Knolles, Richard

, author of an excellent History of the Turks, was born in Northamptonshire, and educated at Oxford, where he was admitted about 1560; but we are not told of what college, though it is said he was, after taking his degrees, chosen fellow of Lincoln college. When he had continued there some time, Sir Peter Manwood, of St. Stephen’s near Canterbury, “minding to be a favourer of his studies,” says Wood, “called him from the university, and preferred him to be master of the free-school at Sandwich in Kent,” where he applied himself with diligence, and produced many good scholars for the universities. For their use he composed “Grammaticae Latinae, Graccae, & Hebraicse, compendium, cum radicibus,” Lond. 1600: but his fame rests chiefly on his “History of the Turks,” which was first printed in 1610, folio, and which was the labour of twelve years. In the latter editions of this book, for there have been several, it has this title “The general History of the Turks, from the first beginning of that Nation, to the rising of the Ottoman Family,” &c. Some have suggested, that Knolles was not the sole author of this history, because there appear in it several translations from Arabic histories, which language they affirmed him not to have known: but such conjectures are not sufficient to deprive him of the credit which justly attends the work. It has been continued, since Knolles’s death, by several hands. One continuation was made, from the year 1628 to the end of 1637, collected out of the dispatches of sir Peter Wyche, knight, ambassador at Constantinople. But the best continuation of the Turkish history is made by Paul Ricaut, esq. consul of Smyrna, from 1623 to 1677, printed at London, 1680, in folio. Hicaut began his “History of the Turkish Empire,” from a period earlier than Knolles had left off; for he tells us, in his preface to the reader, that “the reign of sultan Amurat, being imperfectly written in Knolles’s history, consisting, for the most part, of abrupt collections, he had thought fit, for the better completing the reign of the sultan, and the whole body of our Turkish history, to deliver all the particular transactions thereof with his own pen.

Knolles wrote also “The Lives and Conquests of the Ottoman Kings and Emperors, to the year 1610,” which was not printed till after his death, in 1621, to which time it was continued by another hand; and “A brief Discourse | of the Greatness of the Turkish Empire, and wherein the greatest Strength thereof consisteth,” &c. He also translated Bodin’s “Six Bookes of a Common-wealthe,1606, folio. He died at Sandwich in 1610, and left behind him the character of a learned and worthy man.

None of our writers, in the opinion of Dr. Johnson, can justly contest the superiority of Knolles, who, in his History of the Turks, has displayed all the excellencies that narration can admit. His style, though somewhat obscured by time, and sometimes vitiated by false wit, is pure, nervous, elevated, and clear. A wonderful multiplicity of events is so artfully arranged, and so distinctly explained, that each facilitates the knowledge of the next. Whenever a new personage is introduced, the reader is prepared by his character for his actions. When a nation is first attacked, or city besieged, he is made acquainted with its history or situation: so that a great part of the world is brought into view. Tfie descriptions of this author are without minuteness, and the digressions without ostentation. After other praises of the work, Dr. Johnson concludes with remarking, that nothing could have sunk Knolles into obscurity, but the remoteness and barbarity of the people whose story he relates. It is perhaps unnecessary to add that our great critic took the fable of his “Irene” from this work. 1


Ath. Ox. vol. I. Johnson’s Rambler, No. 122.