William MacOubrey’s Manuscript Works

Transcribed from the manuscript by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk

The following have been transcribed from manuscript papers left by William MacOubrey, George Borrow’s son-in-law through his step-daughter, Henrietta Clarke.  William and Henrietta married in 1865 and although the manuscripts are undated, it’s likely they pre-date the marriage.

The most substantial part is what appears to be a draft of an essay on Brutus, which lacks any termination (perhaps the last part has been lost).  Mainly written on only one side of the small sheets used, it carries page numbers (possibly added later in what looks like a different hand) at the top of each page, and which are given in the transcription.  Page 1 has what look like unrelated short notes on back, which are given at the end of the essay.  Page 2 has text on the reserve side, which appears to belong between pages 3 and 4.

Whilst William’s writing is not difficult to read, there are crossings out, inserted text, and an almost complete lack of punctuation and apostrophes.  The transcription retains the line breaks of the original, but adds some punctuation.  Where the transcription is uncertain, or William’s writing illegible, italics are used.

Internal evidence would appear to date the Brutus essay around winter 1856.

The remaining manuscripts contain (on different paper with only one side of each used) two poems, the first carrying William’s signature.  The handwriting of the poems is identical to that of Brutus, so there is no doubt William wrote all three pieces.

The first poem (the title in the manuscript is By Wm MacOubrey and it’s underlined) is in praise of drinking, presumably thinking of ale (as in the repeated quaff), but there’s a reference to the “blood of the vine”: perhaps simply because it fitted.  There’s no indication in William’s life he had drink problems so this is almost certainly just poetic license.

The second poem is celebrating the defeat of the French (in various battles) and proclaims England to be the home of freedom.  Again, this is probably more poetic whimsy than deep thought: William wasn’t English, he was Irish.

p. 1Brutus [1a]

Truth is the story of our own origin as related and
handed down to us by the traditions of our ancestors
embodied in enduring song for the purpose of being
recorded and graven on the minds of their children
from generation to generation.  A story at once
consistent, interesting and probable; which unfolds
development from a root more glorious than
any other existing nation can boast; and which is worthy the
matihals power and energies of that Imperial Race which is
fast, under the power of the most High, filling His world with
nations unfolding his banner, proclaiming his law and preparing
it for the Reign of the Prince of Peace.  Well might W.
Camden observe that “could we be once well satisfied that this history
of Brutus is true and certain; there would be no farther occasion for
enquiries after the original of the British Nation.” [1b]

Let us then see why we should not be satisfied on
the point.  What are the objections that have been raised?  The
first is that certain learned antiquarians with whose name we are
not favoured have alleged that there never was such a person as
Brutus.  The Second is that the story as alleged by
William of Newbaurg [1c] is a fabrication of Geoffry of Monmouth [1d]
who they say was the first to propound it.

The first objection standing by itself would have
no weight as being a mere assertion without any proof
and without reason.  There have been and are persons who with
the same captious vanity and affectation of Philosophy deny the
most established facts supported by history and monumental
evidence.  The second objection or allegation whilst
it shows that the objections are of recent date, writing after him
[???] would of itself destroy their authority and weight, for

p. 2Brutus — Objections

it shows that they have never examined this subject
and their statements groundless and intended to mislead
whatever might be the truth of the story.  It is much
the same as if one should deny the truth of the massacre
of the Protestants in Ireland and their glorious
achievements in the Defence of Enniskillen [2a] and
Londonderry [2b] and assert that it is all an invention
of Mr. Macauley [2c] ignorant that there exists
abundant evidence from which he drew his
glowing picture.  Such an objection would not
be deemed worthy of an answer.

To allege that the Story of Brutus is a forgery
of Geoffrey’s is the most unwarrantable ignorance
or the most rampant and unblushing falsehood.
Geoffrey died about the middle, probably, of the
XIIth century in the reign of Hen ii. but
published his translation in the beginning of it.

Now we have the whole story fully related by Nennius [2d]
who lived five Centuries before him who evidently
knew as well as other British authors who professes to have drawn
from Roman sources his information and who shows
by his style and Latin that he did so.  This therefore is
a complete and substantial answer to the only
objection, if it were true, possessing any force.

p. 3The Brutus History by Jeffrey of Monmouth

The History which we call Jeffrey’s has attached
to it every character which could give it respectability
and authority in the eyes of succeeding generations.  He
does not claim any credit for it himself nor profess
that he is the author; nor was it possible in the face of so
so many who then were conversant with the facts to have
done so.  He gives it as what it must have been well
known to have been a translation of an ancient work
which he had received from Walter Archdeacon of Oxford a man
of eloquence and learning and which he undertook to translate
at his request.  This translation he dedicates to the greatest man
of his age, Robert Earl of Gloucester the son of King Henry i., the
Brother of the Empress Maude and Uncle to Henry ii. who fought
and finally obtained the kingdom for them.  A statesman, a
general, a hero and a Scholar.  Nothing could be more absurd
than that in the very lifetime of the Archdeacon, who must have
taken the deepest interest in the progress of the work, he should
have falsified a single line of it or presented a fabrication to
such a patron.  The story is in no way calculated to flatter
a Norman, and Robert was not likely to encourage a falsehood
with no other view than that of elevating to such a pitch the race
of the conquered Britons.  The origin then of the Book entitles
it to the fullest measure of respect and authority.

(See the Epistle Dedicatory to Robert Earl of Gloucester)


[Next part is written on the reverse side of the page numbered 2 and is itself not numbered.  It appears to follow the above.]

Nothing could be more absurd than the
imputation of invention made against Jeffrey.  For we
are informed that Walter Mappaeus himself who gave
it to Jeffrey [3a] thoroughly understood it and afterwards trans-
lated it himself, whose translation is still to be
seen in the archives of Jesus College Library Oxford, as we
are informed by W. Wynne in the Preface to his History of Wales. [3b]
See also Humphrey Llwyd Archaeol. Britan p. 265. [3c]

Not only are there many other translations,
notices and abridgements of it, but it has been taken and
acknowledged by innumerable historians as history and
not fable or forgery from the twelfth till the xvi century
when it suited the object of men to impute forgery to a
probable account of our origin in order to give room
for their own utterly foundationless conjectures.
See Camden.

p. 4We are not on such a point to disregard the respectability
of the man who long after the publication of this Book was raised to
the Bishopric of St. Asaph.  It would seem perfect trifling to
defend him against such an imputation therefor had we now no
other evidence than this authentication.  But we have even now the
most absolute evidence that the imputation of William of Newburg
is the most barefaced falsehood and malignant slander.

The Trojan origin of the British was known to the Saxons
as proved by a passage cited by Wheloc [4a] from a Saxon
poem which he found in Trinity College Cambridge.  “Insula
dicta suit Britannia nomine Brute” &c.  Ref XI IV XIV

Nor was the tradition confined to Britain though it
was there given on their memories by monuments more
durable than stone or brass: the Historic odes and songs
in which the Russia bards transmitted the deeds of heroes
and kings and other great transactions to future times; for the
Continental writers had written with but simple the same as the
substantial and accredited facts of History.  Sigibeitus Gemin
=blacensus [4b] a French man in his historic works had before
the appearance of Jeffrey’s translation recorded the main
circumstances of the story of Brutus.  (Chronographia ???
uet Germainiae Script ??? Pistorium

But the most satisfactory and perfect answer to such a
calumny which cannot even be palliated by the name of scepticism
is furnished by the fact that Nennius Abbot of Banchor
(q Bangor) near Chester who in his history sets out at length
p. 5the whole story of our Trojan Ancestry and traces Brutus
up to Noah the father of Mankind after the Flood.  The slight
shades of difference which he records as existing in the relation
of these events being confirmatory of their reality, showing
a total want of collusion among the writers and destruction
of the idea that it was a fable, and above all a recent one.

