The difficulty of writing the life of so diversified a genius as Sir Kenelm Digby, has been justly considered a perilous task; and that difficulty is but little lessened by the elaborate account of him in the “Biographia Britannica,” or the concise but incomparable summary of his character by Mr. Lodge.* In the former of those productions, every fact which the industry of more than one editor could collect is copiously detailed; whilst the successful manner in which the biographer who is just alluded to, has selected all that is really important concerning him, stated those deductions which are to be made from his conduct, and clothed his narration and remarks in the most polished and appropriate language, render it impossible that this Memoir of him can excel the minuteness of the one, or equal the terseness, the elegance, or the energy of the other.
* Portraits of Illustrious Personages of Great Britain, with Biographical and Historical Memoirs.
Nor will the attempt even be made: for the only hopes which can be entertained that this article will possess claims to attention of a different nature from former notices of Digby, are founded upon the curious particulars of his early life, and the life of the beautiful Venetia Stanley, his wife, which are presented under feigned names in this volume; the few unpublished letters which are introduced; and still more, upon the incontrovertible truth that Scarcely two writers view the same facts in one light, and that it is only by such repeated and various examinations of human Conduct that the real merits of mankind can be discovered.
Thus then, all which has been printed respecting Sir Kenelm Digby will be related in as brief a manner as is consistent with the intention of giving a simple narrative of his life; but the little which has been brought to light, either in this piece of autobiography, or from other sources, will be placed in that prominent view to which their novelty, if not their interest, entitle them. This is the more necessary, because, if it be proved that what is already known of him is consistent in the general features, in probability, and in dates, with his account of transactions with which we now become acquainted for the first time, the value of his statements will be fully established.
Kenelm Digby was the eldest son of Sir Everard Digby, one, and perhaps the most respectable, of the fanatic conspirators of the gunpowder treason, by Mary, daughter and co-heiress of William Mulsho, of Gothurst, in Buckinghamshire, Esq. and was scarcely three years of age when his father expiated his crime upon the scaffold. The precise day of his birth has been the subject of far greater controversy than it deserved, but there can be no just grounds for doubting that it occurred on the 11th of June, 1603. As his father was attainted, he says he inherited nothing from him “but a foul stain in his blood:"* but such was not strictly true; for two of Sir Everard’s manors, as well as his wife’s property, having been entailed, the crown was defeated in the effort to take possession of them, and Digby is considered to have inherited an estate of 3000l. per annum. His mother was a rigid Catholic, but submitted, Mr. Lodge considers, to her son being educated a Protestant from obvious political reasons; whilst his previous biographers conjecture that he was taken from her care when very young; because at an early period he renounced the faith of his ancestors, and was placed under the tuition of Archbishop Laud, then Dean of Gloucester. Be this as it may, Digby is thought to have been a Protestant until he formally returned to the bosom of the Roman Catholic Church, about the year 1638; but, as it will afterward be more fully pointed out, there are reasons for believing that he was a Catholic as early as 1623, in which case it may be fairly doubted whether he was ever, in reality, of any other religion. In 1618, when he was in his fifteenth year, he was sent to Oxford, and entered of Gloucesterhall, where the direction of his studies was committed to Mr. Thomas Allen, one of the most eminent scholars of the time, who it is said, accepted the task from affection for the family of his pupil, and a high opinion of his genius and capacity, rather than from the ordinary motives of a college tutor. Digby remained at the university but two years, in which he obtained a splendid reputation. Early in 1621, he proceeded on his travels, intending, if his own assertion is to be believed, to study for some time in the university of Paris;* but neither of his biographers give any other account of him between that year and 1623, when he returned to England, than they gleaned from a passage in one of his works, namely, that he attended on the Prince of Wales, afterward Charles the First, when his Royal Highness was at Madrid. Of that interesting period of Sir Kenelm’s life, the ensuing memoir presents many singular particulars, and as all of them which are capable of proof are fully supported by evidence, as well as by the general history of the period, there seems to be no just ground for suspecting the fidelity of the outline, however much it may be necessary to allow for the high colouring of the picture. But, fortunately, the former only is required for the purpose of filling up the chasm.
* p. 32.
* P. 79.
As it is impossible to avail ourselves of that information without alluding to the fair individual who became identified with Digby’s fortunes, this is, perhaps, the most convenient place for introducing her. Venetia Stanley, to whose names one writer has also added that of Anastatia,* was one of the daughters, and, eventually, coheirs of Sir Edward Stanley, of Tonge Castle in Shropshire, Knight of the Bath, eldest son of Sir Thomas Stanley, Knt. a younger son of Edward, third Earl of Derby, K.G. and was born on the 19th of December, 1600. Her mother was Lucy, daughter and co-heiress of Thomas Percy, seventh Earl of Northumberland, who, we learn from this memoir, died when she was but a few months old. Truly, indeed, might Digby boast that his Venetia was “born of parents that, in the antiquity and lustre of their houses and in the goods of fortune, were inferior to none in Great Britain,”* and that some of her ancestors had exalted and pulled down Kings in England, and that their successors still have right to wear a regal crown upon their princely temples,* an allusion to the sovereignty of the Isle of Man, which was then possessed by the Earls of Derby.
* Hutchin’s History of Dorset.
* p. 13.
Her beauty and accomplishments equaled the lustre of her birth, but her character has been impeached in the most unqualified terms, and it must be confessed that there are many causes for believing in the accusations. This delicate subject cannot be passed over in silence, for as Digby himself alludes to rumours against her fame, the question demands that some attention should be given to it; but it is first necessary to notice what he previously says of her.
Sir Edward Stanley, he informs us, though a negligent husband, was so much afflicted at the loss of his wife, that he resolved on passing his life in absolute seclusion; and therefore committed Venetia to the care of the wife of one of his relations, whose house was situated near to that of Lady Digby, This naturally produced frequent visits between the two families, and Kenelm became known to Venetia in his childhood, when a mutual attachment arose, and which “grew with their growth.”
After a few years had thus passed away. Sir Edward Stanley sent for his daughter to his own house; but upon the marriage of the Princess Elizabeth with the Count Palatine, which soon afterward took place, he was summoned to the Court; and, being desirous of shewing her “the magnificent entertainments that are usual at such times, and also being glad to let the world now see that fame was nothing too lavish in setting out her perfections,” took Venetia with him to London; where “her beauty and discretion did soon draw the eyes and thoughts of all men to admiration.”*
The royal alliance alluded to, occurred in February, 1613, when she was but little more than thirteen years of age. To Aubrey, her detractor, we are indebted for the little which is known about her; and some parts of his statement agree with Digby’s, for he says, “She was a most beautiful desirable creature, and, being _matura viro_ was left by her father to live with a tenant at Enston Abbey, in Oxfordshire; but, as private as that place was, it seems her beauty could not lie hid.”* Enston is not more than thirty miles from Gothurst, the seat of Lady Digby; and the only difference between the Memoir and Aubrey on the subject of Venetians residence is, that in the former the individual to whose care she was intrusted, is called her father’s kinsman.
* p. 21.
* Aubrey’s Letters by Eminent Persons, vol. ii. p. 330, note.
Her extraordinary beauty, we are told, attracted the regard of Ursatius, one of the noblemen of the court, whose attentions, however, proved fruitless in consequence of her previous attachment to Digby. On her return home, she related what had occurred to her Governess, who being bribed by the nobleman in question, advocated his cause with much zeal; and of course did all in her power to depreciate his rival. In the conversation between them, Digby makes her give some account of his situation, and adduces admirable reasons why his father’s attainder should not prejudice him in the opinion of the world.
