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A History of Nineteenth Century Literature (1780-1

As a literary historian and critic Hallam deserves


The value of Hallam as a political and as a literary historian is by no means the same. In the former capacity he was perhaps too much influenced by that artificial and rather curious ideal of politics which distinguished the Whig party of the later eighteenth century, which was exaggerated, celebrated brilliantly, and perhaps buried by his pupil and younger contemporary, Macaulay, and which practically erects the result of a coincidence of accidents in English history into a permanent and rationally defensible form of government, comparable with and preferable to the earlier and unchanging forms of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy with their sub-varieties. A certain coldness and sluggishness of temperament and sympathy also marred this part of Hallam's work, though less mischievously than elsewhere. But to balance these drawbacks handsomely in his favour, he possessed an industry which, immense as have been the pains spent on his subjects since he wrote, leaves him in possession of a very fair part of the field as a still trustworthy authority; a mind, on the whole, judicial and fair; and an excellently clear and scholarly if not exactly brilliant or engaging style.

As a literary historian and critic Hallam deserves, except on the score of industry and width of reading, rather less praise; and his dicta, once quoted with veneration even by good authorities, and borrowed, with or without acknowledgment, by nearly all second-hand writers, are being more and more neglected by both. Nor is this unjust, for Hallam, though possessed, as has been said, of sound and wide scholarship, and of a taste fairly trustworthy in accepted and recognised matters, was too apt to be at a loss when confronted with an abnormal or eccentric literary personality, shared far too much the hide-bound narrowness of the rules which guided his friend Jeffrey, lacked the enthusiasm which not seldom melted Jeffrey's chains of ice, and was constantly apt to intrude into the court of literary judgments, methods, procedures, and codes of law which have no business there.

Many other estimable, and some excellent writers fill up the space of fifty years, which may be described best, both for remembrance and for accuracy, as the space between Gibbon and Carlyle. William Roscoe, who was born as far back as 1753 and did not die till 1831, was the son of a market-gardener near Liverpool, and had few advantages of education, but became an attorney, attached himself strenuously to literature, especially Italian literature, and in 1796 published his _Life of Lorenzo de Medici_, which, after finishing it, he followed up nine years later with the _Life of Leo the Tenth_. Both obtained not merely an English but a continental reputation, both became in a manner classics, and both retain value to this day, though the Italian Renaissance has been a specially favourite subject of modern inquiry. Roscoe was a violent Whig, and not a very dispassionate student in some respects; but he wrote well, and he is an early example of the diffusion of the historic spirit proper, in which Gibbon had at once set the example and, with some lapses, attained nearly to perfection.


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