Moreover he convinces us that his account is no
idle tale taken up at random, and thrown upon his pages
without reflection but the result of investigation into all the
known sources of knowledge.  He says he compiled his account
Pastim majorum traditionibus, partion seriftis, pastim etiaim
monumentis vetereum Britanniae incolarum, pastim eh de
annalibus Romanorum; insupes et de elmonius sanctionuim
Patrum, scil, jeronysmi, Prosperi, Ensebii; neuon et de
Pristorius Jeatorum Jaseonumque, biet inimcolum, non ut
vulni, sed ut potui, meoram obtemperaus jafscionibus
seniozum, unam hanc historiumeulam undesumque
collectam, babbultindo caacuuaui” (Nemii Praem
ad Historia Britonum. [5]

p. 6Jeffrey uses, as he himself says, only a translation of
an ancient history the particular copy of which was
given to him for the purpose and actually brought
from Armonia on the continent, [6a] and many copies
of which were to be found in Wales. (Lhwyd Arcaeologia Britannica). [6b]

So it is mere trifling and in fact ignorance to
call Jeffrey the author of the history and the inventor
of a fable.  (See John Price Defensio Hist Britan p. 29) [6c]

The story is now and has been from time immemorial
known to the Welsh people and its facts with other
historical and genealogical traditions embodied in their
poetry and songs — Gyraldus Cambrensis (Gerald
Camb Cap. 3 — afind Camdeni Ayl Norman.) [6d] says that
“in his time the Welsh bards and singers could repeat
by heart from their ancient and authentic books, the
genealogy of their Princes from Roderic the Great to
Belin the Great, and from him to Siluius, Aseanius and
Aeneas, and from Aeneas lineally carry up their pedigree
to Adam.”

The Commission appointed by King Henry vii
to trace and draw up his pedigree make him
derive his origin from Trojan ancestors [6e] and the
descendent of Brutus.  (Appendix to Wynnes History
of Wales) [6f] —These Commissions profess to draw
their p. 7their account from the old Chronicles of Wales and
certainly not from Jeffreys History.

It is therefore proved by the clearest historical evidences as
by the account of Nennius centuries before Jeffrey was born.
It is utterly absurd on the face of it; and it is of audacious
impudence; but it is an example of the most disgraceful,
historical ignorance to allege that the genealogical tree
which trace one family or a great portion of it up to a
Trojan Origin is a forgery of Geffroys.  No reflecting mind
could consider it possible that a man himself eminent in character
and looking forward to the high dignities of the Church to which
he afterwards actually attained, should in the first place, [???]
allege that he had received a rare historical book from
an Arch Deacon of Oxford, for the purpose of translation
into English if he had not so received it; and in the very
lifetime of that man, who was then a Bishop, publish
his pretended translation, if it was a forgery of his own,
and further have the presumption to dedicate it to
the greatest man and greatest Captain of the age, Robert
Earl of Gloucester, the Brother of the Empress and uncle of the King
himself, a philosopher, a scholar and a statesman, the patron of
his learning as he was the acknowledged head of the chivalry of England

p. 8The objection that the information it contains
is not found in Roman authors is frivolous.  The
Romans were no authority about their own origin
and were much too proud to busy themselves on
the history of a people they considered Barbarians:
even if they had understood their language, which
they did not.  Where should we look for traces
of the origin of a people but in their own family
records, monumental tradition or written — It
is in the sources, as he informs us in the quotation we have given from him, Nennius the
learned Abbot of Bangor sought for such information;
and of such most proper sources no doubt is the book
which Jeffrey has translated and given to succeeding
times, authenticated by such a Patron as the
Great Earl of Gloucester, and by a distinguished
dignitary of the Church who imposed the task
upon him and who being himself conversant with the language
of the original was well qualified to estimate the manner
in which the work was accomplished — The very
variations from Roman Authors as to names of men
and places so frequently found in Jeffrey are evidence
of a more authentic knowledge and must be regarded
as corrections of the ignorance of the Romans who
could have known very little of the history or the language of the
[???] Britains, and who in all likelihood cared less.

