Memoir of John Lothrop Motley, v3
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
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JOHN LOTHROP MOTLEY.
By Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
1874. AEt. 60.
"LIFE OF JOHN OF BARNEVELD."--CRITICISMS.--GROEN VAN PRINSTERER.
The full title of Mr. Motley's next and last work is "The Life and Death
of John of Barneveld, Advocate of Holland; with a View of the Primary
Causes and Movements of the Thirty Years' War."
In point of fact this work is a history rather than a biography. It is
an interlude, a pause between the acts which were to fill out the
complete plan of the "Eighty Years' Tragedy," and of which the last act,
the Thirty Years' War, remains unwritten. The "Life of Barneveld" was
received as a fitting and worthy continuation of the series of
intellectual labor in which he was engaged. I will quote but two general
expressions of approval from the two best known British critical reviews.
In connection with his previous works, it forms, says "The London
Quarterly," "a fine and continuous story, of which the writer and the
nation celebrated by him have equal reason to be proud; a narrative which
will remain a prominent ornament of American genius, while it has
permanently enriched English literature on this as well as on the other
side of the Atlantic."
"The Edinburgh Review" speaks no less warmly: "We can hardly give too
much appreciation to that subtile alchemy of the brain which has enabled
him to produce out of dull, crabbed, and often illegible state papers,
the vivid, graphic, and sparkling narrative which he has given to the
In a literary point of view, M. Groen van Prinsterer, whose elaborate
work has been already referred to, speaks of it as perhaps the most
classical of Motley's productions, but it is upon this work that the
force of his own and other Dutch criticisms has been chiefly expended.
The key to this biographical history or historical biography may be found
in a few sentences from its opening chapter.
"There have been few men at any period whose lives have been more
closely identical than his [Barneveld's] with a national history.
There have been few great men in any history whose names have become
less familiar to the world, and lived less in the mouths of
posterity. Yet there can be no doubt that if William the Silent was
the founder of the independence of the United Provinces, Barneveld
was the founder of the Commonwealth itself. . . .
"Had that country of which he was so long the first citizen
maintained until our own day the same proportional position among
the empires of Christendom as it held in the seventeenth century,
the name of John of Barneveld would have perhaps been as familiar to
all men as it is at this moment to nearly every inhabitant of the
Netherlands. Even now political passion is almost as ready to flame
forth, either in ardent affection or enthusiastic hatred, as if two
centuries and a half had not elapsed since his death. His name is
so typical of a party, a polity, and a faith, so indelibly
associated with a great historical cataclysm, as to render it
difficult even for the grave, the conscientious, the learned, the
patriotic, of his own compatriots to speak of him with absolute
"A foreigner who loves and admires all that is great and noble in
the history of that famous republic, and can have no hereditary bias
as to its ecclesiastical or political theories, may at least attempt
the task with comparative coldness, although conscious of inability
to do thorough justice to a most complex subject."
With all Mr. Motley's efforts to be impartial, to which even his sternest
critics bear witness, he could not help becoming a partisan of the cause
which for him was that of religious liberty and progress, as against the
accepted formula of an old ecclesiastical organization. For the quarrel
which came near being a civil war, which convulsed the state, and cost
Barneveld his head, had its origin in a difference on certain points, and
more especially on a single point, of religious doctrine.
As a great river may be traced back until its fountainhead is found in a
thread of water streaming from a cleft in the rocks, so a great national
movement may sometimes be followed until its starting-point is found in
the cell of a monk or the studies of a pair of wrangling professors.
The religious quarrel of the Dutchmen in the seventeenth century reminds
us in some points of the strife between two parties in our own New
England, sometimes arraying the "church" on one side against the
"parish," or the general body of worshippers, on the other. The
portraits of Gomarus, the great orthodox champion, and Arminius, the head
and front of the "liberal theology" of his day, as given in the little
old quarto of Meursius, recall two ministerial types of countenance
familiar to those who remember the earlier years of our century.
Under the name of "Remonstrants" and "Contra-Remonstrants,"--Arminians
and old-fashioned Calvinists, as we should say,--the adherents of the two
Leyden professors disputed the right to the possession of the churches,
and the claim to be considered as representing the national religion. Of
the seven United Provinces, two, Holland and Utrecht, were prevailingly
Arminian, and the other five Calvinistic. Barneveld, who, under the
title of Advocate, represented the province of Holland, the most
important of them all, claimed for each province a right to determine its
own state religion. Maurice the Stadholder, son of William the Silent,
the military chief of the republic, claimed the right for the States-
General. 'Cujus regio ejus religio' was then the accepted public
doctrine of Protestant nations. Thus the provincial and the general
governments were brought into conflict by their creeds, and the question
whether the republic was a confederation or a nation, the same question
which has been practically raised, and for the time at least settled, in
our own republic, was in some way to be decided. After various
disturbances and acts of violence by both parties, Maurice, representing
the States-General, pronounced for the Calvinists or Contra-Remonstrants,
and took possession of one of the great churches, as an assertion of his
authority. Barneveld, representing the Arminian or Remonstrant
provinces, levied a body of mercenary soldiers in several of the cities.
These were disbanded by Maurice, and afterwards by an act of the States-
General. Barneveld was apprehended, imprisoned, and executed, after an
examination which was in no proper sense a trial. Grotius, who was on
the Arminian side and involved in the inculpated proceedings, was also
arrested and imprisoned. His escape, by a stratagem successfully
repeated by a slave in our own times, may challenge comparison for its
romantic interest with any chapter of fiction. How his wife packed him
into the chest supposed to contain the folios of the great oriental
scholar Erpenius, how the soldiers wondered at its weight and questioned
whether it did not hold an Arminian, how the servant-maid, Elsje van
Houwening, quick-witted as Morgiana of the "Forty Thieves," parried their
questions and convoyed her master safely to the friendly place of
refuge,--all this must be read in the vivid narrative of the author.
The questions involved were political, local, personal, and above all
religious. Here is the picture which Motley draws of the religious
quarrel as it divided the people:--
"In burghers' mansions, peasants' cottages, mechanics' back-parlors;
on board herring-smacks, canal-boats, and East Indiamen; in shops,
counting-rooms, farm-yards, guard-rooms, alehouses; on the exchange,
in the tennis court, on the mall; at banquets, at burials,
christenings, or bridals; wherever and whenever human creatures met
each other, there was ever to be found the fierce wrangle of
Remonstrant and Contra-Remonstrant, the hissing of red-hot
theological rhetoric, the pelting of hostile texts. The
blacksmith's iron cooled on the anvil, the tinker dropped a kettle
half mended, the broker left a bargain unclinched, the Scheveningen
fisherman in his wooden shoes forgot the cracks in his pinkie, while
each paused to hold high converse with friend or foe on fate, free-
will, or absolute foreknowledge; losing himself in wandering mazes
whence there was no issue. Province against province, city against
city, family against family; it was one vast scene of bickering,
denunciation, heart-burnings, mutual excommunication and hatred."
