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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
William Stubbs (1825–1901)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Ehrman Syme Nadal (1843–1922)
 
WILLIAM STUBBS, Bishop of Oxford, was born at Knaresborough June 21st, 1825, and was educated at the Grammar School, Ripon, and Christ Church, Oxford. He was graduated at Oxford in 1848, taking a first-class in classics and a third-class in mathematics; and was at once elected to a fellowship at Trinity College. In 1848 he was ordained, and later became vicar of a parish in Essex; he was appointed librarian to Archbishop Longley at Lambeth in 1862. He served as a school inspector from 1860 to 1866, when he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford. In 1867 he was elected Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford,—always a great distinction,—and later became an honorary fellow of that college. He received in succession a number of university and ecclesiastical dignities, and in 1884 was appointed Bishop of Chester, from which see he was translated to that of Oxford in 1889.  1
  Bishop Stubbs printed in succession a number of learned editions of various chronicles relating to ecclesiastical and political history, such as ‘Registrum Sacrum Anglicum,’ ‘Memorials of St. Dunstan,’ etc. In 1870 he published a work which proved to be the beginning of a very important contribution to English history. This was ‘Select Charters and Other Illustrations of English Constitutional History, from the Earliest Period to the Reign of Edward I.’ In 1874 appeared the first volume of his great work, ‘The Constitutional History of England in its Origin and Development.’ The second and third volumes followed in 1875 and 1878, respectively. This book of Dr. Stubbs’s is the ablest and most authoritative work upon the subject.  2
  To Dr. Stubbs’s view, English constitutional history is not an isolated matter confined to England. To him it is but part of the history of the development of Teutonic institutions throughout Europe. These institutions have spread to countries which are not Teutonic in blood or language. The four German countries are France, Spain, England, and Germany. Of these, France and Spain are German neither in blood nor language. We are given an interesting comparison of the course of German civilization in these four countries.  3
  In France, German civilization resulted in despotism; the reason for which fact is set forth by Dr. Stubbs very clearly. The system which for the last twelve centuries has formed French history was originally an adaptation of German polity to the government of a conquered race. The Franks, a German people, conquered Gaul, already a Romanized country. The form of feudalism they set up there was without any tendencies toward popular freedom. Feudal government in French history, therefore, runs its logical course. The central power, which is the cause of the conquest, grows weaker and weaker, until it is reduced to a shadow, and the parts get stronger. By-and-by the reverse process sets in: with the decay of the feudal system, the central power grows stronger and stronger, until it absorbs unto itself all the power which had once been in the feudatories. An absolute despotism is the result; which ultimately takes the form of an egotistical tyranny, leading in the end to revolution and disaster. Owing to the fact that the Germans conquered Gaul, the German system was imposed on France without the safeguards which it had on its original ground.  4
  Spain is Germanic in the sense that the government is in the hands of Visigoths, who are kindred to the Germans; and that the common law and institutions are Germanic.  5
  In Germany there is no alien race; for Germany is never conquered but by Germans. When one German tribe has conquered another, there is a feudal tenure of land. But where the race remains in its ancient seats, the free German polity continues. The imperial system, however,—what Dr. Stubbs calls the “Mezentian union with Italy,”—has modified German polity in Germany. It is for this reason that the German polity has had a freer development in England than in Germany itself.  6
  Dr. Stubbs emphasizes the essentially German character of the British constitution; showing that the English are people of German descent in blood, character, and language, but more especially in the development of the primitive German civilization. The work, therefore, begins with the description of the Germans in their ancient homes, as given by Cæsar and Tacitus. The characteristics of the aboriginal society are described. In proceeding, the writer follows with great learning the course of constitutional development, from the days of the migration to those of Magna Charta. Volume i. closes with an account of the triumph of the barons over John. The second volume pursues the subject through the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; the third through the fifteenth century. The third volume is composed of four chapters, each of which is in itself a short history of great value and authority. These chapters are ‘Lancaster and York,’ ‘The King, the Clergy, and the Pope,’ ‘Parliamentary Antiquities,’ and ‘Social and Political Influences at the Close of the Middle Ages.’  7
