Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Extract from the Preface to Froissarts Chronicles
By Sir John Bourchier, Lord Berners (c. 14671533)
WHAT condign graces and thanks men ought to give to the writers of histories, who with their great labours, have done so much profit to the human life; they shew, open, manifest, and declare to the reader, by example of old antiquity, what we should inquire, desire, and follow; and also, what we should eschew, avoid, and utterly fly: for when we (being unexpert of chances) see, behold, and read the ancient acts, gests, and deeds, how and with what labours, dangers, and perils they were gested and done, they right greatly admonish, ensigne,1 and teach us how we may lead forth our lives: and farther, he that hath the perfect knowledge of others joy, wealth, and high prosperity, and also trouble, sorrow, and great adversity, hath the expert doctrine of all perils. And albeit that mortal folk are marvellously separated, both by land and water, and right wondrously situate; yet are they and their acts (done peradventure by the space of a thousand year) compact together by the histographier,2 as it were, the deeds of one self city, and in one mans life: wherefore I say, that history may well be called a divine providence; for as the celestial bodies above complete all and at every time the universal world, the creatures therein contained, and all their deeds, semblably so doth history. Is it not a right noble thing for us, by the faults and errors of others, to amend and erect our life into better? We should not seek and acquire that other did; but what thing was most best, most laudable, and worthily done, we should put before our eyes to follow. Be not the sage counsels of two or three old fathers in a city, town, or country, whom long age hath made wise, discreet, and prudent, far more praised, lauded, and dearly loved than of the young men? How much more then ought histories to be commended, praised, and loved, in whom is included so many sage counsels, great reasons, and high wisdoms of so innumerable persons, of sundry nations, and of every age, and that in so long space as four or five hundred year. The most profitable thing in this world for the institution of the human life is history. Once the continual reading thereof maketh young men equal in prudence to old men: and to old fathers stricken in age it ministereth experience of things. More, it yieldeth private persons worthy of dignity, rule, and governance; it compelleth the emperors, high rulers, and governors to do noble deeds, to the end they may obtain immortal glory; it exciteth, moveth, and stirreth the strong hardy warriors, for the great laud that they have after they be dead, promptly to go in hand with great and hard perils, in defence of their country; and it prohibiteth reprovable persons to do mischievous deeds, for fear of infamy and shame: so thus, through the monuments of writing, which is the testimony unto virtue, many men have been moved, some to build cities, some to devise and establish laws right profitable, necessary, and behoveful for the human life; some other to find new arts, crafts, and sciences, very requisite to the use of mankind; but above all things, whereby mans wealth riseth, special laud and cause ought to be given to history: it is the keeper of such things as have been virtuously done, and the witness of evil deeds; and by the benefit of history all noble, high, and virtuous acts be immortal. What moved the strong and fierce Hercules to enterprise in his life so many great incomparable labours and perils? Certainly nought else but that for his merit immortality might be given to him of all folk. In semblable wise did his imitator, noble duke Theseus, and many other innumerable worthy princes and famous men, whose virtues be redeemed from oblivion and shine by history. And whereas other monuments in process of time, by variable chances, are confused and lost: the virtue of history diffused and spread through the universal world, hath to her custos and keeper, it (that is to say, time) which consumeth the other writings. And albeit that those men are right worthy of great laud and praise, who by their writings shew and lead us the way to virtue: yet nevertheless, the poems, laws, and other acts that they found devised and writ, be mixed with some damage; and sometimes for the truth they ensigne a man to lie: but only history, truly with words, representing the acts, gests,3 and deeds done, completeth all profit: it moveth, stirreth, and compelleth to honesty; detesteth, irketh,4 and abhorreth vices: it extolleth, enhaunceth, and lifteth up, such as be noble and virtuous; depresseth, poistereth,5 and thrusteth down such as be wicked, evil, and reprovable. What knowledge should we have of ancient things past, an history were not? Which is the testimony thereof, the light of truth, the mistress of the life humane, the president of remembrance, and the messenger of antiquity. Why moved and stirred Phalerius, the King Ptolemy, oft and diligently to read books? Forsooth for none other cause, but that those things are found written in books, that the friends dare not show to the prince. Much more I would fain write of the incomparable profit of history, but I fear me that I should too sore torment the reader of this my preface; and also I doubt not but that the great utility thereof is better known than I could declare; wherefore I shall briefly come to a point. Thus, when I advertised and remembered the manifold commodities of history, how beneficial it is to mortal folk, and eke how laudable and meritorious a deed it is to write histories, fixed my mind to do something therein; and ever when this imagination came to me, I volved,6 turned, and read many volumes and books, containing famous histories; and among all other, I read diligently the four volumes or books of Sir John Froissart of the country of Hainault, written in the French tongue, which I judged commodious, necessary, and profitable to be had in English, sith they treat of the famous acts done in our parts; that is to say, in England, France, Spain, Portugal, Scotland, Brittany, Flanders, and other places adjoining; and specially they redound to the honour of Englishmen. What pleasure shall it be to the noble gentlemen of England to see, behold, and read the high enterprizes, famous acts, and glorious deeds done and achieved by their valiant ancestors? Forsooth and good, this hath moved me at the high commandment of my most redoubted sovereign lord King Henry VIII., King of England and of France, and high defender of the christian faith, etc., under his gracious supportation, to do my devoir to translate out of French into our maternal English tongue the said volumes of Sir John Froissart: which Chronicle beginneth at the reign of the most noble and valiant King Edward III., the year of our Lord one thousand three hundred and twenty-six: and continueth to the beginning of the reign of King Henry IV., the year of our Lord God, one thousand and four hundred: the space between is threescore and fourteen years; requiring all the readers and hearers thereof to take this my rude translation in gre.7 And in that I have not followed mine author word by word, yet I trust I have ensued the true report of the sentence of the matter; and as for the true naming of all manner of personages, countries, cities, towns, rivers, or fields, whereas I could not name them properly nor aptly in English, I have written them according as I found them in French; and though I have not given every lord, knight, or squire his true addition, yet I trust I have not swerved from the true sentence of the matter. And there as I have named the distance between places by miles and leagues, they must be understood according to the custom of the countries where as they be named, for in some places they be longer than in some other; in England a league or mile is well known; in France a league is two miles, and in some place three: and in other country is more or less; every nation hath sundry customs. And if any fault be in this my rude translation, I remit the correction thereof to them that discreetly shall find any reasonable default; and in their so doing, I shall pray God to send them the bliss of Heaven. Amen.