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   Chapter 5 MY FATHER'S STORIES OF THE STRACHEY FAMILY

The Adventure of Living : a Subjective Autobiography By John St. Loe Strachey Characters: 30242

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Delightful as were my father's literary and historical stories and observations, already described, I liked them best when they dealt with our own family and its traditions. My father, though without a trace of anything approaching pride of birth, knew his own family history well, and was never tired of relating stories of "famous men and our fathers that begat us." As a great Shakespearian devotee, he specially delighted to tell us of our direct ancestor, William Strachey, "the friend of Ben Jonson," for so we knew him.

The said ancestor married the Widow Baber, niece of a famous seafarer, Sir Richard Cross, who commanded the Bonaventura at the Siege of Cadiz, and so brought Sutton into the family. This William Strachey almost certainly knew Shakespeare. It is now generally admitted that the storm in The Tempest was based upon Strachey's account of the shipwreck of Sir George Somers's fleet on the Bermudas-the Isle of Devils so greatly dreaded by seamen. They provided in this case, however, a haven of refuge. Strachey was first Secretary to the Colony of Virginia. Thus we have an ancestor who gives us the right, as a distinguished American scholar once said to me, to consider ourselves "Founders' kin to the United States"-a piece of family pride which no man can deem snobbish or ridiculous.

William Strachey wrote a very remarkable letter describing the shipwreck, or rather tempest. The letter was addressed to the Lady Willoughby de Broke of that day, a woman of ability and greatly interested in the Virginia Company, as were all the liberal spirits of the age, including Elizabeth herself. This letter was handed about in manuscript, as was so often the case in those times, and Shakespeare, in all human probability, must have seen it, detected good copy for the theatre-he had a never-failing instinct in that direction-and used it for his famous last play. Shakespeare must have met and talked with Strachey on his return from America, for recent investigations have shown that Shakespeare had many communications with the men who founded the Virginia Company, and was very likely a member.

Here I may interpose that I have always been specially interested in the fact that in the letter to Lady Willoughby de Broke, Strachey notes a circumstance that was often observed in the war. He tells us that the young gallants, when every hand was required to work at the pumps, had to exert themselves to the very utmost, and to work as long and as hard as the professional seamen. To the astonishment of himself and everyone else, they were able to do as much work and to keep at it as strenuously as the old mariners.

Another reason for feeling pretty sure that William Strachey must have known Shakespeare is the fact, of which we have ample proof, that Strachey was well known to the men of letters of the day. To begin with, he was a friend of Ben Jonson and wrote a set of commendatory verses for the Laureate's "Sejanus." These appear in the folio edition of Jonson's works. Probably this sonnet-it has fourteen lines-is one of the most cryptic things in the whole of Elizabethan literature. No member of our family or any other family has ever been able to construe it. Yet it is a pleasure to me to gather from the concluding couplet that the author had sound Whig principles:

If men would shun swol'n Fortune's ruinous blasts,

Let them use temperance; nothing violent lasts.

[Illustration: John Strachey, the Friend of Locke.]

An even more interesting proof of William Strachey's literary connections is to be found in the fact that when he, Strachey, went to Venice he took with him a letter of introduction from the poet, Dr. Donne, to the then Ambassador with the Republic, Sir Henry Wotton, also a poet. The letter is witty and trenchant. After noting that Strachey was "sometime secretary to Sir Thomas Gates," he adds, "I do boldly say that the greatest folly he ever committed was to submit himself and parts to so mean a master." The rest of the letter is pleasantly complimentary and shows that Donne and Strachey were fast friends.

This William Strachey, as my father used to point out to us, had a very considerable amount of book-writing to his credit. There were two or three pamphlets written by him and published as what we should now call Virginia Company propaganda. One of these gives a very delightful example of the English and American habit of applying a "get- civilisation-quick" system for the native inhabitants of any country into which they penetrate. Strachey's book, which was reprinted by the Hakluyt Society, was entitled "Articles, Lawes and Orders, Divine, Politique, and Martiall, for the Colony of Virginia," and was printed in 1610.

