S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

How to do history, and other observations

I'm working on a seventeenth-century English translation and adaptation of a fifteenth-century Italian history of invention (Polydore Vergil) while in Toronto. Some of the translations and additions are particularly entertaining - or at least educational about some period of time-or-other. I particularly like the text because not are there so many authors involved - original compilers, Polydore Vergil's write-up of them, the English author's revisions, whoever else it was who put in the marginal labels - but there was also an early reader of the text who comments on its soundness with phrases like "absurd notion".

How to do history: The first office of an Historiographer, is to write no lye. The second, that he shall conceal no truth for favour, displeasure or fear. The perfection of an History, resteth in matter and words. The order of the matter requireth observance of times, descriptions of places, the manners and lives of men, their behaviours, purposes, occasions, deeds, sayings, casualties, atchievings, and finishing of things. The tenour of the words asketh a brief perspicuity and sincere truth, with moderate and peaceable ornaments.

On the Essex accent: Claudius Cæsar, as Quintilian writeth, appointed that it (i.e. the letter f) should be taken in the place of v. consonant, as fulgus for vulgus, fixit for vixit; And even so our English men use to speak in Essex, for they say Fineger for Vinegar, Feal for Veal, and contrariwise, a Vox for a Fox, vour for four.

On the difference between a tragedy and a comedy: In a Tragedy noble personages, as Lords, Dukes, Kings and Emperours be brought in, with a high style. In a Comedy, amorous dalliance, matters of love, and deflouring of maidens be conteined.

On the "new comedies" of the Romans: Then the Romans in the place of those Comedies, substituted such Satyres, as they had newly imagined. Then also began the new Comedy, which concerneth generally all men of mean estate: and hath lesse bitternesse and railing, but more pleasantesse and pastime for the auditors. Of this Menander and Philemon were Authors, which asswaged all the crabbednesse of the old writings.

On the world's first language and scientific method: Psammaticus their King, desiring to know in what Countrey, men were first begotten, devised this means. He caused two young Infants new born, to be delivered to his herdmen, to be brought up among his cattell, and commanded that no man should speak any word to them, because he would know what word they would speak first. Then two years after when the herdmen opened the door where they were nourished, they stretched out their hands, and cried Becos, which in the Phrygians language, signifieth bread. Thus it was known that the Phrygians were the eldest lineage, and first born.
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