The pre-History of the Norths
The North family fortunes were founded by the remarkable career in difficult times of Edward North. Born c. 1504, the son of prosperous London citizens (Roger North and his wife Christian Warcup), he studied at St Paul's School, and then perhaps at Peterhouse, Cambridge (he left a rectory to them in his will), and then certainly at Lincolns Inn. He became a counsel to the City of London, later a clerk to Parliament, and then servant to Henry VIII, who knighted him. He served as a privy counsellor and was treasurer to the Court of Augmentation, at that time the largest and richest of the royal revenue courts, which administered the sequestering of church lands. He obtained a significant amount of land for himself, including the manor of Kirtling in Cambridgeshire. Kirtling would remain the home of the head of the North family throughout the period of this narrative. During Henry's reign he served as sheriff for Cambridgeshire and as one of its representatives in Parliament. He was one of the executors of the king's will. He was a privy counsellor to both Edward VI and Mary. It was Mary who ennobled him in 1554 as Lord North of Kirtling. Under Mary he served on the commission for the suppression of heresy and as Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire. In 1558, while preparing for her coronation, Elizabeth kept her court at his home, the Charterhouse near Smithfield. (Edward had obtained this property in 1545, demolishing the monastic buildings to build a substantial mansion. Although they had been briefly confiscated by Northumberland, they were restored to him by Mary. The buildings would later serve as the home of the celebrated school.) As well as enriching himself by way of his profession, Edward North made two very profitable marriages to wealthy widows. By his first wife, Alice Brigantine, née Squire, he had two sons and two daughters. Both of his daughters made advantageous and aristocratic marriages, Christiane marrying the Earl of Worcester, and Mary marrying Lord Scrope. His elder son, Roger, inherited the title becoming the 2nd Baron North. Edward North died rich, and a devout Catholic, in 1564. Edward North was the very type of the Tudor New Man, but even before his death his New Man's family had started to take on the characterstics an Old Family.
Roger, 2nd Baron North, was born in 1530. He was not trained for a profession. It is possible that he went to Peterhouse, Cambridge (his younger brother Thomas certainly did), but although he spent some time at Lincolns Inn, he did not become a lawyer. He continued the pattern set by his father, combining both local Cambridgeshire politics and a position at court, but he did it as a gentleman, not as a lawyer. Roger went on at least two foreign embassies for Elizabeth, to Vienna in 1567-8, and later to France. He was apparently a skilled linguist (a characteristic of many of the Norths). He was a keen improver of his lands, and an administrator in Cambridgeshire. He was a promoter, friend and then supporter of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and served with him in the Netherlands. Roger was the older brother of Sir Thomas North, translator of Plutarch (or rather, translator of Bishop Amyot's French translation).1 Sir Thomas had not been trained for any profession either, although he held a benefice for a while and could, conceivably, have had a career in the church; instead he relied on his older brother for support. Roger's most distinguished position came late in life: as Treasurer of the Royal Household, a post he held for four years until his death in 1600. He married first Winifred Rich, daughter of Richard Rich (another new man ) and then Elizabeth Dudley. They had two sons who survived infancy, and one daughter. He was succeeded in the title by his grandson, Dudley, born in 1582 (Roger's son John, a soldier, having died in 1597).
Dudley, 3rd Baron North, went to Trinity College, Cambridge, he did not take a degree. Coming into his fortune and title very young, he promptly married sixteen-year-old Frances Brockett. He left almost immediately to go soldiering and touring in Europe. When returned he became a courtier in the circle of Prince Henry, attending masques and tourneys, reducing the fortune built up by the first two barons. He became involved, on his own account, and through his younger brother Roger, in a number of American adventures. Roger had served on the second Raleigh expedition to El Dorado in 1617. He was subsequently a founder of the Amazon Company, and the principal player in the debacle of 1620, when he led an unofficial expedition to Brazil. King James did not approve of such adventuring and provocation of the Spanish, and both brothers were threatened with imprisonment. In 1527 Roger was involved in founding the Guiana Company with Charles's favourite, Buckingham. By then Dudley was in the process of retiring to Kirtling. Dudley had wasted his fortune in court without ever obtaining a court post. He cultivated his interests at home, especially in poetry, and notably in music, the servants and family forming an ensemble.2 During the 1630s he re-emerged into public life as a royalist-inclined supporter of the parliamentary cause. He became even more politically active during the 1640s. A former courtier, he was trusted by both sides, and employed as a negotiator between the King and Parliament. He was speaker of the House of Lords, briefly, in 1648. He was strongly opposed to the trial and execution of the king, pleading with his Cambridgeshire neighbour Oliver Cromwell to prevent it. He quit political life during the Interregnum. He returned to London in the 1660s an enthusiastic royalist, once more taking his seat in the House. He died in 1666.
