Gildas the Wise

Gildas The Wise, the first British historian, was born in the year 511 (according to Bede, 493), became scholar to Iltutus, abbot of Morgan, and was made afterwards abbot of Bangor. The time of his death is uncertain. The legendary accounts of him differ so much that Bale and Usher suppose there were two of the same name, while others doubt the existence of any such person. "In truth, as Mr. Stevenson observes, in his introduction to the Latin text of Gildas de Excidia Britanniae: "We are unable to speak with certainty as to the parentage of Gildas, his country, or even his name, the period when he lived, or the works of which he was the author. Mr. T. Wright attempts to show that Gildas is a fabulous person, and his hisb tory the forgery of some Anglo-Saxon or foreign priest of the 7th century (Biog. Brit. Lit. Anglo-Saxon period, pages 115-134). But Stevenson, Lappenberg, and others, while admitting the fabulous character of the common accounts, are inclined to believe that Gildas really lived somewhere near the time usually stated" (English Cyclop. s.v.). The writings which pass under his name are valuable for their antiquity and as containing the only information we have of the times in which he wrote; although Gibbon describes him as "a monk who, in the profound ignorance of human life, was presumed to exercise the office of historian, and strangely disfigures the state of Britain at the time of its separation from the Roman empire." They are, (1) Liber Querulus de excidio Britanniae, etc., a picture of the evils of the times and of the previous ages of British history: — (2) Castigatio Ordin. Eccles. (Reproach on the Clergy), a sad account of abominations and vices imputed to the clergy. They are given in Gale's Hist. Brit., etc., Scriptores xv (Oxon. 1691, fol.), and in the Works of Gildas and Nonnius, translated by J.A. Giles (Lond. 1841, 8vo); also in Gale, Rerum Angl. Script. Veteres (1684-87, 3 volumes, fol.); but the best edition is that published in 1838 by the Historical Society, and edited by Mr. Joseph Stevenson. There are three English translations of it: one by Habington (Lond. 1638, 8vo); another, entitled A Description of the State of Great Britain, written eleven hundred years since (London, 1652, 12mo); and a third by Dr. Giles, but based on that of Habington, and published in Bohn's Antiquarian Library (1848). See Wright, l.c.; Poste, British Researches; English Cyclopaedia; Clarke, Succ. of Sacred Literature, volume 1.

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