Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Blount, Henry
BLOUNT, Sir HENRY (1602–1682), traveller, third son of Sir Thomas Pope Blount, was born at Tittenhanger, Hertfordshire, 15 Dec. 1602. He was educated at the free school of St. Albans, and, having shown an unusual quickness of parts, was entered as a gentleman commoner at Trinity College, Oxford, in 1616, before he had reached his fourteenth year. In 1618 he took his degree of B.A., and in the following year left Oxford, where, for his wit, easy address, and entertaining conversation, he was considered as promising a genius as any in the university. Thence he went to Gray's Inn, where he applied himself to the study of the law with great assiduity. It was, doubtless, during this period that he undertook his earlier travels, ‘viewing Italy, France, and some little of Spain.’ On 7 May 1634 he left Venice in a Venetian galley on his well-known voyage to the Levant. First touching at Rovigno in Istria, he proceeded to Zara, sailed down the Adriatic, and landed at Spalatro in Dalmatia; thence he crossed the Dinaric Alps, and descended into the plains of Bosnia, and arrived at Serajevo, the capital, after a journey of nine days. Departing thence with the Turkish troops proceeding to the war in Poland, he arrived at Valievo in Servia. Three days later he reached Belgrade, on the Danube. Proceeding by way of Nissa to Sophia in Bulgaria, he notices for the first time the ‘mescheetos,’ or mosques, the well-known signs of the presence of the Turk in Europe. Crossing the Balkans he stayed two days at Potarzeek (Tartar Bazardjik) in order to read his Cæsar. Here he allowed himself to be persuaded by a learned Jew that he was in the immediate neighbourhood of the true Thermopylæ. Thence he journeyed by way of Philippoli to Adrianople, finally reaching Constantinople after a land journey of 1,500 miles in fifty-two days. Here he stayed five days, and observed little beyond the ravages of the great fire of the previous year (1633). Taking passage in the Turkish fleet bound for Egypt, he visited Rhodes, where he noted the huge cannon made for P. d'Aubusson, a former grand master of the knights there. Three days later he arrived at Alexandria; thence he reached Cairo by water in five days, finally taking up his quarters in the house of a Venetian gentleman, Signor Santo Seghezzi, at Bulak, the river harbour of the city of the Khalifs. Of all the antiquities of Egypt he chiefly sought to understand the Tables of Isis. In this he failed, the three Egyptian priests to whom he was introduced (probably Copts) ‘being ignorant of all things not Mahometan.’ His two principal excursions were to the interior of the great pyramid of Gîzeh, and to the Labyrinth in the Fayûm, which mass of buildings he regarded as the remains of ‘some regall palace.’ Leaving Cairo in November, he took passage on board a French vessel at Alexandria, bound for Palermo. Re-embarking at Trepassi for Naples, he returned, viâ Rome, Florence, and Bologna, to Venice, where he arrived after eleven months, having journeyed above six thousand miles. The publication of his (1) ‘Voyage to the Levant’ at once established his fame both as an author and a traveller. Between 1636 and 1671 it passed through no less than eight editions in English, besides a German one in 1687. It is also to be found in the collections of Van-der-Aaa in Dutch, Churchill, Osborne, and Pinkerton. The only remaining pieces that can be ascribed to him with certainty are (2) a letter on the merits of a whalebone instrument called a provang, and upon the virtues of coffee and tobacco, prefixed to the ‘Organon Salutis’ by his legal friend Walter Rumsey, Lond. 1657, and (3) a Latin fragment, ‘De Anima,’ preserved to us in the ‘Oracles of Reason’ of his gifted son Charles Blount [q. v.] Anthony à Wood is in error in ascribing to him the ‘Sixe Court Comedies,’ by John Lyly, and the ‘Exchange Walk;’ the former was published by Edward Blount [q. v.], the stationer and joint publisher with Jaggard of the first folio Shakespeare; the latter is, in all probability, a blundering reference to the ‘Exchange Ware,’ a dialogue acted at Cambridge, the second edition of which appeared in 1615.
On 21 March 1639–40 Blount was knighted at Whitehall by Charles I. In the civil wars he sided with the royalists, and attended the king at York, Edgehill, and at Oxford as one of the gentlemen pensioners. He was appointed on commissions on several occasions: on 20 Jan. 1651 to regulate abuses of the law, again on 1 Nov. 1655, on the trade and navigation of the Commonwealth, and once again on trade after the Restoration, 18 Oct. 1669. From this period until his death he appears to have lived in retirement at Tittenhanger, whence he circulated among his many friends the following: ‘I am glad to hear it was reported that I was dead, but give God thanks that I am in good health.’ His character has been variously estimated by different writers. Gildon, who edited the collected works of his son Charles Blount [q. v.], regarded him as ‘the Socrates of his age;’ on the other hand, the orthodox Weldon set him down as a ‘sceptic philosopher,’ whose adventures were written with a purpose. The truth seems to be that although apparently wanting in several qualities of a good traveller, he combined with a sturdy independence of thought keen powers of observation of men and manners. The modern flavour of the latter is quite refreshing. Speaking of the new palaces that were being built in and near Cairo during his sojourn in Egypt, he writes that they are those ‘of Turkes and such Egyptians as most engage against their own country, and so flourish in its oppression’ (p. 210). He died at Tittenhanger, 9 Oct. 1682, at the ripe age of eighty years, and was buried two days later at Ridge. His portrait was engraved by Loggan in 1679.[Wotton's Eng. Baronetage, 1741–3, pt. 2, 663; Granger's Biog. Hist. of Eng., 1775, iv. 76; Biog. Brit. (Kippis), 1780, p. 1177; T. Warton's Life of Sir T. Pope, 1780, p. 207; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss); Cussan's Hist. of Herts, Hund. of Cashio, 1881, p. 28; Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Report, Appendix 196 b, 1876.]