1769 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Kenelm Digby

James Granger, in Biographical History of England (1769; 1824) 3:58-59, 154-55.



SIR KENELM DIGBY, by his eager pursuit of knowledge, seemed to be born only for contemplation. But he was thought to be so well qualified for action, that, in 1628, he was appointed commander of a squadron sent into the Mediterranean, to chastize the Algerine pirates, and the Venetian fleet. The former had committed frequent depredations on the vessels of our merchants, and the latter had obstructed their trade. He exerted himself with all the spirit and conduct of a brave and experienced officer: and having brought the Venetians to reason, made reprisals on the Algerines, and set at liberty a great number of English slaves; he returned home with great credit to his country, and honour to himself.

This eminent person, was, for the early pregnancy of his parts, and his great proficiency in learning, compared to the celebrated Picus de Mirandola, who was one of the wonders of human nature. His knowledge, though various and extensive, appeared to be greater than it really was; as he had all the powers of elocution and address to recommend it. He knew how to shine in a circle of ladies, or philosophers; and was as much attended to when he spoke on the most trivial subjects, as when he spoke on the most important. He was remarkably robust, and of a very uncommon size, but moved with peculiar grace and dignity. Though he applied himself to experiment, he was sometimes hypothetical in his philosophy; and there are instances of his being very bold and paradoxical in his conjectures: hence he was called the "Pliny of his age for lying" [by Henry Stubbe]. It is said that one of the princes of Italy, who had no child, was desirous that this princess would bring him a son by Sir Kenelm, whom he esteemed a just model of perfection. His books of Bodies, and that of The Nature of Man's Soul, are reckoned among the best of his works. He sometimes descended to much humbler subjects, and wrote Directions for Cookery, &c. Ob. 11 June, 1665. — The curious reader may see a paper concerning him published by Hearne at the end of "Walt. Hemingford," p. 581: it is worth remarking, as it disagrees with Wood's account; but the facts mentioned by the latter are sufficiently proved in the article of Sir Kenelm Digby in the Biographia Britannica, p. 1709, note (L).