Historical and Political Essays
by William Edward Hartpole Lecky
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There is another class of workers to which he himself belonged—the men who are the teachers of mankind. He taught them by his example as well as by his precepts. Whatever else may be said about Carlyle, no one can question that he took his literary vocation most seriously. He was for a long time a very poor man, but he never sought wealth by advocating popular opinions, by pandering to common prejudices, or by veiling most unpalatable beliefs. In the vast mass of literature which he has bequeathed to us there is no scamped work, and every competent judge has recognised the untiring and conscientious accuracy with which he verified and sifted the minutest fact. His standard of truthfulness was extremely high, and one of his great quarrels with his age was that it was an age of half-beliefs and insincere professions. He maintained that religious beliefs which had once been living realities had too often degenerated into mere formulas, untruly professed or mechanically repeated with the lips only, and without any genuine or heartfelt conviction. He often repeated a saying of Coleridge: 'They do not believe—they only believe that they believe.' He used to speak of men who 'played false with their intellects'; or, in other words, turned away their minds from unwelcome truths and by allowing their wishes or interests to sway their judgments, persuaded or half-persuaded themselves to believe whatever they wished. A firm grasp of facts, he maintained, was the first characteristic of an honest mind; the main element in all honest, intellectual work. His own special talent was the gift of insight, the power of looking into the heart of things, piercing to essential facts, discerning the real characters of men, their true measure of genuine, solid worth. Creeds, professions, opinions, circumstances, all these are the externals or clothes of men. It is necessary to look behind them and beyond them if we would reach the genuine human heart. One of the reasons why he detested what he called stump oratory was because he believed it to be a great school of insincerity. Its end was not truth, but plausibility. It was the effort of interested men to throw opinions into such forms as might most captivate uninstructed men; to keep back every unpopular side; to magnify everything in them that was seductive. He once said to me that two great curses seemed to him eating away the heart and worth of the English people. One was drink. The other was stump oratory, which accustomed men to say without shame what they did not in their hearts believe to be true, and accustomed their hearers to accept such a proceeding as perfectly natural. And the same strong passion for veracity he carried into his judgment of other forms of work. Rightly or wrongly, he believed that the standard of conscientious work had been lowered in England through the feverish competition of modern times, and under the system of what he called 'cheap and nasty'; that English work had lost something of its old solidity and worth, and was now made rather to captivate than to wear. Carlyle saw in this much more than an industrial change. He maintained that the love and pride of thorough work had long been a pre-eminently English quality, that it was the very tap-root of the moral worth of the English character, and that anything that tended to weaken it was a grave moral evil.

It is worth while trying to understand what truth underlay those parts of his teaching which seem most repulsive. The worship of force, which is so apparent in many of his writings, is a striking example. He was often accused of teaching that might is right. He always answered that he had not done so—that what he taught was that right is might; that by the providential constitution of the Universe truth in the long run is sure to be stronger than falsehood; that good will prevail over evil, and that right and might, though they differ widely in short periods of time, would in long spaces prove to be identical. Nothing, he was accustomed to say, seemed weaker than the Christian religion when the disciples assembled in the upper room; yet it was in truth the strongest thing in the world, and it accordingly prevailed. It was one of his favourite sayings 'that the soul of the Universe is just,' and he believed therefore that the ultimate fate of nations, whether it be good or bad, was very much what they deserved. It is curious to observe the analogy between this teaching and the doctrine of the survival of the fittest, which a very different teacher—Charles Darwin—has made so conspicuous.

He scandalised—and I think with a good deal of reason—most of his contemporaries by the ridicule which he threw upon the career of Howard, and upon the great movement for prison reform which was so actively pursued in his time. Much of what he wrote on this subject is, to me at least, very repulsive; but you will generally find in the most extravagant utterances of Carlyle that there is some true meaning at bottom. He maintained that the passion for reforming and improving prisons and prison-life had been carried in England to such a point that the lot of a convicted criminal was often much better than that of an honest and struggling artisan. He believed that a just and wise distribution of compassion is a most important element of national well-being, and that the English people are very apt to be indifferent to great masses of unobtrusive, struggling, honourable, unsensational poverty at their very doors, while they fall into paroxysms of emotion about the actors in some sensational crime, about some seductive murderess, about the wrongs of some far-off and often half-savage race. 'In one of these Lancashire weavers dying with hunger there is more thought and heart, a greater arithmetical amount of misery and desperation, than in whole gangs of Quashees.' He maintained, too, that a strain of sentiment about criminals was very prevalent in his day, which tended seriously to obliterate or diminish the real difference between right and wrong. He hated with an intense hatred that whole system of philosophy which denied that there was a deep, essential, fundamental difference between right and wrong, and turned the whole matter into a mere calculation of interests. He was accustomed to say that one of the chief merits of Christianity was that it taught that right and wrong were as far apart as Heaven and Hell, and that no greater calamity can befall a nation than a weakening of the righteous hatred of evil.

The parts of Carlyle's teaching on which I have dwelt to-day will be chiefly found in his 'Past and Present,' his 'Heroes and Hero Worship,' his 'Latter-day Pamphlets,' his 'Chartism,' and in the two admirable essays called 'Signs of the Times' and 'Characteristics.' In my own opinion, though Carlyle teaches much, his writings are most valuable as a moral force. Very few great writers have maintained more steadily that the moral element is the deepest and most important part of our being, deeper and stronger than all intellectual considerations. In his writings, amid much that has imperishable value, there is, I think, much that is exaggerated, much that is one-sided, much that is unwise. But no one can be imbued with his teaching without finding it a great moral tonic, and deriving from it a nobler, braver, and more unworldly conception of human life.


Among the strange and unforeseen developments that have characterised the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century, few are likely to be regarded by the future historian with a deeper or more melancholy interest than the anti-Semite movement, which has swept with such a portentous rapidity over a great part of Europe. It has produced in Russia by far the most serious religious persecution of the century. It has raged fiercely in Roumania, the other great centre of the Oriental Jews. In enlightened Germany it has become a considerable parliamentary force. In Austria it counts among its adherents men of the highest social station. Even France, which from the days of the Revolution has been specially distinguished for its liberality to the Jews, has not escaped the contagion. General Boulanger found the anti-Jewish sentiment sufficiently powerful to make an appeal to it one of the articles of his programme, and the extraordinary popularity of the writings of Drumont shows that Boulanger had not altogether miscalculated its force.

It is this movement which has been the occasion of the very valuable work of M. Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu on 'Israel among the Nations.' The author, who is universally recognised as one of the greatest of living political writers, has special qualifications for his task. With an exceedingly wide knowledge of the literature relating to his subject he combines much personal knowledge of the Jews in Palestine and in many other countries, and especially in those countries where the persecution has most furiously raged.

That persecution, he justly says, unites in different degrees three of the most powerful elements that can move mankind—the spirit of religious intolerance; the spirit of exclusive nationality; and the jealousy which springs from trade or mercantile competition. Of these elements M. Leroy-Beaulieu considers the first to be on the whole the weakest. In that hideous Russian Persecution which 'the New Exodus' of Frederic has made familiar to the English reader, the religious element certainly occupies a very leading place. Pobedonosteff, who shared with his master the chief guilt and infamy of this atrocious crime, belonged to the same type as the Torquemadas of the past, and the spirit that animated him has entered largely into the anti-Semite movement in other lands. The 'Gloria' of Galdos, perhaps the most powerful religious novel of our time, describes the conflict in modern Spain of the fanaticism of Catholicism with the fanaticism of Judaism. Even the old calumny that the Jews are accustomed at Easter to murder Christian children in order to mix their blood with the passover bread, is still living in many parts of Europe. M. Leroy-Beaulieu has collected much curious evidence on the subject. It is a calumny which appears first to have become popular about 1100 A.D. It is embodied in a well-known tale of Chaucer. It is the subject of one of the great frescoes that were painted around the Cathedral of Toledo to commemorate the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. Two Popes of the thirteenth century, to their great honour, declared its falsehood, and by the order of Benedict XIV. Ganganelli wrote a full memoir examining and refuting it. But in spite of all condemnations, in spite of many exposures in the law courts, it is still a popular belief in Russia, Poland, Roumania, Hungary, and Bohemia, and even within the last ten years it has been the direct cause of many outrages against the Jews.

Another element to which M. Leroy-Beaulieu attaches considerable importance is the Kultur Kampf in Germany. When the German Government was engaged in its fierce struggle with the Catholics, these endeavoured to effect a diversion and to avenge themselves on papers, which were largely in the hands of Jews, by raising a new cry. They declared that a Kultur Kampf was indeed needed, but that it should be directed against the alien people who were undermining the moral foundations of Christian societies; who were the implacable enemies of the Christian creed and of Christian ideals. The cry was soon taken up by a large body of Evangelical Protestants. The 'Germania' and the 'Civilta Cattolica,' which were the chief organs of Ultramontanism in Germany and Italy, and the 'Kreuz Zeitung,' which represented the strictest forms of German Protestantism, agreed in fomenting it.