Dudley, 4th Baron North, was born in 1602. Like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, he was not prepared for a profession. He was educated at St Johns, Cambridge, and briefly at Grays Inn, before going soldiering in Germany in support of the Protestant cause. He travelled in France, Italy and Spain, returning to England before setting off again to go fighting in the service of the Prince of Orange. He married relatively late in 1632 to Anne Montague, an accomplished woman who figures large in (our) Roger North's biographical and autobiographical writings. Most of his adult life was lived under the shadow of his glamorous and increasing cantankerous father. Their family, for example, was obliged to stay with the Baron, pay rent and support a carriage. Dudley and Anne eventually purchased their own property at Tostock in Suffolk. During the Civil War, he served as a member for Cambridgeshire and sat in both the Short and the Long Parliaments. Like his father, he was a monarchist who pragmatically (and to some extent ideologically) supported the parliamentary cause. He was actively involved in draining the fenlands. He published a somewhat conventional and pious book in 1669.3 He was not an enthusiastic restorationist, revealing, perhaps, that as in many other aspects of his life, he was someone formed in truculent opposition to a dominant father.
The Biography: Early Life and Public Career
Roger North was the youngest of Dudley, 4th Baron North's ten surviving children (six sons and four daughters). Like his father, grandfather, great- and great-great-grandfather, Charles, the eldest son and heir to the title, did not train for a profession. For the rest of the boys, and according to the express policy of the prudent 4th Baron, all were prepared to make their own ways in the world. Frances was sent to train as a lawyer, rising to be Lord Keeper of the Seal. John became a scholar, first as a classicist at Jesus College, and later as Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. Dudley was apprenticed to a Turkey merchant, spending fifteen years abroad and retiring rich, then becoming a Court Party politician during the later years of the reign of Charles II. Montague was also sent to be a Turkey merchant. He was less successful than Dudley (most Turkey merchants were less successful than Dudley) and was unfortunate enough to spend some years imprisoned in France on the charge of espionage. The sisters were Mary, Anne, Elizabeth and Christian. Mary married Sir William Spring of Pakenham, Suffolk, and died young, in childbirth. Anne married Lord Foley, Roger remained close to her, corresponding regularly. Elizabeth was widowed young, eventually marrying into the Paston family. Little is known about Christian. Roger North, writing in the 1710s, said of his siblings:
the Case is Memorable ffor the Happy circumstance of a flock so numerous and diffused as this of the Last Dudley Lord North's was, and No one scabby sheep in it, considering what temptations & snares have layn In their way is not of Every days Notice. It was their good fortune to be surrounded with a kindred of ye Greatest Estimation & value more anciently derived then those I have Named wch are a sort of obligation to good behaviour …4
Roger North's education began with his mother and continued at schools in Bury St Edmunds and Thetford; he then prepared for university with his father (they read logic and mathematics together). He went up to Cambridge in 1667, sharing his brother John's rooms and spending his time reading, and by the way 'discovering' Descartes.5 He stayed a year. In 1669 he was enrolled at the Middle Temple and began his training in the Common Law. He entered the circle of his brother, Francis, the coming man of legal London. Francis had just been appointed king's counsel and over the following decade, in rapid succession, became a circuit judge and then solicitor-general, was knighted, was elected MP for King's Lynn, was appointed attorney-general, became chief justice of common pleas and in 1682 Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, and was ennobled as Baron Guildford in the following year. This was the highest position in public life held by any member of the North family until Francis's great-grandson, Lord North, became Prime Minister in 1770. Francis was the means of Roger's rapid ascent through the legal profession. He was also a principal means for his brother Dudley's success in Turkey, having invested £1000.00.00 with him in 1666. Roger and Francis were very close: Roger lived at his brother's house, and their circle of friends included Sir Peter Lely, who painted both their portraits. As well as sharing professional interests, they shared an enthusiasm for natural philosophy and for music.6 Roger's legal career was a modest shadow of his brother's, but it made him independently wealthy. He was called to the bar in 1674, and served with his brother on the circuit in various parts of England. He was appointed steward to the See of Canterbury in 1679, becoming a close friend of Archbishop Sancroft. He continued to rise rapidly in the law, becoming a king's counsel. He was appointed solicitor-general to the duke of York. When, in 1685, the duke became James II, he took over the financial management of Mary of Modena's affairs. He was elected MP for Dunwich in 1685, and in the same year was appointed recorder for the city of Bristol.
When Dudley North returned from Constantinople in early 1680, he joined his brothers at a crucial moment. The dominant political issue during the last five years of Charles's reign was that of the succession, and all three were involved in the corrosive politics of the Exclusion Crisis. The 'country party' - the predecessors of the Whigs - had sought to exclude James from the succession on account of his Catholicism. Francis was the legal strategist of the 'court party', the predecessors of the Tories; Roger was his closest ally and constant companion. They set about prosecuting the opposition and breaking up the formations of power that enabled opposition. By 1682 Dudley had been appointed a pro-court Sheriff in the City of London, had entered parliament, and was serving as a Commissioner of the Treasury. Francis died in late 1685, but at the time of his death he was months past the peak of his legal and political career, and by then, too, the whole situation had changed. For as long as Charles lived, the 'Catholic threat' remained only a threat; but when in early 1685 James succeeded, things changed. The new king's determination to reintroduce the Catholic religion created problems for families such as the Norths. Whereas they were unquestionably loyal to the Stuart monarchy, they were also Protestant. This compromise of loyalties was dramatically tested, and is dramatically narrated, in Roger's account of a clandestine, late-night interview with the king where he confessed that he could not offer the king his unconditional support. He was dismissed from James's presence, the king telling him that he was, 'in plain English, a trimmer'.7 There was little room for the nuanced politics of personal honour in late Stuart London. Roger could not support the king's policies on Catholic toleration and the maintaining of a standing army, nor the employment of Catholic officers in the army; but neither could he obstruct his king (even one that he described as 'ill-advised'). He remained a courtier, but not an important one, and definitely not a player. He retained several important posts, remaining Attorney-General to the Queen and Steward to the See of Canterbury (that is, legal advisor to Archbishop Sancroft). In the latter role he became immersed in the church's resistance to James's Declaration of Indulgence, and it seems likely that his first publications were pamphlets composed in support of the church's opposition to the king.
