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translator of that history, out of the British tongue, which Walter, the archdeacon of Oxford, brought out of Normandy, and delivered unto him? For the further confirmation thereof, and more credit to his story, Henry of Huntingdon, who lived in the time of king Stephen, and wrote likewise the history of this land, bringeth the line of Brute from Æneas the Trojan and his arrivage and conquest, to happen in the time of Heli his priesthood in the land of Israel, as Geffery ap Arthur hath also done: not taking (as some think) any thing thereof from him, but rather out of an ancient book, intitled, De Origine Regum Britannorum, found by himself in the library of the abbey of Bec, as he travelled towards Rome: which history began at the arrival of Brute, and, ended with the acts of Cadwalader, as by a treatise of his own inditing, bearing the same title, hath been compared, and found in all things agreeing with our vulgar history, as industrious Lamberd affirmeth himself to have seen. And Nenius is said by the writer of the reformed history, to bring these Britons from the race of the Trojans, four hundred years before that Geffery wrote: yea, and long before Nenius also, Taliessin, a Briton poet, in an ode called Hanes, of Taiess his course of life, in these words: Mia dey thym yma at Wedillion Troia, that is, I came hither to the remnants of Troy.
That William of Malmsbury (who wrote in the
days of king Henry I.) was before him of Monmouth, is most certain; yet doth he make mention of Arthur, a prince (saith he) deserving rather to be advanced by the truth of records, then abused by false imputation of fables; being the only prop and apholder of his country. And Beda, his ancient also, nameth Ambrosius Aurelianus to be king of the Britons, long before that Geffery was born: so was Brennus, mentioned by Livy; Bellinus (if he be Belgius) by Justin; Cassibelan by Cæsar; Cunobilin by Suetonius; Arviragus by Martial; Lucius by Eusebius; Coel, Constantius, Carausius, and others, by Eutropius, and Paulus Diaconus; and Helena by Nicephorus, Ambrose, and Socrates.' These are the affirmatives that give countenance to the archdeacon of Monmouth's translation, and credit to Brute's conquests and successors; yea, and John Harding his herald, in his home-spun poetry, can easily enıblaze his arms to be gules charged with two lions rampant endorsed or; and the same to be borne by the kings of Troy. And his banner displayed at his entrance is said to be vert, a Diana of gold fitchel, crowned and inthronized, the same that Æneas bare when he entered the land of the Latins. But the censures of these relations I leave to the best liking of judicious readers, only wishing them to be unlike the inhabitants under the rocks of the cataracts of Nilus, whereof Cicero and Ammianus make mention, who were made deaf by the continual noise of the fall of Nilus : lest by the sound and loud voices of these writers, the exceptions of others cannot be heard, which from the fullness of their pens, I will likewise declare, without offence, I hope, unto any.
At the end of his work he gives a “Sumiary Conclusion of the Whole,” in which we have a further confirmation of his having applied to authentic documents.
By the assistance of the All-sufficient, (the only defence and preserver of man) my insufficient abilities have attained the end of this work, and my weak unable person brought to a period this large edifice of “ Great Britain's Theatre.” How acceptable to others, I know not; but with what pains and travail to myself, my decayed strength too manifestly have felt, and with what care of truth, the authorities alledged through the whole process are my witnesses; whose lines have been the measures, and antiquities the matter, that hath raised the fabric unto this height. The attempt was great, and far unfit (I must confess) for me to undergo; which, even at the first entrance, was so censured by the judicious, and in the continuance hath so proved, that now
it being finished, as the silkworm endeth her life in her long wrought clew, so I in this Theatre have built
my own grave; whose architecture, howsoever defective it may be said to be, yet the project is good; and the cost great, though myself have freely bestowed this pains to the press, without pressing a penny from any man's purse.
For me to shew the utility of history, were to light a dim candle before the bright sun; or to prescribe a method for their uses, were with Phormio to read a lecture of chivalry unto great Hannibal, war's experienced conductor: but as our own concerneth us nearest (wherein my pen hath taken the freest access) so let me abridge the whole in a small circle, and incompass that briefly, which hath been related in a far wider circumference, &c.
Bishop Nicholson gives the following character of Speed: “ John Speed must be arknowledged to have had a head the best disposed towards history of any of our writers; and would certainly have outdone himself, as far as he has gone beyond the rest of his profession, if the advantages of his education had been answerable to those of his natural genius. But what could be expected from a taylor? However, we may boldly say, that his chronicle is the largest and best we have hitherto extant. It begins with the first inhabitants of the island, and ends with the union of the kingdoms under king James, to whom it is dedicated. Though some say he spent twice seven years in compiling the whole, he himself owns he made more haste than he ought to have done; and that he was forced to trust a deal of his work in the hands of his friends and journeymen. And the iruth of this honest acknowledgment and confession is obvious enough to a discerning reader; who will easily find a mighty difference in the style, as well as matter of several of the reigns.”