Page images
PDF
EPUB

Two chroniclers, of that rather bumble name, as it began to be reckoned, belong to the reign of James I., Stow and Speed, both tailors. The former's Summary of the Chronicles of England, an octavo volume, has already been mentioned; it was reprinted several times, as was also an abridgement of it, in the reign of Elizabeth. An enlargement of the Summaries, under the title · Flores Historiarum,' was published in 1600. After the death of Stow, his collection of papers, which the industry of a long life had amassed, fell into the hands of Edmond Howes, who, having put them together with additions of his own, printed the whole under the name of Stow's Chronicle. The first edition is in 1615. The preceding year, Speed had published the • History of Great Britain under the Romans, Saxons, Danes and

Normans,' in one volume folio. Nicolson, although he gives some praise to this book, adds, rather foolishly, . But what could • be expected from a tailor?' The imputation of appertaining to a trade so essential to civilized man, and especially to the courtiers of Elizabeth and James, is more than redeemed by Speed's diligence and learning, in which he seems inferior to none of his predecessors, except Stow, a member also of the cross-legged craft. He is, however, less agreeable than either Stow or Holingshed.

A far more able pen was employed on the same subject by Samuel Daniel, groom of the chamber to Anne of Denmark, an elegant poet, not quite unworthy to receive, as he did, the laurel from Spenser, and to transmit it to Ben Jonson. He published, in 1613 and 1616, a very well-written history of England from the Norman conquest, after an introduction for the previous period, to the death of Edward III. In this he had occasional recourse to records, used more critical judgment in sifting facts, than those who had gone before him, and, if he is now superseded as an historian, ought still to be remembered in the annals of English literature, for the purity and elegance of his style.

Daniel's history was continued some time afterwards by Nicholas Trussel to the death of Edward IV.; but this is said to be a very indifferent performance, and has not been republished along with Daniel in Kennet's 'Complete History.' Lord Bacon's Life of Henry VII. appeared in 1622, and proved that in this hardly trodden path of literature, we were not incapable of emulating the Italian writers in what they had made their main boast, the acuteness and depth of their political reflections. After so fine a specimen of genius, it is only to make our enumeration complete, that we mention the lives of the three first kings after the conquest, published by Sir John Hayward in 1613. Meantime Camden, for whatever reason, thought fit to adopt the Latin language in his Annals of Elizabeth; yet, as that important work was soon translated, it may be named, without much impropriety, in the series of English history. Bishop Godwin published also, in Latin, the Annals of Henry VIII., Edward VI., and Mary. They were translated in the ensuing reign by his son.

A few select portions of English history were attempted under Charles I. Sir John Hayward wrote the reign of Edward VI. ; Thomas Habington that of Edward IV.; and George Buck an. ticipated the paradox of Walpole and Laing, in sustaining the dark cause of Richard III. The much more valuable Life of Henry VIII., by Lord Herbert of Cherbury, did not appear till 1649, a year after the author's death. Less profound, but not less judicious, and certainly more fully to be trusted in the absence of other authorities, than Lord Bacon, he stands far above any third English historian who had as yet appeared, and might challenge comparison with the celebrated' Latin annalist of Elizabeth. In the reign of Charles also came to light the Life of Sir Thomas More, by his son-in-law Roper, and that of Wolsey by Cavendish ; but we cannot pretend to enumerate any more works of biography, even when they may throw light on public events.

The last, and not the least renowned of the chroniclers, was Sir Richard Baker, who prudently acted on the plan of not troubling the unlearned reader with references to authorities he could not estimate, or curious disquisitions on antiquity; for which, indeed, his own residence in the Fleet prison did not particularly qualify him. Baker's Chronicle, first published in 1641, enjoyed a pretty extensive reputation for the best part of a century. It was the book of the parlour-window to the squire, the parson, and the ancient gentlewoman; they read there the fatal bowl held out to fair Rosamond in her secret bower by the revengeful Eleanor, the glorious apotbeosis of the Countess of Salisbury's garter, the dying pangs of Jane Shore, and the rejection of the Princess Bona for the beautiful Elizabeth Woodville. A frigid inquisitiveness bad not torn away the stolen zone of truth from these false Florimels of our ancient story. As Holingshed was a very bulky and expensive writer, and Speed not an interesting one, the success of Baker is not surprising. Nicolson says, his manner is new, and seems to please the • rabble; but learned men will be of a different opinion. In fact, it is a book full of great errors in the eyes of such men; yet has probably given more pleasure, and diffused more universal knowledge, than what they would have written. It was enough for Sir Roger de Coverley; but since the Sir Rogers are extinct, it is natural that their instructors should be forgotten. After the Restoration, a continuation of Baker's Chronicle, which ended with Elizabeth's decease, was annexed to the subse

quent editions by Thomas Philips, who is understood to have had some assistance from Sir Thomas Clarges, brother-in-law of General Monk, for the contemporary period. May's History of the Parliament, published in 1647, is upon a more regular and classical model than any former author had adopted; and had he completed the whole with as much moderation and coolness as we find in what is published, which, there is some reason to suspect, would not have been the case, no historian of tbat century would have deserved a higher reputation. We shall not mention in future either memoirs by persons concerned in public events, or particular accounts of detached periods, making one exception for Milton's History of England to the Norman Conquest, for the sake of the greatness of his name, and in some measure for the value of the work.

