Studies of a Biographer/James Anthony Froude
JAMES ANTHONY FROUDE
Froude is perhaps the most eminent man of letters of his generation who has not become the victim of a biography. I do not hold that the world has any claim for biographies upon the representatives of distinguished men. If they or theirs prefer silence I am inclined to applaud the refusal to gratify curiosity. Froude could undoubtedly have written a very interesting autobiography had he chosen to reveal the story of his inner life. As, however, nothing has been published, we must assume that if anything was written, it was not meant for the world in general. We must be content to be ignorant of what he alone could have told us. There are few notices of him in contemporary reminiscences; and though I knew him for many years, I could add nothing worth the setting down. I had, indeed, good reason to know that he could be very charming in personal intercourse, and that he was cordially beloved by men who knew him most intimately, and were excellent judges of character. I may add, however, one remark: Froude impressed casual observers as somehow enigmatic. He was reticent to the outer circle at least, and incurred the usual penalty. Men who are shy and sensitive are often misjudged by their neighbours: they are supposed to be supercilious because they shrink from irritating topics, and cynical because they keep their enthusiasm for the few really sympathetic hearers. I have heard Froude accused of Jesuitism, of insinuating opinions which he would shrink from openly expressing, and even of a malicious misrepresentation of the man whom he chose as his prophet. I believe such a view to be entirely mistaken; but as Froude has left no 'Apologia,' and as I have no special source of knowledge, I shall only refer to the indications given in his published works.
The defects of Froude's historical writings became notorious. Freeman seemed to think that he was specially commissioned by Providence to expose their inaccuracies. He felt that he did well to be angry, and wrote in the spirit of a medical authority exposing some mischievous and too successful quack. To Freeman and to others, moreover, Froude was not only a blunderer but an apologist for tyranny and a lover of religious intolerance. He became a byword with Freeman's disciples for all the defects which have to be cleared away before historical inquiry can be placed upon a satisfactory basis. Freeman's severity, probably excessive and certainly harsh, roused some sympathy for his victim. That Froude suffered from constitutional inaccuracy, made strange blunders even in copying a plain document, and often used his authorities in an arbitrary and desultory fashion, seems, however, to be admitted. Yet, if I want to know something of the Elizabethan period, I can nowhere find so vivid and interesting a narrative. The scientific historian directs me to wait till he has ascertained the hard skeleton of objective fact. Then, and not till then, it will be time to theorise or to make a picture. But, in the first place, I cannot afford to wait for another century, and even when the inquirer has done his work there will remain the difficulty of clothing the skeleton with flesh and blood. Unless I abandon all that makes history really interesting to anybody but the antiquary and the statistician, I shall still be dissatisfied. After all, too, the main facts are pretty well ascertained. Darnley was blown up, whoever supplied the powder, and the Spanish Armada certainly came somehow to grief. Froude's imagination may invest those facts with a poetical haze. In reading him, I do not know certainly where fiction ends and facts begin. The history may be an 'impressionist' picture, coloured and distorted by the mirror in which the facts are reflected. But I can take that into account. I know that I am not to read with unqualified faith. I get such a narrative of the past as I should of the present if I confined myself to party-journalism. I must study writers of opposite prejudices, and superpose the pictures as well as I can. I must take the story, not as definitive truth, but as an aspect of the truth seen from a particular point of view. I get at least one important fact: if not the real persons, the images projected by them upon the imagination of their partisans; and to see for a moment as they saw is a help to understanding the ideals and the prejudices of the time.
