A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Acton, John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Lord

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A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John William Cousin
Acton, John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Lord

Acton, John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Lord (1834-1902).—Historian, s. of Sir Richard A., and grandson of Sir John A., who was Prime Minister of Naples, was b. at Naples. He belonged to an ancient Roman Catholic family, and was ed. first at Oscott near Birmingham under Dr. (afterwards Card.) Wiseman. Thence he went to Edinburgh, where he studied privately, and afterwards to Munich, where he resided in the house of Dr. Dollinger, the great scholar and subsequent leader of the Old Catholic party, by whom he was profoundly influenced. While at Edinburgh he endeavoured to procure admission to Cambridge, but without success, his religion being at that time a bar. He early devoted himself to the study of history, and is said to have been on terms of intimacy with every contemporary historian of distinction, with the exception of Guizot. He sat in the House of Commons 1859-65, but made no great mark, and in 1869 was raised to the peerage as Lord Acton of Aldenham. For a time he edited The Rambler, a Roman Catholic periodical, which afterwards became the Home and Foreign Review, and which, under his care, became one of the most learned publications of the day. The liberal character of A.'s views, however, led to its stoppage in deference to the authorities of the Church. He, however, maintained a lifelong opposition to the Ultramontane party in the Church, and in 1874 controverted their position in four letters to The Times which were described as the most crushing argument against them which ever appeared in so condensed a form. A.'s contributions to literature were few, and, in comparison with his extraordinary learning, comparatively unimportant. He wrote upon Cardinal Wolsey (1877) and German Schools of History (1886). He was extremely modest, and the loftiness of his ideals of accuracy and completeness of treatment led him to shrink from tasks which men of far slighter equipment might have carried out with success. His learning and his position as a universally acknowledged master in his subject were recognised by his appointment in 1895 as Professor of Modern History at Cambridge. Perhaps his most valuable services to historical literature were his laying down the lines of the great Cambridge Modern History, and his collection of a library of 60,000 vols., which after his death was purchased by an American millionaire and presented to Lord Morley of Blackburn, who placed it in the University of Cambridge.