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This webpage reproduces an article in the
English Historical Review
Vol. 7 (1892), pp497‑509

The text is in the public domain:
James Bryce died in 1922.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!

p497 Edward Augustus Freeman

Edward Augustus Freeman was born at Harborne on the south border of Staffordshire on 2 August 1823, and died at Alicante, in the course of an archaeological journey to the east and south of Spain, on 16 March 1892. His life was comparatively uneventful, as that of learned men in our time usually is. He was educated at home and at a private school till he went to Oxford at the age of eighteen, where he was elected a scholar of Trinity College in 1841, took his degree (second class in literae humaniores) in 1845, and was elected a fellow of Trinity shortly afterwards. Marrying in 1847 Miss Eleanor Gutch, daughter of the rector of Seagrave, he lost his fellowship and settled in 1848 in Gloucestershire, and at a later time when to live in Monmouthshire, whence he migrated in 1860 to Somerleaze, a prettily situated spot about a mile and a half to the north-west of Wells in Somerset. Here he lived till 1884, when he was appointed (on the recommendation of Mr. Gladstone) to the Regius Professorship of Modern History at Oxford. Thenceforth he spent the winter and spring in the University, returning for the long vacation to Somerleaze, a place he dearly loved, not only in respect of the charm of the surrounding scenery but from its proximity to the beautiful churches of Wells and to many places of historical interest. For the greater part of his manhood his surroundings were those of a country gentleman, nor did he ever reconcile himself to town life, loving the open sky, the fields and hills, and all wild creatures, though he detested what are called field sports, and had neither taste nor talent for farming. As he began life with an income sufficient to dispense with the need for a gainful profession, he did not prepare himself for any, but gave free scope from the first to his taste for study and research. Thus the record of his life is, with the exception of one or two incursions into the field of practical politics, a record of his historical work and of the journeys he undertook in connexion with it.

History was the love as well as the labour of his life. But the conception he took of it was peculiar enough to deserve some remark. The keynote of his character was the extraordinary warmth of his interest in the things and places and persons which p498he cared for, and the scarcely less conspicuous indifference to matters which lay outside the well-defined boundary line of his sympathies. If any branch of inquiry seemed to him directly connected with history, he threw himself heartily into it, and drew from it all it could be made to yield for his purpose. For other subjects he cared so little that he would neither read nor talk about them, no matter how completely they might for the time be filling the minds of others. While he was still an undergraduate, and influenced, like nearly all the ablest of his Oxford contemporaries, by the Tractarian opinions and sentiments which were then in their full force and freshness, he became interested in church architecture, discerned the value which architecture has as a handmaid to historical research, set to work to study medieval buildings, and soon acquired a wonderfully full and exact knowledge of the most remarkable churches and castles all over England, with considerable skill in sketching them. By the end of his life he had accumulated a collection of thousands of drawings made by himself of notable buildings in France, Germany, Italy, and Dalmatia, as well as in the British Isles. Architecture was always thenceforth to him the prime external record and interpreter of history. But it was the only art in which he took the slightest interest. He cared nothing for pictures or statuary; was believed to have once only, when his friend J. R. Green dragged him thither, visited a picture gallery in the course of his numerous journeys; and did not seem to perceive the significance which paintings have as revealing the thoughts and social condition of the time which produced them. Another branch of inquiry cognate to history which he prized was comparative philology. With no great turn for the refinements of classical scholarship, and indeed with some contempt for the practice of Latin and Greek verse-making which used to absorb so much of the time and labour of undergraduates and their tutors at Oxford and Cambridge, he was extremely fond of tracing words through different languages so as to establish the relations of the people who spoke them, and, indeed, used to argue that all teaching of languages ought to begin with Grimm's law, and to base his advocacy of the retention of Greek as a sine qua non for an Arts degree on the importance of that law. But with this love for philology as an instrument in the historian's hands, he took little pleasure in languages simply as languages — that is to say, he did not care to master the grammar and idioms of a tongue, nor did he possess any aptitude for doing so. French was the only foreign language he could speak with any approach to ease, though he could read freely German, Italian, and modern Greek, and on his tour in Greece made some vigorous speeches to the people in their own tongue. So too he was a keen and well-trained archaeologist, but only because archaeology was to him a priceless p499adjunct, one might almost say the most trustworthy source, for the study of early history. As evidence of his accomplishments as an antiquary I cannot do better than quote the words of a master of that subject, who was also one of his oldest friends. Mr. George T. Clark says:—

