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James Anthony Froude was born at Dartington Rectory, the youngest son of the Archdeacon of Totnes, on April 23, 1818.  His father was a clergyman of the old school, as much squire as parson.  In the concluding chapter to his History of England, Froude wrote that “for a hundred and forty years after the Revolution of 1688, the Church of England was able to fulfil with moderate success the wholesome functions of a religious establishment.  Theological doctrinalism passed out of fashion; and the clergy, merged as they were in the body of the nation, and no longer endeavouring to elevate themselves into a separate order, were occupied healthily in impressing on their congregations the meaning of duty and moral responsibility to God.”  Of this sane and orthodox, but not over-spiritual, clergy, Archdeacon Froude was an excellent and altogether wholesome type.  He was a stiff Tory; his hatred of Dissent was so uncompromising that he would not have a copy of the Pilgrim’s Progress in the rectory.  A stern, self-contained, reticent man, he never, in word of deed, confessed his affection for his youngest son.  He was a good horseman, and was passionately fond of open-air exercises and especially of hunting.  His one accomplishment was drawing, and his sketches in after years earned the praise of Ruskin.

Cast in the same mould, but fashioned by different circumstances, the archdeacon’s eldest son, Richard Hurrell Froude, was a man of greater intellectual brilliance and even more masterful character.  He was one of the pioneers of the Oxford Movement, and it was only his early death that deposed him from his place of equality with Newman and Keble and Pusey.  Anthony was a sickly child, and from his earliest years lacked the loving care of a mother.  He was brought up with Spartan severity by his father and his aunt.  The most venial self-indulgence was regarded as criminal.  From the age of three he was inured to hardship by being ducked every morning in a trough of ice-cold water.  Hurrell Froude felt no tenderness for the ailing lad.  Once, in order to rouse a manly spirit in his little brother, he took him by the heels, plunged him like another Achilles into a stream, and stirred with his head the mud at the bottom.  Froude has been accused, and not without justice, of not feeling a proper aversion to acts of cruelty.  The horrible Boiling Act of Henry VIII. excites neither disgust nor hatred in him; and he makes smooth excuses for the illegal tortures of the rack and the screw which were inflicted on prisoners by Elizabeth and her ministers.  He had himself been reared in a hardy school; he had been trained to be indifferent to pain.  It may well be that his callousness in speaking of Tudor cruelties is to be traced to the influences that surrounded his loveless childhood and youth.

Hurrell Froude was the idol of his younger brothers.  He was a man of brilliant parts, and a born leader of men.  His hatred of Radicals and Dissenters transcended even his father’s dislike of them.  His conception of the Church differed widely from that in which the archdeacon had been reared.  To him a clergyman was a priest who belonged to a sacerdotal caste, and who ought not “to merge himself in the body of the nation.”  To him the Reformation was an infamous crime, and Henry VIII. was worse than the Bluebeard of the nursery.  His hero was Thomas a Becket.  He wrote a sketch of his life and career, which he did not live to finish.  His friends ill-advisedly published it after his death.  His ideal ecclesiastical statesman of modern times was Archbishop Laud.  Charles I. was a martyr, and the Revolution of 1688 an inglorious blunder.  To the day of his death in spite of the harsh discipline which he received at his hands in boyhood, in spite of wide divergence of opinion in later years in all matters secular and religious Froude never ceased to worship at his brother’s shrine.  Out of regard for his memory, more than from any passionate personal conviction, he associated himself while at Oxford with the Anglican movement.  His affectionate admiration for Newman, neither time nor change served to impair.  If Carlyle was his prophet in later years, his influence happily did not affect his style.  That was based on the chaste model of Newman.  He owed his early friendship with Newman to that great man’s association with Hurrell Froude.  Many years after, when Freeman had venomously accused him of “dealing stabs in the dark at a brother’s almost forgotten fame” poor Froude’s offence was that he dared to write an essay on Thomas a Becket he defended himself with rare emotion against the charge.  “I look back upon my brother,” he said, “as on the whole the most remarkable man I have ever met in my life.  I have never seen any person not one in whom, as I now think him, the excellences of intellect and character were combined in fuller measure.”

As Froude’s powers developed and matured, and as his experience of the world broadened, he cast away his brother’s yoke, and reverted more to his father’s school of thought.  As his father was to him the ideal clergyman of the Church of England, so the Church before 1828 remained to him the model of what an established religion should be.  He was a thorough Erastian, who believed in the subordination of the Church to the state.  He detested theological doctrinalism of all kinds; he revolted against the idea that the clergy should form a separate order.  The pretensions of Whitgift and Laud, the High Anglican school of Keble and Pusey, the whole conception of the Church and the priesthood which underlay the Oxford Movement, were things obnoxious to him.  In a characteristic passage in the chapter on the Massacre of St. Bartholomew he reveals his hatred and distrust of dogmatism.  “Whenever the doctrinal aspect of Christianity has been prominent above the practical,” he wrote, “whenever the first duty of the believer has been held to consist in holding particular opinions on the functions and nature of his Master, and only the second in obeying his Master’s commands, then always, with a uniformity more remarkable than is obtained in any other historical phenomena, there have followed dissension, animosity, and in later ages bloodshed.  Christianity, as a principle of life, has been the most powerful check upon the passions of mankind.  Christianity as a speculative system of opinion has converted them into monsters of cruelty.”

Holding such decided views on doctrinalism, it might have been thought that Froude would have visited all the warring sects of the sixteenth century with equal judgment.  No Church was more doctrinal than that of Geneva; no Calvinist ever was more dogmatic than John Knox.  But the men who fought the battle of the Reformation in England and Scotland were, in the main, the Calvinists; and to Froude the Reformation was the beginning of a new and better era, when the yoke of the priest had been finally cast away.  “Calvinism,” he said in one of his addresses at St. Andrews, “was the spirit which rises in revolt against untruth.”  John Knox was too heroic a figure not to rouse the artistic sense in Froude.  “There lies one,” said the Regent Morton over his coffin, “who never feared the face of mortal man.”  Froude has made this epitaph the text of the noblest eulogy ever delivered on Knox.  “No grander figure can be found, in the entire history of the Reformation in this island, than that of Knox.”  He surpassed Cromwell and Burghley in integrity of purpose and in purity of methods.  He towered above the Regent Murray in intellect, and he worked on a larger scale than Latimer.  “His was the voice that taught the peasant of the Lothians that he was a free man, the equal in the sight of God with the proudest peer or prelate that had trampled on his forefathers.  He was the one antagonist whom Mary Stuart could not soften nor Maitland deceive.  He it was who had raised the poor commons of his country into a stern and rugged people, who might be hard, narrow, superstitious, and fanatical, but who nevertheless were men whom neither king, noble, nor priest could force again to submit to tyranny.”  Yet even here, Froude could not refrain from quoting the sardonic comment of the English ambassador at Edinburgh:  Knox behaved, said Randolph, “as though he were of God’s privy council.”

