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ECLECTIC REVIEW ,
FOR JULY, 1821.
Art. I. The History of England, from the first Invasion by the
Romans, to the Accession of Mary. By the Rev. John Lingard.
4to. Vols. I. to IV. pp. 2274. London. 1819–20. THE opus magnum of an adequate history of England re
mains yet to be achieved. To the several attempts which have hitherto been made to accomplish this herculean labour, attach either literary imperfections or objections of a still more serious kind. Rapin, indeed, though a tedious, is a faithful chronicler, and in perusing bis heavy narrative, we feel a confidence in the impartiality and general accuracy of the bistorian, which the lively pages of Hume fail to inspire. Of the two, the foreigner is the most of an Englishman in feeling: the servile principles and anti-Christian bigotry of the apologist for the Stuarts, disqualified him to do justice to the history of bis country. The valuable work of Dr. Henry cannot be considered as supplying this desideratum in our literature, since it is an inperfect history. Of Mr. Sharon Turner's volumes, we shall have occasion hereafter to speak more fully: as far as they go, they claim to be regarded as highly valuable contributions to our historical library; but they do not affect the accuracy of the affirmation, that the writer who should combine all the requisites for success in the evolution of this great argument,' has not yet appeared. Among those requisites, antecedently to all the intellectual preparation which is necessary for the undertaking, a freedom from party prejudice would seem to be a primary qualification; and yet this is perhaps the Jeast likely to be realized. The Protestant, it may be admitted, is liable to have his decisions on some points warped by his jealousy of ecclesiastical domination : he may not make due allowance for the errors of a darker age, or he inay receive with too easy a credulity the injurious statements of party writers on the side of the Reformed faith. From a Romanist, however_liberal, the text of history will be likely to receive a Vol. XVI. N.S.
gloss which shall be still more at variance with fairness and accuracy. Those great transactions from wbich the civil and religious institutions of our country have derived much of their present aspect and character, it would be scarcely possible for a zealous member of the Romish Church to exbibit in a just light, or in all their bearings. Without imputing to the Roman Catholics of this country in the present day a larger share of religious bigotry than to other denominations, we must be allowed to question whether they could furnish an historian perfectly competent and disposed to do justice to the authors or instruments of the English Reformation. We cannot concede to them as Roman Catholics an exemption from the partialities common to men; nor can we forget that there are certain prejudices immediately and inseparably connected with the narrow, exclusive, and intolerant spirit and dogmas of their ecclesiastical system.
Mr. Lingard is, we can have no doubt, a person of upright and honourable intentions. His knowledge and ability are signally evinced in bis performance. But the influence of his professional prejudices as a Roman Catholic clergyman, is visible at every step. The bistory of England in his hands, assumes, in many parts, an aspect altogether novel. Instead of the encroachments of unprincipled ecclesiastics, we have presented to us the patient and unmerited sufferings of aggrieved and innocent men; and where we have been accustomed to track the footsteps of the persecutor and the oppressor, we are invited to witness the movements of the benignant instructors and benefactors of mankind. We will not impute artifice and disingenuousness of intention to the dexterity with which this colouring is given to the facts alluded to. But the good faith and veracity of the Historian cannot be conceded without iinplicating his competency to the task he has undertaken. Perversions of historic verity so palpable, not to be chargeable on design, must have originated in a most lamentable strength of prejudice. It would be an interminable task, to point out all the misrepresentations which we have found in those sections of the work which relate to ecclesiastical affairs ; and we must, perforce, content ourselves with a few illustrations of this systematic sacrifice of candour to the spirit of party.
The disputes in which, towards the close of the seventh century, king Egfrid, archbishop Theodore, and bishop Wilfrid were the chief parties, form the centre of a mass of facts and inferences which claim peculiar notice as supplying important and emphatic evidence of a determined spirit of interference and encroachment on the part of Rome and her suffragans. Yet, we are pithily inforined by the present Writer, that they occupy a disproportionate space in our modern
histories. It may well suit Mr. Lingard's purpose to despatch these matters lightly, and to speak of them as having derived
an adventitious interest' from the influence of religious prejudice'; but he cannot be permitted thus to alter the character of substantial facts, nor to attest his own exemption from the bigotry which he imputes to others.
