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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).>br>Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

IX. Latin Chroniclers from the Eleventh to the Thirteenth Centuries

§ 2. Characteristics of the Chroniclers

But, far more than their embellishments of style, their fulness and accuracy of detail and their patriotic motives, what gives life and permanent interest to the Anglo-Norman chronicles is the sense which they convey of intimate relationship with great men and great affairs. Even those chroniclers who do not pretend to write history on the larger scale, and only provide us with what Ralph of Diceto, in describing his own work, calls “outlines of histories,” imagines historiarum, for the use of some future philosophic historian—even they succeed in conveying to us something, at least, of the animation of the stirring age in which they lived. They describe events of which they themselves were eye-witnesses; they preserve documents to which they had special privilege of access; they record impressions derived from direct contact with great statesmen, warriors and ecclesiastics; they retail anecdotes gathered from the cloister, the market-place and the court. For even the monastic chroniclers were not the mere recluses of the popular imagination. They were, in their way, men of the world, who, though themselves taking no active part in public affairs, lived in close intercourse with public men. The great abbeys, such as those of Malmesbury and of St. Albans, were open houses, constantly visited by the mighty ones of the land. William of Malmesbury tells us how his own monastery was distinguished for its “delightful hospitality,” where “guests, arriving every hour, consume more than the inmates themselves.” Even the most remote of monastic writers, such as William of Newburgh, in his secluded Yorkshire priory, kept in such close touch with contemporary affairs as fully to realise their dramatic significance. “For in our times,” he writes in the preface to his English History, “such great and memorable events have happened that the negligence of us moderns were justly to be reprehended, should they fail to be handed down to eternal memory in literary monuments.” Other monkish writers, like Matthew Paris in a later generation, enjoyed the royal confidence, and occasionally wrote under royal command. Moreover, not all the chroniclers were monks. Henry of Huntingdon, Roger of Hoveden, Ralph of Diceto and the author of the chronicle so long wrongly ascribed to Benedict of Peterborough—not to mention writers like Giraldus Cambrensis and Walter Map, who have left behind them records scarcely distinguishable from contemporary chronicles—were all men who lived in intimate association with the court. So much store, indeed, came, in time, to be set upon the records of the chroniclers that they became standard authorities to which kings and statesmen appealed for confirmation of titles and the determination of constitutional claims. The conditions under which they were composed, and the importance which they once had as documents of state, are alone more than sufficient sanction for the provision made by “the Treasury, under the direction of the Master of the Rolls,” for the publication of those editions in which they can best be studied by the modern reader.