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From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift
Historical and Political Writers
> Historical and Political Writers contemporary with Bolingbroke: White Kennett; Echard; Rapin; Lediard; Tindal; Boyer; Oldmixon
Qualities of his Style
Lives of the Norths
INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS
The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.
Historical and Political Writers
§ 14. Historical and Political Writers contemporary with Bolingbroke: White Kennett; Echard; Rapin; Lediard; Tindal; Boyer; Oldmixon.
Down to the earlier half of the eighteenth century,
The Compleat History of England
(1706)of which the first two volumes contained a series of histories of successive periods and reigns from Miltons
History of Britain
down to Arthur Wilsons
History of King James I,
supplemented by a third volume containing the reigns of Charles I and II, James II, William and Mary (and William), all new writ by a learned and impartial handhad been the only attempt to present a collective view of the national history.
That it was accepted as more or less of an authority is shown by the fact that a new edition was published in 1719, and that, so late as 1740, Roger North, of whose contributions to English biographical literature something will be said below, put forth an elaborate criticism of its concluding volume, under the title
Examen, or an Inquiry into the Credit and Veracity of a pretended Complete History,
viz. the supplementary volume aforesaid, of which White Kennett was the author.
Kennett, who died as bishop of Peterborough in 1728, after an active literary career (which had begun, or almost begun, by his breaking a lance with Atterbury in the well-known convocation controversy (1701), and of which his
Register and Chronicle, Ecclesiastical and Civil
forms the concluding item), was author of the concluding volume. The character of Charles II which it contains is, no doubt, extremely acrid (it ends with a note on the resemblance of Charles in his outward features, and, to some extent, in other points, to Tiberius); in general, however, the author is temperate in statement, although, in the usual fashion, he inveighs against Cromwell, whose policy is margined as his only piety. For the rest, Kennett was a sound whig, who ventured to answer Sacheverell in a sermon preached before the lord mayor, and who, before he was consecrated bishop, was portrayed as Judas Iscariot in a London church, being a safer object of insult than Burnet.
A rival complete history to Kennetts, for a considerable period, was that of Laurence Echard, the excellency of which, in the amiable phrase of Roger North,
is coming after a worse. It was conceived on a smaller scale than Kennetts; but, on the other hand, it was the work of a single man. Of his
History of England from the First Entrance of Julius Csar,
the first volume, carrying the narrative down to the death of James I, appeared in 1707; the second and third, which continued it to the establishment of King William and Mary, in 1718. Echard (who, in 1712, was named archdeacon of Stow) was a strong protestant, as favourable to Cranmer as he was bitter against Mary I, but he was no friend of dissent, and rather cynically attributed the Beginnings of Presbitery in England to Cartwrights personal jealousy of a Cambridge rival.
When he comes to the Stewart times, he professes to take great care to observe Deference to the Stations and Characters of those whose conduct he reviews; but, as he seems to think that James II might have been forgiven much of his religious policy had he only kept his word and prefers to let him fall gently because of his two daughters, there must be allowed to be method in his defence. The dedication of his second volume to George I sufficiently attests his political standpoint and helps to explain the attacks made on him by Bolingbroke.
It can, however, hardly be denied that the best, and certainly, by far, the most useful, collective history of England in the earlier half of the century was not an English book at all, but the French
of Paul de Rapin, sieur de Thomas, composed in exile at Wesel and published at the Hague, in eight volumes, in 1724. A criticism of this work, which reaches to the death of Charles I, or of its French continuation, to the revolution of 1688, by David Durand (1734), would be out of place here; but it should be noted that the whole French
was translated by Nicholas Tindal with additional notes in 15 volumes (172331). Thomas Lediard, author of
The Naval History of England
(2 vols., 1735), and
The Life of John Duke of Marlborough
(3-vols., 1736), largely from original documents, wrote
The History of the Reigns of William III and Mary, and Anne,
in continuation of Rapin; and, in 17445, his translator, Tindal, published, in folio,
The Continuation of Mr. Rapin de Thoyrass History of England from the Revolution to the Accession of King George II,
which was immediately followed by an octavo edition in 13 volumes, making the whole series amount to 28.
Rapin, in a letter to his fellow Huguenot Robethon, had humourously described his completed work as no inconsiderable undertaking for a Gascon; the indefatigable Tindal survived his historical labours for many years (till 1774). English historical writing owes him a great debt; for, like Rapin himself, whom he introduced to English readers, he provided a solid substructure of well-authenticated and well-arranged facts, together with a narrative free from party bias and written with a single-minded desire to record ascertained truth. It should be added that master and follower alike cite their authorities without ostentation but with perfect clearness, and that the English folios are supplied with an admirable collection of portraits, maps and plans.
From these writers of collective histories we go back slightly in order of time, so as to mention, in conclusion, one or two historical authors of the unmistakable partisan type. Abel Boyer, like Rapin, was a French Huguenot, who settled in England in 1689 and, after several years of strenuous endeavour, gained a long-lived reputation by an Anglo-French and Franco-English dictionary, professing to have been composed for the use of the duke of Gloucester, to whom, in 1692, Boyer had been appointed French tutor. In 1702, when this dictionary was published at the Hague, Boyer also brought out, in English, his
History of William III
(which included that of James II); and, in the following year, he began the yearly publication of
The History of the Reign of Queen Anne digested into annals,
which was preceded by a similar register of political events, notable for the reports of parliamentary debates contained in it, and extending over the years 171329. In 1722 appeared his
History of Queen Anne,
of which a second edition, with numerous appendixes, followed in 1735. Boyer was a voluminous producer of books, pamphlets and contributions to journalism, all in the whig interest.