But that portion of Mr. Lingard's work which chronicles the rare deservings of the notorious and canonized Dunstan, affords a still more conspicuous instance of prejudice and perversion. Thąt name has always been associated in our minds with other feelings than those of veneration. We have been accustomed, on the credit of current history, to consider its possessor as a fierce and aimbitious man, employing, without scruple, artifice and violence to attain bis ends, and recklessly treading down all that stood in his way to elevation and power. In the ingevious pages of Mr. Lingard, nothing of this appears: the saint assuines the character of an ardent and consistent reformer, regardless of his own interest, and zealous for the restoration of the pure discipline of the Church. In order to establish the accuracy of this singular representation, as well as to vindicate the reputation of that ferocious and heartless ruffian, Odo, archbishop of Canterbury, Mr. L. has recourse to a plan, of which the ingenuity is at least as conspicuous as the fairness. After a repetition of the convenient formula, that Dupstan
occupies a disproportionate space in most of our modern bis'tories,' he goes on with what appears to us a complete system
, of mystification, mingling together facts and palpable calumnies, withholding important circumstances, and admitting or rejecting authorities just as they happen to assist or to counteract his views, until the whole reality of this portion of history is reversed. The unfortunate Edwy, a youth of sixteen or eighteen, whose only crime seems to have been bis spirited resistance to the overbearing violence of the priests, is peremptorily affirm-ed to have · rendered himself contemptible by the immorality
of his private life.' Now, what are the authorities on which Mr. Lingard bas ventured this charge? Precisely such as an historian free from undue bias, would have felt to be trustworthy only when supported by positive and undeniable facts. The whole of this statement rests upon the insinuations and assertions of monks; the rancorous enemies of Edwy, and the ex officio eulogists of Dunstan. The very language of their imputations against the moral character of the king, betrays not only malignant hostility, but an impurity of imagination that might fairly raise a question, to wbich party the accusation would most justly apply. It was unworthy of a writer of bistory to retail the miserable scandal which impeached the monarch of incest; a calumny instantly refuted by the evident
rancour of his assailants, by the obscurity which involves it, and by the other circumstances of the story. Nor are the attempts of Mr. Lingard to disprove the marriage of Edwy and Ethelgiva, more successful. T'he abuse quoted by him from the monkish annalists, amounts to nothing. The epithets meretrix and mulier impudens, on wbich he places so much reliance, are clearly no more than vituperative terms, of which the import is iudisputably ascertained by the distinct acknowledgement that she Was queen-regina ;' wbile the authorities of Malmesbury and Wallingford decisively establish tbeir union. On the characteristic endeavour to fix another marriage on Edwy, we have not a word to waste. The brutal conduct of Dunstan in furcing, not conducting' ('vi ruptum,'' violenter abstrac
tum,') Edwy from his bride, is veiled; the unmanly revenge of Odo in branding Etbelgiva on the cheek with a hot iron, is 'concealed ; and his subsequent atrocities are ascribed on most slender grounds to the Mercian insurgents. The notices of Dunstan's life which are interspersed, are written in the same spirit of partiality: the claims to celestial communications which he is affirmed to have made for interested purposes, are lightly touched; and the heaviest imputation on his character is thus dismissed.
. During his reign' (that of Edward the Martyr)“happened the tragic catastrophe at Colne, which has furnished modern writers with a pretext for accusing the primate of impiety and murder, If we may believe their narratives, Dunstau had the art to counterfeit a miracle in defence of the monks. By his orders, we are told, the floor of the room, destined to contain the members of the council, was loosened from the walls: during the deliberation the temporary supports were removed: and while the primate was secure in his seat above, the rest of the assembly were precipitated to the ground. Yet if we divest the real fact of its modern embellishments, it will be reduced to this ; that the floor sank under the accumulated weight of the crowd: that the archbishop had the good fortune to support himself by a beam : and that of the others some were killed, and many were hurt in the fall. More than this was unknown to any ancient writer: the contrivance and object ascribed to Dunstan are the fictions of later writers.' Vol. I. p. 250.
By a similar mode of statement, we should find no difficulty in changing the whole aspect of bistory. We feel it quite unnecessary to enter further into the real circumstances of this atrocious transaction, but would only remind Mr Lingard, that he bas omitted the important fact, that this tragic catastrophe followed instantaneously on Dunstan's direct and significant appeal to Heaven.
The transactions between Henry II. and the turbulent Becket, are related in the same spirit. The king is treated with little
ceremony, and the sainted archbishop appears under a very different aspect from that which he has usually worn in history, and from that wbich a less partial survey and an ampler detail would have compelled Mr. Lingard to exbibit. It is scarcely credible, that, after so complete a specification, supported in all points by quotations and references, as that which occurs in Lord Lyttleton's life of the second Henry, a writer of the present day should venture on the very questionable experiment of varnishing the character of Becket. But the story is left half told, wbile the form and features of its hero are traced in lines shadowy and indistinct. By these means, the necessity of a more direct investigation is advantageously eluded. With shrewder judgement than his precursor, Mr. Berington, Mr. L. bas avoided such a decided commitment of himself as that reverend gentleman hazarded when be exultingly exclaimed :
Give me the greatest heroes, whom ancient times did deify, or
such as a more temperate posterity bas registered on the lists • of fame, and I will say that Becket, when he closed his life, was • full as great as they. All his native energy then collected at
the heart; and seeing the heavens, as he thought, opened • to bim, he fell as blessed martyrs had done!' The present Historian has trusted to the less venturous expedient of imperfect narrative. We have no disposition to vindicate the violence and artifice which marked some parts of the conduct of Henry; yet, we have not the least hesitation in maintaining, that when he resisted the iniquitous claim set up by Becket, and opposed the scandalous abuses of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, he struggled not only for the honour of his crown, but for the wellbeing of his people. We cannot pass from this subject without referring to Mr. Turner's admirable narrative of the transactions of this important period. He has held the balance with the most scrupulous impartiality; and a recurrence to his statements would furnish the most impressive illustrations of the imperfection of Mr. Lingard's details. He is, indeed, accused, in common with Lord Lyttleton, by the present Writer, of having laid undue stress upon a letter written by Gilbert Foliott, bishop of London, severely reprehending the conduct of Becket; and we are referred to Mr. Berington's Appendix for the proof that the composition in question is a forgery. Mr. B.'s arguments may possibly be satisfactory to Mr. L. ; but, notwithstanding the triumphant self-gratulations of their Author, they have by no means flashed conviction upon our minds. A
of the letter exists among the Cotton MSS. in the British Museum; and its title is inserted in the index to a volume of MSS. in the Vatican library, though the epistle itself is wanting at the page referred to. Mr. Berington treats this circumstance as a very trivial matter ; but it seems to us much easier to account for the