Melville had a deep and abiding interest in history and its study. This poem, which is one of Melville's most fluent and powerful, was originally published in John Johnston's Inscriptiones historicae regum Scotorum (Amsterdam, 1602), a series of verse accounts of all the Scottish kings from Fergus I to James VI. The poem captures clearly his belief that history both provides us with moral instruction and guidance and contains hidden universal truths. Melville applies the study of history in poems such as the 'Antichristus' (d2_MelA_054) as an attempt to unlock the mysteries of scriptural prophecy and to pin them to a historical framework of world events. For a full account of Melville's 'historical' writings, see Reid, 'Andrew Melville, sacred chronology and world history'. Another edition of this poem, with introduction, can be found in Buchanan, Political Poetry, pp. 282-283. Metre: elegiac couplets.
Historia vera laus (1602)
Historia vera laus
1Index aevi omnis, lux veri, mentis ocellus,
mens animi, vitae regula, vita animae.
Nuntia magnarum et mirandarum aurea rerum,
quae sine laude latent, quae sine labe patent.
5Artium et omnigenum genitrix, altrixque bonarum,
et Suadae, et Sophiae lima laborque deae.
Et regum monitrix, et regum diva creatrix,
divaque fraenatrix et procerum et populi.
Publica privatis, secernens sacra profanis,
10et pacem et bellum temperat Historia.
Faelix qui potis est hanc recte scibere: faelix
12quisquis hanc recta cum ratione legit.
A tribute to proper history
It is the revealer of all ages, the light of truth, the mind's eye, the conscious mind, the measure for one's life, the life of the soul. It is the golden conveyor of great and wondrous acts, which lie hidden without praise, and are exposed without dishonour. It is both the creator and nourisher of everything fine, and the graft and the tool kit of both Persuasion and Wisdom. It is both the advisor to, and divine creator of rulers, and the master of both nobles and people. Distinguishing the public from the private, the sacred from the profane, History regulates both war and peace. Fortunate is he who is able to write it correctly: and fortunate whoever reads it with correct reason.