Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Historical and Political Writings > The Life of William Cavendish, duke of Newcastle
  The Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson Bulstrode Whitelocke  

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

IX. Historical and Political Writings.

§ 24. The Life of William Cavendish, duke of Newcastle.


The only royalist commander who played an important part in the civil war and of whom a contemporary biography remains to us was not less fortunate than colonel Hutchinson in the fact that this record is from the hand of his wife. The Life of William Cavendish, duke of Newcastle, too, may be regarded as one of the lesser classics of English biographical literature, and contains, like its counterpart, a supplementary True Relation of the Birth, Breeding and Life of his faithful companion in adversity as well as in prosperity. It is true that many different estimates have been formed by different critics of the literary claims of Margaret, duchess of Newcastle, who, as became a loyal wife, has left behind her a biography of her husband which may be described as ample, but only a brief relation of what was personal to herself. Among her contemporaries, at a season when the university of Cambridge was prostrating itself in corpore before both their graces, Pepys confided to his cipher that the writer of this biography was “a mad, conceited, ridiculous woman,” and the duke “an ass to suffer her to write what she writes to him and of him”—for her literary monument to her husband, singularly enough, was erected during his lifetime. One the other hand, Charles Lamb said of the book that “no casket is rich enough, no casing sufficiently durable, to honour and keep such a jewel,” and indulged in other paradoxes of praise with regard to the letters  36  of “that princely woman, the thrice noble Margaret Newcastle.” Her “output,” if such a phrase be permissible, amounts to thirteen volumes in print besides a great deal more in manuscript and what is accessible to posterity in prose or verse, and in most known species of either—dramatic, narrative, didactic and, above all, aphoristic—reveals, with much queer philosophy and other eccentric cleverness, not a little genuine mother-wit and occasional felicity of gnomic phrase. She cherished a scorn, which she did not care to conceal, for any fetters upon the most active part of her nature, her mind; and, though she had what might be called “anti-suffragist” leanings, she confessed that in all things, from essays in natural philosophy and plays in which she ignored Aristotle to mere “accoutrements of habits,” originality was her foible as well as her forte. Thus, while she illustrates the force of natural talent, however thinly beaten out, and the irresistible impulse of the pen,  37  she proves even more signally the value of that orderly training which she never underwent and openly contemned.   49
  But it is only the biography of her husband and the devotion which it displays that have secured her the niche which she occupies among the unforgotten writers of her age. The first duke of Newcastle, who played a prominent part in the great civil war, who bore himself gallantly till his withdrawal to the continent after Marston moor and who sacrificed a vast fortune for the king’s cause, was a most honourable and accomplished,  38  but far from extraordinary, man; in fact, he was manifestly born to be master of the horse, though Monck deprived him of that phase of greatness. In his life, as in that of his wife, there was much moral dignity, and in her personality, as it stands forth from her brief autobiography, there was something which, if less than heroic, is more than merely attractive. The fortunate conformity of tastes and dispositions between the pair, enabled them to weather bravely the protracted storm and, in the end, cheered the rural solitude to which they were relegated by a callous sovereign. The duchess, to alter slightly her own words, “had been bred to elevated thoughts, not to a dejected spirit; her life was ruled with honesty, attended by modesty, and directed by truth.” These qualities give a charm to her portraiture of herself and her husband from which all her vanities and oddities of thought and style glance off harmlessly; and if literature, arduously as she pursued it, was to her only a noble diversion, it was, nevertheless, an organic part of a noble life.   50

Note 36. No doubt The ccxi Sociable Letters (1664). [ back ]
Note 37. “That little wit I have, it delights me to scribble it out and to disperse it about,” Autobiography, p. 307. [ back ]
Note 38. Though hardly, as his wife calls him (Life, ed. Firth, p. 201), “the best lyric and dramatic poet of his age.” [ back ]

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  The Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson Bulstrode Whitelocke  
 
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