Thomas Wilson (c. 1565-1629; ODNB link) – among other things, intelligencer, secretary to Sir Robert Cecil, MP, and Keeper of the State Papers at Whitehall – left quite an impressive paper trail of his life post-1600. Yet thus far I have only come across one letter from him to a family member, being CP 83/47 (in the Cecil Papers at Hatfield House), which is a letter from Wilson to his wife Margaret (née Meautys). The letter is dated the first of August 1600, and was written by Wilson on one of his tours of continental Europe, where he was engaged in gathering intelligence.
I found the following passage striking:
As I was takinge my iorney into Italie in that rude vnkind contrye of savoye , I was taken wth myne ordinary enemy the burninge fever, who charged me wth soe many fetters that I was not able to move one foote further, soe that all my companye and honorable frends having all stayed long for me wer forced at length to leaue me and I left desolate in the handes of such people in whom kindness is onely the chyld of monye and wherof god wott I hadd butt smale abondance the rest I leave to you to coniecture / god I thanke him it is past, I am nowe in better helth & plentye and proceed alonge on my voyage though solitarye yett wth more corage \& hope/ then euer, God hath not appoynted that I shal dye yett but lyue & doe better then myne enemies wish or my frends hope
Wilson was, er, plagued by tertiary ague (malaria), which recurred throughout his life; it crops up in his letters several times over the years. I am not sure whether “kindness is only the child of money” is original – googling reveals nothing, but I suspect it may be from some Latin text, and perhaps can be found in some other form in English. (I checked the Helsinki Corpus (XML version) and the Corpus of Early English Correspondence, but couldn’t find it in either).
Wilson begins the letter to his wife by apologising for not having written, writing:
I was loth to send you such ill newes as I sent them vntill it was past for that it wold haue encreased yor sorowe wherof I knowe you haue too much
..which is fair enough. But although he assures her that he is now perfectly recovered, he goes on to say that he will not be able to write for some time as he is heading into enemy territory in Italy – one of his objectives was to learn what the King of Spain is up to, and the Kingdom of Naples belonged to the Spanish crown at this time. And as if that was not enough, he concludes his letter:
out of sauoye wher the warres ar beginning the 1 of August 1600 / Thy most loving Tho: wilson
Hardly reassuring reading! Happily, he made it back safe and sound, and didn’t have to engage in too much Bond-esque action (although there are some letters where he ponders going all Jason Bourne on a fellow Englishman..).
This blog has been rather quiet for some time. I expect I won’t be updating for another several months still, as there is a thesis that needs finishing. I might put my July conference paper up here, provided I write one instead of just babbling. But we shall see.