A defence is also offered of Sir Everard’s conduct, upon the ground that it did not arise from ambition but mistaken zeal for his country’s liberties, and an inviolable faith to his friend who had entrusted him with a knowledge of the conspiracy. The Governess, finding her efforts unavailing, advised her noble employer to carry Venetia off by stealth; and under the idea of meeting Digby, she was decoyed into his hands, when she was conveyed to a house in the country, Ursatius, of course, met her there, but deceived by the idea that she would ultimately consent to his suit, he treated her with respect, though it would appear that he addressed her in bed: but it is not easy to reconcile this part of the narrative with probability, for it seems that on reaching this house, she retired to rest; that in the evening Ursatius arrived and entered her room, when a long conversation took place; that in the midst of it the housekeeper brought supper, no one else being allowed to attend them; and that after their meal, he led Venetia into a garden. During the whole of this scene we are not informed when she rose, or if Ursatius once quitted the room, an inconsistency which is the more remarkable, from the connected manner in which the remaining part of the Memoir is related. Venetia, having gone to her chamber, meditated her escape, which she effected by lowering herself out of the window, and thence let herself down from the garden wall. In her flight she was attacked by a wolf, but was rescued by Mardontius, a young nobleman who is subsequently a conspicuous character in the tale. His servants escorted her to the house of her relation Artesia, whose grand-daughter is intended by Lady Digby and that lady to be the wife of Kenelm. In an interview between Artesia and Venetia, the writer has introduced a description of himself and his younger brother, John. This sketch, though by no means remarkable for modesty, is exceedingly faithful, and abundantly proves that Digby was well acquainted with his own character: it is also interesting for the compliments which it contains to his tutor, Mr. Allen. Aubrey says that Digby’s marriage was violently opposed by his mother, on account of Venetia’s immorality; but, though he admits that his mother was averse to his attachment to her, he attributes it to some unkindnesses which had passed between Sir Everard Stanley and her, and to its interfering with the other alliance. The meetings between the lovers at Artesia’s house are then mentioned, with an ample proportion of tender speeches on both sides, in one of which Kenelm informed her, that he had attained Lady Digby’s permission to travel for two or three years, his chief object being to prevent his marriage with the object of his mother s choice, until he became of proper age to dispose of himself, when he would return and claim her hand. Venetia, finding herself coldly treated by her hostess in consequence of Kenelm’s attachment, returned to London, where she had another interview with her lover, when they exchanged tokens of regard. He immediately proceeded to Paris, and remained there until, he says, the plague broke out, when he retired to Angers. Notice is then taken of the state of France, until the annihilation of the Queen’s party at the battle of the Pont de Ce, on the 8th of August 1620. Digby’s account of her Majesty tends to confirm the opinion entertained of her lascivious conduct, for not only does he charge her with a criminal connexion with the Marquis of Ancre, but asserts, that having attracted her attention at a masquerade at her court, she fell deeply in love with himself. Her attempts to induce him to consent to her overtures are detailed in far too glowing and unambiguous language to admit of being printed; but his constancy to Venetia served as an impregnable bulwark to his virtue. On escaping from her apartment, he met the King’s troops forcing their way to it, and fearing the effects of her vengeance, he caused it to be reported that he was killed in the slaughter which ensued.
From Angers he went to Italy and settled at Florence, whence he wrote to Venetia to inform her of his health, but his letters miscarried, and she consequently gave credence to the news of his death. Her grief is portrayed in the quaint eloquence for which Digby is distinguished; and having shut herself up from all society excepting that of Mardontius who had saved her life when escaping from Ursatius, he became deeply enamoured of her beauty, and pressed his suit with considerable zeal. Though she refused his addresses, Fame, “that monster which was begot of some fiend in hell and feedeth itself upon the infected breath of the base multitude,” reported that an improper intercourse existed between them which Kenelm partly attributes to his speaking more lavishly of her favours than he had ground for.
The reports, however, induced her, at the earnest request of her friends, to consent to marry Mardontius, who caused splendid preparations to be made for their nuptials, and “had her portrait painted by an excellent workman, which picture he used to shew as a glorious trophy of her conquered affections.”
To return to Digby. All the letters which he had written to her were, he says, intercepted by his mother; and whilst pondering on the cause of Venetia’s silence, intelligence was brought him at Florence of her approaching marriage, with the cause of it, which “went much to the prejudice of her honour.” The philosophy upon which he prided himself was overwhelmed by the tidings, and he gave unrestrained vent to his rage and disappointment. Mardontius proved faithless to his engagement being momentarily inveigled in the country by some rustic beauty, and Venetia treated all his subsequent efforts to obtain her hand with proper contempt.
At this period of his history, Digby says, he pauses, because, “his future actions became mingled with those of great princes.” John Digby, first Earl of Bristol, his distant relation, who was then at Madrid negotiating the marriage of Prince Charles, having heard of Kenelm’s reputation, invited him to Spain, with which he complied. On his journey, he says, he met a Bramin, and we are favoured with a long argument on the influence of the stars on mankind, and similar mystical subjects; and are told that the Magician conjured up a spirit of Venetia, through whose agency he became convinced that her honour was unsullied, and that her faults were only “a little indulgency of a gentle nature which sprung from some indiscretion, or rather want of experience, that made her liable to censure.” He was received by the Earl at Madrid with great kindness, and supped with him on his arrival; but on his return to his house with Leodivius, who appears to have been a son of Lady Digby by her first husband Sir John Dive, of Bromham in Bedfordshire, Knight, they were waylaid by fifteen men instigated by an individual who was jealous of Leodivius. Digby killed two of the assassins which fulfilled a prediction of the spirit, who desired him to consider the accomplishment of that prophecy as evidence of the truth of what he had told him of Venetians virtue.
Charles and the Duke of Buckingham’s romantic expedition to Spain is then mentioned: it is said that they arrived at Madrid the day after Digby ‘s rencontre, and some curious facts are related about the dispute between the Duke and the Earl of Bristol. Kenelm was employed in these negociations, and appears, from his influence with the Archbishop of Toledo, to have facilitated the Ambassador’s plans; and at his relation’s desire, he attached himself to his Prince’s service. A remark of Lord Kensington, afterward Earl of Holland, who was then at Madrid, on his indifference to the charms of the Spanish ladies, induced Digby to devote himself to a distinguished beauty of the court, of whom that nobleman was really enamoured, with the view of convincing his Lordship of his powers of conquest, if he chose to employ them. His progress soon exceeded his hopes, and her attachment made so much noise, that news of it reached England and the ears of Venetia. He was urged by his friends to marry her, but his first attachment was so firmly rooted in his heart as to render him unable to listen to their advice; nor were the entreaties of the fair object herself attended with greater success.
At the suggestion of the Duke of Buckingham, Charles determined to return to England, notwithstanding that he sincerely admired the Spanish Princess. The Duke’s conduct is censured in severe terms, and after allowing for the partial view which the writer was naturally inclined to take of his relative’s merits, there is some justice in his charges. Kenelm was appointed to attend the Prince on his return, who was received in London, we are told, with every demonstration of attachment; but he says he did not witness the joyful acclamations, for no sooner had he landed, than he was seized with a serious illness, which confined him for several days. As no dates occur in the Memoir, it may be necessary to observe that Prince Charles disembarked at Portsmouth, according to an eye-witness, on Sunday, the 5th of October, 1623, at nine o’clock in the morning.
The Duke of Buckingham’s efforts to prejudice the King against Lord Bristol, and the political measures adopted after the Prince’s arrival, are then noticed, but the account differs in nothing from the usual histories of the period,excepting that he defends Bristol with a zeal which did him honour.
On entering London, Digby informs us he accidentally met Venetia. Her beauty, he says, seemed brighter than ever, “but she sat so pensively on one side of the coach by herself, as Apelles might have taken her counterfeit to express Venus sorrowing for her beloved Adonis.” Having sent his servant to obtain her permission, he waited upon her the next day, when she explained every thing which had occurred in SO satisfactory a manner, that he was convinced he had treated her with injustice, and their attachment was renewed with increased ardour; but he was cautious, he adds, not to pledge himself too far, in consequence of the rumour respecting Mardontius.
Either from a belief in that report, or from the overwhelming influence of those baser feelings which but ill agreed with the philosophy upon which he piqued himself, he attempted to obtain possession of Venetians person without the sanction of marriage. Her indignation is described to have been such as would become a paragon of chastity, nor was it without signs of the deepest repentance on his part, that he was again admitted to her favour. From that time their hearts were, he says, joined in a fraternal affection, which “confuted the opinion of those who consider that the laws of a high and divine friendship cannot be observed where a woman hath a part;”” but we shall presently see how long this platonic regard continued. At that moment Mr. Clerk, a gentleman of the Prince’s bed-chamber, fell deeply in love with Venetia, but perceiving that it was not returned, he entreated his friend Digby to intercede with her on his behalf. Such was the high sense which Kenelm entertained of the duties of friendship, that “though he would rather have died than seen her in any other man’s possession,” yet he became Clerk’s earnest advocate; but Venetia was deaf to his entreaties. From several folios, which it was impossible to print, it seems that Digby made another attempt upon the chastity of his immaculate Venetia, for calling upon her one morning before she had risen, he entered her bed whilst she was asleep. Her displeasure on discovering her situation, Digby does not attempt to conceal, and adduces his repulse as additional evidence of her virtue, and consequently of the falsehood of the reports against her character. She of course ordered him to quit the place he had so surreptitiously gained; to which he consented only, upon the condition that she sang to him while he dressed himself. Upon quitting her, he meditates for some time upon the “miraculous perfections” which he had seen, and concludes that she “was endowed with a most noble mind, a sweet and virtuous disposition, a generous heart, a full and large understandings admirable discretion and modesty and a true sense of honour; all which were accompanied with other virtues that serve to make a lady complete; and these were lodged in so fair a body, that if she had been in those times when men committed idolatry, the world would certainly have renounced the sun, the stars, and all other their devotions, and with one consent have adored her for their goddess.” Few persons perhaps will be disposed to consider Digby as a very competent judge of “discretion and modesty;” but in every thing relating to the object of his devotion, he seems to have laboured under a perversion of intellect. It is doubtful, however, if love had so completely affected his judgment as to have induced him to marry her, had not another feeling been called into action; but when ardent gratitude is added to affection, and the object of both is one of the most beautiful creatures that ever adorned this earthy who is there that can answer for his conduct Under such circumstances the very deviation from propriety of a man uniting himself to a woman of suspicious or even of immoral character, emanates from the best feelings of the human heart; and that which under ordinary circumstances justly excites our contempt, assumes a very different complexion. If we cannot, or rather, if from a regard to the best interests of society we dare not applaud such an action, it is at least difficult to view it with severity. He informs us that having been appointed to accompany the Duke of Buckingham in his embassy to the French Court, for the marriage between Prince Charles and Henrietta Maria, and being anxious to equip himself in a manner which might evince his respect for his royal master, his friends thought he would find much difficulty in raising money at so short a notice, adequate to the heavy expenses which were necessary. To meet his exigencies, however, Venetia, with true womanly kindness, and that spontaneous generosity which forms so noble a trait in her sex, instantly pawned her jewels and plate. “Having gathered a large sum,” for Digby shall relate it in his own words, “she sent it to him, entreating him to make use of it without cumbering his estate, which, consisting of settled rents, would soon quit a greater debt; and thus she made him at once master of all she had, or could hope for. This generous action,’” he adds, “sunk so deep into his heart, that the previous obstacle to his marriage,” which arose from the dissuasions of some of his friends, and particularly his mother, was no longer allowed to prevail. In contempt of the world’s
Which scarce the firm philosopher can scorn.”
