My name is Mister Thomas Hobbes. If you are one of the Americans from the future, you know me as a political philosopher, the praised and reviled author of Leviathan. If you are a fellow down-timer, in this Year of Our Lord 1633, then you probably don't know me yet at all. Unless you have read my translation of Thucydides.
I was, until recently, the governor of young William Cavendish, the Earl of Devonshire. That means that I watched over him during his travels abroad, and tutored him as needed. Just as I did for his father, some score of years before.
The rude name for governor is "bearleader." People fancy that our charges are so unruly that they are like dancing bears, whom we must lead on a leash. But William wasn't like that. Usually.
We left England in the spring of 1632. Christian, the dowager countess of Devonshire, had been uncertain that her son would benefit from a grand tour of Europe which began when he was not even fifteen. I assured her that "the only time of learning is from nine to sixteen; after that, Cupid begins to tyrannize."
We crossed the Channel and made landfall in Calais. There, I had the luxury of a room to myself, and I decided to take advantage of it. No, not to enjoy the questionable charms of some scullery maid. I closed the door, and started singing: "Phyllis! Why should we delay?"
You don't know it? It's one of Edmund Waller's poems, set to music by Henry Lawes.
"Can we (which we never can)
Stretch our lives beyond their span,
Beauty like a shadow flies,
And our youth before us dies.
Or, would youth and beauty stay,
Love has wings, and will away."
It's my belief that singing is good for the lungs.
"Love has swifter wings than Time;
Change in love to heaven doth climb.
Gods, that never change their state,
Vary oft their love and hate."
Someone was banging on the wall for some reason. I hoped he would go away.
Our next destination was the great city of Paris, of course. At the iron gates, the customs officials searched everything. Young men pled to serve as William's valet, and thrust their letters of reference through the windows of our carriage. Fortunately, we did not need their dubious services, as William had brought his own servants.
Geoffrey Watson was an under-butler, and also served as William's valet. He had some letters, so Lady Cavendish had given him charge of her library and study. Geoffrey was to make sure William did his lessons if I was off on other business. He was always polite to me. Sometimes I thought him a shade too polite.
Samuel Brown was our coachman, but he had spent more years riding the deck of a ship than the driver's seat of a coach. He had sailed the Mediterranean with the Levant Company, and he was, what's your American term, "our muscle." Samuel certainly had plenty of those. He was quick to make friends wherever we traveled. Except that one could never be sure what he would say to a Catholic priest.
Then there was Patrick McDonnell. You may be surprised that we would have an Irishman among us. Clearly, you are not aware that the Irish make excellent running footmen. Patrick was of a wiry build, and his calves were considered first-rate. Unfortunately, he had come into a growth spurt, and hence was no longer of a height with his fellows. Otherwise I am not sure that Her Ladyship would have parted with him. He could run ahead of our coach, or ride postilion, as needed.
While I could tutor William in the academic subjects, there were some he would learn better from others. Fencing, horsemanship, and dancing, to name a few. Hence, I enrolled him in a French academy. It was held in the basement of a French palace, the Louvre.
This gave me some leisure time, and leisure, as you know, is the mother of philosophy. I attended many soirees, and heard much praise of the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers. This did not surprise me, as intellectuals find it easier to reverence the dead than to applaud their living competitors.
Paris is a great city, which would achieve perfection if only one were to do away with the Parisians. If something foreign arrives in Paris, they either think that they invented it or that it has always been there.
French cookery was forced upon us by necessity, as we had not thought to bring a British chef with us. We were almost poisoned by what the French presume to call food. If only the French had some interest in the culinary arts, a stay in France would be much more pleasant. Unfortunately, the French innkeepers are as pleased to see their dishes go untouched as their English counterparts are displeased if the food is disliked. The French don't hesitate to serve stale mackerel, or raddled eggs, or beef roast to a crisp.
At least the French wine is passable.
In November, 1632, we boarded a Provencal felucca, which would take us from Marseille to Genoa. We had suffered several delays on the road south from Paris, thanks to outbreaks of contagion and banditry, and had arrived too late in the season to obtain passage on a larger vessel At least, too late to do so without enduring further delays.
We were only four days into our voyage when William twitched his nose and said, "I smell smoke, Mister Hobbes."
I wasn't especially worried, at that point. The sailors were well aware of the danger of fire at sea. There was no hubbub, yet, to alarm me. But it was still conceivable that William's nose was just keener than theirs.
"Coming from someplace on board?" I asked.
"No . . . I don't think so. Look, on the shore! There's a fire!"
Before we could say anything further, each of us was gripped, painfully, by a meaty and indelicate hand. "Shut your mouths, both of you," the sailor behind us whispered urgently. "Barbary pirates raiding yonder village." He let go of our shoulders, and we turned to look at him. "Sound carries far too well over water. If they hear us, snick . . . ." He drew his finger cross his throat. "Or if you are spared, the exciting life of a galley slave."
