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- Froude's History of England - 4/8 -


abominations which were as well known, it seems, to him as they were afterwards to the whole people of England; his vast schemes for education; his still vaster schemes for breaking the alliance with Spain, and uniting France and England as fellow-servants of the Pope, and twin-pillars of the sacred fabric of the Church, which helped so much toward his interest in Catherine's divorce, as a 'means' (these are his own words) 'to bind my most excellent sovereign and this glorious realm to the holy Roman See in faith and obedience for ever'; his hopes of deposing the Emperor, putting down the German heresies, and driving back the Turks beyond the pale of Christendom; his pathetic confession to the Bishop of Bayonne that 'if he could only see the divorce arranged, the King re-married, the succession settled, and the laws and the Church reformed, he would retire from the world, and would serve God the remainder of his days.'

Peace be with him! He was surely a noble soul; misled, it may be--as who is not when his turn comes?--by the pride of conscious power; and 'though he loved England well, yet loving Rome better': but still it is a comfort to see, either in past or in present, one more brother whom we need not despise, even though he may have wasted his energies on a dream.

And on a dream he did waste them, in spite of all his cunning. As Mr. Froude, in a noble passage, says:-

'Extravagant as his hopes seem, the prospect of realising them was, humanly speaking, neither chimerical nor even improbable. He had but made the common mistake of men of the world, who are the representatives of an old order of things, when that order is doomed and dying. He could not read the signs of the times; and confounding the barrenness of death with the barrenness of winter, which might be followed by a new spring and summer, he believed that the old life- tree of Catholicism, which in fact was but cumbering the ground, might bloom again in its old beauty. The thing which he called heresy was the fire of Almighty God, which no politic congregation of princes, no state machinery, though it were never so active, could trample out; and as, in the early years of Christianity, the meanest slave who was thrown to the wild beasts for his presence at the forbidden mysteries of the Gospel saw deeper, in the divine power of his faith, into the future even of this earthly world, than the sagest of his imperial persecutors,--so a truer political prophet than Wolsey would have been found in the most ignorant of those poor men for whom his police were searching in the purlieus of London, who were risking death and torture in disseminating the pernicious volumes of the English Testament.'

It will be seen from this magnificent passage that Mr. Froude is distinctly a Protestant. He is one, to judge from his book; and all the better one, because he can sympathise with whatsoever nobleness, even with whatsoever mere conservatism, existed in the Catholic party. And therefore, because he has sympathies which are not merely party ones, but human ones, he has given the world, in these two volumes, a history of the early Reformation altogether unequalled. This human sympathy, while it has enabled him to embalm in most affecting prose the sad story of the noble though mistaken Carthusians, and to make even the Nun of Kent interesting, because truly womanly, in her very folly and deceit, has enabled him likewise to show us the hearts of the early martyrs as they never have been shown before. His sketch of the Christian Brothers, and his little true romance of Anthony Dalaber, the Oxford student, are gems of writing; while his conception of Latimer, on whom he looks as the hero of the movement, and all but an English Luther, is as worthy of Latimer as it is of himself. It is written as history should be, discriminatingly, patiently, and yet lovingly and genially; rejoicing not in evil, but in the truth; and rejoicing still more in goodness, where goodness can honestly be found.

To the ecclesiastical and political elements in the English Reformation Mr. Froude devotes a large portion of his book. We shall not enter into the questions which he discusses therein. That aspect of the movement is a foreign and a delicate subject, from discussing which a Scotch periodical may be excused. {2} North Britain had a somewhat different problem to solve from her southern sister, and solved it in an altogether different way: but this we must say, that the facts and, still more, the State Papers (especially the petition of the Commons, as contrasted with the utterly benighted answer of the Bishops) which Mr. Froude gives are such as to raise our opinion of the method on which the English part of the Reformation was conducted, and make us believe that in this, as in other matters, both Henry and his Parliament, though still doctrinal Romanists, were sound-headed practical Englishmen.

This result is of the same kind as most of those at which Mr. Froude arrives. They form altogether a general justification of our ancestors in Henry the Eighth's time, if not of Henry the Eighth himself, which frees Mr. Froude from that charge of irreverence to the past generations against which we protested in the beginning of the article. We hope honestly that he may be as successful in his next volumes as he has been in these, in vindicating the worthies of the sixteenth century. Whether he shall fail or not, and whether or not he has altogether succeeded, in the volumes before us, his book marks a new epoch, and, we trust, a healthier and loftier one, in English history. We trust that they inaugurate a time in which the deeds of our forefathers shall be looked on as sacred heirlooms; their sins as our shame, their victories as bequests to us; when men shall have sufficient confidence in those to whom they owe their existence to scrutinise faithfully and patiently every fact concerning them, with a proud trust that, search as they may, they will not find much of which to be ashamed.

