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Amazement was the feeling of the reading world on learning that the author of the History of Rationalism was only twenty-seven, and the writer of the History of European Morals only thirty-one. The sentiment was that a prodigy of learning had appeared, and a perusal of these works now renders comprehensible the contemporary astonishment. The Morals (published in 1869) is the better book of the two, and, if I may judge from my own personal experience, it may be read with delight when young, and re-read with respect and advantage at an age when the enthusiasms of youth have given way to the critical attitude of experience. Grant all the critics say of it, that the reasoning by which Lecky attempts to demolish the utilitarian theory of morals is no longer of value, and that it lacks the consistency of either the orthodox or the agnostic, that there is no new historical light, and that much of the treatise is commonplace, nevertheless the historical illustrations and disquisitions, the fresh combination of well-known facts are valuable for instruction and for a new point of view. His analysis of the causes of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire is drawn, of course, from Gibbon, but I have met those who prefer the interesting story of Lecky to the majestic sweep of the great master. Much less brilliant than Buckle’s “History of Civilization,” the first volume of which appeared twelve years earlier, the Morals has stood better the test of time.

The intellectual biography of so precocious a writer is interesting, and fortunately it has been related by Lecky himself. When he entered Trinity College, Dublin, in 1856, “Mill was in the zenith of his fame and influence”; Hugh Miller was attempting to reconcile the recent discoveries of geology with the Mosaic cosmogony. “In poetry,” wrote Lecky, “Tennyson and Longfellow reigned, I think with an approach to equality which has not continued.” In government the orthodox political economists furnished the theory and the Manchester school the practice. All this intellectual fermentation affected this inquiring young student; but at first Bishop Butler’s Analogy and sermons, which were then much studied at Dublin, had the paramount influence. Of the living men, Archbishop Whately, then at Dublin, held sway. Other writers whom he mastered were Coleridge, Newman, and Emerson, Pascal, Bossuet, Rousseau, and Voltaire, Dugald Stewart, and Mill. In 1857 Buckle burst upon the world, and proved a stimulus to Lecky as well as to most serious historical students. The result of these studies, Lecky relates, was his History of Rationalism, published in the early part of 1865.

The claim made by many of Lecky’s admirers, that he was a philosophic historian, as distinct from literary historians like Carlyle and Macaulay, and scientific like Stubbs and Gardiner, has injured him in the eyes of many historical students who believe that if there be such a thing as the philosophy of history the narrative ought to carry it naturally. To interrupt the relation of events or the delineation of character with parading of trite reflections or with rashly broad generalizations is neither science nor art. Lecky has sometimes been condemned by students who, revolting at the term “philosophy” in connection with history, have failed to read his greatest work, the “History of England in the Eighteenth Century.” This is a decided advance on the History of Morals, and shows honest investigation in original material, much of it manuscript, and an excellent power of generalization widely different from that which exhibits itself in a paltry philosophy. These volumes are a real contribution to historical knowledge. Parts of them which I like often to recur to are the account of the ministry of Walpole, the treatment of “parliamentary corruption,” of the condition of London, and of “national tastes and manners.” His Chapter IX, which relates the rise of Methodism, has a peculiarly attractive swing and go, and his use of anecdote is effective.

