Froude, James Anthony
FROUDE, JAMES ANTHONY (1818-1894), English historian, son of R.H. Froude, archdeacon of Totnes, was born at Dartington, Devon, on the 23rd of April 1818. He was educated at Westminster and Oriel College, Oxford, then the centre of the ecclesiastical revival. He obtained a second class and the chancellor's English essay prize, and was elected a fellow of Exeter College (1842). His elder brother, Richard Hurrell Froude (1803-1836), had been one of the leaders of the High Church movement at Oxford. Froude joined that party and helped J.H. Newman, afterwards cardinal, in his Lives of the English Saints. He was ordained deacon in 1845. By that time his religious opinions had begun to change, he grew dissatisfied with the views of the High Church party, and came under the influence of Carlyle's teaching. Signs of this change first appeared publicly in his Shadows of the Clouds, a volume containing two stories of a religious sort, which he published in 1847 under the pseudonym of "Zeta," and his complete desertion of his party was declared a year later in his Nemesis of Faith, an heretical and unpleasant book, of which the earlier part seems to be autobiographical.
On the demand of the college he resigned his fellowship at Oxford, and mainly at least supported himself by writing, contributing largely to Fraser's Magazine and the Westminster Review. The excellence of his style was soon generally recognized. The first two volumes of his History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada appeared in 1856, and the work was completed in 1870. As an historian he is chiefly remarkable for literary excellence, for the art with which he represents his conception of the past. He condemns a scientific treatment of history and disregards its philosophy. He held that its office was simply to record human actions and that it should be written as a drama. Accordingly he gives prominence to the personal element in history. His presentations of character and motives, whether truthful or not, are undeniably fine; but his doctrine that there should be "no theorizing" about history tended to narrow his survey, and consequently he sometimes, as in his remarks on the foreign policy of Elizabeth, seems to misapprehend the tendencies of a period on which he is writing.
Froude's work is often marred by prejudice and incorrect statements. He wrote with a purpose. The keynote of his History is contained in his assertion that the Reformation was "the root and source of the expansive force which has spread the Anglo-Saxon race over the globe." Hence he overpraises Henry VIII. and others who forwarded the movement, and speaks too harshly of some of its opponents. So too, in his English in Ireland (1872-1874), which was written to show the futility of attempts to conciliate the Irish, he aggravates all that can be said against the Irish, touches too lightly on English atrocities, and writes unjustly of the influence of Roman Catholicism. A strong anti-clerical prejudice is manifest in his historical work generally, and is doubtless the result of the change in his views on Church matters and his abandonment of the clerical profession. Carlyle's influence on him may be traced both in his admiration for strong rulers and strong government, which led him to write as though tyranny and brutality were excusable, and in his independent treatment of character. His rehabilitation of Henry VIII. was a useful protest against the idea that the king was a mere sanguinary profligate, but his representation of him as the self-denying minister of his people's will is erroneous, and is founded on the false theory that the preambles of the acts of Henry's parliaments represented the opinions of the educated laymen of England. As an advocate he occasionally forgets that sobriety of judgment and expression become an historian. He was not a judge of evidence, and seems to have been unwilling to admit the force of any argument or the authority of any statement which militated against his case. In his Divorce of Catherine of Aragon (1891) he made an unfortunate attempt to show that certain fresh evidence on the subject, brought forward by Dr Gairdner, Dr Friedmann and others, was not inconsistent with the views which he has expressed in his History nearly forty years before. He worked diligently at original manuscript authorities at Simancas, the Record Office and Hatfield House; but he used his materials carelessly, and evidently brought to his investigation of them a mind already made up as to their significance. His Life of Caesar (1879), a glorification of imperialism, betrays an imperfect acquaintance with Roman politics and the life of Cicero; and of his two pleasant books of travel, The English in the West Indies (1888) shows that he made little effort to master his subject, and Oceana (1886), the record of a tour in Australia and New Zealand, among a multitude of other blunders, notes the prosperity of the working-classes in Adelaide at the date of his visit, when, in fact, owing to a failure in the wheat-crop, hundreds were then living on charity. He was constitutionally inaccurate, and seems to have been unable to represent the exact sense of a document which lay before him, or even to copy from it correctly. Historical scholars ridiculed his mistakes, and Freeman, the most violent of his critics, never let slip a chance of hitting at him in the Saturday Review. Froude's temperament was sensitive, and he suffered from these attacks, which were often unjust and always too savage in tone. The literary quarrel between him and Freeman excited general interest when it blazed out in a series of articles which Freeman wrote in the Contemporary Review (1878-1879) on Froude's Short Study of Thomas Becket.
