Although it is close upon three centuries since the first publication of the larger portion of the important work known as Fynes Moryson's Itinerary, it is only quite recently that the full scope of Moryson's undertaking has been properly understood. The publication by Mr. Charles Hughes, as lately as 1903, in a work entitled Shakespeare's Europe, 1 of the large section of the Itinerary, which had so long remained in manuscript in the library of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, has for the first time rendered it possible to appreciate the full extent and value of Moryson's labours as a social historian of his own times. No single portion of Moryson's remarkable survey of the manners, customs, and institutions of the various countries and kingdoms of Europe at the opening of the seventeenth century is more valuable than the chapters devoted to Ireland. The Description of Ireland which forms the fifth chapter of the third book of Part III of the original Itinerary, is well known and has been more than once reprinted.2 But the account of the Commonwealth of Ireland which forms the fifth chapter of the second book of the long unpublished fourth part and the chapter on Manners and Customs (Book V. chapter v.) were unknown until their publication by Mr. Hughes. Other references to Ireland in the Itinerary besides those printed in this volume occur in the chapter which treats Of
p.212the Turks, French, English, Scottish, and Irish Apparel (Part III. Book IV. chapter v.), and in that on The Journey through England, Scotland, and Ireland (Part I. Book III. chapter v.). The latter contains many interesting sidelights on the conditions of travelling in the three kingdoms three hundred years ago. While the Description will always remain valuable as a picture of Irish life and manners by a traveller whose large comparative knowledge of the Europe of his day gives a special importance to his observations, Moryson's notes on the Commonwealth have a unique interest for the light they throw on the political institutions of Ireland, as seen by one who had been actively engaged in Irish affairs, and had enjoyed peculiar opportunities of studying the administrative system of the Irish government at a very important crisis in Irish history. A like praise can hardly be accorded to the observations touching religion in Ireland (Book III. chapter vi.). Moryson's views on this head are as acutely controversial and as inevitably uncharitable as might be expected; and it has not appeared expedient to print them here.
No one can have had greater facilities than were possessed by Fynes Moryson for understanding the machinery of the Irish executive in all its parts as it existed at the close of Elizabeth's reign. For not only was he placed, as secretary to Mountjoy during the whole period of that Viceroy's active career in Ireland, in the closest possible contact with the central executive, but he had ample means of information regarding the local instruments of government in the provinces. His brother, Sir Richard Moryson, who came to Ireland in the army of Essex in 1599, held important appointments there for close on thirty years. From 1609 to 1628 Sir Richard held the considerable office of Vice-President of Munster, and he was visited at Cork by the historian in 1613. Thus the faculty of precise observation which gives so much value to Fynes Moryson's narrative, even where his notes represent no more than the rapid but acute deductions of a passing traveller, has, in the case of his account of Ireland, the enhanced interest which comes of the writer's intimate knowledge of the social and political state of the country.
Often as it has been printed, Fynes Moryson's Description of Ireland is an indispensable introduction to any collection of contemporary works on seventeenth century Ireland, and as such it is once more printed here. The chapters on the Commonwealth and on manners and customs are reproduced because, although so recently published, the Irish sections of Part IV. of the Itinerary are scattered at wide distances through Mr. Hughes's substantial
p.213volume;3 and, forming only a relatively small portion of the whole, have scarcely attracted the attention they deserve.
The extracts from Shakespeare's Europe are included in this volume with the cordially expressed assent of Mr. Charles Hughes, and of the owners of the copyright in that work, Messrs. Sherratt & Hughes, publishers, of Manchester and London. Some passages not printed by Mr. Hughes, which appear to throw useful light on the social condition of Ireland at the time when Moryson wrote, are now published for the first time by the kind permission of the President and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Oxford.