天下书库欢迎您!| 短信息| 我的书架| 会员中心


作者:未知      更新:2018-03-11 22:36      字数:19584
上一页        返回目录       
    After the appearance of the works of Hume and Robertson, History became, as we have heard Gibbon say, the most popular theme with the reading public. His own monumental work gave new impetus to historical study. Sharon Turner (1768-1847) devoted himself mainly to Anglo-Saxon researches. Sir Francis Palgrave (1788-1861) distinguished himself by research into the institutions and events of England and of English history from the Conquest to the days of the Plantagenets. Dr. Lingard, a Catholic priest (1771-1851), produced a general history of the country up to 1688, which perhaps has not yet been superseded by any book of similar scope, and which is the more valuable as indicating the aspect of events in the eyes of a Catholic. Necessarily the works of these authors lack much information, contained in manuscripts not then accessible to them, but now opened to students by the better arrangement and cataloguing of State Papers. The historians of the end of the eighteenth and the first thirty or forty years of the nineteenth century, were not so heavily laden with documents as historical writers of to-day, and they had leisure enough to assimilate their less ponderous materials and to arrange them with more of reflection and of art than is now common.

    The historian who wears best is decidedly Henry Hallam (1777-1859). The son of a Canon of Windsor, he was educated at Eton and Christ Church. He entered the Middle Temple, but obtained a fairly lucrative post in the Civil Service, had property of his own, and devoted himself, in his leisure, to literary and historical study. His "View of the State of Europe during the Middle Ages" holds its ground, despite the absence of materials[Pg 644] now made common coin by Stubbs, Maitland, and others. Considering the immensity of the ground which Hallam surveys, his accuracy is remarkable (for example he corrects, all in vain, an important if minute error of detail which still infests the latest works on Jeanne d'Arc), and, though he is compelled to be concise, we see in his pages, for instance on Charlemagne, that he can combine spirit and interest with brevity. The same praise must be given to his "Constitutional History of England" (Henry VII.George II.). It is commonly said that an impartial historian cannot be interesting. On the other hand, Hallam's conscientious efforts to be impartial lend much interest to his books. He has no flights of impetuous rhetoric; he is the last man to let his imagination transfigure prosaic facts into glittering fancies. We see an honourable, learned, and sober-minded man, who sums up life like a judge and does not plead like an advocate. "Eulogy and invective may be had for the asking. But for cold rigid justice, the one weight and the one measure, we know not where else to look," says Macaulay in his review of Hallam's book, a review even unusually rich in the unmeasured invective of the more popular historian. If we think Hallam "dull," the dullness is in ourselves. Hallam has not the current delusion that the Protestant reformers, from 1550 to 1688, were friends of freedom of conscience.

    His last important book "An Introduction to the Literature of Europe" (fifteenth to seventeenth centuries) is very deficient in taste for the early works of les primitifs: "we cannot place the 'Iliad' on a level with the Jerusalem of Tasso," in some essential respects. On the other hand, Hallam speaks thus of Christopher North (Professor Wilson): "A living writer of the most ardent and enthusiastic genius, whose eloquence is as the rush of mighty waters," with more to the same effect. Spenser's stanza "is particularly inconvenient and languid in narration". Hallam has, in fact, very little space for inspiriting literary criticism, on account of the vast scope of his theme. He has to treat of Scioppius, his "Infamia Famiani," and of Ubbo Emmius, of Gr?vius and Spanheim, Camerarius and Grew. The encyclop?dic nature of Hallam's task made it impossible for him to avoid[Pg 645] aridity, and to mingle much pleasure with instruction. He is otherwise associated with poetry, as his son Arthur was the friend of Tennyson, and dying early, inspired the long elegy of "In Memoriam," and the beautiful lines on "The Valley of Cauteretz".

    Thomas Babington Macaulay.

    Thomas Babington Macaulay, born at Rothley Temple in Leicestershire, on 25 October, 1800, is an ideal representative of one mood of the English mind and character during the first half of the nineteenth century. Though the Mac in his patronymic be Gaelic, he and his forefathers had little in them of the typical Celt. The name Macaulay means MacOlaf (Olafson) and the Norseman rather than the Celt predominated in Macaulay. His great grandfather, the Rev. Aulay, and his grandfather the Rev. John, are reported by Bishop Forbes (in "The Lyon in Mourning") to have been personally and peculiarly active in attempting to gain the prize of £30,000 offered by the English Government for Prince Charles. Their enterprise did not suit the Celtic character. Macaulay's father, Zachary, was a deeply religious man, a member of the so-called "Clapham Sect" of Evangelicals. Though he was at one time prosperous in business, so much of his time and energy were given to negro emancipation that misfortunes came, and Macaulay had to work hard for his livelihood.