Notwithstanding its defects, Froude's History is a great achievement; it presents an important and powerful account of the Reformation period in England, and lays before us a picture of the past magnificently conceived, and painted in colours which will never lose their freshness and beauty. As with Froude's work generally, its literary merit is remarkable; it is a well-balanced and orderly narrative, coherent in design and symmetrical in execution. Though it is perhaps needlessly long, the thread of the story is never lost amid a crowd of details; every incident is made subordinate to the general idea, appears in its appropriate place, and contributes its share to the perfection of the whole. The excellence of its form is matched by the beauty of its style, for Froude was a master of English prose. The most notable characteristic of his style is its graceful simplicity; it is never affected or laboured; his sentences are short and easy, and follow one another naturally. He is always lucid. He was never in doubt as to his own meaning, and never at a loss for the most appropriate words in which to express it. Simple as his language is, it is dignified and worthy of its subject. Nowhere perhaps does his style appear to more advantage than in his four series of essays entitled Short Studies on Great Subjects (1867-1882), for it is seen there unfettered by the obligations of narrative. Yet his narrative is admirably told. For the most part flowing easily along, it rises on fit occasions to splendour, picturesque beauty or pathos. Few more brilliant pieces of historical writing exist than his description of the coronation procession of Anne Boleyn through the streets of London, few more full of picturesque power than that in which he relates how the spire of St Paul's was struck by lightning; and to have once read is to remember for ever the touching and stately words in which he compares the monks of the London Charterhouse preparing for death with the Spartans at Thermopylae. Proofs of his power in the sustained narration of stirring events are abundant; his treatment of the Pilgrimage of Grace, of the sea fight at St Helens and the repulse of the French invasion, and of the murder of Rizzio, are among the most conspicuous examples of it. Nor is he less successful when recording pathetic events, for his stories of certain martyrdoms, and of the execution of Mary queen of Scots, are told with exquisite feeling and in language of well-restrained emotion. And his characters are alive. We may not always agree with his portraiture, but the men and women whom he saw exist for us instinct with the life with which he endows them and animated by the motives which he attributes to them. His successes must be set against his failures. At the least he wrote a great history, one which can never be disregarded by future writers on his period, be their opinions what they may; which attracts and delights a multitude of readers, and is a splendid example of literary form and grace in historical composition.
The merits of his work met with full recognition. Each instalment of his History, in common with almost everything which he wrote, was widely read, and in spite of some adverse criticisms was received with eager applause. In 1868 he was elected rector of St Andrews University, defeating Disraeli by a majority of fourteen. He was warmly welcomed in the United States, which he visited in 1872, but the lectures on Ireland which he delivered there caused much dissatisfaction. On the death of his adversary Freeman in 1892, he was appointed, on the recommendation of Lord Salisbury, to succeed him as regius professor of modern history at Oxford. Except to a few Oxford men, who considered that historical scholarship should have been held to be a necessary qualification for the office, his appointment gave general satisfaction. His lectures on Erasmus and other 16th-century subjects were largely attended. With some allowance for the purpose for which they were originally written, they present much the same characteristics as his earlier historical books. His health gave way in the summer of 1894, and he died on the 20th of October.
His long life was full of literary work. Besides his labours as an author, he was for fourteen years editor of Fraser's Magazine. He was one of Carlyle's literary executors, and brought some sharp criticism upon himself by publishing Carlyle's Reminiscences and the Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle, for they exhibited the domestic life and character of his old friend in an unpleasant light. Carlyle had given the manuscripts to him, telling him that he might publish them if he thought it well to do so, and at the close of his life agreed to their publication. Froude therefore declared that in giving them to the world he was carrying out his friend's wish by enabling him to make a posthumous confession of his faults. Besides publishing these manuscripts he wrote a Life of Carlyle. His earlier study of Irish history afforded him suggestions for a historical novel entitled The Two Chiefs of Dunboy (1889). In spite of one or two stirring scenes it is a tedious book, and its personages are little more than machines for the enunciation of the author's opinions and sentiments. Though Froude had some intimate friends he was generally reserved. When he cared to please, his manners and conversation were charming. Those who knew him well formed a high estimate of his ability in practical affairs. In 1874 Lord Carnarvon, then colonial secretary, sent Froude to South Africa to report on the best means of promoting a confederation of its colonies and states, and in 1875 he was again sent to the Cape as a member of a proposed conference to further confederation. Froude's speeches in South Africa were rather injudicious, and his mission was a failure (see South Africa: History). He was twice married. His first wife, a daughter of Pascoe Grenfell and sister of Mrs Charles Kingsley, died in 1860; his second, a daughter of John Warre, M.P. for Taunton, died in 1874.
Froude's Life, by Herbert Paul, was published in 1905.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)