Page:History of Freedom.djvu/20

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xiv
ESSAYS ON LIBERTY

He had now given up all attempt to contend against the dominant influence of the Court of Rome, though feeling that loyalty to the Church of his Baptism, as a living body, was independent of the disastrous policy of its hierarchy. During this time he was occupied with the great unrealised project of the history of liberty or in movements of English politics and in the usual avocations of a student. In the earlier part of this period are to be placed some of the best things that Acton ever wrote, such as the lectures on Liberty, here republished. It is characterised by his discovery in the "eighties" that Döllinger and he were divided on the question of the severity of condemnation to be passed on persecutors and their approvers. Acton found to his dismay that Döllinger (like Creighton) was willing to accept pleas in arrest of judgment or at least mitigation of sentence, which the layman's sterner code repudiated. Finding that he had misunderstood his master, Acton was for a time profoundly discouraged, declared himself isolated, and surrendered the outlook of literary work as vain. He found, in fact, that in ecclesiastical as in general politics he was alone, however much he might sympathise with others up to a certain point. On the other hand, these years witnessed a gradual mellowing of his judgment in regard to the prospects of the Church, and its capacity to absorb and interpret in a harmless sense the dogma against whose promulgation he had fought so eagerly. It might also be correct to say that the English element in Acton came out most strongly in this period, closing as it did with the Cambridge Professorship, and including the development of the friendship between himself and Mr. Gladstone.

We have spoken both of the English element in Acton and of his European importance. This is the only way in which it is possible to present or understand