    There are no more delightful chapters in Biography than those in which Sir George Trevelyan describes Macaulay's childhood. His intelligence was precocious; his memory was a marvel. At the age of 9 he read once through "The Lay of the Last Minstrel," and was able to repeat the whole of the poem. This exceeds even Scott's feat of repeating the whole of a ballad of eighty verses which he had heard read once by the author. Macaulay's memory lasted throughout his life, and gave him, naturally, that amazing readiness and richness in literary and historical allusions which have made his Essays and History popular beyond rivalry. No doubt like Scott he relied on memory too confidently; styling Claverhouse, for example, "James Graham". He read with a rapidity inconceivable; and he read everything, from Plato, Herodotus, and ?schylus to the worst novels, forgetting nothing in them[Pg 646] that was accidentally good or exquisitely absurd. Even in childhood he was a copious and accomplished writer, his "Family Epic on Olaf, King and Saint," presents a remarkably successful imitation of Scott's style in "The Lady of the Lake". With these intellectual gifts he combined intense affection, good humour, and a turn for loud and vehement argument. Going from a private school to Trinity College, Cambridge, Macaulay regretted that he had not chosen Oxford; for mathematics were his abomination. He twice gained, as Tennyson did once, the Chancellor's medal for a prize poem, but in the Tripos of 1822 "Macaulay of Trinity was gulfed," by "the cross-grained Muses of the cube and square". They did not prevent him from obtaining a Fellowship at Trinity. He won a prize essay on William III., which is written in the very cadences of style that mark his History; and, at intervals, in the same short sentences. "He knew where to pause. He outraged no national prejudice. He abolished no ancient form. He altered no venerable name." Possibly it is a pity that these sentences do not describe William's conduct in Scottish affairs.

    His early pieces, Macaulay contributed to "Knight's Quarterly Magazine". At the age of 25 he wrote in "The Edinburgh Review," that essay on poetry in general and on Milton as poet, man, and politician in particular, which took the world as suddenly and as completely as Byron's "Childe Harold" had done. "The family breakfast-table was covered with cards of invitation to dinner from every quarter of London." To readers who in our day read the essay this enthusiasm seems creditable to the world, but rather surprising. Of ?schylus, Macaulay wrote: "considered as plays, his works are absurd; considered as choruses, they are above all praise". Milton's admiration of Euripides reminds him of "Titania kissing the long ears of Bottom".

    Grateful as every reader is to Macaulay for the vivid and lucid expression of his knowledge and thought in his essays, we must admit that, like Charles Lamb, he was a man of "imperfect sympathies". Miss Edgeworth, delighted to find her own name in a footnote to his "History of England," expressed to him her regret that Scott, who had written with entire impartiality about[Pg 647] Macaulay's period, was not once mentioned. In truth, after reading Lockhart's "Life of Scott," with its magnificent and melancholy close in the "Journal" of a man working himself to death for honour's sake, Macaulay wrote thus of Sir Walter: "In politics a bitter and unscrupulous partisan; profuse and ostentatious in expense; agitated by the hopes and fears of a gambler, sacrificing the perfection of his compositions to his eagerness for money in order to satisfy wants which were produced by his extravagant waste or rapacious speculations; this is the way in which he appears to me". Scott was a Tory: and from Macaulay's remarks we understand the justice of his studies of historical characters.

    The rapacious speculator, in fact, had shown "extravagant waste" in publishing books (not his own) of disinterested research; when he was ruined he gave away his work, because he had not money to give; the "bitter and unscrupulous partisan" as a historian of his country was more than scrupulously fair. Of Brougham's essays Macaulay wrote: "All the characters are either too black or too fair. The passions of the writer do not suffer him even to maintain the decent appearance of impartiality." These are the very charges brought against Macaulay's own "characters" of William Penn the Quaker, and Claverhouse the Cavalier; while no historian, perhaps, can defend his account of Sir Elijah Impey. Had a Stuart King behaved as William III. did in the matter of the Darien enterprise, we can easily imagine the style in which Macaulay would have "dusted the varlet's jacket". But with lapse of time his bias, his prejudices, can be discounted. As early as 1828 he wrote "a perfect historian must possess an imagination sufficiently powerful to make his narrative affecting and picturesque". That power of imagination he possessed and exercised so delightfully that his History was at once purchased more eagerly than a poem or romance. Both as a collector of materials and as a traveller to the scenes of which he was to write, Macaulay toiled with his own unexampled energy and rapidity. It is well worth while to read his account of his own methods both in study and in composition.[1]

    [Pg 648]

    It is not the good fortune of most historians to possess even Macaulay's private means, the savings of five years passed in India as legal member of the Indian Council. Nor can his practical knowledge of politics and of the world be often found among students, while his natural gifts of imagination and of expression are almost unexampled. His intellect had the limits of his class, his age, and his robust and hasty temperament.