He was an accurate observer, not only of the broad features of a country but of its ancient roads and earthworks, its prehistoric monuments, and its earlier and especially its ecclesiastical buildings. No man was better versed in the distinctive styles of Christian architecture, or had a better general knowledge of the earthworks from the study of which he might hope to correct or corroborate any written records, and by the aid of which he often infused life and reality into otherwise obscure narrations. These remarks especially apply to his history of the Norman Conquest and of the reign of William Rufus. He visited every spot upon which the Conqueror is recorded to have set his foot, compared many of the strongholds of his followers with those they left behind them in Normandy, and studied the evidence of Domesday for their character and possessions. When writing upon Rufus he spent some time in examining the afforested district of the New Forest, and sought for traces of the villages and churches said to have been depopulated or destroyed. And for us archaeologists he did more than this. When he attended a provincial congress and had listened to the description of some local antiquity, some mound, or divisional earthbank, or semi-Saxon church, he at once strove to show the general evidence to be deduced from them, and how it bore upon the boundaries or formation of some Celtic or Saxon province or diocese, if not upon the general history of the kingdom itself. Take for example the Exeter meeting, where the walls, earthworks, and castle having been elaborately described, Freeman took up the theme and connected them with the early history of the city from the entrance of William the Conqueror to that of William the Deliverer in a most brilliant address, afterwards the staple of a very well-known little volume. He thus did much to elevate the pursuits of the archaeologist, and to show the relation they bore to the far superior labours of the historian.

Freeman was always at his best when in the field. It was then that the full force of his personality came into play; his sturdy upright figure, sharp-cut figures, flowing beard, well-modulated voice, clear enunciation, and fluent and incisive speech. None who have heard him hold forth from the steps of some churchyard cross, or from the top stone of some half-demolished cromlech, can ever cease to have a vivid recollection of both the orator and his theme.

But while he thus delighted in whatever bore upon history as he conceived it, his conception was one which belonged to the last century rather than to our own time. It was to him not only primarily but almost exclusively a record of political events — that is to say, of the action of the ruling power of events in the sphere of war and of government. He expressed this view with concise vigour in the well-known dictum, 'History is past politics, and politics is present history;' and though some of his friends frequently p500remonstrated with him against this view as far too narrow, excluding from the sphere of history many of its highest and deepest sources of interest, he would never give way. That historians should care as much (or more) for the religious or philosophical opinions of an age, or for its ethical and social phenomena, or for the study of its economic conditions, as for forms of government or the battles of kings, seemed to him strange. He did not argue against the friends who differed from him, for he was always ready to believe that there must be something true and valuable in the views of a man whom he respected; but he could not be induced to devote his own labours to the elucidation of these matters. Others might bring in 'all that social and religious kind of thing,' but it was not for him to do so.

