Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Historical and Political Writings > Lord Herbert of Cherbury
  Bacon’s Henry the Seventh Edmund Bolton  


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

IX. Historical and Political Writings.

§ 2. Lord Herbert of Cherbury.

Lord Herbert of Cherbury’s Life and Reign of King Henry the Eighth, together with which is briefly represented A general History of the Times, marks a very conscious advance in historical composition. There is here, coupled with a dignified ease of style characteristic of most of the author’s writings, and of his Autobiography in particular, an evident wish to make as full use as possible of the original documents at the historian’s disposal. No doubt, the work was also written with a personal purpose, and of this it is impossible to lose sight in estimating the literary effect produced; indeed, it is to be discovered in most of Herbert’s historical writings. They were composed at a later period of his life than the Autobiography, which only reaches the year 1624, and the merits of which are surprisingly exiguous for an author commanding a wide experience of the world and possessed of original intellectual power.  3  Yet the characteristic qualities of the book, both for better and for worse, have been much exaggerated. Horace Walpole (who first printed the MS. at Strawberry Hill in 1764) must have been beyond the mark in describing it as “the most curious and entertaining” produced by his press;  4  and, if, as he states, he and lady Waldegrave could not “get on” with it “for laughing and screaming,”  5  their sense of the ridiculous must have been excessively acute, though, to be sure, on one occasion, at least, the autobiographer all but falls into the Falstaffian vein.  6    4
  Beyond all doubt, Edward Herbert was inordinately vain of his powers as a duellist—whether on foot or on horseback—which, in his opinion, evidently entitled him to say to all comers (including ministers, governors, and ambassadors) “Je suis Herbert,” as one of his French rivals declared “Je suis Balagny”; and in his relations with women he certainly had the advantage of sublime self-confidence. But duelling was the most fashionable vice of the time;  7  added to which he took his vows as knight of the Bath most seriously. Though vainglorious and quarrelsome, he was free from revengefulness and any sort of meanness; and, though something of a lady-killer,  8  he was not wanton. Notwithstanding his remarks on education, and his contributions both to natural science and household medicine, it cannot be said that, except as a picture of manners, his Autobiography has much serious interest before the period of his embassy to France (1619–24); and, even then, though his narrative of the Spanish and French marriage negotiations is worth reading, as well as his characterisation of Louis XIII, de Luynes, and Gondomar, he seems to reserve the substance of his political experiences for treatment in another form.   5
  The Autobiography, of which the style is measured but agreeable, though the record of some of the writer’s youthful exploits in camp and court, at times, has an almost pedantic solemnity, breaks off with Herbert’s recall from Paris. The remainder of his life was given up to a series of endeavours to re-enter the active service of the crown by conciliating the royal goodwill, and to literary labours which, in part, are to be reckoned among these efforts. Among them was the defence of Buckingham, drawn up in reply to violent attacks upon the memory of the favourite after his assassination, and dedicated to Charles I. Sir Henry Wotton expressed his admiration of it while it was in the making; but it brought no recompense to its author.   6
  Among these efforts, also, was his Life of Henry the Eighth, on which he seems to have been at work as early as 1632, and on which he was still engaged seven years later. The use of original documents by which it is distinguished has been already noted. It was not completed till 1645, when he was also bringing to an end his chief philosophic labours. The rest of Herbert’s life was occupied by a painful and unedifying struggle for his estates.   7

Note 3. An estimate of lord Herbert of Cherbury’s position among modern speculative thinkers has been given in Vol. IV, pp. 335–338. [ back ]
Note 4Letters, ed. Cunningham, vol. IV, p. 156. [ back ]
Note 5Ibid., p. 252. [ back ]
Note 6. See Autobiography, ed. Lee, S., p. 185, for Herbert’s night escapade, when he was about to start on his embassy in 1619. [ back ]
Note 7. See the appendix on “Duelling in France and England in the early years of the Seventeenth Century” in Lee’s edition. [ back ]
Note 8. He believed himself to have endangered the peace of mind of no less august and devout a personage than Anne of Denmark. [ back ]

  Bacon’s Henry the Seventh Edmund Bolton  

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