Henry Wotton

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Sir Henry Wotton

Sir Henry Wotton (March 30, 1568 – December 1639) was an English author and diplomat.


  • How happy is he born and taught,
    That serveth not another's will;
    Whose armor is his honest thought,
    And simple truth his utmost skill!
    • The Character of a Happy Life (1614), stanza 1.
  • Who God doth late and early pray,
    More of his grace than gifts to send,
    And entertains the harmless day
    With a well-chosen book or friend.
    • The Character of a Happy Life (1614), stanza 5.
  • Lord of himself, though not of lands;
    And having nothing, yet hath all.
    • The Character of a Happy Life (1614), stanza 6. Compare: "As having nothing, and yet possessing all things", 2 Corinthians vi. 10.
  • You meaner beauties of the night,
    That poorly satisfy our eyes
    More by your number than your light;
    You common people of the skies,
    What are you when the sun shall rise?
    • On His Mistress, the Queen of Bohemia, stanza 1 (1624). In some versions "moon" replaces "sun". This was printed with music as early as 1624, in Est's "Sixth Set of Books", for example.
  • I am but a gatherer and disposer of other men's stuff.
    • Preface to the Elements of Architecture (1624).
  • Love lodged in a woman's breast
    Is but a guest.
    • A Woman's Heart (1651).
  • He first deceased; she for a little tried
    To live without him, liked it not, and died.
    • Upon the Death of Sir Albert Morton's Wife (1651).
  • Hanging was the worst use a man could be put to.
    • The Disparity Between Buckingham and Essex (1651).
  • An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the commonwealth.
    • Reliquiae Wottonainae (1651). In a letter to Velserus, 1612, Wotton says, "This merry definition of an ambassador I had chanced to set down at my friend's, Mr. Christopher Fleckamore, in his Album".
  • The itch of disputing will prove the scab of churches.
    • A Panegyric to King Charles (1651).
  • Hic jacet hujus sententiæ primus author:
    Nomen alias quære.
    • Translation: Here lies the author of this phrase: "The itch for disputing is the sore of churches." Seek his name elsewhere.
    • Inscription on Wotton's gravestone, so placed at his direction.
  • Advised a young diplomat "to tell the truth, and so puzzle and confound his enemies."
    • Attributed. E.g., Vol 24, Encyclopedia Britannica of Arts, Sciences, and General Literature, page 721 (9th Ed. 1894).
    • Compare Mark Twain who, in Following the Equator, said "When in doubt, tell the truth" (which is often mis-quoted as containing an additional clause providing "it will confound your enemies and astound your friends").

Quotes about

  • It became normal to have at each of the major courts a resident “ambassador”—a word defined by the English poet and diplomat Sir Henry Wotton in a punning epigram as “a man sent to lie abroad for his country’s good.” Given the time required for travel, and the hazards en route—especially in an age of dynastic and religious warfare—permanent ambassadors offered a convenient substitute for personal summitry. And their detailed reports required the attention of specialist secretaries who oversaw foreign affairs, such as Francis Walsingham in Elizabethan London or Antonio Perez at the court of Philip III. Day-to-day diplomacy tended to slip out of the hands of rulers.
    • David Reynolds, Summits: Six Meetings that Changed the Twentieth Century (2007), p. 17
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