INTRODUCTION

I. THE AUTHOR

1. Charles Fitzgeoffrey’s 1601 Affaniae, a collection of three Books of Latin epigrams and other short poems, supplies a vivid picture of the cultured gentry of Cornwall at the end of the sixteenth century. Fitzgeoffrey, the son of a Cambridge-educated clergyman, was assimilated into the family of Sir William Mohun, sheriff of the county and a deputy Lord Lieutenant during the Spanish war, when his widowed mother married Sir William’s younger brother. Like many scions of the Cornish gentry, he went up to Oxford as a member of Broadgates Hall (the future Pembroke College), where two of his contemporaries were sons of Sir Anthony Rous of Halton (Francis, who would publish an influential set of Psalm translations, and John). A third member of this family, who came into it when the widowed Sir Anthony remarried, was John Pym. In 1603 Fitzgeoffrey became Rector of Halton, a position he held for life, and so lived as little short of a member of the Rous household. Several of his later publications, including funeral sermons, were dedicated to members of the Rous family. From poems to the Rous brothers, it is clear that this was a remarkably sophisticated family. In one illuminating poem, for example (III.38), Fitzgeoffrey anxiously quizzes the Rous brothers, newly returned from Belgium, about the recent activities of such Humanist writers as Jan Douza and Joseph Scaliger, and it is striking that he expected the Rouses would be able to satisfy his curiousity. Then too, hard by Halston lived another friend with equally wide cultural horizons, Sir Richard Carew of East Anthony, author of such works as the highly ingratiating and readable A Survey of Cornwall and a partial translation of Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata (which may be read in the Philological Museum, in connection with Scipio Gentili’s Latin translation). Oxford students from the West tended to cluster together at Broadgates Hall and Exeter College, and a number of Fitzgeoffrey’s university friends were also Cornishmen and Devonians recruited from the same level of society as Carew and the Rouses, men with such familiar West Country surnames as Moyle, Trefusis, and Trelawney. But from the Affaniae it is clear that the poet’s closest friend at Oxford was another Cornishman, Digory Whear [1573 - 1647] of Jacobstow; NOTE 1indeed, the passionate tone with which Fitzgeoffrey sometimes addresses Whear suggests that their attachment may have been one of those more or less Platonic homosexual relationships which were popular among university men in the late sixteenth century. There are three hints that Whear was some kind of kinsman of the Rouses. First, the dedicatory epistle prefacing Whear’s 1628 Degorei Wheari Praelectoris Historiae Camdenensis Charisteria is addressed to Ioanno Pymo germano virtutis et eruditionis alumno. Pym was obviously not Whear’s brother, but may have been a cousin to the Rouses. Second, after Whear had been appointed Master of Gloucester Hall, he served as Pym’s tutor. Finally, at his death he bequeathed his personal library to the younger Francis Rous. These considerations are obviously less than probative, and Whear’s name does not appear (in connection with the Rouses or elsewhere) in Lieut. - Colonel J. L. Vivian and Henry H. Drake, The Visitation of the County of Cornwall, in the Year 1620 (London, for the Harleian Society, 1874). Nevertheless, it is tolerably clear that, whatever his precise family connections may have been, Whear was another representative of the modern Cornish gentry (“modern” insofar as, largely under the leadership of Sir William Mohun in his capacity as sheriff, this new social class, intellectually sophisticated,aggressively Protestant and loyalist, had managed to displace such traditional leading families as the Arundels, whose steadfast Catholicism brought about their ruin). The new Cornish gentry is of interest, because out of it came at least four men who distinguished themselves academically or with the pen (Fitzgeoffrey, Carew, Whear, and Rouse), and two others who were destined to play important roles in the great political upheavals of the seventeenth century: Francis Rous became a leading Puritan, and served as Speaker of the so-called Barebones Parliament, and John Pym was the great parliamentary leader of the 1630’s.
