Gentili, Robert (DNB00)

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GENTILI, ROBERT (1590–1654?), infant prodigy, scapegrace, and translator, eldest son of Alberico Gentili [q. v.], was born in London 11 Sept. 1590, and was named after his godfather the Earl of Essex. He was educated in accordance with a theory that the youthful mind is better developed by conversation than by set study. Having always talked with his father in Latin, and with his mother in French, he could speak both languages, besides English, when seven years old. A few months afterwards he had been taken by the same method through the Eclogues of Virgil. In 1599, at the age of nine, he was matriculated at Christ Church, and in 1603 took the degree of B.A. as a member of Jesus College. In the following year he was at St. John's, and on the nomination of Laud, then proctor, held the now obsolete university office of ‘collector,’ but was unfortunately dissuaded from publishing an account of his experiences in that capacity. One of the plans of Alberico for pushing the boy's fortunes was to allow him to dedicate in his own name several of his father's works to persons of influence. The illegal intrusion of Robert into a fellowship was less defensible. Alberico, finding that the boy was not making progress in his classical studies, set to work to procure his election to a law vacancy which had occurred at All Souls. For more than two years the college resisted alike letters from King James and representations from Archbishop Bancroft as to Robert's ‘extraordinary forwardness,’ on the ground that he had not reached the statutable age. Alberico wrote a learned argument to show that to enter upon one's seventeenth year was equivalent to completing it (Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 12504), and, the appointment having lapsed to Bancroft as visitor, Robert was, on his nomination, admitted early in 1607 to be a probationer-fellow. His conduct was such as bitterly to disappoint the expectations of his parents, as appears from expressions in the wills of both, and in letters from his uncle Scipio, to whom he paid a visit at Altdorf in 1609. He was nicknamed at Oxford ‘the king of the beggars,’ and the archbishop was once obliged to summon him to Lambeth to answer for misbehaviour in college. In 1612 he took the degree of B.C.L., but in the same year resigned his fellowship, and disappears from view for a quarter of a century. He seems to have received some assistance from the king. A small annuity left to him by his mother, on condition that he should ‘change no religion and come not to this country,’ was revoked on his return to England in 1637, although he was then, according to some accounts, ‘multum reformatus.’ ‘Alice, wife of Robert Gentilis,’ had been buried in 1619 at St. Bride's, Fleet Street, but he married on 4 Jan. 1638, as a ‘bachelor,’ at St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, Mary, widow of Richard Simpson, and set to work to execute the following translations, all for Humphrey Mosely, of St. Paul's Churchyard, after the date of the last of which he is no more traceable: 1. ‘The History of the Inquisition, composed by the Rev. Father Paul Servita,’ London, 1639, 4to (reprinted in Sir Nathaniel Brent's ‘Translation of the History of the Council of Trent,’ folio, 1620, 1676). 2. ‘The Antipathy between the French and the Spaniard,’ otherwise entitled ‘The Frenchman and the Spaniard, or the Two Great Lights of the World,’ &c., London, 1641, 1642, 12mo (dedicated by Robert Gentili to Sir Peter Pindar, with a promise, ‘ere long, to present you with something which shall be mine own invention’). 3. ‘The Success and Chief Events of the Monarchy of Spain, by Malvezzi,’ London, 1647, 12mo. 4. ‘Considerations on the Lives of Alcibiades and Coriolanus, by Malvezzi,’ London, 1650, 12mo (dedicated to the daughter of Thomas, earl of Strafford, ‘as a small token of the manifold obligements whereto I am everlastingly tied to you’). 5. ‘The Natural and Experimental Historie of Winds,’ &c., by the Right Hon. Francis, lord Verulam, &c., London, 1653, 12mo. 6. ‘Le Chemin Abrégé, or a Compendious Method for attaining of Sciences,’ London, 1654, 12mo, dedicated to John Selden. There is no positive clue to the authorship of this work, which contains ‘the statutes of the academy in the city of Richelieu.’

[State Papers, Dom. James I; D'Orville MSS. in Bodl. Lib.; Archives of All Souls' College; A. Clark's Register of the Univ. of Oxford; dedications prefixed by Robert Gentili to his own and to several of his father's works; D. G. Morhof's Polyhistor, t. i. l. ii. c. 9, § 3.]

T. E. H.