13 MAY 1882, Page 15



Tills second instalment of Mr. Lecky's History of England in the Eighteenth Century strikes us as an improvement on the first. The didactic halts in these volumes are rarer than in their predecessors, and the narrative is more flowing and perspicuous. It is still, we regret to see, open to the charge of being too diffuse, and the account of the Gordon riots, and of certain obscure political transactions in Ireland between the first appearance of the Whiteboys and the Declaration of Independ- ence, and above all, the portentous length at which the "Letters of Junius question " is discussed, are salient proofs of the jus- tice with which such a charge might be made. The his- torian carries us in this volume from the accession of George III. to the first Ministry of Chatham's son, and a, perusal of the table of contents will show that, with the excep- tion of the Irish matters which we have mentioned, Mr. Lecky deals with events and transactions which are tolerably well known to all but the most superficial students of English • A History of England in the Eighteenth Century. By W. B. IL Leaky. London Longman, Green, and Co. IS82. Vols. III. and IV.

iiistory. We may add, too, that these transactions and events are for the most part those about which men's opinions are now practically unanimous, and that Mr. Lecky has rarely—we do not like to say never—gone out of his way to disturb those opinions. He had a hero in his former volume—Marlborough ; in these he has a villain—George III., and he has drawn up an indictment against that monarch which would have satisfied even the savage author of Gebir. As this indictment is a very fair specimen of Mr. Lecky's style, and as it furnishes also a kind of key-map to these volumes, we think it right, as well as convenient, to quote it :—

"Ignorant, narrow-minded, and arbitrary, with an unbounded con- fidence in his own judgment, and an extravagant estimate of his pre- rogative, resolved, at all hazards, to compel his Ministers to adopt his own views, or to undermine them if they refused, he spent a long life in resisting measures which are now almost universally admitted to have been good, and in supporting measures which are as universally admitted to be bad. He espoused, with passionate eagerness, the American quarrel ; resisted obstinately the measures of conciliation by which, at one time, it might easily have been stifled ; envenomed it by his glaring partisanship, and protracted it for several years, in opposition to the wish and advice even of his own favourite and re- sponsible Minister. He took the warmest personal interest in the attempts that were made, in the matter of general warrants, to menace the liberty of the subject ; and, in the case of the Middlesex election, to abridge the electoral rights of constituencies, and in the other paltry, violent, 'and arbitrary measures by which the country was inflamed, and Wilkes was converted into a hero. The last instance of an English officer deprived of his regiment for his vote in Parliament was due to the personal intervention of the King ; and the Ministers whom he most warmly favoured were guilty of an amount and audacity of corruption which is probably unequalled in the Parliamentary history of England. All the measures that were carried or attempted with the object of pacifying the representa- tive body—the publication of debates, the alteration of the mode of trying contested elections, the reduction of sinecures and pensions, the enlargement of the constituencies—were contrary to the wishes of the King. Although his income during the greater part of his reign was little less than a million a year, although his Court was parsimonious to a fault and his hospitality eaceediogly restricted, and although he succeeded to a considerable sum that had been saved by his predecessor, he accumulated, in the course of his reign, debts to the amount of no less than £3,398,061, and there can be little doubt that contemporary opinion was right in attributing a greater part of these, debts to his expenditure in Parliamentary or electoral corruption. Of all the portions of the empire, none was so impover- ished, distracted, and misgoverned as Ireland, but every attempt to improve its condition found in the King a bitter adversary. He opposed the relaxation of the atrocious laws by which Irish com- merce had been crushed, although his own Tory Ministers were in favour of it. He opposed Catholic emancipation—"

But here we may stop, as" the rest of Mr. Lecky's indictment goes beyond the contents of these volumes. Now, although Mr. Lecky says that the Tory party, which George III. drew from its depression, has naturally revered his memory, we venture to think there are few, or, rather, no Conservatives, of any the least pretensions to enlightenment who would not say that this indictment was, on the whole, fairly drawn. But when, in the body of his work, Mr. Lecky stigmatises George III.'s refusal to accept Chatham in 1778—the year in which that statesman died—as an act as criminal as any of those acts which led Charles L to the scaffold, it seems to us that he goes a great deal too far. Besides, he seems to speak as if—and we are surely within the mark in saying this—as if he ignored the fact that there are few competent historical critics indeed at the present day who do not hold, in spite of Milton's sesquipedalian Defensio and Carlyle's cynical rodomontade, that Talleyrand's stinging sarcasm is quite as applicable to the judicial murder of Charles I. as to the military murder of the Duke of Enghien.

