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"Yet courtesy with generous valour join'd, "Fair twins of chivalry rejoic'd to find "A faithful chronicler in plain Froissart; "More rich in honesty than void of art. "As the young peasant, led by spirits keen, "To some great city's gay and gorgeous scene, Returning, with increase of proud delight, "Dwells on the various splendour of the sight; "And gives his tale, though told in terms uncouth; "The charm of nature, and the force of truth, "Though rude engaging," &c.
But you will know it better from the excellent translation by Thomas Johnnes, Esq., a gentleman who stands distinguished among his contemporaries, as the possessor of a large fortune, while he applies to literature with the industry of an author by profession. The destruction of his invaluable library by fire must be regretted by every friend to historical research, and to elegant literature.
Holingshead and Stow I have not read. They are accused by Cowley of prolixity
"I more voluminous should grow,
Chiefly if I, like them should tell,
"All change of weathers that befel, "Than Holingshead or Stow."
It is however no small commendation that our
incomparable Shakspeare is said to have extracted whole speeches, in his historical plays, from these authors, with very little alteration in the diction. Speed is also a chronicler of some notoriety, and it is a little remarkable, that at a period when learning was not so generally diffused as at present, both he and his predecessor Stow, should have been originally taylors.
Memoirs, as the name imports, are memorandums or notes upon history, chiefly relative to facts which have fallen under the writer's own observation. They are commonly made in the order of time, and often in the form of a journal. They admit of a variety of style. They may rise to any height of elegance, or they may be loose and unstudied minutes. The former will class with laboured and artificial compositions, and will admit of any degree of polish; but in general the style should be easy and familiar. The antients called these compositions by the name of commentaries, and the most famous extant are those of Cæsar, containing the particulars of his wars in Gaul and Britain. A more perfect model of this kind of writing cannot be mentioned..
The style is clear and simple, yet sweet and The arrangement is also luminous, the descriptions chaste and correct, and this work should be studied by every narrator of battles or of travels.
The form of commentaries was adopted by several of the historians of the Greek empire, and even the Alexiad of the accomplished Princess Anna Comnena may be ranged in the same class. I cannot resist the pleasure of transcribing Mr. Hayley's lines on this elegant female
"For in the lovely charms of female youth, "A second Pallas guards the throne of truth! "And with Comnena's royal name imprest, "The zone of beauty binds her Attic vest. "Fair star of wisdom, whose unrivalled light "Breaks through the stormy cloud of thickest night; "Though in the purple of proud misery nurst, "From those oppressive bands thy spirit burst; "Pleas'd, in thy public labours, to forget "The keen domestic pangs of fond regret; "Pleas'd to preserve from time's destructive rage, "A father's virtues in thy faithful page! "Too pure of soul to violate, or hide "Th' historian's duty in the daughter's pride."
The son of the great Alberquerque adopted
also the same title for the historical detail of his father's exploits and conquests in India. It is the best written prose composition in the Portuguese language.
The Latin title commentaries was succeeded by the French word memoirs; and more works of this kind have been published in France than in any other country, many of them under the title Memoirs pour servir a l'Histoire," &c. Among a vast class of publications of this description, the Memoirs of de Retz, and of the Duc de Sully, stand pre-eminent. The latter is one of the most interesting books I ever read.
In our language we have some excellent historical records under this title, among which I particularly recommend "Ludlow's Memoirs" of the civil war, and Cromwell's usurpation. He is a most honest, clear, and interesting writer. It is astonishing that the failure of that great and unfortunate experiment should not have convinced him of the total impracticability of a form of government truly republic. Like all other speculatists, he dreams upon the subject, and retains his prejudices to the last but we must take the man as he is, and upon other
'subjects he is on the whole liberal and can
Bishop Burnet's "history of his own times' would have been properly termed memoirs. The composition is so loose, and occasionally so unconnected, and so many private transactions and conversations are recorded, that the work does not properly fall under the denomination of history. I do not mean by this to detract from its merit. As an original and authentic record, it is more valuable than if it had been studied. Whatever he gives upon his own knowledge bears the stamp of truth; but it is not surprising that a writer who nar rates all he hears should be sometimes deceived. Mr. Hayley's character of him seems very just→→→→
"Yet Burnet's page may lasting glory hope,
"Though his rough language haste and warmth denote, "With ardent honesty of soul he wrote;
Though critic censures on his work may shower, "Like faith his freedom has a saving power."
It is a proof indeed of merit, when even Pope could not write him down, though he has class