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Lecky, William Edward Hartpole

LECKY, WILLIAM EDWARD HARTPOLE (1838-1903), Irish historian and publicist, was born at Newtown Park, near Dublin, on the 26th of March 1838, being the eldest son of John Hartpole Lecky, whose family had for many generations been landowners in Ireland. He was educated at Kingstown, Armagh, and Cheltenham College, and at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated B.A. in 1859 and M.A. in 1863, and where, with a view to becoming a clergyman in the Irish Protestant Church, he went through a course of divinity. In 1860 he published anonymously a small book entitled The Religious Tendencies of the Age, but on leaving college he abandoned his first intention and turned to historical work. In 1861 he published Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland, a brief sketch of the lives and work of Swift, Flood, Grattan and O'Connell, which gave decided promise of his later admirable work in the same field. This book, originally published anonymously, was republished in 1871; and the essay on Swift, rewritten and amplified, appeared again in 1897 as an introduction to a new edition of Swift's works. Two learned surveys of certain aspects of history followed: A History of the Rise and Influence of Rationalism in Europe (2 vols., 1865), and A History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne (2 vols., 1869). Some criticism was aroused by these books, especially by the last named, with its opening dissertation on " the natural history of morals," but both have been generally accepted as acute and suggestive commentaries upon a wide range of facts. Lecky then devoted himself to the chief work of his life, A History of England during the Eighteenth Century, vols. i. and ii. of which appeared in 1878, and vols. vii. and viii. (completing the work) in 1890. His object was " to disengage from the great mass of facts those which relate to the permanent forces of the nation, or which indicate some of the more enduring features of national life," and in the carrying out of this task Lecky displays many of the qualities of a great historian. The work is distinguished by the lucidity of its style, but the fulness and extent of the authorities referred to, and, above all, by the judicial impartiality maintained by the author throughout. These qualities are perhaps most conspicuous and most valuable in the chapters which deal with the history of Ireland, and in the cabinet edition of 1892, in 12 vols. (frequently reprinted) this part of the work is separated from the rest, and occupies five volumes under the title of A History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century. A volume of Poems, published in 1891, was characterized by a certain frigidity and by occasional lapses into commonplace, objections which may also be fairly urged against much of Lecky's prose-writing. In 1896 he published two volumes entitled Democracy and Liberty, in which he considered, with special reference to Great Britain, France and America, some of the tendencies of modern democracies. The somewhat gloomy conclusions at which he arrived provoked much criticism both in Great Britain and America, which was renewed when he published in a new edition (1899) an elaborate and very depreciatory estimate of Gladstone, then recently dead. This work, though essentially different from the author's purely historical writings, has many of their merits, though it was inevitable that other minds should take a different view of the evidence. In The Map of Life (1900) he discussed in a popular style some of the ethical problems which arise in everyday life. In 1903 he published a revised and greatly enlarged edition of Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland, in two volumes, from which the essay on Swift was omitted and that on O'Connell was expanded into a complete biography of the great advocate of repeal of the Union. Though always a keen sympathizer with the Irish people in their misfortunes and aspirations, and though he had criticized severely the methods by which the Act of Union was passed, Lecky, who grew up as a moderate Liberal, was from the first strenuously opposed to Gladstone's policy of Home Rule, and in 1895 he was returned to parliament as Unionist member for Dublin University. In 1897 he was made a privy councillor, and among the coronation honours in 1902 he was nominated an original member of the new Order of Merit. His university honours included the degree of LL.D. from Dublin, St Andrews and Glasgow, the degree of D.C.L. from Oxford and the degree of Litt.D. from Cambridge. In 1894 he was elected corresponding member of the Institute of France. He contributed occasionally to periodical literature, and two of his addresses, The Political Value of History (1892) and The Empire, its Value and its Growth (1893), were published. He died in London on the 22nd of October 1903. He married in 1871 Elizabeth, baroness de Dedem, daughter of baron de Dedem, a general in the Dutch service, but had no children. Mrs Lecky contributed to various reviews a number of articles, chiefly on historical and political subjects. A volume of Lecky's Historical and Political Essays was published posthumously (London, 1908).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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