The religious grounds of the quarrel which set these seventeenth-century
Dutchmen to cutting each other's throats were to be looked for in the
"Five Points" of the Arminians as arrayed against the "Seven Points" of
the Gomarites, or Contra-Remonstrants. The most important of the
differences which were to be settled by fratricide seem to have been
According to the Five Points, "God has from eternity resolved to choose
to eternal life those who through his grace believe in Jesus Christ,"
etc. According to the Seven Points, "God in his election has not looked
at the belief and the repentance of the elect," etc. According to the
Five Points, all good deeds must be ascribed to God's grace in Christ,
but it does not work irresistibly. The language of the Seven Points
implies that the elect cannot resist God's eternal and unchangeable
design to give them faith and steadfastness, and that they can never
wholly and for always lose the true faith. The language of the Five
Points is unsettled as to the last proposition, but it was afterwards
maintained by the Remonstrant party that a true believer could, through
his own fault, fall away from God and lose faith.
It must be remembered that these religious questions had an immediate
connection with politics. Independently of the conflict of jurisdiction,
in which they involved the parties to the two different creeds, it was
believed or pretended that the new doctrines of the Remonstrants led
towards Romanism, and were allied with designs which threatened the
independence of the country. "There are two factions in the land," said
Maurice, "that of Orange and that of Spain, and the two chiefs of the
Spanish faction are those political and priestly Arminians, Uytenbogaert
The heads of the two religious and political parties were in such
hereditary, long-continued, and intimate relations up to the time when
one signed the other's death-warrant, that it was impossible to write the
life of one without also writing that of the other. For his biographer
John of Barneveld is the true patriot, the martyr, whose cause was that
of religious and political freedom. For him Maurice is the ambitious
soldier who hated his political rival, and never rested until this rival
was brought to the scaffold.
The questions which agitated men's minds two centuries and a half ago
are not dead yet in the country where they produced such estrangement,
violence, and wrong. No stranger could take them up without encountering
hostile criticism from one party or the other. It may be and has been
conceded that Mr. Motley writes as a partisan,--a partisan of freedom in
politics and religion, as he understands freedom. This secures him the
antagonism of one class of critics. But these critics are themselves
partisans, and themselves open to the cross-fire of their antagonists.
M. Groen van Prinsterer, "the learned and distinguished" editor of the
"Archives et Correspondance" of the Orange and Nassau family, published a
considerable volume, before referred to, in which many of Motley's views
are strongly controverted. But he himself is far from being in accord
with "that eminent scholar," M. Bakhuyzen van den Brink, whose name, he
says, is celebrated enough to need no comment, or with M. Fruin, of whose
impartiality and erudition he himself speaks in the strongest terms. The
ground upon which he is attacked is thus stated in his own words:--
"People have often pretended to find in my writings the deplorable
influence of an extreme Calvinism. The Puritans of the seventeenth
century are my fellow-religionists. I am a sectarian and not an
It is plain enough to any impartial reader that there are at least
plausible grounds for this accusation against Mr. Motley's critic. And
on a careful examination of the formidable volume, it becomes obvious
that Mr. Motley has presented a view of the events and the personages of
the stormy epoch with which he is dealing, which leaves a battle-ground
yet to be fought over by those who come after him. The dispute is not
and cannot be settled.
The end of all religious discussion has come when one of the parties
claims that it is thinking or acting under immediate Divine guidance.
"It is God's affair, and his honor is touched," says William Lewis to
Prince Maurice. Mr. Motley's critic is not less confident in claiming
the Almighty as on the side of his own views. Let him state his own
ground of departure:--
"To show the difference, let me rather say the contrast, between the
point of view of Mr. Motley and my own, between the Unitarian and
the Evangelical belief. I am issue of CALVIN, child of the
Awakening (reveil). Faithful to the device of the Reformers:
Justification by faith alone, and the Word of God endures eternally.
I consider history from the point of view of Merle d'Aubigne,
Chalmers, Guizot. I desire to be disciple and witness of our Lord
and Saviour, Jesus Christ."
He is therefore of necessity antagonistic to a writer whom he describes
in such words as these:--
"Mr. Motley is liberal and rationalist.
"He becomes, in attacking the principle of the Reformation, the
passionate opponent of the Puritans and of Maurice, the ardent
apologist of Barnevelt and the Arminians.
"It is understood, and he makes no mystery of it, that he inclines
towards the vague and undecided doctrine of the Unitarians."
What M. Groen's idea of Unitarians is may be gathered from the statement
about them which he gets from a letter of De Tocqueville.
"They are pure deists; they talk about the Bible, because they do
not wish to shock too severely public opinion, which is prevailingly
Christian. They have a service on Sundays; I have been there. At
it they read verses from Dryden or other English poets on the
existence of God and the immortality of the soul. They deliver a
discourse on some point of morality, and all is said."
In point of fact the wave of protest which stormed the dikes of Dutch
orthodoxy in the seventeenth century stole gently through the bars of New
England Puritanism in the eighteenth.
"Though the large number," says Mr. Bancroft, "still acknowledged the
fixedness of the divine decrees, and the resistless certainty from all
eternity of election and of reprobation, there were not wanting, even
among the clergy, some who had modified the sternness of the ancient
doctrine by making the self-direction of the active powers of man with
freedom of inquiry and private judgment the central idea of a protest
Protestantism, cut loose from an infallible church, and drifting with
currents it cannot resist, wakes up once or oftener in every century, to
find itself in a new locality. Then it rubs its eyes and wonders whether
it has found its harbor or only lost its anchor. There is no end to its
disputes, for it has nothing but a fallible vote as authority for its
oracles, and these appeal only to fallible interpreters.
It is as hard to contend in argument against "the oligarchy of heaven,"
as Motley calls the Calvinistic party, as it was formerly to strive with
them in arms.
To this "aristocracy of God's elect" belonged the party which framed the
declaration of the Synod of Dort; the party which under the forms of
justice shed the blood of the great statesman who had served his country
so long and so well. To this chosen body belonged the late venerable and
truly excellent as well as learned M. Groen van Prinsterer, and he
exercised the usual right of examining in the light of his privileged
position the views of a "liberal" and "rationalist" writer who goes to
meeting on Sunday to hear verses from Dryden. This does not diminish his
claim for a fair reading of the "intimate correspondence," which he
considers Mr. Motley has not duly taken into account, and of the other
letters to be found printed in his somewhat disjointed and fragmentary
This "intimate correspondence" shows Maurice the Stadholder indifferent
and lax in internal administration and as being constantly advised and
urged by his relative Count William of Nassau. This need of constant
urging extends to religious as well as other matters, and is inconsistent
with M. Groen van Prinsterer's assertion that the question was for
Maurice above all religious, and for Barneveld above all political.
Whether its negative evidence can be considered as neutralizing that
which is adduced by Mr. Motley to show the Stadholder's hatred of the
Advocate may be left to the reader who has just risen from the account of
the mock trial and the swift execution of the great and venerable
statesman. The formal entry on the record upon the day of his "judicial
murder" is singularly solemn and impressive:--
"Monday, 13th May, 1619. To-day was executed with the sword here in
the Hague, on a scaffold thereto erected in the Binnenhof before the
steps of the great hall, Mr. John of Barneveld, in his life Knight,
Lord of Berkel, Rodenrys, etc., Advocate of Holland and West
Friesland, for reasons expressed in the sentence and otherwise, with
confiscation of his property, after he had served the state thirty-
three years two months and five days, since 8th March, 1586; a man
of great activity, business, memory, and wisdom,--yea, extraordinary
in every respect. He that stands let him see that he does not
Maurice gave an account of the execution of Barneveld to Count William
Lewis on the same day in a note "painfully brief and dry."