Still more powerful, in the opinion of our author, has been the spirit of intense and exclusive nationality which has in the present generation arisen in so many countries and which seeks to expel all alien or heterogeneous elements, and to mould the whole national being into a single definite type. The movement has been still further strengthened by the greater keenness of trade competition. In the midst of many idle, drunken, and ignorant populations the shrewd, thrifty, and sober Jew stands conspicuous as the most successful trader. His rare power of judging, influencing, and managing men, his fertility of resource, his indomitable perseverance and industry, continually force him into the foremost rank, and he is prominent in occupations which excite much animosity. The tax-gatherer, the agent, the middleman, and the moneylender are very commonly of Jewish race, and great Jewish capitalists largely control the money markets of Europe at a time when capital is the special object of socialistic attacks.

The most valuable portion of this work is, I think, that examining the part which the Jewish race is now playing in the world, and tracing the action of historical causes on the formation of their character. On the old problem of the continued existence of the race through so many ages M. Leroy-Beaulieu has much to say. He reminds us that in the East the idea of nationality is habitually absorbed in the idea of religion, and that there are many examples of the long survival of peoples or tribes which have lost their political individuality. He instances the Copts of Egypt, the Maronites and Druses of Lebanon, the Parsees of India, the Armenians and Greeks of Asia as displaying, though in a less degree, the same phenomenon as the Jews. He attributes the long continuance of the Jews as a separate people mainly to two causes. One of them is Christian hatred, which compelled the Jews for many centuries to remain a separate people, unmixed with surrounding nations; living in a separate quarter; marrying among themselves; strengthened and disciplined in the struggle of life by enormous difficulties and by the constant elimination through persecution of the weaker elements. The other is the very elaborate Jewish ritual extending to all departments of life, which has stamped upon them an intensely distinctive character.

The force of these causes is undoubted, but they are not, I think, the only elements to be considered. M. Leroy-Beaulieu appears to me to have somewhat underrated the physiological force and tenacity of the Jewish race-type. Following the line of reasoning of a remarkable essay of Renan, he shows very clearly that the modern Jews are far from being pure Semites. He proves from Josephus and from other sources that there was a considerable period, both before and after the Christian era, when great numbers of Greeks, Latins, and Egyptians adopted the Jewish faith; that much alien blood afterward poured into the race through conversions among the barbarians and through the circumcision of the slaves of Jewish masters, and that there is even reason to believe that, in some periods of history, marriages with Christians were not infrequent. It is probable, however, that most alien elements that were introduced into the race sooner or later mingled with the old stock, and no fact is more clearly shown than the extraordinary power of the Jewish type to survive and dominate in a mixed race. A single instance of a marriage with a Jewess will be sufficient to perpetuate it in a family for many generations. In this fact the Jews possess an element of stability which is wholly independent of all considerations of creed and ritual. Few things are more curious than the effect of persecution on the Jewish element in Spain and Portugal. Tens of thousands of Jews in those countries were burned at the stake or driven into exile, but great numbers also conformed. They mixed in a few generations with the old Christian population, and Spain and Portugal, M. Leroy-Beaulieu truly says, are now among the countries in which the Jewish blood is most evidently and most widely diffused.

Another consideration, which M. Leroy-Beaulieu has omitted to mention, but which appears to me to have much weight, is the condemnation of lending money at interest by the Church. This condemnation, which lasted many centuries, had two important consequences. One of them was that the Jews became almost the only moneylenders in Europe. The trade was deemed sinful for a Christian, but it was found to be a very necessary one; and the Jews (as some Catholic theologians observed) being already damned, were allowed to practise it. The other consequence was that on account of the stigma which the Church attached to moneylending, the amount of money to be lent was greatly diminished, or in other words, the rate of interest was enormously and artificially raised. At a time, therefore, when Catholic intolerance made it impossible for the Jews to mingle with and be absorbed in surrounding nations they acquired one of the greatest elements of power and stability that a race can possess—a monopoly of the most lucrative trade in the world.

The physical characteristics of the race are very remarkable and they are especially displayed among the Eastern Jews, who still maintain scrupulously amid poverty and persecution the religious observances of their ancestors. It is now clearly shown that the Levitical code was in a high degree hygienic, and even anticipates some of the discoveries of modern physiology. Prescriptions about forbidden kinds of food and about the mode of cooking food, which only excited the ridicule of Voltaire, have a real hygienic value in the eyes of Claude Bernard and of Pasteur. The Jews have never adopted the Catholic notions about the sanctity of celibacy and virginity, but they lay great stress on the purity of marriage. Although they live chiefly in towns, illegitimate births are proportionately rarer among them than among either Protestants or Catholics. They have been as a rule singularly free from the kinds of vice that do most to enfeeble and corrode a race. They are distinguished for their domestic virtues, especially for care of their children, and they are nearly everywhere less addicted than Christian nations to intoxicating drinks. These things help to explain the curious fact that in nearly all countries the average duration of life is considerably longer among Jews than among Christians. This superiority is general, but, as M. Leroy-Beaulieu observes, it tends to diminish in Western countries where Jews, being freed from disabilities, are more assimilated to the surrounding populations. They now usually marry later than Christians; they have on the whole fewer children, but a proportionately larger number of Jewish than of Christian infants attain adult age. M. Leroy-Beaulieu mentions two curious facts which are less easy to explain. Still-born births are very rare among Jews, and there is among them a wholly abnormal preponderance of male births over female ones.

It might be supposed from these facts that the Jews were a robust race, but no one who has come much in contact with them will share this delusion. Nothing is more conspicuous among them than their unhealthy colouring, their frail, bent, and feeble bodies. They develop early, but they have very little of the spring and buoyancy of youth and they have everywhere a low average of physical strength. Malformations and deformities are common among them; their nervous organisation is extremely sensitive, and though they are as a race distinguished for their sound, clear, and practical judgment, they are very liable to insanity and to other nervous and brain disorders. Physical beauty as well as physical strength is much rarer among them than among Christians.

The causes of this inferiority may be easily explained. Life pursued during many generations in the crowded Ghetto; the sordid habits that grow out of extreme poverty and out of the assumption of the appearance of poverty, which is natural in a persecuted and plundered race, go far to explain it; but there is another and, I think, a more important cause which M. Leroy-Beaulieu has rather strangely neglected. Physical strength and beauty can be maintained at a high level in crowded town populations only by a constant influx from the country. The pure air and the healthy labour of the fields are their main source. This great school of health the Jews have never known. For many centuries it would have been impossible for them to have lived in peace as farmers or agricultural labourers among a Christian peasantry, and if they ever possessed any aptitude or taste for agricultural pursuits they have long since wholly lost it.

Their moral like their physical characteristics present strange contrasts. No natural want of moral elevation or tenderness or grace can be ascribed to the nation that has produced both the Old Testament and the Gospels, and has most largely shaped and inspired the moral life of the civilised world. In Christian times no race has maintained its faith with a more devoted courage, and it has encountered and survived persecutions before which the persecutions of other creeds dwindle almost into insignificance. M. Leroy-Beaulieu quotes the statement of the grand Rabbi Lehmann, that it is a clearly attested fact that in two months of the year 1096 twelve thousand Jews, whose names have been preserved, were massacred in the towns of the Rhine alone, because they refused to accept a Christian baptism. The Spanish Jews who perished by one of the most excruciating deaths rather than forswear their faith may be numbered by thousands, and those who preferred exile and spoliation to apostasy, by hundreds of thousands. Even in our own sceptical and materialising age the conduct of the Russian Jews under the recent savage persecution shows that the old spirit is not extinct. In the face of the long and splendid roll of Jewish heroism, it is idle to dwell on the fact that in each great persecution some Jews have yielded to the fear of death and consented to perform the rites of a faith which they inwardly abhorred, or on the fact that a few Rabbis have under such circumstances justified these feigned conversions.

Prolonged persecution, however, has had a profound influence on their character, and its influence in some respects has been very pernicious. Hatred naturally provokes hatred, and violent oppression against which there is no redress is naturally encountered by subterfuge and fraud. A race who were for centuries playing their part in life against overwhelming obstacles learned to avail themselves of every advantage. Adulation, servility, falsehood, and deception became common among them. They became at once hard, wily, and rapacious, and ready instruments in ignoble and oppressive callings. Shut out from open paths and honourable ambitions they haunted the obscurer byways of industry; they were to be found in many occupations which sharpen the intellect but blunt the moral sense, and they threw themselves passionately into the acquisition of wealth and of secret power. Exposed for generations, even in lands where they were not more seriously persecuted, to constant insult and contempt, they often lost their self-respect and learned to acquiesce tamely in what another race would resent. Slavish conditions produced, as they always do, slavish characteristics, and, as is always the case, those characteristics did not at once disappear when the conditions that produced them had altered.

