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Cobbold book, chapter 1

And this is chapter 1. There appear to be 55 in all, if I've got my Roman numerals right.


WHO is that youth walking upon the soft sands of Freston-strand, intently meditating upon the contents of an old parchment-covered book, with silver clasps, which, from their length, proclaim that the work is one of some considerable size and depth? He seems to devour that work; and, if a stranger might judge with his countenance, to be enjoying, with great relish, the sentiments it contains - for, every now and then, he soliloquizes in a foreign tongue, as if repeating with admiration the lines he has been studying.

That book he holds in his hand is the first edition of the greatest Grecian poet ever printed. It is the Iliad, printed by Aldus, who first cast the Greek alphabet in the year 1476. The book has been lent him by Lord De Freston, his distant kinsman, and he is on his way from the ancient town of Gypesswick (now called Ipswich) to return it to its rightful owner.

Like a true valuer of his treasure, he seems to store up in his mind the most beautiful passages it contains. Every now and then, he pauses, and, with his dark eye averted from the book, he scans the beauty of the scene around him. He is walking beside one of the loveliest rivers in England, and at a spot where hill, dale, wood, and water, under the influence of the bright beams of the rising sun, exhibit nature in those splendid colors which an early riser only can appreciate.

That eye, even in its glance across the waves of the river Orwell, is a most thoughtful one, for it can view all the tracery of nature, and find a corresponding beauty in the poetical ideas which crowd in upon his mind.

He has been reading high-sounding words, heroic actions, and exalted feelings; and his breast is as naturally inspired with the thoughts of what he has read as his eye is with the view before him. But nature is not able to chain down his soul to any terrestrial object, nor can the charms or scenery engross his attention; for his spirit seems on fire with enthusiasm, and his eye swells with a conscious hopefulness in himself; arising out of the question - For what purpose am I born ?

The cap he wears proclaims him but a youth, and the curling locks, hanging from its sides and sweeping over his face, bespeak a native gracefulness, which well accords with his intellectual features. There is a golden tinge upon his brow, and a ruddy, healthy glow upon his cheek, which says that his occupation as a student has not been confined to an unhealthy cloister.

He is but a boy, yet there were many men in his day, who, after years of application, could not retain the memory of what they read with half the ease of that extraordinary youth.

The fact was, as was afterwards proved, his genius was as comprehensive as his energies were active, and a spirit was then stirring in him, a mind in embryo, which, though not confined to the drudgery of the scholastic routine of study, comprehended at a glance the value of education, and made him the greatest schoolmaster of his age.

As the beautiful stream then flowing before him in a sort of endless wave upon wave, that youth seemed desirous to command as endless a reputation, for his immortal mind possessed an unslaked thirst to discern every species of wisdom which either letters, nature, observation, or reflection could unfold.

Such was the genius of him who then stood upon the banks of the Orwell, imbibing wisdom with an ambitious desire of distinction which no future eminence could satisfy.

It was the youthful Wolsey, who, then unknown to fame, was noted by many of the best spirits of that age and country, as a boy of most acute intellect, and of an understanding beyond his years. He had left his native town, early in a beautiful spring morning, to go by invitation to the castle of Lord De Freston - a nobleman celebrated for his great learning as well as his benevolent disposition.

The youth had left many friends in the town of Ipswich, who had encouraged his love of study, by lending him manuscripts and books, which he could not otherwise have obtained. Richard Peyvale, one of the most learned of the portmen of the town, and the compiler of the Ipswich Doomsday Book, had been the first to discover the latent superiority of his mind; for, in an examination of boys in the Free Grammar School, the son of Robert Wooly or Wuly so acquitted himself in classical knowledge as to carry off the great prize given by Sir Humphrey Wyngfylde, to be presented by the town-clerk, which was done by Robert Bray, before the bailiffs, governors, and portmen of that ancient borough.

