Reason of State, Propaganda, and the Thirty Years' War: An Unknown Translation by Thomas Hobbes ; Noel Malcolm

By Noel Malcolm | Go to book overview

1
Hobbes’s Early Career

IN a volume of the papers of William Cavendish, first Earl of Newcastle, there is a text in English entitled ‘A second most secret instruction Gallo-britanno-batauian, giuen to Fredericke the V. Translated out of Low Dutch into Latine, and diuulged for the most publique good’.1 This is a translation of a political pamphlet, Altera secretissima instructio Gallo-Britanno-Batava Friderico V data, ex belgica in latinam linguam versa, et optimo publico evulgata, an analysis of the geopolitical position and interests of the Elector Palatine (the German Protestant prince and son-in-law of James I, whose acceptance of the crown of Bohemia from the anti-Habsburg rebels there had plunged Central Europe into war), which was published somewhere on the continent of Europe in 1626.2 This manuscript translation was not printed, nor could its publication have been contemplated at the time, given that the Altera secretissima instructio was a work of ingenious and virulent proHabsburg propaganda calling for, among other things, the overthrow of Charles I. Neither does there appear to be any surviving reference to this translation by any of the people who were involved in its commissioning, production, or circulation—if it was circulated at all. The name of the translator is not stated in the manuscript; there are, nevertheless, reasons (which will be presented below) for thinking that this English translation was made by Thomas Hobbes.

That Hobbes should have been engaged in such a task in the latter part of the 1620s is in keeping with many of the key aspects of his personal biography up to that time: his skill as a Latinist; his experience as a translator; his role as ‘secretary’ in a noble household; and his personal acquaintance with the future Earl of Newcastle. In order to sketch the background to his translation of this Latin text,

1 British Library [hereafter: BL], MS Add. 70499, fos. 73–83.

2 The place of publication is given as The Hague (‘Hagae Comitis’), but this can be presumed to have been a fiction. See below, Ch. 3, at n. 46.

-1-

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