M. Leroy-Beaulieu has dwelt with much force on this subject, and he ascribes considerable weight to the fact that the Jews have been wholly outside the system of feudalism and chivalry in which the modern conception of honour was chiefly formed. Perhaps the Jew might retort with some justice, that he has had at least the compensating moral advantage of having derived no part of his notions of right and wrong from a Church in which such an institution as the Spanish Inquisition was deemed a holy thing.

Defects of another kind have contributed largely to his unpopularity. Great as is the power of assimilation which the Jewish race possesses, the charm and grace of manner seem to have been among the qualities they most slowly and most imperfectly acquire. It is natural that men who have been excluded from honours but not from wealth should value money and the ostentatious display of riches more than their neighbours. In the professions in which the Jews chiefly excel, men rise most rapidly from low origin and culture to conspicuous wealth. Direct money-making has some tendency to materialise and lower the character, and Jews have been for generations prominent in occupations which do much to impair those delicacies of feeling on which the charm of manner largely depends. Besides this, as M. Leroy-Beaulieu truly remarks, though the oldest of the cultured races they are a race of parvenus in the good society of Europe. In nearly all countries they have till very recently been excluded from the kind of society and from the kind of education in which the best manners are formed. The exaggerations of bad taste; the love of the loud, the gaudy, the ostentatious, and the meretricious; the awkwardness of men who are ill at ease in an unaccustomed sphere, who have not yet mastered the happy mean between arrogance and obsequiousness and who are therefore somewhat prone to both extremes, still frequently characterise them. Few persons who know Germany will doubt that the tone of manners of the German Jews has contributed quite as much as any other cause to their unpopularity.

It is probable that these defects will gradually diminish, and it would be a grave error to regard the Jewish race as wholly devoted to material ends. The multitude of their martyrs is a sufficient answer to the charge, and no people cherish more strongly the ideals of their past and have more of the pride both of race and of creed. They have at all times, as M. Leroy-Beaulieu observes, been distinguished for their reverence for learning, and it is an undoubted fact that Jewish families and families mixed with Jewish blood have produced an amount and variety of ability that far exceed the average of men. The ability goes rather with the race than with the religion. Spinosa, Heine, Ricardo, and Disraeli—to quote but a few of the most illustrious names—were not believers in the synagogue. Some of the forms in which the Jews have most excelled are such as might have been expected from their past. It is natural that the descendants of the most nomadic and cosmopolitan of races should have been great masters of language and in the foremost rank of philologists, and it is not surprising that the descendants of the chief moneylenders and calculators of the world should have produced great financiers, and have shown a very eminent aptitude for mathematics. Medicine more than most professions depends on individual ability, and has been exercised independently of the favour of Churches and Governments, and in medicine the Jews were for a long period pre-eminent. Their marked taste and turn for music may appear more surprising. It is universally recognised and is sufficiently evident to anyone who will look at the faces of the chief orchestras of Europe. Besides a crowd of lesser names they have produced among composers Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer, and Halevy, and among contemporary performers Rubinstein, Joachim, Hermann Levy, and Lucca. A Jewess is the most popular tragic actress on the contemporary stage, and another Jewess was probably the greatest tragic actress of the century. M. Leroy-Beaulieu notices that in painting and sculpture the Jews have been less conspicuous, and he attributes this to their horror of idolatry. I should rather ascribe it to the fact that European art in its best period was mainly devoted to depicting Christian subjects for Christian churches. At all events several considerable Jewish names may be cited in contemporary art, and the Dutch painter who bears the name of Israels is perhaps the greatest living master of the pathetic in painting. In Western Europe, wherever public life has been opened to them, Jews have thrown themselves into almost all the great movements of their time and have distinguished themselves in nearly all. Cremieux, who was a leading figure in the French Republic of 1848, was a Jew both by birth and by creed. David Manin and Leon Gambetta had Jewish blood in their veins. Lassalle and Marx, the chief names in German socialism, as well as great numbers of their followers belong to the same race, and more than one English example of political eminence will occur to the reader. In both German and Dutch literature Jewish names are frequent and they are nearly everywhere prominent in journalism. In the army they have been much less distinguished. Many Jews no doubt serve in the great continental armies with honour, but the Jew is naturally a pacific being, hating violence and recoiling with a peculiar horror from blood. The beneficence of the Jew was for a long time very naturally confined to his own race, but since the hand of persecution has been withdrawn, and wherever the Jews have been suffered to mingle freely with the Christian population, it has taken a wider range and Jewish names are conspicuous in some of the best forms of unsectarian philanthropy.

It is the evident tendency of modern political life to split up into a number of distinct groups representing distinct interests or forms of thought. We find a Catholic party, a Nonconformist party, a Labour party, a Socialist party, a Temperance party, and many others. But in spite of the crusade that has arisen in so many countries against the Jews, we nowhere find a distinct and clearly defined Jewish party. The tendency of the race is rather to throw themselves ardently into existing movements, and their power of assimilation is one of their most remarkable gifts. As M. Leroy-Beaulieu shows by many illustrations, they are apt in most Western nations even to exaggerate the national characteristics, though they usually combine with them a certain flexibility of adaptation and a certain cosmopolitanism of view which is essentially their own.

It was inevitable that with such tendencies the old rigidity of creed should be impaired and that the observances which completely severed the Jew from other people should be discarded. There can be little doubt that the dissolution of old beliefs which has been such a marked and ominous characteristic of the latter half of the nineteenth century has been even more common among the Western Jews than in Christian nations, and it appears to have spread quite as rapidly among the women as among the men. Many Jews have passed into complete religious indifference—into absolute and often very cynical negation. They have become, as Sheridan wittily said, like the blank page between the Old and the New Testament. Others have taken refuge in a kind of highly rationalised Judaism little different from pure Theism. Some of the most independent, scientific, and trenchant criticism of the Old Testament writings has proceeded from members of the race which was once distinguished for the most complete and superstitious worship of the letter of the law. Spinoza in his 'Tractatus Theologico-Politicus' led the way in this path, and in our own day I need only mention the writings of Salvador, Kalisch, and Darmesteter and the remarkable Hibbert Lectures of Mr. Montefiore.

This movement, however, is chiefly confined to the Western Jews. The Oriental Jews have retained in a far greater measure their old creed and ritual, their old fanaticism and aspirations. To them Palestine is still the land of promise, and they still dream that it is destined to become once more a Jewish State. Few persons who consider the conditions of the East and the power of the Jewish race will pronounce the realisation of this dream to be impossible or even in a very high degree improbable. Perhaps the most formidable obstacle is the poverty of the land and the total absence among the Jews of agricultural tastes and aptitudes. One thing, however, may be safely predicted. If Palestine is ever again to become a Jewish land, this will be effected only through the wealth and energy of the Western Jews, and it is not those Jews who are likely to inhabit it.


[8] Mr. Lecky had made various notes with the intention of bringing this essay up to date, but failing health prevented him from accomplishing it.—ED.


Among the many important works which have lately been published on the Continent, reconstructing the history of France during the struggle of the Revolution and during the periods that immediately preceded and followed it, scarcely any have been so comprehensive, and not many have been so valuable, as 'The History of the Life and Times of Madame de Stael,' by Lady Blennerhassett. The author—a Bavarian lady who was an intimate friend and favourite pupil of Dr. Doellinger—has brought to her task a knowledge, which is scarcely rivalled in its completeness, of the French, German, English, and Italian literatures relating to the period; and she has produced a work of which it is in one sense the merit, but in another the defect, that it sweeps over a far wider field than might be expected from its title. It is seldom, I think, a judicious thing to confuse the provinces of history and biography by turning the life of an individual into an elaborate history of his time; and in the few cases in which this method has been successfully pursued, the biographer has selected as his subject some man like Cromwell, or Frederick the Great, or Napoleon, who was indisputably the chief mover of his age. When figures of less prominence are chosen, both the history and the biography are apt to suffer. The true perspective, or relative magnitude, of events is impaired, and the book is almost sure to lose something of its artistic charm and of its popularity. Mr. Masson, as it seems to me, committed a mistake of this kind in his 'Life of Milton,' when he grouped around the great Puritan poet—who, however illustrious, was certainly not the central figure of his time—a full and valuable history of the Commonwealth, and of large sections of the reigns of Charles I. and Charles II.

In like manner, a great part of the work of Lady Blennerhassett is not biography, but history, and history of a very high order. Madame de Stael was so closely connected in her own person, and still more through her father, with the early events of the French Revolution, that we accept with gratitude the admirable sketch of that period which Lady Blennerhassett has given us; but we should scarcely expect to find in a work primarily devoted to Madame de Stael full and masterly accounts of the Ministry of Turgot, of the rise and teaching of the Economists, of the rival influence of the writings of Montesquieu and Rousseau on the French political character, of the effect of English influence and American example in preparing the Revolution, and of the part played by Germans and Swedes in French politics. At the same time, the pictures of the social and intellectual life prevailing in the different countries with which Madame de Stael was connected, and the full accounts given of a crowd of persons with whom she came into casual contact, though in themselves both interesting and valuable, often tend to divert the reader from the main subject of the book. In truth, Lady Blennerhassett has not been able to resist the temptation of a very full mind to pour out all its knowledge, and, while possessing many rare and brilliant literary gifts, she appears to me to want that restraining sense of literary perspective which gives biography its true proportion and symmetry. This defect has, I fear, diminished the popularity of a most valuable book. In the original German, and in an excellent French translation which was revised by the author and which I especially commend to my readers, the work consists of three very substantial volumes.[9] A hasty reader will readily conclude that, in this short and crowded life, such a space is far more than should be allotted to a long-vanished figure which, though interesting and brilliant, was not of the first magnitude. But if he has the courage to persevere, he will soon discover that few modern books have lighted up in so many directions the political, social, moral, and intellectual history of a momentous period, and have exhibited at once so many kinds of talent and so wide a range of sympathies and knowledge. The complete competence, the firm, sober, and—if I may use the expression—masculine judgment with which Lady Blennerhassett has grasped the great political problems of the period of the Revolution, is not less conspicuous than the truly feminine delicacy of observation and touch with which she has delineated social life in many different countries, and painted the finer shades of many widely dissimilar characters.

Anne Louise Germaine Necker was born in Paris on April 22, 1766. Her father was at that time known only as a Swiss banker of high character and reputation, who had amassed a vast fortune and had come to Paris for his private affairs; but about two years after the birth of his daughter he was appointed to represent the interests of Geneva at Paris, and when she was ten years old he rose, for the first time, to a leading place in the Ministry of France. Her mother had been the Mademoiselle Curchod whose charms and accomplishments had captivated Gibbon when he was a young man at Lausanne. Every reader of his autobiography will remember the famous passage in which he describes his engagement, the opposition of his father, and the resignation with which he 'sighed as a lover, but obeyed as a son.' M. d'Haussonville has published from the archives at Coppet some melancholy letters which show clearly that Gibbon exhibited more heartlessness and inflicted more suffering than might be gathered from his own stately narrative. But no lasting scar remained. After a few years of poverty and hardship, during which she was obliged to earn a livelihood as a schoolmistress, Mademoiselle Curchod found in Necker a husband who realised her fondest wishes; and when, soon after, she became the centre of a brilliant salon at Paris, her former lover, then in the zenith of his fame, was often among her guests. Madame Necker did not always abstain from slightly veiled allusions to the past, but it is pleasant to see that a warm and solid friendship seems to have grown up between Gibbon and both his host and hostess. A pretty anecdote is related of how, on one occasion, after he had left the house, they agreed in expressing the deep regret with which they looked forward to his approaching departure for England; when their little daughter, who was then just ten years old, gravely offered to prevent the catastrophe by marrying the illustrious, but by no means prepossessing, historian.

It was a saying of Talleyrand that he who had not lived before 1789 had never known the full charm of life. Germaine Necker grew up in the last bright flush of a society which had, perhaps, as many fascinations as any that the world has known. Her mother, however, though she occupied a prominent position in this brilliant world, was never altogether of it. She shared fully, indeed, its intellectual tastes, and had herself won some small place in literature. She threw herself ardently into its philanthropic movements, and especially into that for the reform of the hospitals. She formed a warm and true friendship with Buffon and Thomas. She corresponded with Voltaire, and attracted to her house most of the best writers of the age. But to the last she remained eminently and characteristically Swiss, and she never acquired the light touch, or the easy, pliant grace, of the true Parisian. She was a little cold, a little prim, a little pedantic, a little self-conscious. Neither her reserved manners nor her strong domestic tastes, nor the vein of Puritanism that ran through her opinions, harmonised with the lax and sceptical society around her, and it was no sacrifice to her to exchange the splendours and the gaieties of Paris for her peaceful retreat on the Lake of Geneva.

In this, as in most respects, her daughter was very different. In her the Swiss element had altogether disappeared, and, as is often the case with the eminent child of eminent parents, her character shot out in directions wholly unlike both that of her father and that of her mother. She was not beautiful, though her dark and eminently lustrous eyes, beaming with intelligence, and her rich brown tint, gave some charm to her large and rather coarse features; while her massive shoulders, arms, and breast, her full lips and the firm grasp of her vigorous hand, indicated a strong, frank, ruling, and passionate nature, overflowing with life and with many forms of energy. Her education was somewhat fitfully conducted, but she threw herself eagerly into literary enthusiasms. At fifteen we find her annotating Montesquieu. Raynal and Richardson were among her idols, but, like most of the more ardent spirits of her generation, her ideas and character were moulded chiefly by the genius of Rousseau. Her first work of importance was an exposition of his doctrines, and his influence left deep traces on both 'Corinne' and 'Delphine.' Her strong sane judgment, however, her genuine humanity, and the moderating influence of her father, saved her from being swept away, like Madame Roland and most of the disciples of Rousseau, by the sanguinary torrent of revolutionary enthusiasm; and in times of wild passion and exaggeration she usually exhibited a singular soundness and sobriety of political judgment. She was sometimes mistaken, but on the whole it may well be doubted whether there is any other French writer or politician of the period of the Revolution whose contemporary judgments of men and events have been more frequently ratified by posterity.

In this respect she was not of the school of Rousseau. In another and less admirable way she was curiously untouched by his spirit, for few superior intellects have been so openly, so utterly, insensible to the charms of nature. She once spoke of 'the infernal peace' of her Swiss home, and she candidly acknowledged that if it were not for respect for the opinions of others she would not open her window to look for the first time on the Bay of Naples, though she would gladly travel five hundred leagues to make the acquaintance of a man of talent. On the borders of the Lake of Geneva, with one of the fairest scenes on earth expanding before her, she was incessantly pining for 'le ruisseau de la Rue du Bac'—for the interest and the excitement of a society which had become the passion of her life.

Her gifts of conversation were very wonderful, and she had a wide range of sympathies, keen insight into character, and great power of describing it by a few vivid words. She had, however, no reticence or reserve, she made many enemies by her unbounded frankness, and she often fatigued or overwhelmed by her exuberant animal spirits and by the torrent of her words. At the same time, unlike most great talkers, she possessed to a very eminent degree the gifts of learning from others, of grasping the characteristic features of their teaching, of awakening sympathies, of dispelling bashfulness, and of kindling latent intellect into a flame. Few women combined so remarkably a sound and moderate judgment with extreme vividness and impetuosity of emotion. She admired deeply, and she generally admired wisely; her first judgments and impulses were almost always generous; and, although she was subject to violent gusts of passion, she could be very patient with those she loved. Through her whole life she was the warmest and most self-sacrificing of friends, and her few antipathies were singularly devoid of rancour. One of those who knew her best pronounced her to be 'absolutely incapable of hatred.'

She soon became the most attractive figure in the salon of Madame Necker, and as the health of her mother declined she became its central figure. Her rare accomplishments and her position as a great heiress naturally would have drawn many suitors around her, but in that age the determined Protestantism of her family was a formidable barrier. It appears from something that she wrote late in life to a German correspondent that, when a mere girl, she had come under the spell of Louis de Narbonne, who asked her hand, and with whom, in after years, she had relations which caused much scandal and which greatly coloured her political life. The story that her parents at one time contemplated a marriage between her and William Pitt, on the occasion of his visit to France in 1783, was discredited by Lord Stanhope; but M. d'Haussonville pronounces it to be quite true, though there is no clear evidence that Pitt was apprised of the wish of the Neckers. She was then only seventeen, and her vehement protest against an English marriage nipped the project in the bud. In 1786, however, a marriage was negotiated for her with the Swedish ambassador, the Baron de Stael, who was at that time a special favourite of Gustavus III. It was a marriage into which but little affection entered, and twelve years later it ended in a separation. There was afterward, it is true, a partial reconciliation, and she was present with her husband when he died, in 1802, on the way from Paris to Coppet.

Her marriage gave her an independent position, and she mixed much in the politics of the early days of the Revolution. She corresponded regularly with the Swedish King, and formed intimate friendships with great numbers of the guiding politicians. The proudest moment of her life was in August 1788, when, amid a transport of transient enthusiasm and extravagant hopefulness, her father was for the second time called to the helm. Her devotion to him amounted almost to adoration, and she would never acknowledge, what the rest of the world soon perceived, that, though excellently adapted to be Minister in quiet, regular times, he had neither the daring nor the insight, nor the commanding power, that was needed to guide the bark of State through the fierce storms of the Revolution. She fully shared the enthusiasm with which the opening of the States General was received. She mentions that on that occasion she was watching the procession from a window with Madame de Montmorin, wife of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and that as she expressed her delight, her companion said: 'You are wrong in rejoicing; great calamities will follow from this to France and to us.' The words were truly prophetic. Madame de Montmorin perished on the scaffold with one of her sons; the other was drowned. Her husband was murdered in prison during the massacre of the second of September. Her eldest daughter died in the prison hospital. Her youngest daughter withered away when not yet thirty, broken-hearted by the calamities of her family.

Madame de Stael, too, soon discovered that no millennium was at hand. She was an eye-witness of the terrible scenes of the fifth and sixth of October, when Versailles was invaded by a half-famished mob, when the guards were cut down and beheaded, and when the royal family were brought captive to Paris. She clearly saw that all power was passing from the Government to the clubs, and that the mob violence which reigned was either instigated or deliberately connived at by the very men whose first duty was to repress it. 'These gentlemen,' she once said, 'are like the rainbow; they always appear when the storm is over.' Under her influence the Swedish Embassy became the chief centre in which the 'Constitutional Party' was organised. Narbonne and Talleyrand were then completely devoted to her. Segur, Choiseul, the Prince de Broglie, and other members of the party were constantly at her house; and at what were called her 'coalition dinners' she brought them in contact with leading men of other groups. She had a conspicuous talent for inspiring, encouraging, conciliating, and organising a party; and for some months she exercised a very real political influence. Her aim was a constitutional monarchy of the English type; but she came gradually to believe that a republic, or at least a change of Sovereigns, had become inevitable. She never wavered in her devotion to liberty, order, and justice; but on minor questions she always exhibited a spirit of compromise which was very rare in her age and in her country. 'The true line of conduct in politics,' she once said, 'is always to be ready to rally to the least obnoxious party among your adversaries, even though it is far from representing exactly your own point of view.' At the end of 1791 she had a moment of delicious triumph, when her favourite Narbonne became Minister of War. Marie Antoinette, who disliked her, clearly recognised her hand. 'Count Louis de Narbonne,' she wrote to Fersen, 'has been Minister of War since yesterday. What a glory for Madame de Stael and what a pleasure for her to have the whole army at her disposal!'

The triumphs of Madame de Stael, however, were very fleeting. Her father had fallen irretrievably, and in September 1790 he passed almost unnoticed out of the country where, but little more than a year before, he had been welcomed with such enthusiasm. The Ministry of Narbonne, to which she had attached her most ardent hopes, ended in four months, and before its conclusion her husband, whose views on French politics had been for some time diverging from those of his Sovereign, was recalled. He was not, however, replaced, and Madame de Stael remained alone in Paris till September 1792. Her position there was an extremely dangerous one. She had long been an object of incessant abuse in the Royalist press, and now the red waves of Jacobinism were rising higher and higher, surging fiercely around those to whom she was most attached. Nothing in her life is so admirable as the courage with which, in this period of the Revolution, she devoted herself to saving the lives of the proscribed. Her purse was always open, and she often risked not only her fortune, but her life. The royal family had always disliked her; but she was filled with horror at the fate that was impending over them, and she herself organised a plan for their escape, in which, if it had been accepted, she would have borne a leading part, at the imminent risk of her head; and she afterward wrote an earnest and eloquent pamphlet in the hope of saving the life of the Queen. Sometimes by interceding with those in power, sometimes by concealing fugitives in the Swedish Embassy, very often by large and timely gifts of money, she saved many. Her own life, at the time of the September massacres, was in extreme danger, and she at last fled to Switzerland. Coppet then became a great centre of refugees, and many of them owed their lives to her help. Among others, Narbonne appears to have owed his escape, in part at least, to her assistance, and she chiefly managed the escape of his daughter. She was for a long time completely under his charm; but he is said to have been irritated by her often tactless impetuosity, and especially by the manner in which public opinion regarded him as her creature, and he seems to have treated her with much ingratitude. There was no violent breach, but there was a separation, and a wound which was long and bitterly felt. Many years later, Madame de Stael, when praising the Prince de Ligne, said of him: 'He had the manners of Monsieur de Narbonne—and a heart.'

A short visit to England, in 1793, the death of her mother in May 1794, and the publication of her first purely political work, 'Reflections on Peace, addressed to Mr. Pitt and to the French,' were the chief events of her life during the next few months. In this work she dwelt with much force on the absurdity of supposing that any foreign intervention could restore what the Revolution had destroyed, and she predicted that the inevitable effect of the prolongation or extension of the war would be to strengthen that militant Jacobinism which was now the greatest danger to Europe. In this year, too, she first came in contact with Benjamin Constant, and her acquaintance soon developed into a connection which gave her a new and powerful instrument for acting on French politics, but which also brought with it much suffering, many reproaches, and long and lasting discredit. In May 1795 we find her again in Paris, with her husband, who had once more been sent on a mission to France; again eagerly engaged in French politics; again largely occupied in defending the interests of her proscribed friends. Among others, Talleyrand appears to have owed his recall to her influence. As usual, she excited many antipathies, she was denounced in the Convention by Legendre for her political intrigues and especially for her efforts in favour of the emigrants, and she was obliged to leave Paris for about eighteen months. Her pen was at this time very active, and to this period belong her 'Essay on Novels' and her 'Treatise on the Passions.'

The star of Bonaparte was now rapidly rising, and it profoundly affected the last years of her life. The pages in her 'Considerations on the French Revolution' in which she describes her first interview with him, after the peace of Campo Formio, are among the most graphic she ever wrote, though something of the shadow of the picture was, no doubt, drawn from later experience and antipathy. She was at first dazzled; she was at all times profoundly impressed by his genius, but she soon came to perceive that his nature was wholly unlike that of other men. She had seen, she said, men worthy of all respect, and she had seen men noted for their ferocity; but the impression produced on her by Bonaparte was generically different from that produced by either of these classes. She found that such epithets as 'good,' 'violent,' 'gentle,' and 'cruel' could not be applied to him in their ordinary senses. He was in truth a being who stood self-centred, and apart from the sympathies, passions, and enthusiasms of his kind, habitually regarding men, not as fellow-creatures, but as mere counters in a game; a will of colossal strength; an intellect of clear, cold, transcendent power, solely governed by the imperturbable calculation of the strictest egotism, and never drawn aside by love or hatred, by pity or religion, or by attachment to any cause. It was impossible, she found, to exaggerate his contempt for human nature and his disbelief in the reality of human virtue. A perfectly honest man was the only kind of man he never could understand. Such a man perplexed and baffled his calculations, acting on them as the sign of the cross acts on the machinations of a demon. The superiority which so clearly shone in his conversation was not that of a mind cultivated by study and by society; it was the supreme insight into the circumstances of life possessed by a mighty hunter of men. There was something in him, she said, like a cold and trenchant sword, which at the same moment could wound and chill.

Such was the estimate she formed of the man who, nearly at the same time, was presented by Talleyrand to the Directory as 'the pacificator of Europe,' as a hero 'who despised luxury and pomp—the wretched ambition of common souls—and who loved the poems of Ossian, especially because they detach men from the earth'! That two such different natures should come into collision was very natural. Bonaparte always hated superior women, and especially women who meddled in politics. He well knew that the circle of Madame de Stael was the centre of ideas about freedom and constitutional government irreconcilably opposed to his ambition, and that the world of good society and good taste, of independent thought and independent characters, in which she played so great a part, remained unsubdued and undazzled by his power. Benjamin Constant had been placed in 'the Tribunate,' and in the beginning of 1800 he made a speech there, indicating a desire to establish in that body an opposition like the opposition in the English Parliament. Bonaparte was furious at his attitude, and at once ascribed it to the inspiration of Madame de Stael. A year later the last work of her father appeared, and it contained an earnest warning against growing despotism in France and a strong argument for the establishment of a republican constitution. The sayings of Madame de Stael that were repeated from lip to lip, and the atmosphere of thought that grew up around her, irritated and disquieted Bonaparte. 'She is moving the minds of men,' he said, 'in a direction that does not suit me.' 'They pretend that she does not speak of politics or of me, but somehow it always happens that those who have been with her become less attached to me.' Soon her salon was emptied by an emphatic intimation that those who entered it would incur the displeasure of the First Consul. Official scribes were busily employed in depreciating her, and these measures were speedily followed by the long exile which darkened the later years of her life.

It is impossible for me in this article to relate, even in outline, the story of this exile, and of her travels in England, Italy, Austria, Russia, and, above all, in Germany. Madame de Stael has herself described this period of her life in her 'Ten Years of Exile,' and all the details have been collected by Lady Blennerhassett with an industry that leaves nothing to be desired. A woman of a more heroic type would have borne with less repining an exclusion from Paris life which was mitigated by wealth, and fame, and abundant occupation, and a family that adored her, and troops of admiring friends. A woman who was less essentially noble would have assuredly accepted the overtures that were more than once made to her, and would have purchased her peace with Napoleon by burning a few grains of literary incense on his altar. But though, in a life of more than common vicissitude and temptation, Madame de Stael was betrayed into great weaknesses and into some serious faults, she never lost her sense of the dignity and integrity of literature, and her works are singularly free from unworthy flattery as well as from unworthy resentments and jealousies. The homage which Napoleon desired was never received, and in her great work on Italy and her still greater one on Germany there was no trace of his victories, influence, or animosities. 'In France,' he once said, 'there is a small literature and a great literature; the small literature is on my side, but the great literature is not for me.'

The disfavour which thrust Madame de Stael out of political influence, and then drove her into exile, proved a blessing in disguise, for it turned her mind decisively from political intrigues to those forms of literature in which she was most fitted to excel. Her treatise on 'Literature,' which was published in 1800, was conceived upon a scale too large for her own knowledge, and though she herself attributed to it the great and general favour that she enjoyed for a time in Paris society, it has not taken an enduring place in French literature. 'Delphine,' the most personal, and also the most censured, of her novels, had a still wider success, and made a deeper and more lasting impression. It appeared in 1802, and it was followed by a long interval, during which she appears to have published nothing except a short but admirable notice of her father, who died in the spring of 1804; but in 1807 'Corinne' burst upon the world, and at once obtained a European fame equalled by that of no French novel since 'La Nouvelle Heloise.' In this great work of imagination she embodied, in a highly poetic form, the impressions she had derived from her journeys in England and Italy, and its immense and instantaneous success placed her on the very pinnacle of fame. It is worthy of notice that a bitter attack upon 'Corinne' appeared in 'Le Moniteur,' based chiefly upon the fact that its hero was an Englishman; and there is good reason to believe that this attack was from the pen of Napoleon himself.

A book of larger scope and of more serious influence soon followed. Germany at this time presented the singular spectacle of a people who had been reduced to the lowest depths of political depression, but who, at the same time, could boast of a contemporary literature that was the first in the world. In France a translation of 'Werther' had attained great popularity; some of the plays of Schiller, the idylls of Gessner, and a few other German works were well known; but scarcely any Frenchman had a conception of the magnitude and importance of the intellectual activity which was growing up beyond the Rhine, or of the vast place which Goethe, Schiller, and Kant were destined to take in European thought. It was one of the chief pleasures and occupations of Madame de Stael, during her exile, to explore this almost unknown field. It would scarcely have been thought that she was well fitted for the task. She learned the language late in life, and her characteristically French mind seemed very little in harmony with either the strength or the weakness of the Teutonic intellect. There was nothing very profound, or very subtle, or very poetical in her nature, and she had all that instinctive dislike to the vague, the disproportioned, the exaggerated, and the ambiguous, to fantastic and far-fetched conjecture, and to imposing edifices of speculation based upon scanty or shadowy materials, that pre-eminently distinguishes the best French thought. Very wisely, however, she placed herself in direct communication with the great writers of Germany, and a wholly new world of thought and sentiment gradually opened upon her mind. It is not too much to say that it was her pen that first revealed to the Latin world the intellectual greatness of Germany. In England, Coleridge had already laboured in the same field, and his admirable translation of 'Wallenstein' had appeared as early as 1800; but it had been completely still-born, and in England also it was reserved for the great Frenchwoman to give the first considerable impulse to the study of German literature. For the history, the merits, and the defects of her work on Germany, I cannot do better than to refer to the admirable pages which Lady Blennerhassett has devoted to the subject. With the doubtful exception of 'Le Genie du Christianisme,' it was by far the most important French work which appeared during the reign of Napoleon. It is a characteristic fact that the whole of the first edition was confiscated by order of his Government. Happily the manuscript was saved, and about three years later it was printed in England.

After some discreditable scenes, on which a recently published correspondence has thrown a painful though somewhat doubtful light, the connection of Madame de Stael with Benjamin Constant was broken. The two continued occasionally to correspond, and as late as 1815 we find her lending him a large sum of money; but their relations were never again what they had been, and on the side of Constant there appears to have been a large amount of positive malevolence. 'O Benjamin,' she wrote to him in one of her later letters, 'you have destroyed my life! For ten years not a day has passed that my heart has not suffered for you—and yet I loved you so much!' A strong affection, such as she had not found in her marriage with the Baron de Stael, was an imperious necessity of her existence, and after her breach with Constant she soon found an object in a young officer from Geneva named Rocca, who had returned to his native town badly wounded after brilliant service in Spain. When they first met, in 1810, Madame de Stael was forty-four and Rocca about twenty-three; but a genuine and honourable affection seems to have grown up on both sides, and in the following year they were married. Madame de Stael, however, either clinging to her name or dreading the ridicule of such a strangely assorted marriage, insisted upon its concealment, and Rocca generally passed in society as her lover. A child was born in 1812, but it was only after the death of Madame de Stael that the legitimacy of the connection was established. It proved much more productive of happiness than might have been expected, and greatly brightened her closing years. Nearly at the same time an important change passed over her religious views, and the vague deism of her youth deepened into a positive, definite, and earnest Christianity, but without mysticism and without intolerance. Some beautiful lines that are cited by Lady Blennerhassett very faithfully express the spirit of her belief: 'Il faut avoir soin, si l'on peut, que le declin de cette vie soit la jeunesse de l'autre. Se desinteresser de soi, sans cesser de s'interesser aux autres, met quelque chose de divin dans l'ame.'

She lived to see the downfall of perhaps the only man she really hated, his return from Elba, his final defeat at Waterloo, and the restoration of the Bourbons. But, though she detested Napoleon and his system, these things gave her no pleasure. The spectacle of an invaded and a dismembered France aroused her strongest feelings of patriotism, and she loved liberty too truly and too ardently to rejoice in the influences that triumphed in 1815. Her last years were chiefly spent in the composition of her 'Considerations on the French Revolution,' in which she sums up the convictions of her life. It is one of her most valuable and most lasting books. The disproportioned prominence which is naturally assigned in it to Necker, and the manifest personal element in her antipathy to Napoleon, impair its weight, indeed, as a history; but few writers have criticised with more justice the successive stages of the Revolution, and few books of its generation are so rich in political wisdom. The concluding chapters, in which, in a strain of noble eloquence, she pleads the cause of moderate and constitutional freedom, show how steadily and how strongly, in an age of many disenchantments, she clung to the belief of her youth.

The 'Considerations on the French Revolution' had a vast and an immediate success, and in a few days sixty thousand copies were sold. Madame de Stael, however, did not live to witness her triumph. In February 1817 she was struck down by a paralytic illness, and on July 14, after a long period of complete prostration, she passed away tranquilly in her sleep. It was a peaceful ending to an agitated and chequered career. She had enjoyed much and suffered much. She had committed grave faults, and had met with her full share of disappointment and ingratitude; but few women have left such an enduring monument behind them, or have touched human life on so many sides and with so many sympathies.


[9] There is also an English, and somewhat abridged, translation.


There is probably no other English public man of the present century whose career has attracted in so large a measure the interest both of politicians and of men of letters as Sir Robert Peel. In addition to a crowd of industrious but not very distinguished compilers, it has been discussed with great skill by Guizot, by Lord Dalling, by Mr. Goldwin Smith, and by Mr. Spencer Walpole; and in that great literature of monographs which has grown up with such remarkable rapidity in England within the last decade, no less than three have been devoted to the life of Peel. The interest that attaches to him is, indeed, of a very peculiar character. He was almost wholly destitute of the power of imagination that is so conspicuous in the careers or speeches of Chatham and Burke, of Canning and Beaconsfield. Except during a few years that followed the Reform Bill of 1832, he never exhibited the spectacle of a leader struggling successfully against enormous odds. He was not one of those statesmen who see further than their contemporaries, and who, after years of failure and struggle, are proved by their ultimate triumph to have most truly read the tendencies of their age. Though he was three times Prime Minister of England, and though he was for a time deemed the most brilliant of party leaders, he left the great and powerful party which trusted him almost hopelessly shattered. Twice in his life he carried measures of transcendent importance which he had not only persistently opposed, but had been specially placed in power for the purpose of resisting. The most striking incidents in his career are incidents of failure rather than of success, and history has pronounced that, on the most important questions of his time, he was disastrously wrong. The long delay in the inevitable emancipation of the Catholics, which was largely due to him, and the circumstances under which he ultimately carried the measure, produced evils that are in full activity at the present hour. His persistent opposition to parliamentary reform contributed to bring England to the very verge of revolution; though when the Reform Bill had been carried he nobly retrieved his error by the frankness with which he accepted, and the skill with which he used, the new conditions of English politics. His abolition of the Corn Laws at the head of a Government which had been pledged to maintain them gave a great shock to public confidence, and for a long period most seriously dislocated the machinery of party government. But, in spite of all this, there are few statesmen who have carried so large a number of measures of great and acknowledged importance, who have impressed so deeply the sense of their superiority on the minds of their contemporaries, or who were followed to the grave by a more widespread and genuine regret.

It is this contrast between the leading incidents of Peel's life and the impression which he made on the world that constitutes the great interest of his career. The explanation is not difficult to discover. It is the common story of extraordinary qualities balanced by striking defects. He was not a great statesman, but he was a supremely great administrator, a supremely great master of parliamentary management and of parliamentary legislation. He had little prescience; he often grossly misread the signs of the times, or only recognised them when it was too late; but when he was once convinced, he acted on his conviction with frankness and courage, and when a thing had to be done, no one could do it like him. As Disraeli said: 'In the course of time the method which was natural to Sir Robert Peel matured into a habit of such expertness that no one in the despatch of affairs ever adapted the means more fitly to the end.'[10] In the words of Sir Cornewall Lewis: 'For concocting, producing, explaining, and defending measures, he had no equal, or anything like an equal.'[11]

In the interesting volumes which were published by Lord Mahon and Mr. Cardwell in 1856 we have Peel's own explanation of his conduct relating to the removal of the Catholic disabilities in 1829, and to the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846; but the publication of his confidential correspondence has been long delayed, and the volume before us only carries the work down to 1827. It has been edited by Mr. Parker with great care and accuracy, and with undeviating good sense and good taste, and it throws much curious light upon a corner of history which has been but little explored.

Peel started in life with great advantages. The eldest son of a very wealthy manufacturer who had long occupied a respectable place in Parliament, and who was closely attached to the dominant party in the State, he was from his earliest youth destined by his father to be a statesman. Under such circumstances he was certain in the pre-Reform period to have not only all the advantages which the best school and university education could give, but also the still greater advantages of an early introduction into both parliamentary and official life; provided always that no aberration of character, or taste, or imagination, or opinion drew him aside from the plain path that lay before him. He grew up in an atmosphere of the best middle-class virtues. Decorum, good sense, industry, strict morality; a sober religious orthodoxy; much simplicity of life, preserved in the midst of great wealth; ideals which, if not very lofty, were at least eminently practical and perfectly honourable, prevailed around him, and their influence imbued his whole nature. He accepted cordially the destiny that was before him, and threw himself into it with untiring industry. His opinions changed during his life much more than his character, and the shy, sensitive, industrious, somewhat self-conscious, somewhat awkward Harrow boy, prefigured very faithfully the future statesman. He is described as wandering when a schoolboy by himself among the hedges, knocking down birds with stones, a practice in which he was very skilful, and which eventually developed into a strong passion for shooting. He was quiet, good-natured, studious, scarcely ever in scrapes, and it was not until the last year of his school life that he threw himself with any keenness into the amusements of his comrades. He had good natural abilities; but probably the one point in which he greatly exceeded the average of intelligent boys was his memory, which was of extraordinary retentiveness, and which he carefully cultivated. During a few months which elapsed between leaving Harrow and going to Oxford he constantly attended the House of Commons, under the Gallery; and he also attended some natural history lectures at the Royal Institution. His Oxford career was very successful. He is said to have worked before his degree examination for no less than eighteen hours, through the day and night. He gained a double-first, and in the first class of mathematics he stood alone. Such a success at once stamped him as a youth of extraordinary promise, and the impression it made was especially great because, the examination system having been very recently reorganised, he was the first Oxford man who had attained it.

He was brought into Parliament in April 1809, almost immediately after he came of age, for the borough of Cashel. No special significance attaches to the fact of his having entered Parliament for an Irish constituency, for his father had simply bought the seat, and the young member appears to have never gone over to his constituents or held any communication with them.

'When I sat for Cashel,' he afterwards wrote, 'and was not in office, having made those sacrifices which could then legally be made, but now cannot, I did not consider myself at all pledged to the support of Government.'[12] Perceval, who represented in its extreme form the Tory reaction that followed the Revolution, was then Prime Minister, and Peel at once took his place among his followers. He first spoke in seconding the Address in 1810, and in the partial judgment of his father his speech was considered, 'by men the best qualified to form a correct opinion of public speaking, the best first speech since that of Mr. Pitt.'[13]

It was not, perhaps, an unmixed advantage to Peel that while he was still a mere boy his father had somewhat ostentatiously destined him to be one day a Tory statesman. Such an education could hardly fail to strengthen the self-consciousness which was never wanting in Peel's character, and to give a decided bias to his judgment. At the same time, the distinctive merits of his career would have probably never been fully developed without the early administrative training which his opinions made possible for him, and there is nothing in his early history to give the least countenance to the belief that his adherence to the extreme type of Tory politics imposed the slightest strain upon his judgment. His immediate interests and his sentiments appear at this time to have perfectly concurred. He came into Parliament with the party which was dominant, and with the section of the party which was most poor in able men. Had he adopted on the Catholic question the liberal opinions of Canning and Castlereagh, he must have held a position altogether subordinate to them; and the same causes that in the preceding Ministry had raised Perceval to be leader of the House of Commons over the heads of Castlereagh and Canning, marked out for Peel the future leadership of the party of resistance to concession. It has been said, on the authority of Sir Lawrence Peel, that his first appointment was that of private secretary to Lord Liverpool, but Mr. Parker has found no trace of this in the papers either of Peel or of Lord Liverpool. In 1810, however, when he was but just twenty-two, he entered administrative life as Under-Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, and he held that place till August 1812, when he obtained the far more important post of Chief Secretary for Ireland, and became for the next six years virtual governor of that country.

It was a post requiring not only great administrative skill, but also great gifts of original statesmanship. During the last five years of the eighteenth century, and especially during the rebellion of 1798, religious passions in Ireland, which had for more than a generation been steadily subsiding, had been kindled into a flame, and the urgent necessity of settling the Catholic question had begun to press with irresistible force on the minds of the more intelligent statesmen. Pitt had intended to complete the Union by measures for admitting Catholics into Parliament, for commuting tithes, and for paying the Catholic clergy. Through the instrumentality of Lord Castlereagh assurances of the disposition of the Cabinet had been conveyed to the Catholic bishops and the leading Catholic laymen in 1799, which were sufficient to secure their active support for the Union and to prevent any serious opposition among the Catholic laity. The bishops met the wishes of the English Government by drawing up a series of resolutions, in which they declared their readiness to accept with gratitude an endowment for the priesthood, to confer upon the English Government a power of veto over the appointment of Catholic bishops which would prevent the introduction into that body of any disloyal men, and to certify to the Government the nomination of all Catholic parish priests, as well as the fact that they had taken the oath of allegiance. But the King had not been informed of the negotiations that had taken place, and it is well known how his uncompromising opposition produced the resignation of Pitt in 1801, how the agitation caused by the question threw the King into a temporary fit of insanity, and how Pitt at once promised that he would not move the question again during the reign. In the spring of 1804 Pitt resumed office, on the express understanding that he would not permit Catholic Emancipation; when the question was introduced in 1805 by Lord Grenville in the Lords, and by Fox in the Commons, it was defeated in both Houses by immense majorities, and Pitt declared that though he was still of opinion that there was no danger in the concession, yet, as long as the circumstances which prevented him from bringing it forward continued, he would be no party to agitating the question.

In 1806 Pitt died, and Fox and Grenville were themselves in power, but the Catholics were again disappointed. The prejudice of the King, the feeling of the country, the recent vote of the House of Commons, the presence of Lord Sidmouth in the Ministry, proved insuperable obstacles, and Fox could only urge the Catholic leaders to postpone the question. Fox died in September 1806, and the Government presided over by Lord Grenville met a new Parliament in the following December. Grenville had been Pitt's colleague during the negotiations with the Catholics that preceded the Union; he had strongly urged upon Pitt the necessity of resigning in 1801, and he never forgave him for having so lightly abandoned the cause. Grenville did not attempt to carry emancipation, but he resolved to take at least one serious step in the direction of concession, by throwing open to the Catholics all the posts in the army and navy. An Irish Act of 1793 had enabled them to hold in Ireland commissions in the army, and to attain any rank except commander-in-chief, master-general of the ordnance, and general of the staff; but if the regiments in which they served were sent to England, they were disqualified by law from remaining in the service. The original Bill of Grenville's Government was intended to remove this anomaly, and assimilate the law in the two countries; but in the course of the discussions it was agreed that the Catholics should be freed from the exceptions to which they were subjected by the Irish Act, that all posts in the army and navy should be thrown open to men of all religious persuasions, subject only to the obligation of taking an oath which was prescribed, and that Catholic soldiers should be guaranteed by law the free exercise of their religion. The King had been informed of this, and was understood to have given a distinct, though a reluctant, assent; but a strong Protestant party, headed by Perceval, fiercely opposed it. The King withdrew his assent from the added clauses, and expressed his disapprobation of the whole measure. At last, after much discussion, the Ministers agreed for the present to withdraw their Bill, reserving to themselves by a Cabinet minute, which was submitted to the King, the right to renew it, or to propose any other measure on the subject which they desired. But the King was determined to push his victory to the end. He demanded from his Ministers a promise in writing that they would never again propose to him any measure connected with Catholic emancipation, and as the Ministers refused to give this unconstitutional pledge, the King dismissed them from office, and called the Duke of Portland to the head of affairs.

It was the second time that the King had broken up a Ministry on the Catholic question, and his conduct was especially significant, as his refusal to grant military promotion to Catholics was announced in the midst of a great war, and at a time when thousands of Catholics were fighting in his armies. It at once appeared that there were two entirely distinct schools of Tories. Pitt, to the very close of his life, had declared that his opinions on the Catholic question were unchanged, though he would not force them against the inclination of the King; and his views were adopted by Canning, Castlereagh, and Wellesley. Perceval, on the other hand, emphatically declared that he 'could not conceive a time or any change of circumstances which could render further concession to the Catholics consistent with the safety of the State.'[14] With the exception of Eldon, scarcely any man of real ability adopted this view until Peel entered Parliament as the follower of Perceval. It is sufficiently evident from this fact how little truth there is in the theory that attributes Peel's early Toryism to a blind admiration for Pitt.

The party of the King triumphed. Parliament was dissolved on the 'No Popery' cry, and on the first great party division that followed the election the Ministers in the House of Commons had a majority of 195. Canning and Castlereagh, though they had no sympathy with that cry, availed themselves of the current that ran so strongly against the Whigs. In the Ministry of the Duke of Portland they held the seals for the Foreign and War Departments, but the leadership of the Commons and the virtual leadership of the Ministry was given to Perceval, who, though entirely without brilliant parts, exhibited unexpected talents, both as a practical debater and as a manager of men, and who had the advantage of representing fully the dominant party. Several circumstances, however, other than a conviction of the danger of the Catholic claims, contributed to the triumph of the anti-Catholic party. The Whigs, already broken by their policy towards France in the first stages of the Revolution and of the war, had become still more unpopular through their opposition to the seizure of the Danish fleet and to the Peninsular War. They were divided among themselves, for there was little sympathy between the more aristocratic Whigs, who were represented by Grenville and Lord Howick, and the more Radical party of Sir F. Burdett and Whitbread. A strong personal as well as political dislike already existed between Howick and Canning, and prevented their hearty co-operation on the one great question on which they were agreed. Above all, there was a general conviction among statesmen that the King's mind was trembling on the verge of insanity, and that a renewal of the Catholic complications of 1801 would produce a catastrophe.

The question was debated in both the Lords and Commons in 1808. In the former it was lost by a majority of 87, and in the latter by a majority of 153. Grattan on this occasion introduced the Catholic petition in a speech of consummate power; but both Castlereagh and Canning opposed the reception of the petition, on the ground that the time was unsuited for the agitation of the question; and the spirit of the ruling part of the Ministry was sufficiently shown by the reduction of the Maynooth grant from 13,000l. to 9,250l. When the Portland Government was broken up in September 1809 by the quarrel, duel, and resignation of Canning and Castlereagh, Perceval became the head of the new Ministry, Lord Wellesley occupying the place of Canning, and Lord Hawkesbury that of Castlereagh; and an intensely anti-Catholic ministry continued to the death of Perceval. In 1809 the Catholic question was not introduced into Parliament. In the spring of 1810 it was introduced into both Houses, but was defeated by majorities of 86 and 104; but in October 1810 an event occurred which profoundly changed the aspect of affairs. The King's insanity broke out anew in a form which gave little hope of recovery, and the Prince of Wales was appointed Regent. For a year the regency was subject to restrictions similar to those which had been adopted in 1788, but on February 1, 1812, these restrictions were to cease, and the Regent was to enter into full fruition of the royal power.

The hopes of the Catholics were now raised to the highest point. With the confirmed insanity of George III. the most serious of all the obstacles to their claims was removed. During the year of the restricted regency, while there was still some chance of the recovery of the King, the Prince of Wales declined to remove the existing Ministry from office, though even this decision was not taken without some hesitation and some negotiations with the Whigs. The Catholics, however, fully expected that the royal influence would now be exerted in their favour, and that the Whig Ministry would speedily come. The Prince of Wales had long been in close connection with the Whigs. As early as 1797 he had expressed a desire to go over to Ireland as Lord-Lieutenant, carrying with him a policy of conciliation to the Catholics. In 1805, when Fox and Grenville had introduced the Catholic question into the Imperial Parliament, the Prince, while stating that considerations of obvious delicacy prevented him from taking an immediate and open part in its favour, had given the Whig leaders the fullest authority to assure the Catholics of Ireland that he would never forsake their interests, the 'most distinct and authentic pledge' of his wish to relieve them from the disabilities of which they complained, and to exert himself in their favour as soon as he was constitutionally able to do so. It is easy therefore to imagine the consternation and the indignation with which, in 1812, the Catholics found that the Prince Regent had changed his principles and his policy; that, after a short and perhaps insincere negotiation with the Whigs, he had resolved to maintain in power a Ministry which was constructed for the main purpose of maintaining the Catholic disabilities; and that his own opinions were rapidly verging towards this policy.

The situation in Ireland was becoming very dangerous. For some years after the Union a great apathy prevailed, and there is no reasonable doubt that, if events in England had been favourable, Catholic emancipation would have met with no serious opposition in Ireland, and could have been carried with every reasonable limitation and safeguard. The most competent English officials calculated that at least sixty-four of the hundred Irish representatives would vote for it, and that a decided preponderance of Irish Protestant opinion was in its favour. On the other hand, the Catholic bishops and aristocracy had fully accepted the policy of an endowment for the priests and a veto on the appointment of bishops, and the most Conservative elements in the Catholic body still exercised an ascendancy over their co-religionists. The question of the veto had been mentioned in the Commons, by Sir J. Hippisley, in 1805, and in 1808 Grattan and Ponsonby formally announced, on the authority of the Catholic bishops, their readiness to accept it. A letter from Bishop Milner was read to the House, which very clearly stated their position:

'The Catholic prelates of Ireland,' he wrote, 'are willing to give a direct negative power to his Majesty's Government with respect to the nomination of their titular bishoprics, in such manner that when they have among themselves resolved who is the fittest person for the vacant see, they will transmit his name to his Majesty's Ministers; and if the latter should object to that name, they will transmit another and another, until a name is presented to which no objection is made; and (which is never likely to be the case) should the Pope refuse to give those essentially necessary spiritual powers, of which he is the depository, to the person so presented by the Catholic bishops and so approved by the Government, they will continue to propose names till one occurs which is agreeable to both parties—namely, the Crown and Apostolic See.'

The prelates also engaged to nominate no persons who had not previously taken the oath of allegiance.[15] But a democratic party had now arisen among the Catholics, which utterly repudiated the restrictions of the veto, which sought emancipation by violent and democratic agitation, and which was rapidly drawing the most dangerous elements in the country into its channel. The bishops, pushed on by the strong force that was behind them, speedily retraced their steps and passed resolutions against the restrictions they had accepted, and there were evident signs that the Catholic body was passing away from the guidance of Grattan and of the gentry. This was not surprising in a country where many elements of anarchy subsisted; and the democratic party had already found in O'Connell a leader of consummate skill, and of untiring industry, energy, and ambition. But the chief cause of the great change that was passing over the Irish Catholics was to be found in the disappointment of their hopes in 1801, in 1804, in 1806, and 1812; in the desertion of their cause by Pitt; in the proved impotence of the Whigs; in the failure of 'the securities' even to mitigate the hostility of Perceval and his followers; in the profound consternation and exasperation that were produced by the attitude of the Regent. The formation of the General Committee of Catholic Delegates was speedily followed by its suppression under the Convention Act. But the influence of O'Connell was rapidly growing; there were already ominous signs of a possible agitation for the repeal of the Union, and the indignation of the Catholics was significantly shown by the famous 'witchery resolutions,' which were unanimously carried by the aggregate meeting of the Catholics in the June of 1812, reflecting on the influence which Lady Hertford was believed to exercise over the Prince. After calling for the 'total and unqualified repeal of the penal laws which aggrieve the Catholics,' they proceeded to use the following language: 'That from authentic documents now before us we hear, with deep disappointment and anguish, how cruelly the promised boon of Catholic freedom has been interrupted by the fatal witchery of an unworthy secret influence.... To this impure source we trace but too distinctly our baffled hopes and protracted servitude.' Such language was not calculated to conciliate the Prince, and he was only confirmed in his hostility to the Catholics. As early as September 1813 the Duke of Richmond wrote to Peel: 'I was delighted to find H.R.H. as steady a Protestant as the Attorney-General.'

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