CHAPTER XXXIX. THE LATER HISTORIANS.
New Materials. George Grote. History of Greece. Lord Macaulay. History
of England. Its Faults. Thomas Carlyle. Life of Frederick II. Other
Nothing more decidedly marks the nineteenth century than the progress of history as a branch of literature. A wealth of material, not known before, was brought to light, increasing our knowledge and reversing time-honored decisions upon historic points. Countries were explored and their annals discovered. Expeditions to Egypt found a key to hieroglyphs; State papers were arranged to the hand of the scholar; archives, like those of Simancas, were thrown open. The progress of Truth, through the extension of education, unmasked ancient prescriptions and prejudices: thus, where the chronicle remained, philosophy was transformed; and it became evident that the history of man in all times must be written anew, with far greater light to guide the writer than the preceding century had enjoyed. Besides, the world of readers became almost as learned as the historian himself, and he wrote to supply a craving and a demand such as had never before existed. A glance at the labors of the following historians will show that they were not only annalists, but reformers in the full sense of the word: they re-wrote what had been written before, supplying defects and correcting errors.
GEORGE GROTE.—This distinguished writer was born near London, in 1794. He was the son of a banker, and received his education at the Charter House. Instead of entering one of the universities, he became a clerk in his father's banking-house. Early imbued with a taste for Greek literature, he continued his studies with great zeal; and was for many years collecting the material for a history of Greece. The subject was quietly and thoroughly digested in his mind before he began to write. A member of Parliament from 1832 to 1841, he was always a strong Whig, and was specially noted for his championship of the vote by ballot. There was no department of wholesome reform which he did not sustain. He opposed the corn laws, which had become oppressive; he favored the political rights of the Jews, and denounced prescriptive evils of every kind.
HISTORY OF GREECE.—In 1846 he published the first volume of his History of Greece from the Earliest Period to the Death of Alexander the Great: the remaining volumes appeared between that time and 1856. The work was well received by critics of all political opinions; and the world was astonished that such a labor should have been performed by any writer who was not a university man. It was a luminous ancient history, in a fresh and racy modern style: the review of the mythology is grand; the political conditions, the manners and customs of the people, the military art, the progress of law, the schools of philosophy, are treated with remarkable learning and clearness. But he as clearly exhibits the political condition of his own age, by the sympathy which he displays towards the democracy of Athens in their struggles against the tenets and actions of the aristocracy. The historian writes from his own political point of view; and Grote's history exhibits his own views of reform as plainly as that of Mitford sets forth his aristocratic proclivities. Thus the English politics of the age play a part in the Grecian history.
There were several histories of Greece written not long before that of Grote, which may be considered as now set aside by his greater accuracy and better style. Among these the principal are that of JOHN GILLIES, 1747-1836, which is learned, but statistical and dry; that of CONNOP THIRLWALL, born 1797, Bishop of St. David's, which was greatly esteemed by Grote himself; and that of WILLIAM MITFORD, 1744-1827, to correct the errors and supply the deficiencies of which, Grote's work was written.
LORD MACAULAY.—Thomas Babington Macaulay was born at Rothley, in Leicestershire, on the 25th of October, 1800. His father, Zachary Macaulay, a successful West Indian merchant, devoted his later life to philanthropy. His mother was Miss Selina Mills, the daughter of a bookseller of Bristol. After an early education, chiefly conducted at home, he was entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1818, where he distinguished himself as a debater, and gained two prize poems and a scholarship. He was graduated in 1822, and afterwards continued his studies; producing, during the next four years, several of his stirring ballads. He began to write for the Edinburgh Review in 1825. In 1830 he entered Parliament, and was immediately noted for his brilliant oratory in advocating liberal principles. In 1834 he was sent to India, as a member of the Supreme Council; and took a prominent part in preparing an Indian code of laws. This code was published on his return to England, in 1838; but it was so kind and considerate to the natives, that the martinets in India defeated its adoption. From his return until 1847, he had a seat in Parliament as member for Edinburgh; but in the latter year his support of the grant to the Maynooth (Roman Catholic) College so displeased his constituents, that in the next election he lost his seat.
During all these busy years he had been astonishing and delighting the reading world by his truly brilliant papers in the Edinburgh Review, which have been collected and published as Miscellanies. The subjects were of general interest; their treatment novel and bold; the learning displayed was accurate and varied; and the style pointed, vigorous, and harmonious. The papers upon Clive and Hastings are enriched by his intimate knowledge of Indian affairs, acquired during his residence in that country. His critical papers are severe and satirical, such as the articles on Croker's Boswell, and on Mr. Robert Montgomery's Poems. His unusual self-reliance as a youth led him to great vehemence in the expression of his opinions, as well as into errors of judgment, which he afterwards regretted. The radicalism which is displayed in his essay on Milton was greatly modified when he came to treat of kindred subjects in his History.
THE HISTORY OF ENGLAND.—He had long cherished the intention of writing the history of England, “from the accession of James II. down to a time which is within the memory of men still living.” The loss of his election at Edinburgh gave him the leisure necessary for carrying out this purpose. In 1848 he published the first and second volumes, which at once achieved an unprecedented popularity. His style had lost none of its brilliancy; his reading had been immense; his examination of localities was careful and minute. It was due, perhaps, to this growing fame, that the electors of Edinburgh, without any exertion on his part, returned him to Parliament in 1852. In 1855 the third and fourth volumes of his History appeared, bringing the work down to the peace of Ryswick, in 1697. All England applauded the crown when he was elevated to the peerage, in 1857, as Baron Macaulay of Rothley.
It was now evident that Macaulay had deceived himself as to the magnitude of his subject; at least, he was never to finish it. He died suddenly of disease of the heart, on the 28th of December, 1859; and all that remained of his History was a fragmentary volume, published after his death by his sister, Lady Trevelyan, which reaches the death of William III., in 1702.
ITS FAULTS.—The faults of Macaulay's History spring from the character of the man: he is always a partisan or a bitter enemy. His heroes are angels; those whom he dislikes are devils; and he pursues them with the ardor of a crusader or the vendetta of a Corsican. The Stuarts are painted in the darkest colors; while his eulogy of William III. is fulsome and false. He blackens the character of Marlborough for real faults indeed; but for such as Marlborough had in common with thousands of his contemporaries. If, as has been said, that great captain deserved the greatest censure as a statesman and warrior, it is equally true, paradoxical as it may seem, that he deserved also the greatest praise in both capacities. Macaulay has fulminated the censure and withheld the praise.
What is of more interest to Americans, he loses no opportunity of attacking and defaming William Penn; making statements which have been proved false, and attributing motives without reason or justice.
His style is what the French call the style coupe,—short sentences, like those of Tacitus, which ensure the interest by their recurring shocks. He writes history with the pen of a reviewer, and gives verdicts with the authority of a judge. He seems to say, Believe the autocrat; do not venture to philosophize.
His poetry displays tact and talent, but no genius; it is pageantry in verse. His Lays of Ancient Rome are scholarly, of course, and pictorial in description, but there is little of nature, and they are theatrical rather than dramatic; they are to be declaimed rather than to be read or sung.
In society, Macaulay was a great talker—he harangued his friends; and there was more than wit in the saying of Sidney Smith, that his conversation would have been improved by a few “brilliant flashes of silence.”
But in spite of his faults, if we consider the profoundness of his learning, the industry of his studies, and the splendor of his style, we must acknowledge him as the most distinguished of English historians. No one has yet appeared who is worthy to complete the magnificent work which he left unfinished.
THOMAS CARLYLE.—A literary brother of a very different type, but of a more distinct individuality, is Carlyle, who was born in Dumfries-shire, Scotland, in 1795. He was the eldest son of a farmer. After a partial education at home, he entered the University of Edinburgh, where he was noted for his attainments in mathematics, and for his omnivorous reading. After leaving the university he became a teacher in a private family, and began to study for the ministry, a plan which he soon gave up.
His first literary effort was a Life of Schiller, issued in numbers of the London Magazine, in 1823-4. He turned his attention to German literature, in the knowledge of which he has surpassed all other Englishmen. He became as German as the Germans.
In 1826 he married, and removed to Craigen-Puttoch, on a farm, where, in isolation and amid the wildness of nature, he studied, and wrote articles for the Edinburgh Review, the Foreign Quarterly, and some of the monthly magazines. His study of the German, acting upon an innate peculiarity, began to affect his style very sensibly, as is clearly seen in the singular, introverted, parenthetical mode of expression which pervades all his later works. His earlier writings are in ordinary English, but specimens of Carlylese may be found in his Sartor Resartus, which at first appalled the publishers and repelled the general reader. Taking man's clothing as a nominal subject, he plunges into philosophical speculations with which clothes have nothing to do, but which informed the world that an original thinker and a novel and curious writer had appeared.
In 1834 he removed to Chelsea, near London, where he has since resided. In 1837, he published his French Revolution, in three volumes,—The Bastile, The Constitution, The Guillotine. It is a fiery, historical drama rather than a history; full of rhapsodies, startling rhetoric, disconnected pictures. It has been fitly called “a history in flashes of lightning.” No one could learn from it the history of that momentous period; but one who has read the history elsewhere, will find great interest in Carlyle's wild and vivid pictures of its stormy scenes.
In 1839 he wrote, in his dashing style, upon Chartism, and about the same time read a course of lectures upon Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History, in which he is an admirer of will and impulse, and palliates evil when found in combination with these.
In 1845 he edited The Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, and in his extravagant eulogies worships the hero rather than the truth.
FREDERICK II.—In 1858 appeared the first two volumes of The Life of Frederick the Great, and since that time he has completed the work. This is doubtless his greatest effort. It is full of erudition, and contains details not to be found in any other biography of the Prussian monarch; but so singularly has he reasoned and commented upon his facts, that the enlightened reader often draws conclusions different from those which the author has been laboring to establish. While the history shows that, for genius and success, Frederick deserved to be called the Great, Carlyle cannot make us believe that he was not grasping, selfish, a dissembler, and an immoral man.
The author's style has its admirers, and is a not unpleasing novelty and variety to lovers of plain English; but it wearies in continuance, and one turns to French or German with relief. The Essays upon German Literature, Richter, and The Niebelungen Lied are of great value to the young student. Such tracts as Past and Present, and The Latter-Day Pamphlets, have caused him to be called the “Censor of the Age.” He is too eccentric and prejudiced to deserve the name in its best meaning. If he fights shams, he sometimes mistakes windmills and wine-skins for monsters, and, what is worse, if he accost a shepherd or a milkmaid, they at once become Amadis de Gaul and Dulcinea del Toboso. In spite of these prejudices and peculiarities, Carlyle will always be esteemed for his arduous labors, his honest intentions, and his boldness in expressing his opinions. His likes and dislikes find ready vent in his written judgments, and he cares for neither friend nor foe, in setting forth his views of men and events. On many subjects it must be said his views are just. There are fields in which his word must be received with authority.
OTHER HISTORIANS OF THE LATEST PERIOD.
John Lingard, 1771-1851: a Roman Catholic priest. He was a man of great probity and worth. His chief work is A History of England, from the first invasion of the Romans to the accession of William and Mary. With a natural leaning to his own religious side in the great political questions, he displays great industry in collecting material, beauty of diction, and honesty of purpose. His history is of particular value, in that it stands among the many Protestant histories as the champion of the Roman Catholics, and gives an opportunity to “hear the other side,” which could not have had a more respectable advocate. In all the great controversies, the student of English history must consult Lingard, and collate his facts and opinions with those of the other historians. He wrote, besides, numerous theological and controversial works.
Patrick Fraser Tytler, 1791-1849: the author of A History of Scotland from Alexander III. to James VI. (James I. of England), and A History of England during the reigns of Edward VI. and Mary. His Universal History has been used as a text-book, and in style and construction has great merit, although he does not rise to the dignity of a philosophic historian.
Sir William Francis Patrick Napier, 1785-1866: a distinguished soldier, and, like Caesar, a historian of the war in which he took part. His History of the War in the Peninsula stands quite alone. It is clear in its strategy and tactics, just to the enemy, and peculiar but effective in style. It was assailed by several military men, but he defended all his positions in bold replies to their strictures, and the work remains as authority upon the great struggle which he relates.
Lord Mahon, Earl of Stanhope, born 1805: his principal work is a History of England from the Peace of Utrecht to the Peace of Versailles. He had access to much new material, and from the Stuart papers has drawn much of interest with reference to that unfortunate family. His view of the conduct of Washington towards Major Andre has been shown to be quite untenable. He also wrote a History of the War of Succession in Spain.
Henry Thomas Buchle, 1822-1862: he was the author of a History of Civilization, of which he published two volumes, the work remaining unfinished at the time of his death. For bold assumptions, vigorous style, and great reading, this work must be greatly admired; but all his theories are based on second principles, and Christianity, as a divine institution, is ignored. It startled the world into admiration, but has not retained the place in popular esteem which it appeared at first to make for itself. He is the English Comte, without the eccentricity of his model.
Sir Archibald Alison, 1792-1867: he is the author of The History of Europe from the Commencement of the French Revolution to the Restoration of the Bourbons, and a continuation from 1815 to 1852. It may be doubted whether even the most dispassionate scholar can write the history of contemporary events. We may be thankful for the great mass of facts he has collated, but his work is tinctured with his high Tory principles; his material is not well digested, and his style is clumsy.
Agnes Strickland, born 1806: after several early attempts Miss Strickland began her great task, which she executed nobly—The Queens of England. Accurate, philosophic, anecdotal, and entertaining, this work ranks among the most valuable histories in English. If the style is not so nervous as that of masculine writers, there is a ready intuition as to the rights and the motives of the queens, and a great delicacy combined with entire lack of prudery in her treatment of their crimes. The library of English history would be singularly incomplete without Miss Strickland's work. She also wrote The Queens of Scotland, and The Bachelor Kings of England.
Henry Hallam, 1778-1859: the principal works of this judicious and learned writer are A View of Europe during the Middle Ages, The Constitutional History of England, and An Introduction to the Literature of Europe in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries. With the skill of an advocate he combines the calmness of a judge; and he has been justly called “the accurate Hallam,” because his facts are in all cases to be depended on. By his clear and illustrative treatment of dry subjects, he has made them interesting; and his works have done as much to instruct his age as those of any writer. Later researches in literature and constitutional history may discover more than he has presented, but he taught the new explorers the way, and will always be consulted with profit, as the representative of this varied learning during the first half of the nineteenth century.
James Anthony Froude, born 1818: an Oxford graduate, Mr. Froude represents the Low Church party in a respectable minority. His chief work is A History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Death of Elizabeth. With great industry, and the style of a successful novelist in making his groups and painting his characters, he has written one of the most readable books published in this period. He claimed to take his authorities from unpublished papers, and from the statute-books, and has endeavored to show that Henry VIII. was by no means a bad king, and that Elizabeth had very few faults. His treatment of Anne Boleyn and Mary Queen of Scots is unjust and ignoble. Not content with publishing what has been written in their disfavor, with the omniscience of a romancer, he asserts their motives, and produces thoughts which they never uttered. A race of powerful critics has sprung forth in defence of Mary, and Mr. Froude's inaccuracies and injustice have been clearly shown. To novel readers who are fond of the sensational, we commend his work: to those who desire historic facts and philosophies, we proclaim it to be inaccurate, illogical, and unjust in the highest degree.
Sharon Turner, 1768-1847: among many historical efforts, principally concerning England in different periods, his History of the Anglo-Saxons stands out prominently as a great work. He was an eccentric scholar, and an antiquarian, and he found just the place to delve in when he undertook that history. The style is not good—too epigrammatic and broken; but his research is great, his speculations bold, and his information concerning the numbers, manners, arts, learning, and other characters of the Anglo-Saxons, immense. The student of English history must read Turner for a knowledge of the Saxon period.
Thomas Arnold, 1795-1832: widely known and revered as the Great Schoolmaster. He was head-master at Rugby, and influenced his pupils more than any modern English instructor. Accepting the views of Niebuhr, he wrote a work on Roman History up to the close of the second Punic war. But he is more generally known by his historical lectures delivered at Oxford, where he was Professor of Modern History. A man of original views and great honesty of purpose, his influence in England has been strengthened by the excellent biography written by his friend Dean Stanley.
William Hepworth Dixon, born 1821: he was for some time editor of The Athenaeum. In historic biography he appears as a champion of men who have been maligned by former writers. He vindicatesWilliam Penn from the aspersions of Lord Macaulay, and Bacon from the charges of meanness and corruption.
Charles Merivale, born 1808: he is a clergyman, and a late Fellow of Cambridge, and is favorably known by his admirable work entitled, The History of the Romans under the Empire. It forms an introduction to Gibbon, and displays a thorough grasp of the great epoch, varied scholarship, and excellent taste. His analyses of Roman literature are very valuable, and his pictures of social life so vivid that we seem to live in the times of the Caesars as we read.