« PreviousContinue »
exactly true, than histories of times, because they may choose an argument comprehensible within the notice and instructions of the writer: whereas he that undertaketh the story of a time, especially of any length, cannot but meet with many blanks and spaces, which he must be forced to fill up out of his own wit and conjecture.
For the History of Times, I mean of civil history, the providence of God hath made the distribution: for it hath pleased God to ordain and illustrate two exemplar states of the world for arms, learning, moral virtue, policy, and laws. The state of Græcia, and the state of Rome; the histories whereof occupying the middle part of time, have more ancient to them-histories which may by one common name be termed the antiquities of the world; and after them, histories which may be likewise called by the name of Modern History.
Now, to speak of the deficiencies. As to the heathen antiquities of the world, it is in vain to note them for deficient: deficient they are no doubt, consisting most of fables and fragments, but the deficience cannot be holpen; for antiquity is like fame, caput inter nubila condit, her head is muffled from our sight. For the history of the exemplar states, it is extant in good perfection. Not but I could wish there were a perfect course of history for Græcia from Theseus to Philopomen, what time the affairs of Græcia were drowned and extinguished in the affairs of Rome; and for Rome from Romulus to Justinianus, who may be truly said to be ultimus Romanorum. In which sequences of story the text of Thucydides and Xenophon in the one, and the text of Livius, Polybius, Salustius, Cæsar, Appianus, Tacitus, Herodianus, in the other, to be kept intire, without any diminution at all, and only to be supplied and continued. But this is matter of magnificence, rather to be commended than required and we speak now of parts of learning supplemental, and not of supererogation.
But for Modern Histories, whereof there are some few very worthy, but the greater part beneath me
diocrity, leaving the care of foreign stories to foreign states, because I will not be curiosus in aliena republica, I cannot fail to represent to your majesty the unworthiness of the history of England in the main continuance thereof, and the partiality and obliquity of that of Scotland, in the latest and largest author that I have seen; supposing that it would be honour for your majesty, and a work very memorable, if this island of Great Britain, as it is now joined in monarchy for the ages to come, so were joined in one history for the times passed, after the manner of the sacred history, which draweth down the story of the ten tribes, and of the two tribes, as twins, together. And if it shall seem that the greatness of this work may make it less exactly performed, there is an excellent period of a much smaller compass of time, as to the story of England; that is to say, from the uniting of the roses to the uniting of the kingdoms: a portion of time, wherein, to my understanding, there hath been the rarest varieties, that in like number of successions of any hereditary monarchy hath been known for it beginneth with the mixed adeption of a crown by arms and title; an entry by battle, an establishment by marriage; and therefore times answerable, like waters from a tempest, full of working and swelling, though without extremity of storm; but well passed through by the wisdom of the pilot, being one of the most sufficient kings of all the number. Then followeth the reign of a king, whose actions, howsoever conducted, had much intermixture with the affairs of Europe, balancing and inclining them variably; in whose time also began that great alteration in the state ecclesiastical, an action which seldom cometh upon the stage. Then the reign of a minor: then an offer of an usurpation, though it was but as febris ephemera: then the reign of a queen matched with a foreigner: then of a queen that lived solitary and unmarried, and yet her government so masculine, as it had greater impression and operation upon the states abroad than it any ways received from thence. And now last, this most happy and glorious event, that this
island of Britain, divided from all the world, should be united in itself: and that oracle of rest, given to Eneas, Antiquam exquirite matrem, should now be performed and fulfilled upon the nations of England and Scotland, being now reunited in the ancient mother name of Britain, as a full period of all instability and peregrinations: so that as it cometh to pass in massive bodies, that they have certain trepidations and waverings before they fix and settle; so it seemeth, that by the providence of God this monarchy, before it was to settle in your majesty and your generations, in which, I hope, it is now established for ever, it had these prelusive changes and varieties.