2. Whear matriculated from Broadgates Hall in 1593, was admitted to the B. A. in 1596-7, and proceeded M. A. in 1600. NOTE 2 In 1602 he was admitted to Exeter College as Cornish Fellow, and became a full Fellow the next year. Resigning that position in 1608, he travelled abroad with Lord Chandos. Returning to England, he lived at Gloucester Hall. Then, in 1622, the great antiquarian and historian William Camden conceived the idea of endowing a Oxford professorship of History. Whear was appointed to this chair in October 1622. In 1626 he was appointed Principal of Gloucester Hall, and served with conspicuous success in these two capacities until his death in 1647.
3. Despite a statement in the Dictionary of National Biography life (p. 1343, col. 2), the Camden Professorship was not just the first professorship of modern history. History was for the first time introduced into the curriculum as an academic discipline, and from the present document it is clear that Whear’s purview was in no way limited to modern history (indeed the position is now called the Camden Professorship of Ancient History). Therefore, as the first professor of a new discipline, Whear was conscious of his extraordinary responsibilities, an awareness clearly enunciated in his dedicatory epistle to Camden. He was obliged, in the first place, to devise a course of study, and this entailed drawing up a reading list. But, over and above the practical issues of pedagogy and curriculum design, he found himself confronted by the necessity of formulating a guiding rationale for the program over which he presided, Oxford’s new Schola Historica. The present treatise, De Ratione et Methodo Legendi Historias, represented his response to this double challenge. The history of this work bears witness to his increasingly deep thought on the subject. In its original form (and as presented in this edition), it was a lecture delivered at the Schola Historica in July 1623. Printed at London in the same year by J. Haviland (Short Title Catalogue 25325, Early English Books reel 1016), it occupies thirty octavo pages. A second version with the same title, printed at Oxford by J. Lichfield and J. Turner (Short Title Catalogue 25326, Early English Books reel 1614) was expanded to eighty octavo pages (this volume also contains the text of Whear’s inaugural address). By 1633, this originally modest document had grown into a book of over three hundred pages, published by Lichfield under the title Relectiones Hyemales De Ratione et Methodo Legendi Utrasque Historias (Short Title Catalogue 25328, Early English Books reel 1047). In its final form, this work was reprinted repeatedly in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, both in England and abroad, and a 1694 English translation by Edmund Bohun (Short Title Catalogue second series W1592, Early English Books second series, reel 371) also requires several reprintings; the work was also employed as a textbook at Cambridge throughout the seventeenth century.
4. Students of the English Renaissance university curriculum will no doubt discover much of interest in the course of study devised by Whear, especially as articulated in its final form, and those without the benefit of Latin may be referred to Bohun’s translation. For the general reader, doubtless the most interesting feature of the present document will be his justification of the study of history, contained in the third “chapter” of the lecture (this is what arrested the attention of J. W. Binns in his recent discussion of it). NOTE 3 Briefly put, history is to be categorized as a subspecies of “practical philosophy,” i. e., it differs from moral philosophy in that its actual events provide specific exempla of behavior to be imitated and avoided, both in the public and private spheres. As such, its aim is not merely to equip the reader with knowledge, but to prepare him for action, and Whear repeatedly stresses the utilitarianism of this view. The reader’s essential task is therefore to identify, extract, and retain the moral lessons that history has to offer. This, as Binns noted, and in fact as Whear candidly admits by quoting the statements of others to the same effect, is scarcely an original idea. One finds it in a number of Continental writers (Binns mentions Pontano, Robortello, Bodin, Riccoboni, and Patrizi). NOTE 4 Something of the sort, in a general way, had been expressed in England, by Thomas Blundeville in his The True Order and Methode of Wryting and Reading Hystories (1574). In his preface, addressed to Leicester, he states that he knew the Earl:

.…to delyte moste in reading of Hystories, the true Image and portrature of Mans lyfe, and that not as many doe, to passe away the tyme, but to gather thereof such iudgement and knowledge as you may thereby be the more able, as well to direct your priuate actions, as to giue Counsell lyke a most prudent Counseller in publyke causes, be it matters of warre, or peace.

But what is striking in an English context is the emphasis Whear places on history’s capacity to supply moral exempla, an idea to which he now gave prominence and the support of his not inconsiderable prestige. We must wonder how his argument may have sounded to English ears. For his conception of history’s morally instructive function, that speficially plays itself out by providing exempla, presents a distinct parallel to an argument devised to defend poetry, and most particulary drama, from Puritan attack. The argument in question is most familiar as expressed by Sir Philip Sidney in The Defense of Poesie (III.23):

…the comedy is an imitation of the common errors, of our life, which he representeth in the most ridiculous and scornfull sort that may be: so as it is impossible that any beholder can be content to be such a one…So that the right use of Comaedie, will I thinke, by no bodie be blamed; and much less of the high and excellent Tragedie, that openeth the greatest woundes, and sheweth forth the Ulcers, that are covered with Tissue, that maketh Kings feare to be Tyrants.

In another passage, speaking about characters in literature, Sidney spelled out this understanding more fully (III.14f.):

Let us but heare old Anchises, speaking in the middest of Troies flames, or see Ulisses in the fulnesse of all Calipsoes delightes, bewaile his absence from barraine and beggerly Ithaca. Anger the Stoikes said, was a short madnesse: let but Sophocles bring you Ajax on a stage, killing and whipping sheepe and oxen, thinking them the Army of Greekes, with their Chieftaines Agamemnon and Menelaus: and tell me if you have not a more familiar insight into Anger, then finding in the schoolemen his Genus and Difference. See whether wisdom and temperance in Ulisses and Diomedes, valure in Achilles, friendship in Nisus and Eurialus, even to an ignorant man carry not an apparent shining: and contrarily, the remorse of conscience in Oedipus; the soone repenting pride in Agamemnon; the selfe devouring crueltie in his father Atreus; the violence of ambition in the two Theban brothers; the sower sweetnesse of revenge in Medea; and to fall lower, the Terentian Gnatho, and our Chawcers Pander so exprest, that we now use their names to signifie their Trades: And finally, all vertues, vices, and passions, so in their owne naturall states, laide to the view, that we seeme not to heare of them, but clearly to see through them.

The argument was taken up by others. Thomas Watson, in introducing the Pomps and Themes he wrote to accompany his Latin translation of Sophocles’ Antigone (printed in 1581) wrote:

natum es poema, ut mentibus nostris ferat
opem, vagosque ut tollat errores. in hoc
conficta vitae debitum nostrae docet
persona cursum: quid decet, quid non sequi.

[“A poem is born so as to bring aid to our minds, and to remove straying errors. In this genre, the fictitious character teaches the proper course of life: what is fitting, what not to pursue.”]

Similarly, one may cite the Oxford playwright William Gager’s defence of his play Ulysses Redux, written in the course of his 1592 letter to Dr. John Rainolds defending the honor of academic actors:

Neyther doe I see what evill affections could be stirred up by owre playes, but rather good, for in Vylsse Reduce, whoe did not love the fidelyte of Eumaeus and Philoetius towardes their Master; and hate the contary in Melanthius? whoe was not moved to compassion to see Vlysses a great Lorde dryvne so hardly as that he was fayne too be a begger in his owne house? whoe did not wisshe hym well, and all ill to the wooers, and thinke them worthely slayne, for their bluddye purpose agaynst Telemachus and other dissolute behaviour, not so muche expressed on the Stage as imagined to be done within? whoe did not admyre the constancye of Penelope, and disprayse the lytenes, and bad nature in Melantho, and thinke her justly hanged for it? whoe did not prayse the patience, wisdome and secrecye of Vlysses and Telemachus his sonne? lastly whoe was not glad to see Vlysses restored to his wife and his goods, and his mortall enemyes overthrowne and punished? …as in other Tragedyes; whoe dothe not hate the furye of Medea, the revenge of Atreus, the treason of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, and the crueltye of Nero? contraryewise, whoe dothe not pittye the rage, and the deathe of Hercules, the calamytye of Hecuba and her children, the infortunate valure of Oedipus, the murder of Agamemnon, the bannishment of Octavia, and suche like? and yet no man is to be reproched, for eyther affection.

