16 OCTOBER 1880, Page 15


McCARTHY'S HISTORY OF OUR OWN TIMES:* Ws have so recently stated our opinion of Mr. McCarthy's historical powers, that there is no need for us to repeat it here. His new volumes have the same merits as their predecessors, and the same faults. That the merits far outweigh the faults is admitted on all sides, but we are unable to agree with a not usually gushing contemporary in saying that " criticism is disarmed before such a work " as this. Mr. McCarthy is a brilliant historical improvisatore. He is not a great historian. His sparkling book is popular now, and will remain popular for some time. But whether its popularity will prove less ephe- meral than that of Essays and Reviews, for instance, is quite another question; and it seems to us that this History of Our Own Times is "the rhetorical triumph of an hoar "—to borrow Mr. Jebb's translation of Thucydides' famous phrase—rather than " a possession for ever."

Be this as it may, there are one or two small criticisms which we have to make on certain points in these volumes, and one or two passages which we feel bound to quote from them, not only to stimulate such of our readers as have not read the former volumes to go and do so, but also because it is a critic's duty as well as pleasure to make these and similar quotations, when he is lucky enough to have them thrown in his way. Perhaps, as was only natural, there is a slightly stronger Irish flavour in these volumes than there was in their predecessors. Even when the author is treating of Afghanistan and Jamaica, or the Ionian Islands, it is easy to read between the lines, and see that he is thinking of Ireland. No apology is needed for this, but when we turn, as we naturally do, with some eagerness to the Member for Longford's account of Home-rule, we con-

• A History of Ow Osts Times. By Justin McCarthy, M.P. Vols. ILL and IV. London: Ghetto and Windom. MO.

fess that we are slightly disappointed. He says that the Home-rule agitation, in its first organised form, came mainly from the inspiration of Irish Protestants, whom the Disestablishment of the Church had filled with hatred of Gladstone and distrust of the Imperial Parliament ; that the desire for a native Parliament had always lived among large classes of the Irish people ; that many patient and moderate Irishmen saw with distinctness that the feeling of discontent among the Irish was not to be charmed away oven by such measures as the Disestablishment; and that these patient and moderate men became convinced that there were only two alternatives before England,—to give back some form of national Parliament, or to go on putting down rebellion after rebellion, and dealing with Ireland as Russia had dealt with Poland. Mr. McCarthy dwells with some emphasis upon the conscientious nature of the convictions of those Irishmen of moderate views, but says that for obvious reasons he is not in- clined to discuss the merits of the Home-rule demand. Now, this, we repeat, is disappointing. There is nothing which patient and moderate Englishmen would like better than a deliberate and outspoken exposition of the Home-rule demand, from a moderate and patient Irishman of Mr. McCarthy's calibre. We do not admit the cogency of the "obvious reasons" which move hint to shirk discussing this question, and we must remind him that, whatever may be the result of Ireland's claim for some form of national Parliament, it is a mischievous and silly anachronism to talk, at this time of day, of England's treating Ireland as Russia treated Poland.

Our small criticisms are these. We are no sticklers for buck- ram and pedantry in any department of literature, and for the old-fashioned so-called " dignity of history," we have very scant sympathy indeed. But there are phrases and allusions which, although quite in their place in a newspaper leader or magazine article, are not admissible in a composition of such (just) pre- tensions as this History. Some of these, and all that we shall notice, are due to the author's knowledge of Dickens, which is as extensive and peculiar as Mr. Weller's was of London. There is surely nothing very telling, and there is something very un- dignified, in the quotation from Martin Chuzzlewit used to illus- trate Mr. Disraeli's claim for merit in having caused the extra- ordinary Plimsoll scene in the House of Commons :—"Even if one does call them names," said Mrs. Gamp, vindicating her treatment of her patients, " it's only done to rouse them." And in his description of the defence of Cawnpore, Mr. McCarthy writes :—" The little garrison, thinning in numbers every day and almost every hour, held out with splendid obstinacy, and always sent those who assailed it scampering back,—except, of course, such as perforce kept their ground by the persuasion of the English bullets." The curious word which we have italicised appears to us to be a comic, if unconscious, echo or reminiscence of a line in the famous song at the coachmen's dinner:-

" Bat Dick put a couple of balls in his nob,

And pet-waited on him to stop."

Again—but this, of course, is a matter of opinion—we cannot help thinking that Mr. McCarthy goes much too far when he says of Palmerston that " he saw nothing and foresaw nothing." No doubt, Palmerston on more than one occasion sailed dangerously near the wind; but after all, the test of policy is success, and Palmerston was always successful. Nothing has surprised us more than the fact that Kinglake fails to see, or at all events to notice, how certain it is that the Crimean war would not have occurred if Palmerston had been at the Foreign Office. And this leads us to remark that Kinglake's sketch of "the lustiest man of his time" is much more graphic than Mr. McCarthy's ; though we should have abstained from this com- parison, if the latter had not stigmatised the former's history as a historical romance. We cannot accept this criticism at all. Men will always differ about the validity of Kinglake's inferences, but of his honesty in stating what he believed to be facts there can scarcely be two opinions. As a salient proof of this, we may allege that an attentive reader can scarcely fail to draw from his book the conclusion that Lord Raglan was an incompetent commander. Yet this is the exact contrary of the proposition which it was Kinglake's main object to establish. But illogical inferences are not of the essence of historical romance. That would rather seem to lie in mendacity, careless or advised ; and, so far as the Crimean war is concerned, the reader who cares to do so will find a good specimen of this kind

of literature in the history of that war by the French Acade- mician, M. Roussel. •