  The first volume concludes with that point in the history of England, when, as regards the rest of the world, it has become a self-reliant and self-sustained nation; and when, internally, it has been prepared for representative institutions. The picture which the author gives incidentally of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries would seem to represent a period of reaction and unmeaning violence. The political bloodshed of the fourteenth century preludes the internecine warfare of the fifteenth century. In the fourteenth century, public and private morality is at a low ebb, and the court is marked by a splendid extravagance and a coarse indulgence. The author does not find anything even in the stories of Chaucer to brighten the wretchedness of the period. If there has been a retrogression in morals, there has been one also in art. In architecture the Perpendicular Style is a decline from the grace and affluent variety of the Decorative. “The change in penmanship is analogous: the writing of the fourteenth century is coarse and blurred compared with the exquisite elegance of the thirteenth, and yet even preferable to the vulgar neatness and deceptive regularity of the fifteenth.” But weak as is the fourteenth century, Dr. Stubbs finds that the fifteenth century is weaker still: “more futile, more bloody, more immoral.” Yet out of it emerges, in spite of all, “the truer and brighter day.” He seems to consider this long period of violence and reaction in a sense the preparation for the constitutional development of the sixteenth century. Upon this point, however, another very able and exact writer, Mr. Gairdner, is at issue with him. Mr. Gairdner considers the events of the fifteenth century as tending not at all in the direction of liberty and constitutional government, but of pure absolutism. To the ordinary reader it will not be quite clear in what way the fifteenth century differs from any other period of reaction, except in degree and duration.  8
  The question will naturally arise, as one reads the pages of Dr. Stubbs (and it is especially pertinent in this work, which is dedicated to literature), whether this very able writer is a literary historian. We are decidedly of the opinion that he is. One characteristic of literature he has to a very high degree,—truthfulness. With him the word or phrase must always be as nearly as possible the precise image of the thought. The expression is never allowed to vary a hair’s-breadth to the right or left for the sake of effect. Perhaps he is at times too scrupulous in his preference for a dry or dull phrase which is clearly within the truth, to a brighter one which might go beyond it. One would think that without the sacrifice of truth he might have made the story livelier; for the work is for the most part hard reading. Indeed the style might often be improved in ease and lucidity. But that literary truthfulness of which we have spoken we see everywhere. We see it in the conscientious description of the abstractions among which the reader is required to grope, and to which the greater part of his work is devoted. But there are, here and there, pages in which the writer forsakes the abstract for the concrete, and the dry description of ideas and principles for the delineation of manners and men; and here the literary power is marked. The powerful strokes express the results of a judgment cautious and deliberate in the extreme, and yet firm. The combination of a strong intellect and character with vast knowledge and intense truthfulness produces a deep impression on the mind of the reader. His confidence is won, and he recognizes the influence and guidance of a strong individuality. This again is an indication of the presence of literary power.  9
  In conclusion, it seems to us that the point of view given in this great work is one which it is especially desirable should be impressed upon the people of this country. English history is regarded by Dr. Stubbs not as English only but as German, and as having its forming influences in still more ancient sources and within broader boundaries. If this general view is true of England, it is true also of ourselves; and it is one which we need especially to keep in mind. There is here a disposition to regard ourselves as separate from the rest of the world, and from the world’s history. This is one of the temptations of that national pride, which, within its proper limits, is an honorable sentiment. But we are not separate from the rest of the world. As is the case with all countries, the foundations of what we possess we have received from other lands. It is not so important, therefore, that we should ask concerning any national institution or characteristic of our own, whether it is original (for complete originality is no more a possible thing to us than to any other country), as whether it is proper, right, and just.  10
  Perhaps no English man of learning has left behind him so large a number of works of the highest excellence. In his editions of the great mediæval chronicles he set for English scholars an absolutely new standard of minute accuracy and breadth of survey. Dr. Stubbs was a great historian in the widest sense, and those associated with him as historian, or Bishop, remember most of all the generosity and sincerity and beauty of his character. Dr. Stubbs died in London, April 22, 1901.  11
 
 
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