Page images



The Modern History, or History of His Own Time (Historia Novorum, sive Sui Seculi), by his contemporary Eadmer, the monk of Canterbury, is noticed by Malmesbury in the Prologue, or Preface to the First Book of his Gesta, as a lucubration written with a sober festivity of style (sobria sermonis festivitate elucubratum opus). has been published (folio, Lon. 1623), with learned annotations by Selden, who holds that in style Eadmer equals Malmesbury, and in the value of his matter excels him. The work is distributed into six books, and comprehends the reigns of the Conqueror and Rufus, and the first twenty-two years of Henry the First (that is, from A.D. 1066 to 1122). One distinction belonging to Eadmer's narrative is, the nearly entire absence of miracles. He probably considered it improper to introduce such high matter into a composition which did not profess to be of a sacred or spiritual nature. Much of his work, however, is occupied with ecclesiastical transactions, which indeed formed almost the entire home politics, and no small part of the foreign politics also, of that age. He has in particular entered largely into the great controversy between the crown and the pope about investiture; and one of the most curious parts of his history is a long and detailed account which he gives of his own appointment to the bishopric of St. Andrews in Scotland, and his contest about his consecration with the stout Scottish king, Alexander I. Mabillon has published a life of St. Wilfrid, by Eadmer, in the 'Acta Sanctorum Benedictinorum (Sæc. iii. par. i.)



Eadmer's immediate predecessor in the see of St. Andrews was Turgot, who had been a monk of Durham, before he was elevated to the primacy of Scotland in 1109. Perhaps the most interesting composition that we have from the pen of Turgot is a life of Malcolm Canmore's queen, Margaret, the sister of Edgar Atheling, whose confessor he was; it was drawn up at the request of her daughter Maud, wife of King Henry I., and is printed in the Acta Sanctorum' of the Bollandists.* But Selden has shown, in his learned Preface to the 'Decem Scriptores,' that the History of the Church of Durham, which passes under the name of Simeon Dunelmensis, and which that monk appears to have published as his own, was really written by Turgot. It is in four books, and extends over the time from A.D. 635 to 1095. This history, along with a continuation to A.D. 1154, and a History of St. Cuthbert, an Epistle respecting the Archbishops of York, a tract on the siege of Durham by the Scots in 969, and a history of English affairs, entitled 'De Regibus Anglorum et Dacorum,' from A.D. 616 to 1129, which, for anything that is known, are really by Simeon, are all in the collection that has just been named.† The English History, which is in

* Acta Sanct. Junii, pp. 328–535. Papebroch, the editor, has printed the tract, on the authority of the MS. he used, as the work of an unknown monk of the name of Theodoric; but Lord Hailes has adduced sufficient reasons for believing it to be by Turgot, to whom it is ascribed by Fordun. Annals of Scotland, i. 36, 37 (edit. of 1819).

† In 1732 there was published at London, in an 8vo. vo

the form of compendious annals, is continued to 1154, by John Prior of Hexham (Joannes Hagustaldensis), whose Chronicle is published in the same collection; as are also two books of Lives of the Bishops of Hexham, and an historical fragment on the reign of Stephen from 1135 to 1139, including a narrative of the battle of the Standard, by his successor Prior Richard, together with a short poem in rhyming Latin verses on that battle by Serlo, a monk of Fountain Abbey in Yorkshire.


But the best account we have of the battle of the Standard is that of Ailred, Abbot of Rievault, in Yorkshire Ailredi Abbatis Rievallensis Historia de Bello Standardii '—also printed among the Scriptores X., along with an Epistle on the Genealogy of the English Kings, a Life of Edward the Confessor, and a singular relation, entitled 'De Quodam Miraculo Mirabili,' all by the same writer. Ailred, Ealred, Elred, Alured, Adilred, Ethelred, or Valred, who is supposed to have died about 1166, and who is one of the saints of the Roman calendar (his day is the 12th of January), spent his life in studious retirement, and is the author of many other treatises, some printed in various collections; some still remaining in manuscript.* But those that have been mentioned are the only ones that relate to English history. He often

lume, by the Rev. Thomas Bedford, a dissenting clergyman, 'Symeonis Monachi Dunhelmensis Libellus de Exordio atque Procursu Dunelmensis Ecclesiæ, cum Disquisitione de Auctore a Thoma Rud.'

*The best account of the writings of Ailred is in the Biographical Dictionary of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.

writes with considerable animation, and a decided gift of popular eloquence may be discerned in his fluent though not very classical Latin.


The famous British History of Geoffrey of Monmouth was printed at Paris, in 4to., in 1508, and again in 1509, and it is also contained in Commeline's Collection, folio, Heidelberg, 1587. It professes to be, and, as already intimated, in all probability is in the main, a translation from a Welsh Chronicle, given to Geoffrey by his friend Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford (a different person from Walter Mapes, the poet, though they have been usually confounded), who had procured the manuscript in Brittany. It contains in nine books the history of the Britons, or Welsh, from the era of their leader Brutus, the great-grandson of the Trojan Æneas, to the death, in 688, of their king Cadwallo, or Cadwallader, the same personage called by the Saxon historians Ceadwall, or Ceadwalla, and represented by them as King of Wessex. Geoffrey, Archdeacon of Monmouth, and afterwards Bishop of St. Asaph, is a clever and agreeable writer, and his Latin is much more scholarly than that of the generality of the monkish chroniclers of his time. His work, whatever may be thought of its historical value, has at least the merit of having preserved the old legends and traditions of the race who were driven out by the Saxons in a more complete and consistent form than we have them elsewhere. But the outline of the same story in all its parts, from the Trojan descent to the wars of Arthur, is found in Nennius, who lived and wrote certainly not later than the middle of the ninth century, or nearly

three centuries before Geoffrey. The Archdeacon of Monmouth, therefore, was at any rate not the inventor of the fables, if they be such, to which his name has been generally attached. At the most he can only be suspected of having sometimes expanded and embellished them. But, if not the creator of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, Geoffrey was their reviver from almost universal oblivion to sudden and universal notoriety; his book, published probably about 1128, and dedicated to the same Earl of Gloucester whom Malmesbury chose for his patron, obtained immediately the most wonderful currency and acceptance; and from the date of its appearance we find a new inspiration, derived from its pages, pervading the popular literature of Europe. Most of the subsequent Latin chroniclers also adopt more or less of his new version of our early history. An English translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth by Aaron Thompson, originally published in an 8vo. volume at London in 1718, has been lately reprinted, as "revised by J. A. Giles, LL.D. ;" and a detailed analysis of his work has been given by the late George Ellis in his Specimens of Early English Metrical Romances.'

[ocr errors]

The compendium of Alfred, Alred, or Alured, canon of the collegiate church of St. John at Beverley, in Yorkshire, published by Hearne, in 8vo., at Oxford in 1716, under the title of Aluredi Beverlacensis Annales, sive Historia de Gestis Regum Britanniæ, Libris IX.,' comes down to the year 1129, but is in the first five books (making half the work, which consists only of 152 pages altogether) a mere abridgment of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Alured, in fact, though he does not expressly name the archdeacon, sets out with stating that his design simply

« PreviousContinue »