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Of Suppressors And Dilapidators Of Manuscripts
by [?]

Unquestionably this entire suppression of manuscripts has been too frequently practised. It is suspected that our historical antiquary, Speed, owed many obligations to the learned Hugh Broughton, for he possessed a vast number of his MSS. which he burnt. Why did he burn? If persons place themselves in suspicions situations, they must not complain if they be suspected. We have had historians who, whenever they met with information which has not suited their historical system, or their inveterate prejudices, have employed interpolations, castrations, and forgeries, and in some cases have annihilated the entire document. Leland’s invaluable manuscripts were left at his death in the confused state in which the mind of the writer had sunk, overcome by his incessant labours, when this royal antiquary was employed by Henry the Eighth to write our national antiquities. His scattered manuscripts were long a common prey to many who never acknowledged their fountain head; among these suppressors and dilapidators pre-eminently stands the crafty Italian Polydore Vergil, who not only drew largely from this source, but, to cover the robbery, did not omit to depreciate the father of our antiquities–an act of a piece with the character of the man, who is said to have collected and burnt a greater number of historical MSS. than would have loaded a wagon, to prevent the detection of the numerous fabrications in his history of England, which was composed to gratify Mary and the Catholic cause.

The Harleian manuscript, 7379, is a collection of state-letters. This MS. has four leaves entirely torn out, and is accompanied by this extraordinary memorandum, signed by the principal librarian.

“Upon examination of this book, Nov. 12, 1764, these
four last leaves were torn out.

“Mem. Nov. 12, sent down to Mrs. Macaulay.”

As no memorandum of the name of any student to whom a manuscript is delivered for his researches was ever made, before or since, or in the nature of things will ever be, this memorandum must involve our female historian in the obloquy of this dilapidation.[1] Such dishonest practices of party feeling, indeed, are not peculiar to any party. In Roscoe’s “Illustrations” of his Life of Lorenzo de’ Medici, we discover that Fabroni, whose character scarcely admits of suspicion, appears to have known of the existence of an unpublished letter of Sixtus IV., which involves that pontiff deeply in the assassination projected by the Pazzi; but he carefully suppressed its notice: yet, in his conscience, he could not avoid alluding to such documents, which he concealed by his silence. Roscoe has apologised for Fabroni overlooking this decisive evidence of the guilt of the hypocritical pontiff in the mass of manuscripts; a circumstance not likely to have occurred, however, to this laborious historical inquirer. All party feeling is the same active spirit with an opposite direction. We have a remarkable case, where a most interesting historical production has been silently annihilated by the consent of both parties. There once existed an important diary of a very extraordinary character, Sir George Saville, afterwards Marquis of Halifax. This master-spirit, for such I am inclined to consider the author of the little book of “Maxims and Reflections,” with a philosophical indifference, appears to have held in equal contempt all the factions of his times, and consequently has often incurred their severe censures. Among other things, the Marquis of Halifax had noted down the conversation he had had with Charles the Second, and the great and busy characters of the age. Of this curious secret history there existed two copies, and the noble writer imagined that by this means he had carefully secured their existence; yet both copies were destroyed from opposite motives; the one at the instigation of Pope, who was alarmed at finding some of the catholic intrigues of the court developed; and the other at the suggestion of a noble friend, who was equally shocked at discovering that his party, the Revolutionists, had sometimes practised mean and dishonourable deceptions. It is in these legacies of honourable men, of whatever party they may be, that we expect to find truth and sincerity; but thus it happens that the last hope of posterity is frustrated by the artifices, or the malignity, of these party-passions. Pulteney, afterwards the Earl of Bath, had also prepared memoirs of his times, which he proposed to confide to Dr. Douglas, bishop of Salisbury, to be composed by the bishop; but his lordship’s heir, the General, insisted on destroying these authentic documents, of the value of which we have a notion by one of those conversations which the earl was in the habit of indulging with Hooke, whom he at that time appears to have intended for his historian. The Earl of Anglesea’s MS. History of the Troubles of Ireland, and also a Diary of his own Times, have been suppressed; a busy observer of his contemporaries, his tale would materially have assisted a later historian.