It is certain, at least, that other reformers, who were not greatly inferior to Knox in capacity, and not at all in piety and honesty, have not met the same generous treatment at his hands.  He sneers at Hooper because he had scruples about wearing episcopal robes at his consecration as Bishop of Worcester, though he himself in a famous passage asserts the anomalous position of bishops in the Church of England.  Hooper, as a Calvinist, was in the right in objecting, and though the point upon which he took his stand was nominally one of form, there lay behind it a protest against the Anglican conception of a bishop.  He speaks slightingly of Ridley and Ferrars, though he makes ample amends to them and to Hooper, when he comes to describe the manner of their death.  To the reformers who fled from the Marian persecution, including men like Jewel and Grindal, he refers with scornful contempt, though he has no word of criticism to apply to Knox for retiring to England and to the continent when the flame of persecution was certainly not more fierce.  Latimer is one of his favourites, a plain, practical man, not given to abstract speculation or theological subtleties, but one who was content to do his duty day by day without the fear of man before his eyes.  Latimer, though he was looked upon as a Protestant in the earliest years of the English Reformation, believed in the Real Presence up to a short time before his death.  But of all English ecclesiastics Thomas Cranmer was perhaps most to Froude’s liking.  Cranmer was, like Froude himself, an artist in words.  The English liturgy owes its charm and beauty to his sense of style, his grace of expression, and his cultured piety.  That he was a great man few will be found in these days to maintain; fewer still will believe that he deserved the scathing invective of Macaulay.  But no one can read the account given by Froude of his last years without feeling that the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury was neither saint nor martyr.  If ever there was one, he was a timeserver.  He pronounced the divorce of Catherine of Arragon, though he had sworn fealty to the Pope.  He never raised a protest against any of the political murders of Henry VIII. with the notable exception of his courageous attempt to save his friend, Thomas Cromwell.  Even in that case, however, he lies under the suspicion of having interfered through fear that his own fate was involved in that of the malleus monachorum.  In the days of Edward VI. he aimed at the liberty, if not at the life, of Bonner and Gardiner, without semblance of legal right:  He recanted in the reign of Mary when he thought he could purchase his miserable life.  It was only when all hope of pardon was past that he re-affirmed his belief in the reformed faith.  Indeed, he waited until the day of his execution before withdrawing his recantation, and confounded his enemies on the way to the stake.  To a master of dramatic narrative the last scene of Cranmer’s life came as a relief and an inspiration.  “So perished Cranmer,” wrote Froude, in a memorable passage:  “he was brought out, with the eyes of his soul blinded, to make sport for his enemies, and in his death he brought upon them a wider destruction than he had effected by his teaching while alive.  Pole was appointed the next day to the See of Canterbury; but in other respects the court had over-reached themselves by their cruelty.  Had they been contented to accept the recantation, they would have left the archbishop to die broken-hearted, pointed at by the finger of pitying scorn; and the Reformation would have been disgraced in its champion.  They were tempted, by an evil spirit of revenge, into an act unsanctioned even by their own bloody laws; and they gave him an opportunity of writing his name in the roll of martyrs.  The worth of a man must be measured by his life, not by his failure under a single and peculiar peril.  The Apostle, though forewarned, denied his Master on the first alarm of danger; yet that Master, who knew his nature in its strength and its infirmity, chose him for the rock on which he would build his Church.”

With this conscious and avowed bias in favour of undogmatic Christianity, Froude came to write the story of the transition of England from a Catholic to a Protestant country.  He was not without sympathy with the old order of things.  We cannot but feel a thrill as we read his incomparable description of the change which was effected in men’s thoughts and ideas by the translation of the mediaeval into the modern world?  “For, indeed, a change was coming upon the world, the meaning and direction of which even still is hidden from us, a change from era to era.  The paths trodden by the footsteps of ages were broken up; old things were passing away, and the faith and the life of ten centuries were dissolving like a dream.  Chivalry was dying; the abbey and the castle were soon together to crumble into ruins; and all the forms, desires, beliefs, convictions, of the old world were passing away, never to return.  A new continent had risen up beyond the western sea.  The floor of heaven, inlaid with stars, had sunk back into an infinite abyss of immeasurable space; and the firm earth itself, unfixed from its foundations, was seen to be but a small atom in the awful vastness of the universe.  In the fabric of habit which they had so laboriously built for themselves, mankind were to remain no longer.  And now it is all gone like an unsubstantial pageant faded; and between us and the old English there lies a gulf of mystery which the prose of the historian will never adequately bridge.  They cannot come to us, and our imagination can but feebly penetrate to them.  Only among the aisles of the cathedral, only as we gaze upon their silent figures sleeping on their tombs, some faint conceptions float before us of what these men were when they were alive; and perhaps in the sound of church bells, that peculiar creation of mediaeval age, which falls upon the ear like the echo of a vanished world.”  Froude was once asked what was the greatest and most essential quality of an historian.  He replied that it was imagination.  It was a true and a just saying, and Froude himself possessed the faculty in abundance.

