Front Page Titles (by Subject) From Dr. Mandell Creighton - Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton, Vol. I (Cardinal Newman, Lady Blennerhassett, W.E. Gladstone)
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From Dr. Mandell Creighton - 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).
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From Dr. Mandell Creighton.
Embleton Vicarage, Chathill, Northumberland,
My Lord,1 —
You are so good that I am afraid if you encourage me I shall prove a nuisance. I have written my book so far practically without consulting any one, because I know no one who is at all interested in my subject. I live away from any literary friends, and I very seldom am able to consult libraries. I do not think that the entire time I spent in London and Oxford for the purposes of study for my two volumes reached the period of a month. I frequently have had to leave points unsolved till I could go, or get some friend to verify points for me—I am obliged to buy most of the books I want when they are possible to be bought, and I lose the opportunity of seeing stray articles that might help me, though I find the excellent abstracts of periodicals in the Revue Historique very useful. If at any time you hear of anything, it would be a great favour to me if you could let me know. I have my eye on Bayonne, though Gherardi2 is probably inaccessible as only twenty-five copies were printed. But I see that the Archivio Storico has given an abstract of him.
The great questions are, as you say, What made Luther? and what made him so strong? But they are very difficult to answer, and I thought that they could only be answered on a large scale. Perhaps you do not feel as strongly as I do how the answer, if it is to be found, is rendered difficult by the existence of claptrap and misrepresentation. The ordinary Protestant believes in a steady growth of evangelical theology from the time of Wyclif. One of my objects was to dispel that view, perhaps hardly worth dispelling. But I thought that it was worth while to try and lift the current history of that time to a more scientific level if I could do so. The absence of even any tolerable book in English dealing with that period led me to do it as thoroughly as I could. I did not write in a popular way, but I hoped that I had perhaps provided the material for more popular books afterwards. I think that the doctrinal reformation would never have taken place if a reformation of the ecclesiastical system had been possible without it.
One part of the strength of Luther lay in the belief that nothing could be got from the Papacy except by threats. I wanted to see what grounds there was for that belief. In dealing with the Councils I only credited them with such good intentions as I thought were at the bottom of all united action; I believed that I had admitted their self-seeking in details and their hopeless policy. About Hus I fully admit that the Papacy was always far more tolerant than the popular spirit, and that ecclesiastical judges were lenient to diversity of opinion, but I could not feel sure that John XXIII would have done differently from the Council, and I shall have enough to say on that point later on. It is, of course, a difficulty in publishing by instalments that one cannot do all things at once. The question of indulgences I reserved till I came to Luther, and the corruption of morals till I came to Charles VIII. Similarly about ideas—it seems to me difficult to record in chronological order indications as they occur. When the questions become part of practical politics, then I must do my best to enquire how they became so; but I think that the method of perpetually pointing out isolated occurrences, and drawing attention to presages is less effective than marshalling details in a mass at the right place, if one can find the place and have observed the details.
Of course the subject of my next volume is the secularisation of the Papacy, but in the hopeless secularisation of Europe it was impossible for the Papacy to avoid it. Europe would not combine for a Crusade. Paul II practically ended the Hussite question. The Papacy was surrounded by Italian powers who cared nothing for religion—self-preservation drove it to do its best, and I incline to think that it was a sound instinct that impelled Sixtus IV to attack the Medici. I am just busy with Leonelli’s Alessandro VI. It is a great pity that the end of Burchard1 has never been fully published.
About Hawkwood, by the way, it was not the omission of the aspirate that struck me: but the form Augud led me to think that the soldiers pronounced the last syllable wood, as a Southern Englishman would do now ’ud. He would say Hawk’ud, even if he kept his aspirate.
Please do not trouble to answer this letter,—Yours very sincerely,
My dear Lord Acton,—
You are most good; be it as you say. The question of form is a matter for your decision; but I do not think that there is much risk of an accusation of dilettantism in your case. The mere fact that you have not fallen into the vulgar error of writing a book gives you an additional claim to attention. Wegele,2 however, may stand as a text to a sermon. The article would appear in the first part, and not in the small type: it may be sufficiently differentiated from ordinary sermons. I understand your difficulties and also I see the scope of your article. I am daily more and more impressed by the exceeding insularity of our historical ideas. The ordinary Englishman seems to consider that anything can be barred from Europe as a whole. Brewer’s work, though it was the work of his lifetime, fails because he would not take the trouble to learn more than he could help about anything save England. I hope that the Review may tend to give greater breadth of view; for such a purpose your article would be most valuable. It would strike a keynote.