Poor William shuddered. He had turned fifteen only the month before, and had led a rather sheltered life in central England. Still, he had recently been exposed to certain harsh realities. In Marseille, he and I had toured one of the French Navy's war galleys—it was Marseille's principal tourist attraction. He had seen the conditions under which the galley slaves labored, little dreaming that he might be in danger of being forced into such a life himself.
Nonetheless, he was a nobleman, a member of Britain's warrior aristocracy. "Can't we do something?"
I was pleased that he asked, although I would not encourage any reckless conduct.
Of course, the captain wouldn't consider any martial exploit. "This isn't a warship," he said. "Count yourself lucky it's night."
The sailor who had confronted us, and the other common seaman, were rowing now. Feluccas mostly travel under sail, but they carry oars for emergency use.
"Why don't you raise your sail?" William asked the captain. "You could take advantage of the land breeze to move you away from shore."
The captain shook his head. "The sail is white. If it were a moonless light, we might chance it, but we are better off moving slowly and remaining hard to see."
He smirked. "That reminds me. I have something better for you to do than ask questions. Get your servants on deck; I can use three more oarsmen. For that matter, you look healthy enough to pull an oar yourself." I protested his highhandedness, but William assured me that he had no objection, and I was thus quelled.
"Your bolletino di sanita, signore."
I presented the health certificates I had received from the French authorities, hoping for fair treatment.
Hoping in vain. "La buona mancia per il signor ufficiale," the inspector suggested, holding out his hand.
"He wants something to eat?" asked William.
"He wants a bribe," I whispered. I decided to just ignore the suggestion, and hope the man wouldn't press the issue. "Our papers are in order."
The official didn't back down. "The ink here is smudged, I am not sure these papers are genuine."
It was just too much. "We were just in a small boat for eight days. Of course the ink is a little smudged!"
"I will have to put you in quarantine."
I bowed to the inevitable, and met his demand. Some pirates have no need for warships.
We dined that night with Lewes Roberts, one of the English merchants resident in Genoa. I let William tell him about our close encounter with the pirates.
Roberts didn't seem surprised. "The corsairs aren't really under the sultan's control, anymore; the pasha in Algiers does whatever he damn pleases. The French only have ten galleys on patrol in the summer, and six or eight in the winter. As to England, we simply encourage our privateers to harass the Moors in turn. Which, in my opinion, has made matters worse, not better."
Roberts was avid for news from home, which we gave to him. Naturally, we asked him about the war in Germany.
"The Swedish king marches from victory to victory," he told us. "Aided now, I understand, by people from a strange place called Grantville."
That was the very topic I was hoping he would bring up. "Grantville?" says I, widening my eyes in feigned surprise.
"Supposedly it is a town of the far future, transported by God's will from someplace called 'West Virginia,' in the Americas, into Thuringia in 1631."
"Remarkable," I said. "Why would anyone believe such an absurd story? Next, they will speak of Prester John." I had heard of Grantville already, from my friend Doctor William Harvey, the king's physician. Harvey had confirmed that Grantville existed, and that its residents were masters of the mechanical arts. Moreover, that they had knowledge of the future, through history books and not by witchcraft.
You understand that, as a youngster, William had only inherited his father's title, not his property. I was employed by William's mother, Christian. She managed the Cavendish estates with a wise and firm hand. Which they needed, William's father having been a spendthrift.
After I told her of Harvey's confidences—which he seemed, after the fact, to have regretted making—I had been instructed to go to Grantville and determine what those history books had to say about the Cavendish family, our country, and the countries in which the family had investments.
Perhaps you know this already, but the Cavendishes are one of the wealthiest families in the kingdom. Thanks, in large part, to Christian's Scottish canniness. They own perhaps one hundred thousand acres, almost all of them in Derbyshire. And they hold significant interests in many merchant ventures, including the East India Company and the Muscovy Company.
Christian directed me to conceal the family's interest in the time travelers. She thought it might be imprudent to show too particular an interest in Grantville. But it was customary for the sprigs of the English nobility, some even younger than William, to tour France, Italy and, if conditions permitted, Germany. So William was my excuse to be on the Continent.
Christian hadn't intended him to go on his grand tour until he was two years older. But he must needs go, that the devil drives.
Even William didn't know of our secret mission to Grantville. It was all in keeping with the Cavendish family motto: Cavendo tutus, "safe by being cautious." The motto, as I hope you noticed, is a play on the family name.
Anyway, Roberts had more to say about Grantville.
"The West Virginians are real, all right. Real enough to smash six Spanish tercios. Real enough for their townspeople to chew up several squadrons of Croat cavalry." William looked fascinated. Typical teenage boy. His academy got the young gentlemen interested in art by having them sketch fortifications.