One of these pamphlets was sold at auction in London just before the war, and went-very naturally and, in a sense, very properly-to America. The volume in question contained, besides the ordinary letter- press, several poems by William Strachey and an autograph inscription written in the most wonderfully neat and clear handwriting-a standard in handwriting to which no member of the family before or since has ever attained. But besides the handwriting the dedication has other claims on our attention. It is charmingly worded. It shows, amongst other things, how natural was the cryptic dedication to the Shakespeare Sonnets. It runs as follows:

To his right truly honoured, and best beloved friend, sometymes a Personall Confederat and Adventurer, and now a sincere and holy Beadsman for this Christian prose- cuti? Thomas Lawson, Esq. William Strachey wisheth as full an accomplishment of his best Desires, as devoutly as becoms the Dutie of a Harty Freinde. January/21.

"This Christian prosecuti?" was the Virginia Company and its system of colonisation. There is also in one of the show-cases in the Bodleian an interesting short dictionary of the language of the Chesapeake Indians compiled by Strachey. In a note attached thereto Strachey says that he thinks it will be useful to persons who wish to "trade or truck" with the Indians.

Another memorable fact in regard to William Strachey I may mention here, though it was not known to my father. I lately discovered that Campion, the poet-musician, who, like Strachey, was a Member of Gray's Inn, wrote a short Latin poem to Strachey. It is addressed "Ad Guillielmus Strach?um." In it Campion tells Strachey that although he has very few verses to give to his "old comrade," the man "who rejoiced in and made many competent verses," he will always be dear to him. He ends by calling him "summus pieridem unicusque cultor." The poem concludes almost as it began: "Strachaeo, veteri meo sodali"-To Strachey, my old comrade.

Evidently Strachey did not keep his verses entirely for dedication. As far as I know, the best of his verses dedicatory are those addressed to Lord Bacon in his "Historie of Travaile into Virginia." They run:-

Wild as they are, accept them, so we're wee;

To make them civill will our honour be;

And if good worcks be the effects of myndes,

Which like good angells be, let our designes,

As we are Angli, make us Angells too;

No better worck can state-or church-man do.

The Campion connection interests me personally because Campion was the protagonist of unrhymed lyrical verse-my special metrical hobby. I like to think that William Strachey may have supported Campion in his controversy with Gabriel Harvey, who, by the way, lived at Saffron Walden, from which town came also William Strachey. There is danger, however, in such speculation. Before long someone may prove that it was not Bacon who wrote Shakespeare but Strachey who wrote both Bacon and Shakespeare.

The following example of my father's family lore was still more interesting and exciting to us. John Strachey, son of William Strachey, married a Miss Hodges of Wedmore, an heiress in the heraldic sense, through whom we can proudly claim to represent the Somersetshire family of Hodges, whose arms we have always quartered. This lady's grandfather, or great-grandfather-I am not quite sure which-was of the very best type of Elizabethan soldiers-errant. He was killed at the Siege of Antwerp in 1583.

He had the good fortune to be commemorated in one of the most spirited epitaphs of his age. On the wall of Wedmore Church in Somersetshire is a brass tablet bearing a heart surrounded by a laurel-wreath. The inscription of the memorial runs thus:

* * * * *

Sacred to the memory of Captain Thomas Hodges, of the County of Somerset, esq., who, at the siege of Antwerp, about 1583, with unconquered courage won two ensigns from the enemy; where, receiving his last wound, he gave three legacies: his soule to the Lord Jesus, his body to be lodged in Flemish earth, his heart to be sent to his dear wife in England.

Here lies his wounded heart, for whome

One kingdom was too small a roome;

Two kingdoms therefore have thought good to part

So stout a body and so brave a heart.

* * * * *

I have often wondered how a poet could have been found in Somersetshire in those days to produce such spirited verse. The Elizabethan age, so splendid in great poetry, was apt to be tortured and affected in what Dr. Johnson called "lapidary inscriptions."

Little did I think when, as a boy, I first read those lines how closely linked England was to remain with the soil where Thomas Hodges fell, how many thousand stout bodies and brave hearts would again be laid in Flemish earth, and how many true soldiers would in my own day deserve my forbear's epitaph.

