« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
ART. I.-History of the Ancient Barony of Castle Combe in the County of Wilts, chiefly compiled from original MSS.— with Memoirs of the Families of Dunstanville, Badlesmere, Tiptoft, Scrope, Fastolf, &c. By George Poulett Scrope, Esq., M.P. 1852. 4to. pp. 404. (Not published.)
NOTHING could be more true or philosophical than certain
remarks of Sir Francis Palgrave's in his Preface to the Parliamentary Writs; and nothing in better taste, or more indicative of his knowing what he was undertaking, than Mr. Scrope's adopting them as the first paragraph of his own Preface:—
The genuine history of a country can never be well understood without a complete and searching analysis of the component parts of the community, as well as the country. Genealogical inquiries and local topography, so far from being unworthy the attention of the philosophical inquirer, are amongst the best materials he can use; and the fortunes and changes of one family, or the events of one upland township, may explain the darkest and most dubious portions of the annals of a realm.'
There is no doubt of this; and no need of anything like an apology for any gentleman who, possessing a large collection. of well-preserved documents' relating to a manor and ancient barony, conceives an idea that a narrative compiled from such materials may be 'not devoid of value as a contribution to the topography of the country.' He will have a right to consider it as something higher; as a contribution-if not a great, yet a genuine one-to the materials which, if such a fabric is ever to be raised, must lie at the foundation of the History of England.
And we are not without hope on this point. Certainly it will be very odd to have such a thing, and we shall wonder, as we do with gas-light and railways-not to mention cabs and busses -how we ever contrived to do without it; but undoubtedly the materials for English history, and history in general, have been for many years past rapidly, though quietly, accumulating. Brickmaking is a quiet business, and the quarry and the sawpit
VOL. XCII. NO. CLXXXIV.
are places of hard work without much noise. The materials which they furnish make no show till they are properly put together; and, in the mean time, the best that we can do is to keep them safe, and so arranged as that we may know what we have got, what we want, and where to put what we may get next. Already, we must think, it is time that something should be done as to that point of arrangement ;-but we have no room at this moment for a proper discussion of the subject. We only state the fact that such an accumulation of materials is rapidly taking place, and beg leave to suggest to the distinguished men of letters now in office that the educated public expects some serious attempt to prevent our being actually embarrassed by our riches-a calamity which never arises from quantity, but from bad management.
If we talk of History at all, we should consider-though many do not-how much laborious research, recondite learning, and rare accomplishment must be set to work before we can have the most superficial sixpenny History of England-the slightest sketch that any respectable governess could put into the hands of her young pupils. It matters not how much of the book, as it comes under their little thumbs, has been borrowed from other books, or how much it may owe to intermediate sources of any kind. Its mere existence proves that persons have been engaged in its production who understood languages, and could read writings, now unintelligible to all but professed antiquaries. There must, moreover, have been men who were able to discriminate between what is genuine and what is spurious in such matters, and for that purpose acquainted with such diplomatic, numismatic, and technical criteria as are mastered only by long study and experience. And beside all this-for we are supposing the History, however slight and small, to be true-it must be indebted, mediately or immediately, to the skill and labour of men, not only competent to form an opinion respecting the honesty of purpose, the extent of knowledge, and the liability to prejudice, in each original writer who is used as an authority, but also familiar with the manners, habits, turns of thought and feeling, the state of science, art, and literature, the conventional use of phrases and images-in short, with all the characteristic circumstances of the generation to which he belonged and for which he wrote.
Some readers may feel as Rasselas did, and exclaim 'Enough! you have convinced me that no man can be an historian.' How far the Prince was right as to poetry we do not inquire; but as to history, it is true enough, if we conceive of it as a thing to be made by any one man. Take up any early volume of Hume. We have opened the second at random; and turning over the
pages with the simple view of finding one with references, we lighted on these at the bottom of page 16 :-'Hoyeden, p. 665; Knyghton, p. 2403; W. Heming, p. 528; Hoveden, p. 680; Bened. Abb., p. 626-700; Brompton, p. 1193.'-Now here are five ancients quoted as authorities—no matter for what-we did not take the trouble to inquire. Without prejudice to any opinion which we may hold respecting Hume's authorities, we will take it for granted that these are a sufficient warrant for the statements which they are cited to attest; for our question at present is not whether Hume's History is to be relied on, but how he came by it. In the first place, nobody dreams that he received the autographs from the men themselves; but we may be about as certain that if he had he could not have read them. He would have found it as necessary to call in the help of professed antiquaries, as Belshazzar did to summon astrologers and Chaldeans to decipher the writing on the wall. A curious illustration on this point may be found in p. lxx. of Palgrave's Introduction to the Rotuli Curiæ Regis; and it is the more apposite, because, as far as date is concerned, these rolls of the King's Court, belonging to the period 1194-1200, might have been in the handwriting of three of Hume's five authorities. Sir Francis tells us that in the extracts previously made from these documents the transcriber had been misled by the similarity between the letters t and e in the record;' and, in consequence, had confounded the Archbishop of Canterbury (Cant.) with the Chancellor (Canc.). We can imagine, even from what we have known in our own days, that an historian might very much perplex posterity by confounding the acts and judgments of Lambeth and Lincoln's Inn. Nor is this a peculiarity belonging only to the handwriting of these rolls. We have before us another book (one of the most valuable antiquarian works, edited by one of the best editors of our age), in which the incuria of a transcriber has manifested itself in the very same form, though with a less solemn result. We learn from it that the authorities of a certain city consented that a certain King should build a fortress within their city; and, for access thereto, should be at liberty to perforate their walls to make gates wherever he pleased:-'pro portis ubi sibi placuerit faciendis '—it was, no doubt, written, but it stands in print pro porcis,' as if his majesty was not to do it to please himself but the pigs.