When James quit the country in 1688, and when in 1689 William and Mary were given the joint throne, Roger found himself further confounded by circumstances. He lost his seat in parliament. He was called before a House of Lords committee to answer for his previous actions. He felt unable to sign the oath of loyalty to the new regime, becoming a 'non-juror'. He became involved in helping other non-jurors protect themselves against the consequences of the Revolution. One was Archbishop Sancroft, who had been promptly replaced at Canterbury. In December 1690 Roger North completed his purchase of a country seat, Rougham, in the remotest north of Norfolk. In December 1691, a few days less than a year later, his brother Dudley died. Roger and Dudley had become close since the death of Francis. They were enthusiastic co-experimenters, sharing interests across a wide range of subjects including technology, science ('natural philosophy'), economics and social policy. Roger published Dudley's Discourses on Trade and Money within months of his death, and the manuscript in the British Library suggests that the preparation of this project was well advanced before Dudley died (there are comments in Dudley's hand on the draft prepared for the printer).8 (What we can assume to have been a synthesis of the two men's social theory, a Discourse of the Poor, was published by Roger's son Montague in 1753.9) So it was that at the age of forty Roger North entered his long retirement from public life. For a few years he remained in London, in the Covent Garden house of Sir Peter Lely. Lely had died in 1680, and the artist's affairs had long been managed by Roger, who was both his executor and guardian to his children.
they were undeniably talented, the three younger Norths were neither
universally liked nor trusted. Francis, John and Roger had all gained
preferments young, and proceeded very rapidly in their careers. Roger's
biographies of his brothers, like his own early autobiography, do not disguise the resentment of less
well-sponsored contemporaries who saw, for example, John North get a doctorate
through the influence of the Duke of Hamilton, and then the Mastership of
Trinity with scarcely a publication to his name. Francis flew up through the
ranks of the legal profession with the support of the King, meanwhile incurring
the resentment of other, perhaps equally deserving, contemporaries.10
The eldest brother, Charles, also progressed, but he did so in the rarefied
spaces of the ultra-royalist faction at court. Following his marriage to
Catherine, daughter of Baron Grey of Warke (and widow of Sir Edward Mosley of
Rolleston), Charles had gained an independent title, entering the House of
Lords in 1672 as Baron Grey of Rolleston (helped in this by his well-placed brother,
Francis). On the death of his father, the 3rd Baron, he combined the titles
as Lord North and Grey. Roger says little about his oldest brother's life, perhaps he was being deliberately cautious (as for example, in the Preface to the Lives of his other three brothers). This would be understandable since Charles (and his son William, see note 13, below) was known to have been a Jacobite, and the point of the biographies was to represent his family's loyalty to the Stuarts as moderate and correct; Roger also appears confused on some matters of fact.11 This reticence has also been interpreted as fraternal antipathy by some
commentators.12 Whatever the relations between the brothers had been in life, at the end of 1691, following the deaths of Charles and Dudley, Roger was at the head of the family, and
guardian and advisor to several groupings of nieces and nephews. These family relations would have repercussions for the rest of Roger's long life, not least the extraordinary career of his nephew, Charles's son William.13
So, having been objects of resentment before the
Revolution, Roger and his family became objects of suspicion after it. He was disinclined to continue an active political life, and for good reason. All his associates and family were known to be non-juror, and widely suspected of being Jacobite. His retirement therefore has the appearance of a retreat,or exile.14
He never took the opportunity to ease his position by compromising his
non-juror status. It is most unlikely that he was himself perceived to present a real threat, he passively conformed to the
Revolutionary regime and advised others to do the same, but it is clear that his contemporaries
doubted his loyalty and that of his associates. In 1696 he married Mary Gayer, the daughter of Sir Robert
Gayer, just at the moment when Sir Robert was obliged to flee the country on
account of his role in the Duke of Berwick's plot. Rougham was searched for
arms; it was searched again in 1715 during the Jacobite Rebellion, and for a
third time during the panic over the Atterbury Plot in 1722. For more than
forty years Roger North remained disloyal - which is to say, for forty years
Roger North maintained his faith. It is possible to imagine that he would have signed an oath of allegiance to William and
Mary, or to William, or to Anne as regents, but not as monarchs.15
Over and above his family responsibilities, and the few continuing duties he inherited from his previous public life, the first task Roger North undertook during his retirement was the improvement of his estate at Rougham. He was an amateur architect, both a friend of Christopher Wren and an acquaintance of Nicholas Barbon,16 and was likely to have been the designer of his own house. That house was demolished by his grandson;17 Howard Colvin and John Newman have brought together the manuscript materials that reveal him to be one of the more interesting commentators on architecture during the period.18 He was a very busy manager of his estate, attending to issues both legal and financial; and he was busy not only with his own estate, but also those of his clients and relations (and neighbours - he advised the nearby Walpole family in the early 1700s). There are a considerable number of manuscript papers devoted to such matters in the British Library and at Rougham. He also wrote a book instructing his contemporaries on how to manage their financial affairs, which he published anonymously, and another on the benefits of fish ponds.19 He published (anonymously) on a number of moral and philosophical topics,20 but only one of his publications goes anywhere near contemporary politics: a 1711 pamphlet attacking a recent Whig history of the reign of Charles II. From the point of view of the world Roger North spoke anonymously on apolitical topics. Meanwhile, in the private sphere of his manuscript world, he set about an unending routine of research and writing. This work in pen and ink in the private space of his study has been called 'a trackless sea of loose papers and manuscripts'.21 His manuscript remains are large, but it is fair to say that they are not quite trackless. We can, in any case, find paths through them. They can be divided according to four principal topics, or projects, which filled his time for more than thirty years.
First of all, he wrote a set of biographies of himself and of his brothers Francis, Dudley and John (see notes 5 and 10, above). These, as has been noted, were published posthumously, under his own name, the books being prepared for the press by his second son, Montague. At the same time as writing the biographies, he wrote the Examen,22 a forensic critique of a recent volume of history on the later Stuarts written by White Kennet, which had been published in 1706, and which was the object of his anonymous pamphlet of 1711.23 This first project, therefore, was an attempt to rewrite the recent history of England following the 'Glorious Revolution' from a Stuart-loyalist point of view. More 'personally' than that, in assembling and organising the literary remains of his brothers, he was continuing a number of individual projects associated with his own intellectual relationships with his brothers. This had begun in 1691 with seeing Dudley's Discourses on Trade through the press. Francis's will had required Roger to preserve and organise his literary remains and books, and Roger interpreted this generously enough to ensure the transcription and filing of every surviving paper.24 Roger North's first project can be grandly subsumed within a project to stabilise a past for his family, in a present in which it was threatened by annihilation from a new and triumphant Whig historicism.
The second project overlaps with the first and is traced through manuscript strata devoted to the history and analysis of the law. This material is not always separable from that of the first project,25 and although Roger never got further than drafting and preparation, it did result in the (much later) emergence of a book based upon his manuscript material.26 Such a book was opportune, even necessary. There was no legal education, as such, in seventeenth-century London. As at the universities, young men succeeded or failed in obtaining knowledge according to their guardian's judgement in the choice of teacher. A lawyer accumulated knowledge through copying out abstracts of court cases, judgments influential in the law, and any number of other materials, into a Common Place book. He would then seek to hold all of that material in his memory. (The numerous plans, prefaces and indices we find in Roger North's manuscripts bear witness to this memory tactic at work.) A good teacher would direct a pupil to good sources, or would allow his own collected materials to be copied. The law was a sprawling and diverse literature of cases and legislation, success as a lawyer required one to master that literature. There had indeed been one serious attempt to reform the law, led by Matthew Hale during the Interregnum (the Hale Commission). Even though that reform did not come about, change was anyway taking place. There was the rise of the Common Law and the relative decline of Chancery, there was the transforming conduct of legal practice with the emergence of a number of new, specialised functions - clerks, solicitors, attorneys and barristers. British society was undergoing a commercial and manufacturing transformation, and required new legal forms for its efficient functioning. For example, there was no national register of the ownership of land until the nineteenth century; Roger published anonymously proposing this common-sense, non-contentious reform in 1698 (see note 20). The form he chose to express the arguments was a fictionalised account of a discussion, as if overheard, between lawyers, one of whom unambiguously represents his elder brother, Francis (who may be considered a co-author).