Anyhow, Froude was a most skilful historical artist. I remember being startled many years ago by the assertion of a friend that Froude's style was superior to Macaulay's. My notions of style were then too crude to be shocked by Macaulay's obvious faults of taste, his strained and tiresome antitheses, and the purple patches of glaring crudity. The graceful simplicity and restraint of Froude's style, the skill with which he makes a story tell itself and develops the drama without obtruding himself as showman, are less palpable to a youthful reader. I am not sure that I have not now become unjust to some of Macaulay's merits, both of style and substance. In one respect he has a great superiority. He had saturated his mind with knowledge of his period, and his marvellous memory and eye for the picturesque enabled him to illustrate every topic with graphic and unforgettable details. He had his prejudices, which often led to misinterpretation of facts; but he had also an omnivorous and disinterested craving for information. His opinions appeared to him to be so obviously true that he did not want to make out a case. He did not so much look at the facts through coloured spectacles as with eyes affected by constitutional colour-blindness. He therefore read with prejudice, but not in order to confirm his prejudices. It would not be just to accuse Froude of accepting the other alternative; but it is true that Froude's interest in history was to some extent an afterthought, that he took it up mainly to illustrate certain principles and confined his attention to the topics directly relevant to his purpose. One cannot feel that he had become a contemporary of Elizabeth as Macaulay had made himself a contemporary of Queen Anne. He has only made acquaintance with the actors in order to 'adorn the tale' which, as he is convinced, will point the desired moral. On the other hand, Macaulay's prejudices are less interesting. We can no longer accept the complacent Whig optimism which, according to Matthew Arnold, made him the prince of the Philistines. His political platform strikes us as narrow and obsolete, and we find it hard to do justice to the sound sense combined with so limited an insight. Froude had at least the advantage of being outside a little political clique; and if his common-sense was not trained like Macaulay's by active political experience, he had breathed a less confined atmosphere. He has ideals, political and religious, and does not mistake a particular political platform for a complete and satisfactory answer to the great enigmas of human conduct and history.
Then, however, the problem occurs, What was Froude's position, and how did he reach it? That might have been cleared up by an autobiography. Some light is given in his account of the 'Oxford Counter Reformation.' His father, he tells us, represented the old order: he was landowner and parson, a hard rider in his youth, and qualified in the opinion of his parishioners to 'lay a ghost' or try a poacher. He was a typical product of a quiet period of 'moral health' when doctrinal controversy had gone to sleep, but people found in religion a light upon the path of duty. We are generally told that the period was one of spiritual torpor and neglect of duty. Froude perhaps, like other people, saw the days of his youth through a beautifying haze; but it is rather odd to find him proceeding to a panegyric upon the state of things which was the outcome of that eighteenth century so steadily denounced by most followers of either Newman or Carlyle. The Oxford Movement, he says, broke up this idyllic state of things; and but for it, he declares, 'scepticism might have continued a harmless speculation of a few philosophers.' Newman and his followers had turned the world upside down. That looks like saying that the earthquake was caused by the first people whom it frightened out of their wits. But, without taking a passing phrase too seriously, we may admit that Froude himself had been certainly one of those whose mental equilibrium had been destroyed. The elder brother, of whom he always spoke with enthusiasm, had been Newman's closest friend and ally. He was a 'high Tory of the cavalier stamp,' and took up the cause of the Church against the Radicals of the day, with no special taste for theological speculation. He went forward, says Froude, 'hesitating at nothing, taking the fences as they came, passing lightly over them all, and sweeping his friends along with him.' He had died before his brother went to Oxford; but it was naturally to be expected that the younger man would be welcomed as a recruit in the same cause. At Oxford, accordingly, he fell under the influence of Newman; and no one has spoken more emphatically of the fascinations of his leader. Credo in Newmannum, he says, became the genuine symbol of faith for him as for hundreds of young men. Newman's simplest word was treasured as an 'intellectual diamond.' His sermons made an indelible impression: he seemed to be 'addressing the most secret consciousness' of each of his hearers; and Froude, though startled by certain conclusions, was at last profoundly impressed. How did the chain snap? What was the 'fence' which he refused to clear? Was it at the sermon which Froude describes so strikingly when Newman, after dwelling upon the Passion, gave an 'electric stroke ' to his audience by the words, 'Now I bid you recollect that he to whom these things were done was Almighty God'? Froude gives a different explanation. He spent a year, after his degree, in Ireland, in the house of an Evangelical clergyman. The circle which he entered was thoroughly Protestant. It was part of a 'missionary garrison,' and its creed kept alive by antagonism to the surrounding element. The whole tone was devout and serious, without cant or affectation. The misery and squalor of the Catholic population suggested doubts as to the social effect of their creed. He had been taught at Oxford to despise the Evangelicals, and now he came to respect them and to regain his reverence for the Reformers. Protestantism, he suspected, after all, might have been a revolt against intolerable corruptions. Froude returned to Oxford to meet the uproar created by the famous Tract 'No. xc.' He was still sufficiently in sympathy with his old friends to be invited to contribute to the Lives of the Saints. The task brought him to the dilemma which had perplexed Gibbon a century before. Was he to accept or to reject the miraculous legends which gathered round the mediæval saints? If he rejected them, must he not reject also the miracles accepted by Protestants? Newman had plunged him into difficulties in which he sought the help of very different guides. He had begun to read Carlyle, and had been led to Goethe and to German literature and criticism. The discovery that Evangelicals could be as saint-like as Catholics had been followed by the discovery that men of the highest genius and character could be radically opposed to both.