The same defence is offered by Thomas Heywood in his An Apology for Actors (printed 1612):

And what is then the subiect of this harmelesse mirth [of comedy]? either in the shape of a Clowne, to shew others their slouenly and vnhansome behauiour, that they may reforme that simplicity in themselues, which others make their sport, lest they happen to become the like subiect of generall scorne to an auditory, else it intreates of loue, deriding foolish inamorates, who spend their ages, their spirits, nay themselves, in the seruile and ridiculous imployments of their Mistresses.

5. Another part of Sidney’s argument in defence of poetry had to do with poetry’s superiority to history. At one point reminded his reader of Aristotle’s remarks in the Poetics NOTE 5 that poetry is more philosophical and more serious than history because it deals with the universal, whereas history is limited to the particular. In another passage (III.30), he contrasts the claims of the poet with those of the philosopher and the historian:

…wherein if we can shew, the Poet is worthy to have it before any other competitors: among whom principally to challenge it, step forth the moral Philosophers, whom me thinkes I see comming towards me, with a sullen gravitie, as though they could not abide vice by day-light, rudely cloathed for to witness outwardly their contempt of outward things, with books in their hands against glorie, whereto they set their names: sophistically speaking against subtiltie, and angry with any man in whom they see the foule fault of anger. These men casting larges as they go of definitions, divitions and distinctions, with a scornful interrogative, do soberly aske, whether it be possible to find any path so ready to lead a man to vertue, as that which teacheth what vertue is, and teacheth it not only by delivering forth his very being, his causes and effects, but also by making knowne his enemie vice, which must be destroyed, and his cumbersome servant passion, which must be mastred: by shewing the generalities that contains it, and the specialties that are derived from it. Lastly by plaine setting downe, how it extends it selfe out of the limits of a mans owne little world, to the government of families, and mainteining of publike societies. The Historian scarcely gives leisure to the Moralist to say so much, but that he loaden with old Mouse-eaten Records, authorising himselfe for the most part upon other Histories, whose greatest authorities are built uppon the notable foundation Heresay, having much ado to accord differing writers, & to pick truth out of partiality: better acquainted with a 1000. yeres ago, then with the present age, and yet better knowing how this world goes, then how his owne wit runnes, curious for Antiquities, and inquisitive of Novelties, a wonder to yoong folkes, and a Tyrant in table talke; denieth in a great chafe, that any man for teaching of vertue, and vertues actions, is comparable to him. I am Testis temporum, lux veritatis, vita memoriae, magistra vitae, nuncia vetustatis. The Philosopher saith he, teacheth a disputative vertue, but I do an active. His vertue is excellent in the dangerlesse Academy of Plato: but mine sheweth forth her honourable face in the battailes of Marathon, Pharsalia, Poietiers, and Agincourt. Hee teacheth vertue by certaine abstract considerations: but I onely follow the footing of them that have gone before you. Old aged experience, goeth beyond the fine witted Philosopher: but I give the experience of many ages. Lastly, if he make the song Booke, I put the learners hand to the Lute, and if he be the guide, I am the light. Then he would alleage you innumerable examples, confirming storie by stories, how much the wisest Senators and Princes, have bene directed by the credit of Historie, as Brutus, Alphonsus of Aragon, (and who not if need be.) At length, the long line of their disputation makes a point in this, that the one giveth the precept, and the other the example.

