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No one who has studied Mr. Freeman's writings, or who has followed the story of his life, more especially in his correspondence, can fail to perceive that his merits as an historian depended upon certain moral qualities almost as much as upon his intellectual gifts. Devotion to truth, which counts no pains too great to ascertain it, courage in speaking it at all hazards, a deep sense of duty, and that power of appreciating whatever is truly noble in human character and action, which comes from keeping a high moral standard steadily in view-these qualities, which were most conspicuous in him, are indeed essential elements in the character of a really great historian. In one of the lectures of the late Dean Church upon the influence of Christianity on national character, he sums up the virtues that in his judgement were specially distinctive of Teutonic races, and arranges them in groups. In the first two groups he places the virtues connected with Truth and the virtues of Manliness; and these he describes in the following remarkable and beautiful passage.
'I mean by the virtues connected with Truth, not only the search after what is true, and the speaking of what is known or believed to be true, but the regard generally for what is real, substantial, genuine, solid, which is shown in some portions of the race by a distrust, sometimes extreme, of theories, of intellectual subtleties: ... the taste for plainness and simplicity
of life and manners and speech: the strong sense of justice, large, unflinching, consistent; the power and will to be fair to a strong opponent:-the impatience of affectation and pretence; not merely the disgust or amusement, but the deep moral indignation at shams and imposture:-the dislike of over-statement and exaggeration; the fear of professing too much; the shame and horror of seeming to act a part; the sacrifice of form to substance; the expectation and demand that a man should say what he really means-say it well, forcibly, elegantly if he can, but anyhow, rather say it clumsily and awkwardly than say anything but what he means, or sacrifice his real thought to his rhetoric. I mean, too, that unforced and honest modesty both of intellect and conduct which comes naturally to any man who takes a true measure of himself and his doings. Under the virtues of Manliness I mean those that belong to a serious estimate of the uses, the capacities, the call of human life; the duty of hard work; the value and jealousy for true liberty; independence of soul, deep sense of responsibility, and strength not to shrink from it, steadiness, endurance, perseverance; the power of sustaining cheerfully disappointment and defeat; the temper not to make much of trifles, whether vexations or pleasures. I include that great self-commanding power, to which we give the name of moral courage, which makes a man who knows and measures all that his decision involves not afraid to be alone against numbers; not afraid, when he knows that he is right, of the consciousness of the disapprobation of his fellows, of the face, the voice, the frown, the laugh, of those against him; moral courage, by which a man holds his own judgement, if reason and conscience bid him, against his own friends, against his own side, and of which, perhaps, the highest form is that by which he is able to resist, not the sneers and opposition of the bad, but the opinion and authority of the good.'
There is hardly a sentence in this passage which is not more or less applicable to Freeman, and the greater part of it might stand without alteration for a description of the moral side of his character. He might be regarded indeed
as a representative specimen of the Teutonic type. He was essentially Teutonic in his whole personality, physical, as well as moral and mental; in his square, sturdy frame, his ruddy hair, his fair complexion, his plain and simple habits of life, no less than in his love of truth, and straightforwardness in deed and word. For the pure Celt he entertained a kind of natural antipathy, mingled with something like contempt, which often manifested itself in odd and amusing ways, suggestive of Dr. Johnson's attitude towards the Scotch.
His intense dislike of unreality and pretence extended even to theatrical performances, and he could sympathize with the saying of good old Mrs. Blower in St. Ronan's Well, in my mind, Dr. Cacklehen, it's a mere blasphemy for folk to gar themselves look otherwise than their Maker made them.' The occasional roughness and rudeness also of his manner, although sometimes the effect of shyness and mere awkwardness in the presence of strangers, was in the main due to that abhorrence of seeming to be what he was not, which made it impossible for him to acquiesce in conventional insincerities. For the same reason he was unable to write or speak politely of any one who pretended to more knowledge than he really had, or who enjoyed a reputation for learning which was undeserved. Nay more, he considered it to be a positive duty to expose such persons. In doing this he was no doubt often too indifferent to their feelings, and employed language of unwarrantable severity which provoked angry retaliation, and really weakened the effect of his criticism, by diverting public sympathy from himself to the object of his attack. But it was quite a mistake to suppose, as many did, that his fierce utterances were the outcome of illtemper or of personal animosity. He entertained no
ill-will whatever towards literary or political opponents. Referring in one of his letters to his criticisms of Froude, which some thought were the products of bad temper, he says, In truth there is no kind of temper in the case, but only a strong sense of amusement in bowling down one thing after another.' His onslaughts upon shallow and inaccurate writers were made in the interests of truth, by one who loved truth above all things, and was indignant with men who presumed to write about what they did not understand, or who concealed the faultiness and untruthfulness of their matter beneath the gilding of a brilliant style that earned them unmerited popularity and fame. It was better to be inaccurate and dull, than to be inaccurate and attractive.
Some persevering attempts have been made since Freeman's death to discredit his reputation for accuracy by pointing out blunders in his History of the Norman Conquest. It is not part of my business as a biographer, nor would it be possible within the limits of this work, to enter at length into the controversy which these attacks have excited. Freeman's defenders have proved themselves, to say the least, quite as able and learned as his assailant. But having read with great care all the letters and articles which have appeared upon the subject, I may be permitted to say that while the critic has certainly made good some of his points, I think he has notably failed in others, more especially in his contention that the English in the battle of Hastings or Senlac defended their position on the hill by the shield-wall only, without a palisade. The critic has certainly been convicted of misunderstanding and mistranslating a crucial passage with reference to this question in the Roman de Rou, and in the compass of an article of forty pages he himself has
made slips almost as numerous as those which he has detected in a whole volume of Freeman's History. Of the historian, as of the military general, it may be truly said that the greatest is he who makes the fewest mistakes. All make some: but a careful distinction must be drawn between writers who are habitually accurate, and others who, either from some mental defect or from carelessness, are habitually inaccurate. Blunders or questionable statements may be discovered in Gibbon, in Hallam, in Thirlwall, in Arnold, and, occasionally, even in Bishop Stubbs, yet no one would hesitate to pronounce all these historians to be eminently trustworthy, and some of them exceptionally accurate. They stand in a totally different class from writers whose statements must always be received with caution and doubt until their truth has been tested. And certainly a much larger number of errors than have yet been detected in Freeman's writings would not disqualify him from taking a high rank in the class of accurate historians. Alike from habit of mind and from conscientious care, he was essentially an exact man. His correspondence abundantly proves what infinite pains he took to ascertain facts, and to correct his own mistakes in later editions of his writings; and how grateful he was to his friends for pointing out any errors which had escaped his notice. What he naturally resented were criticisms made in an offensive and presumptuous tone of superiority by younger men who owed much of their learning to his own past labours and methods of study. For he himself, severe and sometimes harsh critic as he was, always spoke and wrote with the greatest respect of men from whom he had learned much in his youth, and whom, after allowing for all defects, and for the advances in knowledge made since their time, he considered to be masters in