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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.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 31st, 2006 09:52 pm (UTC)
Ooooooh...who's the translator, and what's the date on it? I think I may need to look at this.
May. 31st, 2006 10:07 pm (UTC)
The WORKS of the Famous Antiquary, Polidore Vergil. Compendiously English’t by John Langley, late Master of Paul’s School, London. CONTAINING The Original of all Arts, Sciences, Mysteries, Orders, Rites, and Ceremonies, both Ecclesiastical and civil. A world Useful for all Divines, Historians, Lawyers, and all Artificers.

LONDON, Printed for Simon Miller, at the Star in St. Paul’s Church-Yard, 1663.

There are a bunch of variations on the Langley version of Polydore Vergil, and I suspect that most of the drama details will be fairly close to the versions going back throught the previous two centuries. I can check another Langley and an earlier Italian translation of it for you since I already have those waiting for me at the rare book room.

Polydore Vergil's history of invention was extremely popular for a couple of centuries after its initial publication. It was popular enough within his own lifetime that he revised it a number of times and added in extra books. It was translated into most European languages and widely adapted, revised, and, depending on authorial interest, updated to include more recent "inventions". It's easy to get a hold of many of the early editions - but it's even easier to get a hold of Brian Copenhaver's edition and facing page translation of the first three (original) books, "On Discovery".

In the Langley, Drama is covered in Book 1, Chapter 9. I don't have a chapter list of P.V. offhand, but odds are good it's the same chapter.
May. 31st, 2006 10:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks for that! I shall have to look on EEBO for it.

Where is the section on historiography? I'm reading up on early theories of history-writing for the diss... :)
Jun. 1st, 2006 04:49 am (UTC)
Historiography is in Chap. 10 in Langley.
May. 31st, 2006 10:37 pm (UTC)
This is fantastic!
May. 31st, 2006 10:49 pm (UTC)
Polydore Vergil didn't know Menander and Philemon were Greeks? Shame on him!

Love the Essex accent. It seems Cockney had problems with the "v" sound right up to the mid-nineteenth century - all Dickens's Cockneys say "werry" instead of "very", for example. (But not "ferry")

Is it urban legend that James I actually carried out that experiment, with the result that two children spole no language at all?
(Deleted comment)
May. 31st, 2006 11:35 pm (UTC)
Peacock's take on the Welsh was idiosyncratic to say the least. But Shakespeare's attampt at Welsh on the eve of Agincourt wasn't exactly totally convincing either.
Jun. 1st, 2006 04:51 am (UTC)
I'm quite sure Langley's abbreviating some of this as he goes. I can check on what P.V. says in full - I'll get around to it when I'm back in London (where I have a copy) if not before.
Jun. 1st, 2006 02:56 pm (UTC)
Ah - perhaps Langley's the dim one...

Jun. 1st, 2006 02:37 am (UTC)
This was fascinating to read!

Also, Polydore Vergil? What a great name. :-)
Jun. 1st, 2006 04:23 am (UTC)
Phrygians, eh? Sounds like bold-faced chicanery if you ask me. Look to the Belgians, my friends...the Belgians...
Jun. 1st, 2006 04:51 am (UTC)
The Belgians were the world's first civilization?
Jun. 1st, 2006 12:20 pm (UTC)
Of course they were
They were centuries ahead of the rest of the world in waffle technology.
Jun. 2nd, 2006 11:31 am (UTC)
I remember reading some Low German Scholar, I suppose of the 17C (anyone remember who?), who hypothisized that while Adam and Eve spoke with God in Hebrew, they naturally spoke Low German to one another; so, yes, Flemish was humanity's first language.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )