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In common with Walter Mapes, and others of his contemporaries, he was fond of anecdote, and the continual introduction of popular stories into his writings not only render them extremely interesting, but give us very curious pictures of life and manners in the twelfth century. Our readers will soon detect another characteristic of Giraldus Cambrensis, which is not less apparent than his credulity - I need hardly say I mean his vanity.
He seldom omits an opportunity of speaking of his own writings, and almost always in a laudatory vein - of talking of his own eloquence, of which he was evidently proud - or of setting forth his own deeds with the utmost degree of self-satisfaction.
He also affects humour and wit; but this consists too often in puns and jokes upon words which tend rather to confuse than to amuse the reader. With all these different qualities, Giraldus Cambrensis is one of the most agreeable prose writers of the middle ages. The four books contained in the present volume are those which may more strictly be called the historical treatises of Giraldus Cambrensis. The Topography of Ireland, as already stated, was completed in the year , and was dedicated to king Henry II.
The History of the Conquest of Ireland appears to have been commenced immediately after the completion of the Topography, and was dedicated. In the preface to the description of Wales, he informs us that this history was the labour of two years, so that he must have completed it just before that prince ascended the throne. At a later period he published a revised edition of this book, and dedicated it to king John. The Itinerary through Wales, which was intended to commemorate the mission of archbishop Baldwin to preach the third crusade to the Welshmen, and the part which Giraldus himself acted in it, was dedicated to archbishop Langton, and therefore cannot have been completed before the year , when that prelate was elected to the see of Canterbury.
The Description of Wales, or the Topographia Cambria, appears to have preceded, in the date of its composition, the Itinerary, as the first edition was dedicated to Hugh, bishop of Lincoln, who occupied that see from to ; but a second and probably enlarged edition was subsequently published, and dedicated, like the Itinerary, to archbishop Langton. In the account of his own writings, given in a letter addressed to the chapter of Hereford, Giraldus tells us, that in order to make his country better known, as well as to occupy his leisure, and exercise his talents, he had drawn "a map of the whole of Wales, with its lofty mountains and dense forests, its principal lakes, rivers, and castles, many cathedral churches and monasteries, especially those of the Cistercian order", and that this was executed in a small space, on a single leaf, but perfectly distinct and clear.
The loss of so singularly curious a record is greatly to be regretted. It appears that Giraldus had already imbibed the taste for writing topographies when he composed that of Ireland, for in various passages in that and his other works he announces his intention of writing similar works for Wales, England, and Scotland.
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One only of these plans he fulfilled, when he published that. We have every reason for believing that the Topographies of England and Scotland, which appear to have been delayed until the close of his life, were never written. It is certain that no such works are known to have existed. It only remains to add, that the translations of the Topography of Ireland and the Vaticinal History of the Conquest are the work of Thomas Forester, Esq. They are the first complete translations of these books that have ever appeared.
All have been carefully revised on the original texts by the editor. A large portion of the notes on the Topography of Ireland are by the editor, while the rest, with nearly all those on the history, are by the translator. Sir Richard Colt Hoare took the Itinerary as a frame on which to build a large work on the local history and antiquities of Wales, and it was neither possible nor desirable to give the whole of his notes in the present volume.
In abridging them the editor has retained chiefly that part which related to the history of the different places visited by Griraldus down to the time of his visit, and to the description of scenery or antiquarian remains. The words of Sir R. Hoare are retained, with the exception of a few necessary alterations and corrections; and wherever the writer speaks in the first person, the reader will understand that Sir Richard alone is responsible for the statement or opinion. WHEN I reflect that our life is short and fleeting, I am filled with admiration of the noble aims of those men of genius who, before their path for the future was yet plain, resolved on making it their principal object to leave behind them some excellent memorial, by which they might secure enduring fame, and at least live in after-times, when their brief span of existence had ended.
Thus we read in the books of celebrated poets:. This was the first, and main, incentive with the greatest authors to undertake their works. There was another, second indeed in merit as well as in order, namely, the. For honours are the nurses of the liberal arts:. The philosophy, however, which loves a happy mean and modest independence, neither revelling in wealth, nor exposed to poverty, seems to have been condemned by Solomon: "Give me, O Lord, neither riches nor poverty, but only what things are necessary for subsistence". For, although mediocrity is not allowable in poets,.
