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

By Noel Malcolm | Go to book overview

2
The Translation: Authorship,
Date, and Style

THERE is nothing surprising, then, about the idea that an English translation of a difficult Latin text of the late 1620s, found among Mansfield’s papers, should be the work of Thomas Hobbes. The particular reasons for the attribution may now be considered. They are threefold: the handwriting, the nature of the alterations in the manuscript, and some stylistic features of the English.

The volume that contains this manuscript is not unknown to Hobbes scholars: among the other items in it relating to Mansfield are seven holograph letters sent to him by Hobbes in 1634–6.1 But it has not been noticed that the translation of the Altera secretissima instructio is also in Hobbes’s handwriting—an earlier form than that of the mid-1630s, with a more regular italic character, but nevertheless with some of the characteristic features of his later hand (such as the ‘e’ with a detached loop hovering above and beyond the main body of the letter). The closest match to the handwriting of this translation is to be found in the Hardwick library catalogue which Hobbes wrote out in 1627 or 1628: all the letter-shapes found in the translation, including some very characteristic capital letters, recur there.2 Especially typical is a capital ‘A’ in which the left-hand vertical starts a long way below the line, and

1 BL, MS Add. 70499, fos. 172–3, 184–5, 202–3, 210–11, 212–13, 214–15, 216–17 (printed in Hobbes, Correspondence, i, pp. 19–20, 28–9, 32, 33–4, 37–8, 39, 41–2). This MS volume contains not only Cavendish papers, but also some earlier items from the papers of the Vere and Holles families (which later came into the Cavendish family by marriage); the general arrangement is chronological, which means that the Vere and Holles papers come first, then ‘A second most secret instruction’, then the Cavendish papers. Hobbes scholars may have been misled by the fact that the Historical Manuscripts Commission listed ‘A second most secret instruction’ as belonging to the Vere and Holles part of the volume: HMC, Thirteenth Report, ‘MSS of his Grace the Duke of Portland’, ii (London, 1893), p. 117.

2 Chatsworth, MS Hobbes E. 1. A. This catalogue, which is arranged alphabetically, by author’s name, is mostly in Hobbes’s hand. In some cases, at the end of the entries for

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