Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

their own line of work. Nothing excited his indignation more than to hear Arnold disparaged by men who, as he expressed it, had by climbing upon Arnold's shoulders been enabled to see a little further than Arnold himself. The following passage, which occurs in a review that Free-. man wrote of Grote's History, may well be commended to the serious consideration of some of Freeman's most recent critics.

'If Mr. Grote, in the course of his great work, has now and then made a slip or given a judgement which cannot be maintained, we can only say with Sir Archibald Alison that such things will cease to be "when human nature is other than it is, but not till then." No man that ever wrote is surer and sounder than Bishop Thirlwall; but we have found inaccuracies even in him. Nay more, in one or two places we have found Mr. Grote himself in pieces of false construing which he makes the foundation of historical arguments. Yet it never came into our mind to write an impertinent pamphlet against either of them. Great men may err now and then; small men may now and then set them right; yet, after all, there is a certain decent respect owing from the small men to the great.'

It is the fashion with some of Freeman's critics to dwell much on what are called the 'limitations of his mind.' If the expression be used in reference to the study of history it is incorrect. In that branch of learning his range was exceptionally wide,

'With a profound and minute knowledge,' says Mr. Bryce, 'of English history down to the fourteenth century-so far as his strange aversion to the employment of manuscript authorities would allow-and a scarcely inferior knowledge of foreign European history during the same period; with a less full but very sound knowledge down to the middle of the sixteenth century, and with a thorough mastery of pretty nearly all ancient history, his familiarity with later European history and with the history of such outlying regions as India or the United States, was not much beyond that of the average well

educated man. He used to say when questioned on these matters that " he had not come down to that yet." But when he had occasion to refer to those periods or countries, he hardly ever made a mistake. If he did not know he did not refer: if he referred he had seized as if by instinct something which was really important and serviceable for his purpose. The same remark applies to Gibbon and Macaulay'.'

Outside the field of history his knowledge, tastes, and even his capacity were undoubtedly limited. Mental philosophy and political economy were subjects which he could not, or at any rate did not attempt to, understand, and no department of art had any interest for him with the single and signal exception of architecture 2. He did not care much for poetry except of the epic or ballad kind of Shakespeare he was almost wholly ignorant, and of novels he read comparatively few, save those of Sir Walter Scott, Anthony Trollope, and George Eliot. But if these 'limitations' were defects, his knowledge of those subjects which he loved was the more thorough, and his work in connexion with them was the stronger and fresher, because all his energies and interests were concentrated upon it. With many periods of history he was so intimately familiar, that he talked and wrote about the events and men of those times with the same ease and keenness of interest with which others discuss the public characters of their own day, or the incidents chronicled in the daily newspaper 3. His work was so

1 Historical Review, July, 1892.

He was not quite insensible to the charms of musical sounds. In one of his letters, he says, 'I don't know an octave from an andante: but I am very fond, in an outsider's way, both of chanting and of a brass band; though I am not sure that the fall of the waves on a shingly shore does not beat either.'

3 He sometimes amused himself and his friends by describing an historical event in Latin rimes of a mediaeval character. The following

entirely delightful to him that he never grew weary of it, and never felt the need of a holiday, as most men do in the sense of complete rest. All his tours were really parts of his work, being always undertaken in pursuit of some historical or architectural inquiry, and travelling without any direct purpose of this kind would have been to him intolerably irksome. The reader will have perceived from his letters how fond he was of the lower animals, and how keenly he observed their nature and habits; and he was interested in the natural sciences so far as they threw side-lights upon historical questions.

His complete mastery of subjects which lay within his own special range of learning, and the habitual clearness and exactness of his mind, enabled him to turn with extraordinary ease and rapidity from one kind of literary work to another; so that in the course of the same day he would write on three or four different subjects, or even more, which had to be variously treated according to the scale and character of the publication for which they were intended-a big book or a small one, a review or an article for a quarterly, monthly, or weekly journal, or a letter for a newspaper. The materials for these several tasks were laid out upon different tables, sometimes in different rooms, and he would work at each in turn for a certain length of time proportioned to its importance.

lines vividly depict the celebrated scene of the Emperor Henry IV doing penance in the snow outside the castle of Canossa:

'Sedet cum pontifice comitissa dives,
Dum rex in camisiâ plorat inter nives.
Vult, dum flamma crepitat, mulier benigna
Quod peccator poenitens veniat ad ligna.
Pontifex clementiae nullum dabit locum,
Putans id quod mulier dicit esse jocum:
Est in mundo melius inter nives stare,
Quam per longa saecula flammas tolerare.'

A time-table of his work was drawn up every day, and if he exceeded the portion allotted to any one subject, defrauding others of their due, he redressed the balance on another day. Thus when he had his larger and his smaller history of Sicily upon his hands, some such memorandum as the following might frequently be noticed in his time-table: 'Big Sicily owes little Sicily threequarters of an hour;' or vice versa. In this readiness for turning from one form of work to another, Freeman was the exact opposite of Macaulay, who refused for some time to write any articles for the Edinburgh, because, as he said in a letter to the Editor,

'I find it absolutely necessary to concentrate my attention on my historical work. You cannot conceive how difficult I find it to do two things at a time. Men are differently made. Southey used to work regularly two hours a day on the History of Brazil: then an hour for the Quarterly Review: then an hour on the Life of Wesley: then two hours on the Peninsular War: then an hour on the Book of the Church. I cannot do so. I get into the stream of my narrative, and am going along as smoothly and quickly as possible. Then comes the necessity of writing for the Review. I lay my history aside: and when after some weeks I resume it, I have the greatest difficulty in recovering the interrupted train of thought'.'

Freeman's letters, like his other writings, were composed piecemeal. His tables, and sometimes the floor, were strewn with unfinished letters which he carried on at intervals, sometimes breaking off in the middle of a sentence, especially if he had reached the bottom of a page, and going on with it again another day: the point of resumption being always indicated by the date. He wrote with rapidity and perfect naturalness, just as he

Quoted in English Men of Letters,' Macaulay, by J. C. Morison,

P. 128.

talked, about all matters which happened to be uppermost in his mind. It is in his letters that the affectionateness and playful humour of his disposition are most apparent, and they are characterized by so much. simplicity, freshness, and unworldliness, combined with great acuteness of mind, that they sometimes read almost like the productions of a very clever child 1.

The number of hours which he spent in reading and writing is carefully noted each day in his journal. Eleven is the maximum number recorded; but the average seems to have been about 7. In his most vigorous days he used to begin work, in the summer, about 6 a.m., breakfasted at 8 or 8.30, and after a short walk in the garden worked on to the dinner hour, which for many years varied from 2 to 4 according to the length of the days. After dinner he went out for a walk or ride, and wrote letters after his return till supper time, and then worked again from 10 or 11 to 12. In winter, dinner was commonly at 1.30, but at Oxford, and for some years before, he conformed to the practice of late dinner, and as his health became uncertain his hours of work were necessarily less regular.

He had an insuperable repugnance to reading or writing in a public library. I have never tried,' he

1 When his correspondence had become cosmopolitan he sometimes received letters which were very oddly addressed. The following is one of the strangest specimens:

'Au très honorable Professeur,
Edward A. Freeman,

Ex-fellow du Collége de la Trinité,
Membre de l'Université d'Oxford,
Oxford University Press Warehouse,
7 Paternoster Row,
Clarendon Press,
Angleterre.'

« ForrigeFortsett »