It seems most likely that Thomas Hodges's armour was preserved by the Hodges and brought to Sutton by Miss Hodges. In an old Hodges inventory which is still among the papers at Sutton there is mentioned "an armour of proof." My father also used to tell us how he had seen two or three sets of armour hanging on the brackets which supported the Minstrels' Gallery in the Hall at Sutton. My father's uncle, alas, was born in the eighteenth century and bred in India till about 1820. He was therefore little affected by Scott and the Gothic revival. When he came back to England, though full of interest in his house and family, he not only removed the Minstrels' Gallery from the Hall, but allowed the armour that had hung on it for some hundred and fifty years to be destroyed. The Estate mason was seen mixing mortar in the breastplate, and the coachman washed the carriage with his legs in the Cromwellian jack- boots. Oddly enough, when we were quite small children, my eldest brother, by pure accident, discovered half a steel helmet behind one of the greenhouses.

Two swords, however, were allowed to remain at Sutton, and are there to this day. They are, however, probably Cromwellian and not Elizabethan.

We know very little of what happened to the Stracheys during the Civil War, for at the crisis of the conflict John Strachey was only a boy. He was born in 1634 and therefore was only twenty-six at the end of the Commonwealth, and would have been only fifteen years old at the time of the King's execution. That the family were good Roundheads, however, cannot be doubted, for John Strachey when he grew up became a close friend of John Locke. Further, Captain Thomas Hodges, whose daughter was later married to John Strachey, raised a troop of horse to fight on the side of the Commonwealth. My father was always very proud of the fact that the intellectual father of the Whigs was so closely united with our ancestor. A propos of a deferred visit to Spain, Locke says in one of his letters that he is glad he is not going, because he will now be able to pay his visit to Sutton Court; "a greater rarity than my travels have afforded me, for, believe me, one may go a long way before one meets a friend."

Of all my father's stories those which delighted and thrilled us most were his anecdotes of Clive. Clive, one might almost say, was the patron saint of the family, and some day I hope to make a further and better collection of legends in regard to him and other relations and connections of my family with India.

But first I must explain why we Stracheys regard Clive as our patron saint. It will be remembered how, after Clive had won Plassey, he came home full of riches and honours, obtained his peerage and bought his unique collection of rotten boroughs. He did not, however, remain long at home. He was soon sent out to India again to reform the Civil Service and to place the affairs alike of the Company and of the King, i.e. the British Government and Parliament, on a sound basis. The moment Clive left India, the Company's government had begun to degenerate on all sides, military, naval, and civilian. In two years corruption was destroying what Clive's statesmanship and military genius had won.

Clive, when he agreed to return to Bengal was a Member of Parliament, and like a wise man he knew that anyone who has to deal with great affairs must be sure of a good Private Secretary. He looked round, therefore, for an able and trustworthy young man, and lighted upon Henry Strachey, who had just reached years of discretion. But I had better quote Clive's own ringing words in regard to his selection. They will serve to show, among other things, that Clive was not the kind of inspired savage that he is sometimes portrayed, but a man with an extraordinary command of the English language. In the speech in the House of Commons in which Clive flung back the accusations made against him in regard to the grants and presents which he took from Meer Jaffir, not only after the Battle of Plassey but in the final settlement which concluded his Indian career, he described the members of his official family-the men whom he had taken out to India with him on that occasion. As Strachey had become a Member of the House of Commons he could not refer to him by name. Here are Clive's actual words:

[Illustration: The Close, Sutton Court, Somerset]

* * * * *

Another gentleman was my Secretary, now a Member of this House. He was recommended to me by one of the greatest men in this Kingdom, now no more, Mr. Grenville. Many and great are the obligations I have been under to him (Grenville), but the greatest of all the obligations was his having recommended to me this gentleman. Without his ability and indefatigable industry I could never have gone through my great and arduous undertaking, and in serving me he served the Company.

* * * * *

Curiously enough, we have no idea how Henry Strachey came across George Grenville, or why George Grenville was able to give him so high a character. In any case, Clive was a shrewd judge of men, and though very good to his subordinates, would never tolerate inefficiency. His approval meant much.

