Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/99

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Creighton
Creighton
87

mediæval, Europe has sprung ; but he saw also that to treat it exclusively as a religious movement, even to exaggerate its religious importance, was fatal to a true understanding of it. A believer in character as the most potent of social forces, he found in the motives and actions of the men with whom he dealt the main causes of great eveats, rather than in uncontrollable circumstances or inexorable laws of social development. The personal element therefore plays an unusually large part in his narrative ; and his personages are no mere shadows. A follower of Ranke, whom he seems to have regarded as the greatest of modern historians, he sought in archives and documents the leading clues to the historical labyrinth, the main links of cause and effect connecting great events. But the persons by or for whom these documents were compiled were, after all, more important to him than the documents themselves ; and the consequence is that his actors assume a clearness and a vitality which they rarely display in the pages of the great German writer. At the same time his characterisation is sober and cautious, rather analytical than synthetic. He produces no brilliant gallery of portraits in the manner of Macaulay ; rather he allows his characters to unfold themselves gradually through a succession of actions and incidents, as in a great romance or drama. On these the attention of the reader is concentrated.

That in the religious and political developments of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the conduct of the papacy is the central and permanent factor is indisputable; and Creighton set himself to trace and estimate its action. So vast is the field that only by a strenuous avoidance of digression could this end be satisfactorily attained ; and nothing is more remarkable in the book than the austerity with which the author resists the temptation to dilate, for instance, on the art and literature of the Renaissance. To him personally these subjects were of the highest interest, but they did not fall within his immediate province, which was not the history of the Reformation and all that led to it, but the history of the papacy. There is no doubt that this severe concentration of purpose gives a certain dryness to Creighton's work. The narrative flows steadily on with an unbroken current, never pausing to catch an adventitious charm, but relying for its interest solely on the greatness of the subject and the intellectuality of its treatment. The somewhat sombre and monotonous effect is heightened by the constant impartiality of the author's judgments. He never attempts to point a moral, holding that sufficient praise and blame are implied in a clear and cool exposure of actions and results. Even in the case of a Borgia we are shown how the degenerate standard and the average conditions of the day must be taken into account in judging the delinquent. The faults and blunders of the best are shrewdly detected and impartially, if tenderly, exposed. The whole treatment of the 'tragedy' of Savonarola and his conflict with Alexander VI is an admirable example of Creighton's method.

Still, in spite of his impartiality, the author's predilections are fairly clear. It is Erasmus, the reforming humanist, who has his sympathy rather than Luther, though he does full justice to Luther's powers. With Wolsey his 'Life' of whom may be regarded as a sort of continuation of the 'Papacy' he seems to feel a close affinity. Nowhere have the character and policy of this Mirabeau of the English Reformation been more clearly and sympathetically treated. The 'Life of Elizabeth 'carries on the same story another stage ; and here again, while the contemporary fusion of religion and politics supplies a problem specially adapted to his genius, the strangely complex character of the queen, in all its'strength and weakness, is made to dominate the scene, and the last of the Tudors affords a convincing illustration of the truth of his central maxim that character rules events.

Creighton's principal works are: 1. 'Primer of Roman History,' 1875. 2. 'The Age of Elizabeth' (Epochs of History), 1876. 3. 'Simon de Montfort' (Historical Biographies), 1876. 4. 'History of England' (Epochs of English History), 1879. 5. 'History of the Papacy during the Reformation' (1378-1587), 5 vols. 1882-94. 6. 'Cardinal Wolsey' (Twelve English Statesmen), 1888. 7. 'Carlisle' (Historic Towns), 1889. 8. 'A Charge' (Peterborough), 1894. 9. 'Persecution and Tolerance' (Hulsean Lectures, 1893-4), 1895. 10. ' The Early Renaissance in England' (Rede Lecture), 1895. 11. 'The English National Character' (Romanes Lecture), 1896. 12. 'Queen Elizabeth,' 1896. 13. 'The Heritage of the Spirit,' and other sermons, 1896. 14. 'Church and State' (Oxford House Papers), 1897. 15. 'The Story of some English Shires' (Religious Tract Society), 1897. 16. 'Lessons from the Cross' (Addresses &c.), 1898. 17. 'The Position of the Church of England' (an Address), 1899. 18. 'The Church and the Nation' (a Charge), 1900.

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