Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Historical and Political Writings > Sir Kenelm Digby’s Private Memoirs
  Robert Carey’s Memoirs; Sir Robert Naunton’s Fragmata Regalia; John Manningham’s Diary Nehemiah Wallington  


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

IX. Historical and Political Writings.

§ 18. Sir Kenelm Digby’s Private Memoirs.

In the reign of Charles I, the stream of memoir literature flows copiously. Precedence may be allowed to two autobiographical works by men of high intellectual eminence, of which that of lord Herbert of Cherbury has already received notice.  27  The other, likewise, is a book sui generis, but of a strange fantastic character, such as cannot be said to belong to lord Herbert’s monument of his own excellences. The Private Memoirs of Sir Kenelm Digby, Gentleman of the Privy Chamber to King Charles the First, are a narrative of Digby’s wooing, and finally wedding, a celebrated beauty, the names of persons and places being veiled under more or less fictitious disguises. This, together with the long sentimental dialogues, gives an appearance of unreality to the book (which the author calls “Loose Fantasies,” and which he states himself to have written in order to preserve his virtue by evoking the remembrance of his heroine, when beset by the favours of certain ladies in the “island of Milo”).   39
  The result is a production as unreadable to modern generations as a Scudéry romance, which, indeed, in form it very much resembles. To the curiosity of contemporaries, however, these Memoirs, though they can have circulated in manuscript only, must have commended themselves in more ways than one. Sir Kenelm Digby had in him something of the genius of Ralegh and something of the impudence of Dr. Dee (Digby’s celebrated “sympathy powders” make the comparison permissible); but he was also a fine gentleman, an able diplomatist  28  and, on occasion, a successful naval commander.  29  In person he was of “gigantic” proportions, but, according to Clarendon, “marvellously graceful”; and, in accordance with the fashion of the times, he was an eager duellist. He was vainglorious in other respects also, and persuaded himself that Mary de’ Medici was in love with him. Digby was master of six languages and well seen in divinity—in 1636 he returned to the church of Rome of which he had originally been a member; and he seems to have possessed genuine scientific insight as well as philosophising acumen. (He sat on the council of the Royal Society when it was first incorporated.) His political instability was more signal than that of his religious opinions; and, indeed, his attitude towards causes and persons was a strange mixture of knight-errantry and criticism, the passion of action running through all. In his Memoirs, he is Theagenes and Venetia Stanley is Stelliana. Mardontius, her other lover, is now held to be Sir Edward Sackville. The narrative is embedded in a great deal of moralising and speculative writing, which, here and there, assumes a tone of impassioned ardour. The manuscript is stated to contain several sensuous passages, which have been excised from the published edition but which should not be left out of account in estimating Digby’s strange idiosyncrasy.   40

Note 27Ante, pp. 232, 233. [ back ]
Note 28. He was in Spain during the stay of Charles and Buckingham in 1623. [ back ]
Note 29. See his Journal of a Voyage into the Mediterranean. [ back ]

  Robert Carey’s Memoirs; Sir Robert Naunton’s Fragmata Regalia; John Manningham’s Diary Nehemiah Wallington  

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