Page:History of Freedom.djvu/23

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xvii
INTRODUCTION

ecclesiastical and civil. He was no "light half-believer of a casual creed," but had a sense of reality more like Dante than many moderns.

This, perhaps, it was that drew him ever closer to Mr. Gladstone, while it made the House of Commons and the daily doings of politicians uncongenial. There is no doubt that he had learned too well "the secret of intellectual detachment." Early in his life his shrewd and kindly stepfather had pointed out to him the danger of losing influence by a too unrestrained desire to escape worshipping the idols of the market-place. There are, it is true, not wanting signs that his view of the true relations of States and Churches may become one day more dominant, for it appears as though once more the earlier Middle Ages will be justified, and religious bodies become the guardians of freedom, even in the political sphere. Still, a successful career in public life could hardly be predicted for one who felt at the beginning that "I agree with nobody, and nobody agrees with me," and towards the close admitted that he "never had any contemporaries." On the other hand, it may be questioned whether, in the chief of his self-imposed tasks, he failed so greatly as at first appeared. If he did not prevent "infallibility" being decreed, the action of the party of Strossmayer and Hefele assuredly prevented the form of the decree being so dangerous as they at first feared. We can only hazard a guess that the mild and minimising terms of the dogma, especially as they have since been interpreted, were in reality no triumph to Veuillot and the Jesuits. In later life Acton seems to have felt that they need not have the dangerous consequences, both in regard to historical judgments or political principles, which he had feared from the registered victory of ultramontane reaction. However this may be, Acton's whole career is evidence of his detachment of mind, and entire independence even of