Gerald Curzon. Wotton and His Worlds:
Spying, Science, and Venetian Intrigues. Xlibris, 2004. 341pp. ISBN 1
4134 2512 7.
Sheffield Hallam University
Steggle, Matthew. Review of Gerald Curzon,
Wotton and His Worlds: Spying, Science, and Venetian Intrigues. Early Modern
Literary Studies 10.3 (January, 2005) 12.1-5<URL:
- Sir Henry Wotton (1568-1639) enjoyed a long and various career as poet,
courtier, diplomat, writer on architecture, and Provost of Eton. Before, during,
and after his three spells as British Ambassador in Venice, Wotton accumulated
an impressive list of friends, enemies, acquaintances, and correspondents,
including Essex, Bacon, Donne, Milton, and Izaak Walton. Gerald Curzon argues
in this biographical study that Wotton is particularly interesting as a channel
by which continental ideas on art, science, and architecture percolated from
Venice to London, and he highlights, in particular, Wotton's role in sending
the work of Galileo back to Britain.
- Curzon offers, in effect, an introductory survey of Wotton's life and times,
designed for readers who are not specialists in the period. As such, this
book is highly readable, well informed, and very detailed about its subject,
founded as it is on the large surviving body of letters from Wotton. The heart
of the book lies in the Venetian sections, and one of its major strengths
is that it gives a rounded sense of Wotton's cultural milieu there, and of
the constant interplay between religion and politics in the affairs of the
republic. Generous space is given to the careers of Paolo Sarpi, and of De
Dominis, Bishop of Spalato, both of whom intersected with Wotton as Wotton
pursued his quixotic goal of inducing the Republic of Venice to become Protestant.
It is good too on the new science. Himself a neuroscientist by training, Curzon
is particularly adept at communicating the intellectual excitement of Galileo's
ideas, and the varying ways in which science interacted with the religious
- The book is self-published via xlibris.com,
and occasionally this shows. A copy-editor would change the referencing style,
and pick up some minor factual errors. Curzon freely modernizes punctuation,
which is fine, but is generous in the use of em dashes, so that in his letters
De Dominis sounds like a breathless Jane Austen heroine. Presumably to save
space, verse is cited in two parallel columns, read across rather than down,
with the effect that "The Character of a Happy Life" appears at
first glance to be written in obscure couplets rather than limpid quatrains.
Such typographical glitches do not mean that this book is negligible. While
Curzon doesn't claim to have made any major archival breakthroughs, he is
able to synthesize almost 100 years of scholarship since the only previous
full-length book on Wotton, Logan Pearsall Smith's The Life and Letters
of Sir Henry Wotton (Oxford, 1907).
- The title of the book rather excludes Wotton's poetry, for which he is
now perhaps chiefly remembered. In some ways, this is reasonable enough, since
Wotton's oeuvre of lyric poetry is a slim one. And yet it includes not merely
"You meaner beauties of the night", but also "Dazzled thus
with height of place", "The Character of A Happy Life", and
the famous epigram:
He first deceas'd. She for a little tried
To live without him: lik'd it not and died. (258)
For all that Wotton's busy public career provides more than enough material
for a book, to have written four of the most widely anthologized of Renaissance
lyrics seems more than a fluke. If one finishes Wotton and his Worlds
hungry for more information on these particular poems and the others attributable
to Wotton, then that is perhaps no bad thing. Hopefully Curzon's book will
form the basis for more work on this pivotal but neglected figure of Renaissance
- The book is available in hardback, ISBN 1-4134-2513-5, £23; paperback,
ISBN 1-4134-2512-7, £14; from booksellers including Amazon, Waterstones,
Barnes & Noble.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may
be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
2005-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).