31 JANUARY 1903, Page 10


John Lackland. By Kate Norgate. (Macmillan and Co. 8s. 6d.) —Miss Norgate, it seems to us, has taken more pains to make a careful study of John's political struggles with Philip of France and his endless constitutional struggle with the Barons than to put together a biography of King John himself. She might have permitted herself a little more latitude, and availed herself of more opportunities of describing John and the very real advance English liberties made under the stimulus of his excesses. Miss Norgate's conscientious and steady marshalling of historical evidence brings out very strongly two points in the history of John's reign,—that the Barons were only inferior to the King in duplicity and wickedness by reason of inferior determination, and that they knew not what they did when they signed the Great Charter. A few probably grasped its significance; but the con- clusion is irresistible, that men who had seen every promise and every vow abrogated by the greatest liar and master of per- verted statecraft known to the century only regarded it as an instrument. Few documents of that period are other than concise and dignified, and the English Crown always possessed faithful servants who combined loyalty and statesmanship. The personal character of John is only indirectly revealed to us by the author, more, it must be said, by negative than positive evidence; his character as a King is plainly enough exposed under Miss Nor- gate's scrutiny. The ability and accuracy of the author must earn the gratitude of all students. The style is clear, at times vigorous, but singularly unelastic and nearly colourless. Surely the Plantagenets as a race appeal to the imagination and need a portrait-painter with a bold brush. We get a clearer conception of William the Marshal than of John the Ring. John himself would have preferred the paint a little thicker.