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The British History, Translated into English From the Latin The British History, Translated into English From the Latin The British History, Translated into English From the Latin The British History, Translated into English From the Latin The British History, Translated into English From the Latin The British History, Translated into English From the Latin The British History, Translated into English From the Latin
The British History, Translated into English From the Latin
GEOFFREY of Monmouth.

The British History, Translated into English From the Latin...

of Jeffrey of Monmouth. With a large Preface concerning the Authority of the History. By Aaron Thompson, late of Queen's College, Oxon.

Availability: In stock

Published: London for J. Bowyer, H. Clements, and W. and J. Innys, 1718

Stock Code: 90365

OR On display in 43 Dover Street


First edition in English, William Cole's copy, of "one of the most popular and influential historical works of the middle ages" (ODNB), by Geoffrey of Monmouth (c.1100-1154/5), bishop of St Asaph. Completed by 1139, Geoffrey's Historia Regum Britanniae introduced such figures as Arthur, Merlin, and King Leir to an international reading public. "The fact that thereafter the Arthurian cycle was mediated primarily through the mid-fifteenth-century Morte d'Arthur of Sir Thomas Malory should not detract from the position of Geoffrey of Monmouth as its great originator" (op. cit.) The figure of King Leir Lear seems to have been Geoffrey's original creation, and arguably the most successful. "Indeed, Tatlock described the Leir story 'along with the vogue of Arthur' as 'Geoffrey's greatest contribution to the world'" (op. cit.) The Historia makes Britain's foundation contiguous with classical myth, in the person of Brutus, a Trojan émigré. It proceeds to an account of a series of royal dynasties, some of whose members enjoyed later fame, to the last glorious British kings, notably Uther Pendragon and Arthur, before the final victory of the Saxons. Geoffrey concludes his history in the seventh century AD, where Bede's Historia ecclesiastica begins.
This is the copy of Cambridge antiquary William Cole (1714-82), bearing his early ownership inscription to the first blank "G.l.mus Cole Aul. de Clare Cant Soc-Com" dated 1735 (aged 21, his second year as a pensioner at Clare College, Cambridge), and his later armorial bookplate to title page verso, by which time he was, as "Coll. Regal Cantab.", installed as a fellow at Kings College, Cambridge. He was close friends, since Eton, with Horace Walpole, who called him his "oracle in any antique difficulties". Though Cole published no work of his own, he nonetheless acted as antiquarian oracle to many notable contemporaries, including Francis Grose, writing the account of the School of Pythagoras at Cambridge in Grose's Antiquities. Cole did assemble some 100 volumes of manuscript notes, a considerable portion of which were towards histories of Cambridgeshire and the Colleges of the university,which are now at the British Museum. In this copy, Cole's oracular antiquarian brain is turned, fascinatingly, upon Geoffrey of Monmouth's British History, and the book bears numerous useful and interesting marginalia, providing corrections and queries to Monmouth's text, as well as glosses on place-names and concise historical biographies of characters mentioned. At one point he remarks amusingly on the "true Whiggish spirit" of (Thompson's translation of) Cassibellaunus' defiant letter to Julius Caesar on his invasion of Britain. Cole has also added, to the final blank page of the Preface, Alexander Pope's opinion of Thompson's translation, copied from a letter to Edward Blount dated Sept 8 1717: "I have very lately read Jefferey of Monmouth... in the Translation of a Clergyman in my Neighbourhood. The poor man is highly concerned to vindicate Jeffery's veracity as an Historian, & told me, he was perfectly astonished we of the Roman Comunion could doubt of the Legends of his Giants, while we believed those of our Saints!" Pope's witty sign off, "believe there is nothing more true (even more true than any Thing in Jeffery is false) than that I have a constant affection for you & am etc", gives some indication of the prevailing sense that Monmouth's work is of a value more literary than historical, and this, Cole's annotated copy, his highly appealing insofar as it records, intriguingly, a learned antiquary's view this seminal text.

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Octavo (190 x 117 mm). Near-contemporary panelled calf, sometime rebacked and relined.


16pp. list of subscribers, final errata leaf.


A little rubbed with some repair to covers, small chip to top corner of first blank, mild spotting throughout. A very good copy, sound and presentable.


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