Many of Froude's contemporaries went through a similar experience. They discovered that there was a world outside Oxford and that the 'Movement' was but a collateral result of great changes in the whole current of European thought. Froude's special characteristic seems to have been the desire to find some definite guide. He could not, like Clough, remain simply in suspense. He wanted a leader to take Newman's place. His state of mind is represented by the two early stories: the Shadows of the Clouds and the Nemesis of Faith. They shocked respectable people at the time, and were crude enough in a literary sense to deserve their suppression. The heterodox opinions which he avows have long ceased to possess the charm or the offence of novelty. The books have still an autobiographical interest. Froude protested against an identification of himself with the hero of the later book, and it seems to be even more unfair (though the attempt has been made) to identify him with the hero of the first. That young man has been driven by the brutality of a public school and the harsh treatment of an unsympathetic father to become a liar and a sneak; and I do not suppose that Froude meant to confess that he deserved such epithets. He is, of course, using his own experience, and the young man in question has like himself been employed by Newman to write on the Lives of the Saints, and has been led presumably to the same reflections. He wonders that so keen an observer should have exposed him to so dangerous an ordeal. It has brought him into terrible perplexity. He still 'loves and honours and learns of Newman'; but he also 'loves and honours and learns of Carlyle.' He despises the miserable Anglo-Protestantism as a 'wretched enemy of all that is bright and noble and generous.' He cannot accept, that is, a compromise, and yet cannot believe that the whole truth is on either side. He dies in an edifying but perplexed state of mind, listening on his death-bed to a pious declamation from Jean Paul. The other hero begins as a sceptic, but is induced to take orders. He finds his position unbearable, rambles abroad, forms a connection with another man's wife, is driven by remorse to the verge of suicide, is saved by a priest more or less representing Newman, becomes a monk, finds his old scepticism revive, falls into despair, and dies without leaving anybody to regret him. Indeed, there seems to be little enough to regret. A slight change would make the novels into edifying and orthodox tracts, showing how scepticism may sap morality. Froude explains that he accepts for himself the critical conclusions of his heroes. But he holds that it requires exceptional moral strength to resist the resulting dangers. The period, in Carlyle's language, was one of cant—of practical unbelief covered by hypocritical formalism; and a man who sees through the cant is too likely to lose the vital truth which once gave meaning to the now obsolete creeds.
A little story added to the Shadows of the Clouds shows a preoccupation with further difficulties. He had puzzled himself over the origin of evil. External circumstances, he perceived—the truth is painfully clear—may lead the same person either to vice or to virtue, to the lowest degradation or to a happy life. He found in the Book of Job the grandest exposition and the best solution of the old problem of the apparently arbitrary distribution of happiness among the good and the wicked. He read Spinoza, and, like all competent readers, was profoundly impressed by the great vision of a universe of incarnate logic, though he repudiates the conclusion that we are throughout products of inexorable law. The essays on these topics and upon New Testament criticism show that his literary faculty, at least, had developed very rapidly and found a more appropriate employment than novel-writing. He had been reading widely, though he does not claim to be more than an intelligent observer of the great currents of contemporary thought. He was by nature a literary artist, not an abstract reasoner; and he sought to find a solution by looking at the concrete history of the Churches instead of examining the philosophical basis of their doctrine. While oscillating like his hero between the opposite poles of Newman and Carlyle, he could agree with both upon one point—antipathy to 'philosophical radicalism,' political or religious. To him as to them it represented the evil principle in modern thought: materialistic and mechanical views of history, selfishness in morals, laissez-faire in politics, the 'pig philosophy' of utilitarianism, and generally the extinction of all that is elevating of the soul or beautiful to the imagination.