The same predominant liking for the political element in history made him indifferent to many kinds of literature. It may indeed be said that literature, simply as literature, did not attract him. In his later year, at any rate, he seldom read a book except for the sake of the political or historical information it contained. Among the writers whom he most disliked were Plato, Carlyle, and Ruskin, in none of whom could he see any merit. Neither, although very fond of the Greek and Roman classics generally, did he seem to enjoy any of the Greek poets except Homer and Pindar and, to some extent, Aristophanes. He was impatient with the Greek tragedians, and still more impatient with Virgil, because (as he thought) Virgil could not or would not say a thing simply. Among English poets, he preference was for the old heroic ballads, such as the songs of Brunanburh and Maldon, and, among recent writers, for Macaulay's 'Lays.' The first thing he ever published (1850) was a volume of verse, consisting mainly of ballads, often very spirited, on events in Greek and Moorish history. It may be doubted if he had read a line of Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth, or Tennyson. He blamed Walter Scott for misrepresenting history in 'Ivanhoe,' but constantly read the rest of his stories, taking special pleasure in 'Peveril of the Peak.' He bestowed warm praise upon 'Romola,' on one occasion reading it through twice in a single journey. Mrs. Gaskell's 'Mary Barton,' Marryatt's 'Peter Simple,' Trollope's 'The Warden" and 'Barchester Towers, and, in early days, Warren's 'Ten Thousand a Year' were amongst his favourites. Macaulay was also his favourite prose author, and he was wont to say that from Macaulay he had learned never to be afraid of using the same word to describe the same thing, and that no one was a better model to follow in the choice of pure English. Limitations of taste are not very uncommon among eminent men. What was really uncommon in Freeman was the perfect frankness with which he avowed them, and the entire absence of any pretence of caring for things which he did not really p501care for. He was in this, as in all other matters, a singularly simple and truthful man, never seeking to appear other than as he was, and finding it hard to understand why other people should not be equally simple and direct. This directness made him express himself with an absence of reserve which sometimes gave offence; and the restriction of his interest to a few topics — wide ones, to be sure — seemed to increase the intensity of his devotion to those few.

The two chief practical interests he had in life both connected themselves with his conception of history. One was the discharge of his duties as a magistrate in the local government of his county. While he lived at Somerleaze, he rarely missed quarter sessions, and though he did not put himself forward in the management of business, he valued the opportunity of bearing his share in the rule of the shire. The other was the politics of the time — foreign, perhaps, even more than domestic. He was from an early age a strong Liberal, throwing himself warmly into every question which bore on the constitution, either in state or in church, for (as has been said) topics of the social or economic kind lay rather out of his sphere. When Mr. Gladstone launched his Irish Home-rule scheme in 1886, Freeman espoused it warmly, and praised it especially for the very point which drew most censure even from Liberals — the removal of the Irish members from parliament. He was intensely English and Teutonic, and wished the Celts to be left to settle their own affairs in their own island, as they had done centuries ago. Even the idea of separating Ireland altogether from the English crown would not have alarmed him; while, on the other hand, the plan of turning the United Kingdom into a federation, giving to England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales each a parliament of its own, revolted all his historical instincts.

In 1859 he was on the point of standing for Newport in Monmouthshire, and again at the election of 1868 he was a candidate for representation in parliament of one of the divisions of Somerset, the county he lived in, and showed in his platform speeches a remarkable gift of eloquence, and occasionally, also, of humour, coupled with a want of those petty arts which usually contribute more than eloquent does to political success. He was a warm advocate of disestablishment in Ireland, the question chiefly at issue in the contest of 1868, because he thought the Roman catholic church was of right the national church there; but no less decidedly opposed to disestablishment in England, where so radical a change would have shocked his historical feelings, and rooted out much that was entwined with the ideas and events of the middle ages. He sometimes said in his later years that if the Liberal party took up the policy of disestablishment in Wales, he did not know whether he could adhere to them, much as he desired to do so.

p502 Similarly he disliked all schemes for drawing the colonies into closer relations with the United Kingdom, and even seemed to wish that they should sever themselves from it, as the United States had done. This view sprang partly from his feeling that they were very recent acquisitions, with which the old historic England had nothing to do, partly also from the impression made on him by the analogy of the Greek colonies. He appeared to think that the precedent of those settlements showed the true and proper relation between a 'metropolis' and her colonies to be one not of political interdependence, but of cordial friendliness and a disposition to render help, nothing more. These instances are worth citing because they illustrate a remarkable difference between his way of looking historically at institutions and Macaulay's way. A friend of his, himself a distinguished historian, writes to me upon this as follows:—

Freeman and Macaulay are alike in the high value they set upon parliamentary institutions. On the other hand, when Macaulay wants to make you understand a thing, he compares it with that which existed in his own day. The standard of the present is always with him. Freeman traces it to its origin, and testifies to its growth. The strength of this mode of proceeding in an historian is obvious. Its weakness is that it does not help him to appreciate statesmanship looking forward and trying to find a solution of difficult problems. Freeman's attitude is that of the people who cried out for the good laws of King Edward, trying to revive the past.