Chapter XX, on the “Causes of the French Revolution,” covering one hundred and forty-one pages, is an ambitious effort, but it shows a thorough digestion of his material, profound reflection, and a lively presentation of his view. Mr. Morse Stephens believes that it is idle to attempt to inquire into the causes of this political and social overturn. If a historian tells the how, he asserts he should not be asked to tell the why. This is an epigrammatic statement of a tenet of the scientific historical school of Oxford, but men will always be interested in inquiring why the French Revolution happened, and such chapters as this of Lecky, a blending of speculation and narrative, will hold their place. These volumes have much well and impartially written Irish history, and being published between 1878 and 1890, at the time when the Irish question in its various forms became acute, they attracted considerable attention from the political world. Gladstone was an admirer of Lecky, and said in a chat with John Morley: “Lecky has real insight into the motives of statesmen. Now Carlyle, so mighty as he is in flash and penetration, has no eye for motives. Macaulay, too, is so caught by a picture, by color, by surface, that he is seldom to be counted on for just account of motive.” The Irish chapters furnished arguments for the Liberals, but did not convert Lecky himself to the policy of home rule. When Gladstone and his party adopted it, he became a Liberal Unionist, and as such was elected in 1895 a member of the House of Commons by Dublin University. In view of the many comments that he was not successful in parliamentary life, I may say that the election not only came to him unsought, but that he recognized that he was too old to adapt himself to the atmosphere of the House of Commons; he accepted the position in the belief which was pressed upon him by many friends that he could in Parliament be useful to the University.

Within less than three years have we commemorated in this hall three great English historians Stubbs, Gardiner, and Lecky. The one we honor to-day was the most popular of the three. Not studied so much at the seats of learning, he is better known to journalists, to statesmen, to men of affairs, in short to general readers. Even our Society made him an honorary member fourteen years before it so honored Gardiner, although Gardiner was the older man and two volumes of his history had been published before Lecky’s Rationalism, and two volumes more in the same year as the Morals. One year after it was published, Rationalism went into a third edition. Gardiner’s first volumes sold one hundred and forty copies. It must, however, be stated that the Society recognized Gardiner’s work as early as 1874 by electing him a corresponding member.

It is difficult to guess how long Lecky will be read. His popularity is distinct. He was the rare combination of a scholar and a man of the world, made so by his own peculiar talent and by lucky opportunities. He was not obliged to earn his living. In early life, by intimate personal intercourse, he drew intellectual inspiration from Dean Milman, and later he learned practical politics through his friendship with Lord Russell. He knew well Herbert Spencer, Huxley, and Tyndall. In private conversation he was a very interesting man. His discourse ran on books and on men; he turned from one to the other and mixed up the two with a ready familiarity. He went much into London society, and though entirely serious and without having, so far as I know, a gleam of humor, he was a fluent and entertaining talker.

Mr. Lecky was vitally interested in the affairs of this country, and sympathized with the North during our Civil War. He once wrote to me: “I am old enough to remember vividly your great war, and was then much with an American friend a very clever lawyer named George Bemis whom I came to know very well at Rome.... I was myself a decided Northerner, but the ‘right of revolution’ was always rather a stumbling block.” Talking with Mr. Lecky in 1895, not long after the judgment of the United States Supreme Court that the income tax was unconstitutional, he expressed the opinion that it was a grand decision, evidencing a high respect for private property, but in the next breath came the question, “How are you ever to manage continuing the payment of those enormous pensions of yours?”

It is not, I think, difficult to explain why Stubbs and Gardiner are more precious possessions for students than Lecky. Gardiner devoted his life to the seventeenth century. If we may reckon the previous preparation and the ceaseless revision, Stubbs devoted a good part of his life to the constitutional history from the beginnings of it to Henry VII. Lecky’s eight volumes on the eighteenth century were published in thirteen years. A mastery of such an amount of original material as Stubbs and Gardiner mastered was impossible within that time. Lecky had the faculty of historic divination which compensated to some extent for the lack of a more thorough study of the sources. Genius stood in the place of painstaking engrossment in a single task.

The last important work of Lecky, “Democracy and Liberty,” was a brave undertaking. Many years ago he wrote: “When I was deeply immersed in the ‘History of England in the Eighteenth Century,’ I remember being struck by the saying of an old and illustrious friend that he could not understand the state of mind of a man who, when so many questions of burning and absorbing interest were rising around him, could devote the best years of his life to the study of a vanished past.” Hence the book which considered present issues of practical politics and party controversies, and a result that satisfied no party and hardly any faction. It is an interesting question who chose the better part, he or Stubbs and Gardiner they who devoted themselves entirely to the past or he who made a conscientious endeavor to bring to bear his study of history upon the questions of the present.