The third project, his work on music, is the area that has earned Roger North his most significant recognition among present-day scholars. As noted above, his father and grandfather, as well as his older brother Francis, had been enthusiastic musicians. Roger took what was a longstanding family interest in music to another level. When Charles Burney began his research into the history of music, he sought out the North manuscripts.27 Since that time, Roger North has played an important role in any account not only of the history of music in England, but also for the history of musical theory. There is a growing recent bibliography that builds upon his first 'discovery' in the nineteenth century.28
The fourth project is natural philosophy, which is the focus of the materials on this website. You will find other material here explaining the scope and interest of Roger North's scientific writings, but a few points ought to be made in this biography. Roger wrote first-hand reports of natural phenomena, communicated with other scholars by letter, experimented with prisms and lenses, discussed scientific method at the level of epistemology, phenomenology and the physiology of the senses, assessed the claims of the competing cosmological systems of the New Philosophy, described his own experiments with barometers, criticised the methodology of Newtonian mathematical physics, reviewed the history of scientific knowledge from ancient to modern times, played with mechanical problems of turning and rolling forms, and studied the mathematics of the conic section - the list is not endless, but it is long. The purpose was the desire of a man with a ready wit, access to books, command of languages and a curious mind to play a part in what was happening in the world around him.29 The longer-term project was the preparation of a book, promised (according to Mary Chan) as early as the 1680s.30 There is a passage in one of these transcriptions which sets out this ambition:
The principles of Natural philosofy, have bin Much agitated among learned men, and at last /they have\ have taken up with Experimt, as ye onely Criterium of Invention; but are so well weary, or ye Subject so high driven that it is almost at rest. and then it is high time to Give it to ye world in English & plain language; ye french have done it some time Since, as Malbrance, but so awd with holy church, as it want's ye freedome Such a designe Should have.31and besides he swell's into Such Speculation as looseth the certeinty's. I Intend a plan of ye Same Sort, but Mor Restreined to phisicall probabilitys, how wel it succeds is a matter of my wish & care, but Not of my solicitude or [fear], for I wear a vail, and wtever My Modesty is, I will not be Seen to blush.32
Through a series of essays and specific papers, and numerous
prefaces and indices, this project found its telos in a transcription written-out by his son Montague, the Physica (BL Add. MS 32544). Roger
North's science is not quite the cranky enthusiasm of an autodidact and
outsider, but it very nearly is. When he and Francis experimented with
'baroscopes' in the 1670s, they were at the sharp end of current practice,
experimenting with the new laws of gases described by Robert Boyle. When he
worked with metals and machines with Dudley in the late 1680s, he was also very
much of his time. But as we work through the manuscript materials leading up
the Physica, we realise that there is
another agenda which is more to do with the politics of natural philosophy than
its putative 'principles'. In this work Roger North was setting out to produce nothing other than a general account of Natural Philosophy on materialist principles - a work which from the manuscript trace seems to have developed from having been a defence of Descartes, but which in time became a thing of its (and his) own.
Descartes, for Roger North, was the most important thinker of modern times: not because Descartes was always right (although, for Roger, he often was), but because Descartes had made it possible to be right. Roger North makes the point frequently, and states it nicely when he says:
ye Noble D. Cartes is an Example, who having Restored If not Invented ye true Methods of philosofising And lay'd open Nature, ffor all men to Inspect & Examine, is twitch't by Every paltry writer. as pardies, becaus he hitt not ye Mark Exactly in his law's of motion. but did Not he discover that motion had law?33
In accepting Descartes, North accepts some fundamental assumptions that the modern reader will have to learn about. Descartes' laws of motion, as interpreted by North, state that all motion is caused by contact, so that, for instance, planetary motion was caused by the force of a stream of aether (i.e., minute, perhaps infinitessimally small parts) on solid coagulate material (i.e., stuff). This required that the universe was a plenum (i.e., a 'fullness') and not a vacuum, since there would be no place not filled with aether. In that plenitude, light would not be rays projected by a light source, but vibrations within the aether (just as sound was a vibration in air). Roger North, like Descartes, was a rigorous materialist; for both of them what was not material was not an object of natural philosophy. He was a furious uncoverer of scholastic tendencies towards idealism pointing out, for example, that 'qualities' (such as redness, loudness, lovability, smallness) were not the properties of objects, but effects produced in judgment. Gravity was thus not a 'quality' in his cosmography; it was explained as the result of a fluid dynamics within the plenum, the pressure of aether on solid coagulate material. To North, Newton's account of gravity was no better than a schoolman's fantasy, and meaningless, indeed absurd, to a properly materialist Cartesian. Roger North was deeply suspicious of Isaac Newton, the hero of the age, who had been his own contemporary at Cambridge.34 He acknowledged that he was a genius, but feared that his brilliance blinded his admirers to his (whiggish) prejudices. One of the most beguiling experiences of reading North's criticism of Newton is to follow the way that he moves from accepting the mathematics to denying its applicability - because, for Roger North, the universe is not exact enough to be described mathematically. He probably understood Newton. He certainly laboured long and hard over the Principia, and developed a 'understanding' of it. We must remember that Roger North (and Isaac Newton) lived in an age innocent of 'the expert', an age in which anyone (i.e, any gentleman) could justifiably feel that he had the right to engage with advanced science from the standpoint of his general education. In as much as there were areas of we now call 'expertise', they would be what Roger North and his contemporaries called 'arts'. Isaac Newton commanded the 'art' of calculation and was a calculating natural philosopher. Robert Hooke commanded the 'art' of experiment and observation, and was an experimenting and observing natural philosopher. Roger North was a reasoning natural philosopher, trained in the 'art' of jurisprudence. All three could also calculate, experiment and reason beyond their determined areas of competence; but these are the general categories they occupied, or represented.
For Roger North 'Mathematicks'
errs on the side of over-exactness, nature is never as precise as our diagrams
(Roger North says this often, and it is certain that his diagrams are rarely precise).35 For him mathematics, being an art of calculation rather than an art of reasoning, is also vulnerable to the mathematician's fancy (as when the mathematician interprets gravity as
'attraction'), which might cause an irrational determination
to produce a proof of a prejudicially determined 'quality'. As to the art of experimenting, it is limited to the isolated instance, or accident. It is possible to
work inductively, but the truths of natural philosophy are not to be induced;
the natural philosopher returns always to deduction through understanding the operation of laws. For Roger North, induction's
real area of operation is limited to description and is therefore not natural philosophy, but rather natural history.36
Reasoning must bring mathematics and experiment together. But even reason is limited. Reason can only explain the
material world, and as we read in the essay on Reason, it cannot
(and must not) seek to rationalise the truths of Revelation.37
So if Newton was the calculating philosopher, and Hooke the experimenting and
observing philosopher, Roger North was the reasoning and judging philosopher.
