Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. II. The Seventeenth Century: Ben Jonson to Dryden
Critical Introduction by John W. Hales
Sir Henry Wotton (15681639)
[How happy is he born and taught, said to have been printed in 1614; see Courtly Poets, ed. Hannah, 1875. It was quoted to Drummond by Ben Jonson in 1618 or 1619: Sir Edward [Henry] Wottons verses of a happy life he hath by heart. You meaner beauties of the night, printed with music in Ests Sixth Set of Books, 1624. It was probably written a few years before. In 1651, Reliquiae Wottonianae.]
SIR HENRY WOTTON, a highly accomplished gentleman and distinguished diplomatist in his day, is now best known to us personally through the affectionate memoir of his humble friend and fellow angler Isaac Walton, and the kindly interest he showed in Milton, whose Comus had excited his warm admiration. He was well born, well bred, and one of the most cultivated men of his time. But, immersed in politics and society, he found but little leisure for the studies he loved till his appointment to the Provostship of Eton in 1624, when he was some 56 years of age. All the middle period of his life from 1595 he was occupied with affairs, not without peril, as when he was one of the secretaries of the Earl of Essex (his fellow secretary, Cuffe, was hanged), not without much vexation, as when his famous definition of an ambassador, public attention being called to it eight years after it was entered in Flecamons albo at Augsburg, brought him for a time into disgrace with James I.
Of poetry he wrote but little; but of that little two pieces at least have obtained a permanent place in English literature, his Character of a Happy Life, written probably circ. 1614; and the lines, On his mistress the Queen of Bohemia, circ. 1620. Of the apophthegm the style is of the man, it would be difficult to find better illustrations. As in a mirror, they reflect the high refined nature of one who, living in the world, and a master of its ways and courtesies, was yet never of itwas never a worldling.