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ART. I.—The United Kingdom: a Political History.
By GOLDWIN SMITH, D.C.L. 2 vols. 8vo. London and New
York: Macmillan & Co., 1899. It may be confidently asserted that no one but a professor
of history could have written this book. There is a flavour of the lecture-room in every page, in nearly every sentence of it; and, as we read, we can commonly picture to ourselves the tone of the lecturer, the attitude of his hearers. Notwithstanding its title, it is not a history in the ordinary sense of the word, nor does it really make any pretension to being one; it is a commentary-and a very admirable commentary—on the text-books with which the lecturer's hearers were- as now the professor's readers are ex hypothesi, familiar. We do not go to it for facts, but for opinions ; it makes no parade of original research; it is admittedly based on the labours of others; but of these it is a digest and interpreter. It frequently happens in the works of his contemporaries that the structure is concealed, the design altogether hidden behind the scaffolding; here the scaffolding is removed, and the plan made manifest, not in its full proportions or its wealth of detail, but in such guise as to show. clearly what the building is, or, at any rate, what the author conceives it to be. In the interpretation of facts there is often room for difference of opinion. The light of incidents strikes the planes of imagination at different angles, and is differently reflected; or it strikes faulty spots, which give no reflection at all, and greatly alter the character of the image. It is thus that, in a work largely made up of opinions and interpretations, there must of necessity be a good deal which, to a careful reader, will seem doubtful, or even erroneous; but, whether we agree with what we read or not, the one thing that con
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tinually impresses us is the virility of the whole; we have here the opinions of a man-one who has been trained from youth upwards to read, and ponder well over what he reads, to form an opinion, and to give it vent, without updue favour, without undue reticence.
It would be a tedious, and indeed impossible, task even to attempt a full examination of the wealth of matter here offered to us; but some of the judgements, explanations, and character sketches are deserving of special notice; and, on the other hand, there are instances in which opinions of some importance are based on an inaccurate presentment of facts, and are worthy of being examined in detail. We do not stop to criticise the reference to the Heptarchy, though we had thought that no one now believed in such a thing; but when we find Alfred described as the model man of the * English race,' we feel bound to enter a protest. Something of the sort is not unfamiliar to us; but we expected better from Mr. Goldwin Smith than a repetition of it. For, in truth, Alfred was not English at all, he was Saxon; and in his day, as, indeed, for long years after it, the difference between Angle and Saxon was very real, and in the struggle against the Danes was very important. The country of the Angles was overrun, conquered, and assimilated by the later Danes without much difficulty. It was only when these invaded the territory of the Saxons that the strenuous opposition began; and when the country was partitioned by the treaty of Wedmore, the dividing line followed very closely that between Mercia and Wessex. Of course, we all know how strongly Professor Freeman used to insist on the fact that the people of Wessex at this time called themselves English; but the name which they borrowed did not make them leas Saxon, differing by race and language from the Angles, whom the Saxons often spoke of as Danes. Freeman's authoritative pronouncements have done much to obscure this point, which is, however, one of considerable interest, and indeed importance, as explaining much in our early history.
Mr. Smith rightly says of the country in 1066, “The north was but imperfectly welded to the south. Provincial feel
ing was strong; patriotism was not '--patriotism, that is, for England as a whole. But when he continues, “The
great earldoms had overtopped the Crown, and divided the ‘nation,' he is, we think, confusing the antecedent with the consequent. Again, he says, 'Edwin and Morcar were weak, selfish, false to the national cause,' ignoring the fact that
neither Edwin nor Morcar had any conception of a national cause such as he understands it. In their
power that was broken at Hastings was that of Wessex; to them, the cause of Wessex was not a national cause; nor did they conceive that it particularly concerned them whether William, or Harold or Edgar claimed to be overlord of the northern part of England. It is quite possible that, of the three, they judged William the one who, by reason of his interests in Normandy, would be least likely to interfere with them. It needed the welding hammer of the Norman to convince them to the contrary to teach them that Mercia and Northumbria and Wessex were but parts of one England. The non-recognition of this has led to many errors, as it has now led Mr. Smith to write :
Philosophic historians call the Norman Conquest a blessing in disguise. Disguised the blessing certainly was to those whose blood dyed the hill of Senlac, or whose lands were taken from them and given to a stranger. Disguised it was to the perishing thousands of the ravaged north. Disguised it was to the whole of the people, enslaved to foreign masters, and for the time down-trodden and despised. But was it in any sense a blessing? Why was England in need of the Norman ? Could not Harold, her own elected and heroic king, have ruled her as well as the stranger ? Could he not have united her, if it was union that she lacked, as well as William ?'
To this question the answer must be in the negative. The Angle would not willingly be subject to the Saxon. Harold was a capable, possibly a great, man; but we have no reason to suppose him greater or more capable than Cnut, or Edgar cum Dunstan, or Edward the Elder, or Alfred-or that he could have effected what had proved beyond the power of these. We are taught that 'sweet are the uses of adver'sity;' but they have other good qualities than sweetness, and the several tribes that made up the people of England were to learn some of them by hard and cruel experience. Mr. Smith sums up his view of the Norman conquest by describing it as forming the connexion with France which led to the Hundred Years' War, and as severing from England the Saxon lowlands of Scotland, and thus putting off the union of Britain. We do not dwell on the repeated confusion of calling the Scottish lowlanders Saxon, though they were and still are very pure Angle, nor of ignoring the centuries of hatred and war between Bernicia and Deira; but it is to this same confusion between Saxons and Angles and the countless subdivisions of Angles that we must attribute such sentences as
these. "England'-a mere geographical expression as used, with no political significance
* England had a polity, however rude or dilapidated. Normandy had no polity; it had only a feudal anarchy held down by an arbitrary duke. . . . England bad laws, while Normandy had none. .. Not by lack of worth was England lost; what was fatal was the lack of a leader in the hour of need;' although partly, as he admits, 'by lack of national unity • and military discipline.' It would be more correct to say
chiefly' than “partly;' and it was exactly this lack of unity which the Normans supplied—they welded the different people into one ; but the process was both long and painful :
· Tantæ molis erat Romanam condere gentem.' As to the question of the relative worth of the people, it would be difficult to decide. Each had some good quality which the others had not, and contributed it, in course of time, to the general stock; but any student of Darwin will understand that, in history as in nature, it is the fittestnot necessarily the best—which survives, and that a race, or two or three races, of disconnected, disunited geniuses, each striving against all others, must give place to a united people, acting under one head, even if their intellectual or physical forces are singly superior.
The accession of Stephen gives rise to some reflexions on the English law of succession to the crown which are of great interest, more especially as the real significance of that law is very commonly misunderstood. What Mr. Smith says of this particular instance, and of Henry's inducing the barons to take an oath of fidelity to the Empress Maud, is :
“No woman had yet reigned; no woman could perform the duties of a Norman king. Legitimacy and the idea of a proprietary right to the crown had been gaining on the principle of election ; but they had not yet got so far as this. The Lion might have known that oaths sworn in his dread presence to a female succession would be unsworn when he was gone. Accordingly, when a surfeit of lampreys had rather ingloriously sent the great king to a tomb the barons broke faith with the dead. Setting Matilda aside, they gave the crown to Stephen.'
But in many different passages he emphasises the fact that from the earliest ages the crown of the English people - English, in this instance, including Saxon-has been really elective, though within limits which did away with