Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
The Argument of His History
By Thomas May (1594/51650)
From The History of the Long Parliament
THE SUBJECT of this work is a civil war; a war indeed as much more than civil, and as full of miracle, both in the causes and effects of it, as was ever observed in any age; a war as cruel as unnatural, that has produced as much rage of swords, as much bitterness of pens, both public and private, as was ever known; and has divided the understandings of men, as well as their affections, in so high a degree, that scarce could any virtue gain due applause, any reason give satisfaction, or any relation obtain credit, unless amongst men of the same side. It were therefore a presumptuous madness to think that this poor and weak discourse, which can deserve no applause from either side, should obtain from both so much as pardon; or that those persons should agree in the judgment they will form of it who could never agree in anything else.
I cannot therefore be so stupid as not to be fully sensible of the difficulty of the task imposed on me, or the great envy which attends it; which other men who have written histories, upon far less occasion, have discoursed of at large in their prefaces. And Tacitus himself, complaining of those ill times which were the unhappy subject of his Annals (though he wrote not in the time of the same princes under whom those things were acted), yet (because the families of many men who had then been ignominious were yet in being) could not but discourse how much happier those writers had been, who had taken more ancient and prosperous times for their argument; such (as he there expresses it) as those times in which the great and glorious actions of the old Romans, their honourable achievements, and exemplary virtues, are recorded.
And I could have wished more than my life (being myself inconsiderable) that, for the sake of the public, 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 government was first ordained in the world, than the description of shipwrecks, ruin, and desolations. Yet these things, truly recorded and observed, may be of good use, and may benefit posterity in divers kinds. For though the present actions, or rather sufferings, of these (once happy) nations, are of so high a mark and consideration, as might, perchance, throw themselves into the knowledge of posterity by tradition and the weight of their own fame, yet it may much conduce to the benefit that may arise from that knowledge, to have the true causes, original, and growth of them represented by an honest pen.
For the truth of this plain and naked discourse, which is here presented to the public view, containing a brief narration of those distractions which have fallen amongst us during the sitting of this present parliament, as also some passages and visible actions of the former government (whether probably conducing to these present calamities or not, of which let the reader judge), I appeal only to the memory of any Englishman, whose years have been enough to make him know the actions that were done, and whose conversation has been enough public to let him hear the common voice and discourses of people upon those actions; to his memory, I say, do I appeal, whether such actions were not done and such judgments made upon them as are here related. In which, perchance, some readers may be put in mind of their own thoughts heretofore, which thoughts have since, like Nebuchadnezzars dream, departed from them. An English gentleman, who went to travel when this parliament was called, and returned when these differences were grown among us, hearing what discourses were daily made, affirmed that the parliament of England (in his opinion) was more misunderstood in England than at Rome; and that there was a greater need to remind our own countrymen than to inform strangers of what was past; so much, said he, have they seemed to forget both the things themselves and their own former notions concerning them.