This was probably one of the spurs to genius. But Wolsey - the boy Wolsey - soon discovered so much dross amidst the confined system of school studies, that he told his father it was no use his sending him to school, for old Mr. Capon could teach him nothing more. Hence, after his twelfth year, he was under no tutors, but formed his own reading; and was frequently applied to, by many learned men, to solve difficulties of construction, which to him were very easily accounted for.

Every classical work then known to the world, and within the reach of the wealthy, whether from private families or from public libraries, was obtained for him upon loan; and at one time he had in his own garret, in the gable end of his father's house, then dividing the two great streets in St. Nicholas, leading from Peter's Priory to the centre of the town, such a catalogue of eminent books, that had they been his own, he would have thought himself the wealthiest man in the land.

The names of Homer, Sophocles, Thucydides, Euripides, Xenophon, Plato, Horace, Cicero, Plautus, Pliny, Tibillus together with the Scriptures, were familiar to him; and he was so great a man in his boyhood, as far as classical comprehension went, that he scarcely at any after-period of his life had to study these writings again.

It was not to be wondered at, then, that a boy with such precocity of intellect - such a handsome youth too as he really was - should be noticed by the richer and more independent portion of the community.

Lord De Freston had married a niece of the elder Daundy, one of the wealthiest and most enlightened of the inhabitants of Ipswich, and had therefore, become connected with the female branch of Wolsey's family, for Joan, his mother, was sister to Edmund Daundy. He was a very early patron of the young student, and took such interest in his cousin, as he called him, as laid the foundation of his greatness in after life, though the youth's pride had well nigh lost him his friendship.

But there he stood upon the Freston shore, and caught the sound of the early matin bell, which came pealing from the opposite bank of the river, from the Priory of Alneshborne. The sound of the bell, and the mood in which the youth then stood, accorded well with each other. The former called the monks to prayer, and in some measure roused Wolsey from the reverie, and made him think of time. He looked intently along the bright gleaming waves of the Orwell to see if he could not discover some object which ought, to interest his attention.

De Freston's lofty turrets were in view, peering over the spring foliage, just breaking forth in yellow tints from the oaks of the park. The castle shone conspicuously white, as the rays of the gloriously rising sun struck upon it walls. All nature seemed alive. The rooks were taking their flights for the distant marshes; the cuckoo's note saluted the early morn; and so bright and clear was the sky that even the lark rose joyfully, carolling with his lively note, as if going to seek a purer clime than could be found on this earth.

Had not ambition inflated his breast, Wolsey would have enjoyed to the full the exquisite scene of that April morn. But ambition had so fired his genius that even the lovely river then flowing before him, the light of the heavens, the birds of the air chaunting their praises, and the monks at their matin prayers, had no charms for him. Not even the consciousness of classical knowledge could just then satisfy his mind, for he had received an indirect promise from Lord De Freston that he should go to Oxford, and such a vision of future glory had opened before him, that even his native town, with all the cordial friends it contained, were completely thrown into the back-ground.

Ambition is a syren who deprives of rest those who are once charmed by her voice; and when she prompts to grandeur, and all the imaginative self-consequences of a great name, fame, and power, there are no cruelties through which she will not urge her victims, and, like fabled deities of the heathen, cover them with her mantle or cloud of invisibility.

Moral reflection founded upon the only motive worthy of exertion, the good of others, is a very distant object in the aspirations of a vain man. Destroy selfishness, and all that is laudable, honorable, great, and worthy in the human character will then shine forth, and whether present success shall attend it, or future generations celebrate its worth, it cannot be destroyed by disappointment since the serenity of equanimity is the same, whether the individual be humbled by the praises of men, or exalted by their persecutions

Selfish ambition, howevera plausible or deluding, cannot bear, with an equal mind, the frowns of adversity. Success forms the criterion of its own excellence; and it can no more enjoy the quietude of retirement, than a famous actor can relish the coldness of his audience.



Amended 22-May-2001 by EFB