Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fun with primary sources

I'm a firm believer in using primary sources as much as possible. Secondary sources might be great for background and analysis but I want to hear what people are saying first hand. You can imagine my delight when the notice came across my email that the early modern English state papers have been scanned, put up online and that Harvard had just subscribed. Hallelujah! I've been using them in calendared form as an (almost) primary source for Luke's journal but now at the click of a mouse, I can view the actual letters in all their illegible, secretary hand glory.

I have started to dig through the correspondence of Luke's friend and mentor, Sir Roger Williams. His penmanship is atrocious (and was acknowledged as much at the time), a cursive secretary hand with "endearing" spelling, but in spite of all that he has spoken to me from across 428 years! How I wish I had a time machine and could dial up Alost in Flanders on Oct. 12, 1583. That day he wrote a letter to Sir Francis Walsingham which included this paragraph (spelling and punctuation modernized):

"...Some will say: These soldiers will grow too high-minded. If her Majesty has occasion to try her fate, pray God send her rather high minds than low. What occasion that France and others did fear our country men but the valour that Edward the Third, the Black Prince, Harry the Fifth, the Duke of Lancaster and Harry the Eighth with such gallant fellows that followed them? These had no low minds. If you look well to yourselves, never England was better furnished with gallant gentlemen and commons than at this present, and do think if we were put to it, we would show our fore-fathers' minds..."

No doubt in my mind as to just who was Shakespeare's model for the character of Fluellen in Henry V...

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