But Clive did more for us as a family than merely appoint Henry Strachey to be his private secretary. It happened that at the time of his appointment Henry Strachey was very much in the position in which Clive was when he first went out to India. Henry Strachey was the eldest son of a hopelessly embarrassed country gentleman of

old family. John Strachey, the friend of Locke, had been very well off, and so had his son John, the Fellow of the Royal Society. Besides Sutton and an estate at Elm and Buckland, near Frome, he owned a considerable amount of property in Westminster. There are many interesting and amusing things to tell of him, but here I will only say that the said John Strachey the second had two wives and nineteen children, consequently at his death the family estates were heavily "dipped." His son, Hodges Strachey, who succeeded him, added to these pecuniary troubles, and then died; the property descended to a younger brother, Henry Strachey. Though he married into a rich Edinburgh family, the Clerks of Pennycuick, and so was kinsman not only of the Clerks but of the Primroses, he did nothing to redeem the fortunes of the family. Indeed, things had gone so far by his time that the Strachey estates had actually passed to the mortgagees in discharge of a sum of twelve thousand pounds. A year's grace was, however, given. If the £12,000 could not be paid within the twelve months, Sutton, and the whole of the land, would have passed for ever from the family.

When Clive heard of this predicament, he, with extraordinary generosity, advanced the money in anticipation of the remuneration which Strachey was to receive for his services in India. Thus Sutton Court was saved. Thanks to Clive there are still Stracheys at Sutton and I am here to tell the tale. In those days twelve thousand pounds was a very big sum of money indeed to an impecunious country gentleman, and a considerable sum even to a man as rich as Clive. The modern equivalent would be over £30,000. But Clive was not a man who hesitated to do things in a big way, and he was well repaid. Henry Strachey was not only devoted to him throughout his life, but acted as his executor and as the guardian to his infant son and heir.

One of three or four pictures which Dance, the portrait-painter, painted of Clive hangs to this day in the Hall at Sutton. It always thrilled me to look at this picture, when a boy, because of the background, where, surrounded by the smoke of battle, a company of horsemen with drawn swords charge an invisible Oriental foe. If I remember rightly, the British Cavalry played no part at Plassey, but probably the artist thought that historical accuracy might quite legitimately be subordinated in this instance to the demands of art.

I could fill this book with stories of Clive which my father had heard from his father and from his uncle and from other contemporaries. I will only mention one here, however, and I choose it because it further illustrates the wonderful power of Clive's prose style, a power which always impressed me, even as a boy. Just before Clive died by his own hand, he addressed a letter to Henry Strachey, who had now become a close friend as well as an ex-secretary, and who had married Lady Clive's first cousin. He was thus a member of the actual as well as of the official family of his Chief. Here are the words which Clive addressed to Strachey:-

How miserable is my condition! I have a disease which makes life insupportable, but which my doctors tell me won't shorten it one hour.

If ever man conveyed the sense of physical suffering, deep melancholy, and utter despair by the medium of the written word, it was Clive in this passage. He had, it will be remembered, attempted suicide before, as a young man. When the pistol refused to go off, he considered it an omen that he was reserved for greater things.

My father used to tell us (whether on good medical evidence or not I do not know) that it was supposed that Clive suffered from a very painful form of dyspepsia accompanied by vertigo, and that when these attacks came on they depressed him beyond measure. He lived in constant dread of their recurrence, and it was upon a sudden sense that an attack was impending that he cut his throat. He could not face again what might have been an agony of three or four months' duration.

It was natural that, as boys, we liked especially to hear the story of the suicide in Berkeley Square. There was plenty of blood and mystery in the tale.

Some eight years before his death, I got my father, who was a very accurate and careful man, to put down, partly from family papers and partly from memory, as exact an account as he could of the actual suicide. This, the authentic version of the suicide, I published in the Spectator.