With regard to the quotations, our only difficulty is rem- barras des richesses. These volumes contain a perfect galaxy of brilliant passages. We should like to quote the incisive, but not ill-natured, sketch of the present Earl of Derby and his father ; the caustic description of Lord Cranbrook's oratory ; the sensible remarks on recent developments of paternal government ; the pathetic and almost poetic picture of the feelings which kept the Irish peasant through centuries of per- secution devotedly faithful to the Catholic Church ; the last appearance of Robert Owen in public; the clear and deeply- interesting account of Ribbonism ; the chivalrous defence of Mr. Gladstone's sudden dissolution in 1874; the origin of the Jingoes ; the able analysis of George Eliot's genius. We have selected, with some hesitation, the following amusing sketch of the latest outcome of a remarkable movement in art

and literature :—

" No impartial person can deny that Mr. Ruskin and the pre- Raphaelites did great good, and that much of their influence and example was decidedly healthy. But pre-Raphaelitism became a very different thing in later years, when it professed to invade all arts, and to establish itself in all the decorative business of life, from the ornamentation of a cathedral to the fringe of a dress. Lately it has become a mere affectation, an artistic whim. It has got mixed up with asstheticism, neo-paganism, and other such fancies. The typical pre-Raphaelite is, however, a figure not unworthy of description. The typical pre-Raphaelite of the school's later development believed Mr. Dante Rossetti and Mr. Burns Jones to be the greatest artists of the ancient or modern world. If any spoke to him of contemporary English poetry, ho assumed that there was only question of Mr. Rossetti, Mr. Swinburne, or Mr. Morris. In modern French literature he admired Victor Hugo, Bandelaire, and one or two others newer to song, and of whom the outer world had as yet heard nothing. Among the writers of older France, be was chiefly concerned about Francois Villon. He was an enthusiastic admirer of the paintings of the late Henri Regnault. Probably he spoke of France as our France.' He was angry with the Germans for having vexed our France. He professed faith in the philosophy of Schopenhauer, and the music of Wagner, and he was greatly touched by Chopin. He gave himself out as familiar with the Greek poets, and was wild in his admiration of Sappho. He made for himself a sort of religion out of wall-paper, old tea-pots, and fans. He thought to order, and yet above all things piqued himself upon his originality. He and his comrades received their opinions as Charlemagne's converts did their Christianity, in platoons. He became quite a distinct figure in the literary history of our time, and he positively called into existence a whole school of satirists in fiction, verse, and drawing, to make fun of his follies, whimsicalities, and affectations."

To this we shall add the following extract, still more amusing, perhaps, but in a different and rather higher style:-

" Sir William Harcourt was oven then (1874) a distinctly rising man. He was an effective and somewhat overbearing speaker, with a special aptitude for the kind of elementary argument and knock-down person. alities which the House of Commons can never fail to understand. The House liked to listen to him. He had a loud voice, and never gave his hearers the trouble of having to strain their ears or their atten- tion to follow him. His quotations had no distracting novelty about them, but fell on the ear with a familiar and friendly sound. His jokes were unmistakable in their meaning; his whole style was good, strong black and white. He could get up a case admirably. He astonished the House, and must probably even have astonished him- self, by the vast amount of ecclesiastical knowledge, which with only the preparation of a day or two he was able to bring to bear upon the most abstruse or perplexed questions of Church government. He had the advantage of being sure of everything. He poured out his eloquence and his learning on the most difficult ecclesiastical ques- tions with the resolute assurance of one who had given a life to the study. Perhaps, we ought rather to say that he showed the resolute assurance which only belongs to one who has not given much of his life to the study of the subject. Probably, when Sir William Har- court had forgotten all that he had read up a little time before, con- cerning Church history, and turned back to his remarkable speeches on the Public Worship Bill, he was as much amused as Arthur Pen- dennis looking over one of his old reviews, and wondering where on earth he contrived to get tho erudition of which be had made such a display."

Of Lord Lytton Mr. McCarthy speaks with smartness :—

" Mr. Disraeli gave the country another little surprise. He ap- pointed Lord Lytton Viceroy of India. Lord Lytton had been pre- viously known chiefly as the writer of pretty and sensuous verse [there would seem to be some error here, for we know on the best authority that poetry should be "simple, sensuous, and passionate "], and the author of one or two feeble and showy novels. In literary capacity he was at least as much inferior to his father as his father was to 'Scott or Goethe. All that was known of him besides was that he had held several small diplomatic posts without either distinction -or discredit."

Of the Prince Imperial's misguided venture he speaks with just severity :-

" Princes in exile have many times borne arms in quarrels not their own. It is one of the privileges and one of the consolations of exile thus to be enabled to lend a helping hand to a foreign cause. But then the cause must be great and just ; it must have-some noble principle to inspire it. But the Zulu war was not in any sense a war- of principle. When Prince Louis Napoleon, therefore, thrust himself into this quarrel, he withdrew himself from any just claim to general sympathy. Regret for the sudden extinction of a young life of promise was but natural, and this regret was freely given ; but the verdict of the public remained unaltered. He had thrown away his life use- lessly, in a quarrel which brought no honour, and for a motive which was not unselfish, and was not exalted."

But we must here close our quotations. If we have praised, or seemed to praise, the last two volumes of this history more faintly than the first two, most certainly it is not because they are less praiseworthy. But, so far as laudatory criticism is con- cerned, Mr. McCarthy is now, in one respect, as Johnson was, when he wrote his immortal letter to Lord Chesterfield,—he is.

known, and does not need it."