A DEFENSE OF THE RELIABILTY AND ANTIQUITY OF THIS HISTORY
(Translated and annotated by D. F. S.)
BELIEVE, kind readers that on the basis of these poems it is more than sufficiently understood that very ancient kings of this island were not petty little men such as, possibly, some of our countrymen of this age have no hesitation in asserting with those great spates of words of theirs. But such is our nature that, just as we praise and approve with unbounded admiration a modern book, even one printed abroad, no matter what its quality may be, so we treat — I almost said disdain — anything ratified either by the antiquity of its date or the authority conferred by that antiquity, perfunctorily and with a yawn, as if there were some danger that such works might contain something that would not meet the approval of common opinion. The result is that those people who trumpet (as they say) to an unreasonable degree the accomplishments of others foreigners for the sake of their nations, are no less sparing, timid, and (as we say nowadays) reserved in handling those of their own countrymen than those who walk about while fearing to tread on some snake or scorpion. These are men who wax cold in the hottest matters, and but are most heated in frigid ones. But let us see what weight or importance attaches to these assertions I daily hear on everyone’s lips. They are urging us, perhaps, to place no credence in Geoffrey save concerning those matters which are also found in Roman historians, which is as if a man done not believe the sun shines unless he first lights a candle so he can see it. The result of this captiousness is that today nothing can be marketed, nothing is is thought worthy of trust or even of reading which is not taken from Caesar’s Commentaries or the chronicles of Livy, Appian, Suetonius, or Cornelius Tacitus: although the palm for history-writing is awarded these men by many, and justly so, this is no reason for deprecating the authority of others.
2. If anybody should try to plant this reservation in the reader’s mind, that when it comes to veracity British history is inferior to those Romans who are approved by the common vote of one and all, just because the writers of that age deliberately omitted much concerning us, or placed different interpretations on events than we do, I must strive with all due diligence to remove this reservation from his mind. Who is so weak-minded as to believe that foreigners can pass judgment on our affairs as well as we ourselves, when what little amount which others have written about us contain so many delusions? Indeed, when the details of times, places, persons, and deeds are missing from their narratives, they cannot relate anything sure, steady, or memorable. This is the fault for which Eratosthenes, Metrodocrus, Scaptius, Poseidonius and the geographer Patrocles are taxed by Strabo, and I pass over many writers of our time who have gone somewhat astray in this, to whom I could point if my modesty did not prevent me. For how could they fail to be mistaken, deceived, and entirely wrong, when, as if they were looking at everything through a chink with a mist interposed, they gained their understanding of foreign affairs from the relations of others and common opinion? Three things are required for proper vision, 1.) that the organ of sight be in good condition, 2.) that the medium of sight be well-arranged, and 3.) that the object be neither too far away nor to close at hand. In the same way, when it comes to history, it is necessary 1.) that the writer’s mind be excellently furnished, so that he may make true and clear-cut decisions about what is vital to history, and what things are merely its dress and ornament. 2.) Next, that his medium (which I understand to be the eloquence of his writing) be well-modulated, lest he either dispense excessive praise on somebody out of love or adulation (a mark of ignorance), or deprecate him out of hatred or envy (a sign of malice). 3.) Lastly, that that his subject-matter be not so close to him that he neglect it out of over-familiarity, nor be so far removed that it is strange to him because it is unduly remote.
3. But let it be granted (even if this is improbable) that foreign authors could report the truth about our affairs — Caesar, for example, and Cornelius Tacitus, the first of whom glimpsed British affairs, as it were, as a military bird of passage, and the latter who saw them as a guest — it is nevertheless incredible that they would be willing to detract a whit from Roman glory, since at that time, during the springtime flower of the Roman empire, they held us in scorn and did not think it unfair to insinuate that which Tacitus intimates in his biography of Julius Agricola, where he introduces Calgacius speaking as if he were the newest recruit into a household and a laughing-stock to his fellow slaves, that we were new and low-down newcomers to the family of this world, and were being attacked for our destruction. Caesar held them in such contempt that, when he said anything about the Britons he frequently called them barbarians, writing, for example, “but then the barbarians, learning of the Roman plan,“ and elsewhere, “meanwhile the barbarians sent out messengers in all directions,” and much else of that sort. But let it be as it may and grant that they desired to write about the achievements of other nations truly and faithfully, nevertheless the facts of our history cannot be gathered from the trifling statements and evidence concerning Britain they have provided in passing, things which, even if they do not rise to the level of perfected history, are nevertheless not unpraiseworthy, when you consider the requirements of the moment and the brevity of their mention of us.