and in contempt too of his better judgment, he resolved to make her his wife. If he may be believed, his own feelings were not the only impediment to his union,but that it was opposed in a quarter where opposition was least to be expected. Venetia, he tells us, with a refinement of delicacy, refused to marry one man when another possessed her picture, given under a promise of marriage. All Digby ‘s efforts to convince her that her opinions were erroneous, were unsuccessful; and he was obliged, by challenging Mardontius, to force him to restore it. Without drawing his sword, he placed the portrait in’Digby’s hands, accompanied by a written declaration, that if ever he had uttered a word derogatory to her honour, he had falsely slandered her.
Here it becomes necessary to contrast this account with the character which has been given of Venetia Stanley by Aubrey. He says, that “she had one if not more children by the Earl of Dorset, who settled on her an annuity of 500l. per annum, which, after Sir Kenelm Digby married, was unpaid by the Earl: Sir Kenelm sued the Earl after marriage, and recovered it. Sir Edmund Wyld had her picture, and, you may imagine, was very familiar with her. After her marriage she redeemed her honour by her strict living; she and her husband were invited once a year by the Earl of Dorset, when with much desire and passion he beheld her, and only kissed her hand; Sir Kenelm being still by.”
These statements cannot be reconciled with the scrupulously delicate conduct imputed to her by Digby; and we might be inclined to doubt the justice of Aubrey’s assertions, were it not manifest from the Memoir itself, that rumours, highly injurious to her character, existed. Nor is it certain that Digby disbelieved them; for in the elaborate defence of his marriage to the Earl of Bristol, towards the end of the volume, some passages will be found in which he defends his union, notwithstanding she might, previously to it, have forfeited all claims to respect. His arguments, however little they may convince, are excessively ingenious, and display that subtlety of intellect and profound casuistry for which he was celebrated. Without actually using the coarse expression assigned to him by Aubrey, “that a handsome lusty man, that was discreet, might make a virtuous wife out of a brothel house,” we find several remarks of a similar tendency; and so far does he carry his absurd theory respecting the moral conduct of women, that, in a passage which has been necessarily suppressed, he contends that their honour does not consist only in chastity, and that cases may occur in which it is justifiable for a man to consent to his wife’s pollution! If these were Digby’s real opinions, they afford us a striking but melancholy confirmation of the remark that
“Great genius is to madness near allied.”
Upon the very critical question of that lady’s virtue it is almost impossible to form a decisive opinion. The most serious cause for suspecting it, is the manner in which her husband has defended her; for part, at least, of Aubrey’s charges will not bear even the slightest investigation. The Earl of Dorset, by whom he says she had one if not more children, was Richard Sackville, the third Earl of Dorset,who was born in March, 1589, and who in l609 married Ann the daughter and heiress of George Earl of Cumberland. He was the son of Robert the second Earl, and was consequently the grandson instead of the “eldest son and heir to the Lord Treasurer;’ and as Venetia Stanley was not born until December 1600, his connexion with her could not have commenced long before her fifteenth year, at which time he had been six years a husband. It is therefore, of course, possible that an improper attachment subsisted between them some time between 1616 and March 1624, when the Earl died; but the corroborating evidence of the fact, adduced by Aubrey, that Digby, after his marriage, sued Lord Dorset for the annuity which he had settled upon her, and the story of their dining with him once a year, when he kissed her hand, &c. could only have existed in that writer’s imagination, for the Earl actually died before Venetia’s marriage; nor is there any notice of a trial of the kind, against his heirs or executors, reported. Thus, then, as the greater part of Aubrey’s account is proved to have been false, we may at least hesitate in believing his other statements; especially as, independently of the Earl of Dorset, they consist only of inferences. Notwithstanding the equivocal nature of Sir Kenelm’s arguments in favour of his wife’s reputation, it must not be forgotten that from some parts it would seem he was fully impressed that the reports, which he admits were in circulation, were false; that her conduct towards him was marked by the greatest delicacy and propriety; and that instead of eagerly burying her dishonour under the name of his wife, it was not until he had restored to her a trifling pledge of her former affection for another individual, that she yielded to his urgent and incessant entreaties to marry him. On the other hand, we find that he himself twice attempted to seduce her, and although the repulse which he encountered on both occasions might be adduced by him as proof of her virtue, the effort speaks but little in favour of his real opinion of it; that his friends were violent in their disapprobation of his marriage; and more than all, that in his defence of his union, instead of solely resting upon her innocence, he descends to such miserable sophistry as that “she ought not to be less valued for her former affection, since looking into the reality of it, and finding it to be on worthy grounds of her side, you must consent that her innocence is not impeached,” that “a wise man should not confine himself to what may be said of the past actions of his wife;” that her beauty, wit, and splendid descent were far more essential objects; that “if indiscreet unstayed youth, or rather childhood, have at any time cast a mist over her judgment, and so caused some innocent error in any of her actions, the goodness of her nature hath converted it into this benefit, that she is fully warned and armed never to incur the like;” that “what was done having left nothing which could really be taken hold of, it should not be considered so much as the present state of the soul and mind;”
“that the clearest brooks have some mud,” by the absurd and criminal opinions which have been alluded to; and similar preposterous remarks.
They were, we are told, privately married; and as their eldest child was born in October 1625, the ceremony probably took place in the January preceding, though at Digby’s request it was kept secret from the world. Their intercourse naturally gave rise to observations, and his cousin Robert Digby, who became the first Lord Digby in Ireland, having remonstrated with him on the subject, he entered into a long discourse in defence of the passion of Love; and afterwards at his request described a personal contest which had taken place between him and an individual whom he calls Famelicus, and who, like themselves, was a gentleman of the Prince’s bed-chamber, but whose name it is impossible to discover. This he explains at some length, though it is only necessary to state that, instigated by malice, the person in question had asserted he had received the last favour from Venetia, in consequence of which Digby instantly challenged him. Finding his life at stake, he confessed the falsehood of his slander,and consequently obtained the reputation of” an indiscreet, rash, and dishonest coward f whilst those who had combined with him, but whose real names are uncertain, were considered as “malicious, unworthy, and cankered wretches.”
It is not a little extraordinary that Digby should omit to mention, that on his return from Spain he received the honour of Knighthood, which was conferred upon him on the 23d of October, 1623, at Lord Montague’s house at Hinchinbroke in the presence of Prince Charles and the Duke of Buckingham, when the King paid him some high compliments on his erudition.
It must also have been about this time that he discovered his celebrated sympathetic powder; and the omission of any notice of it in his Memoirs, is not less singular. The curious reader will find an ample account of it in Sir Kenelm’s “Discourse upon the Sympathetic Powder,” from which a copious extract has been made in the “Biographia Britannica;” but it is sufficient to observe of it here, that it consisted of applying a certain mixture to any thing which had received the blood of a wounded person, who obtained instant relief from the application, even if he were not present. Digby says, he learnt the secret from a friar in Italy, to whom he had rendered some essential kindnesses; and an instance of its efficacy on Mr. Howell is fully detailed. The circumstance attracted the attention of King James and the Court, and tended in no small degree to his reputation.
Of his marriage, Sir Kenelm gives us some curious particulars; and we learn that Lady Digby’s confinement was hastened by a fall from a horse. Her labour was attended, he says, with great danger, from her resolution to abide by his wish that it might be kept secret; and he of course seizes the opportunity of extolling her fortitude and firmness.
As soon as she could be left with safety, he returned to town, when the conversation occurred between the Earl of Bristol and himself, relative to Venetia, which has been cited. It was interrupted, we are informed, by the arrival of his Lordship’s solicitor, who came to report the judgment which had just been pronounced relative to the proceedings against him by the Court, the enmity of which had, it is well known, through the jealousy and hatred of Buckingham, been powerfully excited against him. At Sir Kenelm’s request, the Earl related the manner in which he had been treated, from which it seems that as the evidence of Sir Kenelm and Robert Digby was necessary for his defence, Buckingham caused two of his kinsmen and dependants to challenge them to meet them at some place on the continent, with the view of keeping them out of the way; that the Digbys accordingly repaired thither; but that the want of the personal testimony of Kenelm was supplied by a letter which he addressed to the Earl; and that, on his return, he boldly justified his own conduct to the King. It is unnecessary to follow Sir Kenelm through his vindication of the Earl of Bristol, for that nobleman’s conduct stands fair in the eyes of posterity.
At this period of his life, Digby says, he deemed it necessary to prove to the world that his devotion to Venetia had not lessened “the nobleness of his mind, nor abated the edge of his active and vigorous spirits;” and he therefore resolved to undertake some object which would both tend to his own honour and the King’s service. When his Majesty knew his wishes, “he gave him an extraordinary and very honourable commission to take in hand a voyage by sea.” The commission in question is dated on the 15th November, S Car. I. 1627, in which he is styled “Sir Kenelm Digby, Knt. one of the Gentlemen of our Privy Chamber.”* and on the 29th December following he sailed with a small squadron. He tells us, that so far from finding difficulty in procuring followers, his greatest trouble was to defend himself from the importunity of those persons of rank who wished to accompany him. Though from the envy of some and “the malignity of fortune,” he met with serious obstacles to his design, sanguine hopes were entertained of his success; hopes which, it will be seen, were not disappointed. The affection of Venetia was put to a severe trial by his departure, and he eloquently describes their feelings on the occasion. Besides the situation of Gentleman of the Bedchamber, Digby is said to have held those of a Commissioner of the Navy, and a Governor of the Trinity House. According to the most recent of his biographers, whom it would be injustice to the reader to quote in any other language than his own, “On the accession of Charles the First, Sir Kenelm Digby became one of the chief ornaments of Whitehall. Charles, who did not love gaiety, highly esteemed him, however, for his admirable talents; but to the Queen, who before her misfortunes had a very lively disposition, he rendered himself infinitely agreeable, and she seems to have conceived a friendship for him which lasted through life. He was a party in all the royal diversions, which indeed he frequently planned and directed; and such were the volubility of his spirits, and the careless elegance of his manners, that it should have seemed that he had been bred from his infancy in a court.”*
* FoBdera, tome xviii. p. 947.
* Lodge’s Illustrious Portraits.
Before he quitted England he acquainted his friend, the Earl of Bristol, with his marriage, who promised not only to shew Lady Digby every possible respect and attention during his absence, but to do what might be in his power to justify it to the world. On the day of his embarkation Sir Kenelm received intimation of the birth of his second son, John, which took place on the 29th December, 1627; and he, in consequence, wrote to desire that Venetia would no longer conceal their union. The favourable prospects under which Digby sailed, were of short continuance, for before he had been long at sea a violent disease broke put in his ships, which swept away a great part of his men. His officers solicited him to return, but he succeeded in convincing them that it was wiser to persevere; and a favourable wind springing up, he proceeded on his voyage. It is impossible to say what place he designates under the name of Rhodes, where he refreshed his people and refitted the fleet, but most probably Sally, or some other port on the coast of Barbary. From thence he sailed in prosecution of the object of the expedition, which, he tells us, was to interrupt the trade of the French in Spain and Portugal, in silks and other commodities which those countries produce; and by this means, the English might gain it, and make “their country the staple for the manufacture and vent of so rich a traffic.” At Scanderoon, “where was the period of his design,” he found a number of French and Venetian vessels; and the commanders of the latter, not contented with declaring their resolution to defend the French squadron, in consequence of the treaty which existed between France and Venice, insolently warned Digby to quit the port, or they would sink his ships. We are thus furnished with the cause of the engagement, to which Ben Johnson thus alludes,
“Witness thy action done at Scanderoon
Upon thy birthday, the eleventh of June.”
Having made every preparation for battle, he addressed his men in a speech, of which he has taken care to give us the heads, to excite their bravery, and then immediately placed his own ship alongside of that of the admiral of the enemy; and his example being followed by his captains, they soon gained a complete victory. The Venetians, he says, sent to beg a shameful peace, and, at the same instant, he boarded and took by force the French vessels; so that, in a few hours, his triumph was complete.
With this event. Sir Kenelm Digby’s narrative ends; but the explanation which he has given of his motive for writing it, and his wish that it might never be read by others, is, perhaps, the most interesting part of his lucubrations. He commences with expressing a hope, that if by accident the MS. should ever fall into any person’s hands but his own, “this last scrawl may beg pardon for the rest.” His object in composing the Memoir appears to have been to preserve his virtue; for, having been separated from his fleet by a storm which forced him into an island, which he calls Milo, where he remained to repair his ship, he was invited on shore by the chief persons of the place; and his host, to divert him from the retirement which he courted, obligingly offered to interest some ladies on his behalf, “who, in all ages, have been known to be no niggards of their favours,” and which might, he says, have been willingly accepted by an individual in his situation, had he not had his thoughts filled with the remembrance of so divine a creature as his Venetia. To avoid, therefore, giving offence by a refusal, he pretended to have many dispatches to write; but, as his facility in composition was always very great, he observes, he soon finished his letters, and then resolved to commit to paper such events in his life as related to the fair object of his contemplation. He then “gives warning before hand, that no man hath reason to lose any time in perusing so trivial a discourse of a young and unstayed head, which was, at the first, begun only for my own recreation, and then continued, and since preserved only for my own private content;” and concludes by requesting some friendly hand to convert “these blotted sheets into a clear flame,” should they survive him, “which funeral fire will be welcome obsequies to my departed soul; who, till then, will be in continual fear that the world may have occasion to renew the memory of my indiscretion, and condemn me then as much for want of judgment in writing, as formerly it hath done for too deep passion in my actions.” That the MS. was not destroyed, is fortunate for those who are gratified by perusing the description which genius gives of itself, as well as for Digby’s memory, as it contains many facts highly creditable to his character, and tends, in some degree, to redeem that of his wife; whilst much light is thrown by it upon the early part of his career. As a piece of autobiography it is, perhaps, one of the most extraordinary which is extant, and every line bears striking evidence of the peculiar temper and still more singular opinions of the writer.
The MS. which is called by Digby “Loose Fantasies,” is in his own hand, and contains proof of having been frequently and most carefully revised. No other liberty has been taken with it than to expunge a few pages which the delicacy of the present day would not allow of being published; but the narrative is never interrupted by these omissions, for they consist only of conversations or remarks that occurred on occasions which are sufficiently noticed either in this Introduction or in the Memoir.
From that time until 1632, little is known of Sir Kenelm Digby’s life; but upon the death of Lord Dorchester, one of the principal Secretaries of State, in February in that year, it was reported that he was to be appointed to his office:* the rumour proved, however, to be unfounded.
* Ellis’s Original Letters. — Second Series, vol. iii. p. 266.
About that period he distinguished himself by an act which never fails to secure posthumous fame, for his former tutor, Mr. Thomas Allen, having then died, his valuable library came into his possession, and which he soon afterwards presented to the Bodleian. Some writers assert that Digby purchased these books of Allen during his life, though he generously allowed him the use of them; but, according to Kippis, he obtained them under a bequest in Allen’s will. The discrepancy in these statements is, however, set at rest by the annexed letter to Sir Robert Cotton, in the Cottonian collection, which is, it is believed, for the first time printed, as we learn from it that Mr. Allen informed Digby of his intention to give them to him, and that he requested Sir Robert to see that they were conveyed to him in a legal manner.