Most authors write their own biography consciously or unconsciously. We
have seen Mr. Motley portraying much of himself, his course of life and
his future, as he would have had it, in his first story. In this, his
last work, it is impossible not to read much of his own external and
internal personal history told under other names and with different
accessories. The parallelism often accidentally or intentionally passes
into divergence. He would not have had it too close if he could, but
there are various passages in which it is plain enough that he is telling
his own story.
Mr. Motley was a diplomatist, and he writes of other diplomatists, and
one in particular, with most significant detail. It need not be supposed
that he intends the "arch intriguer" Aerssens to stand for himself, or
that he would have endured being thought to identify himself with the man
of whose "almost devilish acts" he speaks so freely. But the sagacious
reader--and he need not be very sharp-sighted--will very certainly see
something more than a mere historical significance in some of the
passages which I shall cite for him to reflect upon. Mr. Motley's
standard of an ambassador's accomplishments may be judged from the
"That those ministers [those of the Republic] were second to the
representatives of no other European state in capacity and
accomplishment was a fact well known to all who had dealings with
them, for the states required in their diplomatic representatives
knowledge of history and international law, modern languages, and
the classics, as well as familiarity with political customs and
social courtesies; the breeding of gentlemen, in short, and the
accomplishments of scholars."
The story of the troubles of Aerssens, the ambassador of the United
Provinces at Paris, must be given at some length, and will repay careful
"Francis Aerssens . . . continued to be the Dutch ambassador
after the murder of Henry IV. . . . He was beyond doubt one of
the ablest diplomatists in Europe. Versed in many languages, a
classical student, familiar with history and international law, a
man of the world and familiar with its usages, accustomed to
associate with dignity and tact on friendliest terms with
sovereigns, eminent statesmen, and men of letters; endowed with a
facile tongue, a fluent pen, and an eye and ear of singular
acuteness and delicacy; distinguished for unflagging industry and
singular aptitude for secret and intricate affairs;--he had by the
exercise of these various qualities during a period of nearly twenty
years at the court of Henry the Great been able to render
inestimable services to the Republic which he represented.
"He had enjoyed the intimacy and even the confidence of Henry IV.,
so far as any man could be said to possess that monarch's
confidence, and his friendly relations and familiar access to the
king gave him political advantages superior to those of any of his
colleagues at the same court.
"Acting entirely and faithfully according to the instructions of the
Advocate of Holland, he always gratefully and copiously acknowledged
the privilege of being guided and sustained in the difficult paths
he had to traverse by so powerful and active an intellect. I have
seldom alluded in terms to the instructions and dispatches of the
chief, but every position, negotiation, and opinion of the envoy--
and the reader has seen many of them is pervaded by their spirit.
"It had become a question whether he was to remain at his post or
return. It was doubtful whether he wished to be relieved of his
embassy or not. The States of Holland voted 'to leave it to his
candid opinion if in his free conscience he thinks he can serve the
public any longer. If yes, he may keep his office one year more.
If no, he may take leave and come home.'
"Surely the States, under the guidance of the Advocate, had thus
acted with consummate courtesy towards a diplomatist whose position,
from no apparent fault of his own, but by the force of
circumstances,--and rather to his credit than otherwise,--
was gravely compromised."
The Queen, Mary de' Medici, had a talk with him, got angry, "became very
red in the face," and wanted to be rid of him.
"Nor was the envoy at first desirous of remaining. . . .
Nevertheless, he yielded reluctantly to Barneveld's request that he
should, for the time at least, remain at his post. Later on, as the
intrigues against him began to unfold themselves, and his faithful
services were made use of at home to blacken his character and
procure his removal, he refused to resign, as to do so would be to
play into the hands of his enemies, and, by inference at least, to
accuse himself of infidelity to his trust. . . .
"It is no wonder that the ambassador was galled to the quick by the
outrage which those concerned in the government were seeking to put
upon him. How could an honest man fail to be overwhelmed with rage
and anguish at being dishonored before the world by his masters for
scrupulously doing his duty, and for maintaining the rights and
dignity of his own country? He knew that the charges were but
pretexts, that the motives of his enemies were as base as the
intrigues themselves, but he also knew that the world usually sides
with the government against the individual, and that a man's
reputation is rarely strong enough to maintain itself unsullied in a
foreign land when his own government stretches forth its hand, not
to shield, but to stab him. . . .
"'I know,' he said, that this plot has been woven partly here in
Holland and partly here by good correspondence in order to drive me
from my post.
"'But as I have discovered this accurately, I have resolved to offer
to my masters the continuance of my very humble service for such
time and under such conditions as they may think good to prescribe.
I prefer forcing my natural and private inclinations to giving an
opportunity for the ministers of this kingdom to discredit us, and
to my enemies to succeed in injuring me, and by fraud and malice to
force me from my post. . . . I am truly sorry, being ready to
retire, wishing to have an honorable testimony in recompense of my
labors, that one is in such hurry to take advantage of my fall. .
. . What envoy will ever dare to speak with vigor if he is not
sustained by the government at home? . . . My enemies have
misrepresented my actions, and my language as passionate,
exaggerated, mischievous, but I have no passion except for the
service of my superiors.'
"Barneveld, from well-considered motives of public policy, was
favoring his honorable recall. But he allowed a decorous interval
of more than three years to elapse in which to terminate his
affairs, and to take a deliberate departure from that French embassy
to which the Advocate had originally promoted him, and in which
there had been so many years of mutual benefit and confidence
between the two statesmen. He used no underhand means. He did not
abuse the power of the States-General which he wielded to cast him
suddenly and brutally from the distinguished post which he occupied,
and so to attempt to dishonor him before the world. Nothing could
be more respectful and conciliatory than the attitude of the
government from first to last towards this distinguished
functionary. The Republic respected itself too much to deal with
honorable agents whose services it felt obliged to dispense with as
with vulgar malefactors who had been detected in crime. . . .
"This work aims at being a political study. I would attempt to
exemplify the influence of individual humors and passions--some of
them among the highest, and others certainly the basest that agitate
humanity--upon the march of great events, upon general historical
results at certain epochs, and upon the destiny of eminent
Here are two suggestive portraits:--
"The Advocate, while acting only in the name of a slender
confederacy, was in truth, so long as he held his place, the prime
minister of European Protestantism. There was none other to rival
him, few to comprehend him, fewer still to sustain him. As Prince
Maurice was at that time the great soldier of Protestantism, without
clearly scanning the grandeur of the field in which he was a chief
actor, or foreseeing the vastness of its future, so the Advocate was
its statesman and its prophet. Could the two have worked together
as harmoniously as they had done at an earlier day, it would have
been a blessing for the common weal of Europe. But, alas! the evil
genius of jealousy, which so often forbids cordial relations between
soldier and statesman, already stood shrouded in the distance,
darkly menacing the strenuous patriot, who was wearing his life out
in exertions for what he deemed the true cause of progress and
humanity. . . .
"All history shows that the brilliant soldier of a republic is apt
to have the advantage, in a struggle for popular affection and
popular applause, over the statesman, however consummate. . . .