4. For (to come to Caesar, who scarcely passed a winter among us) what important things, pray tell, does this excellent historian, invincible commander, and supreme emperor have to tell us about Britain in his Commentaries? He has a little to say (albeit he says it with eloquence, as he does everything else) about our oceanic location, and the triangular shape of our island. He has left us, to be sure, a memorable testimony about its countless number of men, its very numerous buildings, and its great abundance of cattle, lead, iron, and other ores. But when it comes to the war he waged against the Britons, he writes about us more sparingly and (if I may say so) frigidly, since his enthusiasm was to record the greatness of his victory rather than how it was achieved. He says a bit about British chariots and a lot about his Atrebates, but fails to make any mention about the defeat and rout he suffered (something for which Pompey chides him in Lucan). I do not deny that this island was subjugated by Caesar, and was tacked onto the consummation of his other victories as a kind of concluding appendix (as Caesar appears to hint with the words he puts in the mouth of Mandubratius), but it is clear that this was achieved more by the treason of Androgeus than thanks to Roman virtue, albeit this is scarcely evident in Caesar’s Commentaries, so that the truth would not get in the way of his glory.
5. Let us pass on to Cornelius Tacitus, who performed military service amongst the Britons under Julius Agricola in the days of Domitian, and evaluate what he offers by way of adorning his history. I admit that he wrote in great detail about Julius Agricola, the governor of Britain at the time, but his term of office spanned only seven years (or ten, if you will), assuredly no great amount of time for learning the facts of our connected history. And what he did write was committed to paper more for the sake of Agricola (who indeed deserves this) than for the sake of Britain. No man can doubt this on the basis of what the author frankly confesses at the beginning of this work, even if therein much is recorded about Britain which is neither unworthy of his effort or of our notice. But you use a fair set of scales to balance the things which Tacitus writes concerning Britain, moderately and yet briefly, and what he has to say about Julius Agricola, which are copious and very elegant, against the full panorama of our British story from Brutus’ foundation down to the end of Cadwallader’s reign, you will appreciate that this is a brief parenthesis in a rather than history itself.
6. Here, my fine readers, you have what those foreign authors have to offer concerning our history: they record a little about their contemporary age, but nothing about the time that preceded it. But if the ones who lived among us (although briefly) made no more progress in this business, what are we to expect from Livy, Appian, Suetonius, Justin, Eutropius, and the countless other Roman historians who had no dealings with our affairs of any sort; who, if they could provide a geographical description of the island of Britain being remote in the ocean and lying towards the north, imagined they had done their duty well enough. And if they chance to have added that our nation was barbarian, a fierce people once subdued by Julius Caesar (as many do not fail to mention), this certainly fails to do much for the praise of our history. On the basis of these reflections, it is clear that the truth of this history of ours is to be drawn from two sources, as I hope to persuade you in particular, my well-disposed readers, and also whatever ill-disposed readers there might be, in regard to the credit and dignity of this History, that we should not measure our judgments according to a foreign yardstick, like a Lesbian Rule. But (so that I might leave no stone unturned) those who oppose me in this debate are perhaps adducing a second argument, not very different from the previous one, that once upon a time the Britons were illiterate barbarians, who had no concern about posterity. If I concede this point, those critics will gain their point. But if they are willing to direct their thoughts to the times of Bladudus, who studied at Athens; if they openmindedly evaluate those statutes legislated by Malmutius, or those Martian ones which the Saxon king Alfred subsequently expanded and promulgated, and which are of no small usefulness to us in our own times; if they turn their eyes to the prophecies of Merlin, which have been received down through the ages with such great admiration (even if those mockers, relying more on their own opinion than the ancient age of the thing, regard him as a fraud); if they consider the countless company of religious men who both at Bangor elsewhere in various British abbeys lived the monastic life and devoted themselves to learning, I mean Gildas, Bede, and innumerable others of that age (not to speak of those right learned men Damicanus and Faganus, sent by King Lucius of Britain by Pope Eleutherus), I have no doubt that from these they will be convinced that the Britons were able to write with plenty of confidence and clarity, and record for posterity the state, condition, and events of that time, learnedly enough with respect to their method, and also with elegance.