Lastly, Mr. Froude takes a view of Henry's character, not, indeed, new (for it is the original one), but obsolete for now two hundred years. Let it be well understood that he makes no attempt (he has been accused thereof) to whitewash Henry: all that he does is to remove as far as he can the modern layers of 'black-wash,' and to let the man himself, fair or foul, be seen. For the result he is not responsible: it depends on facts; and unless Mr. Froude has knowingly concealed facts to an amount of which even a Lingard might be ashamed, the result is that Henry the Eighth was actually very much the man which he appeared to be to the English nation in his own generation, and for two or three generations after his death--a result which need not astonish us, if we will only give our ancestors credit for having at least as much common sense as ourselves, and believe (why should we not?) that, on the whole, they understood their own business better than we are likely to do.

'The bloated tyrant,' it is confessed, contrived somehow or other to be popular enough. Mr. Froude tells us the reasons. He was not born a bloated tyrant, any more than Queen Elizabeth (though the fact is not generally known) was born a wizened old woman. He was from youth, till he was long past his grand climacteric, a very handsome, powerful, and active man, temperate in his habits, good-humoured, frank and honest in his speech (as even his enemies are forced to confess). He seems to have been (as his portraits prove sufficiently), for good and for evil, a thorough John Bull; a thorough Englishman: but one of the very highest type.

'Had he died (says Mr. Froude) previous to the first agitation of the divorce, his loss would have been deplored as one of the heaviest misfortunes which had ever befallen this country, and he would have left a name which would have taken its place in history by the side of the Black Prince or the Conqueror of Agincourt. Left at the most trying age, with his character unformed, with the means of gratifying every inclination, and married by his ministers, when a boy, to an unattractive woman far his senior, he had lived for thirty-six years almost without blame, and bore through England the reputation of an upright and virtuous king. Nature had been prodigal to him of her rarest gifts . . . Of his intellectual ability we are not left to judge from the suspicious panegyrics of his contemporaries. His State Papers and letters may be placed by the side of those of Wolsey or of Cromwell, and they lose nothing by the comparison. Though they are broadly different, the perception is equally clear, the expression equally powerful; and they breathe throughout an irresistible vigour of purpose. In addition to this, he had a fine musical taste, carefully cultivated; he spoke and wrote in four languages; and his knowledge of a multitude of subjects, with which his versatile ability made him conversant, would have formed the reputation of any ordinary man. He was among the best physicians of his age. He was his own engineer, inventing improvements in artillery and new constructions in shipbuilding; and this not with the condescending incapacity of a royal amateur, but with thorough workmanlike understanding. His reading was vast, especially in theology. He was 'attentive,' as it is called, 'to his religious duties,' being present at the services in chapel two or three times a day with unfailing regularity, and showing, to outward appearance, a real sense of religious obligation in the energy and purity of his life. In private he was good-humoured and good-natured. His letters to his secretaries, though never undignified, are simple, easy, and unrestrained, and the letters written by them to him are similarly plain and business-like, as if the writers knew that the person whom they were addressing disliked compliments, and chose to be treated as a man. He seems to have been always kind, always considerate; inquiring into their private concerns with genuine interest, and winning, as a consequence, their sincere and unaffected attachment. As a ruler he had been eminently popular. All his wars had been successful. He had the splendid tastes in which the English people most delighted; . . . he had more than once been tried with insurrection, which he had soothed down without bloodshed, and extinguished in forgiveness . . . And it is certain that if he had died before the divorce was mooted, Henry VIII., like the Roman emperor said by Tacitus to have been censensu omnium dignus imperii nisi imperasset, would have been considered by posterity as formed by Providence for the conduct of the Reformation, and his loss would have been deplored as a perpetual calamity.'

Mr. Froude has, of course, not written these words without having facts whereby to prove them. One he gives in an important note containing an extract from a letter of the Venetian Ambassador in 1515. At least, if his conclusions be correct, we must think twice ere we deny his assertion that 'the man best able of all living Englishmen to govern England had been set to do it by the conditions of his birth.'

'We are bound,' as Mr. Froude says, 'to allow him the benefit of his past career, and be careful to remember it in interpreting his later actions.' 'The true defect in his moral constitution, that "intense and imperious will" common to all princes of the Plantagenet blood, had not yet been tested.' That he did, in his later years, act in many ways neither wisely nor well, no one denies; that his conduct did not alienate the hearts of his subjects is what needs explanation; and Mr. Froude's opinions on this matter, novel as they are, and utterly opposed to that of the standard modern historians, require careful examination. Now I am not inclined to debate Henry the Eighth's character, or any other subject, as between Mr. Froude and an author of the obscurantist or pseudo-conservative school. Mr. Froude is Liberal; and so am I. I wish to look at the question as


Froude's History of England - 4/8

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