It was not only with the old order that Froude showed his sympathy.  He is seldom ungenerous in his references to individual Catholics, however mistaken in his sight their opinions may have been.  With Wolsey and Warham, Fisher and More, even with Gardiner and Bonner he deals fairly and with some amount of real sympathy.  The heroic death of Campian moves him to pity just as much as the death of Latimer; the strenuous labours of Father Parsons to overthrow Elizabeth and Protestantism failed to remove him beyond the pale of Froude’s charitable judgment.  One English Catholic alone was reserved for the historian’s harsh and sometimes petulant criticism.  For Cardinal Pole Froude felt the angriest contempt.  He was descended from the blood royal, both of England and of Wales.  On his father’s side he was descended in direct line from the ancient princes of Powis; on his mother’s from the Plantagenets and the Nevilles.  He was the most learned and illustrious Englishman of his age.  He had stood high in King Henry’s favour; he was destined for the greatest offices in the state.  He was not without natural ambition.  Yet he forfeited all that he had the favour of his prince, the society of his mother whom he loved, and the kindred who were proud of him, the hope of promotion and of power, his friends, his home, and his country, for conscience’ sake.  He remained true to the ancient faith in which he was reared.  With unerring instinct he foresaw that, once England was severed from the Papacy, it would be impossible for king or parliament to stem the flood of the Reformation.  For twenty years he remained an exile on the continent.  He returned an old and broken man, to witness the overthrow of his cherished plans.  He was repudiated by the Pope whose authority he had sacrificed everything to maintain, and in his old age he suffered the humiliation of being accused of heresy in the court of Rome.  He died the same day as Mary died, with the knowledge that all his life’s labours and sacrifices were come to naught, and that the dominion of the Roman Church in England was gone for ever.  Froude saw none of the pathos or tragedy of Pole’s life.  To him the cardinal was a renegade, a traitor to his country, a mercenary of the Pope, a foreign potentate, a “hysterical dreamer,” who vainly imagined that he was “the champion of heaven, and the destroyer of heresy.”

Froude was, above all, an Englishman.  His strongest sympathies went out to the “God’s Englishmen” of Elizabeth’s reign, who broke the power of Rome and Spain, and who made England supreme in Europe.  In his first chapter he describes the qualities of Englishmen with a zest and gusto that drew the comment from Carlyle that “this seems to me exaggerated:  what we call John Bullish.”  He described them as “a sturdy, high-hearted race, sound in body and fierce in spirit which, under the stimulus of those great shins of beef, their common diet, were the wonder of the age.”  Carlyle’s advice when he read this passage in proof was characteristic: “Modify a little:  Frederick the Great was brought up on beer-sops; Robert Burns on oatmeal porridge; and Mahomet and the Caliphs conquered the world on barley meal.”  But the passage stood unmodified, in spite of Froude’s regard for his master.

How this fierce and turbulent people fought their way to world-wide empire was a problem which Froude thought he was able to solve.  It was, in the main, because they broke down the power of the priests, and insisted on the supremacy of state over Church.  Therefore all his filial affection, his patriotism, and his ecclesiastical prejudices were arrayed on the same side.  If history be an exact science, then Froude can lay no claim to the title of historian.  He was a brilliant advocate, a man of letters endowed with a matchless style, writing of matters which interested him deeply, and in the investigation of which he spent twenty years of his life.  Froude himself would have been the first to repudiate the idea that history is philosophy teaching by examples, or that an historian has necessarily a greater insight into the problems of the present than any other observant student of affairs.  “Gibbon,” he once wrote, “believed that the era of conquerors was at an end.  Had he lived out the full life of man, he would have seen Europe at the feet of Napoleon.  But a few years ago we believed the world had grown too civilised for war, and the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park was to be the inauguration of a new era.  Battles, bloody as Napoleon’s, are now the familiar tale of every day; and the arts which have made the greatest progress are the arts of destruction.”