7. And yet it does not escape my notice that nowadays our antiquarians are divided over the truth and certitude of this History. Nothing in human affairs is so certain that it admits no contradiction. And no wonder, since there is only one highway of solid truth, but many byways of error. For this diversity of viewpoints grew to the point that it has now all but become a proverb that “the world is ruled” — I would rather believe destroyed — “by opinions.” Just as faith arises from things that can be believed and science from things that can be understood, so opinion arises from probabilities, and nothing is so incredible but that it becomes probable in the saying. These is the reason why such sharp controversies, incapable of resolution: when they have spring up in all branches of learning: philosophers, astrologers, politicians, and theologians, are we to expect everything to be peace and quiet among historians and chroniclers? I have no intention to pursue this theme generally, lest I be sunk in a great sea of particulars. But to take an examples think how countless are philosophers’ opinions about the soul: some, such as Hipparchus and Leucippus, have claimed that it is a fiery spark; others, such as the Stoics; that it is a heated spirit; others, like Democritus, that it is a mobile thing within us composed of atoms; others that it is made of air, like Anaxamines, Anaxagoras, Diogenes the Cynic and Critias; some, including Hippias, believe it to be watery; yet others, like Hesiod, that it is made of earth; some, like Empedocles, that it is a blood-like substance compounded of earth and air; yet other, including Hippocrates, that it is a subtle spirit diffused throughout the body. There are those who have pronounced that the soul is a certain divine substance, entire in its whole and entire in any of its parts. These have included Zoroastrian, Hermes Trismegistus, Orpheus, Pythagoras, Ennius, Plutarch, Porphyry, Timaeus, and the divine Plato. You see how greatly they disagree amongst themselves about the soul’s essence. Nor do they disagree any less about its seat: Hippocrates opined that this was in the brain, Democritus in the complete body, Epicurus in the entire area of the chest, and others have had countless other opinions, and if somebody were to assemble all the philosophers in a single place, they could not come to an agreement concerning this matter.
8. The same confusion of controversies exists among the astrologers, politicians, theologians, and in all the other arts and sciences. I have only cited these examples so that you can conjecture the rest, just as geometers can calculate the size of Polyphemus by measuring only his foot. But at this point someone will perhaps say to me that there cannot help but be controversies about matters which consist purely of opinions, but it is different concerning matters of actual fact, and I admit this. But in both cases truth is one and the same thing. Here one must counter the vain opinions of certain men who tax our Common Law, some out of malice and others out of ignorance, for having no certitude in themselves, for if they would heed what I have been saying about other sciences, even if I were to hold my silence they would very readily ackn0wledge their error. For I have elected to touch on these things in passing rather than enter into any detail concerning things which are elementary for all educated men, I shall not inflict on the reader the tedium that is wont to arise from a great barrage of words on subjects which do not do much to illustrate my chosen subject.
9. So let us return to our Geoffrey of Monmouth, from whom we have gone somewhat astray, and let us observe whether this History of his, which he translated out of his Welsh tongue into Latin, possesses sufficient authority in its own right, or whether it requires the support of other authors’ testimony. Those who take my side will take their evidence from Geoffrey himself, regarding him as a primary source; those who disagree have little more than conjectures, for they can produce no other history. Rather, inasmuch as denial is easier than proof, so it would cause us to less trouble to disbelieve these naysayers rather than inquire into their grounds for dissent. Nevertheless, as I see it, the man who maintains his silence is no better than the one who does not prove his negative. For in order to uphold the antiquity of this History, it is not is sufficient to issue an flat assertion or denial, in the manner of a Pythagoras, unless one can employ hard-headed logic to trace the truth of this History over the long passage of years — an ability which falls to few. If I can say so in all modesty, I have studied nearly all the writers, both ancient and modern, who have written on this subject, but found none among them all, with the exception of Geoffrey, who have undertaken the massive burden of this task, until we arrive at our own William Camden, a man well-polished in every branch of letters, who, thanks to the marvelous dexterity of his pen, has retrieved this British history from the darkness, as giving it back its rights of citizenship. I admit that the writer called Gildas has written a kind of epistle On the Downfall of Britain: he was born in the year after our Lord’s Incarnation 449, the forty-forth after the first coming of the Saxons. Afterwards the Venerable Bede composed a certain Ecclesiastical History, and both of these were very learned writers according to the lights of their time. The former expended a great deal of effort in denouncing vices, and the latter in recounting miracles, and neither of them had any dealings with the earlier period from Brutus down to Julius Caesar, and afterwards they touched on Britain only a little, confusedly presenting miscellaneous information.