By far the strongest political interest — indeed it rose to a passion — of his later years was his hatred of the Turk. In it his historical and religious sentiment, for there was a good deal of the crusader about him, was blended with his abhorrence of cruelty and despotism. Ever since the days of the Crimean war, he had been opposed to the traditional English policy of supporting the Sultan; ever since he had thought about foreign policies at all he had sympathised with the Christians of the East; so when Lord Beaconsfield seemed on the point of carrying the country into a war with Russia in defence of the Turks, no voice rose louder or bolder than his in denouncing the policy then popular with the upper classes in England. On this occasion he gave substantial proof of his earnestness by breaking off his connexion with the Saturday Review because it had espoused the Turkish cause. This cost him 600l. a year — a sum which he could ill spare — and deprived him of opportunities he had greatly valued of expressing himself upon all sorts of current questions. But his sense of duty would not permit him to write for a journal which was supporting a misguided policy and a prime minister whom he thought unscrupulous.

The most conspicuous and characteristic merits of Freeman as an historian may be summed up in six points: love of truth, love of p503justice, industry, common sense, breadth of view, and power of vividly realising the past.

Every one knows the maxim, pectus facit theologum. Not less aptly may it be said that the merits of a great historian are far from lying wholly in his intellectual powers. Among the highest of such merits — merits which the professional student has even more reason to appreciate than the general reader, because he more frequently discerns the disturbing causes — are two moral qualities. One is the zeal for truth, with the willingness to undertake, in a search for it, a toil by which no credit will ever be gained. The other is a clear view of and loyal adherence to the permanent moral standards. In both these points Freeman stood in the first rank. He was kindly and fair in his judgments, and ready to make all the allowances for any man's conduct which the conditions of his time suggested, but he hated cruelty, falsehood, oppression, whether in Sicily twenty-four centuries ago or in the Ottoman empire to‑day. That conscientious industry which spares no pains to get as near as possible to the facts never failed him. Though he talked less about facts and verities than Carlyle did, Carlyle was not so assiduous and so minutely careful in sifting every statement before he admitted it into his pages. That he was never betrayed by sentiment into a sort of partisanship it would be too much to say. His Scotch critics used to accuse him of having been led by his English patriotism to over-estimate the claims of the English crown to suzerainty over Scotland. Mr. J. R. Green and Mr. C. H. Pearson thought that the same cause disposed him to overlook the weak points in the character of Harold, son of Godwin, one of his favourite heroes. But there have been very few writers who have so seldom erred in this way; few who have striven so earnestly to do full justice to every cause and every person. The characters he has drawn of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, William the Conqueror, Thomas of Canterbury, and, in the last published volume of his Sicily, of Nikias, are models of the fairness which historical portraiture requires. It is especially interesting to compare his picture of the unfortunate Athenian with the equally vigorous but harsher view of Grote. Freeman, whom many people thought fierce, was one of the most soft-hearted of men, and tolerant of everything but perfidy and cruelty. Though disposed to be positive in his opinions, he was always willing to reconsider a point when any new evidence was discovered or any new argument brought to his notice, and not unfrequently modified his view in the light of such evidence or arguments. It was this passion for accuracy and for that lucidity of statement which is the necessary adjunct of real accuracy, that made him deal so sternly with confused thinkers and careless writers. Carelessness seemed to him a moral fault, because a fault which true conscientiousness excludes. So also clearness of conception and exact precision in the p504use of words were so natural to him, and appeared so essential to good work, that he was apt to set down the want of them rather to indolence than to incapacity, and to apply to them a proportionately severe censure. Mere ignorance he could pardon, but when it was, as so often happens, even among persons of considerable literary pretensions, joined to presumption, his wrath was the hotter because he deemed it wholly righteous. Never touching any subject which he had not mastered, he thought it his duty as a critic to expose impostors, and rendered in this way, during the years when he wrote for the Saturday Review, services to English scholarship second only to those which were embodied in his own treatises.