    His poems, "The Lays of Ancient Rome," have been as popular as his prose. He tried at 40 to write such ballads as he conceived the folk-songs of republican Rome to have been, and nobody can deny that the "Lays" have abundance of spirit and "go". The ballad of the Armada, and of "The Last Buccaneer" possess the same virtues and will always be dear to young people of spirit. Arrived at the age of 50, Macaulay wrote, in the very words of the dying Hazlitt, "Well, I have had a happy life!" It was extended to 1859, he died on 28 December, leaving a name justly honourable and a cherished memory.

    Thomas Carlyle.

    Carlyle (1795-1881), with Burns, Knox, and Scott, is the chief representative in letters of "the good and the not so good" (in his own words applied to Sir Walter) of the Scottish character. Unlike the other three, Carlyle was "thrawn," a word not easily translated, but implying a certain twist, or perversion, towards the whole nature of things. The apostle of silence was the most voluble of mortals; the peasant stoic felt the pain of the pea beneath a heap of mattresses as keenly as the delicate princess of the fairy tale.

    Carlyle was first of all a Scottish humorist; that peculiar humour of which Southrons deny the existence underlay the fateful gloom of the philosopher and historian who beheld his country "shooting Niagara," who saw that society was rotten and doomed, and who found no remedy except in the arrival of a Cromwell or a Frederick. He "praised the keen unscrupulous force" of such heroes: though he did not use the term "superman," he believed in the idea. It is quite certain that he had great tenderness and friendliness; his affection for Lockhart, so unlike him superficially[Pg 649] (though Lockhart, too, was tender, melancholy, and "thrawn") is really touching. Carlyle had "our Scottish kindness," in Knox's phrase, that is attachment to kin and clan. Even in his dourest moods of personal invective his bark was worse than his bite, but there was a great deal of bark. The conclusion of the whole matter in the long dispute as to the relations of Carlyle and Mrs. Carlyle is that, with a deep mutual affection, theirs was a life of cat and dog.

    Born in 1795 at Ecclefechan in Dumfriesshire, Carlyle was the son of a stone mason, though his genealogy traces him back behind the Conquest to the Carlyle Lords of Torthorwald. Educated at the Grammar School of Annan, and the University of Edinburgh, Carlyle was for some years a dominie, much at odds with himself and the universe. He found guidance in Goethe and other Germans; wrote in "Fraser's Magazine," and elsewhere, essays often historical; in London met Coleridge and Lamb, who was in one of his wildest moods; wrote a "Life of Schiller" in the style of a man of this world; married in 1826, and for six years was brooding, grumbling, studying, writing, and "making himself," in the bitter solitude of his wife's little lairdship, Craigenputtock. Here he produced, in his own characteristic manner, "Sartor Resartus," a disguised autobiography, a humorous and mournful version of his own struggles to find bottom in a universe apparently bottomless. That most things are shams, and that shams are doomed, was Carlyle's message. The fate of shams was illustrated in the fiery pages of his "French Revolution," written after he went to his life-long home in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, where it could not be said that, as in Kilmeny's fairy-land, "the cock never crew". When, despite cocks and other disturbances, Carlyle, with heroic efforts of study, had finished the first volume, John Stuart Mill lent it to a lady, and it was never seen again. Her cook may have been a Betty Barnes. Carlyle returned to his task, and in 1837 the book astonished the world. It had all the colour of romance, and despite the discoveries of recent research, it seems substantially accurate in detail.

    "Heroes and Hero-Worship," and the "Past (mediaeval) and Present," preluded to his very laborious "Letters and[Pg 650] Speeches of Oliver Cromwell" (1845). With many a groan over the confusion of his materials, and with many a shout of applause to the orator of the speeches, Carlyle set Oliver in the light of day, interpreting the studied ambiguities of such speeches of the hero as he makes to the puzzled Wildrake in "Woodstock". Sir Walter's Cromwell is probably as correct a portrait of the Protector as Carlyle's, and Carlyle's must be compared with the less enthusiastic study by Mr. S. R. Gardiner. Carlyle took conscientious pains with the military part of his history, visiting the battlefields, and becoming epic in the fiery spirit of his description of the defeat of his countrymen at Dunbar. A chart-picture of the battle evaded his research, and his account is not absolutely correct. After another prophetic cry of doom in "Latter Day Pamphlets" (1850) Carlyle plunged for many years into the labour of studying "Frederick the Great". The toil outwore his force, and it may be complained that he did not focus his subject. Yet none of his books is of greater interest, and he is the prophet of the modern greatness of Germany. We see how fortis Etruria crevit; through discipline, patriotism, self-sacrifice, "enduring hardness," and obedient to her greatest men. No other than Carlyle could have told the story with so much alluring animation; his military history, too, is most conscientiously studied. His native gift of observing and divining, and describing (in his own words on a singularly private scene, witnessed by him) "with perhaps some humorous exaggeration," found ample scope in his work on Frederick, as well as in his "French Revolution". No doubt he overdid the trick of reiterating traits in Dickens's manner;for a truly candid censure of his style an essay by his obliged friend, Leigh Hunt, may be consulted (see remarks on Leigh Hunt).

    Occasionally, as in his essays on "Cagliostro" and "The Diamond Necklace," Carlyle's freedom of style, and his attacks on his authorities, are somewhat infuriating; the reader wants to be told a plain tale without these excursions, exclamations, and imaginations. Carlyle regarded imagination as one of the wings of history, and perhaps encouraged the too freely imaginative narrations of his friend Froude.

    [Pg 651]

    To him, unhappily, he bequeathed the autobiographical papers of himself and his wife, which Froude handled, to the best of his power, as he understood that Carlyle had desired that they should be treated. There followed outcries from the more ferocious admirers of Carlyle, though Froude had done his best to obey his master! That he could not be absolutely accurate is certain; but disloyal he never was. There is no doubt that Carlyle, irritable, absorbed in his work, and taking his wife's exemplary care of him for granted, was "gey ill to live wi'," while "she had a tongue with a tang". These facts have produced a jungle of deplorable writings; but of Carlyle's genuine goodness and kindness no one who saw him could reasonably doubt.

    The style of Carlyle was unique, unimaginable except by himself, the worst of models for others, and exquisitely fitted to embody his own idiosyncrasiesin short, it is, in prose, not wholly unlike that of Browning in many of his poems. To address the world in this voice, when he was almost unknown, demanded a courage and confidence in which Carlyle was not deficient. One is occasionally reminded of the methods, illegitimate but effective, of the author of "Tristram Shandy," and, again, of Rabelais.

    James Anthony Froude.

    In one way, as a historian, Froude (1818-1894) may be called the pupil, as he was the devoted friend, of Carlyle. That sage worshipped force in men, and Froude, failing a Cromwell or a Frederick, made a hero of Henry VIII., "that blot of blood and grease on the pages of English history," as Dickens called the king who found "the gospel light in Boleyn's eyes". It is not from Carlyle that a young historian can learn the unpopular grace of impartiality. To read Froude you would suppose that the Protestant party in the sixteenth century were innocent of the blood shed by political assassins; whereas the godly slayers of Beaton, Riccio, and the Duc de Guise, like Elizabeth when she bade Paulet murder Mary Stuart, were precisely on a level with the would-be murderers of Elizabeth; and Henry VIII. was burning martyrs of all shades in England, while the Beatons were doing the same thing to heretics in Scotland. Henry was perhaps even more[Pg 652] treacherous than he was lustful and cruel, but it is in the original sources, not in Froude's History, that you discover the fact.

    However, impartial history is notoriously dull, whereas that of Froude is so entertaining that to take up a volume is to go on reading, fascinated by his charm, and delighted by a style remote as the poles from Carlyle's. It is as simple as Swift's, admirably lucid, excelling in the gift of narrative, without imitable peculiarities, and as entirely spontaneous as if the author were writing an ordinary letter.

    Froude, with his brother Richard, was at Oxford when Newman was the great influence among the junior Fellows (Exeter was Froude's College), and Froude went so far with the Movement as to work at the Lives of some early English Saints. But the innocent legends of their miracles were too much for his belief, despite the excellent evidence for some of those of St. Thomas of Canterbury. His scepticism extended, and his short anti-religious novel, "The Nemesis of Faith" (1849), is said to have been thrown into the fire by a don of his own college.

    He turned to Historythat of England from the reign of Henry VIII. to the defeat of the Armada, and he resolutely attacked the great masses of Spanish contemporary manuscripts at Simancas. It was a knightly deed, when we think of the handwriting of the period, and the sometimes inextricably bad grammar of the writers. Different modern historians, in one case, give diverse translations of one crucial passage, and it seems that all of them are wrong. But Froude committed many errors which were not perceived by his furious assailant, Freeman (who did not know where to have him), but are conspicuous when we compare his work with his authorities. He is quite untrustworthy; he has taken fragments from three letters of three different dates, and printed them, with marks of quotation, as if they occurred in a single letter. He accuses Mary Stuart of a certain action, on the authority of the English ambassador, and when we read his letter we find him saying that rumour charges Mary with the fact, but that he does not believe it.

    Froude describes a dramatic scene in which Elizabeth triumphs over the Scottish envoys sent to plead for Mary's life; and when we examine the authorities, to which an erroneous reference is[Pg 653] given, we find in them no such matter, no such scene. The impression given is that Froude read his authorities, let what he read simmer in his mind, let his fancy play freely over it, and then wrote in picturesque and alluring fashion, on the dictates of romance, without ever comparing what he wrote with what his authorities recorded. They are uninteresting, Froude is extremely interesting: as a maker of literature he is in the first rank; as a chronicler of the truth he is not always trustworthy. He did not know his subject "all round"; of Scotland he knew little, and was wedded to the belief that James I. was the first of the Stuart line. He gravely repeats and embellishes Knox's mythical account of the disaster of Solway Moss, but probably the English despatches of the day were not accessible to him. How much of the interest of his book would survive if it were reduced to the sober verities one cannot estimate, but his wonderful power of giving a kind of bird's-eye views of most complicated European situations in politics must remain unmatched.

    Froude, against his bias, made it seem almost certain that Elizabeth had guilty foreknowledge of the death of Amy Robsart. He leaned on a letter of the Spanish ambassador, and reading the Spanish for "last month" as "the present month," he left an erroneous impression. At the moment (1856-1869) there seems to have been no English reviewer who had the necessary knowledge; for Freeman merely picked holes in the fringes of Froude's work. Froude wrote "The English in Ireland," wrote books of political observations made in our colonies, and, succeeding Freeman as Professor of Modern History at Oxford, lectured on Erasmus and published his lectures, which were flown upon by the critics. He also wrote a good "Life of Bunyan," and a longer biography of C?sar. His "Short Studies" are as interesting as his History, which is not likely to be superseded. As a literary view of a great period of history, it has no rival. It is as rich in original research as in portraits of characters. All that it lacks is a final comparison of the results with the authorities.

    Edward Augustus Freeman.

    Freeman (1823-1892) will always be best known by his long "History of the Norman Conquest," a work which embraces most[Pg 654] of our island story before the great event of 1066. The author, a Fellow of Trinity, Oxford, was also a squire in Somerset, and could afford to devote his time to a gentlemanly but usually unremunerative form of literature. His work is protracted, minute, and influenced by a passion for the ideal English in the national character. Prodigiously industrious in his study of the original sources in print; he had a kind of dislike of research in manuscripts. He was well versed in architecture, topography, and local history; he was as much at home in Sicily as in England, with Graeco-Roman as with Norman remains; he was combative, and, in an earlier age, would probably have invited Mr. Robertson to settle the question of the English overlordship of Scotland in the lists. His great work is more profitable to the serious student than interesting to the general reader. He wrote much in "The Saturday Review" without adding to the popularity of that periodical. He was constantly correcting the errors of others, and died during a controversy with Mr. Horace Round on the existence or non-existence of a palisade at the Battle of Hastings (or Senlac). His friend and pupil, J. R. Green (1837-1883), is celebrated for his "Short History of the English People" (1874), a work written in a style rather acrocorinthian, and in its first edition rich in errors, later corrected. The book is written with so much spirit and sympathy that it may tempt many a reader to go more deeply into books less popular. Green had the power of exciting interest in topics generally deemed arid, and, with Freeman, contributed to the success of the History School at Oxford, though even more was due to the work of Bishop Stubbs on charters and constitutional history, and to the tutorial lectures and influence of the late Bishop of London, Mandell Creighton, author of a history of the Popes.

    William Hickling Prescott.

    William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859), the celebrated historian of the two greatest adventures of the modern world, was born, like Hawthorne, at Salem, and was educated at Harvard. Here some student threw a piece of bread at him in hall, his eye was struck, and his sight was so much injured that he could only[Pg 655] write by aid of a kind of framework with cross lines; while his reading, whether from books or manuscripts, was almost wholly done by proxy. The works were read aloud, he listened; probably had notes made of the passages which he meant to use in his histories, composed his periods and then dictated them to a copyist. His "Ferdinand and Isabella," the history of Spain in her glory, is of 1837. Six years later he published "The Conquest of Mexico" (1843), "The Conquest of Peru" in 1847, and, up till his death in 1859, he was at work on the first decadence of Spain, under Philip II.

    In glancing over the list of historical writers in English, from Gibbon downwards, we remark that almost all were men who could afford to deal with a theme so generally unpopular as the past. Hume and Robertson and Gibbon were all, when they worked at history, men in possession of a competence, or more than a competence. So was Hallam, so was Sir Walter Scott; Grote, Prescott, Freeman, Macaulay, were at least equally fortunate, while Carlyle, by dint of the strictest economy, was at least able to wait for years before reaping the emoluments of his labours. The man of letters who must live by his pen must live by hackwork of various kinds, and cannot afford the time to collect and digest his information, to select the little ore from the quarry of documents, and then present in an artistic form the result of his researches. Professors of history who must employ their days by lecturing to and correcting the essays of pupils, "live from the altar" of history, but are almost never great and are never popular historians.

    The chief American and English historical writers of 1840-1890 were fortunate in another way; of which Prescott took full advantage. They might dare to be interesting, to describe striking events with what eloquence they had at command, and venture to dwell on the characters and fortunes of historical persons, famous or obscure. Science, through the lips of a hundred professors, did not then insist that historical writers must be dry, impersonal, impartial weighers of anise and cummin, students of economics. Scores of unread specialists were not lying in wait to pounce upon every slip, and blot out every touch of colour.[Pg 656] Indeed, Mr. Froude could, and did, go as he pleased, and his most unfriendly critics did not know the period of which he wrote. Nobody, like Mr. Gardiner later, gave a whole year of study to the documents of a single year. Now accuracy is a precious thing, but historians who live in constant fear of making a slip have not hitherto produced books which stand high as literature, books which are read "for human pleasure". Again, in the last golden age of history which was literature, "the reading public," always a minute minority, was not wholly absorbed in new novels. Thus the historians of that time had many advantages, and they were men who deserved their opportunities.