10. Afterwards a certain William of Newburgh put in an appearance, who wrote five Books concerning English affairs, but none about British ones. He lived in the days of King John of England, about fifty years after our Geoffrey. He was a man of keen enough intellect, but marked by profound malice. He vigorously inveighed against Monmouth, using his poisonous tongue to spew forth whatever venom he possessed himself, or could gather from other sources. Whatever Geoffrey had written about the feats of Arthur and the prophecies of Merlin he rejected as lying fables, but his confusion consisted nothing more than his unsupported opinion, and this in his preamble, rather than in his history itself. I have no idea what drove the man into such a frenzy that he thus urinated on the ashes of his forefathers. But (to pass over my own view in silence), I shall briefly tell you, reader, what others think about him. Leland gravely reprehends him for taking up the cudgels against the dead Geoffrey of Monmouth so bitterly and slanderously. Bale asserts the same thing in these words, “William of Newburgh is thought to be unfair to him, and Polydore Vergil was an ingrate, since in assembling his history he greatly relied on Geoffrey’s evidence.” Furthermore, Bale adds, “Our fellow citizen Geoffrey had no mean education for a man of his age, and he translated his History out of Welsh into the Latin language. It is therefore unfair to rage against a translator.” And, so as not to concede that which Newburgh in his very malicious way desired to plant in our minds, that Arthur either did not exist at all, or was not the kind of man he is reported to have been by our histories, so as not to delve deeper in to this question, let me present as witnesses our Camden, Leland, Prise, Basingstoke, Theodorus Clenius, and the Swedish Johannes Magnus, Archbishop of Uppsala, in his History of the Goths and Swedes, and an infinity of other writers who to a man unhesitatingly maintain that Arthur did exist: some call him a most noble hero, others an indomitable king. Others have hymned his deeds and magnificence, so much so that with great admiration the Archbishop of Uppsala, albeit a Swede, admitted Arthur’s triumphs over the Danes and Goths.
11. But if anything in the first edition of this History has possibly gone a little beyond the limits of credibility (as Newbrigensis energetically maintains), the author of this first edition has pardon for his mistake, if there is any need for such. For just as with grapevines there is always something over-exhuberant which can be lopped, so in a history, no matter how carefully written, there will always be something which can be added or subtracted since, in accordance with each man’s natural bent, nearly all men write in such a way that this one is too expansive and that one too abrupt. One writer is dogged in observing truthfulness and considers himself bound to it by a kind of religion, whereas another inserts his opinions and sullies the purity of the thing with his verbal rhodomontades. This one praises, that one criticizes; this one makes assertions, that one issues denials; but, no matter how they write, the matter comes to that point of necessity and (if I may put it thus) wretchedness, that nearly all of writers’ good credit depends on the opinion and trust of their readers.
12. But inasmuch as it is the truth of this History that is now under discussion, in the treatment of this matter I must first refute the objections that can be raised and then defend my position with whatever arguments I can muster. And so, to the best of my ability, I shall strive to make an end of this controversy, which has ranged far and wide, with various opinions being voiced pro and con, with which the reader may rest content. After Newburgh came forth others, perhaps his imitators, who sought to uproot this History, attempting entirely to discredit its origin Brutus, or to weaken this tradition. And, so as not to keep silence about something that is open for all to see, in this matter that Abbot of St. Albans strikes me as a trifle over-harsh when he said that all this stuff about Brutus (to speak in his fashion) is poetic rather than historical. How much more modestly would he have conducted himself, if he had said that this what he thought on the basis of what he knew, rather than so confidently making assertions about what he did not know. He denied that Ascanius’ son Silvius was the father of our Brutus. Livy, that prince of historians, a man scarcely ignorant of this art of writing, who lived somewhat nearer to those times, in the second folio of his first decade (for I shall deal with you on the basis of the written record, venerable sir) affirms this clearer than daylight. Let others decide which of these two writers is to be believed. Certainly such a learned man, especially if he is bent on writing on this subject, ought not to have been unaware of this. And yet those who are sometimes happy to be ignorant, so that they are freer to go astray. If he was so minded, then his ignorance is pardonable, but not his malice. But if he was mistaken concerning such an obvious fact, then it is to be feared that he was blind in obscurer ones as well. And so whatever that venerable abbot stored up against us in that Granary of his lies under the suspicion of being of the same ilk. In doubtful matters so far removed from the memory of men — for who can claim certainty about such an ancient matter? — it is always safer to defer to ancient authority.