A not inconsiderable part of Mr. Lecky's narrative has been brilliantly handled by Macaulay in his Essays, but comparison here would be unfair. The essayist is at liberty to pick out all the plums, so to speak, but the historian must use some suet. Whether Mr. Lecky's history may not, metaphorically, be charged with the opposite fault to that which Addison's " Retired Citi- zen" found with his pudding, is a question which, we have already hinted, we should be inclined to answer in the affirmative. At all events—though we may seem, perhaps, to be harping too much on the same string—we must complain of the undue length at which Mr. Lecky has described the kaleidoscopic changes of Ministry between the Ministry of Bate and the hour when, as Walpole wittily said, "the Crown devolved on the King of England by the death of Lord Rockingham." We might go farther, and say that the formation of the Shelburne Ministry, and of the still more interesting coalition Ministry, are told too much in detail. It is certainly, in view of Mr. Lecky's coming volumes, that we read, with a sigh of relief, the sentence with which this portion of his history practically ends—for we

regard the final chapters on Ireland as supplementary—" The old lines of party division were, for a time at least, submerged.

or effaced, and Pitt met the Parliament of 1789 at the head of a majority which made him the most powerful Minister ever known in the Parliamentary history of England," and left him, we need not add, when the eighteenth century closed, with the reins still in his hands.

We have said that the didactic halts are rarer in these volumes than in their predecessors. We referred, of course, to the little essays which, with questionable taste from an artistic point of view, Mr. Leaky is fond of inserting in his narrative. They are diffuse, lucid, and clever, and no reasonable man will feel much disposed to quarrel with the historian's sen- timents, as here expressed, on the " English Type of Monarchy," for instance, or on the "Good and Evil of Party," or on "The Objects of Representative Systems." But we have this to say of these essaylets. The electric-light sort of clearness in which Mr. Leaky seems to think it necessary to set a number of pro- positions the truth of which, for the most part, is apparent, seems to argue on his side some unnecessary distrust of an ordinary

reader's capacity. We resent such meticulous explanations, as a. healthy man with a set of sound teeth would resent having his beef or mutton minced for him. We yearn—very ungratefully, perhaps—for something a little more condensed and difficult, a.

little more Thucydidean, a little more likely, in fact, to set our dwn wits a-working, and so remain the longer in our memories.

It is fortunate for Mr. Lecky and his readers that so large a. portion of these volumes is filled with the American War. Here we find the historian at his best. His narrative is told with unwonted succinctness, and for its clearness and simplicity deserves to be compared with Xenophon's. We quote with pleasure from it the following remarks, which to us are original, and if they are found by others to be not so, will be admitted. by all to be suggestive :-

" The American people, though in general unbounded believers in progress, are accustomed, through a kind of curious modesty, to do. themselves a great injustice, by the extravagant manner in which they idealise their past. It has almost become a common-place that the great nation which in our own day has shown such an admirable combination of courage, devotion, and humanity in its gigantic Civil War, and which, since that time, has so signally falsified the predic- tions of its enemies, and put to shame all the nations of Europe by its unparalleled efforts in paying off its national debt, is of a far lower type than its ancestors at the time of the War of Independence. This belief appears to me essentially false. The nobility and beauty of the character of Washington can hardly, indeed, be surpassed- Several of the other leaders of the Revolution were men of ability and public spirit, and few armies have ever shown a nobler self- devotion than that which remained with Washington through the dreary winter at Valley Forge. But the army that bore those suffer- ings was a very small one, and the general aspect of the American people during the contest was far from heroic or sublime."

