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was, a work of original research. They are indeed founded upon the
Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, which Canon Robertson had
edited for the Master of the Rolls in the previous year. They were of
course read by every one, because they were written by Froude,
whereas Robertson's learned Introduction would only have been read by
scholars. Froude's conclusions were much the same as the erudite
Canon's. He did not pretend to know the twelfth century as he knew
the sixteenth, and he avowedly made use of another man's knowledge to
point his favourite moral that emancipation from ecclesiastical
control was a necessary stage in the development of English freedom.
He may have been unconsciously affected by his familiarity with the
quarrel between Wolsey and Henry VIII. in describing the quarrel
between Becket and Henry II. The Church of the middle ages discharged
invaluable functions which in later times were more properly
undertaken by the State. Froude sided with Henry, and showed, as he
had not much difficulty in showing, that there were a good many spots
on the robe of Becket's saintliness. The immunity of Churchmen, that
is, of clergymen, from the jurisdiction of secular tribunals was not
conducive either to morality or to order.

Froude's essays might have been forgotten, like other brilliant
articles in other magazines, if Freeman had let them alone. But the
spectacle of Froude presuming to write upon those earlier periods of
which The Saturday Review had so often and so dogmatically pronounced
him to be ignorant, drove Freeman into print. If he had disagreed
with Froude on the main question, the only question which matters
now, he would have been justified, and more than justified, in
setting out the opposite view. A defence of Becket against Henry, of
the Church against the State, from the pen of a competent writer,
would have been as interesting and as important a contribution as
Froude's own papers to the great issue between Sacerdotalism and
Erastianism. There is a great deal more to be said for Becket than
for Wolsey; and though Freeman found it difficult to state any case
with temperance, he could have stated this case with power. But, much
as he disliked Froude, he agreed with him. "Looking," he wrote, "at
the dispute between Henry and Thomas by the light of earlier and of
later ages, we see that the cause of Henry was the right one; that
is, we see that it was well that the cause of Henry triumphed in the
long run." Nevertheless he rushed headlong upon his victim, and
"belaboured" Froude, with all the violence of which he was capable,
in The Contemporary Review. Hitherto his attacks had been anonymous.
Now for the first time he came into the open, and delivered his
assault in his own name. Froude's forbearance, as well as his own
vanity, had blinded him to the danger he was incurring. The first
sentence of his first article explains the fury of an invective for
which few parallels could be found since the days of the Renaissance.
"Mr. Froude's appearance on the field of mediaeval history will
hardly be matter of rejoicing to those who have made mediaeval
history one of the chief studies of their lives." Freeman's pedantry
was, as Matthew Arnold said, ferocious, and he seems to have
cherished the fantastic delusion that particular periods of history
belonged to particular historians. Before writing about Becket Froude
should, according to this primitive doctrine, have asked leave of
Freeman, or of Stubbs, or of an industrious clergyman, Professor
Brewer, who edited with ability and learning several volumes of the
Rolls Series. That to warn off Froude would be to warn off the public
was so much the better for the purposes of an exclusive clique. For
Froude's style, that accursed style which was gall and wormwood to
Freeman, "had," as he kindly admitted, "its merits." Page after page
teems with mere abuse, a sort of pale reflection, or, to vary the
metaphor, a faint echo from Cicero on Catiline, or Burke on Hastings.
"On purely moral points there is no need now for me to enlarge; every
man who knows right from wrong ought to be able to see through the
web of ingenious sophistry which tries to justify the slaughter of
More and Fisher"; although the guilt of More and Fisher is a question
not of morality, but of evidence. "Mr. Froude by his own statement
has not made history the study of his life," which was exactly what
he had done, and stated that he had done. "The man who insisted on
the Statute-book being the text of English history showed that he had
never heard of peine forte et dure, and had no clear notion of a Bill
of Attainder."

Freeman could not even be consistent in abuse for half a page.
Immediately after charging Froude with "fanatical hatred towards the
English Church, reformed or unreformed" - though he was the great
champion of the Reformation - "a degree of hatred which must be
peculiar to those who have entered her ministry and forsaken it"-
like Freeman's bosom friend Green - he says that Froude "never reaches
so high a point as in several passages where he describes various
scenes and features of monastic life." But this could not absolve him
from having made a "raid" upon another man's period, from being a
"marauder," from writing about a personage whom Stubbs might have
written about, though he had not. Froude had "an inborn and incurable
twist, which made it impossible for him to make an accurate statement
about any matter." "By some destiny which it would seem that he
cannot escape, instead of the narrative which he finds - at least
which all other readers find - in his book he invariably substitutes
another narrative out of his own head." "Very few of us can test
manuscripts at Simancas; it is not every one who can at a moment's
notice test references to manuscripts much nearer home." This is a
strange insinuation from a man who never tested a manuscript, seldom,
if ever, consulted a manuscript, and had declined Froude's challenge
to let his copies be compared with his abridgment. One grows tired of
transcribing a mere succession of innuendoes. Yet it is essential to
clear this matter up once and for all, that the public may judge
between Froude and his life-long enemy.

The standard by which Freeman affected to judge Froude's articles in
The Nineteenth Century was fantastic. "Emperors and Popes, Sicilian
Kings and Lombard Commonwealths, should be as familiar to him who
would write The Life and Times of Thomas Becket as the text of the
Constitutions of Clarendon or the relations between the Sees of
Canterbury and York." If Froude had written an elaborate History of
Henry II., as he wrote a History of Henry VIII., he would have
qualified himself in the manner somewhat bombastically described. But
even Lord Acton, who seemed to think that he could not write about
anything until he knew everything, would scarcely have prepared
himself for an article in The Nineteenth Century by mastering the
history of the world. And if Froude had done so, it would have
profited him little. He would have forgotten it, "with that calm
oblivion of facts which distinguishes him from all other men who have
taken on themselves to read past events." He would still have written
"whatever first came into his head, without stopping to see whether a
single fact bore his statements out or not." "Accurate statement of
what really happened, even though such accurate statement might serve
Mr. Froude's purpose, is clearly forbidden by the destiny which
guides Mr. Froude's literary career." These extracts from The
Contemporary Review are samples, and only samples, from a mass of
rhetoric not unworthy of the grammarian who prayed for the damnation
of an opponent because he did not agree with him in his theory of
irregular verbs. Freeman, whose self-assertion was perpetual,
represented himself throughout his libel as fighting for the cause of
truth. His own reverence for truth he illustrated quaintly enough at
the close of his last article. "I leave others to protest," said this
veracious critic, "against Mr. Froude's treatment of the sixteenth
century. I do not profess to have mastered those times in detail from
original sources." I leave others to protest! From 1864 to 1870
Freeman had continuously attacked successive volumes of Froude's
History in The Saturday Review. Yet he here makes in his own name a
statement quite irreconcilable with his ever having done anything of
the kind, and accompanies it with an admission which, if it had been
made in The Saturday Review, would have robbed his invective of more
than half its sting.

And now let us see what was the real foundation for this imposing
fabric. Freeman's boisterous truculence made such a deafening noise,
and raised such a blinding dust, that it takes some little time and
trouble to discover the hollowness of the charges. With four-fifths
of Froude's narrative he does not deal at all, except to borrow from
it for his own purposes, as he used to borrow from the History in The
Saturday Review. In the other fifth, the preliminary pages, he
discovered two misprints of names, one mistake of fact, and three or
four exaggerations. Not one of these errors is so grave as his own
statement, picked up from some bad lawyer, that "the preamble of an
Act of Parliament need not be received as of any binding effect." The
preamble is part of the Act, and gives the reasons why the Act was
passed. Of course the rules of grammar show that being explanatory it
is not an operative part; but it can be quoted in any court of
justice to explain the meaning of the clauses.

In his Annals of an English Abbey Froude allowed "Robert Fitzwilliam"
to pass for Robert Fitzwalter in his proofs, and upon this conclusive
evidence that Froude was unfit to write history Freeman pounced with
triumphant exultation. He had some skill in the correction of
misprints, and would have been better employed in revising proof-
sheets for Froude than in "belabouring" him. Froude said that
Becket's name "denoted Saxon extraction." An anonymous biographer,
not always accurate, says that both his parents came from Normandy.
It is probable, though by no means certain, that in this case the
biographer was right, and Froude corrected the mistake when, in
consequence of Freeman's criticisms, he republished the articles.
Froude, on the authority of Edward Grim, who knew Becket, and wrote
his Life, referred to the cruelty and ferocity of Becket's
administration as Chancellor. Freeman declared that "anything more
monstrous never appeared from the pen of one who professed to be
narrating facts." Froude not only "professed" to be narrating facts:
he was narrating them. The only question is whether they happened in
England, in Toulouse, or in Aquitaine. Freeman exposed his own
ignorance by alleging that Grim meant the suppression of the free
lances, which happened before Becket became Chancellor. He did not in
fact know the subject half so well as Froude, though Froude might
have more carefully qualified his general words. Froude's account of
Becket's appointment to the Archbishopric of Canterbury, his
scruples, and how he overcame them, is described by Freeman as "pure
fiction." It was taken from William of Canterbury, and, though open
to doubt upon some points, is quite as likely to be true as the
narrative preferred by Freeman. The most serious error, indeed the
only serious error, attributed by Freeman to Froude is the statement
that Becket's murderers were shielded from punishment by the King.
Freeman alleges with his usual confidence that they could not be
tried in a secular court because their victim was a bishop. It is
doubtful whether a lay tribunal ever admitted such a plea, and the
Constitutions of Clarendon, which were in force at the time of
Becket's assassination, abolished clerical privileges altogether.
Here Froude was almost certainly right, and Freeman almost certainly
wrong.

But Freeman was not content with making mountains of mole-hills, with
speaking of a great historian as if he were a pretentious dunce. He
stooped to write the words, "Natural kindliness, if no other feeling,
might have kept back the fiercest of partisans from ignoring the work
of a long-forgotten brother, and from dealing stabs in the dark at a
brother's almost forgotten fame." The meaning of this sentence, so
far as it has a meaning, was that Hurrell Froude composed a fragment
on the Life of Becket which the mistaken kindness of friends
published after his own premature death. If Froude had written
anonymously against this work, the phrase "stabs in the dark" would
have been intelligible. As he had written in his own name, and had
not mentioned his brother's work at all, part at least of the
accusation was transparently and obviously false.

At last, however, Freeman had gone too far. Froude had borne a great
deal, he could bear no more; and he took up a weapon which Freeman
never forgot. I can well recall, as can hundreds of others, the
appearance in The Nineteenth Century for April, 1879, of "A Few Words
on Mr. Freeman." They were read with a sense of general pleasure and
satisfaction, a boyish delight in seeing a big bully well thrashed
before the whole school. Froude was so calm, so dignified, so self-
restrained, so consciously superior to his rough antagonist in temper
and behaviour. Only once did he show any emotion. It was when he
spoke of the dastardly attempt to strike him through the memory of
his brother. "I look back upon my brother," he said, "as on the whole
the most remarkable man I have ever met in my life. I have never seen
any person - not one - in whom, as I now think of him, the excellences
of intellect and character were combined in fuller measure. Of my
personal feeling towards him I cannot speak. I am ashamed to have
been compelled, by what I can only describe as an inexcusable insult,
to say what I have said." It was not difficult to show that Freeman's
four articles in The Contemporary Review contained worse blunders
than any he had attributed to Froude, as, for instance, the
allegation that Henry VIII., who founded bishoprics and organised the
defence of the country, squandered away all that men before his time
had agreed to respect. Easy also was it to disprove the charge of
"hatred towards the English Church at all times and under all
characters" by the mere mention of Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, and
Hooper. The statement that Froude had been a "fanatical votary" of
the mediaeval Church was almost delicious in the extravagance of its
absurdity; and it would have been impossible better to retort the
wild charges of misrepresentation, in which it is hard to suppose
that even Freeman himself believed, than by the simple words, "It is
true that I substitute a story in English for a story in Latin, a
short story for a long one, and a story in a popular form for a story
in a scholastic one." In short, Froude wrote a style which every
scholar loves, and every pedant hates. With a light touch, but a
touch which had a sting, Froude disposed of the nonsense which made
him translate praedictae rationes "shortened rations" instead of "the
foregoing accounts," and in a graver tone he reminded the public that
his offer to test the accuracy of his extracts from unprinted
authorities had been refused. Graver still, and not without
indignation, is his reference to Freeman's suggestion that he thought
the Cathedral Church of St. Albans had been destroyed. Most people,
when they finished Froude's temperate but crushing refutation, must
have felt the opportunity for it should ever surprised that have
arisen.

Froude had done his work at last, and done it thoroughly. Freeman's
plight was not to be envied. If his offence had been rank, his
punishment had been tremendous. Even The Spectator, which had
hitherto upheld him through thick and thin, admonished him that he
had passed the bounds of decency and infringed the rules of
behaviour. Dreading a repetition of the penalty if he repeated the
offence, fearing that silence would imply acquiescence in charges of
persistent calumny, he blurted out a kind of awkward half-apology. He
confessed, in The Contemporary Review for May, 1879, that he had
criticised in The Saturday all the volumes of Froude's Elizabeth.
This self-constituted champion proceeded to say that he knew nothing
about Froude's personal character, and that when he accused Froude of
stabbing his dead brother "in the dark" he only meant that the
brother was dead. When he says that Froude's article was "plausible,
and more than plausible," he is quite right. It is more than
plausible, because it is true. After vainly trying to explain away
some of the errors brought home to him by Froude, and leaving others
unnoticed, he complains, with deep and obvious sincerity, that Froude
had not read his books, nor even his articles in Encyclopaedias. He
exhibits a striking instance of his own accuracy. In his defence
against the rather absurd charge of not going, as Macaulay had gone,
to see the places about which he wrote, Froude pleaded want of means.
Freeman rejoined that Macaulay was at one time of his life
"positively poor." He was so for a very short time when his
Fellowship at Trinity came to an end. Unluckily for Freeman's
statement the period was before his appointment to be Legal Member of
Council in India, and long before he had begun to write his History
of England. The most charitable explanation of an erroneous statement
is usually the correct one, and it was probably forgetfulness which
made Freeman say that he did not hear of Froude's having placed
copies of the Simancas manuscripts in the British Museum till 1878,
whereas he had himself discussed it in The Pall Mall Gazette eight
years before. If Froude had made such an astonishing slip, there
would have been more ground for imputing to him an incapacity to
distinguish between truth and falsehood. Freeman's "Last Words on Mr.
Froude" show no sign of penitence or good feeling, and they end with
characteristic bluster about the truth, from which he had so
grievously departed. But Froude was never troubled with him again.

Although a refuted detractor is not formidable in the flesh, the evil
that he does lives after him. Freeman's view of Froude is not now
held by any one whose opinion counts; yet still there seems to rise,
as from a brazen head of Ananias, dismal and monotonous chaunt, "He
was careless of the truth, he did not make history the business of
his life." He did make history the business of his life, and he cared
more for truth than for anything else in the world. Freeman's
biographer has given no clue to his imperfect sympathy with Froude.
Green, true historian as he was, made more mistakes than Froude, and
the mistakes he did make were more serious. He trespassed on the
preserves of Brewer, who criticised him severely without deviating
from the standard of a Christian and a gentleman. Even over the
domain of Stubbs, and the consecrated ground of the Norman Conquest
itself, Green ranged without being Freemanised as a poacher. But then
Green was Freeman's personal friend, and in friendship Freeman was
staunch. They belonged to the same set, and no one was more cliquish
than Freeman. Liberal as he was in politics, he always professed the
utmost contempt for the general public, and wondered what guided
their strange tastes in literature. Dean Stephens has apparently
suppressed most of the references to Froude in Freeman's private
letters, and certainly he drops no hint of the controversy about
Becket. But the following passage from his "Concluding Survey" is
apparently aimed at Froude.
Freeman, we are told, "was unable to write or speak politely" - and if
the Dean had stopped there I should have had nothing to say; but he
goes on - "of any one who pretended to more knowledge than he really
had, or who enjoyed a reputation for learning which was undeserved;
nay, more, he considered it to be a positive duty to expose such
persons. In doing this he was often no doubt too indifferent to their
feelings, and employed language of unwarranted severity which
provoked angry retaliation, and really weakened the effect of his
criticism, by diverting public sympathy from himself to the object of
his attack. But it was quite a mistake to suppose, as many did, that
his fierce utterances were the outcome of ill-temper or of personal
animosity. He entertained no ill-will whatever towards literary or
political opponents."

There is more to the same effect, and of course Froude must have been
in Stephens's mind. But the reputation of a great historian is not to
be taken away by hints. It may suit Freeman's admirers to seek refuge
in meaningless generalities. Those who are grateful for Froude's
services to England, and to literature, have no interest in
concealment. Froude never "pretended to more knowledge than he really
had." So far from "enjoying a reputation for learning which was
undeserved," he disguised his learning rather than displayed it, and
wore it lightly, a flower. That Freeman should have "considered it to
be a positive duty to expose" a man whose knowledge was so much wider
and whose industry was so much greater than his own is strange. That
he did his best for years, no doubt from the highest motives, to
damage Froude's reputation, and to injure his good name, is certain.
With the general reader he failed. The public had too much sense to
believe Froude was merely, or chiefly, or at all, an ecclesiastical
pamphleteer. But by dint of noisy assertion, and perpetual
repetition, Freeman did at last infect academic coteries with the
idea that Froude was a superficial sciolist. The same thing had been
said of Macaulay, and believed by the same sort of people. Froude's
books were certainly much easier to read than Freeman's. Must they
therefore have been much easier to write? Two-thirds of Froude's
mistakes would have been avoided, and Freeman would never have had
his chance, if the former had had a keener eye for slips in his
proof-sheets, or had engaged competent assistance. When he allowed
Wilhelmus to be printed instead of Willelmus, Freeman shouted with
exultant glee that a man so hopelessly ignorant of mediaeval
nomenclature had no right to express an opinion upon the dispute
between Becket and the King. Nothing could exceed his transports of
joy when he found out that Froude did not know the ancient name of
Lisieux. Freeman thought, like the older Pharisees, that he should be
heard for his much speaking, and for a time he was. People did not
realise that so many confident allegations could be made in which
there was no substance at all. They thought themselves safe in making
allowance for Freeman's exaggeration, and Freeman simply bored many
persons into accepting his estimate of Froude. Perhaps he went a
little too far when he claimed to have found inaccuracies in Froude's
transcripts from the Simancas manuscripts without knowing a word of
Spanish. But he was seldom so frank as that. It was not often that he
forgot his two objects of holding up Froude as the fluent, facile
ignoramus, and himself as the profound, erudite student.

Just after reading Freeman's furious articles on Becket, I turned to
Froude's "Index of Papers collected by me October, November, and
December, 1856." It covers twenty-one pages, very closely written,
and I will give a few extracts to show what sort of preparation this
sciolist thought necessary for his ecclesiastical pamphlet. The first
entry, representing four pages of text, is "Hanson's Description of
England. Diet, habits, prices of provisions from Parliamentary
History." Another is "Dress and loose habits of the London clergy in
1486. From Morton's Injunctions."

"State of the Abbey of St. Albans in 1489 shows that Froude was well
acquainted with that subject many years before he wrote his Short
Study on it. "The Bishops of all the Sees in England under Henry,
date of appointment, etc.," is another of these items, which also
comprise "Extracts from the so-called Privy Purse Expenses of Henry
VIII." "Bulla Clementis Papae VII. concessa Regi Henrico de Secundis
nuptiis. This contains the passage quocunque licito vel illicito
coitu." "Petition of the Upper House of Convocation for the
suppression of heretical books." "Royal Letter on the Articles of
1536 which were written, Henry says, by himself." "Elaborate and
extremely valuable State Papers on the Duchy of Milan, and the
dispute between the Emperor and Francis I." "Pole to James, the Fifth
Letter of Warning." "Pole to the Pope, May 18th, 1537. N.B. - Very
remarkable." "Remarkable State Paper drawn by Pole and addressed to


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Online LibraryHerbert PaulThe Life of Froude → online text (page 11 of 26)