Among the pamphlets, one had nearly cost him dear, as it attacked Swift, who, in an often quoted passage of his
Journal to Stella,
vowed vengeance on the French dog (a term of abuse to be found already in Froissart). Boyers
History of Queen Anne
has been found extremely useful, not to say indispensable, by modern historians (by no means only in the Annual List of the Deaths of Eminent Persons appended to it with short obituary noticeswhoever pretends to write
ought, he ventures to think, to be well acquainted with those he describes) and shows him capable of applying the principles of historical writing, as to both matter and manner, effectively abstracted by him for his own Instruction, and laid down in his preface. A continuation of the work to the death of George I was published in 1747. English historical composition was greatly indebted to the infusion of French lucidity in arrangement and treatment; and, for this quality, Boyer, too, deserves praise.
Little purpose would be served by entering at length into the qualities of John Oldmixon as a historical writer. In
Pope abuses him without, perhaps, very much point; but, in a note to the passage, he describes him with undeniable truth as having been all his life a virulent Party-writer for hire, who received his reward in a small placethe collectorship of the port of Bridgwater. It was not till 1717, or thereabouts, that Oldmixon obtained this ill and irregularly paid postabout nine years after he had first exchanged his efforts as a poet and dramatist for a long series of labours as a party historian and journalist. These need not here be examined in detail. His earliest historical work,
The British Empire in America
(2 vols., 1708), was at least designed to meet a real need;
The Secret History of Europe
(4 parts, 17125) was a frank and fierce attack upon the tory government and its subservience to France. But the special enmity of the opposition wits he incurred by his
Essay on Criticism,
prefixed to the third edition (1727) of
The Critical History of England, Ecclesiastical and Civil
(2 vols., 17246). The
an avowedly and, perhaps, intentionally rambling discourse, supposed to be in the manner of Montaigne, contains some fair hits at Dryden, Addison, Pope and others, and keeps up a steady fire of minute criticism against Echard as a historian. Of
The Critical History
itself, the first volume carries on this attack in a sort of running commentary upon previous historians, especially Echard and Clarendon, in a vein frequently flippant, but by no means without occasional sensible remarks. Each section ends with a list of authorities to be studied, so that the book is a curious combination of party pamphlet and school manual. The second volume covers much the same ground, although more particularly devoting itself to ecclesiastical history, and intended to show that the protestant dissenters have a Claim to our Indulgence and Good-will, as they are Brethren of the Reformation, and that Echards charges against them of sedition and enthusiasm are groundless and scandalous. From a different point of view, as showing that no literary fashion endures for ever, Oldmixons remark upon the affectation of continually drawing characters, especially when they are arbitrary and are not of the subject, is worth noting. Of
The History of England during the Reigns of the Royal House of Stuart,
the first volume, published in 1729, states at length the charge, already noticed
and adverted to in
The Critical History of England,
against the Oxford editors of Clarendon, of having altered his text for party ends. The second volume of the later work (1735) carried on the narrative to the reign of George I, and the third (1739) took it back to the last four Tudor reigns, the whole being written in the spirit of whig constitutionalism. In the midst of all the infirmities of old age sickness, lameness, and almost blindness, Oldmixon wrote
Memoirs of the Press, Historical and Political, for Thirty Years Past, from
1740; but he did not live to see the book, which has much biographical interest, published. He died in 1742; the hardships of his laborious career seem to belie the commonplace that, in a free country, there is nothing like sticking to ones party.
General History of England
by James Tyrrell, grandson of archbishop Ussher and an intimate friend of Locke, which was intended to go down to the reign of William III, was carried no further than the death of Richard II.
. This very substantial work, which, besides being, perhaps, the most elaborate criticism ever attempted of a section of an English historical narrative, contains so much important information as to support effectively the authors contention in favour of contemporary history over critical compilation, must primarily be set down as a thoroughly partisan review of what may be allowed to be, in certain respects, a partisan text. Its avowed purpose is to vindicate the Honour of Charles II and his Happy Reign from the aspersions cast upon it by the writer of
The Compleat History;
its author takes the earliest opportunity of announcing that, while the historian must never exceed or fall short of truth, good and bad are qualities antecedently determined by a standard possessed of an authority superior to that of any reader or writer of history. Thus, he can, at the same time, censure without fear and (so it seems) always in accordance with his own political and religious views. The career of Shaftesbury, the so-called popish plot, the sham plots connected with it, and the transactions of the latter years of Charles II s reign are all effectively reviewed from a standpoint which the critic never finds it necessary to desert, and the kings action is consistently defended in his relation to the whole inner history of his reign. As for the papers found in his strong box after his deathwould the evidence as to their authorship be accepted in a court of justice? At the same time, North has some excellent hits at the methods of his authorwhich are not peculiar to himespecially at his suggestion of possible alternatives (the alternatives which he desires to insinuate) by means of the disjunctive or, and his leaving the unwary to distinguish unproved deductions from well-warranted facts.Appended to Montagu Norths edition of his fathers
Reflections upon some passages in Mr. Le Clercs Life of Mr. John Locke
by the same hand, in which Shaftesbury and
once more figure.
only was published (in 1728); the sequel (reaching to 1679) remains in manuscript in the British Museum, where, also, are many other of Kennetts manuscripts.
Preface to The Life of Francis North, Lord Guilford.
. Cf. below, as to Oldmixons censure of Echards attacks on the dissenters.
. It was afterwards further continued by Smollett.
. See bibliography, and cf. the article on Boyer by Espinasse, Francis, in vol.
The Dict. of Nat. Biogr.
(1886). As to Boyers English translation of the
of Gramont, see
Vol. VIII, p. 508.
INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS
Qualities of his Style
Lives of the Norths
to shop the