[It appears that William probably meant the followingCaesar as a heading, but wrote it as shown.]

p. 9Caesar — Yet there are men who would be thought to
be philosophers and reasoners who, casting away
the traditions and poetry in which our Ancestors
had recorded their transactions, as well as the tombs
and monuments of their Kings and mighty dead,
would date the commencement of our history from Julius
Caesar and take his account as the sum of what was to be
known, and would rely upon an absurd dogma of
Varro [9a] to excuse this pyrrhomison and fix arbitrary
limits to the records of the world.

As to Caesar the Romans did not attach so much
importance to his narration — Ascinises Pollio [9b] considered
his commentaries wanting in both diligence and truth,
and as giving an erroneous, if not false, account of
his own transactions.  (Tueton de vit Jul Caer Cap 56) [9c]

Although he says that he returned to Gaul on account
of damage sustained by his troops in a tempest, there
is no doubt he was rebuffed in his first attempt on
our island, and that altogether his success with all
the power of a great empire at his back, with the most
perfect discipline and military organisation, was very
small over the supposed barbarians of our free born and
heroic ancestors.  (Lucans Phascal lib 2) [9d]  Tacitus who
was a philosopher and an historian [9e] admits that Caesar
did not conquer Britain  “But only showed it to the
Romans”.  (Vita Julius Aquiylaes). [9f]  Such men would insult
the dead and take Glory from the living without [???] truth.

p. 10Caesar mentions Cassibellaun [10a] as the commander
of the Britons against him and that the first attack
upon our island was unsuccessful, yet omitting the
general facts of the contest.  The British Poets or
historians have given to posterity a full detail
of the transaction: not only the exploits but the great
characters who figured in them and by heroic daring
and manly prowess expelled the invaders from our
shores — Why should we take unquestioned the account
which Caesar has dufud up for himself and reject
the statement of facts which the ancestors have
transmitted to their posterity as a glorious memento
of their resolve, the exploits of Cassibellaun and
his brother Newnieus, being all the monks of authenticity, truth
and consistency, especially given they
are so powerfully explained by Caesars account
although he is naturally silent as to whatever
militates against his own glory?  Many things
he would endeavour on such an occasion when
he, a conqueror of so many nations, had suffered an
unexpected defeat to draw a veil over; and many without such
an object he would omit as unnecessary to the end
he had in view, and certainly many which were only
calculated to display the prowess and celebrate the
glory of his foes.  These Pattia are happily have committed
to a

Unrelated Notes on Back of Page One of Brutus

The back of the first page has what look like some unrelated notes:

Exclamations of the middle ages

??? Bien [???] Holy Paul

Algates!  Fozr F. George

By hike and brand (a soldier’s
oath) Gaels my life [??? J. Coniens]

Holy mother!  Penedirentwze

By Wm MacOubray

Away! Away nor strive
To tempt me from the bowl
Away! and let me live
This night without control

[Chorus]  Then quaff the wine
Spirits of Joy
Oh! sense sublime!
Without Alloy!

Drink, Drink my roaring boy
That pleasure still be thine
Perennial spring of joy!
The red blood of the vine

Chos.  Then quaff the ...

The Soldier e’en the fight
Drinks deep and never fears,
The Cup’s Lethern might
Makes vanish all his cares

Chos.  Then quaff ...

The Sailors on the deck
Where’er their bark may roam
With Gragcise cheered ??? ?eck
How wild the villious foam

Chos.  Then quaff the ...

Dares Grief the Heart assail
The Jovial flask we ply
The Canker sown shall fail
And Life its tooth defy

Chos.  Then quaff...