One cannot help wondering whether, in the present lecture, one of the items in Whear’s agenda was to uphold the honor and dignity of history against the deprecation of Sidney (and perhaps of others who repeated Aristotle’s disparaging diagnosis of history) by amplifying on the portion of this passage, in which the historian responds to the philosopher’s onslaught, precisely by pointing out that history supplies morally instructive exempla. In a continuation of this passage, Sidney himself weighs the poet against the philosopher and the historian, and finds him superior:

Now whom shall we find, since the question standeth for the highest forme in the schoole of learning to be moderator? Truly as mee seemeth, the Poet, and if not a moderator, even the man that ought to carry the title from them both: and much more from all the other serving sciences. Therfore compare we the Poet with the Historian, and with the morall Philosopher: and if hee goe beyond them both, no other humaine skill can match him. For as for the divine, with all reverence it is ever to be excepted, not onely for having his scope as far beyond any of these, as Eternitie exceedeth a moment: but even for passing ech of these in themselves.

The conclusion to Whear’s third “chapter” (III.5) is meant to rebut the view expressed by Sidney, that history is less well equipped than poetry to provide universal truths. Using passages of Velleius Paterculus and Tacitus to illustrate his point, he shows how universally valid precepts can be extracted (at least by a mature and trained reader equipped with proper judgement) from the specific exempla provided by history. The conclusion, therefore, is that history is no less effective a servant of “practical philosophy” than is poetry. In his description of the creation of a chair of History at Oxford, Camden’s biographer Dr. Thomas Smith NOTE 6 wrote that the University committee appointed to set the terms for the Camden Professorship tried to pressure Wheare into teaching Church history, Camden had to intervene personally to ensure he would teach secular history in accordance with his original intention. One cannot help wondering what effect this immediate background to his inaugural lecture may have produced on Whear, and to what degree it set him thinking about the moral as well as the pedagogical value of secular history as a field of academic study. Possibly an initial impulse to mollify the University committee by pointing out that the study of secular history can be morally edifying and instructive was the beginning-point for what grew into his life’s work.
7. The present edition is based on the original 1623 version. Since, however, virtually all the material of that edition is also present in the 1625 one, I have collated the two editions, which facilitates the correction of some printing errors. A few useful words and phrases of the 1625 version have been imported (they are identified as such by being included in angular brackets). Although the 1623 version is not divided into sections or paragraphs, the 1625 one is, and the paragraphs are numbered. Both for convenience of reference, and to make plain to the reader the document’s rhetorical articulation, it appears advisable to use a similar system here. Since the 1625 version adds a good deal of extra matter, its paragraph numeration cannot be exactly imitated, but, insofar as is feasible, I have introduced paragraph breaks after its example. A number of abbreviations in the text, that would have been self-evident to contemporary readers, but may not be equally so to all modern ones, are spelled out, and modern punctuation is silently imposed.

 

NOTES

NOTE 1 The surname is sometimes spelled Wheare. As for the Christian name, in his published work Whear variously signed himself in print as Digoreus or Degoreus, and in some secondary sources, such as the Dictionary of National Biography article, it is given as Degory. For this Cornish name, see E. G. Withycombe, The Oxford Dictionary of English Given Names (third edition, 1977) 84.

NOTE 2 The principal sources for Whear’s life are Anthony à Wood, Athenae Oxonienses, Fasti Oxonienses, and Life of Anthony à Wood (ed. Philip Bliss, in four volumes, London, 1813 - 22, reprinted Hildesheim, 1969) III.216 - 20 (and various other mentions, as recorded in indices), and William Prideaux Courtney’s article in the Dictionary of National Biography with a complete list of publications and extant manuscripts, and with further references cited.

NOTE 3 J. W. Binns, Intellectual Culture in Elizabethan and Jacobean England (Leeds, 1990) pp. 186f.

NOTE 4 For Continental critical thinking about history and “art of history” treatises, Binns cited Bernard Weinburg, A History of Literary Criticism in the Italian Renaissance (Chicago, 1961) 40 - 45, and Eckhard Kessler, Theoretiker humanistischer Gechichtsshreibung (Munich, 1971).

NOTE 5 Poetics 1451b3, “Hence poetry is more philosophical and serious than poetry, for poetry speaks more of universals, while poetry speaks of particulars.”

NOTE 6 Thomas Smith, V[iri] Cl[arissimi] Guilielmi Camdeni et Illustrium Virorum ad G. Camdenum Epistolae (1691) lxiii.