It is absurd to attack Froude on the ground that he was biassed.  No man has ever yet written a living history without being biassed.  Thucydides detested the radicalism of Cleon as heartily as Gibbon hated the Christianity of Rome.  It was once the fashion of the Oxford school to decry Froude as being unworthy of the name of historian.  Stubbs, indeed, did pay public tribute to Froude’s “great work,” but he stood almost alone of his school.  Freeman for many years pursued and persecuted Froude with a persistent malevolence which happily has no parallel in the story of English scholarship.  It is not necessary in this place to do more than refer to that unpleasant episode.  Since the publication of the brilliant vindication of Froude in Mr. Herbert Paul’s Life, it would be superfluous to go into the details of that unhappy controversy.  The only difference between Froude and other historians is that Froude’s partisanship is always obvious.  He was not more favourable to Henry VIII. than Stubbs was to Thomas a Becket.  But Froude openly avowed his preferences and his dislikes.  Catholicism was to him “a dying superstition,” Protestantism “a living truth.”  Freeman went further, and charged Froude with having written a history which was not “un livre de bonne joy.” It is only necessary to recall the circumstances under which the History was written to dispose of that odious charge.  In order to obtain material for his History, Froude spent years of his life in the little Spanish village of Simancas.  “I have worked in all,” he said in his Apologia, “through nine hundred volumes of letters, notes, and other papers, private and official, in five languages and in different handwritings.  I am not rash enough to say that I have never misread a word, or overlooked a passage of importance.  I profess only to have dealt with my materials honestly to the best of my ability.”  Few, indeed, have had to encounter such difficulties as met Froude in his exploration of the archives at Simancas.  “Often at the end of a page,” he wrote many years after, “I have felt as after descending a precipice, and have wondered how I got down.  I had to cut my way through a jungle, for no one had opened the road for me.  I have been turned into rooms piled to the window-sill with bundles of dust-coloured despatches, and told to make the best of it.  Often have I found the sand glistening on the ink where it had been sprinkled when a page was turned.  There the letter had lain, never looked at again since it was read and put away.”  Of these difficulties not a trace is discoverable in Froude’s easy and effortless narrative.  When he was approaching the completion of his History, he vowed that his account of the Armada should be as interesting as a novel.  He succeeded not only with that portion of his task, but with all the stirring story that he set out to narrate.  But the ease of his style only concealed the real pains which he had taken.  Of Freeman’s charge Froude has long been honourably acquitted.  The Simancas MSS. have since been published in the Rolls Series, and Mr. Martin Hume, in his Introduction, has paid his tribute to the care, accuracy, and good faith of their first transcriber.  Long before this testimony could be given, Scottish historians who disagreed with Froude’s conclusions on many points, men such as Skelton and Burton had been profoundly impressed with the care, skill, and conscientiousness with which Froude handled the mass of tangled materials relating to the history of Scotland.

This does not mean that Froude is free from minor inaccuracies, or that he is innocent of graver faults which flowed from his abundant quality of imagination.  He constantly quotes a sentence inaccurately in his text, while it is accurately transcribed in a footnote.  He is careless in matters which are important to students of Debrett, as for instance, he indiscriminately describes Lord Howard as Lord William Howard and Lord Howard.  But Froude was sometimes guilty of something worse than these trivial “howlers.”  Lecky exposed, with calm ruthlessness, some of Froude’s exaggerations to call them by no worse name in his Story of the English in Ireland.  When his Erasmus was translated into Dutch, the countrymen of Erasmus accused him of constant, if not deliberate, inaccuracy.  Lord Carnarvon once sent Froude to South Africa as an informal special commissioner.  When he returned to this country he wrote an article on the South African problem in the Quarterly Review.  Sir Bartle Frere, who knew South Africa as few men did, said of it that it was an “essay in which for whole pages a truth expressed in brilliant epigrams alternates with mistakes or misstatements which would scarcely be pardoned in a special war correspondent hurriedly writing against time.”  So dangerous is the quality of imagination in a writer!

Truth to tell, Froude was a literary man with a fondness for historical investigation, and an artist’s passion for the dramatic in life and story.  He wrote with a purpose that purpose being to defend the English Reformation against the attacks of the neo-Catholic-Anglicans, under whose influence he had himself been for a time in his youth.  To him, therefore, Henry VIII. was “the majestic lord who broke the bonds of Rome.”  This is not the occasion, nor is the present writer the man, to analyse that complex and masterful personality.  Froude started to defend the English Reformation against the vile charge that it was the outcome of kingly lust.  That charge he has finally dispelled.  Henry VIII. was not the monster that Lingard painted.  He beheaded two queens, but few will be found to assert to-day that either Anne Boleyn or Catherine Howard were innocent martyrs.  People must agree to differ to the crack of doom as to the justice of Catherine’s divorce.  It is one of those questions which different men will continue to answer in different ways.  But one thing is abundantly clear.  If Henry was actuated merely by passion for Anne Boleyn, he would scarcely have waited for years before putting Queen Catherine away.  Henry divorced Anne of Cleves, but Anne, who survived the dissolution of her marriage and remained in England for twenty years, made no complaint of her treatment, and she has had no champions either among Catholic or Protestant writers.  Her divorce is only remembered as the occasion of the downfall of the greatest statesman of his age, Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex.  But in his eagerness to proclaim the truth, Froude went on to defend a paradox.  Once free from the charge of lust, and compared with Francis of France or Charles V., Henry was a continent man Henry became to Froude the ideal monarch.

