English Literature Of The 19th Century:
Third Or Later Victorian Period
William Ewart Gladstone
Historical Literature Of The Later Victorian Period
Edward Augustus Freeman
James Anthony Froude
Sir Henry Sumner Maine
William Edward Hartpole Lecky
John Addington Symonds
Read More Articles About: English Literature Of The 19th Century
William Edward Hartpole Lecky
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Prominent among the philosophic historians who discuss social movements rather than events, ideas rather individuals, is William Edward Hartpole Lecky. He was born at Dublin, Ireland, in 1838, and graduated from Trinity College in 1859. His first work, published anonymously in 1861, was "Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland," treating of Dean Swift, Flood, Grattan and O'Connell. Its flowing style and wide sympathy won for it general favor. After extensive travel on the Continent, Lecky settled in London, and published his "History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe" (2 vols., 1865). Rationalism was defined to be that cast of thought which leads men to subordinate dogmatic theology to the dictates of reason. Its influence makes men regard the successive systems of theology as varying expressions of the universal religious sentiment; in ethics, it makes them regard duty as depending on con-science only; in history, it causes them to attribute phenomena to natural causes rather than supernatural. The progress of this mode of thought was held not to depend directly on the teaching of great thinkers, but to be slow and indirect, gradually rising from the mass of the laity to the clergy. The peculiar nature of this philosophic work, treating of magic, witchcraft, miracles, persecution, and the separation of politics from the church, drew to it special attention. The "History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne" (2 vols., 1869) is a parallel work. Lecky rejects utilitarian ideas, and considers morality as intuitive. He contrasts the Stoic and Epicurean systems with Christian morality, and finds the cause of the conversion of the Roman Empire in the adequacy of the latter to the wants of the age. The causes alleged by Gibbon are pronounced helpful, but not sufficient. The rise of asceticism and monasticism is traced to evils for which they were temporary remedies.
Lecky had now established his reputation as an original thinker on historical and moral problems. In his next work he came closer to the questions of his own time. His "History of England in the Eighteenth Century" (7 vols., 1878-88) is not a history in the ordinary sense, but a collection of essays on the prominent facts and features of the nation's life. It discusses separately the nature of monarchy and aristocracy, the growth of democracy, the increasing power of Parliament and the press, religious liberty, the rise of Methodism and the causes of the French Revolution. Besides these, considerable space is given to Irish affairs, and later this part was printed separately as a "History of Ireland." It relates chiefly to the rebellion of 1798, and is markedly impartial. The part relating to the American Revolution has also been issued separately in this country. Lecky had been elected to Parliament as a Liberal, but in 1886 he refused to follow Glad-stone in the movement for Home Rule, and was afterwards defeated for re-election.