His determination to get to the bottom of a question was the cause of the censure he so freely bestowed on lawyers, who were wont to rest content with their technicalities, and not go back to the historical basis on which those technicalities rested, and on politicians who fell into the habit of using stock phrases which confused or misrepresented the principle involved. The expression 'national property,' as applied to tithes, incensed him, and gave occasion for some of his most vigorous writing. So the commonplace complaints against the presence of bishops in the House of Lords led him to give by far the best and clearest view of the origin and character of that House which our time has produced. Here he was on ground he knew thoroughly. But his habits of accuracy were not less fully illustrated by his attitude towards branches of history he had not explored. With a profound and minute knowledge of English history down to the fourteenth century — so far as his strange aversion to the employment of manuscript authorities would allow — and a scarcely inferior knowledge of foreign European history during the same period, with a less full but very sound knowledge down to the middle of the sixteenth century, his familiarity with later European history and with the history of such outlying regions as India or the United States, was not much beyond that of the average well-educated man. He used to say when questioned on these matters that 'he had not come down to that yet.' But when he had occasion to refer to those periods or countries, he hardly ever made a mistake. If he did not know, he did not refer; if he referred, he had seized, as if by instinct, something which was really important and serviceable for his purpose. The same remark applies to Gibbon and to Macaulay.

It has been remarked above that Freeman never used manuscript sources, and his course in this respect was probably rendered imperative by his persistence in refusing to work out of his own library, or, as he once said, out of a room which he could credit to be his library for the time being. As, however, the original authorities for the times which he dealt with in his important works p505are, with trivial exceptions, all in print, this can hardly be considered a defect in his historical qualifications. In handling the sources he was a judicious critic and a sound scholar, thoroughly at home in Greek and Latin, and sufficiently equipped in Anglo-Saxon. Of his breadth of view, of the command he had of the whole sweep of his knowledge, of his delight in bringing together things most remote in place or time, it is superfluous to speak because every reader knows them. They are perhaps most conspicuously seen in the plan of his treatise on 'Federal Government,' as well as in the execution of that one volume1 which unfortunately was all he produced of what would certainly have been a book of the utmost value. But one or two trifling illustrations of this habit of living in an atmosphere in which the past was no less real to him than the present may be forgiven. When careless friends directed letters to him at 'Somerleaze, Wookey, Somerset,' Wookey being a village a quarter of a mile from his house, but on the other side of the Axe, he would write back complaining that they were 'confusing the England and Wales of the seventh century.' And when his attention had been called to a discussion about Shelley's first wife he wrote to a friend, 'Why will they trouble us with this Harrietfrage? You and I have quite enough to do with Helen, and Theodora, and Mary Stuart.' So the friends who accompanied him in his election campaign in 1868 noted that in addressing rustic crowds he could not help referring on one occasion to Ptolemy Euergetes, on another to the Landesgemeinde of Uri and Appenzell.

Industry came naturally to Freeman, because he was so fond of his own studies. None of his work was task work; all was done because he loved doing it. This joy in reading and writing about the past came from the intensity with which he realised it. In some directions he did not show much imagination; he had, for instance, no pleasure in books of travel or in lyric or dramatic poetry. But he loved to dwell in the past, and seemed to see and feel and make himself a part of the events he described. Next to their worth as statements of carefully investigated facts, the chief merit of his books lies in the sense of reality which fills them. The politics of Syracuse, the contest of William the Red with St. Anselm, interested him as keenly as a general election in which he was himself a candidate. Looking upon all current events with an historian's eye, he was fond on the other hand of illustrating features of Roman history from incidents he had witnessed in taking part in local government as a magistrate, and in describing the relations of Hermocrates and Athenagoras at Syracuse he drew upon observations which, as he told his friends, he made in watching the discussions of the Hebdomadal Council at Oxford. This power of realising p506the politics of ancient or medieval times was especially useful to him as a writer, because without it his minuteness might sometimes have run the risk of being dull, seeing that he cared exclusively for the political part of history. It was one of the points in which he rose superior to most of those German students with whom it is natural to compare him. Many of them have equalled him in industry and diligence; some have perhaps even surpassed him in the ingenuity which they bring to bear upon obscure problems; but very few of them have the same gift for understanding what the political life of remote times really was like. Like Gibbon, Freeman was not a mere student, but also a man with opportunities of mixing in affairs, accustomed to bear his share in the world's work, and so better able than the mere student can be to comprehend how it goes forward. Though he was too peculiar in his views and his way of stating them to be well adapted either to the House of Commons or to local political work, and would indeed have been wasted upon nineteen-twentieths of such work, he loved politics and watched them with a shrewdly observant eye. If he had less ingenuity than some of the Germans, he had far more common sense, and brought it to bear about their conjectures in a thoroughly useful and practical way. And he was wholly free from the craving to have at all hazards something new to advance, be it a trivial fact or an unsupported guess. He was accustomed of late years to complain that German scholarship seemed to be suffering from the passion of etwas Neues, and the consequent disposition to disparage work which did not abound with novelties, however empty and transient such novelties might be.