    Once more, when Prescott set to work, the States of Europe at last began to permit men of letters to make free use of their collections of old public documents, letters, despatches, books of accounts, while the Royal Academy of History at Madrid gave the greatest facilities to the assistants of Prescott,a favour denied, in the eighteenth century, to Dr. Robertson. The President of the Academy placed his own fine collection of documents at the disposal of the American historian, as did Sir Thomas Phillipps in England, and the archives of Mexico were opened to him, while he read, of course, through the remarkable book composed, after the Conquest, from the evidence of the learned Aztecs, by Sahagun; and the delightful chronicle of one of the conquerors, Bernal Diaz. New materials may since have come to light, but Prescott, rejoicing in the rich mine of true romance; writing with zest and spirit and wide erudition, produced his two books on the two great adventures of Cortes and Pizarro in such a form that his works cannot be superseded. It is said by an American critic that "the Imperial palaces which he saw in an imagination kindled by that of the Spanish conquerors have dwindled to large communal houses inhabited by barbarians," and that "he lived too early to make use of the results of arch?ological research". But any one who looks at the scanty relics of ancient Anahuac in the British Museum knows what kind of "barbarians" produced such objects of art. Moreover, the Spaniards came from a land of palaces, the land of the Alhambra, and of glorious cathedrals! it is not possible to believe that they were deceived, and described[Pg 657] Aztec buildings as palaces, while they were merely "long houses" like those of the Iroquois. This appears to the writer to be a vain imagination, and the works of Prescott, though romantic, are not romances.

    John Lothrop Motley.

    The chief historical writers of the United States occur in a group, between the years of Macaulay and Froude. One of the most popular, and deservedly popular, is John Lothrop Motley (1814-1877). He chose neither American nor English history for his theme, but, in selecting the Dutch Republic, found a topic exciting to republicans in one country and to Protestants and friends of Freedom's cause in both.

    Motley, who was born near Boston, had a father of substantial wealth who liked literature. He went to Harvard, and then studied at Berlin and G?ttingen, where he became the friend of the great Bismarck. Like Macaulay, Hallam, and others, he spent his leisure in the most intellectual society, whether abroad or in America, and in constant touch with men of literary genius, Lowell, Holmes, Longfellow, Thackeray; and also with diplomatists occupied with national affairs. He was not a student and recluse, who can scarcely ever be a historian, in the literary sense, however serviceable he may be as an archivist, a collector and critic of the materials of history.

    Motley, returning to America, tried to write novels, without success; then chose his subject, for years toiled at the massive printed books of the Dutch, and for some four years worked at manuscript documents in Holland, Belgium, and elsewhere.

    Between 1851 and 1856 he accomplished his task, "The Rise of the Dutch Republic". The firm of Murray declined to embark in it, and might rue their caution, for, once published, the book was received with acclaim, both by critics, including Mr. Froude, and by the purchasing public, who found it "as interesting as a novel". "The Saturday Review," then in the academic and educated arrogance of its youth, was unfriendly; perhaps partly because the author was an American, partly because of his Protestant enthusiasm. Prescott, who was working at the same[Pg 658] period, and generously welcomed the enterprise of the younger man, told Motley that he had "whittled away" Philip II., and that he saw the events "through Dutch spectacles". But these were popular spectacles; and few persons know the Spanish and Catholic side of the shield. Dutch critics, while they praised, made their reserves; and an old feud reawoke when, later, Motley wrote on the Arminian, not the Calvinist side of the great party quarrel in Holland, and on the career of John Barneveld.

    As a diplomatist (in 1869 American Minister in England) Motley knew the nature of the inmost political councils; he knew European society; he had, in much the same measure as Froude, the art of making the dry bones of the past clothe themselves in flesh and blood, in steel armour, or in satins and velvets. He had access to many despatches, often in cipher, always in the hardest of all handwritings (that of the sixteenth century before the "Roman hand" was adopted), and he laboured at these with iron endurance, turning his results "to favour and to prettiness" by the graces of his pictorial style.

    His continuation of his work, "The History of the United Netherlands" (published by Mr. Murray) was completed in 1865; his "Life of John of Barneveld" in 1874. He died in England (1877) and there is buried. His work has not been, and for English readers is never likely to be, superseded, though it would gain by addition of notes from eminent Dutch critical historians. He was of a beautiful presence, and, according to Lady Byron, had a "most wonderful" likeness to the poet. His letters are full of amusing gossip about the world of Thackeray and Macaulay.

    Other Historians.

    Sir William Napier (1785-1860) who fought with distinction under Wellington in the Peninsula, combined with his great personal knowledge of the war conscientious research in documents, and a style of the most brilliant eloquence. Impartial he was not, and he had the fiery temper of the Napiers; but modern research, as in Mr. Oman's great work, now corrects him, and now complements his information.

