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LIFE AND TIMES
THE DIPLOMATIC AND DOMESTIC HISTORY OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE
DURING THE LAST HALF CENTURY.
By J. EWING RITCHIE,
AUTHOR OF “MODERN STATESMEN,” ETC.
ILLUSTRATED WITH BEAUTIFUL
STEEL ENGRAVINGS, FROM PHOTOGRAPHS, PAINTINGS,
THE LONDON PRINTING AND PUBLISHING COMPANY, LIMITED,
LONDON AND NEW YORK.
HISTORY or political biography is usually written under unfavourable conditions. The historian's views are tinged with his prejudices; and, like Dr. Johnson (who always took care to give the Whig dogs the worst of it, as he told Boswell), he is bewildered by contradictory statements, and unconsciously, perhaps, prefers the account least correct. Every day we see convincing proofs how utterly impossible it is to arrive at the exact truth. If the queen opens parliament, no two newspaper correspondents can describe the scene alike. Croker somewhere observes, that there are no less than twelve different accounts of the flight of Louis XVI. to Varennes; and since then, in Lord Auckland's Memoirs, another description has appeared, professing to be the only true and correct one. A reform demonstration is held in Hyde Park. According to the Standard, it is little better than a gathering of roughs; while, on the contrary, the Morning Stur grows eloquent as it dwells upon its imposing numbers, and their respectable appearance. Burke, when he saw Marie Antoinette, the unfortunate Queen of France, in her pomp and grandeur, at Versailles, came back and told us that he never beheld a more delightful vision. “In her features," writes Sir William Wraxall, “she wanted softness and regularity. She had, besides, weak or inflamed eyes.” Her unfortunate husband died, say most of the historians, with the dignity of a king. Yet the private accounts of the time indicate "that Louis attempted to resistor impede the executioners, who, impatient to finish the performance, used a degree of violence, threw him down forcibly on the plank, in which act his face was torn, and finally thrust him under the guillotine.” Of all the statesmen of the Georgian era, few have been sketched by so many unfriendly hands as the old Duke of Newcastle. Yet it is now clear that his talents were above mediocrity; that he was a ready speaker and writer; and that, in many respects, he was far superior to the men of his class and time. Few public men present a more imposing
aspect to posterity than Lord Chatham ; yet he was haughty, perverse, impracticable; led away by a love of military renown; and of his pecuniary extravagance in the shape of national debt, we yet feel the results. Again, take George III.: how different are the characters drawn of him by such writers as Wraxall on the one side, or Howitt on the other. Some say actually that he was no gentleman : old Sam Johnson, on the contrary, was enraptured, and swore there never was such a monarch. “Sir," said he, to the librarian at Kew, “they may talk of the king as they will, but he is the finest gentleman I have ever seen.” At one time, Louis XIV., Charles II., and George IV., were thought to be types of all that was exalted in deportment. People now are beginning to think differently; and they are discovering Oliver Cromwell, whom our fathers regarded as a monster of hypocrisy and crime, to have been in many ways a remarkable man. In the same way, by the Roman Catholic writers, Luther was regarded as but little better than the father of Evil himself. How men differ in opinion about Governor Eyre or John Bright, about Mr. Bellew or Mr. Spurgeon. Even Mr. Newdegate has been unkind enough to intimate, with respect to his Protestant coadjutor, the fervid Whalley, that he was little better than a Jesuit in disguise. Is Martin Tupper a poet ? The critics say no; yet certainly no poet in our day has had a more extensive sale. Who are we to believe when we thus find testimonies so discordant? We regard the Earl of Derby as a great statesman; yet, only a few years ago, the cleverest paper of our time wrote of his lordship thus—“ Colonies were to him games, and countries and government a rouge et noir. * * * It is only a Lord Stanley who would encourage such a man as Mr. Disraeli to hope for great office. But of all the jokes Lord Stanley had encountered in politics, the joke of presenting Mr. Disraeli as leader of the bigoted Tory and Protestant party, must have struck him as the most uniquely sublime. Mr. Disraeli was a man after Lord Stanley's own heart; and his appointment, despite the consternation and the remonstrances of the Inglises, and the old peers of his new party, does the highest credit to his character as a wag.” Really, the more one reads, the more one is puzzled. In history, every man has two faces; and there are, indeed, two sides to every story. No wonder Sir Robert Walpole despised history, or that in many quarters there is a tone of scepticism as to what the papers say. If statesmen would but write their memoirs, or if their friends and survivors