His legal mind organises the material into arguments which are presented as
proofs and opinions within the limitation of what can be proved and opined. His
is the job of identifying and interpreting the law of nature (for example,
Descartes's laws of motion). He can, of course, introduce fancies (he would not
call them hypotheses) of his own, and it is an important part of his
self-presentation in his writing that he does; but he only does it as fancy, as
the expression of his esprit.38 What results from the combination of calculation, experiment and observation,
intuition and reason, is 'a demonstration', that is, the 'presentation before
the people' of a best account, which we can think of as being something like a judge's summing-up.
Roger North was not a member of the Royal Society. Nonetheless we have plenty of evidence that he was respected as a natural philosopher.39 It is interesting that he and his brothers never became members when they might have been able to command membership. During the 1670s and 1680s, they had kept themselves above and apart. Following his retirement he might have joined - he would not have been the only isolated, Jacobite corresponding member. But he never did, just as he never published an 'authored' work and never signed the oath of allegiance. There is a trace of narcissism in this detachment of himself from the world - not a 'bad' narcissism,40 but an ever-present self-consciousness and awkwardness. Frequently it appears as a kind of modesty (his own word in the quote above). It is something that might engage the sympathy of modern readers, just as it engages us in the work of Montaigne.
The life in manuscripts
Roger North died in 1734 at what would have been a grand old age at any period in human history. As has been explained above, his death precipitated a number of publications - of the Lives, of the Examen. His death also inaugurated his emergence as a named Author. The publications did not have the desired effect of changing the course of English historical writing, and the Whig narrative of history has remained dominant - even since its 'identification' as an ideology.41 From about 1690 Roger North had sat at his desk, drafting, writing, re-writing and re-drafting. His manuscripts are repetitive, but the repetition works like baroque counterpoint, bringing something new to the surface of the familiar with every re-working. What is constantly revealed and re-revealed is a restless, persistent, humorous, doubting (he always wrote 'doubdting'), satirical and independent mind. The manuscript materials also represent and document a life occupied in continual, laborious writing. Roger North spells the word as 'wrighting', reinforcing an etymological association with making, and physical labour. But one does wonder at the sheer volume of material, and one does ask why Roger North wrote, and why he wrote so much. In the Preface which opens BL Add MS32526, he says:
Insatiable desire to know, ambitious thincking, care of prserving Even ye hints, & Embrio's of thought /designe of Improving.\ facility, as well as pleasure, In scribling, and Courting a style, are a Combination of Inducem'ts to what you find here, and /also\ Much More of like fustian, In other places, wch by their solemne appearance In books, seem to have had somewhat of ye polite, [but?] In truth are but Extemporaneous sentiments, from one that writes swifter then thincks, and hath No test of his owne thoughts but his Review after wrighting.
a confession encourages us to pathologise his writing habit, to conjure up a
term such as 'graphomania'. Certainly, the physical reality of one of his
manuscript volumes is a shocking thing for the twenty-first-century reader. It
is messy. One of the principal
ambitions of these transcriptions has been to communicate the solid, opaque, physical-ness, the menace
of the written presence of this material. The aim has
been to present the illegibility of the hand-written page, the unresolvable and
ambiguous condition of a self-communication that we violate by reading. We are
the generation of the screen, and we tend to think of what people write as
immaterial data mediated through a transparent surface. We are inheritors of
the printed book, and we think of the book as an already resolved text,
something that was always going to be what we see before us, something
always-already on purely white paper, in purely black ink. The footnote and the
variorum edition destabilises this model of pre-determination a little, but
only enough to emphasise the editorial privilege of the final, canonical
(original intended) version, or meaning. But manuscripts do not read like this at all. In
his restless writing, Roger North was producing something different from an
object to be read. It is something more like the trace of a mind in process, or
the form of memory itself. The manuscripts present as something like the memory
work of his training as a legal student: the Common Place book. It would go entirely against the experience of the manuscript encounter recorded here to arrive at A Reading.
There is no doubt that Roger North's self-consciouness included a degree of persecution anxiety (again, not a disabling amount, just more than the trace necessary for good health). He was driven perhaps by a discomfort associated with this, perhaps too by a sense of lack which he hoped to fill, by expressing himself in writing. (This is exactly to use against him his own theory of pleasure and pain at work.42) There is also a degree of middle-aged grumpiness. But it is also, perversely, a complaint of exclusion by someone who refused to be a joiner:
Men of collegiate conversation, have often freedome of comunicating sentiment's, & so test them upon others understanding, wch where candor dwells, is of admirable use and satisfaction! but few ages allow a sett of Men of [this?] candor, to admitt such freedomes without censure, Either [the?] church or some stage principles may be hurt by ye Consequence even of a truth as they thinck, & then it is discourag[ed?] or Els some state policy, or faction may be Interested, & for that cause, truth Is to be supprest, or Els ill Nature, love of contradiction, raiseth a battery Impertinently, or a plagiary humour, If a thought be good, to run away [with?] & then claime it, hinder this freedome of Conversation, [Whereby?], In our pudle & slough of time, that advantage is denyed … Oh! for the Age of hero's.
