Reference > Cambridge History > The Age of Johnson > Historians > His literary style
  William Robertson and his Histories; their value Robert Henry’s History of England  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

XII. Historians.

§ 7. His literary style.


Robertson’s style, in its lucidity, polish and signs of French influence, has a strong likeness to that of Hume: his sentences are well balanced, they lack Hume’s ironic tone, but seem more alive than his. They are more sonorous, and often end with some word or words of weighty sound and Latin derivation, as when, speaking of the feeling of the English against queen Mary, he says, “they grasped at suspicions and probabilities as if they had been irrefragable demonstrations.” Robertson’s “verbiage” and use of big words, illustrated in this sentence, Johnson humorously declared to have been learnt from him. 10  Some development may be discerned in his writing: passages in his Charles V show that he was beginning to write history with an animation of which there is little sign in his Scotland, and this tendency ripened in his America into a faculty for rhetorical narrative finely displayed in his description of the voyage and landing of Columbus and some other passages. As history, his America is now of small value, for it is based on insufficient authorities, but, nevertheless, it is delightful to read. His books were, at least at first, more popular than Hume’s History: as the work of a minister of religion, they did not alarm religious people, many of whom regarded all that Hume wrote as likely to be dangerous: his style was more attractive to simple folk, and they were impressed by the evidences of his learning in directions wholly beyond their knowledge. Hume’s friendship with his younger rival, 11  and the cordial admiration which Gibbon expressed for both of them, 12  are among the pleasing incidents in our literary history.   14

Note 10. Boswell, Life, vol. III, p. 173. [ back ]
Note 11. Burton, Life, vol. II, passim. [ back ]
Note 12. Gibbon, Memoirs, p. 122, ed. Hill, G. B.; Dugald Stewart, Life of Robertson, p. 367. [ back ]

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  William Robertson and his Histories; their value Robert Henry’s History of England  
 
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