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HISTORY OF THE REIGN OF HENRY VII.
The history of the reign of King Henry the Seventh was the first work composed by Bacon after his fall; the fruit of his first few months of leisure. The subject indeed of which it forms the opening chapter — viz: a History of England from the Union of the Roses to the Union of the Crowns — was one which he had long before pointed out as eminently worth handling; but until the time when he saw his retirement from public life inevitable, and that (to use his own words) “ being no longer able to do his country service it remained to him to do it honour,” he does not seem to have thought of undertaking any part of it himself. And though it may appear from a letter to the king that he had conceived the purpose as early as the 21st of April 1621, when he was in the middle of his troubles, it is not before the 4th of June, when he was released from the Tower, — hardly perhaps before the 22nd, when he returned to Gorhambury, — that he can be supposed to have commenced the work. By the end of the following October, or thereabouts, he had finished this portion of it in its present form, and sent a fair transcript to the king. It may be regarded therefore as the labour of a long vacation.
To say that such a work was executed in four or five months by a man who was excluded (except durYing the last six weeks) from London, where all the unpublished materials were, is to say that it is in many ways imperfect. The original records of the time had not been studied by any man with a genius for writing history, nor gathered into a book by any laborious collector. The published histories were full of inaccuracies and omissions, which it was impossible to correct or supply without much laborious research in public archives and private collections. The various studies of his civil life had made him acquainted no doubt with many things illustrative of his subject ; but for these he must have trusted to the fidelity of his memory.
What Sir Robert Cotton could supply was liberally communicated; but Cotton House was within the forbidden precinct, and any man who has attempted this kind of work knows how imperfect a substitute another man's eyes and judgment are for his own. For the rest of his raw material he must have trusted entirely to the published histories then extant; to Fabyan, who furnished only a naked and imperfect chronicle of London news; to Polydore Vergil, who supplied a narrative, continuous indeed and aspiring to be historical, but superficial and careless and full of errors; to Hall and Holinshed, who did little more than translate and embellish Polydore; to Stowe, whose independent and original researches had only contributed a few additional facts and dates, and to Speed, whose history, though enriched with some valuable records and digested with a more discriminating judgment than had been brought to the task before, was yet composed for the niost part out of the old materials, and retained almost all the errors.
From these imperfect, unskilful, and inaccurate outlines, aided by the fruits of his own former reading and observation, by a learned acquaintance with the statutes of the realm, and by such original documents as Sir Robert Cotton could supply, to educe a living likeness of the man and the time, to detect the true relations of events, and to present them to the reader in their proper succession and proportions, was the task which he now undertook.
In this, which under such conditions was all he could attempt, he succeeded so well that he has left later historians little to do. Subsequent researches have but confirmed and illustrated the substantial truth of his history in all its main features. The portrait of Henry as drawn by him is the original, more or less faithfully copied, of all the portraits which have been drawn since. The theory of the events of Henry's reign as formed and expounded by him has been adopted by every succeeding historian as the basis of his narrative. Those who have most slighted his authority have not the less followed his guidance and drawn their light from him.
Those who have aspired to correct his work have only' turned a likeness into a caricature and history into invective. The composition bears indeed some traces of the haste with which it was written : but if that be the best history which conveys to a reader the clearest conception of the state and progress of affairs during the period of which it treats, not one of the histories of Henry the Seventh that have been