13. The next writer to give us trouble is John Twyne of Bolingdon, in his Commentaries on the Affairs of Albion, Britain, and England. He confidently maintains that this island of Britain was once a peninsula of the French mainland, and has no hesitation in setting forth his conjectures. He claims that once there was an isthmus about five miles wide, stretching from Rutupinum (the modern Dover) to Fulstan, a town in Kent, which provided a dry walkway over to France, just as there were similar land-bridges from Italy to Sicily, from Syria to Cyprus, and from Gibraltar to African Abyla, and still exists today from the rest of Greece to the Peloponnese. This isthmus lasted until it was eroded away by the beating of the sea and its constant tides, and was entirely flooded. On the basis of this, this author inferred (by I know not what logic) that after this island was wrenched away from France, before the fall of Troy, it was called Britain. And he adduces many arguments that this is so, and that the island received its name from another source than Brutus. “Let Apella the Jew believe it, though I do not” what that word Britain means, as Twine drums into us over and over: he says that Britain comes from brit, and is named from the color of its soil after the breaking of the isthmus, from its affinity with another equally barbarous word guit, but I am wholly ignorant of its meaning and do not blush to admit my ignorance. But, however much that author likes those strange foreign words (and the etymology is surely far-fetched), he frankly admits that he learned the meaning of this word from other men who were familiar with the British language, and is prudent to add this, so that he would not, perhaps, fall under the suspicion of having made it up. But who, pray tell, are these men familiar with the British language? How do we know that a such a word existed among the British? Or, if it did, that it had this meaning? Or, if it did have it, how, I ask you, is it relevant to our subject. I fear lest my ignorance of this business is much too credulous and unduly inquisitive.
14. But I am surprised that Twyne rejects such a noble founder of our kingdom as was Brutus, and, as if “descending from heaven drectly into a synagogue,” has foisted onto his nation a name taken from earth, mire and mud, from things having do with straw, stones, and swamps. I admit that sometimes kingdoms are named after rivers, as was Iberia (the modern Spain) from the river Iber, India after the Indus, and so forth. But it is commoner for rivers, cities, and kingdoms to take their names from persons. Among rivers, our Humber is named after King Humber, our Severn [Sabrina] from Sabrina, the daughter of Estrildis, and among the Romans the Tiber took its name, renowned to posterity, from Tiberinus, who drowned in it. Likewise concerning cities, Rome was named for Romulus, Constantinople for Constantine, and Lavinium for Latinus’ daughter Lavinia. Regarding kingdoms and provinces Forum Julii took its name from Julius, Latium from Latinus, and Dardania from Dardanus. This custom is so frequent among all nations that there is no need to enumerate further examples, lest I seem to be lighting a candle in broad daylight. This manner of naming is so prevalent that it even has a place with heretics and evil people. Thus the Donatists are named after Donatus, the Arrians after Arrius, the Manichaeans after Mani, the Novatians after Novatus, the Ebionites after Ebion, the Nestorians after Nestor. There is no more effective bond among mankind, which joins together and unites men’s minds and manners more effectively than this custom of bestowing names. You have a memorable example of this in the pages of Livy, which is not irrelevant to my subject to repeat here. When Aeneas first came to Italy, then inhabited by the Aborigines under King Latinus, after a period of fighting as soon as King Latinus heard that his enemies were Trojans and that their leader was Aeneas, the son of Anchises, he enter a pledge of future friendship. A pact was made between these leaders, and their armies exchanged greetings. Then Latinus’ daughter Lavinia was given in marriage to Aeneas. Turnus, king of the Rutilians, to whom Lavinia had previously been betrothed, took it amiss that this newcomer was preferred to himself, and declared war on both Latinus and Aeneas. To keep the Aborigines from abandoning him in the face of this strong coalition and to secure their being not only under the same laws, but also the same designation, Aeneas called both nations by the common name of Latins. From that time the Aborigines did not lag behind the Trojans in their loyal devotion to Aeneas.
