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Thomas May, poet arid historian, was descended of an ancient family at Mayfield, in Sussex, and bora in 1595. Having received his juvenile education near home, he afterwards entered at Sidney College, Cambridge, where he proceeded batchelor of arts in 1612. About three years after, lie became a membet of Gray's Inn; and was soon introduced to the acquaintance of some of the principal courtiers and wits of his time—as sir Kehfclm Digby, sir Richard Fanshaw, sir John Suck*ling, sir Aston Cokaine, Thomas Carew, Endymion Porter, Ben Jonson, and others of higher quality: for he was countenanced by Charles and his queen.
He subsequently conceived a disgust at thfe court, however, probably from a disappointment in his expectation of being successor to Ben Jonson as poet-laureat, William d'Avenant being appointed in his stead. We afterwards find him in the Republican army commanded by Fairfax, and in the post of a secretaryship under the parliament. He died in 1650.
1. May first appeared, in a literary character, as a poet and dramatist. He also translated Virgil's Georgics, with annotations; as likewise, " Select Epigrams of Martial." But his most important translation was that of " Lucan's Pharsalia," with a "Continuation" of that poem, in English and Latin, to the death of Julius Caesar.
2. By his majesty's command, he wrote a metrical history of "The Reign of Henry the Second;" to which he added in prose, "The Description of Henry II. with a short Survey of the Changes of his Reign." Also, " The single and comparative Characters of Henry and Richard, his Sons."
3. But his most considerable work is " The History of the Parliament of England ;" which may be considered rather as a brief history of the "Civil Wars" which arose during its sitting. He represents this work as a task irn
posed upon him, and which he undertook with reluctance. "For (says he) I wished more than life, that for the public's sake, my theme could rather have been the prosperity of these nations, the honour and happiness of the king, and such a blessed condition of both, as might have reached all the ends for, which government was first ordained in the world." Th« full title is, "The History of the Parliament of England, which began November 3, 1640, with a short and necessary View of some precedent Years: written by Thomas May, Esq. secretary for the parliament; published by authority;" folio, 1647. To this first edition is prefixed a preface (never reprinted) in which the following passage deserves transcription, as it explains the situation of the author at the commencement of the civil wars, as likewise his means of information.
That (says he) which of all other is most likely to be differently related, is concerning the actions of war and soldiery; and in the time of this war it is a thing of extraordinary difficulty, I might say, of impossibility, for those of one party to be truly mformed of all the. councils, or very performances and actions of commanders and soldiers on the other suK How much valdur the English nation on both sides have been guilty of in this unnatural war, the world must needs know in the general fame: but for particulars, how much worth, virtue, and courage, some particular lords, gentlemen, and others have shewed, unless both sides dp write, will never perfectly be known. My residence (continues he) hath been, during these wars, in the quarters, and under the protection of the parliament; and whatsoever is briefly related of the soldiery, being towards the end of the book, is according to that light which I discerned there. For whatsoever I have missed concerning the other party, I can make no other apology than such as Meteranus doth in the preface of his History, de Dclg. Tumultibus; whose words are, Quod flura de reformatorum et patricc dcfensorum quam de partii adverse rebus gcstis exposucrim; minim iiaud quaquam cst, qmnwm plus commcrcii ctfamiliaritatis mihi cum ipsis, et major indagandi opportunitas fuit: Si pars advcrsa idem tali probitate prcrstiterit et cdidcrit; I'ostcritas gcsta omnia Icgcrc, ct liquido cognosccrc magno cum fructu puterit. In like manner I may aver, (says he, to give his own translation,) that if, in this discourse, more particulars are set down, concerning the actions of those men who defended the parliament, than of them that warred against it; it was because my conversation gave me more light •h that side; to whom, as 1 have endeavoured to give no. more than what is due, so I have cast no blemishes on the other ^ nor bestowed any more characters than what the truth of story must require: if those that writ on the other side will use the same candor, there is no fear but that posterity may receive a full information .concerning the unhappy distractions of these kingdoms.
The first book of this history begins with short characters of queen Elizabeth, king James, and the beginning of Charles I. to the year 1G41; and the last ends wi^h a narrative of the first battle of Newbury, 1041. The author afterwards made an abstract of this history, and continued it in Latin, to the death of Charles I.; which work he likewise translated into English.
He thus speaks of the causes which preceded and produced the civil war. The extract commences at the dissolution of the parliament in the fourth year of Charles.
After the breaking off this parliament (as the historian speaketh of Roman liberty, after the battle of Philippi, nunquam post hoc pmlium, SfC. the people of England for many years never looked back to their