The great battles and sieges of the prince had been on a world's
theatre, had enchained the attention of Christendom, and on their
issue had frequently depended, or seemed to depend, the very
existence of the nation. The labors of the statesman, on the
contrary, had been comparatively secret. His noble orations and
arguments had been spoken with closed doors to assemblies of
colleagues, rather envoys than senators, . . while his vast labors
in directing both the internal administration and especially the
foreign affairs of the commonwealth had been by their very nature
as secret as they were perpetual and enormous."
The reader of the "Life of Barneveld" must judge for himself whether in
these and similar passages the historian was thinking solely of Maurice,
the great military leader, of Barneveld, the great statesman, and of
Aerssens, the recalled ambassador. He will certainly find that there
were "burning questions" for ministers to handle then as now, and
recognize in "that visible atmosphere of power the poison of which it is
so difficult to resist" a respiratory medium as well known to the
nineteenth as to the seventeenth century.
1874-1877. AEt. 60-63.
DEATH OF MRS. MOTLEY.--LAST VISIT TO AMERICA.--ILLNESS AND DEATH.-LADY
On the last day of 1874, the beloved wife, whose health had for some
years been failing, was taken from him by death. She had been the pride
of his happier years, the stay and solace of those which had so tried his
sensitive spirit. The blow found him already weakened by mental
suffering and bodily infirmity, and he never recovered from it. Mr.
Motley's last visit to America was in the summer and autumn of 1875.
During several weeks which he passed at Nahant, a seaside resort near
Boston, I saw him almost daily. He walked feebly and with some little
difficulty, and complained of a feeling of great weight in the right arm,
which made writing laborious. His handwriting had not betrayed any very
obvious change, so far as I had noticed in his letters. His features and
speech were without any paralytic character. His mind was clear except
when, as on one or two occasions, he complained of some confused feeling,
and walked a few minutes in the open air to compose himself. His
thoughts were always tending to revert to the almost worshipped companion
from whom death had parted him a few months before. Yet he could often
be led away to other topics, and in talking of them could be betrayed
into momentary cheerfulness of manner. His long-enduring and all-
pervading grief was not more a tribute to the virtues and graces of her
whom he mourned than an evidence of the deeply affectionate nature which
in other relations endeared him to so many whose friendship was a title
to love and honor.
I have now the privilege of once more recurring to the narrative of Mr.
Motley's daughter, Lady Harcourt.
"The harassing work and mental distress of this time [after the
recall from England], acting on an acutely nervous organization,
began the process of undermining his constitution, of which we were
so soon to see the results. It was not the least courageous act of
his life, that, smarting under a fresh wound, tired and unhappy, he
set his face immediately towards the accomplishment of fresh
literary labor. After my sister's marriage in January he went to
the Hague to begin his researches in the archives for John of
Barneveld. The Queen of the Netherlands had made ready a house
for us, and personally superintended every preparation for his
reception. We remained there until the spring, and then removed to
a house more immediately in the town, a charming old-fashioned
mansion, once lived in by John de Witt, where he had a large library
and every domestic comfort during the year of his sojourn. The
incessant literary labor in an enervating climate with enfeebled
health may have prepared the way for the first break in his
constitution, which was to show itself soon after. There were many
compensations in the life about him. He enjoyed the privilege of
constant companionship with one of the warmest hearts and finest
intellects which I have ever known in a woman,--the 'ame d'elite'
which has passed beyond this earth. The gracious sentiment with
which the Queen sought to express her sense of what Holland owed him
would have been deeply felt even had her personal friendship been
less dear to us all. From the King, the society of the Hague, and
the diplomatic circle we had many marks of kindness. Once or twice
I made short journeys with him for change of air to Amsterdam, to
look for the portraits of John of Barneveld and his wife; to
Bohemia, where, with the lingering hope of occupying himself with
the Thirty Years' War, he looked carefully at the scene of
Wallenstein's death near Prague, and later to Varzin in Pomerania
for a week with Prince Bismarck, after the great events of the
Franco-German war. In the autumn of 1872 we moved to England,
partly because it was evident that his health and my mother's
required a change; partly for private reasons to be near my sister
and her children. The day after our arrival at Bournemouth occurred
the rupture of a vessel on the lungs, without any apparently
sufficient cause. He recovered enough to revise and complete his
manuscript, and we thought him better, when at the end of July, in
London, he was struck down by the first attack of the head, which
robbed him of all after power of work, although the intellect
remained untouched. Sir William Gull sent him to Cannes for the
winter, where he was seized with a violent internal inflammation,
in which I suppose there was again the indication of the lesion of
blood-vessels. I am nearing the shadow now,--the time of which I
can hardly bear to write. You know the terrible sorrow which
crushed him on the last day of 1874,--the grief which broke his
heart and from which he never rallied. From that day it seems to me
that his life may be summed up in the two words,--patient waiting.
Never for one hour did her spirit leave him, and he strove to follow
its leading for the short and evil days left and the hope of the
life beyond. I think I have never watched quietly and reverently
the traces of one personal character remaining so strongly impressed
on another nature. With herself--depreciation and unselfishness she
would have been the last to believe how much of him was in her very
existence; nor could we have realized it until the parting came.
Henceforward, with the mind still there, but with the machinery
necessary to set it in motion disturbed and shattered, he could but
try to create small occupations with which to fill the hours of a
life which was only valued for his children's sake. Kind and loving
friends in England and America soothed the passage, and our
gratitude for so many gracious acts is deep and true. His love for
children, always a strong feeling, was gratified by the constant
presence of my sister's babies, the eldest, a little girl who bore
my mother's name, and had been her idol, being the companion of many
hours and his best comforter. At the end the blow came swiftly and
suddenly, as he would have wished it. It was a terrible shock to us
who had vainly hoped to keep him a few years longer, but at least he
was spared what he had dreaded with a great dread, a gradual failure
of mental or bodily power. The mind was never clouded, the
affections never weakened, and after a few hours of unconscious
physical struggle he lay at rest, his face beautiful and calm,
without a trace of suffering or illness. Once or twice he said, 'It
has come, it has come,' and there were a few broken words before
consciousness fled, but there was little time for messages or leave-
taking. By a strange coincidence his life ended near the town of
Dorchester, in the mother country, as if the last hour brought with
it a reminiscence of his birthplace, and of his own dearly loved
mother. By his own wish only the dates of his birth and death
appear upon his gravestone, with the text chosen by himself, 'In God
is light, and in him is no darkness at all.'"
CONCLUSION.--HIS CHARACTER.--HIS LABORS.--HIS REWARD.
In closing this restricted and imperfect record of a life which merits,
and in due time will, I trust, receive an ampler tribute, I cannot
refrain from adding a few thoughts which naturally suggest themselves,
and some of which may seem quite unnecessary to the reader who has
followed the story of the historian and diplomatist's brilliant and
Mr. Motley came of a parentage which promised the gifts of mind and body
very generally to be accounted for, in a measure at least, wherever we
find them, by the blood of one or both of the parents. They gave him
special attractions and laid him open to not a few temptations. Too
many young men born to shine in social life, to sparkle, it may be,
in conversation, perhaps in the lighter walks of literature, become
agreeable idlers, self-indulgent, frivolous, incapable of large designs
or sustained effort, lose every aspiration and forget every ideal. Our
gilded youth want such examples as this of Motley, not a solitary, but a
conspicuous one, to teach them how much better is the restlessness of a
noble ambition than the narcotized stupor of club-life or the vapid
amusement of a dressed-up intercourse which too often requires a
questionable flavor of forbidden license to render it endurable to
persons of vivacious character and temperament.