15. Such, we understand, was the power of a shared name among those peoples, and we hope this will apply to us as well, if we are to be transformed from English and Scotsmen and be called Britons once more, with our ancient name regained and reassumed. But this is said in passing and we should return to our subject, I mean to those people who refuse to believe in our Brutus. For the question of whether Brutus existed or not is on all men’s lips. Good God! Nowadays what is not called into question by these petty little doubts? In meetings, at banquets, in assemblies, even in barbershops men wrangle over this. What has Brutus done to offend these men, or Britain, that they do not allow him his assured origin? But these men will tell us that they are not relying only on their own opinions, but that they can produce the teachings of certain savants in support of their view, such as Hadrianus Junius, Buchanan, Vives, Polydore, Bodinus, not to mention other men of great intellect who have doubts about this question. They allege our Camden, a man whom I assuredly value as much as all the others combined, whose industry in research, discrimination in judgment, and elegance in explanation I cannot help but acknowledge, so that I would willingly value his opinion above all others, were I not dissuaded by the antiquity of the times, the authority of that antiquity, all those remains of towns and temples founded by Brutus and his posterity, all those rivers named after them, and, in sum, the opinion of nearly all men, all of which pull me in a different direction. Nonetheless Camden conducts himself with far greater moderation than the rest in this business, for he does not deny that Brutus came here, but joins the others in entertaining a measure of doubt about the true naming of our nation by Brutus.
16. But I, by your leave, affirm both propositions. Two things in particular convince my mind of this, one taken from a general consideration of histories, and the other from a particular one. From the general, thus. Who has written more sharply and acidly about historiography than Cornelius Agrippa in his book On the Vanity of the Sciences, where he says (and I quote), “When that Trojan woman Hecuba claimed she had been been transformed into a dog and remembered how to do nothing other than bite, bark, growl, and snarl?” When in the course his discussion his history he taxed historians who filled their volumes with invented stories such as those of Morgan, Margadonna, Melusina, Amadis, Florandus, Lancelot, Tristan, and others of the kind, did that most acute critic of historians have anything to say about our Brutus? No, not a word. And yet, were it false and spurious, there is no doubt that it would have failed to escape his censure nor eluded his judgment, for it is a very notorious fact about the origin of this nation. In particular, who has written about our British History more peevishly and insultingly than Newbrigensis, who did not blush to regard Arthur’s achievements and Merlin’s prophecies as fabulous? And yet in all his invectives, in which he omitted nothing that would permit him to savage this History and its author, he nonetheless had nothing to object against Brutus. From which it is possible to infer that, if these gentlemen who have have gone out of their way scan everything with their eagle eyes (for ill-will is very keen of sight) have found nothing detrimental to Brutus in all these histories. Hence we should be slow to believe the others who have approached this subject by happenstance, in passing, and as if issuing obiter dicta, I care not whether led by their own judgment or following the teachings of others, and I do not trouble myself to remonstrate with them.
17. But, just as there are some who appear to be raising difficulties for this History, so there are also many others, and very learned men at that, who strive might and main to defend it and its author, and extol it to the skies, such as Basingstoke (who has done excellent service in this cause). Theodorus Clenius, Leland, John Price, Humphrey Llwyd, and other modern writers and chroniclers of no mean quality among us whom I shall pass over in silence. Let us finally come to Pontico Virunio, a man of most happy intellect and learning, second to none of his age, who wrote commentaries on Vergil, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Statius’ Achilleis, Claudian, and much else. His homeland was Treviso, and he lived in the time of Ludovico Sforza. To honor the very noble Venetian clan of the Beduara, a family of British descent, he made an abridgement of the first six Books of Geoffrey of Monmouth, of whom he offered this testimonial: “Geoffrey, a fine historian and a Cardinal, a man of great influence with King Henry’s son Robert Duke [sic] of Gloucester, and a very energetic champion of his homeland, wrote a connected History beginning with the very Trojans, based on his consummate philosophy and the royal archives. That his British histories are most accurate is shown by the custom of western kings of always having men in their retinues to record truthfully their principal actions.” Thus Pontico Virrunios.