It is my hope that you will be as much engaged by the writer and how he writes as by what is written about in these transcriptions. Roger North reads as one of those characters from the past who seems to speak to us directly … as if he were a 'modern'. This effect is perhaps enhanced by the access we have to him by our snooping though private papers. Perhaps we should think of him as a great diarist, like his contemporary (and probable acquaintance) Samuel Pepys.
1. Sir Thomas North, Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, London, 1579.
2. Dudley, 3rd Baron North, A Forest of Varieties, London, 1645; A Forest promiscuous of several seasons productions, London, 1659.
3. Dudley, 4th Baron North's's publications include: Some notes concerning the life of Edward Lord North, Baron of Kirtling, London, 1658; Observations and advices oeconomical, London, 1669; A narrative of some passages in or relating to the Long Parliament by a person of honor, London, 1670; Light in the Way to Paradise: With Other Occasionals …, London, 1682.
4. BL Add. MS 32526, f. 132r.
5. These details, and many more, can be found in a manuscript autobiography written in about 1697 (BL Add. MS 32506). This text has been published twice: first by Augustus Jessopp as The Autobiography of the Hon. Roger North, London, 1887, and more recently by Peter Millard, Notes of me, The Autobiography of Roger North, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2000.
6. Francis North, A Philosophical Essay of Musick Directed to a Friend, London, 1677.
7. This account is now among the North Papers at Rougham, and was transcribed in Korsten, F. J. M., Roger North (1651-1734) Virtuoso and Essayist, Amsterdam, 1981, pp. 223-6.
8. Dudley North, Discourses Upon Trade; Principally Directed to the Cases of the Interest, Coynage, Clipping, Increase of Money, London, 1691; see, BL Add. MS 32522, ff. 1-25.
9. A Discourse of the Poor, ... By the late Hon. Roger North, Esq., London, 1753.
10. Roger North, The Life of
the Right Honourable Francis North, Baron of Guilford, Lord Keeper of the Great
Seal under King Charles II. and King James II, etc. London, 1742, and The Life of the Honourable Sir Dudley North,
Knt. Commissioner of the Customs, and … of the Honourable and Reverend Dr.
John North, Master of Trinity College in Cambridge, London, 1744. See note 5, above, for the autobiography.
11. See note to BL Add. MS 32526, f. 131v.
12. Korsten, p. 17.
13. Charles North's eldest son, William, reached his majority in 1699, inheriting his father's title. He had already embarked upon a very successful military career, and went on to fight at several significant battles during the War of the Spanish Succession, losing his right hand at the battle of Blenheim, and rising to the rank of lieutenant-general. He married Maria Margaretta, daughter of Cornelius de Jong, the Vryheer van Ellemeet, treasurer of Holland and one of the richest men in Europe. He was a vigorous Tory advocate in the Lords, and a leader of the Jacobite party. William was appointed Governor of Portsmouth by the Tory administration in 1712; two years later he was removed from the post following the scandal of his open support of the Pretender. He was held in the Tower, accused of treason, at the time of the Atterbury plot. He was released and, holding the Jacobite title of Earl North, joined the wandering coterie and court of James III. In 1628 he took a commission in the Spanish army.
14. Models for such a retreat are legion, but that of Cicero might have struck a chord.
15. Korsten, pp 14-16 relates this drama, citing those documents
16. Christopher Wren (1632-1723), mathematician, astronomer and natural philosopher, most famous as an architect (and the architect of St Pauls); Nicholas Barbon (1640-98), physician, economist, entrepreneur and property developer, he was responsible for the repair works following a fire at the Middle Temple during RN's period as treasurer.
17. Korsten, p. 342, has: Rougham Hall, as Altered by Roger North in 1692 and 1693, drawn by W. Wood Bethell from Roger North's description, May 1887.
18. Colvin, H. & Newman, J., eds, Of Building. Roger North's Writings on Architecture, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1981.
19. Roger North, The Gentleman's Accomptant: or an Essay to Unfold the Mystery of Accompts. By Way of Debtor and Creditor, commonly called Merchants' Accompts; And Applying the Same to the Concerns of the Nobility and Gentry of England. […] By a Person of Honour, London, 1714; A Discourse of Fish and Fish-Ponds [...] Done by a Person of Honour, London, Printed for E, Curll, at the Dial and Bible agaist St. Dunstan's Church in Fleet-Street. 1713
20. Roger North, Arguments & Materials for a Register of Estates, London, 1698; Reflections in our Common Failings, Done out of French, By a Person of Honour, London, 1701; Reflections upon some passages in Mr. Le Clerc's life of Mr. John Locke: In a letter to a friend. With a Preface containing some Remarks on two large Volumes of libels; the one initialled State-Tracts, and the other falslely call'd The Compleat History of England, Vol. III commonly ascrib'd to Dr Kennet, London, 1711.
21. Schmidt, R, 'Roger North's Examen: A Crisis in Historiography', Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Autumn, 1992), p. 70.
22. Roger North, Examen: or, an Enquiry into the Credit and Veracity of a Pretended Complete History; shewing the Peverse and Wicked design of it, and the many falsities and abuses of Truth contained in it. Together with some Memoirs occasionally inserted. All tending to vindicate the Honour of the late King Charles the Second, and his Happy Reign, from the intended aspersions of that foul pen. By the Honourable Roger North, Esq; London, 1740.
