Front Page Titles (by Subject) (D): ACTON AND OFFICE - Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, Vol. I (Cardinal Newman, Lady Blennerhassett, W.E. Gladstone)
Return to Title Page for Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, Vol. I (Cardinal Newman, Lady Blennerhassett, W.E. Gladstone)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
(D): ACTON AND OFFICE - John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, Vol. I (Cardinal Newman, Lady Blennerhassett, W.E. Gladstone) 
Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, edited with and Introduction by John Neville Figgis and Renald Vere Laurence. Vol. I Correspondence with Cardinal Newman, Lady Blennerhassett, W.E. Gladstone and Others (London: Longmans, Gree and Co., 1917).
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
ACTON AND OFFICE
Tegernsee,May 31, 1880.
Dear Mr. Gladstone,—
When I was in Downing Street I met with a rebuke for having left unanswered a letter you sent me last autumn from Paris. I am anxious to say that I was silent from embarrassment, not from neglect. You spoke of the coming struggle, of the coming victory, of the call that was on all of us to share in it, in terms I could hardly respond to without feeling untrue to the sternest duty, and the deepest affection, and the controlling sorrow of my life. Last month, when the victory was won, our clouds were lifting, and I should have found London very attractive, but I thought it better to be away from Harley Street and Carlton House Terrace just then. Every traveller from the Riviera arrived with the presumption of office upon him, and it seemed possible, from your constant willingness to think too well of me, and perhaps from a wish to do what would be ostensibly gratifying to Lord Granville, that you might propose to give me employment. As I should be obnoxious to the majority of your supporters for one reason and to the minority for another, it would have been my duty to decline to being an element of weakness to the Government, and that could not be done without suspicion of having sought the opportunity, or of refusing because I wanted something better. With your unanswered letter in my mind I therefore thought it best to keep out of the way of trouble and temptation. The same objection might not apply to service abroad, but the only place where I could hope to be of any special use is Berlin, and I could neither look forward to the best prize of a profession not my own, nor contemplate so exorbitant a preference of private friendship over public service as would be more justly resented than the appointment of Ripon:—all which looks like a chapter of autobiography, but is in truth the explanation of the letter left without an answer, and the answer to much flattering reproach, the other day, in town.
I have found the Professor remarkably well, less deaf than last year, and passing more readily from the depths of one subject to the depths of another. Much reading of Church periodicals has bred a misgiving in his mind that one whom he took, at Tegernsee, for an amiable and well-disposed youth is little better than a demagogue and a destroyer of establishments.—I remain, very truly yours,
Athenæum,Saturday,March 25, 1893.
Dear Mr. Gladstone,—
I think that it would be better that the letter should not appear.
Some enemies would make an ill use of the attitude, of ceremony and respect, which you adopted towards the Pope.
Some even of our friends would find cause for stumbling at your having reported the particulars of the interview privately to the Italian Minister.
The passage from St. Augustine is a made-up passage, and is made here to appear as if it was a literal quotation.
Much less important objections occur to the opinion that the empire is too large; and that the Canadians have no idea of defending themselves.
Although my impression is quite clear, I submit it to you with great diffidence.—Ever yours,
Athenæum,Pall Mall, S.W., December 10, 1893.
Dear Mr. Gladstone,—
My reason for troubling you is a very insignificant matter. But I have been taking part of the Irish business in the House of Lords, and the great stress I am in for time obliges me to ask Kimberley and Morley to relieve me of my share in it. It not only is reasonable, but has become imperiously necessary that I should complete, within calculable limits of time, the work I have undertaken. As long as I have constant occupation at the Irish Office—consequent on my native ignorance of the subjects to be prepared—the main employment of my life has to be indefinitely suspended. I have come to feel quite certain that my duty lies the other way.
Neither Kimberley, nor Morley, nor Spencer who is chiefly concerned, will object. But I am anxious to explain the matter to yourself in the first place.
I see my way pretty well to the end, in the course of next year, if I am free to devote my time.
I don’t think I need add that I have here told you my whole story.—Believe me, ever yours,
Munich,Easter Sunday, 1895.1
Dear Mr. Gladstone,—
It is a most interesting enterprise to me. There is, I think, no great school of history there, and not much studious curiosity about it. And as my predecessor2 did not awaken it, there is no chance of my doing much. For he possessed the qualities that rouse attention and stimulate thought. He was full of literary power, never oppressed with raw material, and not above the employment of stirring paradox. In all these respects he justified your selection, and did far more than his predecessors. But I am afraid he suffered damage at Lightfoot’s hands in his character as a divine.3
There will be some delicate ground to traverse at first; in the endeavour not to clash too rudely with so considerable a writer I shall have to avoid his special topics; but I hope to clear the ground and sufficiently indicate my position in the Inaugural Lecture which I am to give at the end of May.
The regular lectures in the following term will have to be adapted to the settled curriculum. I should have liked to devote the first year to a rapid course, going through Modern History as a whole, from the Renaissance to a time “within the memory of men still living.” But as this would be useless for examinations, nobody would come to hear it. I am afraid they will fix me for the beginning in the American or the French Revolution. If so, I think of announcing Modern History from 1776 to 1796. Mayor, the most various scholar in the University, is justly indignant at the catchpenny decision. There may be some advantage in starting with an epoch that is entirely political.
I have a view that I ought—under the statute—to take Modern History literally, as excluding the Middle Ages—which is a seeming reproach to Stubbs and Freeman. And I think that teachable history does not include the living generation and the questions of the day, as Seeley maintained that it does.
The appointment, I am glad to think, did no harm to Rosebery. I was received at Cambridge, not exactly with warmth, but with as friendly a welcome as I could have hoped for. But then I had already many good friends there, as you know better than any one.
A tendency towards garrulity seems a natural consequence of having such a platform to speak from.
Before long my steps must take me back to Cambridge where Trinity has elected me an Hon. Fellow, and another College proposes a professorial Fellowship. And I shall have to alternate between Cambridge and Windsor, as we keep obstinately in.—Believe me, ever truly yours,
[1 ] This letter refers to Acton’s appointment as Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge.
[2 ] Sir John Seeley.
[3 ] Acton seems here to take for granted the erroneous supposition that Seeley was the author of Supernatural Religion, a book to which Lightfoot made a crushing reply.