« PreviousContinue »
As my friends, or readers, may desire to know how I have been led to write this poem, its object, and why, at this advanced age of my life, I have now printed it, I will make
Preface an answer to such inquiries.
It is now fifty-three years ago since the first idea of the following work occurred to me. In 1792 I made an excursion, during the summer vacation from legal business, in the counties of Hampshire and Dorset. I hyd been studying in my Temple chambers the ancient periods of our English history, and was desirous of seeing some of the places where its more striking incidents had taken place, Among these, Stonehenge, with its druidical stones, and Corfe Castle, at the gate of which our AngloSaxon king, Edward, called the Martyr, had been stabbed by the assassin employed by his mother-inlaw Elfrida, deeply interested me. I was then twenty-four years of age, and with all the strength and spirits of that happy period of our varying life.
In my road to Weymouth, where his Majesty George III. was residing, whom I wished to see there in his simple privacy, and more like his real self, as the individual king divested of his state, and of the needful appendages of his royal station, I reached Abbey Cerne, and finding some ruins of the ancient monastery there, I amused myself with examining them, and determined to pass the night at the little comfortable village inn at that place.
As I was taking my tea alone in its retired room, the crimes and violences of our earlier history, and the characters of our kings during the feudal period, became the subject of my solitary meditations; and in musing over these, the popular history of our Richard III. strongly arrested my attention.
When I considered all the circumstances of his life and position ; brother of the most accomplished royal gentleman then in Europe ; sprung from one of the noblest lines in England ; son of the late Lord Protector; educated or brought up, during his brother's reign, in the improving spirit and manners of that day, and performing every thing, which he had done, except the destruction of his nephews, with the concurrence and co-operation of some of the elder nobility of the kingdom; and long a subject of popular regret, especially in the northern counties; it appeared to me that he could not have been that mere cruel, malignant, and odious ruffian which the genius of our Shakspeare has impressively represented. Our immortal dramatist thought and wrote under the predominating influence of the interests, prejudices, and exaggerations, and, we may add, misrepresentations, in many respects, of the Tudor writers, in the reign of the Tudor sovereigns, to whom it was of great importance to vilify and depreciate Richard, whom they had deposed, and also his still endangering friends and relations. It was their essential policy, for their own security, to make him as revolting as possible, to prevent the public feeling from regretting him or his line.