This aversion is manifest in one remarkable result. It suggests a thorough-going historical scepticism. To attempt to make history scientific is to incur the danger of referring everything to mere physical causes, and to get rid of freewill and the spiritual and religious influences. To avoid this danger, he resorts to an extreme measure. He denies the possibility of even ascertaining the facts. History often looks like a child's box of letters, with which we can 'spell any word we please'; we have only to pick the letters and arrange them at our pleasure. Any philosophy of history can be proved: we may show with equal ease that the world is, or that it is not, under a moral government; that mankind has always been progressive, or always stationary, or steadily degenerating. No testimony can be trusted. Patriots, politicians, and observers all manipulate facts, and philosophers are worst of all. He objects to all historical theories because they 'vitiate the observation of facts, without which the speculations are not worth the paper on which they are written.' But observation of facts is precarious. Whenever he has found an authentic explanation of some difficulty, it has 'almost invariably' turned out that the true motive of the actors had been entirely misunderstood. If so, it would seem we must indefinitely postpone all speculation and confine ourselves to the barest external circumstances. These rather impulsive assertions, however, did not correspond to his practice and, indeed, would justify the conception of history most opposed to his own. The denial that we can prove the race to be under moral government is followed by the assertion that history does prove one, and only one, lesson—the lesson that the world is 'built somehow on moral foundations'; that in the long-run it will be well with the good and ill with the wicked. But this, he adds, is 'no science'; it is the teaching of the old Hebrew prophets. To teach us that or any other lesson history must possess at least some element of truth. Froude's reading of the Lives of the Saints had suggested a curious explanation. 'Two kinds of truth,' he declares, 'form the warp and woof, the coloured web which we call history'; truth of fact, briefly, and truth of poetry. The stories which Bede tells of St. Cuthbert may be incredible; but St. Cuthbert represents a noble ideal, and, moreover, an ideal which men actually tried to realise. Shakespeare is one great example of poetical truth. His cardinal merit is that he accepts the fact, and will not allow his view to be perverted by 'theorising' or by forcing his perceptions of human life and nature to mould themselves upon didactic conclusions. Macbeth would be perfect history 'were it literally true'; and the historian should write history like a Shakespearean drama. The history of some periods may be so written that the actors shall reveal their own characters in their own words; 'mind can be seen matched against mind, and the great passions of the epoch not simply be described as existing, but be exhibited at their white heat in the souls and hearts possessed by them.' There, he says, we have all the elements of drama of the highest order—'where the huge forces of the time are as the Grecian destiny.' It is Nature's drama, not Shakespeare's, but a drama none the less.
The theory led him to a quaint dilemma in his life of St. Neot. If, he says, the story teaches a lesson, the lesson is equally good though the story be false; if it teaches nothing, it does not matter whether it be true or false. False stories, however, are apt to teach bad lessons; and at any rate, it is as well to say whether you are writing fiction or history; for a mistake of one for the other often leads to awkward consequences. Froude was probably in the ironical mood when he wrote about St. Neot: he was quite able to detect his bit of sophistry; but the view with which he plays, for he hardly means it seriously, illustrates his conception of history. Carlyle's French Revolution has given him a model. His own history is to take another great period. History is to be a sum of biographies. You are to know the real actors, Elizabeth and Drake, Philip and Mary, to make them as living and vivid as Shakespeare's Macbeth and Hamlet. Shakespeare, of course, has his weaknesses as a historian. He cared nothing for the political events, except as providing dramatic situations. He had not read Hallam, and gives the history of King John without alluding to Magna Charta. He had not read the Waverley Novels, and cares nothing for 'local colour.' His Homeric Greeks and his ancient Britons are still Elizabethan. Froude was much better informed, and knows very well that constitutional and economical conditions have to be taken into account. But the aim is so far similar that the final result of the history, as of the drama, is to be the display of personal character. Theories about scientific 'laws' are immoral as well as untrustworthy; they substitute mechanism for volition, and make the hero the instrument instead of the originator of the great forces.
