Page:History of Freedom.djvu/22

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xvi
ESSAYS ON LIBERTY

German Bishop," to make his judgment appear as the culmination of so much weighty evidence, that it seemed to speak for itself. He had, too, a little of the German habit of breaking a butterfly upon a wheel, and at times he makes reading difficult by a more than Teutonic allusiveness. It was not easy for Acton to bear in mind that the public is often ignorant of even the names of distinguished scholars, and that "a European reputation" is sometimes confined to the readers of specialist publications.

The Italian strain in Acton is apparent in another quality, which is perhaps his one point of kinship with Machiavelli, the absence of hesitation from his thought, and of mystery from his writing. Subtle and ironic as his style is, charged with allusion and weighted with passion, it is yet entirely devoid both of German sentiment and English vagueness. There was no haze in his mind. He judges, but does not paint pictures. It may have been this absence of half-tones in his vein of thought, and of chiaroscuro in his imagination that made Manning, an intelligent however hostile critic, speak of "the ruthless talk of undergraduates."

But however much or little be allowed to the diverse strains of hereditary influence or outward circumstances, the interest of Acton to the student lies in his intense individuality. That austerity of moral judgment, that sense of the greatness of human affairs, and of the vast issues that lie in action and in thought, was no product of outside influences, and went beyond what he had learnt from his master Döllinger. To treat politics as a game, to play with truth or make it subservient to any cause other than itself, to take trivial views, was to Acton as deep a crime as to waste in pleasure or futility the hours so brief given for salvation of the soul would have seemed to Baxter or Bunyan; indeed, there was an element of Puritan severity in his attitude towards statesmen both