterwards presented by his Majesty's servants at Black-Fryars, and very much commended by Mr. Leigh.

Variety, a Comedy, presented by his Majesty's Servants at Black-Fryars, and first printed in 1649, and generally bound with the Country Captain; it was also highly commended in a copy of verses by Mr. Alexander Brome.

He likewise has written

The Humorous Lovers, a Comedy, acted by his royal highness's servants, Lond. 1677, 4to. This was received with great applause, and esteemed one of the best plays of that time.

The Triumphant Widow; or, the Medley of Humours, a Comedy, acted by his royal highness's servants, Lond. 1677, 4to. which pleased Mr. Shadwell so well, that he transcribed a part of it into his Bury Fair, one of the most taking plays of that poet.

Shadwell says of his grace, that he was the greatest master of wit, the most exact observer of mankind, and the most accurate judge of humour, that ever he knew.