Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Historical and Political Writings > Clarendon
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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

IX. Historical and Political Writings.

§ 14. Clarendon.

Thus, through an apologia composed by the great statesman and historical writer for a chapter of the royal government in which he had no share,  19  we are brought to consider, however briefly, his contributions—half history, half memoir—to the records of a period of the national history in which he played a part of high significance. In any survey such as the present no other name can vie with that of Edward Hyde, first earl of Clarendon—a great writer, whose literary powers laid the foundation of his political greatness and, without any disparagement of his lifelong services to crown and country, remain his foremost title to enduring fame. He abhorred the unconstitutional designation of prime minister, though, during the septennate of his ascendency after the restoration, he came almost as near to realising a complete conception of that office as any English statesman before or since; but he would not have disdained the palm of which no rival can deprive him, adjudged to him by the unwavering consent of posterity as one of the great masters of English prose.   23
  Few readers of Clarendon’s Life are likely to have forgotten a passage, towards the close of what remains of the autobiographical narrative proper, which may serve as a text for the few comments it is possible to add on the present occasion. “He was wont to say,” he writes of himself, with that impersonality of form which covers an exorbitancy of selfconsciousness:
that of the infinite blessings which God had vouchsafed to confer upon him almost from his cradle … he esteemed himself so happy in none as in his three acquiescences, which he called “his three vacations and retreats he had in his life enjoyed from business of trouble and vexation, and in every one of which God had given him grace and opportunity to make full reflections upon his actions, and his observations on what he had done himself, and what he had seen others do and suffer; to repair the breaches of his own mind, and to justify himself with new resolutions against future encounters…. The first of these recesses or acquiescences was, his remaining and residing at Jersey, when the prince of Wales, his new majesty, first went into France.”
These years, from 1646 to 1648, between the so-called first and second civil wars, were a dark period in the fortunes of the royalist cause, with which Hyde had identified himself since, as a young man without any special advantages of birth or wealth, he had raised himself, by his own abilities and capacity for forming friendships with his superiors, to a good position at the bar; had, by his powers as a speaker, caught the ear of the House of Commons,  20  and had placed his skilful pen at the service of the king with great effect in the critical months preceding the outbreak of the civil war. And the darkness was intensified by dissensions between the royal councillors, headed by Hyde, and his constant adversary the queen, who insisted on the prince of Wales coming to France instead of holding out so long as possible in England or near its coasts, while, at the same time, eager that he should purchase the goodwill of the Scots by throwing over the episcopal church of England.

Note 19. His long vindication of his relation to Irish affairs after the restoration, including the results of Charles II’s gift to him from Irish sources, in vol. II of the Life, belong, of course, to another period. [ back ]
Note 20. Burnet and Pepys both attest Clarendon’s gifts as a speaker. The speeches which remain from his later days, though delivered on important occasions and under the responsibility of high office, are easy and often almost chatty in tone, while seasoned with quotations and anecdote. Occasional passages rise to eloquence; but, altogether, the style of these speeches suggests what may have been an excellent “House of Commons manner” and is altogether lighter than Clarendon’s usual style of writing. [ back ]

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