"I understand that Grantville is now the center of some sort of confederation. They control much of Thuringia and Franconia, under Swedish protection of course."
"What has been the effect on trade? Are the Germanies safer now?" I meant safer for Protestants, of course.
"The trade through Milan, over the Saint Gotthard Pass, has picked up." This ancient trade route led through Lucerne and Zurich, to the Rhine.
"What about the Brenner Pass?" That connected northeastern Italy to Tyrolia and Bavaria.
"I couldn't say. You will have to ask about that in Venice."
I decided it was time to steer the conversation away from the Germanies. I asked about Venice, and was told that the new doge, this past November, had proclaimed Venice free of contagion. Then we spoke about doings in Rome, and so forth.
The next day, it was time to head on, to the port of Leghorn, and, ultimately, to Florence. There was no reason to linger in Genoa; it does not have the antiquities of Rome, the natural wonders of Naples, or the bustle of Venice.
When we were in Paris, we visited Mersenne, the French mathematician, with whom William's Uncle Charles corresponded regularly. Mersenne, in turn, gave us a letter of introduction to Galileo. After checking into our hotel in Florence, I sent Samuel and the precious letter on to Galileo's villa in Arcetri, with a request for an audience.
Uncle Charles had agreed with Christian that I should go to Germany by way of France and Italy. "You should visit Galileo at the earliest opportunity," Charles told me. "He is, what, sixty-eight, now? Who knows how much longer he will live? Or, for that matter, how long the Inquisition will permit him to receive foreign visitors."
While we waited to hear from the great man, we toured the city, beginning with the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Upon arrival, we paid for the privilege of climbing to the cathedral's octagonal cupola, perched on the famous Duomo of Brunelleschi, the largest dome in the world.
We went back down, then strolled back toward our lodgings, stopping in whichever shops caught our fancy. Mostly bookstores, I must admit. Often, we heard English, as Florence was a popular stop on the English Giro d'Italia.
We were in a bookstore, browsing, when we heard the bookseller addressed in English. Naturally, we looked up. The new arrival held a journal of some kind in his hand.
"Yes, what may I show you?" said the eager storekeeper.
"What are the favorite herbs of the sheep of this country?" the Englishman read aloud. There was a silence.
"I am sorry, signore," said the Florentine. "I don't know the answer."
This didn't faze his visitor. "In your market, what are the values of whales of different sizes?"
"Signore, we are far from the sea. May I show you a book on whales and other marvelous fish?"
William leaned closer to me. "Why is he asking these questions?"
It was then the custom for parents to insist that their children, touring the continent, keep detailed journals. William, indeed, had one. This fellow obviously had created a questionnaire for use in every city he visited.
The whale fancier didn't take the bookseller's hint that he should start looking at books. "Are there many instances of people having been bitten by mad animals?"
The Italian smacked his forehead. "Signore, I am so pleased that I can tell you where to find out the answer. Turn left as you leave my humble store. When you reach the fountain, turn right. Take your sixth left, and then go to the building which has a sign of a bleeding arm. The good doctor there is an expert on the subject in question. But you must hurry, because he will soon close his office for the day."
They parted with many expressions of good wishes. Out went the earnest questioner, and the bookseller watched him walk off.
Turning back into the store, he caught sight of us, and looked at us quizzically. No doubt he wondered what particular Anglic madness we were afflicted with.
"Whales!" I gasped, and started laughing. The others quickly joined in.
"So tell me, my good man, does the 'good doctor' exist?"
"Aren't you worried that fellow will come back, and complain?"
"No, sir. The fountain is many blocks away. When he reaches it, he must decide which right to make, because there are several. Once he turns, he must decide what counts as a left. Only a true street, or does an alley signify? He will wander harmlessly through the streets of Florence. Perhaps he will even find a whale market."
At the inn that night, William had a bit of a surprise. You will understand, after I tell you about the incident, that I did not observe it, nor did I hear about it from William directly.
William had gone up the stairs, guided by the chambermaid. He had left his own journal—free of any notes on whales, may I add—at the table, and I sent Geoffrey up with it, to return it to him.
When Geoffrey was nearly at his room, he distinctly heard the chambermaid tell William, "I can give you a kiss, to help you sleep better."
Instead of interrupting this tête-à-tête, as would have been proper, Geoffrey stopped in his tracks to eavesdrop.
The wench continued, "Or I can give you something more, so you don't sleep much at all."
William fled back to the common room, and I can vouch for the fact that there was plenty of color in his cheeks. When I asked him about it, he just mumbled.
An hour later, I personally escorted William up to his bedchamber, still wondering what exactly had happened. The room was empty by then, that I know.