Samples of English 940-1749

Writing Topics

Vivian Cook

History of English letters 

Spellings are as close as I can get from published texts but have clearly been cleaned up by editors to some extent; as I don't have a 'long s', <f> is substituted where appropriate

Toxophilus Roger Ascham 1545

If any man woulde blame me, eyther for takyne such a matter in hande, or else for writing it in the Englyshe tongue, this answere I may make hym, that whan the beste of the realme thinks it honest for them to use, I one of the meanest sorte, ought not to suppose it vile for me to write; And though to have written it in an other tonge, had bene bothe more profitable for my study, and also more honest for my name, yet I can thinke my labour wel bestowed, yf with a little hynderaunce of my profyt and name, maye come any fourtheraunce, to the pleasure or commoditie, of the gentlemen and yeomen of Englande, for whose sake I tooke this matter in hande. And as for ye Latin or greke tonge, every thing is so excellently done in them, that none can do better: In the Englysh tonge contrary, every thinge in a manner so meanly, bothe for the matter and handelynge, that no man can do worse. For therein the least learned for the moste part, have ben alwayes moost redye to wryte.

The Tragedie of Hamlet William Shakespeare, 1604

To be, or not to be, that is the queftion,
Whether tis nobler in the minde to suffer
The flings and arrowes of outragious fortune,
Or to take Armes againft a fea of troubles,
And by oppofing, end them, to die to fleepe
No more, and by a fleepe, to fay we end
The hart-ake, and the thoufand naturall fhocks
That flesh is heire to, tis a confumation
Deuoutly to be wifht to die to fleepe,
To fleepe, perchance to dreame, I there’s the rub,
For in that fleepe of death what dreames may come,
When we have fhuffled off this mortall coyle
Muft giue vs paufe, there’s the refpect
That makes calamitie of fo long life:

King James Bible 1611

15 And the LORD God tooke the man, and put him into the garden of Eden, to dresse it, and to keepe it.
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of euery tree of the garden thou mayest freely eate.
17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and euill, thou shalt not eate of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.
18 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone: I will make him an helpe meet for him.
19 And out of ye ground the LORD God formed euery beast of the field, and euery foule of the aire, and brought them vnto Adam, to see what he would call them: and whatsoeuer Adam called euery liuing creature, that was the name thereof.
20 And Adam [Side note: gaue names to all cattell, and to the foule of the aire, and to euery beast of the fielde: but for Adam there was not found an helpe meete for him.

The Vanity of Human Wishes Samuel Johnson, 1749

Let Observation with extensive View,
Survey Mankind, from China to Peru;
Remark each anxious Toil, each eager Strife,
And watch the busy Scenes of crouded Life;
Then say how Hope and Fear, Desire and Hate,
O’erspread with Snares the clouded Maze of Fate,
Where wav’ring Man, betray’d by vent’rous Pride,
To tread the dreary Paths without a Guide;
As treach’rous Phantoms in the Mist delude,
Shuns fancied Ills, or chases airy Good.
How rarely Reason guides the stubborn Choice,
Rules the bold Hand, or prompts the suppliant Voice,
How nations sink, by darling Schemes oppress’d,
When Vengeance listens to the Fool’s Request.