To return, however, to Hume-suppose (absurd as the supposition is) that Roger Hoveden, John Brompton, and Abbot Benedict could have returned to the world after an absence of five hundred years. Suppose that they could have personally waited on the elegant penman of a century ago, and placed in his hands
their original manuscripts, even without his being able to read one word of them. Suppose only each of these authors to have formally delivered his autograph as his act and deed, what a world of time and thought and labour had been saved and superseded! Extend this supposition, for we do not mean that it has any special or particular application to these authors or to this case, and imagine what controversies aud collations, what doubts and fancies, what expense of time and trouble and money, in editing and printing, and re-editing and reprinting, would have been saved by the mere knowledge-that is, the unquestionable certainty that there was a genuine text to begin
But though Hume did not get what may be strictly called the originals, yet he got the works of these writers (and we will suppose quite sufficiently) in print. Who can say what dangers they had passed through in their manuscript state? We need not do more than allude generally to the merciless destruction and hairbreadth escapes of MSS.; but were we called on to give a specific case in illustration, we could perhaps hardly offer a better than that of one of the mediaval chroniclers thus accidentally brought under our notice. Benedictus Abbas-that is, Benedict, who became Abbot of Peterborough in the year 1177-wrote the Lives and Acts of Henry II. and Richard I. Probably the copies of that performance were never very numerous; but be this as it may, we believe that on the 23rd October, 1731, only two old manuscripts of the still unprinted work were known to be in existence, both in one library, and that library on fire. A tenth part of its contents was utterly destroyed; a still greater number were reduced to the scorched, shrivelled, and mutilated condition of what are technically described in the catalogue as 'bundles in cases.' Of the two codices of the Abbot's History, one escaped unhurt; the other, or what remains of it (for it is noted in the catalogue of the Cotton MSS. as incendio corrugatus et mutilus), is among the bundles in cases.' It was a costly torch, that tenth that Vulcan seized; but who can say how much light it cast on the arcana and anecdota of the Cotton Library -how much light that has been reflected to us, and is shining round us? Of course, we do not pretend to say that, but for the stir and bustle occasioned by this fire in Little Dean's Yard, with Mr. Speaker Onslow on the spot personally assisting in the rescue, Father Benedict might have kept his latitat through the second half of a millenium; for it is known that some detectives (Humphrey Wanley, Henry Wharton, perhaps others) had an eye upon him; but, at the same time, who will venture to affirm that, if the good Abbot had not been all but burned in 1731,
he would have emerged printed and published by Tom Hearne in 1735?
Garrick made a great mistake when he set his wit against that odd little antiquary. It was not amiss to represent Time as saying
to Thomas Hearne
"Whatever I forget you learn ;'
for certainly, in the game of hide-and-seek, Time seldom encountered so indefatigable and baffling a playmate. But it was quite a mistake to represent the antiquary as answering
in furious fret
'Whate'er I learn you soon forget.'
If Garrick had said that Time would soon forget his obligation to Thomas Hearne, or even that Thomas had ever existed, it might have been fair enough, and not very far from the truth. When once such and such facts-although not perhaps ascertained without long research and controversy-have passed through a few processes of distillation from older and duller books into some more popular and engaging form, the instructed orders are apt to lose all notion that the said facts were ever unknown to anybody; or, at least, to despise the ignorance of those who are unacquainted with what is now so notorious. If the reader could be thrown back into a chat with Roger Ascham and his royal pupil, he would peradventure be ashamed to quote such schoolboy books as Esop, Phædrus, and the rest' before a learned queen and a more learned pedagogue-not imagining that it might be news to both to hear that such a person as Phædrus had ever lived. The world has become so knowing, is so far aware of what it does and does not know, and its knowledge has been so far sifted, sorted, and arranged, that anything new (that is, new to us) is put in its place at once, just as the recovered leaf of a book is slipped into its place between the others. The volume may be still imperfect: but such integrity as it has at once absorbs the long-lost fragment, and from that moment none but careful virtuosi are aware that the scrap in question had ever been missing. Late in the sixteenth century Phædrus walked in and took his place among the classics, like a gentleman whose seat has been kept till the play is half over. How are those who come in still later to know that he has not been there ever since it began? Time scarcely remembers François Pithou, but the Phædrus poked up in the library at Rheims he will never lose sight of; and without disputing that Scott's Novels may have had a greater run of late years, yet those of Justinian are in no danger of being wholly forgotten, though some at least of the few who read them may not know how they came by them. And so with regard to little Hearne. Time, if