You see perhaps why I speak as I do about Stubbs. I have a hope that things may improve by a little organisation—Stubbs never had any. He had no care to form a school: he was a bad lecturer and lectured as little as he could. He resented all invasions of his time as hindrances to editing MSS. That was the work he really enjoyed. He wrote his Constitutional History more because something was expected of him than because he enjoyed doing it. But his career at Oxford was a strong proof of the power of a life devoted to study. He exerted a great influence by the mere fact of his existence. His example and not his precept was valuable.
You will send me your contributions for the first number as soon as you can, I dare say. I write not to hurry you: but by the middle of October I ought to see my first number in shape. It is, alas, very shapeless at present.
By the way, have you looked into the first three vols. of the Dictionary of National Biography? If so, and if anything has struck you I wish you would send me the result of your observations, merely headings and jottings if you will. I am gathering remarks with a view to piecing together something, a method of reviewing such a book which seems to me better than committing it to one man.—Again with many thanks, yours very sincerely,
Dear Lord Acton,—
It shall be as you will with the revise: also I send you Napoleon2 as you desire. But I did not mean to suggest that you should make any changes out of deference to my feelings. I only wished to make out to my own satisfaction my shortcomings that I might give an account of myself to those who asked me. I see that from your point of view, I am not made of stern enough stuff to write history. I have too much natural “pietas”—“mentem mortalia tangunt.” I have no love for heroes, and I rarely find them in my particular path: but I admit that I hesitate to find men so villainous as in your scales of moral judgment they would be. I like to stand aside as much as possible, and content myself with the humble part of a chorus in a Greek play. I try to put myself in the place of my personages. I judge them more severely for their own personal contribution to the world’s misdoings than for their acquiescence in existing systems. I think worse of Sixtus IV for his share in the Pazzi1 matter than for his authorising the Spanish Inquisition. I suppose my readers can draw morals for themselves. I think that in history, as in private life, I hope I try to find out men’s good qualities before their bad ones, their good intentions before their evil means. The statesman always seems to me in a non-moral position, because he has to consider what is possible as well as what is best, and the compromise is necessarily pitiable. The growth of a public conscience has been slow; I don’t wish to antedate its influence. It seems to me that the great charge against the Church after the thirteenth century is that it did not promote, but hindered its growth. Perhaps I have not made this clear.
The more I meditate the more grateful I am to you. I would not have you tone down any expression of dissent. Your standard is so high that I feel braced by its application. There is no one in England who knows much about my subject; very few who care to read my volumes. The only exhortations I get are to be more picturesque and more amusing; and these are not fruitful.
By the way I got a note from Dr. Immelmann2 asking if you are at Cannes, as his translation sticks for want of notes which he has not received.—Yours ever sincerely,
Asti (Piemont), 10 janvier 1892.
Cher Milord Acton,—
Votre lettre m’est arrivée au moment où la mort de mon frère m’a plongé dans la désolation. Il était le chef de ma famille et la perte a pour moi les conséquences les plus doloureuses. Je n’ai ni la tranquillité ni le temps nécessaires pour recueillir mes souvenirs et mes idées, consulter quelques documents et répondre aussi pertinemment que je le devrais aux questions que vous me faites l’honneur de m’adresser. Je ne veux cependant pas retarder trop longtemps à vous répondre. Veuillez donc me permettre de vous dire seulement en peu de mots toute ma pensée.