The 'dramatic' view of history supposes, however, a certain amount of theorising. What in the history of England is to correspond to the 'Grecian fate'? Froude praises Shakespeare for his want of 'didacticism,' and yet the drama of history must have a central idea. Henry and Elizabeth do not, like Hamlet, interest us simply as individuals, but as playing parts in a revolution of surpassing importance. History does teach the one lesson that the right triumphs 'in the long-run.' Froude can theorise when he pleases, and an eloquent essay on 'The Conditions and Prospects of Protestantism' gives an account of the rise and decay of religions in general. Creeds have their periods of vitality, of established usefulness, and of 'petrifaction.' It is the 'very law of their being' that they 'should stiffen' into formalism. He could still, after parting from Newman, enlarge upon the central idea of Catholicism—the 'beautiful creed which for fifteen hundred years turned the heart and formed the mind of the noblest of mankind.' He could declare that the old monks were the true builders of our national 'greatness.' There was once (when is perhaps rather doubtful) a golden age, when men were sincere believers in an elevating ideal. But the creeds had 'stiffened' and the monasteries were in need of a Cromwell and a Henry. The place of the Greek fate is to be taken by the intellectual and moral revolt against the lying and corruption sheltered under the system which in its origin had corresponded to the noblest of aspirations. I have no quarrel with this theory. An adequate account of the great convulsions of the sixteenth century would do much to reveal the true conditions of strength of nations and churches. Many scenes, moreover, in Froude's drama carry out the scheme with extraordinary vividness. The last volume, with the execution of Mary and the defeat of the Armada, makes a fifth act, with a catastrophe, artistically at least, completely satisfactory.
The dramatic view of history demands a hero—a typical embodiment of the force which is shaking mankind. To understand him will be to give unity of action to the drama and unravel the wild and chaotic play of conflicting powers. Froude's artistic instinct overpowered his historic vision when he chose Henry VIII. for the part. His true problem, I imagine, should have been to show how that very arbitrary and tyrannical person was enabled to carry out so much of his purposes, and to be accepted by so large a part of his subjects as the national hero. When Froude took him for an embodiment of high purpose and statesmanlike insight, and discovered that a man constantly acted like a brutal despot from the loftiest political motives, he undertook one of the most heroic pieces of whitewashing on record. The Protestant refused to accept such a champion, and the burly figure looked awkward in wings and a white robe. As Froude advanced, the difficulties thickened. He became, I imagine, a more competent historian, and his elaborate researches into State papers enabled him really to throw much new light upon the period. He opened and worked to great effect a quarry of information which has yielded valuable materials to him and his successors. With all his skill, indeed, the intricate maze of diplomatic intrigues sometimes becomes tiresome, and distracts him from the main current of domestic history. The wise Poloniuses of the day were not as all-important and omniscient as they fancied. A grave Spaniard, plunged into the unfamiliar atmosphere of London, exposed to the solicitations of innumerable plotters, who told him whatever story was most likely to open his purse, could not be a good authority upon English sentiment. The rough sailor, Hawkins, saw this clearly enough when he bamboozled Philip out of £40,000 by pretending to be a traitor. Froude probably gives too much weight at times to his new sources. But another result is more important. If we are to take the history of the time as really governed by cabinets and diplomatists, the difficulty of finding any adequate hero becomes an impossibility. He had started apparently with the belief that Elizabeth would take the leading part. The English nation was beginning its great career, and (he said in 1852) Elizabeth's plan was 'to recognise, to love, to foster, and to guide.' The 'grandeur and moral majesty of some of Shakespeare's characters' is 'far beyond what the noblest among ourselves can imitate.' That is due, not to the poet's genius, but to his faithful portraiture of his contemporaries. His 'great poetry is no more than the rhythmical echo of the life which it depicts.' When he came to look into the facts, this anticipation had to be modified. There were, undoubtedly, men of noble character, patriots and martyrs, whose grand qualities are thrown into relief by the catastrophes in the great drama. But it is clear, too, that there never was a time in which the noble was more intimately strangely mixed