James Howell, Letters


1. Letter to Mr. Richard Altham at Gray's Inn, From Venice

Gentle Sir,

--O dulcior illo
Melle quod in ceris Attica ponit apis.

O thou who dost in sweetness far excel
That juice the Attic bee stores in her cell.

My Dear Dick,

I have now a good while since taken footing in Venice, this admired maiden city, so called because she was never deflowered by any enemy since she had a being, nor since her Rialto was first erected, which is now above twelve ages ago.

I protest unto you at my first landing I was for some days ravished with the high beauty of this maid, with her lovely countenance. I admired her magnificent buildings, her marvelous situation, her dainty smooth neat streets, whereon you may walk most days in the year in a silk stocking and satin slippers, without soiling them, nor can the streets of Paris be so foul as these are fair. This beauteous maid hath been often attempted to be vitiated; some have courted her, some bribed her, some would have forced her, yet she has still preserved her chastity entire; and though she hath lived so many ages, and passed so many shrewd brunts, yet she continueth fresh to this very day, without the least wrinkle of old age or any symptoms of decay, whereunto political bodies, as well as natural, use to be liable. Besides she hath wrestled with the greatest potentates upon earth. The Emperor, the King of France, and most of the other prices of Christendom, in that famous league of Cambray, would have sunk her; but she bore up still within her lakes, and broke that league to pieces by her wit. The Grand Turk hath been often at her, and though he could not have his will of her, yet he took away the richest jewel she wore in her coronet and put it in his turban--I mean the kingdom of Cyprus, the only royal gem she had; he hath set upon her skirts often since, and though she closed with him sometimes, yet she came off still with her maidenhead, though some that envy her happiness would brand her to be of late times a kind of concubine to him, and that she gives him ready money once a year to lie with her, which she minceth by the name of present, though it be indeed rather a tribute.

I would I had you here with a wish, and you would not desire in haste to be at Gray's Inn, though I hold your walks to be the pleasantest place about London; and that you have there the choicest society. I pray present my kind commendations to all there, and service at Bishopsgate Street, and let me hear from you by the next post. --So I am, entirely yours,


Venice, 5 June 1621


To My Brother, Master Hugh Penry


I thank you for your late letter, and the several good tidings sent me from Wales. In requital I can send you gallant news, for we have now a most noble new Queen of England, who in true beauty is beyond the long-wooed Infanta, for she was of a fading flaxen hair, big-lipped, and somewhat heavy-eyed; but this daughter of France, this youngest branch of Bourbon (being but in her cradle when the great Henry her father was put out of the world) is of a more lovely and lasting complexion, a dark brown; she hath eyes that sparkle like stars, and for her physiognomy she may be said to be a mirror of perfection. She had a rough passage in her transfretation to Dover Castle, and in Canterbury the king bedded first with her. There were a goodly train of choice ladies attended her coming upon the bowling-green on Barham Downs, upon the way, who divided themselves into two rows, and they appeared like so many constellations; but methought that the country ladies outshined the courtiers. She brought over with her two hundred thousand crowns in gold and silver as half her portion, and the other moiety is to be paid at the year's end. Her first suite of servants (by article) are to be French, and as they die English are to succeed. She is also allowed twenty-eight ecclesiastics of any order except Jesuits, a bishop for her almoner, and to have private exercise of her religion for her and her servants.

I pray convey the enclosed to my father by the next conveniency, and pray present my dear love to my sister. I hope to see you at Dyvinnock about Michaelmas, for I intend to wait upon my father, and will take my mother in the way; I mean Oxford. In the interim I rest your most affectionate brother,


London, 16 May 1626



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(copyright: Seventeenth-Century Prose and Poetry, 2nd ed., Witherspoon and Warnke)