When, therefore, at any former period, the last mentioned inducement to write ceased, poetry began to fail. Not, indeed, that poetry was altogether lost, or philosophy extinct; nor did the imperishable records of glorious deeds ever fall into oblivion. Letters were not wanting, but lettered princes. The liberal arts had not disappeared, but the honours which ought to attend them were withheld.
There would be no lack of eminent writers at the present day, if there were none of enlightened rulers.
Give but a Pyrrhus, and you will have a Homer; a Pompey, and you will have a Tully; a Caius and Augustus, and a Virgil and Horace will follow in course. While, then, in our case, the second motive for writing fails for want of patrons, the first and most powerful of those I have mentioned urges me on. Nothing is so great a hindrance to bold attempts as diffidence. Despair of success is fatal to all efforts for obtaining it; so that many men of praiseworthy talent and learning have for this reason lived in idleness and seclusion, and while they shrunk from proving their abilities by active exertion, their brilliant merits remained hidden.
Hence it happens that numbers of men of the greatest learning grow old without knowing their own powers; and turning the force of their genius to no account, for want of vigour of mind, perish like the beasts, and their names are lost in oblivion.
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Since, then, "there is little difference between powers not called into action and buried in sloth"; since "fear is the token of a degenerate mind"; "a work well begun is half ended"; and "fortune favours the brave"; I have resolved on writing, preferring rather to incur the ridicule of the envious and malicious, than to seem in the judgment of worthy persons to shrink from my task through fear. Nor am I deterred by the example of Cicero, who says: "I do not compose a poem on that subject, because I cannot write such verses as I could wish, and those which I can I am unwilling to write". My own determination is this, and on this subject it is very decided.
If I cannot write as well as I would, I will at least write according to the best of my ability. Devoting myself, therefore, to a task requiring long and close application,. After long musing on this subject, and after anxiously revolving it in my mind, at last it occurred to me that there was one corner of the earth, Ireland, which, from its position on the furthest borders of the globe, had been neglected by others. Not that it had been left altogether untouched, but no writer had hitherto comprehensively treated of it. But it may be asked, "Can any good come from Ireland"?
Let us, then, endeavour to suck honey out of the rock, and draw oil from the flint. Let us follow the example of great orators, who, in an admirable manner, most polished the shafts of their eloquence, when the poverty of their subject required it to be elevated by the superiority of their style.
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It behoved them, therefore, to lavish the graces of elocution on cases which were in themselves barren of interest, that, where reasoning little availed, language might do its best. For such is the effect, such the power of eloquence, that there is nothing so humble which it cannot exalt, nothing so copious which it cannot amplify, nothing so obscure which it cannot clear up, nothing so clear which it cannot illustrate. For, as the noble senator says in his Paradoxes: "There is nothing so incredible that it cannot be made probable by the manner of putting it, nothing so rude and barbarous that a brilliant oratory cannot ornament and polish".
But what can a discourse which has but a slender pith of sense, a barren waste of words, offer to erudite ears, and to men of the highest eloquence?
GRANT ALLEN, B.A.
For it is useless, and altogether superfluous, to address the eloquent in barren phrases, or to set before the learned things which every one knows. What sort of sounds would the cackling goose litter among tuneful swans? Are we, then, to publish what is new, or what is already well known? Men recoil with disgust from what is trite and common, while, on the other hand, novelties require the support of authority. For, as Pliny says, "it is a difficult matter to give novelty to old subjects, authority to new; to embellish what is threadbare, shed grace on what is out of fashion, light on obscurities, give confidence in what is doubtful, and nature to all".
Notwithstanding, it will be my endeavour, in the best manner I can, to rouse the reader's attention, by setting before him some new things, either not before related or very briefly noticed; exhibiting to him the topography of Ireland in this little work of mine, as in a clear mirror, so that its features may be open to the inspection of all the world.
I propose, therefore, to take, at least, a distinct view of this most remote island, both as regards its situation and character, explaining its peculiarities, so long hidden under the veil of antiquity, and searching out both the qualities and defects of almost all things which nature has produced there, both for the ornament of the better class and the use of the lower orders. Besides this, I propose to unravel the stupendous wonders of nature herself, to trace the descent of the various tribes from their origin, and to describe from my own knowledge the manners and customs of many men.
And since the country of which we treat is backward and feeble, it will be no small satisfaction to studious minds to survey, at least in thought, our better part of the world and its condition, having all things made easy to be understood. This work is divided into three parts.