It would seem difficult for a man so flattered from his earliest days to
be modest in his self-estimate; but Motley was never satisfied with
himself. He was impulsive, and was occasionally, I have heard it said,
over excited, when his prejudices were roughly handled. In all that
related to the questions involved in our civil war, he was, no doubt,
very sensitive. He had heard so much that exasperated him in the foreign
society which he had expected to be in full sympathy with the cause of
liberty as against slavery, that he might be excused if he showed
impatience when be met with similar sentiments among his own countrymen.
He felt that he had been cruelly treated by his own government, and no
one who conceives himself to have been wronged and insulted must be
expected to reason in naked syllogisms on the propriety of the liberties
which have been taken with his name and standing. But with all his
quickness of feeling, his manners were easy and courteous, simply because
his nature was warm and kindly, and with all his natural fastidiousness
there was nothing of the coxcomb about him.
He must have had enemies, as all men of striking individuality are sure
to have; his presence cast more uncouth patriots into the shade; his
learning was a reproach to the ignorant, his fame was too bright a
distinction; his high-bred air and refinement, which he could not help,
would hardly commend him to the average citizen in an order of things in
which mediocrity is at a premium, and the natural nobility of presence,
which rarely comes without family antecedents to account for it, is not
always agreeable to the many whose two ideals are the man on horseback
and the man in his shirt-sleeves. It may well be questioned whether
Washington, with his grand manner, would be nearly as popular with what
are called "the masses" as Lincoln, with his homely ways and broad
stories. The experiment of universal suffrage must render the waters
of political and social life more or less turbid even if they remain
innoxious. The Cloaca Maxima can hardly mingle its contents with the
stream of the Aqua Claudia, without taking something from its crystal
clearness. We need not go so far as one of our well-known politicians
has recently gone in saying that no great man can reach the highest
position in our government, but we can safely say that, apart from
military fame, the loftiest and purest and finest personal qualities are
not those which can be most depended upon at the ballot-box. Strange
stories are told of avowed opposition to Mr. Motley on the ground of the
most trivial differences in point of taste in personal matters,--so told
that it is hard to disbelieve them, and they show that the caprices which
we might have thought belonged exclusively to absolute rulers among their
mistresses or their minions may be felt in the councils of a great people
which calls itself self-governing. It is perfectly true that Mr. Motley
did not illustrate the popular type of politician. He was too high-
minded, too scholarly, too generously industrious, too polished, too much
at home in the highest European circles, too much courted for his
personal fascinations, too remote from the trading world of caucus
managers. To degrade him, so far as official capital punishment could do
it, was not merely to wrong one whom the nation should have delighted to
honor as showing it to the world in the fairest flower of its young
civilization, but it was an indignity to a representative of the highest
scholarship of native growth, which every student in the land felt as a
discouragement to all sound learning and noble ambition.
If he was disappointed in his diplomatic career, he had enough, and more
than enough, to console him in his brilliant literary triumphs. He had
earned them all by the most faithful and patient labor. If he had not
the "frame of adamant" of the Swedish hero, he had his "soul of fire."
No labors could tire him, no difficulties affright him. What most
surprised those who knew him as a young man was, not his ambition, not
his brilliancy, but his dogged, continuous capacity for work. We have
seen with what astonishment the old Dutch scholar, Groen van Prinsterer,
looked upon a man who had wrestled with authors like Bor and Van Meteren,
who had grappled with the mightiest folios and toiled undiscouraged among
half-illegible manuscript records. Having spared no pains in collecting
his materials, he told his story, as we all know, with flowing ease and
stirring vitality. His views may have been more or less partial; Philip
the Second may have deserved the pitying benevolence of poor Maximilian;
Maurice may have wept as sincerely over the errors of Arminius as any one
of "the crocodile crew that believe in election;" Barneveld and Grotius
may have been on the road to Rome; none of these things seem probable,
but if they were all proved true in opposition to his views, we should
still have the long roll of glowing tapestry he has woven for us, with
all its life-like portraits, its almost moving pageants, its sieges where
we can see the artillery flashing, its battle-fields with their smoke and
fire,--pictures which cannot fade, and which will preserve his name
interwoven with their own enduring colors.
Republics are said to be ungrateful; it might be truer to say that they
are forgetful. They forgive those who have wronged them as easily as
they forget those who have done them good service. But History never
forgets and never forgives. To her decision we may trust the question,
whether the warm-hearted patriot who had stood up for his country nobly
and manfully in the hour of trial, the great scholar and writer who had
reflected honor upon her throughout the world of letters, the high-minded
public servant, whose shortcomings it taxed the ingenuity of experts to
make conspicuous enough to be presentable, was treated as such a citizen
should have been dealt with. His record is safe in her hands, and his
memory will be precious always in the hearts of all who enjoyed his
THE SATURDAY CLUB.
This club, of which we were both members, and which is still flourishing,
came into existence in a very quiet sort of way at about the same time as
"The Atlantic Monthly," and, although entirely unconnected with that
magazine, included as members some of its chief contributors. Of those
who might have been met at some of the monthly gatherings in its earlier
days I may mention Emerson, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Lowell, Motley,
Whipple, Whittier; Professors Agassiz and Peirce; John S. Dwight;
Governor Andrew, Richard H. Dana, Junior, Charles Sumner. It offered a
wide gamut of intelligences, and the meetings were noteworthy occasions.
If there was not a certain amount of "mutual admiration" among some of
those I have mentioned it was a great pity, and implied a defect in the
nature of men who were otherwise largely endowed. The vitality of this
club has depended in a great measure on its utter poverty in statutes and
by-laws, its entire absence of formality, and its blessed freedom from
That holy man, Richard Baxter, says in his Preface to Alleine's
"I have done, when I have sought to remove a little scandal, which I
foresaw, that I should myself write the Preface to his Life where
himself and two of his friends make such a mention of my name, which
I cannot own; which will seem a praising him for praising me. I
confess it looketh ill-favoredly in me. But I had not the power of
other men's writings, and durst not forbear that which was his due."
I do not know that I have any occasion for a similar apology in printing
the following lines read at a meeting of members of the Saturday Club and
other friends who came together to bid farewell to Motley before his
return to Europe in 1857.
A PARTING HEALTH
Yes, we knew we must lose him,--though friendship may claim
To blend her green leaves with the laurels of fame,
Though fondly, at parting, we call him our own,
'T is the whisper of love when the bugle has blown.
As the rider that rests with the spur on his heel,
As the guardsman that sleeps in his corselet of steel,
As the archer that stands with his shaft on the string,
He stoops from his toil to the garland we bring.
What pictures yet slumber unborn in his loom
Till their warriors shall breathe and their beauties shall bloom,
While the tapestry lengthens the life-glowing dyes
That caught from our sunsets the stain of their skies!
In the alcoves of death, in the charnels of time,
Where flit the dark spectres of passion and crime,
There are triumphs untold, there are martyrs unsung,
There are heroes yet silent to speak with his tongue!
Let us hear the proud story that time has bequeathed
From lips that are warm with the freedom they breathed!
Let him summon its tyrants, and tell us their doom,
Though he sweep the black past like Van Tromp with his broom!
