Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Fuller as an Historian
By Peter Heylyn (15991662)
From Examen Historicum
PROCEED we in the next place to verses and old ends of poetry, scattered and dispersed in all parts of the history, from one end to the other; for which he hath no precedent in any historian, Greek or Latin, or any of the national histories of these latter times: the histories of Herodotus, Xenophon, Thucydides, and Plutarch, amongst the Greeks; of Cæsar, Livy, Sallust, Tacitus, and Suetonius amongst the Latins afford him neither warrant nor example for it: the like may be affirmed of Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, Ruffin, and Evagrius, Church historians all; though they had all the best choice and the most excellent poets of the world to befriend them in it: and he that shall consult the histories of succeeding times, through all the ages of the Church to this present day, will find them all as barren of any encouragements in this kind as the ancients were: nay, whereas Bishop Goodwin in his annals gives us an epitaph of two verses only made on Queen Jane Seymour, and afterwards a copy of eighteen verses on the martyrdom of Archbishop Cranmer; he ushers in the last with this short apology, Contra morem Historiæ liceat quæso inserere, etc. Let me (saith he), I beseech you, insert these following verses, though otherwise against the rule and laws of history. But what, alas! were eighteen or twenty verses compared with those many hundred (six or seven hundred at the least) which we find in our author; whether to show the universality of his reading in all kind of writers, or his faculty in translating (which when he meets with hard copies he knows how to spare) I shall not determine at the present: certain I am, that by his interlarding of his prose with so many verses he makes the book look rather like a Church-romance (our late romancers being much given to such kind of mixtures) than a well-built ecclesiastical history. And if it be a matter so unconvenient to put a new piece of cloth on an old garment; the putting of so many old patches on a new piece of cloth must be more unfashionable. Besides that, many of those old ends are so light and ludicrous, so little pertinent to the business which he has in hand, that they serve only to make sport for children (ut pueris placeas et declamatio fias), and for nothing else.
This leads me to the next impertinency, his raking into the channel of old popish legends, writ in the darker times of superstition, but written with an honest zeal, and a good intention: as well to raise the reader to the admiration of the person of whom they write, as to the emulation of his virtues: but being mixed with some monkish dotages, the most learned and ingenious men in the Church of Rome have now laid them by; and it had been very well if our author had done so too, but that there must be something of entertainment for the gentle reader, and to inflame the reckoning which he pays not for. But above all things recommend me to his merry tales, and scraps of trencher-jests, frequently interlaced in all parts of the history; which, if abstracted from the rest, and put into a book by themselves, might very well be served up for a second course to the Banquet of Jests, a supplement to the old book entitled Wits, Fits, and Fancies; or an additional century to the old Hundred Merry Tales, so long since extant. But standing as they do, they neither do become the gravity of a Church-historian, nor are consistent with the nature of a sober argument. But, as it seems, our author came with the same thoughts to the writing of this present history as poets anciently addressed themselves to the writing of comedies, of which thus my Terence: