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for England; "her glorious records of a thousand years,” and her dominion “ on which the sun shall never set." If Gladstone had been alive in 1776 he and Washington would have settled the whole difficulty amicably, the English speaking race would not have been divided, and the United States would in some wonderfully sweet way have remained British colonies and part of the British empire, the great civilizer of the world. That is the keynote of his history; and it is all written within that limitation. No one has so glorified and enlarged the old whig and Annual Register idea.
He limits himself and narrows his point of view still more by assigning the obstinacy of the king and his love of personal government as the cause of all the difficulty. The king deceived and forced the ministry, Parliament and the English people, and kept them deceived and forced during eleven years of argument and eight years
This one-man explanation of great political events is a cheap and easy historical device of very wide application. It is very dramatic and from a literary point of view, very telling and interesting. Fiske varies it and makes it more dramatic by assuring us that the person who put the wickedness into the head of George III. was Charles Townshend.
That is a very pretty and interesting touch, to have Mephistopheles whispering in the ear of the one man. Botta, who also had the one-man idea, said that the devil who did the whispering was Lord Bute. And, indeed, the devil might be varied indefinitely, because there were so many people suggesting those ideas at that time. The editor of the Boston Gazette may have been the devil; for Townshend's main idea can be found in the pages of that journal long before Townshend promulgated it. If Mr. Fiske and his followers will admit that there were many million devils comprising the majority of the Parliament and people of England together with the loyalists in America all whispering and some talking very loud for the encouragement of George III., the one-man theory will become comparatively harmless.
If modern comprehensive investigation aided by improved libraries and collections has established anything, it is that the prominent
or great individuals, while undoubtedly valuable, are more apt to be the results and outcome of political movements than the causes of them. The Revolution was a world movement forced on by the thought of millions of people. Its beginnings extend far back of 1764, and George III. merely swam in the current. In the face of all the accumulated evidence of its workings, to assign the responsibility for it to one man may do well enough for eulogistic biography or oratory; but is hardly admissible in history, if history is to be anything more serious than the latest novel.
In recent years another history of the Revolution, not yet completed, but very voluminous, by Sir George Otto Trevelyan, has been appearing in England, a volume at a time. Mr. Trevelyan is remembered for his admirable “Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay,” published nearly forty years ago and for his subsequent life of his relative, Charles James Fox, the brilliant whig orator in Parliament at the time of our Revolution. The life of Fox treated only of that statesman's early years; and in his preface to the history Mr. Trevelyan explains that he finds he can write the rest of Fox's life only by writing a history of the American Revolution about which Fox so often spoke in Parliament.
It hardly accords with an American's idea of the dignity of that event to see it regarded as mere illustrative material for the biography of a very reckless and insolvent gambler, who, however able he may have been as a minority speaker in Parliament, and however interesting he may still be to his family, was by no means the most effective statesman England has produced. Our sense of proportion is somewhat outraged by the exaltation of the gambler through six volumes of the American Revolution, with more to come.
At the same time it must be confessed that from a literary point of view, and in Mr. Trevelyan's skilful hands, the sacrifice of history to an overestimate of a picturesque relative keeps his readers interested and amused. The volumes are full of anecdote, reminiscence, political and literary gossip of the intellectual sort; and the best parts of the work are the descriptions of English life and conditions in that age. The diffuseness of the style seems to an American less suitable to history than Fiske's matchless brevity and ease,
and it is far inferior in intellect, keenness and humor to the style of Mr. Charles Francis Adams. But Mr. Trevelyan is a delightful master of telling idioms, and clever phrasing, which have placed him where he is in English literature.
He is a distinguished member of the English liberal party and this with his natural sympathy for that party's predecessors, the old whigs and for his picturesque relative, combined with the necessity for not saying anything to impair modern British control of colonies, forces his book into the most narrow form of the Weems ministerial explanation.
As an attack upon the tory ministry of that period, nothing probably will ever equal the accumulated force, the massing of details, the sweeping condemnation and the charm of language of Mr. Trevelyan's work. The unfortunate ministry is overwhelmed and buried under a mass of disapprobation that exceeds in weight and volume all that Fox and all that all the other whig orators ever said against them. Every fact, every inference, every delicate insinuation that lapse of time, historical perspective and the labor of years can bring together, is heaped upon them. Their depravity, malignity, and stupidity are unspeakable, especially when contrasted with the enlightened virtue and perfection of Fox and the whigs. It is perfectly obvious that the American colonies were lost merely by the peculiar circumstances of the cruelty and absurdity of this extraordinary ministry, the like of which in infamy has never been known before or since. That is all there is in the American Revolution; and it is also quite evident that if the plans of Fox and the whigs had been carried out those affectionate and long-suffering colonists who dearly loved the British empire would have remained in it in some ideal and friendly relation, which is not definitely described.
Mr. Trevelyan is not impressed by the difference between the original contemporary evidence and the subsequent innumerable commentaries or secondary authorities. He cites one as readily as the other; and his investigations into the original evidence appear to have been very moderate. He ignores the greater part of it. The secondary authorities suit him better, because they support the ministerial explanation. Except for the descriptions of English life and manners, his work is largely made up from the commentators. It is melancholy that a man of so much talent should surrender himself body and soul to this old stupidity of forever rewriting the Revolution from the accumulating opinions of commentators, which move farther and farther away from the evidence; and now Mr. Trevelyan's six or a dozen volumes must be thrown into the mass to be re-hashed for another progress away from the original evidence.
Within the last year or so, however, there has appeared an English history of the Revolution by the Rev. Mr. Belcher, which shows a most decided familiarity with the original evidence and an equally decided determination to jump out of the old whig and Annual Register rut. He is the first Englishman that has discovered, or has been willing to admit, that there is a great mass of loyalist evidence. He gives his book an entirely correct title and calls it “The First American Civil War.” He is rather an interesting and clever phrasemaker, after the manner that has been popular in England for some time. But he runs on too much into mere political gossip, unrelated details, and his book, in consequence, lacks logical sequence; an inevitable defect, some will say, in a man of religion. But no matter about that, and no matter about his taking a very John Bull point of view, and safeguarding John's face and colonial possessions. He has jumped out of the old rut. He is in the original evidence; and for that heaven be praised even if he only founders in it.
Since the above paragraph was written my attention has been called to an article in Blackwood's Magazine (March 1912, p. 409), attacking with very considerable severity and ridicule the absurdity of continuing to write the history of the American Revolution from the narrowness of the old whig point of view. It is mere “senseless panegyric," the writer says. As a piece of history "it belongs to the dark ages;" it represents the views of the desperate whigs which will never again be expressed by a serious historian.
Why be so scared and timorous about the original evidence, and why conceal it. After the first plunge and shock of the cold water is over, you will enjoy it. The real Revolution is more useful and interesting than the make-believe one. The actual factions, divisions, mistakes, atrocities, if you please, are far more useful to know about than the pretense that there were none. The real patriots who hated colonialism and alien rule in any form and who were determined to break from the empire no matter how well it governed them, are more worthy of admiration than those supposed "affectionate colonists," who, we are assured, if they had been a little more coddled by England, would have kept America in the empire to this day.
There has recently been some discussion in the newspapers on the hopelessness of all efforts to make good plays or even good novels out of the scenes of our struggle for independence. Why should our Revolution, it is asked, be so totally barren in dramatic incident and dramatic use and some other revolutions so rich in that use. May it not be because our Revolution has been so steadily and persistently written away from the actual occurrences, that novelists and play writers when they search for material find a scholastic, academic revolution that never happened and that is barren of all the traits of human nature.