Je suis convaincu que Cavour était complètement de bonne foi lorsqu’il a émis la formule Libera Chiesa in libero Stato. Je puis me tromper, mais pour moi il n’y a pas de doute sur ce point. Ce n’était pas pour lui un expédient temporaire, ni un stratagème politique. C’était un dogme dans la famille-Cavour que l’Église avait droit à être complètement libre. L’origine de cette doctrine doit remonter au Lamennais de l’Essai sur l’indifférence en matière de religion, à Montalembert, à tout le mouvement d’idées dont le Globe a été l’organe. Cavour avait été élevé dans les idées de l’école libérale française modifiée cependant par son séjour et ses études en Angleterre. Il était convaincu que l’Eglise une fois en possession de toute sa liberté, serait devenue elle même libérale. C’est une conviction qu’on pouvait encore avoir en 1859, dix ans seulement après l’élection de Pie IX. On pouvait supposer que si les Mazziniens n’avait pas effrayé Pie IX, il aurait pu être ramené encore aux idées libérales. Pantaleoni, Tantucci, plusieurs prélats romains nourrissaient cette conviction. Pantaleoni surtout fit croire à Cavour qu’on aurait pu transférer la capitale à Rome d’accord avec la papauté d’accord avec tout le parti catholique et libéral. Cavour en effet voulait arriver à un véritable Concordat. Il n’a jamais envisagé la possibilité d’obtenir Rome par d’autres moyens que d’accord avec la France, et par des négociations diplomatiques. On ne doit donc pas juger de ses idées par ce qu’on a appelé la breccia di Porta Pia.
Les successeurs de Cavour ont dû suivre le sillon qu’il avait tracé. Mais Cavour, qui n’était pas doctrinaire, aurait été bien plus libre qu’eux. Nul ne peut dire si dans la situation toute nouvelle qui s’est formée en 1870, il aurait appliqué plus largement et plus franchement sa formule, ou bien si, réservant ses idées pour l’époque où la conciliation qu’il rêvait aurait été possible, il aurait eu recours pour le moment à d’autres expédients. Peut-être aussi aurait-il pu empêcher la guerre d’éclater en 1870. La formation d’un grand Etat allemand et protestant aurait pu modifier ses idées. Ce qu’il aurait fait dans une situation aussi imprévue est le secret du tombeau. J’ai toujours pensé que c’est une erreur de mettre sur les lèvres des grands qui sont morts des idées et des mots qu’ils n’auraient pas eu. Cavour n’était pas homme à cristalliser son intelligence dans une formule et son existence même aurait été un élément politique d’une très grande valeur en 1870.
Notre loi des garanties est loin d’être parfaite, mais elle répond grosso modo aux besoins et aux nécessités de la situation où l’Italie s’est trouvé placée après 1870. Du reste la formule Libera Chiesa in libero Stato n’est rien par elle-même. Tant dépend de son application. Or il est bien difficile d’appliquer une formule de paix à un état de choses qui est loin d’être la paix. Vous êtes du reste infiniment plus compétent que moi sur ces questions. Je me borne à affirmer la parfaite bonne foi de Cavour. C’est un devoir que je remplis vis-à-vis de sa mémoire qui m’est chère.
[1 ] This letter refers to the first two volumes of Creighton’s History of the Papacy during the Reformation, published in 1882.
[2 ]Gherardi, Alessandro, published in 1887 Nuovi documenti e studi intorno a Girolamo Savonarola; also Le Consulte della Repubblica Fiorentina.
[1 ]Burchard, Giovanni, papal secretary from 1483-1505, Bishop of Cività Castellano and Orte. The book referred to is his Diarium sive rerum urbanarum commentarii. The first complete edition was published, edited by L. Thuasne, 1883-86. He was secretary of Alexander VI.
[2 ]Wegele, Franz Xavier von (1823-97). The first article in the English Historical Review was that by Acton on “German Schools of History.” It took the form of a review of Dr. Wegele’s book Geschichte der deutschen Historiographie.
Wegele was Professor at Würzburg, and also editor of the Allgemeine deutsche Biographie.
[1 ] This letter deals with Acton’s review of Creighton’s second two volumes. The review was published in the English Historical Review. On this topic cf. Life of Mandell Creighton, ii.; also Creighton’s letter printed in the Appendix to Acton’s History of Freedom.
[2 ]Napoleon. Acton contributed to the English Historical Review for July 1887 a notice of Seeley’s Short History of Napoleon the First, and J. C. Ropes’ Napoleon the First.
[1 ]The conspiracy of the Pazzi in 1478 was an attempt to get rid of Lorenzo dei Medici, to which Pope Sixtus IV was privy. The Pazzi were the Florentine family next in importance to the Medici. Cf. Creighton’s History of the Papacy, iv. 84 et seq.
[2 ]Immelmann, J., translated Acton’s article on “German Schools of History.”
[1 ]Artom, Isaaco, an Italian diplomat of Jewish origin, was private secretary to Cavour, and filled many other posts. He wrote books on Cavour and Victor Emmanuel.