Page:Historical Lectures and Addresses.djvu/292

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incidents. There is no brilliant biography of Oliver Cromwell, for instance, by a contemporary. We have to piece together materials for the characters of Henry VIII., Elizabeth, Mary Queen of Scots and Charles I. No one at the time attempted to grasp them. The dramatic moments of their careers were only dimly and imperfectly felt. Let me illustrate what I meant when I said that it was impossible for later writers to create deeper impressions than were present in the minds of contemporaries. Two situations occur to me as surpassing all others in English history in vividness and dramatic effect; they are the murder of St. Thomas of Canterbury and the death of Wolsey. This is entirely due to the fact that they profoundly moved men's minds at the time, and are recorded in language which is full of the emotion so engendered. Both were regarded as great and significant catastrophes, important in themselves and in their results. The death of Wolsey is a remarkable instance. In outward circumstance it is inferior to the execution of More or the burning of Cranmer. Yet it remains more picturesque. We feel that More and Cranmer fell in a way like soldiers on the field of battle. They shared the fortunes of their cause, and our interest lies in discovering the exact point on which they took their intellectual stand, and laid down their lives rather than take a step further. But Wolsey is a type of human fortunes, of the inherent limitations of man's endeavours, of the sudden reversal of high hopes, of the restless chafing of an imprisoned spirit, and its final despair. This position arises from the literary skill of his biographer, Cavendish, reflecting