Reference > Cambridge History > The Victorian Age, Part Two > Historians, Biographers and Political Orators > Lecky; History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe; The History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne
  Buckle’s History of Civilization A History of England in the Eighteenth Century  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

II. Historians, Biographers and Political Orators.

§ 48. Lecky; History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe; The History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne.


William Edward Hartpole Lecky composed the earliest of the works by which he rapidly built up a great reputation, under the unmistakable influence of Buckle, of whom he was, then, an ardent admirer. He was repelled by Comte, but acknowledged that Comte had “done more than any previous writer to show that the speculative opinions of any age are phenomena resulting from the totality of the actual influences of that age.” 57  The actual first fruits of Lecky’s Dublin training—if we may pass over a still earlier anonymous broad-minded essay entitled The Religious Tendencies of the Age—were the impassioned, likewise anonymous, Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland (1861). Though this production bore testimony both to his patriotism and to his eloquence, it fell quite flat; but it was reprinted after he had become famous and, again, in an enlarged form, in 1903. Its initial bad luck disheartened the writer, and left him at a loss whither to turn. Early in the following year, before beginning a long succession of travels (centring in visits to libraries) in Spain and other continental countries, he began the work which was to spread his reputation almost as quickly as Buckle’s had been spread by his History; or, rather, he wrote a treatise, The Declining Sense of the Miraculous, which, after being printed separately, formed the first two chapters of his History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe (1865). By means of an argument of transparent clearness, conveyed in a style congenial to the theme, but revealing, here and there, the author’s power of giving expression to strong feeling, it demonstrates that European progress is due to the spirit of rationalism, the opposite of that of theological dogmatism, just as the tolerance demanded by reason is adverse to the persecution engendered by bigotry. The argument is developed at great length and with a superabundance of illustration; but neither the writer’s youth nor the nature of his mind inclined him to brevity, and the interest of most readers in such a subject can only be sustained by a copious use of concrete exemplification. Lecky’s second work (which always remained his own favourite), The History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne (1869), dealt with the same field of philosophical enquiry as its predecessor; but it differed from the general survey of European “illumination” in undertaking to examine, as it were ab extra, the origin and growth of moral ideas which dominated a period of European life, and to show the development undergone by these ideas in the course of their contact with the actual condition of men and things. The later book, necessarily, contains a larger amount of purely philosophical discussion than the earlier, and it brought upon the author attacks from the utilitarian school.   82

Note 57. It is told in the second volume of Mrs. Creighton’s Life and Letters of her husband (1904). [ back ]

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  Buckle’s History of Civilization A History of England in the Eighteenth Century  
 
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