    [Pg 659]

    The great work of George Grote (1794-1871), a Radical in politics, a banker by profession, is "The History of Greece". It is too well known to need description. Though Grote's aim was to set Athenian democracy in what he held to be its true light, he laboured not less assiduously among the mythic legends and the heroic poetry of Hellas; he was most erudite in every fragment of Greek records, and his work, though destitute of much new light recently discovered by excavations of Greek sites and from inscriptions, yet holds its place, unsurpassed, as a general history of Hellas.

    Henry Hart Milman (1791-1868) was educated at Eton and Brasenose College, Oxford, and began his literary career as a writer of verse.

    The poet-priest Milman

    So ready to kill man,

    is thus mentioned by Byron, who thought that Milman had attacked him, or Shelley, or both, in "The Quarterly Review". He later wrote "The History of the Jews," now out of date, and his chief and very meritorious work "The History of Latin Christianity" (1855).

    Space, and the nature of his subjects, logical, philosophical, political, and social, forbid more than a mention of a man so prominent and influential as John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). Mill was privately educated and forced into precocity by his father, James Mill, a Liberal doctrinaire. In 1843 he gave to the world his "System of Logic," in 1848 his "Political Economy"; the former, at least, was for many years read almost as much as the "Ethics" of Aristotle by competitors for honours at Oxford. His "Liberty" (1859) was an extremely advanced book in its day; as was his "Subjection of Women". Mill sowed large handfuls of the seed of the dragon's teeth. He was an earnest, precise, and lucid writer; but not successful in Parliament.


    The bearers of some of the greatest literary names of the nineteenth century produced books which had vast influence on the[Pg 660] development of thought, and yet left little work that, as mere literature, is of the highest merit. They were concerned with the religious, theological, social, and political ideas of their own time, which, like all the ideas personal, as it were, to one or two generations, could not remain fixed, but glided into protean forms of change. Thus John Henry Newman (born in London, 1801, educated at Trinity College, Oxford; Fellow of Oriel, 1822) passed through various phases of religious and ecclesiastical belief; was a leader with Pusey, Keble, and many others in the Oxford Anglican Movement; found that his reason led him into the Roman fold (he was made a Cardinal finally) and wrote voluminously, and in a style confessedly of the highest merit. Yet no doubt his most widely and permanently interesting work took the form of a defensive autobiography ("Apologia pro Vita Sua," 1864), which is more read for its vivid study of his own mental vicissitudes, and personal experiences, than for its theological science. It answers, in his generation, to the "Confessions" of St. Augustine.

    Newman describes himself as not only religious but superstitious in boyhood; he read Law's "Serious Call," and crossed himself when he went into the dark. His search for truth was earnest, his nature was almost sceptical but hospitable towards the marvellous, and his own party, to whatsoever party he belonged at any period, never knew where or how far his theory of the Development of Doctrine would carry him. As a tutor of Oriel, and Vicar of St. Mary's, he exercised, as much by his personality and sanctity of life as by his intellect, an unprecedented influence over the minds of the young. In 1843-4 he began to publish "Lives of the English Saints" from the earliest period: many of these were done by Newman's disciples. The narratives abound in miracles of all sorts which proved too much for the faith of J. A. Froude. Newman's doctrine developed in a way which puzzled himself and others. His heart and his tastes drew him towards Catholicism; his earlier ideas caused him to preach against the old faith; at last his reason sided with his "secret longing love of Rome," his "Tract 90" in "Tracts for the Times," alarmed the academic authorities. "I hardly knew where I stood when[Pg 661] I wanted to be in peace and silence I had to speak out, and I incurred the charge of weakness from some men, and of mysteriousness, shuffling, and underhand dealing from the majority". He retired from the University pulpit, and after a period of retreat and reflection, crossed the Rubicon. There was a long and bitter period of trials, of broken friendships, of charges of duplicity and so forth. In reviewing Froude's "History," Charles Kingsley spoke as if more than doubtful of Newman's respect for truth as such; a correspondence followed; Kingsley wrote an offensive pamphlet: "What then does Dr. Newman Mean?" Newman, by this time a man of 63, answered the question in his "Apologia"; first making a terrible display of acute personal irony, and then giving a narrative of the development of his opinions. In later editions he omitted the polemical pages, and when Kingsley died said a Mass for his soul. The book was received with almost universal applauseyet it had not been easy for Kingsley to understand what Newman meant. His "Grammar of Assent" was so many times rewritten as to leave the impression that he himself did not easily ascertain his own meaning. It is curious to find him quoting a writer in "The Penny Cyclop?dia" as an authority on the religion of the Australian tribes; the writer was not correctly informed.

