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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

VIII. Historical and Political Writings

§ 2. Thurloe’s State Papers

The most important body of authentic materials for the history of both the domestic and the foreign policy of Oliver Cromwell, is the Collection of the State Papers of secretary John Thurloe (1616–68), which extends from the year 1649 to the restoration, with the addition of some papers belonging to the last eleven years of Charles I. Against Thurloe, an “antidote,” if it is to be so called, was posthumously supplied in the important collection known as the Clarendon State Papers preserved in the Bodleian and calendared in three volumes. The first of these volumes, which reaches to the year 1649, deals, to a great extent, with documents collected for the use of Clarendon when he was writing the earlier books of his History of the Rebellion, together with his own letters and the correspondence of his secretary Edgeman. The second volume is concerned with copies of Charles II’s disguised correspondence with members of the royal family and royalists in England, and a series of news-letters addressed to Edgeman by Richard Watson, an ejected fellow of Caius college, and a similar series sent from London to Sir Edward Nicholas at the Hague. The third contains a list of the state papers of the years 1655 to 1657—records of plots and negotiations for the restoration of the king, of which only a small proportion had been previously printed.

If it is not always easy to discriminate between the public and private letters of sovereigns, or of their ministers and agents at home and abroad, and other important functionaries of state, this difficulty often becomes an impossibility in the period now under review. So long as the personal authority of the sovereign was the very essence of the existing system of government, the sense of that authority dominated all his communications, whether with members of the royal family or with others; while a more or less direct personal relation to the sovereign seemed to pervade despatches, reports and letters of all kinds on business of state. This feature finds abundant illustrations in the letters, noted below, of ambassadors of the type of Sir Henry Wotton; and, no doubt, some of the mental characteristics of James I led his diplomatists to adapt their communications to the idiosynerasy of the recipient. The king’s curiosity was endless, and his sagacity fell little short of his curiosity; he loved a good story and was quick in understanding the point of a joke. But it should also be remembered that the early Stewart age had inherited from the Elizabethan a prose diction intent upon the display of two qualities not always mutually reconcileable—amplitude and point; so that few men and women, least of all those whose epistles were likely to pass through a succession of hands, sat down to write a letter without the desire of leaving it, when done, a finished production in the way of style.