Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Critical Introduction by W. Macneile Dixon
Henry Hallam (17771859)
[Henry Hallam, born in 1777, was the son of John Hallam, Dean of Bristol and Canon of Windsor. He was an eager student at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford, and was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple, of which society he was afterwards a Bencher. Soon after the completion of his legal education, however, Hallam entered upon a career of letters by contributions to the Edinburgh Review, and made many friends among the prominent Whigs of the time. Some independent means and a Government postCommissionership of Stampsenabled him to devote a long life to study and comparatively unremunerative authorship. The View of the State of Europe during the Middle Ages was published in 1818, and nine years later appeared The Constitutional History of England from the Accession of Henry VII. to the Death of George II., a book which still holds its place as the best political history of the period. The Introduction to the Literature of Europe in the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Centuries was completed in 1839. (The later reprints contain a short memoir by Dean Milman.) Hallams life was sadly overclouded at the close. In 1834 he lost his son, Arthur Henry Hallam, Tennysons College friend; in 1840 his wife (a Miss Elton of Clevedon, Somersetshire); then a daughter, and another son in 1850. He himself died in January 1859.]
THE TRUTH about Hallam seems to have been that books were more to him than men, and literature than life. The pulse of human feeling beats faintly in his writings, through which the reader moves as in a shadowy intellectual world inhabited by the departed actors of a real, indeed, but unresuscitated past. We feel that this is the land of shades, and the ghost of history, which needs to be clothed upon with flesh and blood. Hallams works are a capital demonstration of the thesis that imagination is indispensable to the writing of history, whether social or political. It was the intellectual framework of things that interested him: action, passion, the busy world of moving humanity, for these he had no eye, or no reconstructive talent. The warmth, colour, and animation of the brisk humorous drama of life are not suggested on his canvas, and it would be difficult, perhaps, to recall a single scene or single character of which he speaks in words that betray a keen personal pleasure, sympathy, or aversion. With one he deals as with another, much as the geometrician deals with his cubes and squares. Impartial, let it be freely granted, the historian must be, but there are occasions upon which, as the representative of universal human feeling, it is possible, nay, fitting, that he speak his mind, and with the unmistakable emphasis of emotion. Hallam never loses his measured accent, never frees his soul in a passionate outburst, and the note of inspired conviction that rings in poetry, that rings at times also in great history, is missing. The unwearying self-suppression of the writer becomes a source of weariness to the reader. Yet, it must be said, the rigidity of his method, the colourlessness of his style, are in great measure justified by his choice of subjects, and may even be counted to him for virtues. Calm, strictly judicial in temper, accurately and widely learned, dignified, almost stately, and that despite occasional harshness in his diction, Hallam pronounces judgments in perhaps the most convincing tones of any English author.
Though a Whig, his range of political speculation was narrow, nor beyond his words do we discern the open heavens and their free horizons of thought; but as an exponent of political principles he never forfeits our respect, and if he cannot inspire, may be trusted not to mislead us.
Probably the Constitutional History is Hallams greatest work; yet in the Introduction to the Literature of Europe, we may occasionally enjoy a singular and refreshing spectaclegleams of real enthusiasm struck by the steel of poetic genius from the flint of the critics coldly impartial mind.
Writing, as he did, before it was thought necessary to combine entertainment with instruction, Hallam addressed himself exclusively to the student, and the student comes in time to entertain an affection for an author who is always sanely master of himself and of his subject. Among the critics of to-day are some light-armed skirmishers who may win and keep the public favour for an hour; but when one has learned how infinitely, inexpressibly easier it is to be clever than to be wise, one is more than compensated for the absence of superficial brilliance of conceit or phrase by sureness of step, reasonableness of estimate, and grave simplicity of style. Far indeed from being a born master of language, far below the great in almost all the distinctive qualities of greatness, he has fairly earned a place among enduring names; he is, and will remain, our judicious Hallam.