    Newman's works range from twelve volumes of sermons, through treatises and essays, historical and critical, and polemical works, to novels of which "Callista," a tale of the early Christians in Africa, is the best, and to poetry. In this, "The Dream of Gerontius" displays intense imaginative power; and "Lead, Kindly Light" is the most admired of his religious lyrics. Perhaps this great and good man is most intelligible in his "Life," by Mr. Wilfrid Ward (1912).

    In his love of truth, and in his courage and natural independence of mind, Newman was what we call "thoroughly English". "I am as little able to think by any mind but my own as to breathe by another's lungs," he wrote. As much might be said for two authors who differed from him so widely as Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Thomas Huxley (1825-1895). The nature of their studies was, as a rule, remote from the literary, and[Pg 662] must find record and criticism in the History of Science. The greatness of Darwin's character and intellect is among the chief intellectual glories of his country. Huxley, apart from his own special researches, was the Thangbrand of Evolution, the popular fighting man, of a brisk humorous pugnacity; his mental lungs expanding in an atmosphere which would have asphyxiated Newman. He had very wide general reading; of his more literary works his "Life of David Hume" in the series of "English Men of Letters" is an admirable example. He is not to be accepted as an impeccable authority on the religions of the more backward races. The same caution must be extended to the anthropological works of Herbert Spencer, a single-hearted seeker after truth, with a very peculiar scientific style of his own. Of all men who wrote much, and earnestly, and persuasively, Spencer was the least of a reader; to much good literature he was even antipathetic. His tastes may be studied in his autobiography.

    W. E. H. Lecky.

    Among historians of the later Victorian age, W. E. H. Lecky (1838-1903) held a position which was all his own. He was not an explorer among difficult and ancient archives like Froude; he had not Froude's imaginative and pictorial genius, and power of bringing dead times and personages vividly before the inner eye. He had neither the wide general historical knowledge of Freeman, nor Green's combination of effective rhetoric with very considerable learning. The minute and laborious accuracy of Gardiner, focused on a space comparatively limited, was not his; it was said of him at the moment when, still very young, he produced his "History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe" (1865) that he seemed infinitely more familiar with Latin and French than with Greek and German, and so he continued to be. But he gave, to the general reader, the results of wide reading; he was as lucid as he was fluent; his style was unborrowed, but descended from that of the eighteenth century; and so candid was he, that he spoke of the honesty of "The Old Pretender" (James VIII and III) as[Pg 663] "heroic". Few historians have been so precocious; few more popular. Born in 1838, of a landed Irish family of Scottish descent, he was educated at Cheltenham College, and Trinity College, Dublin. In his twenty-third year he was already a published historical writer ("Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland"). He travelled in Spain, Italy, and France, and in 1865 published his work on the "History of Rationalism," which was warmly welcomed, and remains a justly popular book. But, in accordance with the nature of historical science, it is such a history of Rationalism, beginning with a study of the belief in witchcraft and the attendant cruelties, as a young man of talent, taking up the subject to-day, could no longer write. Much is adopted from Michelet, Maury, and Guerinet; the psychology of the topic was, in 1865, unknown: and to-day only a very daring youth could aver that the Rev. Mr. Kirk published "A Secret Commonwealth" in 1691 or at any other date. But the work is full of interest for the general reader: the author won a deserved success, and was 31 years of age when he followed it up with his "History of European Morals," a topic that might have taxed the erudition of the maturity of Gibbon. It involved a philosophical dissertation on the origin of morality, Lecky professing a theory of "intuition," which, though opposed to "rationalistic" ideas, is not unsympathetic to some anthropologists; though in knowledge of the ethics of savages, he could not, at the period when he wrote, be accomplished. Again, a study of Neoplatonism was involved, and had to be written without the aid of much psychological inquiry, posterior to the date of the work. The researches of the future antiquate works on such large subjects as the History of Morals with ruthless rapidity. Lecky's works, so far, were in the manner of Montesquieu and other great French philosophes, but, while severe enough on the errors of the clergy, he had none of Gibbon's mischievous love of degrading the early Christian ideal.

    The central part of Lecky's literary career, till 1890, was engaged with his great work "The History of England in the Eighteenth Century". This vast and important book is the useful successor of Macaulay's History, and is written with much fairness, though, as usual, a considerable mass of information has since[Pg 664] accrued from materials not accessible to the author. This work is not only valuable as a political record, but for its close attention to the changes in thought, manners, literature, and society. Lecky was not, as an Irishman, likely to neglect the affairs of his native island where he had access to the Archives in Dublin public offices. He was in politics a unionist, but did not conceal his dislike of "the manner of the wooing". His other best-known works are "Democracy and Liberty," and "Historical and Political Essays". He sat in Parliament as the representative of his University; was the friend of all the most eminent men of letters of his time; and, thanks to the amiability of his character, he probably never had an enemy.

    With the name of Lecky this work must close, leaving in such brief record much excellent work unchronicled, as too recent to have passed into history.

    [1] Sir George Trevelyan's "Life of Lord Macaulay," Chapter XI.

    The End
上一页        返回目录