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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

Is formed by that epoch of English history


we contemplate the framework of the earth, those heights which testify to the inherent energy of the original and active elements attract our special notice; we admire the massive mountains which overhang and dominate the lowlands covered with the settlements of man. So also in the domain of history we are attracted by epochs at which the elemental forces, whose joint action or tempered antagonism has produced states and kingdoms, rise in sudden war against each other, and amidst the surging sea of troubles upheave into the light new formations, which give to subsequent ages their special character. Such a historic region, dominating the world, is formed by that epoch of English history, to which the studies have been devoted, whose results I venture to publish in the present work: its importance is as great where it directly touches on the universal interests of humanity, as where, on its own special ground, it develops itself apart in obedience to its inner impulses. To comprehend this period we must approach it as closely as possible: it is everywhere instinct with collective as well as individual life. We discern how great antagonistic principles sprang almost unavoidably out of earlier times, how they came into conflict, wherein the strength of each side lay, what caused the alternations of success, and how the final decisions were brought about: but at the same time we perceive how much, for themselves, for the great interests they represented, and for the enemies they subdued,
depended on the character, the energy, the conduct of individuals. Were the men equal to the emergency, or were not circumstances stronger than they? From the conflict of the universal with the special it is that the great catastrophes of history arise, yet it sometimes happens that the efforts which seem to perish with their authors exercise a more lasting influence on the progress of events than does the power of the conqueror. In the agonising struggles of men's minds appear ideas and designs which pass beyond what is feasible in that land and at that time, perhaps even beyond what is desirable: these find a place and a future in the colonies, the settlement of which is closely connected with the struggle at home. We are far from intending to involve ourselves in juridical and constitutional controversies, or from regulating the distribution of praise and blame by the opinions which have gained the day at a later time, or prevail at the moment; still less shall we be guided by our own sympathies: our only concern is to become acquainted with the great motive powers and their results. And yet how can we help recognising manifold coincidences with that conflict of opinions and tendencies in which we are involved at the present day? But it is no part of our plan to follow these out. Momentary resemblances often mislead the politician who seeks a sure foothold in the past, as well as the historian who seeks it in the present. The Muse of history has the widest intellectual horizon and the full courage of her convictions; but in forming them she is thoroughly conscientious, and we might say jealously bent on her duty. To introduce the interests of the present time into the work of the historian usually ends in restricting its free accomplishment.

This epoch has been already often treated of, if not as a whole, yet in detached parts, and that by the best English historical writers. A native author has this great advantage over foreigners, that he thinks in the language in which the persons of the drama spoke, and lets them be seen through no strange medium, but simply in their natural form. But when, too, this language is employed in rare perfection, as in a work of our own time,--I refer not merely to rounded periods and euphony of cadence, but to the spirit of the narrative so much in harmony with our present culture, and the tone of our minds, and to the style which by every happy word excites our vivid sympathy;--when we have before us a description of the events in the native language with all its attractive traits and broad colouring, a description too based on an old familiar acquaintance with the country and its condition: it would be folly to pretend to rival such a work in its own peculiar sphere. But the results of original study may lead us to form a different conception of the events. And it is surely good that, in epochs of such great importance for the history of all nations, we should possess foreign and independent representations to compare with those of home growth; in the latter are expressed sympathies and antipathies as inherited by tradition and affected by the antagonism of literary differences of opinion. Moreover there will be a difference between these foreign representations. Frenchmen, as in one famous instance, will hold more to the constitutional point of view, and look for instruction or example in political science. The German will labour (after investigation into original documents) to comprehend each event as a political and religious whole, and at the same time to view it in its universal historical relations.

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