Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Historical and Political Writings > Clarendon’s skill in character drawing
  The History of the Rebellion Robert Carey’s Memoirs; Sir Robert Naunton’s Fragmata Regalia; John Manningham’s Diary  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

IX. Historical and Political Writings.

§ 16. Clarendon’s skill in character drawing.

Of some of the characters in the early portion of the Life, mention has already been made; others, in the History, are Buckingham, Coventry, Weston, Arundel and Pembroke; Hampden (very skilfully drawn), archbishop Williams (very bitter), the two Vanes (a touch of high comedy in the midst of tragic action); and, at a much later stage of the History, the cruelly antithetical labelling of Lauderdale, and the vignettes in acid of Bradshaw and Harrison. Excellent, too, in the Life, is the note that St. Albans (Jermyn) “had that kindness for himself that he thought everybody did believe him,” and the sly remark that the duke of Albemarle (Monck) “knew that his wife was no wiser than she was born to be.” There are many touches of this kind in Clarendon, which, to the observant reader, are hardly less attractive than are the elaborate portraits in which he delighted.   34
  The final character of Charles I (in vol. VI of the History) is very tender, and at the same time, probably, not far from being just. On the other hand (in vol. I of the Life and elsewhere), the weaknesses of Charles II are suggested with considerable tact and (in a remarkable passage of vol. III) the transmitted failings of the Stewart family—their tendency to follow the advice of inferior men, and their inability to refuse favours to those who asked them—are pointed out with admirable insight. Clarendon is least tolerable when he appears as an apologist for himself—a task which he seems incapable of performing without an excess of protests and an inordinate flow of unction. His defence of his conduct in the matter of his daughter Anne’s marriage is detestable in tone; the history of his actual downfall he could not be expected to relate without taxing the patience of his readers.   35
  Clarendon’s style, like every style that attracts or interests, is the man; and it would not be what it is without the constant desire to please which had animated him as a member of parliament and a courtier, or without the consciousness of his own dignity and rectitude which made him stand erect through misfortune and obloquy. He sometimes comes near true wit, and occasionally has a picturesque turn; but he very rarely rises into actual eloquence. For this, he lacked the power of imagination in which he showed himself wanting in more ways than one—more especially in his incapacity of recognising the virtue or the greatness of an adversary or of appreciating the standpoint of a political party or a religious denomination other than his own. Even in the characters of his dramatic dialogues (which, in detail, are happy enough), he could not travel beyond the range of those who had been born about his own time, and who, more or less, thought as he thought. But the style proper to nearly everything written by him, from his History to his occasional tracts, is never out of keeping with itself, always deliberate without being dull, and dignified without being (except on fit occasions) solemn, and, more frequently than it is the custom to assume, breaking into a ripple of pleasantry which prevents it from growing tedious. Few memoir writers have succeeded in so steadily sustaining the attention of their readers as has Clarendon; few historians have been less pretentious or mannered than he. His style is not a literary style in the sense in which this, in different ways, can be predicated of the style of Gibbon or of that of Macaulay; if it has a model, this has still to be sought, as with all the prose of the age, in Latin literature rather than our own. In his dialogue On Education, he argues in favour of the conversational (not the vulgar colloquial) practice of Latin in schools, whether by means of discourse or the acting of plays and the like; and how such a training can inform the style of a writer is shown by Clarendon’s own prose, which Latin influence helped to mould, without proclaiming its presence as in the case of the magnificent but exotic Latinisms of Milton. It has been pointed out that, in Clarendon’s later writing, the influence of his lone residence in France and familiarity with the French tongue is very distinctly perceptible; and this may help to account for the fact that the Life, as well as some of the detached Essays, is particularly readable. In any case, Clarendon was original enough, in essentials, to form his own style; and the first great historical writer in our literature is, at the same time, a great writer of English prose.   36

  The History of the Rebellion Robert Carey’s Memoirs; Sir Robert Naunton’s Fragmata Regalia; John Manningham’s Diary  

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