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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Justin McCarthy (1830–1912)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
ALTHOUGH Justin McCarthy was not without reputation as a Home Rule politician, he was primarily a literary man; his adventures into the fields of history and fiction having preceded his Parliamentary career. He was perhaps a novel-writer rather than a historian in the strict sense of the term. His histories are clever and astute accounts of comparatively recent events, but bear little evidence of the patient scholarship, the critical research, which are characteristic of modern historical scholarship. Yet the ‘History of Our Own Times’ (a record of English political and social life in the nineteenth century), ‘The Story of Gladstone’s Life,’ ‘The Reign of Queen Anne,’ the ‘Four Georges,’ and the ‘Epoch of Reform,’ are not without the value and interest attached to the writings of a man of affairs whose dramatic sense is well developed. Mr. McCarthy wrote of the first Reform Bill, of Lord Grey, of Lord Palmerston, of Disraeli, of Gladstone, of Home Rule politics, in the spirit of one who had been in the swing of the movements which he describes, and who had known his heroes in person or by near repute. Mr. McCarthy’s talents as a novelist were of use to him as a historian. He was quick to grasp the salient features of character, and he was sensitive to the dramatic elements in individuality. His ‘Leo XIII.,’ and his ‘Modern Leaders,’ a series of biographical sketches, are successful portraits of their kind. That Mr. McCarthy does not always see below the surface in his estimates of famous contemporaries detracts little from the picturesque character of his biographies. He is capable of giving to his reader in a sentence or two a vivid if general impression of a personality or of a literary work; as when he says that “Charlotte Brontë was all genius and ignorance, and George Eliot is all genius and culture”; or when he says of Carlyle’s ‘French Revolution’ that it is “history read by lightning.”  1
  Justin McCarthy was a clever journalist as well as a writer of fiction and of history. Born at Cork in 1830, he connected himself with the Liverpool press in 1853, and in 1860 became a member of the staff of the Morning Star. In 1864 he became chief editor. His newspaper experience had more than a little influence upon his style and methods of literary composition, as his political knowledge aided him in his treatment of historical subjects. For twenty years he was a Home Rule M.P., being first elected in 1879. After that year, many of his novels were produced. They show the quick observation of the man of newspaper training, and his talents as a ready and clever writer. Mr. McCarthy’s novels, like his histories and biographies, are concerned mainly with the England of his own day. Occasionally the plot is worked out against the background of Parliamentary life, as in ‘The Ladies’ Gallery’ and ‘The Right Honorable.’ Among his other novels—for he wrote a great number—are ‘Miss Misanthrope,’ ‘A Fair Saxon,’ ‘Lady Judith,’ ‘Dear Lady Disdain,’ ‘The Maid of Athens,’ and ‘Paul Massie.’ Mr. McCarthy’s style is crisp, straightforward, and for the most part entertaining. Of all his works, the ‘History of Our Own Times’ will perhaps retain its value longest as a vivid, anecdotal, and stimulating record of English national development in the nineteenth century. His last years were given to a series of autobiographical works—‘Reminiscences’ (1899), ‘The Story of an Irishman’ (1904), ‘Irish Recollections’ (1911)—containing valuable information about contemporary political history.  2

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