My father's stories of the first Sir Henry, as we were wont to call him, Clive's Private Secretary, were many, and all of them poignant or amazing. As a child, however, though I always delighted in them I did not fully realise their historical interest. They gave a vivid picture of the mind and actions of a Whig Member of Parliament from about 1770 to 1812, the period during which Henry Strachey was continuously in Parliament. In the course of his forty years of public life, Henry Strachey held a number of important offices, for he was a much-trusted man. He played, indeed, a part more like that of one of the great permanent officials of the present day than that of a politician. I take it that he had not a powerful gift of speech and that he was not a pushing man, otherwise, considering his brains and the way in which he was trusted, he would have gone a good deal higher than he did. A story which testifies to his influence is curious. When Burke began his attacks in the Commons upon Warren Hastings, he tried to enlist support from Henry Strachey, who does not seem to have thrown in his lot especially with Hastings. All he would do, however, was to tell Burke that he would be neutral-provided that, in the course of the attacks on Hastings, Burke cast no aspersions upon the name and fame of Lord Clive. If Clive's memory was assailed he, Strachey, would hit back. Whether it was due to this fact or to some other, it is certain that Burke was always careful to draw a clear distinction between the cases of Clive and of Hastings.

Perhaps the most vivid story of all is the following. Strachey had been in office in the ill-starred Coalition under Fox and North. When the Ministry broke up, the King sent for Lord Shelburne, a member of the Coalition, who, it will be remembered, at once formed a Government of his own. While the Ministry was in the making, Henry Strachey met Fox on Hay Hill, that minute yet "celebrated acclivity" which runs from the corner of Berkeley Square into Dover Street. The smiling demagogue, who, by the by, was a fellow member of Brooke's, hailed his ex-colleague with a-

"Hullo, Strachey, what's going to happen to you?"

"Oh, Lord Shelburne says he wants me to keep my office."

"Then, by God, you're out!" Nobody, at that time, believed in Shelburne's good faith. He was alleged by both sides to be a man on whose word no dependence could ever be placed-a man who would tell you that he wanted your assistance on the very day he had struck your name out of the list of his Cabinet.

Things, however, turned out differently in Strachey's case, and Shelburne kept his word. In all probability, indeed, he was a man who was very much maligned.

In any case, Shelburne trusted Strachey, and when he began the negotiations for the Peace of Versailles which ended the war with America, and recognised the United States, Strachey was sent as a negotiator. Originally a Member of Parliament named Oswald had been employed at Paris, but he had not proved to be a match for the able American delegates, Franklin, Jay, and Adams. Accordingly Strachey was sent over to give tone and vigour to the British Delegation. As a family we are exceedingly proud of the account of Strachey given by that great man, John Adams, later President of the United States. It is contained in his secret report sent to Washington from Paris:

Strachey is as artful and insinuating a man as they could send; he pushes and presses every point as far as it can possibly go; he has a most eager, earnest, pointed spirit.

That is a certificate of character of which any statesman or diplomat might be proud.

But Strachey, I am glad to say, was more than a mere skilful agent. It is now fully recognised by Canadian historians who have made a special study of the question, that Strachey was the one man at Paris who stood up for the United Empire Loyalists and did his very best to get for them proper recognition and proper compensation. Unfortunately the British Ministry was tired and callous, and Strachey's efforts did not prevail, but he fought for the United Empire Loyalists to the end. Without his help, things would have been worse than they were.

One thing that helped to make Strachey a good peace negotiator was the fact that a year before he had gone to America as Secretary to Lord Howe and Admiral Howe when they were sent out either to carry on the war by sea and land, or else to make peace with the insurgent colonies.

As a result of this official visit to America, Strachey had a very large number of confidential papers left in his possession, and some of these have escaped the burning which was the fate of most of his correspondence. He was one of the men who made it a practice to destroy private papers as soon as they were done with. The story of these American papers is, again, one which must be reserved for another occasion. But, though the time has come to cut Henry Strachey off at the main, and though I must reluctantly forego the account of his dealings with George III, when he, Strachey, was Master of the Household, I cannot resist giving one family document which my father was very fond of reading to us and which was, I honestly think, regarded by the family as the most priceless of all the papers kept in the strong-room at Sutton Court. It went by the name of the "Head Munky" letter.