For Lives; I do find strange that these times have so little esteemed the virtues of the times, as that the writing of lives should be no more frequent. For although there be not many sovereign princes or absolute commanders, and that states are most collected into monarchies, yet there are many worthy personages that deserve better than dispersed report or barren elogies. For herein the invention of one of the late poets is proper, and doth well enrich the ancient fiction: for he feigneth, that at the end of the thread or web of every man's life there was a little medal containing the person's name, and that Time waited upon the shears; and as soon as the thread was cut, caught the medals, and carried them to the river of Lethe; and about the bank there were many birds flying up and down, that would get the medals, and carry them in their beak a little while, and then let them fall into the river: only there were a few swans, which, if they got a name, would carry it to a temple, where it was consecrated.
And though many men, more mortal in their affections than in their bodies, do esteem desire of name and memory but as a vanity and ventosity,
Animi nil magnæ laudis egentes;
which opinion cometh from the root, non prius laudes contempsimus, quam laudanda facere desivimus: yet that will not alter Solomon's judgment, Memoria justi cum laudibus, at impiorum nomen putrescet: the one
flourisheth, the other either consumeth to present oblivion, or turneth to an ill odour.
And therefore in that style or addition, which is and hath been long well received and brought in use, felicis memoriæ, pia memoria, bona memoria, we do acknowledge that which Cicero saith, borrowing it from Demosthenes, that bona fama propria possessio defunctorum; which possession I cannot but note, that in our times it lieth much waste, and that therein there is a deficience.
For Narrations and Relations of particular actions, there were also to be wished a greater diligence therein; for there is no great action but hath some good pen which attends it.
And because it is an ability not common to write a good history, as may well appear by the small number of them; yet if particularity of actions memorable were but tolerably reported as they pass, the compiling of a complete history of times might be the better expected, when a writer should arise that were fit for it; for the collection of such relations might be as a nursery garden, whereby to plant a fair and stately garden, when time should serve.
There is yet another partition of history which Cornelius Tacitus maketh, which is not to be forgotten, especially with that application which he accoupleth it withal, Annals and Journals: appropriating to the former, matters of state; and to the latter, acts and accidents of a meaner nature. For giving but a touch of certain magnificent buildings, he addeth, Cum ex dignitate populi Romani repertum sit, res illustres annalibus, talia diurnis urbis actis mandare. So as there is a kind of contemplative heraldry, as well as civil. And as nothing doth derogate from the dignity of a state more than confusion of degrees: so it doth not a little imbase the authority of an history, to intermingle matters of triumph, or matters of ceremony, or matters of novelty, with matters of state. But the use of a journal hath not only been in the history of time, but likewise in the history of persons, and chiefly of actions; for princes in ancient time had, upon point of honour and policy both, journals
kept, what passed day by day: for we see the Chronicle which was read before Ahasuerus, when he could not take rest, contained matter of affairs indeed, but such as passed in his own time, and very lately before: but the journal of Alexander's house expressed every small particularity, even concerning his person and court; and it is yet a use well received in enterprises memorable, as expeditions of war, navigations, and the like, to keep diaries of that which passeth continually.
I cannot likewise be ignorant of a form of writing, which some grave and wise men have used, containing a scattered history of those actions which they have thought worthy of memory, with politic discourse and observation thereupon; not incorporated into the history, but separately, and as the more principal in their intention; which kind of ruminated history I think more fit to place amongst books of policy, whereof we shall hereafter speak, than amongst books of history: for it is the true office of history to represent the events themselves together with the counsels, and to leave the observations and conclusions thereupon to the liberty and faculty of every man's judgment; but mixtures are things irregular, whereof no man can define.
So also is there another kind of history manifoldly mixed, and that is History of Cosmography, being compounded of natural history, in respect of the regions themselves; of history civil, in respect of the habitations, regiments, and manners of the people; and the mathematics, in respect of the climates and configurations towards the heavens: which part of learning of all others, in this later time, hath obtained most proficience. For it may be truly affirmed to the honour of these times, and in a virtuous emulation with antiquity, that this great building of the world had never thorough lights made in it, till the age of us and our fathers: for although they had knowledge of the antipodes,
Nosque ubi primus equis oriens afflavit anhelis,