MR. BELLOC AS AN HISTORIAN.• TOE title-page of the new
American edition of Lingard's great work is is little misleading. Lingard's labour ended with the Revolution of 1688; Mr. Belloc takes up the narrative with the fall of the Stuarts, and brings it down to the death of Edward VII. The scales of the two portions of the history are of course very different. Mr. Belloc aims only at giving a summary of the main lines of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and his contribution, which forms the eleventh volume, is alto- gether unlike the other ten. It is fall from end to end of statements that will be challenged by many of his readers, but the space at his disposal seldom allows him to do more than state his convictions and just indicate the methods by which he has arrived at them. The result is a volume of absolute novelty and extraordinary interest. Mr. Belloc is nothing if not original, and here he has an opportunity of stating his con- cluaiona upon the most disputed points in the last two centuries of English history. He could desire nothing more, and we will add that his readers must be hard to satisfy if in the limits of a single volume they ask for anything more. All that we shall attempt to do is to give Mr. Belloc's reading of certain incidents in English history. To weigh the evidence for and against this reading would require at least another volume of the same size as his own.
To understand anything of the English Revolution we must first realize that by the year 1689 England had become an oligarchy, and was destined to remain an oligarchy for generations to come. The government, that is to say, resided in one small class, but it was exercised, "not in spite of popular claims, but with the complete sympathy of the people, and even, to some extent, at their demand." This implies that this oligarchy was also an aristocracy—an oligarchy, that is, "the members of which enjoy a peculiar reverence paid to them by their fellow-citizens.
• TA. List., of England. By John Liniyard, D.D., and ililaire sauce. Tot XI. London Sande and Co. New York : The Catholic Publication Society of Amer w. Ile. not.]
Their manner of life, especially in its externals, their accent in speech, their comportment and carriage are all expected to conform to certain standards which excite the admiration of the many." An aristocracy must possess its own forms of courage and its own forms of dignity. It may be financially corrupt, but in particular fields it must display integrity and in others generosity; and it " must be peculiarly severe in its judgment of its own members as they appear in the publio eye." It must be national even in its amusements, it must avoid the least suspicion of personal oppression, and " it must recruit itself continually from below." It will be seen that Mr. Belloc is not thinking of an aristocracy in the sense com- monly given to the word. "A noble class, properly so called, proud of descents, and known by its titles, is the least fitted of all to form an aristocracy in the strict meaning of that term." What is wanted for this end is "a body whose boundaries are deliberately left vague . . . one which can prove its ready acceptance of men, no matter of what lineage, eo long as they are digestible into the aristocratic form." An oligarchy which is also an aristocracy must "perform every activity of the State. . . . The same kind of man defines, administers, makes and defends in arms the law." And of all forms of government an aristocracy of this sort is "the one most directly opposed to democracy."
Of the merits of aristocratic rule Mr. Belloo has a high opinion. It possesses "certain remarkable elements of strength not apparent in any other form of government. These elements produce, for a time at least, such national success, followed by so high (and legitimate) a national pride, as further convinces men of the value of their institutions. Of this truth the whole history of England throughout the eighteenth and the greater part of the nineteenth century is full." An aristocracy at its best can summon up its resources against a foreign enemy with a promptitude which neither a democracy nor a monarchy can equal. The members of the governing class form "a permanent intelligence committee singularly supple and singularly solid in judgment." They can communicate with one another with a privacy and direct. nese "never to he reached by the members of a mere mechanical bureaucracy to which other forms of govern- ment are compelled to entrust public affairs. It is in the very nature of aristocrats that they should be patriots, and there is infinitely less room within their own circle for incompetent favouritism or for a grave misjudgment of ability than there is in the indulgence of a despot or in the enthusiasm of a crowd." On the other hand, an aristocracy has its failings, and they are failings which breed decay. It "cannot incorporate alien things, it cannot govern imperially.
. The very virtues which make an oligarchy intensely national forbid it that international sympathy with the governed without which moulding Imperial power is im- possible." But where a Government is content to leave its subjects to themselves and makes no attempt to mould them to its own image, there "an aristocratic and trading oligarchy is a most efficient instrument." (Mr. Belloo'a examples of English failure and success in this region are Ireland and India.) Under an aristocracy a statesman may enrich himself at the public expense, but if he is discovered to have passed a certain line he will invariably be punished. " The great Marlborough himself, suspected of taking a small commission from a Jewish contractor to his armies. is stripped of all his offices. The Ministers who have shares in the South Sea Company are not only deprived of their pouts, but compelled to disgorge." Aristocratio govern. went in England was long distinguished by the invariable connexion of its great names with the land. If the bearer of one of them is not at least a squire by birth, he becomes one before his death. Yet another characteristic is the importance attached to custom. "The judiciary of the eighteenth century may be said to live by its strong devotion to the common law and the customs of the English. It defends a freehold, the forms of public life, the exact definition of procedure, with a zeal to be found nowhere else in Europe." The result was that in the eighteenth century an Englishman of the humbler sort was politically the freest man of his class in Europe.