The dream flashes by, for the west-winds awake
On pampas, on prairie, o'er mountain and lake,
To bathe the swift bark, like a sea-girdled shrine
With incense they stole from the rose and the pine.
So fill a bright cup with the sunlight that gushed
When the dead summer's jewels were trampled and crushed;
THE TRUE KNIGHT OF LEARNING,--the world holds him dear,--
Love bless him, joy crown him, God speed his career!
HABITS AND METHODS OF STUDY.
Mr. Motley's daughter, Lady Harcourt, has favored me with many
interesting particulars which I could not have learned except from a
member of his own family. Her description of his way of living and of
working will be best given in her own words:--
"He generally rose early, the hour varying somewhat at different
parts of his life, according to his work and health. Sometimes when
much absorbed by literary labor he would rise before seven, often
lighting his own fire, and with a cup of tea or coffee writing until
the family breakfast hour, after which his work was immediately
resumed, and be usually sat over his writing-table until late in the
afternoon, when he would take a short walk. His dinner hour was
late, and he rarely worked at night. During the early years of his
literary studies he led a life of great retirement. Later, after
the publication of the 'Dutch Republic' and during the years of
official place, he was much in society in England, Austria, and
Holland. He enjoyed social life, and particularly dining out,
keenly, but was very moderate and simple in all his personal habits,
and for many years before his death had entirely given up smoking.
His work, when not in his own library, was in the Archives of the
Netherlands, Brussels, Paris, the English State Paper Office, and
the British Museum, where he made his own researches, patiently and
laboriously consulting original manuscripts and reading masses of
correspondence, from which he afterwards sometimes caused copies to
be made, and where he worked for many consecutive hours a day.
After his material had been thus painfully and toilfully amassed,
the writing of his own story was always done at home, and his mind,
having digested the necessary matter, always poured itself forth in
writing so copiously that his revision was chiefly devoted to
reducing the over-abundance. He never shrank from any of the
drudgery of preparation, but I think his own part of the work was
sheer pleasure to him."
I should have mentioned that his residence in London while minister was
at the house No. 17 Arlington Street, belonging to Lord Yarborough.
SIR WILLIAM GULL's ACCOUNT OF HIS ILLNESS.
I have availed myself of the permission implied in the subjoined letter
of Sir William Gull to make large extracts from his account of Mr.
Motley's condition while under his medical care. In his earlier years he
had often complained to me of those "nervous feelings connected with the
respiration" referred to by this very distinguished physician. I do not
remember any other habitual trouble to which he was subject.
74 BROOK STREET, GROSVENOR SQUARE, W.
February 13, 1878.
MY DEAR SIR,--I send the notes of Mr. Motley's last illness, as I
promised. They are too technical for general readers, but you will make
such exception as you require. The medical details may interest your
professional friends. Mr. Motley's case was a striking illustration that
the renal disease of so-called Bright's disease may supervene as part and
parcel of a larger and antecedent change in the blood-vessels in other
parts than the kidney. . . . I am, my dear sir,
Yours very truly,
WILLIAM W. GULL.
To OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, ESQ.
I first saw Mr. Motley, I believe, about the year 1870, on account
of some nervous feelings connected with the respiration. At that
time his general health was good, and all he complained of was
occasionally a feeling of oppression about the chest. There were no
physical signs of anything abnormal, and the symptoms quite passed
away in the course of time, and with the use of simple antispasmodic
remedies, such as camphor and the like. This was my first interview
with Mr. Motley, and I was naturally glad to have the opportunity of
making his acquaintance. I remember that in our conversation I
jokingly said that my wife could hardly forgive him for not making
her hero, Henri IV., a perfect character, and the earnestness with
which he replied 'au serieux,' I assure you I have fairly recorded
the facts. After this date I did not see Mr. Motley for some time.
He had three slight attacks of haemoptysis in the autumn of 1872,
but no physical signs of change in the lung tissue resulted. So
early as this I noticed that there were signs of commencing
thickening in the heart, as shown by the degree and extent of its
impulse. The condition of his health, though at that time not very
obviously failing, a good deal arrested my attention, as I thought I
could perceive in the occurrence of the haemoptysis, and in the
cardiac hypertrophy, the early beginnings of vascular degeneration.
In August, 1873, occurred the remarkable seizure, from the effects
of which Mr. Motley never recovered. I did not see him in the
attack, but was informed, as far as I can remember, that he was on a
casual visit at a friend's house at luncheon (or it might have been
dinner), when he suddenly became strangely excited, but not quite
unconscious. . . . I believed at the time, and do so still, that
there was some capillary apoplexy of the convolutions. The attack
was attended with some hemiplegic weakness on the right side, and
altered sensation, and ever after there was a want of freedom and
ease both in the gait and in the use of the arm of that side. To my
inquiries from time to time how the arm was, the patient would
always flex and extend it freely, but nearly always used the
expression, "There is a bedevilment in it;" though the handwriting
was not much, if at all, altered.
In December, 1873, Mr. Motley went by my advice to Cannes. I wrote
the following letter at the time to my friend Dr. Frank, who was
[This letter, every word of which was of value to the
practitioner who was to have charge of the patient, relates
many of the facts given above, and I shall therefore only give
extracts from it.]
December 29, 1873.
MY DEAR DR. FRANK,--My friend Mr. Motley, the historian and late
American Minister, whose name and fame no doubt you know very well,
has by my advice come to Cannes for the winter and spring, and I
have promised him to give you some account of his case. To me it is
one of special interest, and personally, as respects the subject of
it, of painful interest. I have known Mr. Motley for some time, but
he consulted me for the present condition about midsummer.
. . . If I have formed a correct opinion of the pathology of the
case, I believe the smaller vessels are degenerating in several
parts of the vascular area, lung, brain, and kidneys. With this
view I have suggested a change of climate, a nourishing diet, etc.;
and it is to be hoped, and I trust expected, that by great attention
to the conditions of hygiene, internal and external, the progress of
degeneration may be retarded. I have no doubt you will find, as
time goes on, increasing evidence of renal change, but this is
rather a coincidence and consequence than a cause, though no doubt
when the renal change has reached a certain point, it becomes in its
own way a factor of other lesions. I have troubled you at this
length because my mind is much occupied with the pathology of these
cases, and because no case can, on personal grounds, more strongly
challenge our attention.
Yours very truly,
WILLIAM W. GULL.
During the spring of 1874, whilst at Cannes, Mr. Motley had a sharp
attack of nephritis, attended with fever; but on returning to
England in July there was no important change in the health. The
weakness of the side continued, and the inability to undertake any
mental work. The signs of cardiac hypertrophy were more distinct.
In the beginning of the year 1875 I wrote as follows:--
February 20, 1875.
MY DEAR Mr. MOTLEY,--. . . The examination I have just made
appears to indicate that the main conditions of your health are more
stable than they were some months ago, and would therefore be so far
in favor of your going to America in the summer, as we talked of.
The ground of my doubt has lain in the possibility of such a trip
further disordering the circulation. Of this, I hope, there is now
On the 4th of June, 1875, I received the following letter:--
CALVERLY PARK HOTEL, TUNBRIDGE WELLS,
June 4, 1875.
