Owen Felltham Criticism

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Anonymous (essay date 1840)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Anonymous. “Advertisement.” In Resolves Divine, Moral, and Political, by Owen Felltham, pp. vii-xii. London: Pickering, 1840.

[In the following unsigned introduction to a nineteenth-century edition of the Resolves, the critic praises Felltham's work, stressing its value for “improving our understanding, and strengthening our virtue.”]

Of the numerous works of sterling merit which, after enjoying a long season of popularity, have sunk into comparative forgetfulness, none is more deserving of revival, or more sure to obtain, eventually, a permanent place in the literature of England, than the Resolves of Owen Felltham.

Though entitled Resolves, because at the conclusion of each article, the author forms some resolution, founded upon his own precepts, the volume consists of two hundred, or a “double century,” of Essays on the most important objects of life, exhibiting a profound knowledge of the human heart, and inculcating, in nervous, and often eloquent language, pure morality, warm benevolence, and natural, fervent, and practical piety.

In the opinion of a competent critic,1 the Resolves bear

a frequent resemblance in manner, and still more in matter, to the Essays of Lord Bacon; like whom, Felltham often brings the imagination of the poet, to aid the wisdom of the philosopher; and contain more solid maxims, as much piety, and far better writing, than in most of the pulpit lectures now current among us.

Of Felltham's personal history very little is known. He was the second son of Thomas Felltham, of Mutford in Suffolk (the descendant of an ancient family in Norfolk, who died at Babram, in Cambridgeshire, in 1631, aged 62), by his wife Mary, daughter of John Ufflete, of Somerleyton, in Suffolk.

According to a pedigree in the Harleian MS. 5861, he married a daughter of the ancient family of Clopton, of Rendlehall, in that county; but it may be inferred, that his wife died before him, and that he did not leave any children, as he bequeathed all his property to his nephews and nieces. On the 4th of May, 1667, he made his Will, which was dated at Great Billing, in Northamptonshire, where his patron, the Earl of Thomond, had a mansion; and probably died shortly before the 22nd of April, 1668, on which day his will was proved. That document is extremely characteristic of the author of the Resolves, and will be found in a subsequent page.

In a letter addressed to “Lord C. J. R.2,” he says, he had been “put upon a trial for vindicating the right of the ancient inheritance of my family, gained from me by a verdict last assizes,” and that fact perhaps affords a clue to some particulars of his life, which his biographers may follow with advantage.

Felltham does not seem to have been a member of either University, which would agree with the observation in his preface, that he did not “profess himself a scholar,” had he not said, in explanation of this expression, on its being quoted to his disparagement, “a scholar's life was not my profession, for I have lived in such a course as my books have been my delight, but not my trade, though perhaps I could wish they had.” It has been surmised that he lived in the family of the Earl of Thomond, as gentleman of the horse, or secretary; and in the dedication of the later editions of the Resolves, to the Countess Dowager of Thomond, he remarks, that “most of them were composed under the coverture of your roof, and so born subjects under your dominion.”

The following epitaph, which he wrote for himself, entitled, “Quod in sepulchrum volui,” seems to have been the one alluded to in his Will, which, with several passages in his writings, prove that he was a Royalist; and it is extraordinary, that a man of such talents, a gentleman by birth, and moving in good society, should not have been more frequently mentioned by his contemporaries:—

 Postquam vidisset rotantem mundum,
          Imaque summis supernatantia,
Prosperum Tyrio scelus imbutum,
Dum virtus sordidâ squallet in aulâ,...

(The entire section is 53,414 words.)