Signature of William MacOubrey


To arms!
On! ye gallant band
Hark! [to the] trumpet’s voice
To arms! for Fatherland
Haste!  It’s a freeman’s choice
They soldiers we are proud to be
Thou island of the brave and free


Old England is the happy land
[In her against the world we’ll stand
Her sons against the world can stand]
Wave high that flag!  O’er land & sea
It flames the star of Liberty


Gauls robber legions swept
O’er Europe like a flood
The prostrate nations wept
At deluge, red with blood
But Albion tamed the tyrants pride
On Trafalgars immortal tide.

Old England is the ...


No race their onset bore
Or stood till Britains steel
All sfiain deep died with gore
Rescued and made them feel
That Albion armed in Freedoms might
Resistess strikers for human might,

Old England is the happy land


Talavera’s plain [11a]
Vittoria’s [11b] glorious field,
What laurels we did gain
What numbers force to yield
Not all their captains of renown
Could match our simple Wellington

Old England is the happy land


Then Chastisement forgot
Gaul’s silly [...] colnels vaunt
They’ll seize upon the spot
The exiles where they haunt
Rest!  Freedom’s victims safe upon
Her strongest fortress Albion.

Old England ...


We’ll not surrender one
To ??? threat or fears
Ours is the soil alone
Whence human right is dear
We ne’er will yield to tyrants power
One who seeks refuge on our Shore — The refugee who seeks our shore

Old England ...


For this our People arm
Our country to defend
We mean not others harm
But never shall we bend
The foes that comes shall dearly rue
As did their ??? [12] at Waterloo

Old England is ...


The craven we abhor
The Briton nobly dares
Our Lordly sires of yore
Bequeathed us hearts like theirs
Like them to [light ???] through Cressey’s gore
Or Charge again at Agincourt

Old England is the happy land...


In the manuscript William made a few side notes, mainly to remind him of the sources or point he was trying to make.  These have been changed to normal footnotes and moved here.

[6a]  See Pref. xvi.

[6b]  Pref. xviii.

[12]  q on the field


Also, in an attempt to understand the essay, extra footnotes have been added (by myself, David Price), and are given below.

[1a]  What triggered William to write this essay is unknown but there were a lot of newspaper discussion about Brutus in 1856, and very little for the rest of the 1850’s (the assumed date of the manuscript from the original bookseller).  Around November 1856 the Royal Society of Literature lecture by Professor Christmas [1e] covered Brutus as did the newspapers when Shakespeare’s King Lear was acted, e.g. Waterford Mail, 27 May 1858 on the Royal Princess’s Theatre.

Other possible triggers around this date are:

1)  Around March 1847 a new edition of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Britonum edited by J. A. Giles, LL.D. was published.  Giles dealt with whether the Brutus/Trojan narrative of the Geoffrey was true or not;

2)  Chronicles of the Ancient British Church by James Yeowell, London 1846, which also covered it.

[1b]  The quote comes from Britannia by William Camden (1551–1623), the English antiquary and pioneer of historical method.

[1c]  William of Newburgh (1136–1198), English chronicler, who felt his own works better than those of Geoffrey of Monmouth, as William used “reliable sources”.  He dismissed Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work, accusing Geoffrey of lying.

[1d]  Geoffrey of Monmouth (–1155) was an English Chronicler and Bishop, whose major work was Historia regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain).  Geoffrey claimed to have translated it into Latin from an “very old book in the British tongue” given to him by Walter, archdeacon of Oxford.  This is the subject William MacOubrey is discussing.  William usually writes Jeffrey and would no doubt have switched to the standard spelling on publication.

[1e]  Rev. Henry Christmas (1811–1868) was professor of English history and archæology in the Royal Society of Literature 1854–59.

[2a]  In the Defence of Enniskillen, 1689, was where a force sent by the Catholic king James II. was defeated, resulting in a reputation for the town as a stronghold of Protestantism: well known to Orangemen.

[2b]  The Siege of Londonderry, 1688–89, was again a defence against the forces of Catholic king James II. and well known to Orangemen.