Lady Strachey, the first Sir Henry's wife, was a widow with children when she married. She also had children by her second marriage and, as several of these married, she had at the end of her life a large number of grandchildren. Anyway, she was evidently a lady who thoroughly understood what children want at a children's party. She fully appreciated, that is, the value of bears, monkeys, crocodiles, and Punch as entertainers of the young-witness the letter which follows:

WATER MARK 1804.

To Lady Strachey,

9 hill street

Berkeley square.

MY LADY,

agreebel to order James Botton and Company will attend Tomorrow evening at 8 But begs to inform That the Bear being Laim am afeard cant perform But the doggs and munkees is in good condishon and will I hopes be aprooved with the music

my tarms is as toilers pr nite

Bear … … … … … 10. 6.

8 doggs for kotillin} … 16 at pr dogg 2 } musick 5 Drum and orms 7 head munky 7 3 others 9 keeper 2. 6

Punch is a seprit Consarn and Cums high but Can order him at sam time though not in that line since micklemass he belongs to Mr valentine Burstem at the marmaid

14 Princess Court

holborn-

I am

my Lady

your most dutiful

humbel servant

tuesday JAMES BOTTEN.

19 Piccadilly

P.S. Please Let the head munky Jacko Cum down The airy on account not making no dirt in the haul

The Jentleman says consarning tubb for the crocodile but I never Lets her out nor the ostriges as I explained to him for your satisfaction-

My father always said, and no doubt with truth, that the "Jentleman" alluded to at the end of the letter was the butler. He had evidently been sent to "The Mermaid" or some other hostelry to negotiate for the appearance of "Jacko." When I read the letter I always see a vivid picture of "Jacko" coming over and down the area railings, hand over hand, and wiping his paws on the doormat!

Evidently Mr. James Botten was an artist in his way and, like his employer, understood the infant mind, for does he not put the bear at the very top of his list and charges for him at the highest rate? Why children so delight in bears and have such a firm belief that they are kind, gentle, and grandfatherly animals is a piece of psychology which I have never been able to fathom. As to the existence of the feeling, there can be no possible doubt. My grandchildren, budding Montessorians though they be, have the same absolute and unlimited confidence in bears that I had at the age of three.

There is another story of this Lady Strachey which I may as well put in here, because it is with such amazing clearness the characteristic of a vanished age. My father used to say that when the second Sir Henry Strachey came back from India, for he was there only ten years, his father was still in Parliament. Henry Strachey was only just thirty, and therefore there was the usual desire felt by his family to find something for the young man to do-something "to prevent him idling about in town and doing nothing or worse." In order to provide this necessary occupation his mother offered him £4,000 with which to buy a seat in Parliament. She thought that a seat would keep him amused and out of mischief! In spite of the fact that he was a strenuous Radical, Sir Henry's only remark in telling the story was: "I refused, because I did not like the idea of always voting in the opposite lobby to my father." The first Henry Strachey, though a staunch Whig in early life, was a supporter of William Pitt and later, of Lord Liverpool. Therefore the second Henry Strachey, if he had got into the House, when he first came home, would no doubt have voted with the Radical Rump.

There are many stories I could tell of the second Sir Henry, who lived on at Sutton till the year '58, when my father succeeded, but these again must be kept for another book-if I ever have time to write it. I must say the same of my own grandfather, my father's father, Edward Strachey, and his memorable wife. Of both of them plenty is to be found in Carlyle's account of his early years. I shall only record of Edward Strachey here the fact that after he returned from India he became an official at the India House on the Judicial side, and was called the Examiner, his duties being to examine the reports of important law-cases sent from India to the Board of Directors. When one day I asked my father for his earliest recollection of any important event, he told me that he could well remember his father coming back from the India House (which was by a Thames wherry, for the Examiner lived at Shooter's Hill and had to cross the river) and saying to his mother: "The Emperor is dead." That was in the year 1822, and the Emperor was, of course, Napoleon. Strachey was one of the first people to hear of the event because St. Helena was borrowed by the Government for prison purposes from the East India Company. The East Indiamen, however, still used it as a house of call. Therefore it happened that the East India Company, by the actual appearance of one of the ship's captains at the India House, heard of the great event an hour or two before the Government to whom the despatches were forwarded. My father must have been ten years old at the time, as he was born in 1812.

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