HOBBES, Thomas (1588-1679). Autograph letter signed ('Tho: Hobbes') to 'Edward Waller Gentilhomme Anglois à Calais', Rouen, 8 August 1645, one page, 4to, integral address leaf (slight waterstain at head, two small holes affecting a few letters, address leaf rubbed along fold marks and with seal tear). Provenance: by direct descent, Sotheby's, 18 December 1995, lot 106.
THE ONLY SURVIVING LETTER FROM HOBBES TO THE POET EDMUND WALLER (1606-1687), written whilst staying with his former pupil, William Cavendish, third Earl of Devonshire (1617-1684), expressing his delight in 'disputation' and his cautious reaction to Waller's desire to translate De cive. He first points out his reason for only giving Rouen as a direction -- Waller's son and nephew have already got fuller directions for writing to him there. He is enjoying having his 'odde opinions' tested in debate and counts on getting the better of his adversaries: 'I came hether to see my lord of Devonshire, but am no lesse in other Company then his; where I serve when I can be matched as a gladiator; My odde opinions are bayted. but I am contented with it, as beleeving I have still the better, when a new man is sett upon me; that knowes not my paradoxes, but is full of his own doctrine, there is something in the disputation not unpleasant.' Having spoken of himself, he wonders how Waller spends his time: 'I beleeve you passe much of yours in meditating how you may to your Contentment and without blame passe the seas.' If recent news [probably of the royalist defeats at Naseby in June and Langport in July] 'be true', he fears that 'other men' will be exiled. After letting the poet know that [Bridget,] Lady Kingsmill expects a letter from him, he mentions being told of Waller's 'inclination to put a booke Called de Cive into English. I can not hope it should have that honor, and yet now I thinke of it, the honor will come all to the English booke, when it is of your doing, but so will the envy also.'
Hobbes had lived in Paris since late 1640, publishing a private edition of De cive in 1642 with the aid of Marin Mersenne. Waller's view of why he did not eventually undertake the translation for Hobbes is given by John Aubrey: 'Mr. Waller freely promised him to doe it, but first he would desire Mr. Hobbes to make an Essaye; he (T.H.) did the first booke, and did it so extremely well, that Mr. Waller could not meddle with it, for that nobody els could doe it so well' (Brief Lives, ed. O.L. Dick, 1949, p. 310). In his letter Hobbes appears to good-humouredly decline Waller's overture on the grounds of artistic jealousy. As his remarks on 'disputation' show, he wanted to prove his his own powers as an intellectual 'gladiator'. However, the English translation that appeared in 1651 was not his but the unauthorised work of the young poet and angler, Charles Cotton (see Noel Malcolm, Aspects of Hobbes, Oxford, 2002, pp. 234-58).
Renowned as 'one of the first refiners of our English language and poetry' (Aubrey, Brief Lives, p. 308), Waller was also an MP, and in fact the only person to sit in the parliaments of both James I and James II. In May 1643 he and his brother-in-law, Nathaniel Tompkins, were involved in a plot to seize London for the King. Discovery of this had led to Tompkins's execution and Waller's imprisonment in the Tower. After an abject apology, the betrayal of his accomplices and payment of a fine of £10,000, he avoided death and instead went into exile in November 1644, living chiefly in Rouen and Paris until his return in 1652. In 1645 Hobbes was apparently directing the education of his son, Robert, and a nephew, probably the son of Nathaniel Tompkins. 1645 was also the year Waller's Poems first appeared. His political poetry was strongly influenced by Hobbes, particularly the 'Panegyrick' to Cromwell (1655), a kinsman. Yet he never praised the philosopher publicly, unlike Charles Cotton whose poem on Derbyshire, The Wonders of the Peake, contained a warm tribute.
Published in The Correspondence of Thomas Hobbes, edited by Noel Malcolm (Oxford, 1994, 2 vols., I, p. 124), and first printed and discussed in Philip R. Wikelund, '"Thus I Passe My Time in this Place": An Unpublished Letter of Thomas Hobbes', English Language Notes, VI (1968-69), pp. 263-68. The Correspondence includes 211 surviving letters to and from Hobbes (compared with the 3,656 letters of the Locke correspondence). Of the 72 letters actually written by Hobbes, almost half only survive as copies, and the present letter is almost unique in still being privately owned.