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Art. I.- A History of England, from the Invasion by the Ro
mans. By John LINGARD, D.D. Eight volg. 4to. London : 1819-1830,
THOUGH England ranks probably next to Germany in the
richness of her historical collections, and particularly in published records and authentic materials, the progress of historical literature, in its higher departments, might long be considered rather slow, when compared with the general taste for learning, the freedom of our government, and the national pride with which we have venerated our forefathers. Italy had produced a long line of historians, some of extraordinary merit; Spain, a few, according to the proportion of her literature; France, several, who, though belonging to the order of chroniclers and memoir-writers, retain their place in the library and in public estimation, before any one had appeared in this country who is at this time either approved or even remembered. This was unquestionably owing, in the first instance, to the slower cultivation of the English language; but other circumstances appear to have concurred, to which we may presently advert. A short sketch of what has hitherto been written in the way of English history, confining ourselves, however, to the vernacular language, or translations into it, will be no improper commencement of this article on the latest work which has been published on the subject.
Among the earliest fruits that now remain of the application of the English tongue to purposes of instruction, is Trevisa's translation of the Polychronicon of Ranulph Higden, a monk of Chester. The original work is a farrago of all
events whereof the author had read, from the creation of the world to the year 1357 ; the latter part relating chiefly to the contemporaneous
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annals of England. This chronicle, either on account of its miscellaneous and comprehensive nature, or from the circumstance of its being translated into English, has, more than any other, supplied the canvass for our general history. Trevisa's translation of Higden was printed by Caxton in 1483, with a continuation by himself, from the year 1357 to 1460. In the preface to this, our venerable printer complains of the almost total want of materials, so that he had been forced to rely on two books published in Germany, and now very obscure. It is hardly necessary to say, that better materials existed in manuscript; but it was not reasonable to expect that he should desist from his valuable labours to procure them. Another book, commonly called Caxton's Chronicles, and printed by him in 1480, is written by one Douglas, a monk of Glastonbury, and contains partly a version, partly a continuation, of Geoffrey of Monmouth, brought down to the accession of Edward IV. This chronicle, under the name of Caxton, was more than once reprinted; but is now so obscure, as well as so brief and unsatisfactory, that we should not have thought of naming it, except as the earliest English publication upon our history.
Robert Fabyan, an Alderman of London, and member of the Draper's Company, may be reckoned, with more justice, the father of English historians. His New Chronicles of England 6 and France' were first published in 1516, which seems to have been four years after his death. They were several times reprinted; and a valuable edition was given to the world, in 1811, by Mr Ellis of the British Museum. Fabyan shows himself a zealous Catholic, which caused some phrases to be suppressed in editions subsequent to the Reformation, and as good a citizen of London as his ward could desire; heading the annals of each year with the names of the mayor and sheriffs, as Livy begins those of Rome with the consuls, and communicating many little particulars about the city, which at present form the most original part of his volume. For his more general materials he had mainly recourse to Higden, but consulted likewise a good many Latin and French authors, so that his name deserves to be held in respect; and his chronicle, though it would be absurd to recommend its perusal, remains a monument of honest diligence, especially praiseworthy in one of his occupation in life, and, as there is reason to believe, of affluent fortune.
In the long reign of Henry VIII. nothing more seems to have come from the press, to our present purpose, than Rastell’s Pastime of People, a most jejune epitome of English history; which, on account of its extreme scarceness, and also of certain wooden cuts, which were supposed too ugly to be lost, has, within the last twenty years, been republished by Dr Dibdin;