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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

XV. Chroniclers and Antiquaries

§ 12. Sir John Hayward

Talent and opportunity were given to the simple, unlettered Cavendish, and he made the fullest use of them. Sir John Hayward was a historian of another kind. He was not driven by accident or experience to the practice of his craft. He adopted it as a profession, and resembled the writers of a later age more nearly than any of his contemporaries. Born in Suffolk, about 1560, he was educated at the university of Cambridge, and devoted himself with a single mind to the study of history. He was in no sense a mere chronicler. He aimed far higher than the popular history, digested into annals. His mind was always intent upon the example of the ancients. He liked to trick out his narratives with appropriate speeches after the manner of Livy. He delighted in the moral generalisations which give an air of solemnity to the art of history as it was practised by the Greeks and Romans. His first work, in which are described the fall of Richard II and the first years of Henry IV, and which was dedicated to the earl of Essex, incurred the wrath of Elizabeth, and cost him some years of imprisonment. The queen asked Bacon if he could find any passages in the book which savoured of treason. “For treason surely I find none,” said Bacon, “but for felony very many.” And when the queen asked him “Wherein?” he told her that “the author had committed very apparent theft; for he had taken most of the sentences of Cornelius Tacitus, and translated them into English, and put them in his text.” This criticism is as true as it is witty. Hayward aims at sententiousness with an admirable success, and did his best to make himself the Tacitus of England.

In the “Epistle Dedicatorie” to his Lives of the Three Normans, Kings of England, he declares that, though he had written of the past, he “did principally bend and binde himself to the times wherein he should live.” His performance did not agree with his bent. Concerning the times near which he lived he has left but a fragment: The beginning of the Reigne of Queene Elizabeth, of which beginning he had no more personal knowledge than of the Life and Reigne of King Edward the Sixt, which, in some respects, is his masterpiece. But, whatever was the period of his choice, he treated it with the same knowledge and impartiality. He made a proper use of unpublished material. The journal of Edward VI gives an air of authenticity to his biography of that king, and, in treating of William I, he went back to sources of information which all the chroniclers had overlooked. In brief, he was a scholar who took a critical view of his task, who was more deeply interested in policies and their result than in the gossip of history and who was always quick to illustrate modern England by the examples of Greece and Rome. His pages are packed with literary and historical allusions. He was, moreover, always watchful of his style, intent ever upon producing a definite effect, and, if he errs, as he does especially in his Henry IV, on the side of elaboration, it is a fault of which he is perfectly conscious, and which he does not disdain. Thus, at last, with the author of Richard III and Sir John Hayward, England reverted to the ancient models, and it is from them and not from the chroniclers that our art of history must date its beginnings.