MR. FROUDE'S NEW VOLUMES.*
IT is probable that these volumes will not be so popular as some of their predecessors. This will not be Mr. Froude's fault, except perhaps that he does not give all the relief possible to the monotony of his subject. But he has to treat of a somewhat dreary period, a period filled with constant political intrigues, which no art can enliven, in which issues most momentous to the world were decided, but which was not illustrated by many great events. Mr. Froude's readers will be called upon to exercise some patience, and this is not a demand which he has been accustomed to make on them. Not failing in this, they will, we believe, be impressed more strongly than ever they have been before with the sense of his power as an historian. He is indeed fortunate beyond his predecessors in the abundance of the materials which he finds ready to his hand. But it would be a great mistake to suppose that the task of writing history has been simplified by the discovery, if we may use the expression, of the original authorities. The contents of the Rolls' House and the State-Paper Offices, English and Foreign, are very different things from the dozen or so of chroniclers and miscellaneous writers which formed the stock-in- trade of an historian half a century ago. The multiplication of the mechanical toil is but a small part of the matter. These documents are a labyrinth in which a man may very easily be lost. To sift the truth out of them is difficult enough. It is still more difficult to preserve the sense of the relative pro- portion of things, and the feeling of perspective which an his- torical writer certainly needs as much as any man. Mr. Fronde makes his way through these difficulties with consummate skill. We may sometimes differ from his estimate of the authorities whom he quotes, though here he has the advantage which those who have seen a witness in court possess over those who read the evidence in the newspaper. We may doubt some of his conclusions, and question some of his estimates of character. We shall be certain to dissent very decidedly from some of his opinions. But it is impossible not to acknowledge the reality and life with which he invests his subject. This is a merit quite distinct from force or brilliancy of style. In these respects Mr. Fronde cannot be compared to Lord Macaulay, but he possesses in far higher degree the faculty of making his men and women live. It may seem a doubtful compliment to say that his history reads like a novel, but it is so. We do not mean a novel of adventure or of superficial description, but a novel of character, which depends for its interest upon studies of motives. In a work of this kind the writer claims to have the power of knowing the hearts of his characters, and if he is a great artist he makes us acknowledge his claim. Such an artist Mr. Fronde shows himself to be. He makes a masterly use of opportunities which actually put him in the vantage-ground which the novelist seems to occupy. In this vast mass of documents, public and private, some of them meant to tell the truth and some meant to conceal it, of every degree of value and interest, he finds the autobiography, all unconsciously written, of a past generation. The power of discerning and drawing forth this treasure is the power of writing history, and makes Mr. Froude's book differ from what commonly bear the same name as a drama differs from a puppet show.
In this case the drama is one of the acts in what may be called "The Tragedy of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots." A singular combi- nation of circumstances made this woman the centre of European politics, a marvellous web of intrigue, which was still further com- plicated by her personal qualities, both good and bad. The story of the six years which these volumes embrace is the story of her fall, and Mr. Fronde tells it with great dramatic power. The pathetic narrative of Darnley's murder, which our readers will remember as occurring at the end of the eighth volume, may stand as the prologue of the tragedy ; the central interest is the working out of the Nemesis of this great crime. To the direct evidence against Mary Mr. Froude has, as might be expected, little to add, but he supplements it with a proof which is leas liable to cavil. He makes us see, as the action moves onwards, how every- where, and most of all in the councils of her friends, the conviction of Mary's guilt was continually working like a curse upon her fortunes. This argument he draws out with a force which makes it one of the most striking features of his work. Nothing probably will ever settle a question which has
• History of England from the Fall of Trolley to the Death of Elisabeth. By James Anthony Fronde, :M.A., late Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford. Reign of Elizabeth, Vols. 111. and IV. London; Longman, Green, and Co. BOG.
been long ago removed into regions of political sentiment inac- cessible to reasoning or evidence; but Mr. Froude certainly solves a great historical difficulty when he thus accounts for the speedy ruin of a cause which commanded the sympathy of the great European powers, and to which three-fourths of the nobility and more than half of the people of the two kingdoms, openly or in secret, adhered.
Mr. Froude, as our readers know, has strong convictions and expresses them strongly, but he is unfair to none of his charac- ters, and he never fails to give them at least a human aspect. An Anglican prelate is the only being for whom he seems to feel an utter scorn. Of Mary he does not hesitate to speak-as an adulteress and murderess, but he does justice to her consummate powers of mind, her resolute will, and dauntless courage, and to the occasional nobility of her impulses. Such justice is perhaps not hard to do in a portraiture so brilliant in colour and so decided in outline ; it is less easy to be equally fair in dealing with characters less picturesque. Mr. Froude's language about Philip U. seems particularly discriminating and just :—
" He was moderate in his habits, careful, business-like, and usually kind and conciliatory. He could under no circumstances have been a great man, but with other opportunities he might have passed muster among Sovereigns as considerably better than the average of them ; he might have received credit for many negative virtues, and a conscien- tious application to the common duties of his office. He was one of 'those limited but not ill meaning men to whom religion furnishes usually a healthy principle of action, and who are ready and eager to submit to its authority. In the unfortunate conjunction in which he was set to reign what ought to have guided him into good became the source of those actions which have made his name infamous. With no broad intelligence to test or correct his superstitions, he gave pro- minence, like the rest of his countrymen, to those particular features of his creed which could be of the smallest practical value to him." (ix., p. 813.)
Another monarch, whose name is still more odious to Englishmen, the wretched. Charles IX., is as leniently dealt with. Here is Mr. Froude's picture of him on the eve of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew :—
"Charles was a weak, passionate boy, alone in the dark conclave of iniquity. He stormed, raved, wept, implored, spoke of his honour, his plighted word ; swore at one time that the Admiral (Coligny) should not be touched, then prayed them to try other means. But clear, cold, and venomous, Catherine told him it was too late For an hour and a half the King continued to struggle. Yon refuse, then,' Catherine said at last. `If it be so, your mother and your brother must care for themselves. Permit us to go.' The King scowled at her. Is it that you are afraid, Sire ?' she hissed in his ear. 'By God's death !' he cried, springing to his feet, 'since you will kill the Admiral, kill them all; kill all the Huguenots in France, that none may be left to reproach roe Mort Dieu! Kill them all!" (x., p. 402.)
Mr. Froude, we may observe, brings out very clearly the fact that the massacre was an interruption to the policy of the French Court. Catherine wished for nothing beyond ridding herself of a few inconvenient persons, but shedding blood in Paris was then, as it has often been since, like thrusting a match into a powder magazine. She was "hoist with her own petard." The Huguenots had plenty of leaders left, and she saw the darling objects of her policy, and especially the English alliance, removed to a hopeless distance. In France there was deep dissatisfaction at the act, but Philip was delighted, as he had every reason to be. He laughed for the first and only time in his life, and in Rome, where, as Mr. Fronde observes, "no worldly interests obscured the clearness of the sacred vision," there was a perfect enthusiasm of pious joy.
The estimate of Elizabeth's character, with which we are already familiar, is but little modified in these volumes. Mr. Froude attributes to her a generosity of feeling with which she has seldom been credited in her dealings with Mary Stuart. He presses the charges of avarice and cruelty strongly against her in the matter of the northern insurrection. About her domestic life he is remarkably silent. Her personal presence scarcely appears upon the scene. Of her Court there is not a single picture. Mr. Fronde confines himself rigidly to the political situation, but this he describes with a mas- terly hand. It is, indeed, a task worthy of his powers. A Protestant Sovereign with semi-Catholic sympathies, forced to assist rebel- lions against those divine rights of kingship in which she herself passionately believed, under the ban of Rome, but courted by the great Catholic powers, she occupied a position to which history hardly contains a parallel. It is marvellous to see how a storm which it seemed impossible that she could resist was ever rolling about her, and how its breaking was still delayed till England was united and strong enough to bear it. Nor is it the least part of the marvel, that her own vacillations and weakness contributed quite as much to her safety as the wisdom of her best advisers.
Judged by a literary standard, these volumes are hardly worthy of Mr. Fronde's reputation. The style is sometimes undignified, and sometimes incorrect. A more careful revision would hardly,
we think, have left such expressions as a "thick-limbed scoundrel," or "sacrificing a noble nature on the foul altar of sensuality and lust," or, speaking of the famous casket, "being of infinite im- portance to him, he sent Dalgleish, one of his servants, from Dunbar after his flight from Carberry Hill, to fetch it." The plan of the whole is not conceived with the artistic skill in which Mr. Froude can only fail from want of care. As we have said before, it wants relief, not to speak of the convenience of making every instalment of the work complete in itself ; some change from the atmosphere of politics to which Mr. Froude confines his readers would have been most welcome. As it is, of the social condition of the people, of the growth of commerce, of literature and learning, we hear nothing, or next to nothing. English ad- venture abroad is represented by one incident, the defeat of Sir John Hawkins at St. Jean de Luz. No mention is made of the Universities except in the single sketch of Thomas Cartwright. A few contemptuous words are all the notice that our author deigns to take of the English Church. We cannot say that when Mr. Froude does step aside from politics for a moment he is very happy in his remarks or his illustrations. It can serve no useful purpose to drag in, as he does more than once, the vexed question of the destruction of the Canaanite nations. And it is a positive absurdity to compare the Massacre of St. Bartholomew with the slaughter of the A malekites. A treacherous attack made by one portion of the nation upon men of the same race, bears no sort of resemblance to eden the cruelest war carried on by one people against another. Again, it is using needlessly offensive language to say, "God gave the Gospel, the father of lies invented theology." Such expressions are unworthy of the calm and equitable temper which Mr. Froude generally displays. We cannot forbear to notice the strange apology which is put forth for the employment of torture by Elizabeth's ministers. It is simply astonishing to be told "that the method of inquiry, however inconsistent with modern conceptions of justice, was excellently adapted for the outrooting of the truth." Torture, we apprehend, has been rejected by modern justice, not on moral grounds principally, but because it has been found to be the very worst possible way of " outrooting the truth."
All these, however, are but the slight blemishes of a very great work. We trust that Mr. Fronde will have time and strength to complete his task. He will have put himself in the first rank, if not in the very first place, of English historians.