How, then, did an oligarchy so eminently aristocratic, and in the eighteenth century so powerful and apparently no likely to last, begin in the nineteenth century to show signs of decay P It was the result of the gradual but increasingly rapid change
which is transforming England from an agricultural to an urban society. " From being what she had been for no many centuries, a State composed mainly of many thousand villages," she is becoming a State "composed almost entirely of a few large towns." There had been prosperous and active towns throughout the whole course of English history, but even the largest of them—even London—" were within daily reach of the fields; and the recreations of the citizens were largely a recreation of the fields." Their inatitu• Hone were domestic and local. "The national tone of England was the tone given by the villages." The repre- sentative Englishman was the yeoman. "English speech is positively constructed upon agricultural experience." The measures of length that are specially English, and indeed almost all "intimate domestic things," go back to the land. Of the two Houses of Parliament, one was based almost entirely, and the other mainly, upon the land. The "standing unit of English political life" was the squire. The magistracy was in the hands of these squires, and" local peasant customs dictated the most of its decisions." The change began with the nineteenth century, but for a time it worked slowly. As late as the middle of Queen Victoria's reign "the larger part of Englishmen were country-bred." The Army was mainly recruited from the peasantry. "The peasant drink, ale, was the national drink, the peasant sports were the national sports; and largely still the peasant character was the national character." But by the end of the Queen's reign "the villages were but a small fringe of the national life. . . . The manifold schemes of governmental experiment in laws that should regulate the schooling of the masses and all their domestic habits were urban experiments. The emigration from England had become an urban emigration, and, what is vastly important, the recruiting of the insufficient military force of the country had become an urban recruitment."
It may surprise some of his readers that Mr. Belloc's high opinion of the aristocratic government of England in the eighteenth century does not prevent him from feeling a very real sympathy with Bolingbroke 's idea of a patriot King, and even, to some extent, with George III.'s futile attempt to give it shape and reality :—
" Few nations," he says, " have enjoyed the talents of a greater citizen than Bolingbroke, whether in intelligence, in purpose, or in expression. No great Englishman since the seventeenth century has in politics put forward ideas more lucid and more salutary ; none has more completely failed to divert his country- men from the course upon which they had been launched. . . The old man still conceived it possible (and it was to his honour) that a popular sovereignty could be restored in England, and that the broadening and vigorous progress towards commercial pluto- cracy and a forgetfulness of the populace and their instincts might be arrested."
In order to understand the full compass of Mr. Belloc's praise of Bolingbroke it may be compared with his estimate of Burke and of Peel. To the former he allows "the Irishman's supreme political gift of rhetorical form, as also the Irish- man's keen and developed talent for the management of assemblies," but nowhere, he holds, was Berke's "incapacity for seizing a general principle nor his fatal weakness of mere advocacy" more visible than in his opposition to Lord North. Of Peel he admits that " undoubtedly on several occasions he rendered real services to his country." But there was nothing in his career to justify the legend in which he appears as "a statesman of something approaching to virtue. He was throughout his life an opportunist of the most obvious type, and the sum of his action can only be explained from the ordinary motives of a politician." With the accession of George III. comes in a new factor in English political life, and one of high moment "to the modern observer who can perceive (as who cannot?) that to-day the future of England depends upon whether or no the power of the Crown can be revived once more." But the success of the effort inspired by Bolingbroke's genius won rendered hopeless by the incapacity of the agent, "a young, florid, and virtuous boy, too fat at twenty-three." George III. had, indeed, three qualities which his grandfather and great-grandfather had lacked. He bad no vices and, therefore, no ties ; "he had sufficiently taken the mould of the society around him to be in all important externals national ; and he was patriotic." But he was utterly beneath his task. "He could not distinguish between a man of first-rate ability and one of the tenth-rate, unless it were by that nervous distrust of the former from which denseness usually puffers."
We have given only a few examples of Mr. Belloc'e originality and ingenuity. His volume is crowded with thew. They come strangely as a supplement to Lingard, but taken by themselves they are full of interest, and even where his con- clusions are most startling they ought not to be neglected. We may add that, as might be expected, his accounts of battles and campaigns are wonderfully clear. His short account of the American War is an excellent example of his skill as a military historian.