Cavendish, George (DNB00)

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CAVENDISH, GEORGE (1500–1561?), biographer of Wolsey, was the elder son of Thomas Cavendish, clerk of the pipe in the exchequer, who married the daughter and heiress of John Smith of Padbrook Hall in Suffolk. In 1524 his father died, and soon afterwards he married Margery, daughter of William Kemp of Spains Hall in Essex, and niece of Sir Thomas More. In 1526 or 1527 he entered the service of Cardinal Wolsey as gentleman-usher, ‘abandoning,’ as Wolsey said, ‘his own country, wife, and children, his own house and family, his rest and quietness, only to serve me.’ From this time to Wolsey's death he was in close attendance upon him and accompanied him in his embassy to France, about which he gives many curious particulars. When Wolsey lost the royal favour Cavendish stayed with him, and he gives a full account of the life of the great cardinal in his adversity. He was with him when he died at Leicester, and after his funeral went to London, where he was questioned before the privy council about Wolsey's last words. The Duke of Norfolk bore witness in his behalf: ‘This gentleman both justly and painfully served the cardinal, his master, like a just and diligent servant.’ Henry VIII rewarded him by giving him six of Wolsey's best cart horses, with a cart to carry his stuff, and five marks for his costs homewards, also ten pounds of unpaid wages, and twenty pounds for a reward. With this Cavendish, in 1530, returned to his home at Glemsford in Suffolk, where he lived a quiet life. He had no further desire to try his fortunes at court. He laid to heart the lesson of Wolsey's fall, and eschewed ambition. He was attached to the old faith, and looked on with misgivings at the changes of the later years of Henry VIII. In the reign of Mary he was cheered by a ray of hope, and set to work to write down his remembrances of the master whom he loved, but whose career had served to him as a warning against the vanity of human endeavour. Internal evidence shows that his ‘Life of Wolsey’ was written in 1557; but it was not published, for the accession of Elizabeth brought forth changes, and it was dangerous to publish a work which necessarily spoke of disputed questions and reflected on persons who were still alive. Cavendish was contented to regard himself as one who had failed in life. He saw his younger brother, William [q. v.], succeeding and growing prosperous, while he himself grew poorer. In 1558 he granted his manor of Cavendish Overhill to his son William, a London mercer, for 40l. a year; his grandson, William, sold it in 1569. From this time the record of the family is lost. It followed the example of its ancestor and fell into decay. Cavendish himself died in 1561 or 1562.

Cavendish's work, the ‘Life of Cardinal Wolsey,’ long remained in manuscript. Extracts from it were inserted by Stowe in his ‘Annals.’ In 1641 was published for party purposes a garbled text under the title of ‘The Negotiations of Thomas Woolsey, the great Cardinall of England, composed by one of his own servants, being his gentleman-usher.’ This edition was reprinted with slight changes of title in 1667 and 1706, and in the ‘Harleian Miscellany,’ 1744–6. Grove, in his ‘History of the Life and Times of Cardinal Wolsey’ (1742–4), republished the same text, but, finding his mistake, issued a few copies from the manuscript in 1761. It was edited from two manuscripts in the Lambeth Library by Wordsworth in his ‘Ecclesiastical Biography’ in 1810; and more completely by Singer, ‘Cavendish's Life of Cardinal Wolsey,’ 1815, 2nd edition 1827. Singer's text was reproduced by Professor H. Morley in a volume of the ‘Universal Library,’ 1885. Many manuscripts are in existence, and the book had a large circulation before it was committed to the press.

For a long time there was some uncertainty about the authorship, whether it was the work of George Cavendish or of his better known brother, William [q. v.] The question was settled in 1814, by Rev. Joseph Hunter of Bath, in a pamphlet, ‘Who wrote Cavendish's Life of Wolsey?’ which is reprinted in vol. ii. of Singer's edition. Hunter proved satisfactorily by internal evidence that George, not William, Cavendish was Wolsey's usher, and consequently author of the book. William Cavendish's eldest son was born in 1534, so that he could not have left wife and children to enter Wolsey's service; also he died in 1557, before the book was finished. The general character of the book does not fit in with the prosperity of William Cavendish's career. It is the production of a refined, pious, and gentle nature, which looks back over many years of quiet melancholy upon a period when he too had borne a part in great affairs. The view of Wolsey taken by Cavendish is substantially the same as that of Shakespeare, and it is by no means improbable that Shakespeare had read Cavendish in manuscript. Cavendish writes with the fullest admiration for Wolsey and sympathy with his aims; but reflection has taught him the pathetic side of all worldly aims. He admits Wolsey's haughtiness, his ‘respect to the honour of his person rather than to his spiritual profession,’ but this does not diminish his personal affection or destroy the glamour of the cardinal's glory. The picture which Cavendish draws of Wolsey is most attractive, and recalls vividly the impression which he produced in his own time. The refinement, the simplicity, the genuine goodness of the writer is present at every page. The fulness of portraiture, the clearness of personal details, the graceful description, the reserve shown in drawing from memories of a time long past and outlived, give the book a distinction of its own, and place it high among English biographies.

Besides the ‘Life of Wolsey,’ Singer publishes, from a manuscript in the Douce collection, some poems of George Cavendish which he calls ‘Metrical Visions.’ They are written in the style of Skelton, after the fashion of the ‘Mirrour for Magistrates,’ and represent the lamentations of fallen favourites bemoaning their errors. The poems are rough and halting. If they are the production of George Cavendish, he certainly had no claims to rank as a poet.

[The Cavendish family is dealt with in a paper by G. T. Ruggles in the Archæologia, xi. 50, &c., ‘The Manor of Cavendish in Suffolk.’ All that is known of George Cavendish is collected by Hunter in his pamphlet above mentioned; a good account of the fortunes of his book is given by Professor Morley in the preface to his edition.]

M. C.