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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

On the weightiest questions of government and public life


can in this case, as in others, add something new to what is already known, and this to a larger extent as the work goes on.[1]

In no nation has so much documentary matter been collected for its later history as in England. The leading families which have taken part in public business, and the different parties which wish to assert their views in the historical representation of the past as well as in the affairs of the present, have done much for this object; latterly the government also has set its hand to the work. Yet the existing publications are far from sufficient. How incredibly deficient our knowledge still is of even the most important parliamentary transactions! In the rich collections of the Record Office and of the British Museum I have sought and found much that was unknown, and which I needed for obtaining an insight into events. The labour spent on it is richly compensated by the gain such labour brings; over the originals so injured, and so hard to decipher, linger the spirits of that long-past age. Especial attention is due to the almost complete series of pamphlets of the time, which the Museum possesses. As we read them, there are years in which we are present, as it were, at the public discussion that went on, at least in the capital, from month to month, from week to week, on the weightiest questions of government and public life.

If any one has ever attempted to reconstruct for himself

a portion of the past from materials of this kind,--from original documents, and party writings which, prompted by hate or personal friendship, are intended for defence or attack, and yet are withal exceedingly incomplete,--he will have felt the need of other contemporary notices, going into detail but free from such party views. A rich harvest of such independent reports has been supplied to me for this, as well as for my other works, by the archives of the ancient Republic of Venice. The 'Relations,' which the ambassadors of that Republic were wont to draw up on their return home, invaluable though they are in reference to persons and the state of affairs in general, are not, however, sufficient to supply a detailed and consecutive account of events. But the Venetian archives possess also a long series of continuous Reports, which place us, as it were, in the very midst of the courts, the capitals, and the daily course of public business. For the sixteenth century they are only preserved in a very fragmentary state as regards England; for the seventeenth they lie before us, with gaps no doubt here and there, yet in much greater completeness. Even in the first volume they have been useful to me for Mary Tudor's reign and the end of Elizabeth's; in the later ones, not only for James I's times, but also far more for Charles I's government and his quarrel with the Parliament. Owing to the geographical distance of Venice from England, and her neutral position in the world, her ambassadors were able to devote an attention to English affairs which is free from all interested motives, and sometimes to observe their general course in close communication with the leading men. We could not compose a history from the reports they give, but combined with the documentary matter these reports form a very welcome supplement to our knowledge.

Ambassadors who have to manage matters of all kinds, great and small, at the courts to which they are accredited, fill their letters with accounts of affairs which often contain little instruction for posterity, and they judge of a man according to the support which he gives to their interests. This is the case with the French as well as with other ambassadors in England. Nevertheless their correspondence becomes gradually of the greatest value for my work. Their importance grows with the importance of affairs. The two courts entered into the most intimate relations: French politicians ceaselessly endeavoured to gain influence over England, and sometimes with success. The ambassadors' letters at such times refer to the weightiest matters of state, and become invaluable; they rise to the rank of the most important and instructive historical monuments. They have been hitherto, in great part, unused.

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