Some one has said that Henry VIII. was the greatest king that ever lived, because he always got his own way.  If that be the test, then Henry was indeed “every inch a king.”  He broke with Rome; he deposed the Pope from his supremacy over England; he dissolved the monasteries; he sent the noblest and wisest in England to the scaffold; he reduced Wales to law and order and gave her a constitution; he married and unmarried as he liked; he disposed of the succession to the throne of England by his will; and his people never murmured.  Only once, when the Pilgrimage of Grace broke out, was his throne in any danger, and that insurrection he easily suppressed.  He made war with France; he invaded Scotland more than once, and every time with striking success.  He played his vigorous part in European politics, and at his death he left his realm inviolate.  It is an amazing record, which might well dazzle a writer of Froude’s temperament and training.  But there are dark shades in the picture, which Froude was content to make little of, if not to ignore.  He is fond of contrasting Henry’s way with conspirators with that of his daughter Elizabeth.  He sneers at her “tenderness” towards high-born traitors, and never ceases to reproach her with her one act of repression after the Yorkshire rising.  But he had not a word to say against the tyrannical murders of Henry VIII.  Elizabeth truly boasted that she never punished opinion:  Henry sent to the scaffold better men than himself for holding academical opinions contrary to his own.  Cardinal Fisher may have been after the publication of Chappuys’s letters it is not possible to deny that he was technically guilty of treason.  But he was a saint and an old man past eighty, and “the earth on the edge of the grave was already crumbling under his feet.”  The king spared neither age nor worth nor innocence.  He had been the familiar friend of More; he had walked through his gardens at Chelsea leaning on his arm; More had been his chancellor; he was still the greatest of his subjects; while frankly admitting that he differed in opinion from the king on the question of the royal supremacy, he promised that he would not try to influence others.  Henry was inexorable.  He not only condemned him to die a traitor’s death, he added a callous message, which still rouses the indignation of every generous soul, that he should “not use many words on the scaffold.”  Thomas Cromwell had served him as few ministers have served a king; to him was due or, at least, he was the capable instrument of the policy which has given distinction to Henry’s reign; but he was delivered over to his enemies when the king’s caprice had shifted to another quarter.  Even Froude finds it difficult to excuse the execution of More and Cromwell.  But, having once made up his mind to make a hero of Henry, he goes on with it bravely to the end.  He hides nothing, he excuses nothing, he extenuates nothing.  Neither the death of the aged Countess of Salisbury or of the gallant Earl of Surrey, nor the illegal imprisonment of the aged Norfolk, the hero of Flodden, shakes his faith in his hero-king.  He even relates, with minute detail, how a few days before the king’s death, four poor persons, one of whom was a tailor, were burnt at the stake for denying the Real Presence.  But his final comment on it all was:  “His personal faults were great, and he shared, besides them, in the errors of his age; but far deeper blemishes would be but scars upon the features of a sovereign who in trying times sustained nobly the honour of the English name, and carried the commonwealth securely through the hardest crisis in its history.”

When a young man Froude had been elected Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford.  This entailed his taking holy orders, though he does not seem to have regularly performed the duties of a clergyman.  In 1849 he published his first book, The Nemesis of Faith, now happily forgotten.  It raised an immediate commotion.  It was denounced as heretical, and the senior tutor of Exeter burnt it during a lecture in the College Hall.  Froude resigned his Fellowship, and his connection with the university was severed for thirty-three years.  He was one of the first to take advantage of the alteration of the law which enabled a clergyman to resign his orders.  In 1892 he went back to Oxford as Regius Professor of Modern History.  “The temptation of going back to Oxford in a respectable way,” he said, “was too much for me.”  He died on October 20, 1894, and on his tombstone he is simply described, by his own wish, as Professor of Modern History in the University of Oxford.

The writer is indebted for information with regard to Froude’s life to Mr. Pollard’s article in the Dictionary of National Biography, and to Mr. Herbert Paul’s admirable Life of Froude (Pitman).


November 16, 1908.