LETTERS BETWEEN A PROTESTANT AND A PAPIST
BRISTOL, George Digby, Earl of, and Sir Kenelm Digby. LETTERS BETWEEN THE LD GEORGE DIGBY, AND SR KENELM DIGBY KT. CONCERNING RELIGION. London: Printed for Humphrey Mosely, and are to be sold at his shop, at the sign of the Prince's Arms in St Pauls Church- yard, 1651. First edition, with the final letter dated "Sherburn, March 39, 1639." Small woodcut vignettes on title-page, a crown and rose and a crown and fleur-de-lis, and page [iii], a rose and a thistle. [iv], 132 pp. Collation: A-H8, I4. 14 x 9 cm. A worn and old leather binding, possibly contemporary, with lower board and rear endpapers detached. Scattered marginal notes and bracketing of text in pencil. Complete. (Wing B4768).
Although not published until 1651, these letters, a "long discourse" about religion between two of the leading courtiers of their day, were exchanged between 2 November 1638 and 30 March 1639. Lord George Digby (1612-1677), the second Earl of Bristol, was a talented politician, administrator, soldier, and scholar who ultimately failed at each due to his inconsistent and rash temperament. Horace Walpole judged him "a singular person, whose life was contradiction." Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-1665), son of the executed gunpowder plotter Everard Digby, was even more accomplished than his kinsman and, in general, more consistent and controlled. He married the famous beauty Venetia Stanley, whom he met as a child and to whom he was devoted - even after her death. He was Ben Jonson's patron in London, and he associated with Voltaire and other learned men when he lived in France. He was an early member of the Royal Society (his paper entitled "A Discourse Concerning the Vegetation of Plants" was the first formal publication authorized by the Society, in 1661) and made positive contributions to modern embryology, though he also had a strong interest in occult philosophy and alchemy. Lord Clarendon, his contemporary, observed that "he possessed all the advantages which nature and art and excellent education could give him."
In this volume Lord George, who was born and lived his early life in Catholic Spain but raised in the Church of England, attacks the Roman Catholic Church, while Sir Kenelm, who was born in Protestant England and raised in the Roman Catholic Church, and educated by Jesuits, defends the authority of the Church Fathers on articles of faith. Yet each man did worship for a time in the other's church: Sir Kenelm earlier and Lord George later. Sir Kenelm professed the Protestant religion in 1630, probably to advance his career, but he reconverted shortly after his beloved wife's sudden death in 1633, which he viewed as God's punishment for his sins, and because of his doubts of the validity of Anglican claims to catholicity. Lord George effectively ended his political career when he made a personal and lasting conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1659. (Oxford D.N.B; Lippincott's Pronouncing Biographical Dictionary, 2nd ed.).