To my Honourable Friend Sir Robert Cotton, at his home in Westminster,
Noble Sir, By your permission I send you here enclosed two letters for Oxford, one to Mr. James, the other to Mr. Allen; both which I beseech you let be sent under your cover. If you think fit, you may please to take notice to Mr. Allen, how I report myself to be much beholden to him for his friendly giving me his books and papers; and to thank him in my behalf, and to confirm his choice of me by such motives as may occur to you; and to advise him to settle them in a direct and legal manner. You may be bold to assure him, that in my hands they will not be with less honourable memory of him than in any man’s else; nor can they be with any body that will gladlier communicate them to them that can make use of them; which are the two ends he hath reason to look after in disposing of them. And besides I believe he will say I have not merited the least regard among his friends. I pray you also write to Mr. James what you shall judge may conduce by his endeavours to this my desire; whom I should be glad, if it may be done fitly, might make a catalogue of all the books, papers, and instruments; and then might also be a witness to Mr. Allen’s giving them to me. All which I refer to your wisdom and good directions,
I was yesterday at the Courts where there was honourable mention of you at my Lord of Dorset’s and in the presence of my Lord Treasurer; which occasion I failed not to take hold of to do you all the right I could. And truly I must tell you that I find very good inclinations towards you, and I attribute the not clearing of your business only to a certain slowness, that unless it be quickened now accompanieth all things; and that quickening must proceed mainly from yourself. Your friends can but dispose things fairly, your own solicitation must be the ground to move upon, and I doubt not but you will have a. fair passage.
In negotiating all which, and all things else that may be of service to you, I will employ myself with as much affection and heat as any servant you have. I pray you excuse me, I wait not on you myself now, for I am not very well and my coach is lame; within a few days I will attend you, but I think I shall first go to Court again where I will not omit to remember serving you if I can. Thus kissing your hands, I rest.
Your humble Servant,
Charterhouse Yard, this present Thursday.
* Cotton, MSS. Vespasianus, F. xiii. f. 330. ORIGINAL.
Whilst alluding to Digby’s munificent gift to the Bodleian Library, it is proper to refer to a passage in his letter to Dr. Langbaine, dated on the 7th November, 1654,* relative to the conditions upon which his present was to be enjoyed, because it reflects immortal honour upon his memory.
* Printed in Aubrey’s Letters.
It displays, in the most striking colours, not merely his own love of science, but his anxiety that every possible facility should be given for its diffusion. With the true clerical feeling of the seventeenth and which unhappily is not quite extinct even in the nineteenth century, some restrictions were proposed to be introduced, as to the manner in which permission was to be given for transcribing the MSS. which seemed to the noble mind of the donor to circumscribe the knowledge of their contents. His remark on the subject deserves to be written in letters of gold.
“The propositions you sent me a transcript of, methinketh are very good ones; only toward the end of the sixth it seemeth to me there is too great a restriction; for since all good things are the better the more they are communicated, I see no reason but that he who hath not convenience to print what he hath copied, should keep his transcript by him.”
On the 1st of May, 1633, Sir Kenelm Digby sustained an irreparable loss in the death of his lovely wife. She died very suddenly, in her thirty-third year, and such was the envy and malice by which he was pursued, that it was even insinuated that he had poisoned her from jealousy. Upon opening her head very little brain was found, which her husband is absurdly reported to have imputed to her drinking viper wine; “but spiteful women,” adds Aubrey, “would say it was a viper husband who was jealous of her.” Digby’s conduct on the occasion was as eccentric as almost every other act of his life. He retired to Gresham College, and amused himself with chemistry and the conversation of the professor: “he wore there a long mourning cloak, a high-cornered hat, his beard unshorn, looked like a hermit, as signs of sorrow for his beloved wife.” Lady Digby was buried in Christ’s church, near Newgate, “in a brick vault,” Aubrey informs us, “over which were three steps of black marble, with four inscriptions in copper gilt, affixed to it; upon this altar was her bust of copper gilt, all which, unless the vault, which was only opened a little by the fall, is utterly destroyed by the great conflagration. About 1675–6, as I was walking through Newgate-street, I saw Dame Venetians bust standing at a stall at the Golden Cross, a brazier’s shop. I presently remembered it, but the fire had got off the gilding; but taking notice of it to one that was with me, I could never see it afterward exposed to the street. They melted it down.” A miserable engraving of the monument is inserted in the “Antiquarian Repertory,” with the following inscription, which was probably only one of the four mentioned by Aubrey:
Edwardi Stanley Equitis Honoratiss. Ord.
Balnei (Filii Thomas, Edwardi comitis Derbies
Filii) Filiae ac cohaeredi, ex Lucisi Thomas
Comitis Northumbriae Filiae et Cohaerede,
Kenelmus Digby Eques Auratus
Cui quatuor Peperit Filios
Kenelmum Nat. vi. Octob. mdcxxv.
Joannem Nat. xxix. Decemb. mdcxxvii.
Everardum (in cunis Mortuum) Nat. xii. Jan. MDCXXIX.
Georgium Nat. xvii. Jan. mdcxxxii.
Nata est Decemb. xix. mdc.
Denata Maii. i. mdcxxxiii.
Quin lex eadem monet omnes
Gemitum dare sorte sub una
Cognataque funera nobis
Aliena in morte dolere.
Another of those inscriptions is thus given in Collins’ Peerage:
Insig: praeclariss. Dominae D. Venetiae Digby
Familia Stanleyorum, Com. Darbis ex parte
Pairis, et Perciorum, Com. Northumbriae
Materno jure, aliisque quamplurimis Christian.
Orbis Principibus oriundae.
The famous Ben Johnson lived on terms of great intimacy with Sir Kenelm and Lady Digby, and after her death he composed a long poem in honour of her, entitled “Eupheme,” which occurs in his works, and from which the subjoined is an extract:
“She was in one a many parts of life;
A tender mother, a discreeter wife,
A solemn mistress, and so good a friend.
So charitable to religious end
In all her petite actions so devote.
As her whole life was now become one note
Of piety and private holiness.”
Whilst speaking of that distinguished writer, a letter will be inserted relative to him, to Doctor Duppa, afterwards Bishop of Chichester, from Sir Kenelm Digby, in consequence of the Doctor’s intention of collecting for publication all the complimentary verses that had been written on Johnson’s decease, and which subsequently appeared under the title of “Johnsonius Virbius.”
To Doctor Duppa, the Dean of Christchurch,
and the Prince’s Tutor.
I UNDERSTAND, with much gladness, you have been careful to gather what has been written upon Mr. Johnson since his death. It is an office well beseeming that excellent piety that all men know you by; yet were but half performed if you should let it rest here. As your own tenderness towards that worthy man hath made you seek to bathe yourself in his friends’ tears, so your humanity towards the public, which good men rejoice to see you in the way so much to advance, ought not to be satisfied until you have given it a propriety in these collections. Besides, I believe, if care of earthly things touch souls happily departed, that these compositions delivered to the world by your handy will be more grateful obsequies to his great ghost, than any other that could have been performed at his tomb; for no Court’s decree can better establish a lawful claimer in the secure possession of his right, than this will him of his laurel, which, when he lived d. he wore so high above all men’s reach, as none could touch, much less shake from off his reverend head. I am writing, by this private incitement of you unto so just a work, to witness in a particular manner to yourself, who loved him dearly, the great value and esteem I have of this brave man; the honour of his age; and he that set a period to the perfection of our language: and will, as soon as I can do the like to the world, by making it share with me in those excellent pieces, alas that many of them are but pieces! which he hath left behind him, and that I keep religiously by me to that end. I promise myself that your goodness and friendliness to me will pardon me for that awhile diverting your thoughts, that are continually busied about what is of great consequence, knowing me to be.
Your most affectionate and humble servant.*
* Harleian MSS. 4153, f. 21. The same volume contains amongst several other articles by Digby, a copy of a long letter from him to Doctor Hakewill, Archdeacon of Surrey, dated London, 13th May, 1635, acknowledging the receipt of a copy of the last edition of the Doctor’s work, and his letter of the 27th of April, in which Sir Kenelm says “he over-valued the mean present he had presumed to send to the University of Oxford.” He then criticises Hakewill’s book, which appears to have related to natural philosophy.
Early in 1636, Digby publicly reconciled himself to the Church of Rome; and Archbishop Laud’s reply to the intimation which he had given him that such was his resolution, is still extant. That admirable letter is dated Lambeth, 27th March, 1636, and the author of the article “Digby” in the “Biographia Britannica,” has copiously cited it. It is there said that he had addressed to that Prelate a long apology for his conduct; and of his abilities for polemical discussion, ample proof exists in his “Conference with a Lady about Choice of Religion,” and in his Letters to Lord George Digby, eldest son of the Earl of Bristol, on a similar subject, both of which were written in 1638, when the former was published, but the latter were not printed until 1651. If however the reliance which has been placed on the following Memoir be correct, it would appear that he had embraced the Roman Catholic faith as early as 1623 or 1624, even if he was ever in fact of any other religion, for he not only speaks of it in terms of approbation, and insinuates that King James’s chief motive for wishing the alliance between Prince Charles and a Princess of Spain was “to unite his people with the rest of the adjoining Princes in the firm knot of consciences, faith; hoping,” he adds, “thus insensibly to bring in the general opinion, and to overrun the new ones by the match, the King of Egypt [Spain] being the principal maintainer of that side;"* but in another place he says that the Earl of Bristol employed him to negociate with the Archbishop of Toledo, in consequence of his being highly esteemed by that prelate, “principally because their religion was the same.”* Still more, when pressed to attach himself to state affairs, he expresses a wish that the Earl and he may not long entertain different religious opinions; and then enters into a detailed explanation of his tenets.*
* p. 115. The whole of Digby’s statement relative to James the First’s religious opinions in that and the preceding page, is very curious.
