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  Sir Henry Wotton The Earl of Strafford’s Letters  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

VIII. Historical and Political Writings.

§ 6. “Intelligencers”; Private letters.

A species of correspondents which is more fully discussed elsewhere in this volume,  17  cannot be altogether passed by in the present connection. “Intelligencers,” as they were called, played a part of some importance in the earlier Stewart period. They were professed writers of news employed by ambassadors residing abroad, or by persons of consequence at home, to furnish them with a continuous budget of news concerning events in England and in other countries. Obviously, the value of these communications was enhanced, if private letters could be added from persons connected with the court and likely to be au courant of its secrets or, at all events, of its gossip, or from others filling important positions abroad. It is of such “intelligence” as this that is composed the collection transcribed by T. Birch from various sources and published from his MSS. in the British Museum under the title The Court and Times of James I. The most prolific “intelligencer” in this collection is John Chamberlain, who is responsible for not less than 116 in the first, and 122 in the second, volume. Most of his letters are addressed to Carleton, to whom, when in Paris, all but one letter of another series are likewise addressed. Chamberlain’s letters, or many of them, possess some of the qualities of later journalism, without some of its defects. Their news includes gossip of all sorts, but they are straightforward in statement, while their simplicity of style must have refreshed diplomatists, who had “oratory” enough to compose on their own account. It must not be forgotten that these were private letters intended for private recipients, and that the freedom of comment which makes them pleasant reading would not have been possible under any other circumstances.  18    13
  Letters in which public and private ingredients intermix were familiar already to the Elizabethans, as they must be to every age in which a sense of form has come to affect all varieties of written, and not a few of spoken, composition. Bacon, as is known, was a great letter-writer and owed something of the strength which he shows even in this relatively loose branch of writing to the example of his mother.  19  This lady identified herself to an extraordinary degree with the interests of her sons, though her puritanism was of a hard flawlessness to which neither of them could attain. Bacon himself was in so many respects greater than his age that the chief significance of his own priceless letters lies in their biographical value. But the light which they throw on affairs of state in which he was an actor, or of which he was an interested spectator, or (as in the early Essex episode  20 ) something of both, is of the utmost importance for the historical student; and the fact that, in not a few of these letters, Bacon appears as a keen politician nurtured in the Elizabethan traditions of a patriotic hatred of Spain, is only part of their general evidence showing the many-sideness of his nature, by no means alien from the sympathies and antipathies common to those around him. A special literary interest attaches to the interesting letters to Sir Toby Matthew on Instauratio Magna, and to the Letter to the King upon the sending unto him of a beginning of a History of His Majesties Time.  21    14

Note 17. See chapter on The Beginnings of English Journalism, post. [ back ]
Note 18. Francis Osborne, the author of Advice to a Son and other easy-going manuals of knowledge and conduct, declares, in the first-named work, that “it is an Office unbecoming a Gentleman to be an Intelligencer, which in real Truth is no better than a Spie.” [ back ]
Note 19. See her letters in Spedding’s Letters and Life, vol. I, pp. 110 ff. [ back ]
Note 20Ibid., vol. II. [ back ]
Note 21. Spedding’s Letters and Life, vol. iv. [ back ]

  Sir Henry Wotton The Earl of Strafford’s Letters  

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