The mention of the Germans suggests a reference to the enormous quantity of work he produced. Besides the seven thick volumes devoted to the Norman Conquest and William Rufus, the three thick volumes on Sicily, four large volumes of collected essays, and nine or ten smaller volumes on architectural subjects, on the English constitution, on the United States, on the Slavs and the Turks, he wrote an even greater quantity of matter which appeared in the Saturday Review for the twenty years from 1856 to 1876, and it was by these articles, not less than by his books, that he succeeded in dispelling many current errors and confusions, and in establishing many of his own views so firmly that we now scarcely remember what iteration and reiteration, in season and out of season, were needed to make them accepted by the public.a This swift facility of production was due to his power of concentration. He always knew what he meant an article to contain before he sat down to his desk; and in his historical researches he made each step so certain that he seldom required to reinvestigate a point or to change, in revising for the press, the substance of what he had said. In his literary habits he was singularly methodical and p507precise, so much so that he could carry on three undertakings at the same time, keeping on different tables in his working rooms the books he needed for each, and passing at stated hours from one to the other. It is often observed that the extent to which all who write are drawn into journalism, and forced to write quickly, hastily, and profusely, must tend to injury both in matter and in manner. In point of matter, Freeman, though for the best part of his life a valour prolific journalist, writing two long articles a week during twenty years, did not seem to suffer. He was as exact, clear, and thorough at the end as he had been at the beginning. On his style, however, the results were not wholly fortunate. It retained its force and its point, but it became diffuse — not that each given sentence was weak, or vague, or wordy, but that what was substantially the same idea was too apt to be reiterated, with slight differences of phrase, in several successive sentences or paragraphs. This tendency to repetition caused some of his books, and particularly the 'Norman Conquest' and 'William Rufus,' to swell to dimensions unfavourable to their popularity. Those works would certainly be more widely read if they had been, as with more effort at compression they might have been, reduced to four volumes; and there is reason to believe that he was himself aware of this, as one of the tasks which he set himself in the last year of his life was a republication of the 'Norman Conquest' in a compressed form. For this reason his manner is perhaps at its best in some of the smaller books, such as the sketches of English towns and their history, often wonderfully fresh and vigorous bits of work, and the collected essays. It must, however, be added that the prolixity we sometimes regret was due partly to his anxiety to be scrupulously accurate; partly also to the keen interest he felt in the subject, which made it painful for him to omit any characteristic detail that a chronicler had preserved, as he once observed to a distinguished man who was dealing with a much later period, 'You know so much about your people that you have to leave out a great deal, I know so little that I must tell all I know.' The tendency to repeat the same word too frequently sprang from his preference for words of Teutonic origin. He prided himself on this purity of English; but some of his friends thought he sacrificed too much to it. Nor must one forget to express a regret that he did not more frequently enliven his pages by indulging in the humour so natural to him. His letters sparkled with wit and fun, but it is only in the notes to his histories, and seldom even there, that he allowed one of the most characteristic features of his mind to appear.

