Malmsbury, William Of

, an ancient English historian, who flourished in the twelfth century, was born in Somersetshire, and, on that account, as Bale and Pits inform us, was called Somersetanus. When a child, he himself says, he discovered a fondness for learning, which was encouraged by his parents, and increased with his years. Some have supposed Oxford to have been the place of his education. He became, however, a monk of Malmsbury, and it reflects no small honour on his fraternity, that they | elected him their librarian. He had studied several sciences, as they could then be acquired, logic, physic, and ethics, but history appears to have been his favourite pursuit. After studying that of countries abroad, he began to inquire into the memorable transactions of his own nation but not finding any satisfactory history already written, he resolved, as he says, to write one, not to display his learning, “which is no great matter, but to bring to light things that are covered with the rubbish of antiquity.” This resolution produced his valuable work “De regibus Anglorum,” a general history of England in five books, from the arrival of the Saxons, in the year 449 to the 26 Henry I. in 1126; and a modern history, in two books, from that year to the escape of the empress Maud out of Oxford in 1143 with a church history of England in four books, published in sir H. Savile’s collection, 1596. His merits as a historian have been justly displayed and recommended by lord Lyttelton in his “History of Henry II.” In all his works (the Latin style of which is more pure than that of any of his contemporaries), he discovers great diligence, much good sense, and a sacred regard to truth, accompanied with uncommon modesty. He says that he can scarcely expect the applause of his contemporaries, but he hopes that when both favour and malevolence are dead, he shall obtain from posterity the character of an industrious, though not of an eloquent historian. Besides what we have mentioned, Gale has printed his “Antiquities of Glastonbury,” and Wharton his “Life of St. Adhelm.” But his abilities were not confined to prose. He wrote many pieces of Latin poetry; and it is remarkable, says Warton, that almost all the professed prose writers of this age made experiments in verse. William of Malmsbury died in that abbey in 1143. 1


Nicolson’s English Hist. Library. Henry’s Hist, of Gr. Britain, vol. VI. p. 136. —Leland. Bale, and Pits. Wharton’s Anglia Sacra. Warton’s History of Poetry.