Gerald Curzon. Wotton and His Worlds: Spying, Science, and Venetian Intrigues. Xlibris, 2004. 341pp. ISBN 1 4134 2512 7.

Matthew Steggle
Sheffield Hallam University

Steggle, Matthew. Review of Gerald Curzon, Wotton and His Worlds: Spying, Science, and Venetian Intrigues. Early Modern Literary Studies 10.3 (January, 2005) 12.1-5<URL:>.

  1. Sir Henry Wotton (1568-1639) enjoyed a long and various career as poet, courtier, diplomat, writer on architecture, and Provost of Eton. Before, during, and after his three spells as British Ambassador in Venice, Wotton accumulated an impressive list of friends, enemies, acquaintances, and correspondents, including Essex, Bacon, Donne, Milton, and Izaak Walton. Gerald Curzon argues in this biographical study that Wotton is particularly interesting as a channel by which continental ideas on art, science, and architecture percolated from Venice to London, and he highlights, in particular, Wotton's role in sending the work of Galileo back to Britain.

  2. Curzon offers, in effect, an introductory survey of Wotton's life and times, designed for readers who are not specialists in the period. As such, this book is highly readable, well informed, and very detailed about its subject, founded as it is on the large surviving body of letters from Wotton. The heart of the book lies in the Venetian sections, and one of its major strengths is that it gives a rounded sense of Wotton's cultural milieu there, and of the constant interplay between religion and politics in the affairs of the republic. Generous space is given to the careers of Paolo Sarpi, and of De Dominis, Bishop of Spalato, both of whom intersected with Wotton as Wotton pursued his quixotic goal of inducing the Republic of Venice to become Protestant. It is good too on the new science. Himself a neuroscientist by training, Curzon is particularly adept at communicating the intellectual excitement of Galileo's ideas, and the varying ways in which science interacted with the religious establishment.

  3. The book is self-published via, and occasionally this shows. A copy-editor would change the referencing style, and pick up some minor factual errors. Curzon freely modernizes punctuation, which is fine, but is generous in the use of em dashes, so that in his letters De Dominis sounds like a breathless Jane Austen heroine. Presumably to save space, verse is cited in two parallel columns, read across rather than down, with the effect that "The Character of a Happy Life" appears at first glance to be written in obscure couplets rather than limpid quatrains. Such typographical glitches do not mean that this book is negligible. While Curzon doesn't claim to have made any major archival breakthroughs, he is able to synthesize almost 100 years of scholarship since the only previous full-length book on Wotton, Logan Pearsall Smith's The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton (Oxford, 1907).

  4. The title of the book rather excludes Wotton's poetry, for which he is now perhaps chiefly remembered. In some ways, this is reasonable enough, since Wotton's oeuvre of lyric poetry is a slim one. And yet it includes not merely "You meaner beauties of the night", but also "Dazzled thus with height of place", "The Character of A Happy Life", and the famous epigram:

    He first deceas'd. She for a little tried
    To live without him: lik'd it not and died. (258)

    For all that Wotton's busy public career provides more than enough material for a book, to have written four of the most widely anthologized of Renaissance lyrics seems more than a fluke. If one finishes Wotton and his Worlds hungry for more information on these particular poems and the others attributable to Wotton, then that is perhaps no bad thing. Hopefully Curzon's book will form the basis for more work on this pivotal but neglected figure of Renaissance Britain.

  5. The book is available in hardback, ISBN 1-4134-2513-5, £23; paperback, ISBN 1-4134-2512-7, £14; from booksellers including Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble.


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© 2005-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).