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\ omitted his preface, greatly expanded the concluding portions of his book, and added a dedication to Lord Grey.
The book, in the shape which it thus assumed, became much less the book of a constitutional historian than of a constitutional statesman. Instead of being an analysis of the principles of the constitution, it was an inquiry into the manner in which the abuses which had crept into it could be amended. It was a political confession of faith; made, as it turned out, by the man who, beyond all others, was to shape the creed of the Whig party. As such, it was not merely a constitutional disquisition on the history of the past; it had an important bearing on the history of the future; and the work derives its chief importance, not from what the author was, but from what the author became.
Most good judges assert that the book was the ablest of its author’s numerous productions. It is doubtful, however, whether the palm of merit ought not to be given to a longer work—the ‘Memoirs of theAfi'airs of Europe.’ The little that is to be said on this book may be said in connection with the ‘Life of William, Lord Russell,’ with the ‘Discourse on the Turks,’ and with the ‘ Essay on the French Revolution.’
Three of these four works are essentially historical in their character. The fourth professes to be a biography, but it really partakes much more of the nature of a history. ‘The Life of William, Lord Russell,’ might, indeed, be appropriately called "The History of the Reign of Charles II. with some remarks on the Trial of Lord Russell.’ This book, therefore, really falls under the same category as the others, and Lord John’s qualifications as an historian may be considered with reference to them all.
It is remarkable that his own idea of writing history was altered apparently in the ten or twelve years which elapsed between the publication of ‘. The Life of Lord Russell’ and that of ‘The Causes of the French Revolution.’ In the former book the reader misses the personal interest which is inseparable from all good biography. He feels that he is studying the time, and not that he is forming acquaint
ance with the man. But in the latter book he is tempted to make an exactly opposite criticism. He finds himself perpetually acquiring a knowledge of the details—the occasionally unsavoury details—of the lives of such men as Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, and others; and as constantly asking whether these references have any proper place in a philosophical historical treatise. Thus in the reign of Charles II. he is tempted to conclude that he is getting too much history and too little biography; while in the eighteenth century he is inclined to complain that he is getting too much biography and too little history.
The second criticism which may be applied to Lord John’s historical writings is really due to the times in which he wrote. In the beginning of this century an historian was not expected to have the same familiarity with original authorities which he is required to possess now. In one of his early essays Lord John himself called Hume ‘the most profound of modern historians.’ 1 The epithet at once proves that Lord John had formed no conception of the qualifications which historians would in future be required to possess. Hume was one of the most profound thinkers of his generation; but he has no claim to be regarded as a profound historian.
This misconception may be traced in all Lord John’s historical writings. His reading was wide; his authorities were famous; but the occasions are only few when he travels beyond the ordinary books, or out of the beaten path, for his information. This circumstance is, indeed, hardly true of the ‘Life of Lord Russell.’ In preparing that work, Lord John relied on the then unpublished letters of Rachel, Lady Russell ; and, in the later edition, he had the advantage of reading the despatches of Barillon, to which the French Government had previously refused him access.2 But the ‘Memoirs of the Affairs of Europe’ is composed on a much more slender basis; and perhaps few historical works of great importance and ability have been constructed on narrower foundations.
1 Ermyr. Life and Chararter, p. 63. 2 For the refusal, Preface, xviii.-xxii. of Moore's Memoirs, iii. 6.
For, notwithstanding the defects which have been mentioned, the ‘Memoirs of the Affairs of Europe’ is both able and important. The account, with which the first volume commences, of the state of France at the conclusion of the reign of Louis XIV., is the most adequate in the English language. The description, with which the second volume closes, of the religious movement in England during the eighteenth century, is perhaps tinged with the author’s bias, but it is full, clear, and comprehensive. The opening chapters of the ‘ Essay on the French Revolution,’ which was originally intended as part of the third volume, are equally satisfactory 3 the ‘Historical Discourse on the Turks in Europe’ is short and pregnant; and all these works may be read with interest and advantage in the present day.
The opinions of the author are visible throughout his books. No one can doubt, as he reads, that he is occupied with the work ofa man who is by conviction the firm friend of civil and religious liberty. The books are the books of a Whig, intended—so his critics constantly alleged—to propagate Whig doctrines. Ever)I book written by a man who thinks and believes is in one sense open to a similiar charge. Yet, if Lord John’s works are thus far Whig books, they are singularly free from either prejudice or passion; and, if they labour to convince, they carry conviction from the moderation of their language, and not from the vigour of their expressions.
Something perhaps ought to be added respecting Lord John Russell’s style. His diction is always simple, pure, and unaffected His style, clear at the beginning, improved with practice, and some of his sentences sparkle with point and antithesis which would have done credit to Gibbon.
Yet, when all this has been said, it cannot be added that Lord John achieved any marked success as an historian. His earlier works, indeed, ran through several editions. The ‘ Life of Lord Russell’ gained for the author a profit of at least £200; and the first volume of the ‘ History ’ was subsequently reproduced in two volumes, post octavo. But, if an inference may be drawn from the publishers’account, this edition had only a nominal sale, while only 500 copies of the second quarto volume were printed, and more than half of these were unsold six months after their publication. It is a proverb among publishers that continuations sell badly. Yet any one .who has read the book, and who recollects that at the time of its publication its author was already known as a statesman of promise, will be surprised at the result. Disappointment alone might have induced the author to abandon the work if political avocations into which he was to be immediately drawn had not, thenceforward for several years, occupied all his time, and left him without leisure for literary pursuits.
If, however, his books failed to obtain the large circulation which authors naturally desire for their works, and if the most important of them had in consequence less influence than it deserved, their composition had one effect which must not be lost sight of. The man who gained most from Lord John’s literary pursuits was Lord John himself. They made him, on the threshold of his career as a Minister, the most accomplished politician of his time. In the character of his knowledge, indeed, he formed a striking contrast to the statesman who, thenceforward, was to be his formidable adversary. Sir Robert Peel was a far better scholar than Lord John, and a much better economist. Lord John’s knowledge of the classics, it has already been stated, was not exact, and his economical views were not always sound. But he had a much more intimate acquaintance with the history of his own country and of surrounding nations than Sir Robert Peel could claim. In the debates on organic questions which were immediately to arise this circumstance was to stand him in good stead. For it was his mission to reform both Church and State, and it was his good fortune, in doing so, to be able to show that he had a better knowledge of the principles on which the Constitution had been founded than any of the Tories who criticised his measures.
His works, at the time they were published, won him much credit among his own friends. Lady Spencer, Lord Althorp’s mother, wrote to him in 1819 :—
As I read your book [the life of Lord Russell] I return grateful and cordial thanks to God that He has bestowed on its author every qualification so peculiarly called for by our country just now -venerable rank, joined to the strictest virtue, brightest talents, and highest principle. These, united so happily in you, my dear Lord John, make you indeed an object on which it is pleasant to dwell, and as I read your beautiful and striking sentiments I know not which I most do, admire you as a public man, or love you as a private one.
Lord John was not a favourite among reviewers ; and, when he became famous, his early productions were criticised with great bitterness in many periodicals. The early reviews on his works apparently suggested to him a poem, written evidently in the first half of the twenties, some sentences of which are worth transcribing.
Horace was wont in ancient times to scold,
N 0 classic but the classic of the week,
Devour a novel reeking from the press,
And hate old authors like old-fashioned dress.
What can I read? pray is there nothing new?
To tales of Fergus fierce and Burley stern,
And watch with dread old Elspeth’s latter day ;
But for the Pirate half way gone in crime,
And Nigel winning sixpence at a time,
Who can be moved? Nor, though the book may sell,