1690 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Kenelm Digby

Anthony Wood, Athenae Oxonienses (1690-91; 1721) 2:351-54.



KENELM DIGBY, the Magazine of all Arts, or as one stiles him, "The Ornament of this Nation," Son and Heir of Sir Everard Digby of Dry-stoke in Rutlandshire, Knt. by Mary his Wife, Daughter and sole Heir to Will. Mulsho of Gothurst commonly called Gadhurst in Buckinghamshire, was born at Gothurst on the eleventh Day of July 1603, (1 Jac. I.) yet Ben. Johnson for Rhime sake will have it June, thus;

Witness thy Action done at Scanderoon
Upon they Birth-day the eleventh of June.

About the Year 1618 he was sent to Gloucester-Hall, after he had been trained up in the Protestant Religion (which afterwards he left for that of Rome) and committed to the care of Tho. Allen, (who used to say that he was the Mirandula of his Age) but to the tuition of another; where continuing in the Quality of a Gent. Com. for more than two Years, he went beyond the Seas for a time, and at his return received the honour of Knighthood from his Majesty then at Hinchingbrook (who before had restored to this our Author Digby his Estate forfeited by his Father) on the 28th of Octob. 1623. In the Year 1628 being then Admiral of a Fleet going to the Levant (about which time I find him written,"e secretiori conclavi ad Carol. I. & in rebus maritimis Administrator praecipuus") he acquired great Honour by his gallant comportment at Algier, in rescuing many English Slaves, and by bearing up so bravely in the resolute Onset of the Venetian Fleet in the Bay of Scanderoon, and making the Pontolini to know themselves and him better. This Onset was made (as 'tis reported) on the eleventh of June (his Birth-day, as Ben. Joh. will have it) yet a Pamphlet that was publish'd the same Year, giving an account of all the Transactions of that Fight, tells us it was on the 16th of the same Month; which if true, then the fortune of that Day is again marr'd. For this his Valour, and by his Travels into several Countries, and converse with the Virtuosi of most civilized Nations, he became

The Age's wonder for his noble Parts,
Skill'd in six Tongues, and learn'd in all the Arts.

He was not only Master of a good, graceful, and judicious stile, but also wrote an admirable hand, both fast and Roman. His Person was handsome and gigantic, and nothing was wanting to make him a compleat Chevalier. He had so graceful Elocution and noble Address, that had he been dropt out of the Clouds in any part of the World he would have made himself respected; but the Jesuits, who cared not for him, spoke spitefully, and said "'twas true, but then he must have stayed there above six Weeks." He had a great Faculty (which proceeded from abundance of Wit and Invention) of proposing and reporting matters to the Virtuosi, especially to the Philosophical Assembly at Montpelier, and Royal Society at home. Which is the Reason why many say, that as he was most exactly accomplish'd with all sorts of Learning, so was he guilty of extravagant Vanities. Nay one, a most noted Author [Henry Stubbe], doth not stick to say that this our eminent Virtuoso was the Pliny of our Age for lying, having been provoked to say so, not only from the said Reports, but from another, which put Men to a very great wonder, viz. of a City in Barbary under the King of Tripoly that was turned into Stone in a very few hours by a petrifying Vapor that fell upon the place, that is, Men, Beast, Trees, Houses, Utensils, &c. every thing remaining in the same posture, as Children at their Mothers Breasts, &c. But this Report the Reader is to understand that Sir Kenelme had from an Englishman, Mr. Fitton, residing in Florence, Library-keeper to the great Duke there, by Letter dated 2 Jul. 1656, and he from the great Duke, who a little before had written to the Bassa of Tripoly to know the Truth. Which strange accident being look'd upon as the great wonder of the World, was put into the common Newsbook of that time called Mercurius Politicus, as having been received from Sir Kenelm then residing at Tholouse in France, who sent a full account of it to a Friend of his in England in Sept. following. But as no Man knew better than Sir Ken. how to abound, and how to live like a Philosopher, for both were indifferent to him, so none of his time knew better how to take and pocket up Abuses; which indeed belongs to a true Philosopher. In the beginning of the Civil Wars he shew'd himself active for the King's Cause, was imprison'd by the Long Parliament in Winchester House, had leave to depart thence in July 1643 by the Suit of the French Queen, and to Travel into France, and afterwards was forced to compound for his Estate in 1649. Which being done, the Parliament then sitting, voted that he should depart the Commonwealth, and not return without leave from the House under pain of Death and Confiscation of his Estate. Notwithstanding which, he did afterwards return for a time, and, as 'tis said, cringed to Oliver, but in what sense, whether in order for the good of the Rom. Catholics, or for the carrying on of some public design, I cannot now tell. About the same time he being Chancellor to Henrietta Marie the Queen Mother of England, she sent him as her Envoy from France to the Pope, was at the first coming to Rome highly venerated by all People, as being a Person not only of a Majestic Port and Carriage, but of extraordinary Parts and Learning. At length growing high, and huffing his Holiness, he was in a manner neglected, and especially for this Reason, that having made a Collection of Money for the afflicted Catholics in England, was found to be no faithful Steward in that matter. As for his works, they are these [list omitted]. To conclude: he paid his last debt to Nature in his House in Covent Garden, on the eleventh Day of June in sixteen hundred sixty and five, and was buried in a Vault built at his own charge, under the East end of the South Isle or Alley joining to the Choir of Ch. Ch. within Newgate in London, by the body of Venetia his sometime Wife, Daughter and Co-heir of Sir Edw. Stanley of Tongue-Castle in Shropshire; to whose Memory he had, some Years before his Death, erected over the said Vault a stately Altar Monument of black Marble, and thereon had caused her Bust, made of Copper gilt, to be fastned, with four Inscriptions of Copper gilt to be affixed to the said Monument. Which being done, he caused the Draught or Picture of the said Monument, with the several Inscriptions, to be entred in a large folio Book of Vellum, containing the History of the Family of Digby, which our Author caused to be made of all matters relating thereunto that could be found from Record either remaining in the Custody of his Family, or in the Tower, or any Office in London; together with the Pictures of their Monuments that could be found in any Church whatsoever, in which they had been buried. Which Book, as his Son John hath said, did cost his Father about 1000. The next Year after our Author Sir Kenelme was buried, the said Monument with Bust was spoiled and defaced when the Church it self was burnt in the dismal Conflagration that then happened in London. His Study of Books (being a most admirable Collection) which he had conveyed into France in the time of the Rebellion, fell, after his Death, for want of his being naturalized, into the French King's Hands, of whom being beg'd by a certain Gentleman, it was sold, as the report then went, for ten thousand Crowns.