Ranulf (or Ralph) Higden between 1320 and 1360 (the year of his death) wrote and published in eight books a history of the world, or "universal chronicle," entitled Polychronicon, one of the most famous of the Medieval attempts at an encyclopedic narrative of world events, and used as an authority until some three centuries ago. It was twice translated out of Latin into English; once in the Fifteenth Century; once, in 1387, by John Trevisa.
In 1857 the Archivist of the British Parliament, called Master of the Rolls, proposed the publishing of a series of Medieval chronicles; the most accurate text was to be found by an expert collation of the MSS., and each book was to have a historical and biographical introduction. In the following pear, publication began under the general head of Rerum Brita7z1ticorum Alvi Scriptores, popularly called the Roll Series. By 1915 some 250 volumes had been published. After World War I the series was renewed but came to a temporary halt with World War II. Among the titles was John Capgrave's chronicles of England to 1417, a source book for Medieval Masonic history. Higden's Polychronicon was one of the earliest works thus published, in nine volumes, and contained the abovementioned two English translations in addition to the Latin original.
The Cooke MS., the second oldest existing version of the Old Charges, which was dated at 1450 until 3 few years ago but is now believed to have been written as early as 1410 or 1420, quotes from a Polychronicon some seven times (along with four other sources) and manuscript authorities have taken this to have been Higden's work; but Knoop, Jones & Hamer in their The Two Earliest Masonic MSS. (Manchester University Press; 1938) raise some doubt about this and think the scribe may possibly have used some other polychronicon, a title used regularly for general chronicles. In his treatise on The 'Naimus Grecus' Legend (A.Q.C.; XVIII; 1905; p. 178) Bro. E. H. Dring in speaking of one of the Coolte MS. polychronicon quotations which he could not find in the Rolls Series version of Higden suggests that the seribe may have had another "one of the numerous MSS. of Higden which are scattered all over England ...." Wynkyn de Worde began as an apprentice under Caxton, England's first printer, and became his foreman. After Caxton's death he tool; over the business, and printed about 100 titles in Caxton's old shop, then moved to London where before his death in 1534 he printed 500 more. In 1435, only three years after Columbus landed in the West Indies, he published an edition of Higden's Polychronicon. It is famous for having in it the first musical notes ever printed in England.
Higden, after long neglect, is becoming studied by historical scholars in the United States, and by Masonic specialists also, as ought to have been done long ago, seeing that in the Polgchronicon is a better exhibit of what men of Britain and Europe knew, thought, and believed in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries than the popular Medieval romances which have received so much attention. (As this is written Mr. Dawson, rare book dealer of Los Angeles, announces for sale a copy of Higden, "Imprinted in Southwerke by my Peter Treveris at the essences of John Reynes bookeseller, 1527," priced at $300.00.)
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