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March 07 , 2008

Notes and Queries for Worcestershire


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Another trifling instalment towards the history of Worcestershire is now respectfully presented to its inhabitants, and the Author ventures to express a hope that it may meet with the general favour of the reading public, equal to that which his previous works have elicited.
The materials of historical works usually consist of tables of pedigrees, charters, battles, sieges, enumerations of manors, with their successive owners, statistical details, and other tedious though useful information. These, however, are but the dry bones—the skeleton of history. The spirit of the past can only be evoked by a deep and extensive research among documentary and traditional evidences—by careful comparison and analysis—by judicious deduction and inference. To perform this effectually, even for the limited area of a county, the coöperation of many minds is almost indispensable. Let us take Worcestershire as an instance. Habingdon, Nash, Thomas, Green, and others, have accumulated large masses of the matter which conventionally passes for history, and I would not for one moment desire to detract from the merit of their labours: yet the history of Worcestershire remains to be written. What do we yet know of the manners and customs, the hopes and aspirations, the social every-day life, the habits and thoughts, of our ancestors? Yet surely this is not the least considerable feature of the times of which we would fain glean tidings. Who would not vastly prefer an hour or two's conversation with one who was in the flesh some centuries ago—could that be possible—to studying the pages of the most intelligent contemporaneous historian? Education had rendered the world dissatisfied with the old modes and precise forms of this department of literature, when such pens as Macaulay's were soon ready to supply the new want. Yet Macaulay could have done but little service in this way had he been content to receive old stereotyped facts which had for centuries been lazily copied by preceding writers. It was by industriously and perseveringly investigating public and private libraries, hunting up all available resources, and systematically comparing and arranging the information thus obtained, that he was enabled, by the potency of his genius, to erect on a new foundation a superstructure that has delighted and astonished all beholders. That great man's industry, at all events, if not his genius, may, and must be, imitated by all who would successfully labour in the field of history for the future. The annals of even so circumscribed an area as a county must not be written without at least searching the records of its principal courts of judicature, nor that of a city before consulting the dusty relics in the parochial chests and the municipal closets. Yet these fertile sources of authentic information have been almost entirely neglected by Worcestershire historians. 


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