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MR. D'ISRAELI'S CURIOSITIES OF LITERATURE, &c.
Cork, February, 1846.
MR. D'ISRAELI, in his article on "Poetical Imitations," (Curiosities of Literature, page 205, ed. 1841,) is, as usual, entertaining and instructive. The value of the work is abundantly attested by its multiplied editions, but, indeed, too many of the anecdotes are accepted without critical discrimination, on very slender authority. Of course, in so varied and extensive an assemblage of assumed facts, some historical errors would not be of difficult detection; but one has rather surprised me. At page 173, "on the Death of Charles IX.," whose reign stands prominent in the records of crime, as stained with the massacre of 1572, he quotes the Chronicler Cayet's report of the King's last moments, when "the Queen-mother sent for the Duke of Alençon," &c. This Duke, Mr. D'Israeli says, "was afterwards Henry III.," whereas, in fact, Henry III. was then King of, and resident in, Poland, which he promptly abandoned on information of his brother's decease, and succeeded, by seniority of birth, to the French throne. Alençon (François de Valois,) was one of our Elizabeth's numerous wooers, though twenty
years her junior; but he never wore the crown, having pre-deceased Henry, who was succeeded, on the extinction of the Valois dynasty, by Henry IV., the patriarch of the Bourbons, both of the elder and junior branches.
At page 354, Mr. D'Israeli disclaims for Hudibras "a single passage of indecent ribaldry," while, in truth, there are numbers which no one durst read in female society. The venerable author's view must have been somewhat dimmed, his judgment warped, or his charity of construction misapplied, when he could thus pronounce free from impeachment and innocent of all offence to delicate ears, a volume teeming with proofs that negative the bold assertion. He must have overlooked the verses 282, 456, and 832 of the first canto; 34 and 234 of the second; 815, 826, and 828 of the third; 347, 416, 710, and 883 of the fourth; and 216-773, of the sixth canto, without proceeding further in the unseemly enumeration.
Several other inadvertencies attracted my notice in this curious repository of anecdotes; but I certainly did not expect from the author's classical pen such grammatical faults as at page 425, (second column,) where we have "The Huguenots ............ declaring that they were only fighting to release the King, whom they asserted was a prisoner of the Guises ;" and at page 483, second column,) "The real editor, who we must presume to be the poet," &c. Here, it is obvious that, in the first paragraph, we should read who, and in the second whom. Albertus Magnus, I may add, never wrote a line of the work imputed to him in page 480, "De Secretis Mulierum;" while the imposition stated to have been attempted on the
bibliographer Debure, at page 485, has, it seems, been more successful on Mr. D'Israeli himself, betrayed, as he has suffered himself to be, into the belief of its truth, while wholly fallacious.* And I must observe that, in the article, at page 500, on “Elective Monarchies," where so signal a part is assigned to the French Envoy, Montluc, our author does not appear aware of this personage's most singular adventures. They are incidentally alluded to in the preceding pages of our present volume, from 33 to 38; and, as a remarkable member, no edifying one indeed, of the Dominican Order, he may be aggregated to those mentioned in the Gentleman's Magazine, for Decem ber last, page 592, associating with him, as a redeeming name, the admirable Las Casas.