MY DEAR SIR WILLIAM,--I have been absent from town for a long time,
but am to be there on the 9th and 10th. Could I make an appointment
with you for either of those days? I am anxious to have a full
consultation with you before leaving for America. Our departure is
fixed for the 19th of this month. I have not been worse than usual
of late. I think myself, on the contrary, rather stronger, and it
is almost impossible for me not to make my visit to America this
summer, unless you should absolutely prohibit it. If neither of
those days should suit you, could you kindly suggest another day?
I hope, however, you can spare me half an hour on one of those days,
as I like to get as much of this bracing air as I can. Will you
kindly name the hour when I may call on you, and address me at this
hotel. Excuse this slovenly note in pencil, but it fatigues my head
and arm much more to sit at a writing-table with pen and ink.
Always most sincerely yours,
My dear Sir William,
J. L. MOTLEY.
On Mr. Motley's return from America I saw him, and found him, I
thought, rather better in general health than when he left England.
In December, 1875, Mr. Motley consulted me for trouble of vision in
reading or walking, from sensations like those produced by flakes of
falling snow coming between him and the objects he was looking at.
Mr. Bowman, one of our most excellent oculists, was then consulted.
Mr. Bowman wrote to me as follows: "Such symptoms as exist point
rather to disturbed retinal function than to any brain-mischief. It
is, however, quite likely that what you fear for the brain may have
had its counterpart in the nerve-structures of the eye, and as he is
short-sighted, this tendency may be further intensified."
Mr. Bowman suggested no more than such an arrangement of glasses as
might put the eyes, when in use, under better optic conditions.
The year 1876 was passed over without any special change worth
notice. The walking powers were much impeded by the want of control
over the right leg. The mind was entirely clear, though Mr. Motley
did not feel equal, and indeed had been advised not to apply
himself, to any literary work. Occasional conversations, when I had
interviews with him on the subject of his health, proved that the
attack which had weakened the movements of the right side had not
impaired the mental power. The most noticeable change which had
come over Mr. Motley since I first knew him was due to the death of
Mrs. Motley in December, 1874. It had in fact not only profoundly
depressed him, but, if I may so express it, had removed the centre
of his thought to a new world. In long conversations with me of a
speculative kind, after that painful event, it was plain how much
his point of view of the whole course and relation of things had
changed. His mind was the last to dogmatize on any subject. There
was a candid and childlike desire to know, with an equal confession
of the incapacity of the human intellect. I wish I could recall the
actual expressions he used, but the sense was that which has been so
well stated by Hooker in concluding an exhortation against the pride
of the human intellect, where he remarks:--
"Dangerous it were for the feeble brain of man to wade far into the
doings of the Most High; whom although to know be life, and joy to
make mention of His Name, yet our soundest knowledge is to know that
we know Him, not indeed as He is, neither can know Him; and our
safest eloquence concerning Him is our silence, when we confess
without confession that His glory is inexplicable, His greatness
above our capacity and reach. He is above and we upon earth;
therefore it behoveth our words to be wary and few."
Mrs. Motley's illness was not a long one, and the nature of it was
such that its course could with certainty be predicted. Mr. Motley
and her children passed the remaining days of her life, extending
over about a month, with her, in the mutual under standing that she
was soon to part from them. The character of the illness, and the
natural exhaustion of her strength by suffering, lessened the shock
of her death, though not the loss, to those who survived her.
The last time I saw Mr. Motley was, I believe, about two months
before his death, March 28, 1877. There was no great change in his
health, but he complained of indescribable sensations in his nervous
system, and felt as if losing the whole power of walking, but this
was not obvious in his gait, although he walked shorter distances
than before. I heard no more of him until I was suddenly summoned
on the 29th of May into Devonshire to see him. The telegram I
received was so urgent, that I suspected some rupture of a blood-
vessel in the brain, and that I should hardly reach him alive; and
this was the case. About two o'clock in the day he complained of a
feeling of faintness, said he felt ill and should not recover; and
in a few minutes was insensible with symptoms of ingravescent
apoplexy. There was extensive haemorrhage into the brain, as shown
by post-mortem examination, the cerebral vessels being atheromatous.
The fatal haemorrhage had occurred into the lateral ventricles, from
rupture of one of the middle cerebral arteries.
I am, my dear Sir,
Yours very truly,
WILLIAM W. GULL.
FROM THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE MASSACHUSETTS SOCIETY.
At a meeting of the Massachusetts Historical Society, held on Thursday,
the 14th of June, 1877, after the reading of the records of the preceding
meeting, the president, the Hon. Robert C. Winthrop, spoke as follows:
"Our first thoughts to-day, gentlemen, are of those whom we may not
again welcome to these halls. We shall be in no mood, certainly,
for entering on other subjects this morning until we have given some
expression to our deep sense of the loss--the double loss--which our
Society has sustained since our last monthly meeting."--[Edmund
Quincy died May 17. John Lothrop Motley died May 29.]
After a most interesting and cordial tribute to his friend, Mr. Quincy,
Mr. Winthrop continued:
"The death of our distinguished associate, Motley, can hardly have
taken many of us by surprise. Sudden at the moment of its
occurrence, we had long been more or less prepared for it by his
failing health. It must, indeed, have been quite too evident to
those who had seen him, during the last two or three years, that his
life-work was finished. I think he so regarded it himself.
"Hopes may have been occasionally revived in the hearts of his
friends, and even in his own heart, that his long-cherished purpose
of completing a History of the Thirty Years' War, as the grand
consummation of his historical labors,--for which all his other
volumes seemed to him to have been but the preludes and overtures,--
might still be accomplished. But such hopes, faint and flickering
from his first attack, had well-nigh died away. They were like
Prescott's hopes of completing his 'Philip the Second,' or like
Macaulay's hopes of finishing his brilliant 'History of England.'
"But great as may be the loss to literature of such a crowning work
from Motley's pen, it was by no means necessary to the completeness
of his own fame. His 'Rise of the Dutch Republic,' his 'History of
the United Netherlands,' and his 'Life of John of Barneveld,' had
abundantly established his reputation, and given him a fixed place
among the most eminent historians of our country and of our age.
"No American writer, certainly, has secured a wider recognition or a
higher appreciation from the scholars of the Old World. The
universities of England and the learned societies of Europe have
bestowed upon him their largest honors. It happened to me to be in
Paris when he was first chosen a corresponding member of the
Institute, and when his claims were canvassed with the freedom and
earnestness which peculiarly characterize such a candidacy in
France. There was no mistaking the profound impression which his
first work had made on the minds of such men as Guizot and Mignet.
Within a year or two past, a still higher honor has been awarded him
from the same source. The journals not long ago announced his
election as one of the six foreign associates of the French Academy
of Moral and Political Sciences,--a distinction which Prescott would
probably have attained had he lived a few years longer, until there
was a vacancy, but which, as a matter of fact, I believe, Motley was
the only American writer, except the late Edward Livingston, of
Louisiana, who has actually enjoyed.
"Residing much abroad, for the purpose of pursuing his historical
researches, he had become the associate and friend of the most
eminent literary men in almost all parts of the world, and the
singular charms of his conversation and manners had made him a
favorite guest in the most refined and exalted circles.