* p. 172.
* p. 177, et seq.
For some time previous to 1641, Sir Kenelm was in France, where he is said to have been highly esteemed, and to have employed himself in composing elaborate treatises in defence of his religion; but an important event occurred to him whilst in that country, which has escaped his previous biographers.
A very rare tract is extant, entitled “Sir Kenelm Digby’s Honour maintained by a most courageous combat which he fought with the Lord Mount le Ros, who by base slanderous words reviled our King: also the true relation how he went to the King of France who kindly entreated him, and sent two hundred men to guard him as far as Flanders. And now he is returned from Banishment, and to his eternal honour lives in England. Printed at London for T. B. 1641.” To this curious article a rude woodcut is prefixed of two men engaged in combat, and the sword of the one is depicted as having pierced the body of the other. As the tract is very short, and affords information on a transaction which is not generally known, a verbatim copy of it is here given.
Fortitude is one of the eleven moral virtues, of which there be three sorts; there is fortitude or valour, which consists of rashness, which is to run wilfully upon danger, having no possibility to be a conqueror. Then there is an enforced valour, which is, when a man must either kill or be killed.
Lastly, there is a temperate valour: those men which are embued with this sort of valour, will neither give occasion to make abuse, neither will they take abuse, but are ready at all points to defend their King, Country, and their own persons, which is the only true valour; the other two sorts, though termed so, yet are not, but rather seem to proceed from the loins of cowardice; for to be truly valiant, is to be truly venturous, for, as I said before, that fortitude is a virtue, and by virtue comes goodness; wherefore consequently to be valiant, is to be good.
Then let all admire the, goodness of that most honourable Knight, Sir Kenelm Digby, which proceeded from his valour, as I shall now declare.
It is scarce unknown to any how that he was exiled from his native soil, England, which made him often-times thus to cry out, “Hei mihi, quod Domino non licet ire meo, Wpe is me, because it is unlawful for me to see my Master,” his King; he kept his residence nigh to the court of France, where he was not less respected for the report of his former valour, than for the present affability and courtesy which he shewed to all men; “Omne solum sapienti patria est,” — to a wise man every country is to him as his own native country; but as the quietest of men sometimes have occasion for strife, so did it fall out with this worthy Knight.
It was his chance to be invited by a Lord of France to dine with him, whither he went accompanied with those servants he had. Very merry they all were for a certain space; at length they fell to drinking of healths to certain Kings, as to the King of France, the King of Spain, the King of Portugal, and divers others; but in the conclusion, the Lord which invited Sir Kenelm Digby to dinner, presumptuously began a health to the arrantest coward in the world, directing the cup unto Sir Kenelm, who asked the Lord so soon as he had drank, whom that was he did so term? He bid him pledge the health and he should know, which he did; then answered the French Lord, I meant your King of England, at which the good Knight seemed very discontented, knowing in what nature his Sovereign was wronged, yet very wisely did he seem to pass it by until dinner being ended: then did he desire the same Lord the next day to come to dine with him, who promised him, upon his honour, that he would.
The next day Titan being in his greatest pomp, unto Sir Kenelm’s lodging this Lord came, who had entertainment befitting his place; neither did Sir Kenelm seem to remember the former day’s discontent, but was very frolic and merry, and in the midst of dinner-time desired them all to be bare, for he would begin a health to the bravest King in the world. The French Lord asked whom that was? Sir Kenelm made answer that when it had gone about he should know: well, about it went, and then Sir Kenelm said that it was the health of the bravest King in the world, which is the King of England, my royal Master, for although my body be banished from him, yet is my heart loyally linked. The French Lord at those words seemed to laugh, repeated the same words before mentioned. Then was Sir Kenelm thoroughly moved in the behalf of our Sovereign King Charles, whereupon he whispered the Lord in the ear, telling him how that twice he had reviled the best King in the world, in the hearing of me, who am his faithful subject, wherefore for satisfaction, I require a single combat of you, where either you shall pay your life for your sauciness, or I will sacrifice mine in the behalf of my King. The French Lord being of a resolute spirit, condescended to fight, the place was appointed; dinner being ended, they both arose from table, and privately went together. Being in a field, off they plucked their doublets, and out they drew their weapons.
Mars would have bashful been to have seen himself by noble Digby there excelled, long work with the contemptible French Lord, he would not make, for fear lest any should lie in ambush and so he might hazard his own life, wherefore in four bouts he run his rapier into the French Lord’s breast till it came out of his throat again, which so soon as he had done, away he fled to the Court of France, and made all known to the King thereof, who said the proudest Lord in France should not dare to revile his brother King.
A guard was presently chosen to conduct Sir Kenelm unto Flanders, which they did, when he took shipping for England, where he now is, where in peace and quietness may he still remain.
As for the French Lord he was paid according to his desert, and may all be so rewarded which shall dare to revile the Lord’s anointed, who suffers by other nations, for the clemency he hath shewn to his own nation. “Sed beati sunt pacifici,” but blessed is the peace maker! good King for thy patience in this world there are crowns of immortal glory laid in store for thee in the world to come; there shall not traitors dare to shew their faces, nor shall perplexity proceed from the great care of ruling of a kingdom. In the mean while may more such noble Digbys increase, to rebuke all cursing Achitophels, and reviling Rabshakeys.
Let God arise, and then shall the enemies of our gracious King be sure to be scattered.
Now I conclude, commanding fame to show,
Brave Digby’s worthy deed, that all may know
He loved his King, may all so loyal prove.
And like this Digby to their King shew love.
With that article, almost all the information which has been discovered respecting Sir Kenelm Digby, by his present biographer, unfortunately ends; and as in tracing his career to its close, no fact can be stated but what has been already published, the narrative will be concluded in as brief a manner as possible. The reader will find a minute relation of those points which are now merely alluded to in the “Biographia Britannica.” Wood’s Athenae Oxoniensis, Bayle, and some other writers may also be consulted.
On the King’s preparing to make war against the Scots he called on his subjects for their assistance, and which was obeyed with alacrity by the wealthiest of the Protestant Clergy and Laity. The Queen, anxious that the Catholics should not be remiss in following the example, induced Sir Kenelm Digby and Mr. Walter Montague to address a sort of circular letter to excite them, which was distributed throughout the kingdom and produced a considerable sum. Though there can be little doubt that this act emanated in pure loyalty, it was so displeasing to the House of Commons, that Sir Kenelm was in January, 1640 summoned to their bar and questioned on the subject. He answered with that simplicity which is the surest indication of truth; and the Queen having interfered in his behalf by a message to the House, stating the share which she had in the transaction and her motives, the Commons appeared for the time to be satisfied; but the offence was not forgotten, for in the address which they shortly afterward presented to the King, praying him to remove the Roman Catholics from about his person and the Court, Digby and Montague were particularly named.
Probably in consequence of this address, Sir Kenelm was obliged to quit England, for we learn from the publication which has just been inserted, that he was in exile about the end of 1640, but that he had made his peace and returned before the close of the following year; though whether his recall was produced by the spirited manner in which he had vindicated the honour of his sovereign, or from some other cause, does not appear.
Upon the breaking out of the civil war, Digby was imprisoned by order of the Parliament, and was confined in Winchester House until 1643, when he was released at the intercession of the Queen-mother of France, the lady whom in his Memoir he represents to have been enamoured of him about twenty years before, but whose advances he declined. Whether it was to the recollection of the passion there imputed to her, or to the high favour in which he stood with the Queen of England her daughter, or to both these causes, that he was indebted for the favour, is uncertain; but the House returned a respectful answer to her Majesty, and he was released upon the condition that he would promise, on the faith of a Christian and the word of a gentleman, “neither directly nor indirectly to negociate, promote, consent unto, or conceal any practice or design prejudicial to the honour or safety of the Parliament,” an agreement which Mr, Lodge has justly characterized as being more prudent than honest, and that he should instantly quit the realm.
The Lord Mayor of London also addressed a letter to the House, dated on the 27th of March, 1643, respecting Sir Kenelm’s commitment, and requesting that he might be released; but nothing was then done.*
* Commons’ Journals.