[2c]  Mr. Macaulay is presumably Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800–1859), the Victorian historian.  The book would be The History of England from the Accession of James II. where chapter 12 (volume 3) deals with Enniskillen and Londonderry.  Volume 3 was published in December 1855 and so William was presumably writing after that date.  Mr. Macaulay was raised to the peerage in August 1857 and henceforth was Lord Macaulay.  If William is using “Mr.” correctly William was writing before August 1857.

[2d]  Nennius (fl. c 800) was a Welsh monk who between 796 and 830 compiled or revised Historia Brittonum.

[3a]  Geoffrey of Monmouth claimed that Walter the Provost of St. John’s Oxford (and also archdeacon of Oxford) had given him the material to translate it into Latin, as William MacOubrey explains.  Walter is otherwise known as Walter Mappaeus.

* Walter Mappaeus not in DNB nor EB

[3b]  William Wynne, (1671?–1704), the Welsh historian.  Wynne’s book was called The History of Wales.

[3c]  Humphrey Llwyd (1527–1568) a Welsh physician and antiquary.  The book William MacOubrey is referring to is currently unidentified, but might be his translation into English of a chronicle of Wales ascribed to Caradoc of Llancarven (which via Sir John Price and an Daniel Powel became William Wynne’s The History of Wales).

[4a]  Abraham Wheelocke (c1593–1653) was an English linguist at Cambridge University.  Wheelocke translated a Saxon poem into the Latin “Insula dicta suit Britannia nomine Brute” which means “The isle of Britannia owes its name to Brute”.

[4b]  Perhaps William means Sigebert of Gembloux (c1030–1112) who was a Benedictine chronicler.  His major work, Chronicon, was a history of the world and his De viris illustribus (Concerning Illustrious Men) a survey of ecclesiastical historians.

[5]  Whilst some words are unreadable, it’s probably Nenni Historia Britonum  I.e. Nennius’s Historia Brittonum.

[6c]  I.e. Sir John Price of Brecon (1502?–1555), a notary public, Secretary of Council in Wales etc.  The work is Historiae Britannicae Defensio, published 1573.

[6d]  I.e. Gerald the Welshman, or in Laton Giraldus Cambrensis (1146?–1223) the Welsh archdeacon of Brecon and mediaeval Latin writer.  Chapter 3 of The Description of Wales deals with the genealogy of the Welsh princes.  William is largely quoting Gerald who says:

It is worthy of remark, that the Welsh bards and singers, or reciters, have the genealogies of the aforesaid princes, written in the Welsh language, in their ancient and authentic books; and also retain them in their memory from Roderic the Great to B.M.; and from thence to Sylvius, Ascanius, and Æneas; and from the latter produce the genealogical series in a lineal descent, even to Adam.

[6e]  Commission appointed by King Henry vii to trace and draw up his pedigree ... Appendix to Wynnes History of Wales

[6f] I.e. William Wynne (1671?–1704): see page 3.

[9a]  Probably Marcus Terentius Varro (116bc-27bc) a Roman scholar and writer.

[9b]  Probably Gaius Asinius Pollio (76 B.C. - 4 A.D.), Roman politician, orator, historian etc.

[9c]  Presumably William is referring to Pollio’s Historiae which covered the civil war period (60 B.C. to c42 A.D.)  Pollio corrected Caesar.

[9d]  Probably Lucan (39–65), the Roman poet.  His historic epic Pharsalia Bellum civili (On the civil war) covers the wars between Julius Caesar and Pompey.

[9e]  Tacitus (56–c120) the Roman senator and historian.

[9f]  If it’s a work by Tacitus it must surely be his De vita Julii Agricolae, a life of his father-in-law, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, a Roman governor of Britain (78–84).

[10a]  The leader of the British forces opposing Caesar on his second invasion (54 B.C.) was Cassivellaunus, which is close to what William wrote.

[11a]  Talavera de la Reina in Mancha, central Spain.  In 1809 the French were defeated there in an important battle.

[11b]  Vitoria-Gasteiz in the Basque Country in northern Spain.  The Battle of Vittoria (1813) saw the British, Spanish and Portuguese armies defeat the French.