up with the ruffianly and the mean. The words quoted had been suggested by the Elizabethan seamen, of whose heroic spirit he was to be the best interpreter. Yet their heroic enterprise shades off into slave-trading, buccaneering, and something scarcely distinguishable from piracy. Their hatred of idolatry blends with a desire for the idolaters' silver. The higher the class the worse the morality. The religion of the Scottish nobles was mainly, he admits, a desire for the estates of the Church. Murder was part of the normal process of carrying on the game of politics, and nobody would have objected to blowing up Darnley had the plan been carried out with a little more attention to decency. Massacres of helpless people were throughout Europe part of regular warfare. Solemn Cabinets discuss plans for assassination without thought of any scruple, and when Elizabeth hears that Philip had plotted her death, she takes it, as Professor Beesly remarks, in the way of business,' without the smallest resentment. Kings are religious enough to carry out the cruellest persecution, but utterly refuse to fight for the Church if their allies are likely to get the best of the plunder. Lying is so much a matter of course in diplomacy that one wonders how it could be expected to deceive. The question is not whether an ambassador lies, but why he has selected that particular lie. It seems a profoundly interesting world, but clearly not one which it was easy to represent as a battle between light and darkness.
Froude was roused to a resentment against poor Queen Elizabeth. She would not be a heroine. She got upon his nerves. She cared nothing for creeds: she would not admit the papal claims to power over the English Church; but she hated Knox's Calvinism more than Philip's Catholicism. Instead of putting herself at the head of European Protestantism, her whole policy was to play off the two Catholic Powers against each other by judicious alternations of lying promises. She would not risk her throne for a cause. 'She preferred to lie and twist and perjure herself, and betray her friends'; and though at bottom her purpose was 'moderately upright,' she had no nice sense of honour to raise difficulties. She systematically induced other people to do her dirty work, and she shuffled out of her responsibilities and left her agents to their fate. She kept out of the fray as long as she could, and thought only of saving her pocket by a cheese-paring which was almost fatal when the great inevitable struggle came at last. If she finally succeeded, it was because she yielded to the ministers against whose advice she had struggled for thirty years. Her greatness was an illusion, due partly to the fate which forced her at last to accept the policy of wiser men and partly to the stupendous run of luck which saved her from the consequences of her blunders.
Froude's moral had got him into dilemmas. Henry VIII. had been an awkward hero, but Elizabeth declined to be a heroine at all. She succeeded, in spite of her unfitness for the part, or, as may be held, because of it. The success suggests a primâ facie presumption that a policy of compromise was the fittest for the time. Froude had to explain it as an accident because it would not confirm the great lesson of history which condemns all compromise with evil. And then one has to ask, Did Froude really believe that the thorough-going Protestantism represented the truth and nothing but the truth? Was the religion of Knox so wholly in the right that its triumph was unequivocally desirable? Clearly the concrete Protestant, on his showing, was, with one or two noble exceptions, anything but a purely unselfish and lofty-minded hero. He accepts the teaching of Knox, but did not doubt that Knox's creed, like others, might stiffen into unlovely formalism. He has to believe in the whole Protestant legend for the time, and therefore identify himself with one extreme, and so far fails to rise to the level of world history. To set forth a great drama, where the truth slowly emerges from a confused conflict, the historian must rise above sectarian prejudices, and admit a more intricate mixture of good and evil. The merit of Carlyle's prose-epic of the French Revolution is that he sees it as a gigantic convulsion, with tremendous issues imperfectly visible to the actors, where, therefore, we can admire great passions without accepting the party watchwords, and pity the victims, though admitting the necessity of their fate. Even when Carlyle apologises for Cromwell and Frederick, his heroes are, at least as he conceives them, embodiments of profound insight into the cosmic forces which are crushing or remoulding the old order. Froude is applying the method of hero worship in an inappropriate sphere, and without the glooms and splendours of Carlyle's imagination. He takes a side when he ought to see that the evolution of the great drama can only be rightly judged from a position of detachment.