The struggle between liberty and prerogative, resumed, with still greater dissent of opinion than before, about the year 1680, produced a learned controversy as to the antiquity of the Commons in Parliament, and the sources, in general, of popular privileges. Dr Brady, a physician of Cambridge, devoted to the support of monarchical authority in its highest claims, having published, in 1684, an answer to Petyt and Atwood, the advocates of Parliamentary rights, entitled, • An Introduction to the • Old English History,' followed this up next year with the first volume of a complete history of England; the second not appearing till 1700, and carrying down the narrative to the close of Richard II.'s reign. This work, being little else than a series of extracts, translated from Matthew Paris, Walsingham, and others, arranged merely as annals, and confined chiefly to the constitutional and Parliamentary department, can hardly be reckoned among our general histories. Tyrrell, as strenuous on the Whig as Brady was on the Tory side, thought it necessary to refute the unfair representations of the latter in five folio volumes,— A General History of England, both Civil and Ec. clesiastical, from the earliest times ;' printed from 1700 to 1704. It is said that his design was to bring it down to the revolution in 1688; a miscalculation either of his own or his readers' time, since the pretty serious achievement above mentioned conducts us only to the days of Richard II. Of a work so diffuse as to be almost equally useless to the learned and the unlearned, since it would save time to read the original writers, it is needless to say much: we have heard Tyrrell praised by a competent judge for his industry and fairness in the detail of constitutional antiquities.

We have now come down to the reign of Anne, and to the eighteenth century; and it cannot be said that any one history of England existed, to which a foreigner could be referred, or from which a citizen might learn the story of his ancestors ; those which we have enumerated, being either written with little research and discrimination, or broken off at a very distant point of time. Lawrence Echard, a clergyman, attempted to remove this discredit by his own • History of England from the time of • Julius Cæsar to the death of King James I.,' published in 1706 ; the second and third volumes, which came out in 1718, carrying on the narrative to the revolution of 1688. Considered as to its extent, this was the most complete history that had appeared ; but Echard, though not a very bad writer, failed both in impartiality and good sense when he descended to the great contention of the preceding age. Yet, as he fell in with the prejudices of a very numerous body, the Tory and High-church party, and, though with no original information much worthy of credit, had the advantage of several highly-important works printed within forty years before, which had not yet been reduced into a single narration, he seems for some years to have enjoyed a certain popularity.

This popularity, however, must be ascribed in a very low sense to Echard, when compared with what was obtained by another historian in a few more years. Strange it seems, that the first history of England, which exercised any considerable influence over the national opinion, or acquired a permanent reputation, was to come from the

pen

of a Frenchman. Quod minimè reris, Graiâ pandetur ab urbe. Rapin de Thoyras, of an ancient family in Languedoc, was one of those Protestants whom the tyranny of Louis XIV. drove to England in 1685. He obtained a small pension from William III., and the Earl of Portland intrusted to him the education of his son. Motives of economy induced him afterwards to settle at Wesel, in the duchy of Cleves, where he undertook and completed, after a labour of near twenty years, his well-known History of England. This was first published at the Hague in seventeen volumes, the last in 1725; and two translations of it, by Tindal and by Kelly, appeared within a very few years. The former is the best known, on account of the continuation down to 1760, which, though bearing all along the name of Tindal, is understood to have been written, in the latter volumes, by Dr Birch. Rapin had the advantage of correcting the loose and slovenly narrative of his predecessors, especially as to names and dates, by means of the recent publication of Rymer's Federa, which he studied with great care, and from which he had previously published a selection of treatises and other important documents, entitled Acta Regia. Yet all the earlier part of his history is very inexact, according to the measure of our present knowledge ; and he is little worthy of perusal before the reign of Henry VIII. From that period, bis probity and love of truth render him a very respectable, though not profound or lively writer; he has preserved entire several public documents-a practice, which, if not quite agreeable to the critical laws of composition, is highly convenient in such a history as that of England—and has been diligent in comparing his materials, and in allowing for the distortion of party prejudice. A slight bias towards the Parliamentary side, is sometimes perceptible in his relation of the reign of Charles I. But the unfortunate situation of Rapin, not only as a foreigner, but as resident in a foreign country, seems to have kept him in ignorance of much that was necessary for an English historian; a more striking instance of which cannot be mentioned, than that he never quotes, and apparently did not know, the existence of Whitelock's Memorials, a book of such standard character for the period of the civil wars, and the first edition of which had been published nearly forty years.

Guthrie, one of the first who practised the trade of serving the booksellers with copy by the ream, produced, in 1744, three very thick folio volumes, with double columns, according to the fashion of that time, denominated a History of England. Of his predecessor, he observes : • Rapin's history appeared at a • time when the principles on which he wrote were useful to a

party, who therefore powerfully recommended it from the press, of which they were then masters. To this, and to the ridiculous prepossession that a foreigner was best fitted to write the English • history, was owing the reception it met with from the pub• lic.' This is foolish enough, considering that no party could at that time be called masters of the press, any more than when Guthrie himself wrote, and leads us to expect a less temperate performance than we really find. This history, however, seems not deficient in general impartiality, though with about as much leaning towards the royalist, as Rapin shows towards the Parliamentary side. But, as it was uncommonly diffuse, inconvenient from bulkiness, and proceeded from a man who had no literary reputation sufficient to warrant what he wrote without vouching authorities, and who seemed to have bad recourse to none but such as were common, he so far from succeeded in his expectation of superseding the foreigner whom he disparaged, that few books of the kind are lower in price and reputation at the present moment. It was not much better in his own age: Horace Walpole said sarcastically, when some reviewer quoted Guthrie's History, that he himself was conversant with the living works

of dead authors, not the dead works of the living.' We will deviate so far from our system of mentioning no history which relates to a particular period, as to praise the very prolix, but

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »