Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

volumes, and “The Life and Death of John of Barneveld, Advocate of Holland,” in two volumes. The reader may separate these works for convenience' sake, but need not, for they are almost a united whole. As interesting as fiction, as eloquent as the best oratory, they are as trustworthy as accuracy and faithful industry could make them. Motley's portraiture of William the Silent is one of the great delineations of history. Not less able, nor less picturesque, is his remarkable account of the character of Queen Elizabeth of England, and of the court and times in which she lived. Writing of the Netherlands, Motley really gives us a military, civil, and social history of Europe in an age of great struggles. He has been accused of partiality and partisanship; but his analysis of the character of William is as just, and where there is need, as pitiless, as that of Philip II. himself. It has been declared that Motley is intensely antiCatholic. Anti-Roman is the proper word ; but his anti-Romanism is no more than a denunciation of the bloody horrors of the Inquisition, and of those awful wars in which the extermination of whole Protestant peoples was the perpetual purpose.

The hate and cruelty of Calvinist against Romanist, and the hostilities between Calvinist and Lutheran, are laid bare to the eye of all future time. How Protestants persecuted and killed we are very plainly told by this impartial writer. Their crime was as great, in the moral sense, as that of their foes; but it hurried far fewer out of the world of terror and of blood.

He who quarrels

with Motley really quarrels with events, not with their recorder. His readers study under the guidance of a masterly political analyst, a writer whose style is vivid and eloquent, and an historian who can both gather facts and winnow truth from falsehood, and show a high appreciation of the spirit of liberty which moved great actions in stirring times. He was impulsive and occasionally haughty, as a man, and also in some of his judgments; but he was loyal to his idea of truth and freedom. « Stirring vitality” is the apt descriptive phrase applied to Motley by his friend and biographer; and it was this, with his intense love of religious and political freedom, which enabled him to give us “the long roll of glowing tapestry he has woven for us, with all its life-like portraits, its almost moving pageants, its sieges where we can see the artillery flashing, its battle-fields with their smoke and fire,-pictures which cannot fade, and which will

preserve his name interwoven with their own enduring colors.” *

The two greatest historians America has produced-Bancroft and Motley—were great because they were American historians, imbued with the national spirit of liberty.

Among living American historians and biographers who have selected foreign themes, the Eugene

Schuyler name of Eugene Schuyler demands atten

b. 1840. tion, though his future literary career cannot be forecast. His two-volume “ Life of Peter Schuyler's the Great" -as truly a history as a biog- the Great.

* Holmes' “Life of Motley,” 223, 224.

Life of Peter

raphy-is undoubtedly the standard life of the great Russian, even if we take into view the literature of the world. This position it has won by the fulness of its preliminary investigations, pursued during the diplomatic career which almost seems an inevitable element in the work of American historians; and also by the completeness of its plan and the minuteness and accuracy of its details. Its one fault is unfortunate, almost fatal. The book, which ought to have been interesting to the degree of romance, is dull from beginning to end. It is undoubtedly a magnum opus, but it must be read as a task, undertaken with resolution and completed with self-congratulation. Fortunate would Schuyler have been had he caught the charm of Motley's unpretending little essay on Peter, originally prepared as a review article, and long afterwards reprinted in a modest pamphlet.

This chapter on American historical writers may worthily be closed with a mention of the one great purely literary history thus far produced in the counGeorge try. George Ticknor's “ History of Span1791–1871. ish Literature was the work of a man of broad and deep culture, trained in the best circles of Ticknor's his own country, and the friend and assoHistory of ciate of many of the great Europeans of his Spanish Literature.”

dıy. The history, based upon long studies and patient accumulations of material, is consulted as the best, and, for the time, the ultimate, authority on its interesting theme. The highest tribute paid to its merit is the fact that, in our age of great critical authority, no contemporary scholar has undertaken

Ticknor,

to supplant it. Ticknor was fortunate in being able to treat of a body of literature which is great and also substantially complete; for the literary glory of Spain belongs, like that of Italy, to the past. In perspective, in justice of critical praise and blame, and in accuracy of statement, Ticknor's “History of Spanish Literature” is, in some respects, the best literary record devoted by a foreigner to the books of any country. Inferior to Taine's “ English Literature” in brilliancy and beauty of style, it easily surpasses that most famous of recent criticisms in its candor and impartiality of thought and judgment and in its evenness of execution.

[graphic]

CHAPTER XII.

BORDERLANDS OF AMERICAN LITERATURE.

LITERATURE, if strictly defined, cannot be said to include those books which have a purpose chiefly technical.

We must admit that literature has been enriched by some books not wholly ideal in aim, and not written for unpractical purposes. Thus, history and biography instruct; orations are delivered for the sake of clients or of governmental measures; philosophy and pedagogy are enshrined, perhaps, in an external adornment of literary style ; theology is taught in books that belong to the choicest division of literature ; prayers and creeds of noble verbal form seek the benefit, as well as the ideal pleasure, of the individual ; and even poetry is didactic, moral, or devout. Literature, pure and simple, may both teach and preach ; an English or American critic, at least, will not consent to divorce beauty from duty, though not denying that each may exist without the other. But the critic and the reader must always re

member that there are “books that are no “Literature of Science." books,” in the literary sense.

They may be useful, potent, indispensable; but they are not

The

« AnteriorContinuar »