One feels, in fact, that Froude' s zeal has a touch of the factitious. His position is shown by his view of the two great types represented by Erasmus and Luther. The scholar and thinker desires that superstition may be dispersed, and abuses refined from above. But to appeal to the stupid masses is to let loose all the brute forces of destruction, and only to substitute one superstition for another. The rough enthusiast blurts out his convictions; or, as he puts it, speaks the plain truth and disregards the consequences. Froude could appreciate Erasmus, but his position always forces him to approve Luther. By temperament, I think, he was really of the Erasmus persuasion. Nobody could be more convinced of human stupidity; of the imperfections of all creeds, and the futility of the ordinary Utopias. If he had written his history from this point of view, he might have drawn a forcible picture of the process by which the human race blunders along; each side mistaking partial truth for the whole; masking selfish and grovelling motives under a professed love of truth, and persecuting and massacring in the name of pure religion. He would have been an impartial, if a pessimistic, observer, and to him, as to Gibbon, history would have been a long register of crime, folly, and misfortune. But Froude was an Erasmus in need of a Luther. He must have some prophet to follow, and has taken Carlyle for his Luther. He and Ruskin were the master's two disciples. Ruskin's pessimism and contempt for the popular creed were as vehement as Froude's. Yet he could attract disciples, because, however wayward his doctrines, he could be a genuine enthusiast. Froude's enthusiasm is fitful, and suggests despondency as the definitive result. He gives the worst turn to Carlyle's doctrine of the identity of might and right. Carlyle started with a profound sympathy for the aims of the revolutionists; he was a man of the people, with their democratic instinct, if radically opposed to some democratic theories. The worshipper of Cromwell could still gain the sympathies of Irish Nationalists, because they had a common hatred for misgovernment. No Irishman, on the other hand, could fail to be offended by Froude's English in Ireland. It is vigorously written, and may be read as a continuous exposure of English misrule. But it is the most unpleasant of Froude's books, because of the strange tendency to take an offensive ground. The penal laws, he declares, made little scandal in England because they succeeded. They have been denounced in Ireland because they failed; and he deliberately holds that a rigid and consistent suppression of Catholicism would have been the right policy for England. Froude can never speak of persecution without a wish to find apologies for the persecutor. There is much to be said for strong government and thoroughgoing convictions. But when the belief springs from intellectual timidity, and suggests underlying scepticism, the result is unpleasant. Froude seems to believe in fanaticism, though he does not really share the fanatic's belief.
He ought (using the word in the artistic sense) to have been a refined and sensitive critic, shuddering at the brutalities of the great human tragedy, where the truest and purest causes can only work by turning to account savage and stupid passions. That might be unpleasantly pessimistic and sceptical; but then his pessimism and scepticism shows through the superficial enthusiasm. Take your hero as simply the embodiment of great cosmic or providential forces, and you may have some sympathy for his antagonists as for the victims of a pestilence or an earthquake. But Froude at once recognises the ugly side, and feels bound to condone the offence. The tyranny and persecution are not regarded even as a painful and hideous necessity under the perverse conditions of life, but as somehow justifiable in themselves. He has to defend cruelty, and to still the hatred by which it was prompted.
