Classic History Books


Great Britain and Her Queen - by Anne E. Keeling

work of recent Positivist emulators of the achievements of George Eliot. Some romances of this school
are vivid and highly finished pictures of human misery, unredeemed by hope, and hardly brightened by

occasional gleams of humour, of the sardonic sort which may stir a mirthless smile, but never a laugh.

Herein they are far inferior to their model, whose melancholy philosophy is half hidden from her readers

by the delightful freshness and truth of her "Dutch painter's" portraying of every-day humanity, by her

delicately skilful reproduction of its homely wit and harmless absurdity. Happily neither these writers,

nor the purveyors of mere sensation who cannot get on without crime and mystery, exhaust the list of our

romancers, many of whom are altogether healthful, cheerful, and helpful; and it is no unreasonable hope

that these may increase and their gloomier rivals decrease, or at least grow gayer and wiser.

There are many other great writers, working in other fields, whom we may claim as belonging altogether
or almost to the Victorian age. Within that period lies almost entirely the brilliantly successful career of

Macaulay, essayist, poet, orator, and historian. For the last-named role Macaulay seemed

sovereignly fitted by his extraordinary faculty for assimilating and retaining historical knowledge, and by

the vividness of imagination and mastery of words which enabled him to present his facts in such

attractive guise as made them fascinating far beyond romance. His "History of England from the

Accession of James II," whereof the first volumes appeared in 1849, remains a colossal fragment; the

fulness of detail with which he adorned it, the grand scale on which he worked, rendered its completion a

task almost impossible for the longest lifetime; and Macaulay died in his sixtieth year. Despite the

defects of partisanship and exaggeration freely and not quite unjustly charged upon his great work, it

remains a yet unequalled record of the period dealt with, just as his stirring ballads, so seemingly easy of

imitation in their ringing, rolling numbers, hold their own against very able rivals and are yet unequalled

in our time.

Macaulay was not the first, and he is not the last, of our picturesque historians. It was in 1837 that
Carlyle, who four years before had startled the English-reading public by his strangely worded,

bewildering "Sartor Resartus," brought out his astonishing "History of the French Revolution" - a prose

poem, an epic without a hero, revealing as by "flashes of lightning" the ghastly tragedy and comedy of

that tremendous upheaval; and in 1845 he followed up the vein thus opened by his lifelike study of

"Oliver Cromwell," which was better received by his English readers than the later "History of Friedrich

II," marvel of careful research and graphic reproduction though it be. To Carlyle therefore and to

Macaulay belongs the honour of having given a new and powerful impulse to the study they adorned;

dissimilar in other respects, they are alike in their preference for and insistent use of original sources of

information, in their able employment of minute detail, and in the graphic touch and artistic power which

made history very differently attractive in their hands from what it had ever been previously. Mr. Froude

and Mr. Green may be ranked as their followers in this latter respect; hardly so Mr. Freeman or the

philosophic Buckle, Grote, and Lecky, who by their style and method belong more to the school of

Hallam, however widely they may differ from him or from each other in opinion. But in thoroughness of

research and in resolute following of the very truth through all mazes and veils that may obscure it, one

group of historians does not yield to the other.

And the same zealous passion for accuracy that has distinguished these and less famous historians and
biographers has shown itself in other fields of intellectual endeavour. Our Queen in her desire "to get at

the root and reality of things" is entirely in harmony with the spirit of her age. In scientific men we look

for the ardent pursuit of difficult truth; and it would be thankless to forget how numerous beyond

precedent have been in the Victorian period faithful workers in the field of science. Though some of

our savants in later years have injured their renown by straying outside the sphere in which they

 

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