Before his departure he was strictly examined by a committee, as to a suspected correspondence between Archbishop Laud and the Court of Rome; especially respecting the offer of a Cardinal’s hat to the prelate. His answer was consistent not only with the truth, but with what it was little short of insanity to have doubted; for he assured his examiners that he believed the Archbishop to be a very sincere and learned Protestant. It is wholly impossible that a mind so constituted as that of Sir Kenelm Digby, to whose “quick bosom quiet” must have been indeed “a hell,” could have passed the term of his restraint without employment. Two pieces at least, the one entitled “Observations on Religio Medici,” which was printed in 1643, and the other, his “Observations on the 22nd Stanza in the 9th Canto of the second book of Spenser’s Fairy Queen, and addressed to Sir Edward Stradlinge,” published in 1644, were written at that time. In France, Digby was received with respect and affection; for his talents, disposition, and conversation were peculiarly calculated to excite those feelings in that country. He passed great part of his time at the court of the Queen Dowager, and in the most polished society of Paris, but at the same time a large portion of it was devoted to study, for within a year after his arrival, he published his greatest work, “A Treatise of the Nature of Bodies, and a Treatise declaring the operations and nature of man’s soul, out of which the immortality of reasonable souls is evinced.”
In July, 1648, he lost his eldest son, Kenelm, in the royal cause at St Neot’s; shortly before which event he returned to England, and, after some difficulties, was, we are told, allowed to compound for his estate; but he was still too obnoxious to the Parliament to be permitted to remain, and the Commons passed a reflation that he should leave the kingdom, and that if he was afterward found within it, without leave of the House, he should forfeit both his estate and his life. Nor, it will be seen, were the suspicions entertained of his designs, without some foundation. He was again kindly received in France by Henrietta Maria, Queen of England, who had appointed him her Chancellor, a situation which he held until his death; and, book afterwards, he was sent by her Majesty into Italy on a mission to Pope innocent the Tenth* The favour with which his Holiness at first treated him was, according to Aubrey, soon lost, in consequence of the improper haughtiness and freedom which he displayed towards the Pontiff. He says, “he was mightily admired, but, after some time, he grew high and hectored at his Holiness, and gave him the lie. The Pope said he was mad.” Wood adds, that the cause of the quarrel was, that Digby “having made a collection of money for the afflicted Catholics in England, he was found to. be no faithful steward in that matter.” That there were many of Digby’s actions which seem to justify Innocent’s opinion of the state of his intellects, has been before hinted; but as it has been judiciously remarked, the charge of rudeness was ill suited to the general character of his temper and breeding, though, if his Holiness expressed the opinion of his integrity which Wood imputes to him, there can be no difficulty in believing that Digby would indignantly resent such an accusation. At other courts in Italy he was, however, treated with marked consideration, as well from his own merits as from respect to the Queen his mistress; and Lloyd asserts, that “of one of the Princes, whereof it is reported, that having no children, he was very willing his wife should bring him a Prince by Sir Kenelm, whom he imagined the just measure of perfection.”*
* Loyal Sufferers, p. 581.
Soon after Cromwell had dissolved the Long Parliament and assumed the supreme power, Digby returned to England, and, to the astonishment of all parties, acquired some share of the Protector’s confidence. This extraordinary connexion has, been at length explained; and there are good grounds for believing that he had long been engaged in the attempt to unite the Roman Catholics and the enemies of monarchy, in one common cause. Lord Byron, in a letter to the Marquess of Ormond, dated at Caen on the 1st of March, 1649 says, “Sir Kenelm Digby with some other Romanists, accompanied with one Watson, an Independent, who hath brought them papers from Fairfax, is gone for England to join the interests of all the English papists with that bloody party that murdered the King in the opposition and extirpation of monarchical government; or if that government be thought fit, yet that it shall be by election, and not by succession as formerly provided; that a free exercise of the Romish religion be granted, and of all other religions whatsoever, excepting that which was established by law in the church of England.” In the February preceding, Secretary Nicholas enclosed a letter from Dr. Winsted, a Catholic physician at Rouen, of which the following is an extract.
“Tuesday last arrived here Sir Kenelm Digby from Paris, with divers young gentlemen in his company; only there was a wry-necked fellow amongst them, which Sir Kenelm recommended to my acquaintance and care, as being, he said, in a consumption; and for that cure had changed the air and came into France, but was now going into England with an intention to return within sixteen or twenty days, and then would stay here or go into Languedoc for his health. Feeling his hand and pulse, I assured him that he was in no consumption, nor never had been. Afterward I perceived that this was but a pretence, and that he was an agent for that accursed crew, his name Watson, scout-master to the rebels. I spoke freely my mind of the murder and the judgment that was made here by the French; his answer was, that the French abhorred the fact in general. I spared no sin to curse the enemies of God and my King: 1 asked Sir Kenelm Digby why he would go now into England, considering the abomination of that country? His answer was, that he had not any means to subsist longer, and if he went not now, he must starve. I answered, it was the better choice to die, if he remembered the obligations he had to the Queen Regent of France, who took him from those that would have destroyed him. He answered, that the Queen Regent knew of his going, and t?that he had the King of France’s pass, and would return again suddenly. I next pressed him to stay two or three months: he replied, that by that time all his business would be settled. I desired him not to think to have from those at London any liberation; for that, for my part, I had rather live in exile all the days of my life, and suffer at Tyburn, than that my public liberty to serve God should spring from the bloody murderers of my sovereign.”
This design was probably the cause of the hostility of the Long Parliament toward Sir Kenelm, and to some extent, it explains the attention shewn to him by the Protector; whom, it may be inferred, he hoped to persuade into his wishes. Certain it is, however, that whatever might be the hopes he received from Cromwell, Digby professed to be devoted to his service; a fact not only manifested by the manner in which the Protector treated him whilst he was in England in 1655, but by a letter from Sir Kenelm to Secretary Thurloe, dated Paris, 18th of March, 1656, in which, after defending himself against the slander of a Sir Robert Welsh, he says, “that whatsoever may be disliked by my Lord Protector and the council of state, must be detested by me;” that his obligations to his Highness were so great, that it would be a crime in him to behave himself so negligently as to give cause for any shadow of the least suspicion, or to do any thing that might require an excuse or apology; and, after similar professions of attachment, he concludes, “my excuse is, that I should think my heart was not an honest one, if the blood about it were not warmed with any the least imputation upon my respects and my duty to his Highness, to whom I owe so much.”
Upon Digby’s conduct in this affair, it is requisite to say a few words. Mr. Lodge has execrated it in the strongest terms; and though he has imputed it to the true cause, “a fervid affection to his religious faith,” it is not altogether just to say, that that motive furnishes “no extenuation.” The treason, with which he charges him, ought rather to be proved than assumed; for it must first be inquired to whom was he treacherous? To his mistress the Queen? Certainly not; for in promoting the interests of the religion to which she was a bigot, there can be no doubt that he rendered her the most acceptable service; and so far from concurring in Kippis’s remark, that “it is very strange that it did not ruin him with the Queen Dowager.” the circumstance that he never lost her good opinion, tends to establish the idea that if he was not actually obeying her commands in this instance, he was, at least, acting under her sanction. The treachery then could only be to Charles the Second; but the religious tenets of that monarch differed but little from those of his mother, the only part of his proposition which could be offensive to his Majesty, was, that the monarchy should be elective rather than hereditary. In 1649, when the design is imputed to Digby, it is barely possible for him to have had any other idea than that the elected monarch should be the individual who possessed the hereditary right to the throne; hence he would appear to be availing himself of the only possible means which, at that time, presented themselves of restoring him: perhaps wisely deeming, that when once seated it would be an easy task to establish the ancient order of the succession. It is true that Digby’s subsequent favour with Cromwell, is not to be reconciled with such views respecting Charles, but it does not necessarily follow that all the motives ascribed to him by Lord Byron in 1649, continued to actuate him in 1655
Until the restoration. Sir Kenelm occupied himself in travelling to various parts of the Continent. He passed the summer of 1656 at Toulouse, and the next year we find him at Montpelier, where he went partly on account of his health, which was much impaired by severe fits of the stone, and partly because it contained several men of learning, to whom he read his treatise on the sympathetic powder and partook of all the enjoyments which a communication between the scientific and the learned seldom fails to produce. In 1658 and 1659, he was in different provinces of Lower Germany and particularly in the Palatinate, where, according to Sidney, who hated him, he passed by the name of Count Digby; but in l660 he was again in Paris, and in the next year returned to England. All his biographers admit that he was well received at Court, notwithstanding his conduct towards Cromwell was far from being a secret, a fact which powerfully supports the opinion that his real designs were not so inimical to the monarchical interest as has been supposed.
Digby did not long survive the Restoration, nor did he receive any political favours from the King, though he still enjoyed his office of Chancellor to his mother. On the incorporation of the Royal Society in 1663, he was nominated one of the Council, and, as long as his health permitted, was constant in his attendance at its meetings, and communicated several papers. At this time he resided at his house in Covent Garden,* and passed his life in the study of philosophy and mathematics, or in the conversation of those who like himself were ardently devoted to science, and “established those literary assemblies to which he had been accustomed in France, and which he seems first to have introduced into this country.”* Early in January 1665, he meditated a journey to Paris for the relief of his old disease, the stone, upon which occasion he made his will, but the disorder advanced too rapidly to allow of bis executing his intention, and he died in a violent paroxym on his birthday, the 11th of June 1665, having just completed his sixty-second year.
