1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Howell, James
HOWELL, JAMES (c. 1594–1666), British author, who came of an old Welsh family, was born probably at Abernant, in Carmarthenshire, where his father was rector. From the free grammar school at Hereford he went to Jesus College, Oxford, and took his degree of B.A. in 1613. About 1616 he was steward in Sir Robert Mansell's glass-works in Broad Street, and was commissioned to go abroad to procure the services of expert workmen. It was not till 1622 that he returned, having visited Holland, France, Spain and Italy. With the intention of utilizing to better purpose his knowledge of continental languages and methods, he left the glass business and applied for a diplomatic post. Failing to obtain this, he was for a short time tutor in a nobleman's family. At the close of 1622 he was sent on a special mission to Madrid to obtain redress for the seizure of an English vessel, but, owing to the presence at the Spanish court of Prince Charles and the duke of Buckingham to arrange a marriage between the prince and the infanta of Spain, the negotiations had to be broken off. He made many friends among the pr1nce's retinue, and, after his return in 1624, applied for employment to the duke of Buckingham, but without success. In 1626 he became secretary to Lord Scrope, Lord President of the North at York, and retained the office under Scrope's successor, Thomas Wentworth. In 1627 he was elected M.P. for Richmond, in 1632 he was sent as secretary to the embassy of the earl of Leicester to Denmark; and in 1642 the king appointed him one of the clerks of the privy council. In 1643 he was committed to the Fleet prison by the parliament, according to his own account, on suspicion of royalist leanings, or, as Anthony à Wood says, for debt. Whatever the reason, he remained in prison until 1651. He had acquired considerable fame by his allegorical δενδρολογία: Dodona's Grove, or the Vocall Forest, published in 1640, and his Instructions for Forreine Travell (1642), which has been described as the first continental handbook; and now he was driven to maintain himself by his pen. He edited and supplemented (1650) Cotgrave's French and English dictionary, compiled Lexicon Tetraglotton, or an English, French, Italian and Spanish Dictionary (London, 1660), translated various works from Italian and Spanish, wrote a life of Louis XIII and issued a number of political pamphlets, varying the point of view somewhat to suit the changes of the time. Among these tracts may be mentioned a rather malicious Perfect Description of the People and Country of Scotland, which was revived by John Wilkes and printed in the North Briton during the agitation directed against Lord Bute. In 1660 he asked for the place of clerk of the privy council; and, though this was not granted him, the post of historiographer royal was created for him. In 1661 he applied for the office of tutor in foreign languages to the infanta Catherine of Braganza, and in 1662 published an English Grammar translated into Spanish. He was buried in the Temple Church on the 3rd of November 1666, having realized to the last his favourite motto, “ Senesce non segnesco."
All Howell's writings are imbued with a certain simplicity and quaintness. His elaborate allegories are forgotten; his linguistic labours, of value in their time, are now superseded, but his Letters, the Epistolae Ho-elianae (four volumes issued in 1645, 1647, 1650 and 1655), are still models of their kind. Their dates are often fictitious, and they are, in nearly every case, evidently written for publication. Thackeray said that the Letters was one of his bedside books. He classes it with Montaigne and says he scarcely ever tired of “ the artless prattle " of the “ priggish little clerk of King Charles's council.”
The Epistolae have been frequently edited, notably by J. Jacobs in 1890, with a commentary (1891), and Agnes Repplier (1907).