These various remarks are the result of a very cursory insight of Mr. D'Israeli's work, which, by a
*This relates to the once famous volume, "De Tribus Impostoribus," of which the history, in the words of Mr. D'Israeli, is curious. The Duke de la Vallière and the Abbé St. Leger, are said to have manufactured and printed a book with that title, in the old gothic type, in order to mystify Debure, who, however, at once detected the cheat. But the fact is, as I ascertained from the Debure family, no such attempt at deception was ever made by the Duke or Abbé, and the whole story was an idle fiction, of which D'Israeli alone was the dupe. The most eminent book collector of the period was the duke, and his chief agent was Debure, whose brother sold the nobleman's magnificent library in 1783, at auction. In the second volume of La Monnoye's additions to the Ménagiana, will be found a long "Dissertation sur le prétendu Livre des Trois Imposteurs," proving its non-existence, at that time, though a forgery, bearing that title, was subsequently, but, of course, clandestinely printed, by Straubius, it is known, at Vienna, in 1753, 8vo., containing 46 pages, with the date of MDIIC., (1598.) It had long been attributed to the German Emperor, Frederick II., or his Chancellor, Pièrre des Vignes, chiefly, it is supposed, in consequence of the Pope, Gregory Ninth's, address to the other sovereigns against this emperor, in 1239, wherein the Pontiff says-"Iste princeps pestilentiæ a tribus Baratoribus, ut ejus verbis utamur, scilicet Christo Jesu, Moyse, et Machometo, totum mundum fuisse deceptuon, asseveravit." This, in truth, was the only groundwork for the supposed existence of the book.
regretted mischance, had never, until lately, fallen into my hands. What, however, I would most reprove is the respected writer's implicit confidence in unpublished documents, which, surely, are much less to be relied on, except withheld for special reasons, as doubtless often occurs, than those at once deemed worthy of impression. Other explorers in these fields of research, both here and on the Continent, are open more or less to the same charge-" Omne ignotum pro magnifico est," as Tacitus (Agricola, xxx,,) makes Galgacus say; and productions, long concealed or unknown, are indiscriminately invoked as unerring vouchers of facts.
But allowing myself digressively to pass for moment to another writer, one instance, or rather two, of misstatement, which have similarly fallen under my immediate view, I reluctantly notice, because they occur in an author of deserved celebrity. Mr. Prescott, in his History of the Conquest of Mexico, (vol. i., page 192,) writes, "With all his faults, Ximenes was a Spaniard, and the object he had at heart was the good of his country It was otherwise on the arrival of Charles V............ His manners, sympathies, and even his language, were foreign, for he spoke the Castilian with difficulty. He knew little of his native country, of the character of the people, or their institutions," &c. But Charles, as must be known to every tyro in reading, was a native of Ghent, in Flanders, not of Spain, on which he never set a foot until aged sixteen, and to which he was allied only by his maternal descent. And subsequently at page 208, after fixing the birth of his hero, Cortes, in 1485, he subjoins in a note, "I find no more
precise notice of the date, except, indeed, by Pizzarro y Orellano, who tells us that Cortes came into the world the same day that the infernal beast, the false heretic Luther, went out of it." The mistake here, in some way or other, is most glaring; for Luther went out of the world in 1546, more than sixty years after the great conqueror came into it. Their births, indeed, were more coincident (1485-1483) and probably that, though by no means exact, was the Spanish writer's intention to express. Thus the error may be in the translation-in itself, at all events, it is flagrant; and, that it should have escaped the literary friend who, in consequence of Mr. Prescott's defective vision, revised the work, is extraordinary. In the Quarterly Review, No. 145, these anachronisms are unadverted to in an article on the work. In that periodical a classical inadvertence should not have passed uncorrected (Article on Voyages to the North Pole.) The well-known line of Lucan, descriptive of Cæsar's activity, "Nil actum credens dum quid superesset agendum, (Pharsalia, lib. ii., 657,) is attributed to Juvenal, and credens transformed to reputans. Grotius has remarked that the Emperor Justinian had adopted the words of Lucan in the Pandects, lib. xi.—“ De his quibus ut indignis," &c., where we read, “Nihil enim credimus actum, dum aliquid addendum superest."
(See the Florentine edition, Digestorum seu Pandectarum, 1553, tome i., and Gibbon, chap. 45.)
Allow me also, Mr. Urban, to submit to your readers a few observations on Mr. D'Israeli's "Amenities of Literature," in fit connexion with the preceding work, while I may, I know, anticipate your oft-tried indulgence, should I be seduced by any collateral association