* Aubrey says, “the fair houses in Holborn, between King’s Street and Southampton Street (which broke off the continuance of them) were built about 1633 by Sir Kenelm, where he lived before the civil wars. Since the restoration of Charles II. he lived in the last fair house westward in the north portico of Covent Garden where my Lord Denzill, Holies, lived since. He had a laboratory there. I think he died in this house. — scd Qu.”
The contemporaries of Sir Kenelm Digby as well as posterity have paid unqualified homage to his genius and erudition: and whether contemplated as a philosopher, a theologician, an orator, a courtier, or a soldier, his exquisite talents are alike conspicuous. Endowed by nature with an understanding of great depth and versatility, he studied almost every branch of human science, and to whatever he gave his attention, he illustrated and adorned it. His philosophical speculations have survived the bickerings by which they were assailed; his solitary essay as a military commander was crowned with signal success; his eloquence is conspicuous in every production of his pen; and to the extent of his knowledge of divinity, his works on the subject bear ample testimony. The politeness for which he was eminent was not artificial, but arose from the only true source, an amiable disposition; and in an age distinguished above all others for political as well as polemical controversy, he has the enviable merit of having conveyed his arguments in language wholly free from bigotry and personal vituperation. But in the most comprehensive meaning of the term, Sir Kenelm Digby was a Gentleman. He understood and exercised all the duties which belong to that character; nor in the exuberance of the vanity in which he abounded, in the persecutions which he endured, or in the malice by which he was assailed, are we informed of one action of his life, with the exception of the conduct imputed to him by Aubrey towards the Pope, which it is highly improbable ever occurred, is one trace to be found of his having, even for a moment, forgotten what he owed to himself or to others. Besides the usual learned attainments and those abstruse pursuits in which he delighted, he was master of six languages, and was well skilled in the accomplishments of a cavalier of his times; but his merits are best summed up in the emphatic language of one of his contemporaries, “he was the magazine of all arts.” His person, like his mind, was of gigantic proportions, and Aubrey has recorded an anecdote illustrative of his strength, but a grace, as natural as it was inimitable, gave dignity to whatever he said or did, and conduct which would have been considered affectation in the generality of mankind, “was,” says Lord Clarendon, whose words will be cited, not on account of their elegance merely, but because he was no partial delineator, “marvellously graceful in him, and seemed natural to his size and mould of his person, to the gravity of his motion, and the tune of his voice and delivery.”
From so splendid a character we turn with regret to the darker shades by which it was accompanied. Digby’s faults were part and parcel of the mind he possessed. The usual attendants of genius, eccentricity, almost approaching to madness, vanity, and unsteadiness were frequently displayed in his opinions and conduct; but of the treachery and dishonour of which he has been accused, an attempt has been made to exonerate him, because they seem wholly incompatible with the uniform tenor of his life. Religious zeal is, it is true, a powerful excitement, and if he was really seduced by it into a neglect of his temporal obligations, there can be little doubt that the same aberration of judgment which he evinces in the following pages on the subject of female chastity, misled him upon the occasions in question. There is a wide distinction between the errors into which mankind are led by calculations of self-interest, and those into which they fall from the dictates of their honest but mistaken judgments; and if Digby failed in his allegiance to his sovereign, it is only the benefit of this distinction which is claimed for him. His notions of honour were undoubtedly sometimes false, but still they were his sincere sentiments, and he accordingly supported them by extraordinary and even romantic means. Of the vices of his age, the most serious which he shared was that of duelling, for according to his own statements he was engaged in several before he attained his twenty-third year, and in 1640 he fought another with Lord Mont le Ros. But before closing this imperfect summary of his character, there is one trait which perhaps proves him to have been endowed with a mind far beyond the period in which he lived, his ardent zeal not only for the acquisition, but for the diffusion of knowledge. He printed almost all which he wrote, and as we have seen, in his present to the University of Oxford, his only anxiety was that every facility should be given for the publication of the Manuscripts.
Allusion is made in the “Biographia Britannica,” to a “noble MS. which Sir Kenelm caused to be collected at the expense of a thousand pounds, as well out of private memorials as from public histories and records in the Tower and elsewhere, relating to the Digby family in all its branches, but not knowing where it is to be found,” &c. For the benefit of future biographers of the family it will be observed, that in 1766, Sir Joseph Ayloffe exhibited that volume to the Society of Antiquaries,* and that in 1794, it was in the possession of W. Williams of Pendedw in Wales, son of Richard Williams, Esq. whose first wife, but by whom he had no issue that survived, was a descendant of Sir Kenelm.†
* Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 64. part 2. p. 791, where it is fully described. See also, p. 918.
† Ibid. vol. 65. part 2. pp. 743. 840. 1077.
Many of his inedited letters are extant, though but few of them are in the British Museum. The MS. of his letter to Sir Edward Stradlinge relative to the “Fairy Queen,” is however in that repository, which also contains two other fragments on the same subject, his addresses to the Earl of Pembroke on Religion, some prayers, and other articles well worthy of the perusal of those who may wish to be acquainted with all his productions. The little volume in which they are preserved, the Harleian MS. No. 4153, is handsomely bound, and the minute observer of human motives will discover in the ornaments strong evidence of his affection for his wife; for though many of the pieces were written long after her decease, her arms are not only impaled with his own on the cover, but the book is stamped on the back with a junction of the letters K. V. and D. a trifling, but far more impressive proof of his regard for her memory than a volume of professions. Sir Kenelm Digby made his Will on the 9th of January, 16 Car. II. 1665, in which he styles himself “Sir Kenelm Digby, of Stoake Dry in the County of Rutland, Knight, Chancellor to Henrietta Maria Queen Dowager of England,” and mentions his intention of going to Paris for the cure of a malady. If he died in England he ordered his body to be buried in Christ Church, London, in his vault of black marble and copper, where his wife Dame Venetia was interred, and desired that no inscription should be placed on the tomb. He gave all his lands in the county of Hereford, “which he had lately purchased of the Duke of Buckingham,” in Huntingdonshire, and all others in England, France, or Frankfort on the Maine in Germany, to Charles Cornwallis of High Holborn in Middlesex, Esq. to be sold for the payment of his debts, and appointed his friends Sir Richard Lloyd of Denbigh, Knight, and John Austin of London, Gent. Overseers, and the said Charles Cornwallis, Esq. Executor of his Will. By a codicil dated on the 22nd May, 1665, he bequeathed to his friend and kinsman George Earl of Bristol, a burning glass; to his uncle Mr. George Digby of Sandon in Staffordshire, a horse or mare; and to his sister a mourning gown. His library being in France, became on his death the property of the French Monarch, under the droit d’aubaine. It was sold by the person to whom His Majesty gave it for 10,000 crowns, and was purchased by the Earl of Bristol. The following lines were written on Sir Kenelm Digby, by R.Ferrar, and which at least possess the merit of being free from unmerited adulation.
Under this tomb the matchless Digby lies,
Digby the great, the valiant, and the wise;
This age’s wonder for his noble parts,
Skill’d in six tongues, and learned in all the arts.
Born on the day he died, the eleventh of June,
And that day bravely fought at Scanderoon.
It’s rare that one and the same day should be
His day of birth, of death, of victory!
The descendants of Sir Kenelm Digby are easily traced. By Venetia Stanley he had three sons and one daughter, Margery, who married Edward Dudley of Clopton in Northamptonshire, Esq. The sons were:
I. Kenelm Digby, born 6th October, 1625, killed at St. Neots, on the 7th of July, 1648. He died unmarried.
III. Everard, born 12 January, 1629, died an infant.
IV. George, born 17 January, 1632, [query 1632–3.] but who appears to have died young.
John Digby, the second son, was born on the 29th December, 1627, and was twice married; first to Katherine daughter of Henry Earl of Arundel, who died childless; and secondly, to Margaret daughter of Sir Edward Longueville of Wolverton in Buckinghamshire, Bart, by whom he had two daughters, his co-heiresses; namely, Margaret Maria, who became the wife of Sir John Conway of Bodrythen in Flintshire, and Charlotte Theophilia, who married Richard Mostyn of Penbeddw in the same county, Esq. by whom she had several children, but her issue is extinct.
Lady Conway, besides a daughter Margaret who was the wife of Sir Thomas Longueville, Bart., had a son Henry Conway, who died in his father’s lifetime, leaving a sole daughter and heiress Honora, who married Sir John Glynne, Bart, by whom she had a large family. Their descendants are, however, fully treated of in Debrett’s Baronetage; hence it is only necessary to observe that Sir Stephen Glynne, Bart, the great grandson of Sir John Glynne and Honora Conway, is the present representative of Sir Kenelm Digby, and through Lady Venetia, of one branch of the illustrious houses of Stanley and Percy.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07