Bonny Prince Charlie’s Cornwallis

I am currently revising an odd article on the odder Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe (1781-1851). Sharpe – failed minister, successful collector, occasional editor, prolific artist – was a friend of Sir Walter Scott and a fixture of the Edinburgh scene for many decades, but lacks modern recognition. He deserves it, though, and not least because of some of the remarkable things he collected. His library was sold in January 1852 and amongst a truly eclectic, but also carefully curated, collection is the following gem:

Sir William Cornwallis’s Essayes of Certaine Paradoxes (London, 1616) is among the very first collections of the essay in English – he ties with Francis Bacon as its modern originator – and is nothing if not peculiar in itself, beginning with the strong opening section:

Cornwallis’s paradoxical encomium of Richard III, the archetypal “bad king”, must surely have made interesting reading for Prince Charles Edward, “Bonny Prince Charlie”, especially if this volume kept him company during the revolutionary years of 1745-46. The opening lines of the essay which are also the opening lines of the book, seem only too appropriate for its subsequent owner:

That princes are naturally ambitious, and that Ambition makes them to effect their desires, rather then to affect the equitie of their designes, may more truly then safely be avowed.

Cornwallis, Essayes, sig. Br.

To the best of my knowledge, the whereabouts of this volume are sadly unknown. I’d love to be proven wrong. The whereabouts of my article on Sharpe are also currently unknown, but with luck I’ll have better news to report on that front before too much longer.

(c) 2023 Kelsey Jackson Williams

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