23. Anon. [ed. Hughes, J.], A Complete History Of England: With The Lives Of All The Kings and Queens Thereof; From the Earliest Account of Time, to the Death of His late Majesty King William III, Containing A Faithful Relation of all Affairs of State Ecclesiastical and Civil. The Whole Illustrated with Large and Useful Notes, taken from divers Manuscripts, and other good Authors: And the Effigies of the Kings and Queens from the Originals, Engraved by the best Masters. London, 1706. Vols. 1, 2. are previously existing texts by various authors: John Milton, Sir Thomas Moore, Samuel Daniell, John Habington, Hall and Hollingshead, George Buck, Sir Francis Bacon, Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, John Hayward, Francis Godwin, William Cambden and Arthur Wilson. Vol. 3. was attributed to "a Learned and Impartial Hand" [i.e., White Kennett].
24. Mary Chan, The Life of Lord Keeper North, 1995, p. xii.
25. BL Hargrave MSS 319, 339, 394.
26. North, R.  A Discourse on the Study of the Laws of England, by the Hon. Roger North. Now first printed from the Original MS. in the Hargrave Collection. With Notes, and Illustrations by a Member of the Inner Temple, and a Biographical Sketch and Portrait of the Author, London, 1824.
27. Kassler, J. C., The Honourable Roger North (1651-1734): On Life, Morality, Law and Tradition, Ashgate Press, Aldershot, 2009, p. 406.
28. Rimbault, E. F., ed. Memoirs of Music, by the Hon. Roger North …, London, 1846; Chan, M., & Kassler, J. C., Roger North's The musicall grammarian and Theory of sounds: digests of the manuscripts; with an analytical index of 1726 and 1728 Theory of sounds by Janet D. Hine, Kensington, NSW, 1988; Kassler, J. C., Inner Music : Hobbes, Hooke, and North on Internal Character, Associated University Presses, Cranbury, NJ, 2001; Kassler, J. C., The Beginnings of the Modern Philosophy of Music in England, Francis North's A Philosophical Essay of Musick (1677) with comments of Isaac Newton, Roger North and in the Philosophical Transactions, Ashgate Press, Aldershot, 2004.
29. See, for example, Shapin, S. A social history of truth : civility and science in seventeenth-century England, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1994.
30. Mary Chan, The Life of Lord Keeper North, 1995, p. xii, n. 14. You will discover a number of plans and promises of such a work scattered through the transcribed volumes on this website; I am less confident in my dating than Mary Chan, but a number of them are clearly early.
31. Nicolas Malebranche (1628-1715). Malebranche was an Oratorian priest and scholar. He wrote on natural philosophy following his reading of Descartes' Treatise on Man. Thanks to powerful enemies his writings became the unlikely object of prohibition by the Roman Catholic Church. RN is probably here referring to De la Recherche de la Vérité, of 1674 (The Search after Truth, trans/eds Lennon, T. M., & Olscamp, P. J., Columbus, Ohio State University Press, 1980)
32. BL Add. MS 32526, f. 68r. RN never published under his own name, presenting his works as 'A Person of Honour".
33. BL Add. MS 32526 f. 67r-67v
34. Friesen, J P, The Reading of Newton in the early eighteenth century: Tories and Newtonianism, PhD.Thesis, University of Leeds, 2004.
35. Search for the word 'exact' in Add. MS 32546, there are numerous instances.
36. See BL Add MS 32546, f. 73r where RN says 'But In generall wee May Note Somewhat, tho Not otherwise then as naturall history, so litle dare wee attempt a solution'. Natural history, for RN, is the description of the world, not its explanation.
37. BL Add, MS 32526, f. 120r ff.
38. BL Add. MS 32546, f. 153r, 'Audendum tamen. It is more profitable In arts & sciences, to be bold & daring, then to despair. Somewhat of vaine flight, is often discovered, wch Exact discretion often comes short off. Even Errors of some, are hints to others, of truth. So with protestation of Modesty, & that I know what I am about, demanding No ones assent, but onely my owne freedome, Without Confidence or ostentation, I venture Into this speculation.' RN is referencing Horace, Epistles I, 2.40. He offers a pre-echo of Kant's Essay on Enlightenment with his employment of this reference. See, also, Michel Foucault's essay, 'What is Enlightment?' (P. Rabinow ed., J. Harari trans., The Foucault Reader, New York, Pantheon, 1984) for the notion of courage, and freedom, in knowledge/knowing in the 'classical age'.
39. See note on Add. MS 32546, f. 301r.
40. I refer to Freud's essay 'On Narcissism' (1914), where the concept is used to explain 'normal' ego development.
41. Butterfield, H., The Whig Interpretation of History (London, 1931), Norton, NY/London, 1965, p. 6. "We cling to a certain organisation of the past which amounts to a whig interpretation of history, and all our deference to research brings us only to admit that this needs qualifications in detail […] there is a tendency for all history to veer over into whig history".
42. See the essay on pain and pleasure in Add. MS 32526, f. 19v ff; he describes what we would call 'psychology' as 'microcosmick science' at Add. MS 32546, f. 198v.