18. And to him let there be added Bade Ascenscius and Ivo Cavellatus, learned men both, as can be seen in Ascensius’ edition, where the preface to this edition says, “Since, careful sir, I have often heard from my elders that the British had Trojan origins: that after the sack of Troy part of them went to Italy, and part to Greece, where they came under the power of the Greek king Pandrasus. But, thanks to Brutus’ clever contrivance and courage — he had gone to Italy, and thence to Greece as an exile — they escaped servitude to the Greeks and recovered their liberty. Then they came to Albion, which afterwards they named Britain after Brutus, and called themselves Britons. This they now call England after its Anglo-Saxon occupiers, although (if Merlin’s prophecies are to be believed) they are destined someday to be destroyed by this nation. I was gripped with a very arduous desire to discover whether these popular accounts are true (for they say that Gildas and the Venerable Bede also wrote of the noble deeds and achievements attested by Geoffrey), and when I went to the library of the College of Quimper at Paris to inspect some books, I discovered a little volume entitled Historiae Regum Britanniae, which was in a shabby and deteriorated condition thanks to neglect and decay. When I found it, good gods, with what emotion I read and re-read it, what careful attention I paid to it! And not without reason, because, thanks to it, what had previously seemed fabulous to me was clearly historical. Only one thing troubled me, that this noble book, containing so many great deeds of very doughty princes, and which had gained the approval of many saintly and religious men, was marred by so many copying mistakes that scarcely anyone could comprehend it. And so, aggrieved by the loss and obscurity of this History, I dashed about through many libraries in that university town of Paris, and found three other copies bearing the abovementioned title, including two in the abbey of St. Victoire at Paris, one in their library, written in very ancient letters, and the other in the possession of that reverend father in Christ, the abbot of that establishment, which he had commanded to be copied for his own use and preserved with great honor, and a third one secured by an iron chain in the library of the the Carmelite abbey of the aforesaid city, kept amongst their history books. I collated these copies I had found, corrected them as best I could on the basis of this collation, and after they had been corrected I arranged for their publication. Nevertheless, since I found so many and so great discrepancies between them (they had previously lacked an editor), since they had been corrupted both by the antiquity of their author and the mistakes of their copyist, I decided to consult that supremely learned man Josse Bade Ascenscius about this matter and beg him that, if he were offended by any blemishes and uncouthness in this aforesaid History, particularly if these would add to the difficulty of its comprehension, that he send me his pious corrections, while neither adding nor subtracting anything which would change or distort the meaning. For, if he were to do this (as I trust he will), he would place all truth-loving Britons, and particularly the noble ones who suppose themselves born of that blood, forever in his debt, and they would acknowledge their gratitude to whose effort and care such a pregnant History, containing the noble deeds done by their forebears, has been placed in broad daylight, dressed in a new garb brighter and more readily comprehensible than before.”
19. These are the very words of Ivo Cavellatus in the earlier edition of this History (here I add none of my own). If Frenchmen have searched out this British History with such diligence, if they have taken such care in its publication, and, once it had been published, held it in such great respect down to this very day, what, pray, should the Britons themselves do? If they ungratefully reject it, if they unhappily lose it, if they maliciously scorn it? Lest I seem unreasonably prolix, I have no intention of describing how others of our modern writers and chroniclers are disposed in this manner, I mean Hollingshed, Hall, Hooper, Store, and Clapham before them, all of whom have certainly done well in literature. But I would venture to say this, that, while some of them disagree with our Monmouth in minor particulars, none of them wholly parts from him in everything. You may perhaps wonder, kind reader, what inspired my mind to undertake this task, after so many excellent men right distinguished in every branch of letters, amidst the many acute, industrious and tireless antiquarians and profound investigators that our age has produced, who have worked in this field with their utmost exertion to receive the truth from obscurity — what, I mean, has summoned me to shoulder this task when I was preoccupied by other business and was ignorant of these antiquarian matters (as I frankly admit)?
20. And, if I am obliged to provide an accounting of how I spend my leisure time, I shall not shrink from stating the reason. When I first chanced to stumble across this British History, I admit I was gripped with a great enthusiasm for reading at and (as often happens when one reads history) I seemed to myself to embrace its author with a wonderful affection. For it was thanks to his carefulness, zeal and industry that, after such a long passage of years, after all the stormy changes in times, events, and rulers, this record of antiquities suffered no shipwreck. If ever I had time left over from my more serious pursuits and courtroom responsibilities, such as I owe to my profession, time which others use variously to relax their minds when they enjoy freedom from their business (some so so by riding horseback, some at the hunt, and others in ways they individually see fit to do), I, who have no talent for such enjoyments, have often resorted to this History to relieve the severity of my more serious work with lighter pursuits. And, as its frequent reading took deeper root in me, I began to write verses on this subject so as to pass my days with as little a waste of time as possible. But when I made small progress in this business because of the incidental interruption of my days, I began to think whether these pastimes with which I occupied myself more for the amusement of my idle hours than in order to achieve anything, might have some substance to them which might be made public. My mind hesitated at the crossroads, doubtful whether to commit these my furtive efforts (which by now had grown into a substantial bundle) to the press for publication, or whether I ought to consign them to my desk, there to lie hidden as food for moths and bookworms. At length considerations of the public interest and the urging of some of the friends with whom I stood on intimate terms prevailed, so that I might oblige my nation, to whom I am wholly indebted for being whatever I chance to be, and not be behindhand in my dutifulness to my friends. I then became somewhat more expansive in rewriting some two- and four-line epigrams in which I had briefly summarized the contents of this History, so as to illuminate it all the more.
