William Cornwallis: Paradoxes and Encomions

Edited by Federica Medori



Better known for his pioneering use of Montaigne’s method and his contribution to the history of the English essay, Sir William Cornwallis the younger (c. 1579-1614) also wrote paradoxes, of which ten are extant. Six were published posthumously. Critics widely underline his modest attitude towards his paradoxes and Cornwallis himself, in a letter to his kinsman and legal agent John Hobart confessed that “in keepinge them secreatt [I] have sh[ew]/ed some littill discretion: I knowe their weaknes to/vnmeet obieackts for your Syght […] & the inteant whearfore I seant them was one[ly] to Paralell christmas games” (Bennett 1931, 220). Cornwallis was following a literary fashion: his friend John Donne wrote his own paradoxes in the early 1590s (Peters 1980, xv), while Munday’s translation of Ortensio Lando’s Paradossi via Estienne’s French translation had appeared in 1593.

Around 1600, Cornwallis composed four paradoxes, “That a great redd nose is an ornament to the face”, “That it is a happines to be in debt”, “That miserie is true Fœlicity” and “That Inconstancy is more commendable then Constancie”, which remained in manuscript form until 1931 when they were published by R.E. Bennett.

In 1616, two years after Cornwallis’s death, Richard Hawkins published Essayes or rather, Encomions, prayses of sadnesse: and of the emperour Iulian the Apostata. By Sir William Cornewallis, the younger knight (At London: Printed by George Purslowe, for Richard Hawkins, and are to be sold at his shop in Chauncery lane, neere Seriants Inne, 1616), featuring only two paradoxes (on sadness and on the Emperor Julian) which he got possession of in 1614. In the same year, Thomas Thorpe published an anonymous collection titled Essayes of Certaine Paradoxes (At London, Printed for Th. Thorp 1616): it contained four new texts, “The prayse of King Richard the third” (although the authorship of the text has been debated), “The prayse of the French Pockes”, “The prayse of Nothing” (both translations, respectively of Gaspar Lucas Hidalgo’s “[Discurso] Que trata de las excelencias de las bubas” and of Jean Passerat’s Latin poem Nihil), and “That it is good to be in debt”, which were reissued in 1617 by Richard Hawkins in a new edition with the original 1616 version of Essays or rather, Encomions. He also kept the title-page of the latter to separate the two parts of the volume while the new general title-page read Essays of Certaine Paradoxes. The second impression, inlarged (London: Printed for Richard Hawkins, and are to be sold at his Shop neare Serjeants-Inne in Chancery-Lane) (Bennett 1933, 198).


Works Cited


Bennet, R.E. (1931), “Four Paradoxes by Sir William Cornwallis, the Younger”, Harvard Studies and Notes in Philology and Literature 13, 219-40.

Bennet, R.E. (1933), “The Publication of Cornwallis’s Essayes and Paradoxes”, The Review of English Studies 34 (9), 197-8.

Peters Helen (ed.) (1980), Paradoxes and Problems by John Donne, Oxford: Clarendon Press.