"Of his relations to political and public life, this is hardly the
occasion or the moment for speaking in detail. Misconstructions and
injustices are the proverbial lot of those who occupy eminent
position. It was a duke of Vienna, if I remember rightly, whom
Shakespeare, in his 'Measure for Measure,' introduces as
'O place and greatness, millions of false eyes
Are stuck upon thee! Volumes of report
Run with these false and most contrarious quests
Upon thy doings! Thousand 'stapes of wit
Make thee the father of their idle dream,
And rack thee in their fancies!'
"I forbear from all application of the lines. It is enough for me,
certainly, to say here, to-day, that our country was proud to be
represented at the courts of Vienna and London successively by a
gentleman of so much culture and accomplishment as Mr. Motley, and
that the circumstances of his recall were deeply regretted by us
"His fame, however, was quite beyond the reach of any such
accidents, and could neither be enhanced nor impaired by
appointments or removals. As a powerful and brilliant historian we
pay him our unanimous tribute of admiration and regret, and give him
a place in our memories by the side of Prescott and Irving. I do
not forget how many of us lament him, also, as a cherished friend.
"He died on the 29th ultimo, at the house of his daughter, Mrs.
Sheridan, in Dorsetshire, England, and an impressive tribute to his
memory was paid, in Westminster Abbey, on the following Sunday, by
our Honorary Member, Dean Stanley. Such a tribute, from such lips,
and with such surroundings, leaves nothing to be desired in the way
of eulogy. He was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, by the side of
his beloved wife.
"One might well say of Motley precisely what he said of Prescott, in
a letter from Rome to our associate, Mr. William Amory, immediately
on hearing of Prescott's death: 'I feel inexpressibly disappointed--
speaking now for an instant purely from a literary point of view--
that the noble and crowning monument of his life, for which he had
laid such massive foundations, and the structure of which had been
carried forward in such a grand and masterly manner, must remain
uncompleted, like the unfinished peristyle of some stately and
beautiful temple on which the night of time has suddenly descended.
But, still, the works which his great and untiring hand had already
thoroughly finished will remain to attest his learning and genius,--
a precious and perpetual possession for his country."
The President now called on Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said:--
"The thoughts which suggest themselves upon this occasion are such
as belong to the personal memories of the dear friends whom we have
lost, rather than to their literary labors, the just tribute to
which must wait for a calmer hour than the present, following so
closely as it does on our bereavement."
"His first literary venture of any note was the story called
'Morton's Hope; or, The Memoirs of a Provincial.' This first effort
failed to satisfy the critics, the public, or himself. His
personality pervaded the characters and times which he portrayed,
so that there was a discord between the actor and his costume.
Brilliant passages could not save it; and it was plain enough that
he must ripen into something better before the world would give him
the reception which surely awaited him if he should find his true
"The early failures of a great writer are like the first sketches
of a great artist, and well reward patient study. More than this,
the first efforts of poets and story-tellers are very commonly
palimpsests: beneath the rhymes or the fiction one can almost always
spell out the characters which betray the writer's self. Take these
passages from the story just referred to:
"'Ah! flattery is a sweet and intoxicating potion, whether we drink
it from an earthen ewer or a golden chalice. . . . Flattery from
man to woman is expected: it is a part of the courtesy of society;
but when the divinity descends from the altar to burn incense to the
priest, what wonder if the idolater should feel himself transformed
into a god!'
"He had run the risk of being spoiled, but he had a safeguard in his
"'My ambitious anticipations,' says Morton, in the story, were as
boundless as they were various and conflicting. There was not a
path which leads to glory in which I was not destined to gather
laurels. As a warrior, I would conquer and overrun the world; as a
statesman, I would reorganize and govern it; as a historian, I would
consign it all to immortality; and, in my leisure moments, I would
be a great poet and a man of the world.'
"Who can doubt that in this passage of his story he is picturing his
own visions, one of the fairest of which was destined to become
"But there was another element in his character, which those who
knew him best recognized as one with which he had to struggle hard,
--that is, a modesty which sometimes tended to collapse into self-
distrust. This, too, betrays itself in the sentences which follow
those just quoted:--
"'In short,' says Morton, 'I was already enrolled in that large
category of what are called young men of genius, . . . men of
whom unheard-of things are expected; till after long preparation
comes a portentous failure, and then they are forgotten. . . .
Alas! for the golden imaginations of our youth. . . . They are
all disappointments. They are bright and beautiful, but they fade.'"
The President appointed Professor Lowell to write the Memoir of Mr.
Quincy, and Dr. Holmes that of Mr. Motley, for the Society's
Professor William Everett then spoke as follows:
"There is one incident, sir, in Mr. Motley's career that has not
been mentioned to-day, which is, perhaps, most vividly remembered by
those of us who were in Europe at the outbreak of our civil war in
1861. At that time, the ignorance of Englishmen, friendly or
otherwise, about America, was infinite: they knew very little of us,
and that little wrong. Americans were overwhelmed with questions,
taunts, threats, misrepresentations, the outgrowth of ignorance, and
ignoring worse than ignorance, from every class of Englishmen.
Never was an authoritative exposition of our hopes and policy worse
needed; and there was no one to do it. The outgoing diplomatic
agents represented a bygone order of things; the representatives of
Mr. Lincoln's administration had not come. At that time of anxiety,
Mr. Motley, living in England as a private person, came forward with
two letters in the 'Times,' which set forth the cause of the United
States once and for all. No unofficial, and few official, men could
have spoken with such authority, and been so certain of obtaining a
hearing from Englishmen. Thereafter, amid all the clouds of
falsehood and ridicule which we had to encounter, there was one
lighthouse fixed on a rock to which we could go for foothold, from
which we could not be driven, and against which all assaults were
"There can be no question that the effect produced by these letters
helped, if help had been needed, to point out Mr. Motley as a
candidate for high diplomatic place who could not be overlooked.
Their value was recognized alike by his fellow-citizens in America
and his admirers in England; but none valued them more than the
little band of exiles, who were struggling against terrible odds,
and who rejoiced with a great joy to see the stars and stripes,
whose centennial anniversary those guns are now celebrating, planted
by a hand so truly worthy to rally every American to its support."
POEM BY WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT.
I cannot close this Memoir more appropriately than by appending the
following poetical tribute:--
IN MEMORY OF JOHN LOTHROP MOTLEY.
BY WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT.
Sleep, Motley, with the great of ancient days,
Who wrote for all the years that yet shall be.
Sleep with Herodotus, whose name and praise
Have reached the isles of earth's remotest sea.
Sleep, while, defiant of the slow delays
Of Time, thy glorious writings speak for thee
And in the answering heart of millions raise
The generous zeal for Right and Liberty.
And should the days o'ertake us, when, at last,
The silence that--ere yet a human pen
Had traced the slenderest record of the past
Hushed the primeval languages of men
Upon our English tongue its spell shall cast,
Thy memory shall perish only then.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
An order of things in which mediocrity is at a premium
Better is the restlessness of a noble ambition
Blessed freedom from speech-making
Flattery is a sweet and intoxicating potion
Forget those who have done them good service
His dogged, continuous capacity for work
His learning was a reproach to the ignorant
History never forgets and never forgives
Mediocrity is at a premium
No great man can reach the highest position in our government
Over excited, when his prejudices were roughly handled
Plain enough that he is telling his own story
Republics are said to be ungrateful
They knew very little of us, and that little wrong
Visible atmosphere of power the poison of which
Wonders whether it has found its harbor or only lost its anchor
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