That, I take it, partly explains his attitude to Carlyle. The curious thing was that a man of such fine literary sense should have so entirely miscalculated the effect upon his readers. He fancied that he was providing a pedestal for the object of his reverence, when he was really placing him on a pillory. Ardent Carlyleans thought that he must have known what he was doing, and imagined that he was satisfying some covert resentment. Froude, I think, committed certain errors which I cannot here discuss. But I fully believe that his intentions were what he avowed. He was, no doubt, fully sensible of his master's failings. Froude, with his refined and sensitive temperament, was the very man to be shocked by Carlyle's rough and masterful dogmatism. When, for instance, Carlyle told him that Newman had the brain of a moderate-sized rabbit, Froude could not but feel that the estimate—if half humorous—showed a certain crudeness. The new guide was a little hard upon his predecessor. But then it was also satisfactory to have a master who could be so thoroughly confident. The dogmatism was delightful and comforting, and gave a sense of security. Froude liked to shield himself behind the uncompromising champion. The biography throughout shows that he was even keenly sensible to Carlyle's arrogance, and yet felt it as a valuable support. Carlyle might be rough, but he could sweep away any misgivings with delightful positiveness. When Froude became aware of the revelations in Mrs. Carlyle's journal he could feel, even more keenly than most people, the painful side. But then they illustrated just this masterful temper, which, if sometimes startling, was yet so comfortable a support to a weaker brother. Froude's half-suppressed scepticism made him value the uncompromising dogmatism. The sentiment, too, gave dramatic unity to the biography which his artistic instinct appreciated. He went on to read earlier letters with this preconception and, according to Professor Norton the only other reader, to misrepresent the whole story. Such a faculty for misrepresentation is too often shown in his history, and the fact also shows that he might yield to it without any bad intention. In truth, he seems to have expected that his readers would be as ready as himself to condone Carlyle's faults of temper, and regard his posthumous confession as so 'supremely honourable' as to be an ample atonement for the offence. He, unluckily, succeeded in exaggerating the faults, without carrying his readers along with him in the implied apology. They did not appreciate the charm, which to him was so obvious, of the despotic side of Carlyle's character. That was the real difficulty. Froude was, I believe, as loyal to his master's memory as he had been affectionate to him in life. The loyalty did not prevent him from forcing the shades as well as the lights, and he was quite right in his desire to delineate both in his portrait. What he did not see was that the merit which, for him, altogether overbalanced the faults, was not a merit at all for the outside world. He could excuse the harshness of a despot, whose rule he loved, but to people who objected to the despotic rule altogether, the excuse was an aggravation.
Froude's history was necessarily unsatisfactory on what may be called the scientific side. The hero-worshipper cannot stoop to such prosaic matters as economical or constitutional conditions. J. R. Green says that Froude's great fault was that in a history of England he had omitted the English people. The centre of interest, at any rate, is in the leading personages of the drama, and too much is attributed to their individual characteristics. Accepting Froude's conception, however, it would be difficult to praise the execution too highly. No man of his generation, I think, had a finer literary faculty. While entirely free from the mannerism of his prophet, he can be equally vivid. His style is thoroughly masculine, and yet never flat, prosaic, or violent. The other writings upon which I have not dwelt—the lectures at Oxford, for example, the Oceana, and the Short Studies—are full of delightful reading. I have spoken of him from one point of view in the attempt to understand why with his extraordinary gifts he did not produce a more satisfactory result. The general answer seems to be obvious. He suffered from the epidemic which prevailed at Oxford at his time: the 'sick fatigue' and 'languid doubt' of which Matthew Arnold speaks, and which was generated by the controversies which then raged at Oxford. It may seem to us of a later period rather surprising that any man could fancy that either Newman or Carlyle could be a prophet to follow blindly. One cannot quite realise the narrowness of the Oxford horizon at the time (I don't mean that other places were at all better off) in which the only alternatives seemed to be the acceptance of intellectual suicide with Newman or of adherence to the modified Puritanism of Carlyle. The young gentlemen of the day would have been the better for a little more acquaintance with other European thought, and for some acquaintance with scientific tendencies. Many of them became wiser in time. Froude learnt much, but never, as it seems, got over the shock which he had received. His weakness, I fancy, was a kind of intellectual timidity. He holds by Carlyle, but is always half afraid that his anchor may drag. He was afraid, and not alone in his fear, that the moral order of the world was being sapped by scepticism. That may be, as I should hold it to be, a mistake; but we may heartily respect the man whose hostility to agnosticism is a product of strong, even if mistaken, moral convictions. That I take to have been Froude's case. The misfortune was that his position led him to a sympathy with despotic remedies for the supposed disease, which made many readers suspect the reality of his moral sentiments instead of allowing for their accidental misdirection.