So far of his books. He was, however, also Regius Professor of History during the last eight years of his life, and thus the head of the historical faculty in his own university, which he loved so dearly. That he was less brilliant as a teacher than as a writer p508may be partly ascribed to his having come too late to a new kind of work, and one which eminently demands the freshness of youth; partly also to the cramping conditions under which history have to be taught at Oxford, where everything is governed by a system of competitive examinations which Freeman never tired of denouncing as ruinous to true study. His friends were, however, inclined to doubt whether the natural bent of his mind was towards oral teaching. It was a very peculiar mind, which ran in a deep channel of its own, and could not easily, if the metaphor be permissible, be drawn off to irrigate the adjoining fields. He was always better at putting his own views in a clear and telling way than at laying his intellect alongside of yours, apprehending your point of view, and setting himself to meet it. Or, to put the same thing differently, you learned more by listening to him than by conversing with him. He had not the sort of quick intellectual sympathy and effusion which feels its way to the heart of an audience, and indeed derives inspiration from the sight of an audience. In his election meetings it was noteworthy that the temper and sentiment of the audience did not affect him; what he said was what he himself cared to say, not in the least what he felt the audience would wish to hear. So also in his lecturing he pleased himself, and usually chose the topics he liked best rather than those which the examination prescribed to the students, perhaps rightly, for he was of those whose excellence in performance depends upon the enjoyment they find in the exercise of their powers. Admitting this deficiency, the fact remains that he was not only an ornament to the university by his presence and by the splendid example he set of unflagging zeal, conscientious industry, loyalty to truth, and love of freedom; but also a powerfully stimulating influence upon those who were occupied with history there. He delighted to surround himself with all the ablest and most studious of the younger workers, gave them the fullest measure of encouragement and generous recognition, and never grudged the time to help them by his knowledge or his counsel.

Few men have had an equal genius for friendship. The names of those he cared for were continually on his lips, and themselves in his thoughts; their misfortunes touched him like his own; he was always ready to defend them, always ready to give ungrudgingly any aid they needed; no differences of opinion affected his regard; sensitive as he generally was to criticism, he received their censure on any part of his work without offence. The need he felt for knowing how they fared and sharing his thoughts with them expressed itself in the enormous correspondence, not of business, but of pure affection, which he kept up with his many friends, and which forms — for his letters were so racy that his friends were apt to preserve them — the fullest record of his life.

p509 This warmth of feeling deserves to be dwelt on, because it explains that tendency to vehemence in controversy which brought some enmities upon him. There was an odd contrast between his fondness for describing wars and battles and that extreme aversion to militarism which made him appear to dislike the very existence of a British army and navy. So his combativeness, and the readiness with which he bestowed shrewd blows on those who encountered him, though it was usually due to his wholesome scorn for pretenders, and his passionate hatred of falsehood and injustice, seemed inconsistent with the real kindliness of his nature. That kindliness, however, no one who knew him could doubt; it showed itself not only in his care for dumb creatures and for children, but in the depth and tenderness of his affections. Of religion he spoke little, and only to his most intimate friends. In opinion he had moved a good way from the Anglo-Catholic position of his early manhood; but he remained a sincerely pious Christian.

Though his health had been infirm for some years before his death, his literary activity did not slacken, nor did his powers show signs of decline. There is nothing in his writings, nor in any writings of our time, more broad, clear, and forcible than many chapters of the 'History of Sicily.' Much of his work has effected its purpose, and will, by degrees, lose its place in the public eye. But much will live on into a yet distant future, because it has been done so thoroughly, and contains so much sound and vigorous thinking, that coming generations of historical students will need it and value it almost as our own has done.

James Bryce.


The Author's Note:

1 Of this a reprint is about to appear, with some additions and corrections by the author, under the editorship of his friend Mr. Bury.


Thayer's Note:

a As of writing (Apr 09), the only item written by Freeman onsite is a journal article in the same English Historical Review in which this obituary appeared: The Tyrants of Britain, Gaul, and Spain (EHR 1:53‑85, 1886) in which he sorts out the confusing rivalries between emperors and pretenders in the Western Roman Empire, A.D. 406‑411.


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