21. And while I was working on this work, of whatever quality it may be, with my small talent, a thought occurred to me: in view of the great variety of opinions concerning this History, I thought it not irrelevant to my subject to read some authors, as many as the brevity of my leisure time allowed, and faithfully to report to you, my kind readers, whatever I could glean from them in this concluding Apology. I culled some flowers (albeit sparingly, as one should when he is strolling about in another man’s garden), and took care to chose those which are most conducive to confirming the truthfulness of this History. If I have left anything out in this business — and I fear I have omitted much — I trust that there will be no lack of other men who out of their love for their homeland will be willing to supplement these my firstfruits. It was the work of others to rescue this History from darkness and squalor, my only concern was to free it from controversies (which is easier to attempt than to have any hope to achieve).
22. Nor should it be held against me if I am ill-versed in matters of this kind and come to them as a stranger, inasmuch as, when it comes to the settlement of quarrels, that man is fit to sit as a judge who is joined to neither side as a friend or kinsman. And indeed, if I do so out of my zeal for the truth and without prejudice of any kind, I hope I shall easily gain pardon. I do not desire to conjecture what any man might feel or whisper about this thing, since I am quite familiar with the fact that nothing is ever so well-polished, nothing can be so complete, as they say, down to its very fingertips, which other men (and learned ones at that) cannot rip it to shreds — not to speak of the malicious folk who chew at everything with their “Theon’s tooth.” Does not Lorenzo Valla chide Aristotle, Boetius, Vergil and Cicero, for which Poggio chides him in his Invectives? Does not Angelo Poliziano carp at the mistakes of all writers in his Miscellanies, and is not Cornelius Agrippa the scourge of the arts and sciences? This being the case, other men’s opinions of myself will not greatly trouble me. If their criticisms are just, let them be aware that in saying much it is easy to go astray; if they are unjust, I would have it be known that, if anybody assumes the free license of habitually speaking ill, he forfeits the ability to confer a bad reputation on others. I keep before my eyes that saying of Erasmus, that if a man’s reputation ill-matches his merits, and jealously gives forth its furtive hisses, it is proof of his sublime, indomitable mind that he is no slower in consulting for the welfare of others, even when it is to his great personal disadvantage. For (as Aulus Gellius says, out of Theophrastus) a small and trifling amount of disgrace or infamy, should be incurred, if thereby great advantage may be gained for a friend; for the insignificant loss from impairment of honor is repaid and made good by the greater and more substantial honor gained by aiding a friend, just as there is more value in a sliver of gold than in a great quantity of brass. Thus (as I persuade myself), I must suffer a slight loss of reputation so that greater advantage can be conferred on my friends or my nation. In this matter, one should imitate our everlasting God, Who, although He cannot be repaid by our gratitude or dutifulness, out of His innate goodness bestows His bounty on us all, grateful and ungrateful, worthy and unworthy alike, expecting this single reward, that He make as many men as possible to share in His bounty.
23. But whatever you may think of my Britannia, good or bad, good reader, nothing prevents you from reading it, and then pondering on it and remembering it. If it has any good in it, this is wholly yours; if anything is amiss, whatever it may be, let that be charged to myself. Such is the variety in this History that I neither promise myself it will greatly please you, nor fear that it will not. And so, reader, if in its reading you come across something that offends your palate, and which you reject at the first tasting or spit out in your nausea, perhaps it contains other things which (if I am not mistaken) will delight you to the point of satiation. Because I have high hopes for these things — it is not hard to hope for that which we wish to come to pass — I flatter myself that I need not despair altogether. Farewell, from London, at the home of the Inner Temple, February 16, 1607.