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  James Howell’s Epistolae Ho-Elianae  


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

VIII. Historical and Political Writings.

§ 12. Howell’s other writings.

James Howell’s literary activity was very far from being exhausted by his letters; during the years from 1642 to 1651, his pen was never at rest, and the habit, once acquired, was never relinquished. But, in one way or another, most of his lesser productions seem more or less supplementary to the work on which his literary reputation rests. An apparent exception is Dendrologia, Dodona’s Grove, or the Vocall Forest (1640), the earliest of his publications, which may be described as an allegorical gallery of characters conveying, under the thin veil of the names of trees or of designations derived from them, the political sympathies or antipathies of the writer.  35  An allegory of this sort admitted of easy multiplication, and Howell appended to it a series of skeleton pleas, similar in design, for the monarchical form of government.  36  A second appendix, England’s Teares for the present Warres, is a rhetorical lament by London’s mother, England.  37    24
  In a different vein—one of rough satirical humour—are two curious pieces of Howell’s later years, which, as it were, travesty the sober summaries exemplified in his letters—A Brief Character of the Low Countries under the States (1660) and A Perfect Description of the Country of Scotland (1659). The satire against the Dutch  38  is at least accompanied by a recognition of some of their merits; but the anti-Scottish tract descends into invective so bitter and so coarse that its date alone can excuse it;  39  the unerring instinct of Wilkes, more than a century later, selected it for reproduction, with a sly preamble, in No. 31 of The North Briton (August, 1762).   25
  In his capacity as a traveller, Howell, though familiar only with western, and parts of southern and central, Europe, promulgated Instructions for Forreine Travell (1642, republished 1650, with a new appendix “for Travelling into Turkey and the Levant parts,” which, unlike Fynes Moryson and Coryate, he had himself never visited  40 ). The little book is a very diverting, but, at the same time, very rational anticipation of the introductions to guidebooks of later days, containing, as it does, much valuable historical, political and (allowing for the philological shortcomings of the age) linguistic observation interspersed with interesting observations on men and manners.   26
  It could, however, hardly be that he should not be most at home in London, where, by his own choice, or lodged by the parliament, he spent a large portion of his life; and his Londinopolis; An Historical Discourse or Perlustration of the City of London (1657), a careful guidebook of London, with a survey of its several wards, and special mention of its lawcourts, is among the last literary fruits of his life, bearing the characteristic motto Senesco, non segnesco. It makes no pretence of being wholly original; and, indeed, the author confesses that, in this instance, he has followed the examples of “the Lord Bacon’s Henry the Seventh, and my Lord Herbert’s Henry the eighth,” of which the noble authors,
though the composition, and digesting be theirs, whereby they determined their Books, yet, under favour, touching the main ingredients … took them from others, who had written the life of these Kings before.
Yet the work is far from deficient in vigour, and includes a “Parallel with other great Cities,” showing in which of twenty several points they are respectively inferior to London.

Note 35. “Cedar” is the emperor; “Oke, Vine, Beech” are the kings of England, France, Sweden and Poland; “Elder” is duke Maximilian I of Bavaria (“so-called both from his age and the ill favour he hath amongst us”); “Elmes,” the nobility; “Ampeluna,” France; “Adriana,” Venice; “Alchorana,” Turkey; “Druina,” England; “Boetia,” the university of Oxford, etc. That the opinions suggested by the allegory are not altogether conventional is shown by the character of “Elaiana” (Spain, the land of oil), which displays discriminating insight. [ back ]
Note 36. The Great Conjunction or Parliament of Stars; Ornilogia (sic), or The Great Consult of Birds; Anthologia, or Parliament of Flowers; The Assembly of Architects (on the value of such a pillar as an ancient court of justice); The Insurrection of the Winds (against rebellion). [ back ]
Note 37. It ends with the expression of a desire that, if England “and her Monarch miscarry, her Epitaph may be written by her dearly beloved Childe, James Howell.” [ back ]
Note 38. “There are spiders as bigge as Shrimps, and I think as many”—“You may sooner convert a Jew, than make an ordinary Dutch-man yeild to Arguments that Crosse him.” [ back ]
Note 39. If the Almighty came down from heaven in the last day with His Angels in their whitest garments, the Scots “would run away, crying, The Children of the Chappel are come again to torment us, let us flie from the abomination of these boys.” [ back ]
Note 40. Of Coryate and his Crudities (1610), as well as of other English travellers, something has been said ante, Vol. IV, pp. 104 ff. Midway between Coryate’s over-advertised, but, as a matter of fact, unjustly decried, book and James Howell’s Instructions, there appeared so much as up to a recent date was allowed to become publicly known of Fynes Moryson’s Travels. The first three parts of his Itinerary were published in 1617; but part IV, with an imprimatur dated 1626, remained, unprinted, at Corpus Christi college, Oxford, till the more important portions of it were published, thanks to the energy of Charles Hughes, in 1903. The whole work was originally written in Latin, in which form it is preserved among the Harleian MSS. in the British Museum. The English version is also by Fynes Moryson. On the whole, he was an impartial, as well as a candid, observer, whose eyes were open to national vices, such as Italian immorality and German intemperance. Though by no means infallible in his statements of fact, he is not habitually inaccurate. He writes in good Elizabethan prose, but without any effort at displaying his scholarship after the fashion of James Howell. [ back ]

  James Howell’s Epistolae Ho-Elianae  

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