It is obvious that Mr. Lecky's eulogy of the present genera-

tion of Americans must be taken cum gran, but this. does not impair the truth of the comparison drawn between the present and the past. And as we read the fright..

ful pictures of violence and insubordination on the part • of the governed, and of imbecility and cruelty on the part of their rulers in England, during the latter half of the eighteenth century, it is clear that the present generation of Englishmen also may say, with strictest accuracy,

• rezxipoio pi); seaeimoyg iTycci.

It is true that there is one formidable exception to be made to- such a boast-the result, and the inevitable result, perhaps, of civilisation ripening or ripened to maturity—but this we say, as the pessimists which history has made us, and not without a dim, but unextinguished hope, that the future may, at some un- known date, cease to verify the lessons of the past.

Turning now to the character-portraits of the more or less dis- tinguished men, which Mr. Leaky has found himself called upon to draw, we can best express our opinion by a metaphorical illustration from the art of painting. There are certain his- torical characters—Cromwell, for one—of whom a historical student must be content to have two portraits hanging in the gallery of his memory. But the characters which Mr. Lecky has had to draw, his Burkes and Pitts, his Washingtons and Franklins, and the rest, are all such as men are now practically agreed about ; and a writer who should venture to draw a por- trait of any one of them, at variance with general opinion, would lay himself open to the charge of being an ignorant.

or wrong-headed caricaturist. A likeness, therefore, of his chief dramatis personae, Mr. Lecky could scarcely fail to draw, but mark the difference. A man with a genius for such things, a St. Simon, let ns say, will draw you a character-portrait, fit for its surpassing excellence, to be compared with a .portrait from the pencil of a Velasquez or a Titian. Mr. Lecky's character- portraits are comparable rather to enlarged photographs done in oils. There is the likeness, unmistakable, indeed, but smooth and tame. We have left ourselves no room to say more than a word about the chapters on Ireland, which we have ventured to call supplementary. Readers who consult them with a view to learn some lesson applicable to the present state of that island will, we fancy, be disappointed. We were ourselves, though eve scanned them eagerly and closely for that purpose. It is tolerably clear, too, that Mr. Lecky has fished up from the oblivion in which they might have profitably been allowed to rest a number of obscure and unimportant facts in connection with the political history of Ireland between 1758, and 1782. And here we must close this notice ; but, before we do so, we must offer what it is not a critic's wont to do, an apology to Mr. Lecky for what we have written.

We believe, then, that what we have said of his work is, in the main, fair enough. But when we consider the uniform excel- lence—if we do not fix the standard too high—of his style, and fix the standard as high as may be, the uniform fairness and liberality of his judgments, and his unimpeachable accuracy— for we, at least, have failed to discover a single misstatement in matters of fact—a feeling rather stronger than regret steals over us, at having spoken of his history in a tone so little enthusiastic. We hasten to make what amends we can, by insisting upon the fact that it gives not merely the best, but by far the best account that we have of the period which it embraces ; but we do not believe that Mr. Lecky has made the publica materics of that period privati juris. A second Macaulay would wrest the sceptre from his hands with ease. But with the present tendencies of English literature, it is hard to guess how long it will be before a second Macaulay takes the field. Many and many a long year will probably elapse before men must cease to apply to Mr. Lecky and his subject the celebrated words quoted by Bismarck from the Corpus Avis and not, as some do vainly think, from Horace,—Beati possi- d,entes. Meanwhile, it comes to this, Mr. Lecky's history —and we use the phrase in no invidious sense, but rather honoris causa—is a work of " golden mediocrity." Such a work a critic straitened for space can scarcely weigh in a hair-balance, without imparting an air of painful vacillation to his own criticism. If, therefore, we have unwittingly " ex- tenuated " the merits of these volumes, we are sorry for it ; we have certainly " set down naught in malice" concerning them, and we have felt that we should be paying a very worthless compliment to Mr. Lecky, if we spoke of his undeniably mdritorious history with more indulgence than it seemed to us, on the whole, to demand.