« PreviousContinue »
ment in his expectation of being successor to Ben Jonson as poet-laureat, William d'Avenant being appointed in his stead. We afterwards find him in the republican army commanded by Fairfax, and in the post of a secretaryship under the parliament. He died in 1650.
1. May first appeared, in a literary character, as a poet and dramatist. He also translated Virgil's Georgics, with annotations ; as likewise, “ Select Epigrams of Martial.” But his most important translation was that of “ Lucan's Pharsalia,” with a “Continuation" of that poem, in English and Latin, to the death of Julius Cæsar.
2. By his majesty's command, he wrote a metrical history of "The Reign of Henry the Second;" to which he added in prose, “The Description of Henry II. with a short Survey of the Changes of his Reign,” Also, “ The single and comparative Characters of Henry and Richard, his Song."
3. But his most considerable work is " The History of the Parliament of England;" which may be considered rather as a brief history of the '“ Civil Wars” which arose during its sitting. He represents this work as a task imposed upon him, and which he undertook with reluctance. “For (says he) I wished more than life, that for the public's sake, my theme could rather have been the prosperity of these nations, the honour and happiness of the king, and such a blessed condition of both, as might have reached all the ends for which govern. ment was first ordained in the world.” The full title is, “ The History of the Parliament of England, which began November 3, 1640, with a short and necessary View of some precedent Years : written by Thomas May, Esq. secretary for the parliament; published by authority;" folio, 1647. To this first edition is prefixed a preface (never reprinted) in which the following passage deserves transcription, as it explains the situation of the author at the commencement of the civil wars, as likewise his means of information.
That (says he) which of all other is most likely to be differently related, is concerning the actions of war and soldiery; and in the time of this war it is a thing of extraordinary difficulty, I might say, of impossibility, for those of one party to be truly informed of all the councils, or very performances and actions of commanders and soldiers on the other side. How much valour the English natioir on both sides have been guilty of in this unnatural war, the world must needs know in the general fame : but for particulars, how much worth, virtue, and courage, some particular lords, gentlenzen, and others have shewed, anless both sides do write, will never perfectly be known. My residence (continues he) hath been, during these wars, in the quarters, and under the protection of the parliament; and whatsoever is briefly related of the soldiery, being towards the end of the book, is according to that light which I discerned there. For whatsoever I have missed concerning the other party, I can make no other apology than such as Meteranus doth in the preface of his History, de Belg. Tumultibus ; whose words are, Quod plura de reformatorum et patriæ defensorum quam de partis adversæe rebus gestis exposuerim; 'mirum haud quaquàm est, quoniam plus commercii et familiaritatis mihi cum ipsis, et major indagandi opportunitas fuit : Si pars adversa idem tali probitate præstiterit et ediderit ; Posteritas gesta omnia legere, et liquido cognoscere magno cum fructu poterit. In like manner I may aver, (says he, to give his own translation, that if, in this discourse, more particulars are set down, concerning the actions of those men who defended the parliament, than of them that warred against it; it was because my conversation gave me more light on that side ; to whom, as I have endeavoured to
give no more than what is due, so I have cast no blemishes on the other ; nor bestowed any more characters than what the truth of story must require : if those that writ on the other side will use the same candor, there is no fear but that posterity may receive a full information concerning the unhappy distractions of these kingdoms.
The first book of this history begins witli short characters of queen Elizabeth, king James, and the beginning of Charles I. to the year 1641 ; and the last ends with a narrative of the first battle of Newbury, 1641. The author afterwards made an abstract of this his tory, and continued it in Latin, to the death of Charles I. ; which work he likewise translated into English.
He thus speaks of the causes which preceded and produced the civil war. The extract commences at the dissolution of the parliament in the fourth year of Charles.
After the breaking off this parliament (as the historian speaketh of Roman liberty, after the battle of Philippi, nunquam post hoc prælium, fc. the people of England for many years never looked back to their ancient liberty. A declaration was published by the king, wherein aspersions were laid upon some members; but indeed the court of parliament itself was declared against. All which the dejected people were forced to read with patience, and allow against the dictate of their own reason.
The people of England from that time were deprived of the hope of parliaments ; and all things so managed by public officers, as if never such a day of account were to come.
I shall for method's sake first of all make a short enumeration of some of the chief grievances of the subjects, which shall be truly and plainly related ; as likewise-some vices of the nation in general, that the reader may the better judge of the causes of succeeding troubles, during the space of seven or eight years after the dissolution of that parliament, and then give some account concerning the several dispositions of the people of England, and their different censures of the king's government during those years; touching by the way somewhat of the manners and customs of the court of England, and then briefly of the condition of ecclesiastical affairs, and the censures of men concerning that.
To begin with the faults of the higher powers, and their illegal oppression of the people, during these eight or nine years, in which parliaments were denied to England, which I briefly touch, referring the