from Fuller's Worthies:

CHESHIRE: Captain John Smith

John Smith, Captain, was born in this country, as Master Arthur Smith, his kinsman and my schoolmaster, did inform me. But whether or no related unto the worshipful family of the Smiths at Hatherton, I know not.

He spent the most of his life in foreign parts. First in Hungary, under the emperor, fighting against the Turks; three of which he himself killed in single duels; and therefore was authorized by Sigismund, King of Hungary, to bear three Turk's heads, as an augmentation to his arms. Here he gave intelligence to a besieged city in the night, by significant fireworks formed in the air, in legible characters, with many strange performances, the scene whereof is laid at such a distance, they are cheaper credited than confuted.

From the Turks in Europe he passed to the pagans in America, where, towards the later end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, such his perils, preservations, dangers, deliverances, they seem to most men above belief, to some beyond truth. Yet have we two witnesses to attest them, the prose and the pictures, both in his own book; and it soundeth much to the diminution of his deeds that he alone is the herald to publish and proclaim them.

Two captains being at dinner, one of them fell into a large relation of his own achievements, concluding his discourse with this question to his fellow, "And pray, Sir," said he, "what service have you done?" To whom he answered, "Other men can tell that." And surely such reports from strangers carry with them the greater reputation. However, moderate men must allow Captain Smith to have been very instrumental in settling the plantation in Virginia, whereof he was governor, as also admiral of New England.

He led his old age in London, where his having a prince's mind imprisoned in a poor man's pure rendered him to the contempt of such who were not ingenuous. Yet he efforted his spirits with the remembrance and relation of what formerly he had been, and what he had done. He was buried in Sepulchre's Church choir, on the south side thereof, having a ranting epitaph inscribed in a table over him, too long to transcribe. Only we will insert the first and last verses, the rather because the one may fit Alexander's life for his valor, the other his death for his religion:

Here lies one conquer'd that hath conquer'd kings!
Oh, may his soul in sweet Elysium sleep.

The orthography, poetry, history and divinity in this epitaph are much alike. He died on the 21st of June, 1631.

 

CORNWALL: King Arthur

King Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, was born in Tintagel castle in this county; and proved afterwards monarch of Great Britain. He may fitly be termed the British Hercules in three respects:

1. For his illegitimate birth, both being bastards, begotten on other men's wives, and yet their mothers honest women; deluded, the one by a miracle, the other by art magic of Merlin, in others personating their husbands.

2. Painful life; one famous for his twelve labors, the other for his twelve victories against the Saxons; and both of them had been greater, had they been made less, and the reports of them reduced within the compass of probability.

3. Violent and woeful death; our Arthur's being as lamentable, and more honorable; not caused by feminine jealousy, but masculine treachery, being murdered by Modred, near the place where he was born:

As though no other place on Britain's spacious earth
Were worthy of his end, but where he had his birth.

As for his Round Table, with his knights about it, the tale whereof hath trundled so smoothly along for many ages, it never met with much belief amongst the judicious. he died about the year 542.

And now to speak of the Cornish in general. They ever have been beheld men of valor. It seemeth in the reign of the aforesaid King Arthur they ever made up his vanguard, if I can rightly understand the barbarous verses of a Cornish poet:

Nobilis Arcturus nos primos Cornubienses
Bellum facturus vocat (ut putat Caesaris enses).
Nobis (non aliis reliquis) dat primitus ictum.

Brave Arthur, when he meant a field to fight
Us Cornish men did first of all invite.
Only to Cornish (count them Caesar's swords)
He the first blow in battle still affords.

 

But afterwards, in the time of King Canutus, the Cornish were appointed to make up the rear of our armies. Say not they were much degraded by this transposition from head to foot, seeing the judicious, in marshaling an army, count the strength (and therefore the credit) to consist in the rear thereof.

But it must be pitied that this people, misguided by their leaders, have so often abused their valor in rebellions, and particularly in the reign of King Henry the Seventh, at Blackheath, where they did the greatest execution with their arrows, reported to be the length of a tailor's yard, the last of that proportion which ever were seen in England. However, the Cornish have since plentifully repaired their credit, by their exemplary valor and loyalty in our late civil wars.

 

WARWICKSHIRE: William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was born at Stratford-on-Avon in this county; in whom three eminent poets may seem in some sort to be compounded. 1. Martial, in the warlike sound of his surname whence some may conjecture him of military extraction) Hasti-vibrans, or Shake-speare. 2. Ovid, the most natural and witty of all poets; and hence it was that Queen Elizabeth, coming into a grammar school, made this extemporary phrase,

Persius a crab-staff, bawdy Martial,
Ovid a fine wag.

3. Plautus, who was an exact comedian, yet never any scholar, as our Shakespeare (if alive) would confess himself. Add to all these, that though his genius generally was jocular, and inclining him to festivity, yet he could (when so disposed) be solemn and serious, as appears by his tragedies; so that Heraclitus himself (I mean if secret and unseen) might afford to smile at his comedies, they were so merry; and Democritus scarce forbear to sigh at his tragedies, they were so mournful.

He was an eminent instance of the truth of that rule, "Poeta non fit sed nascitur" (one is not made but born a poet). Indeed his learning was very little; so that, as Cornish diamonds are not polished by any lapidary, but are pointed and smooth even as they are taken out of the earth, so nature itself was all the art which was used upon him.

Many were the wit-combats betwixt him and Ben Jonson; which two I behold like a Spanish great galleon and an English man-of-war; Master Jonson (like the former) was built far higher in learning; solid, but slow, in his performances. Shakespeare, with the English man-of-war, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds,m by the quickness of his wit and invention. He died anno Domini 1616, and was buried at Stratford-upon-Avon, the town of his nativity.

 

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(copyright: Seventeenth-Century Prose and Poetry, 2nd ed., Witherspoon and Warnke)