The Complete PG Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)

Part 49 out of 51

career is very regular and monotonous. Our life is as stagnant as a
Dutch canal. Not that I complain of it,--on the contrary, the canal
may be richly freighted with merchandise and be a short cut to the
ocean of abundant and perpetual knowledge; but, at the same time,
few points rise above the level of so regular a life, to be worthy
of your notice. You must, therefore, allow me to meander along the
meadows of commonplace. Don't expect anything of the impetuous and
boiling style. We go it weak here. I don't know whether you were
ever in Brussels. It is a striking, picturesque town, built up a
steep promontory, the old part at the bottom, very dingy and mouldy,
the new part at the top, very showy and elegant. Nothing can be
more exquisite in its way than the grande place in the very heart of
the city, surrounded with those toppling, zigzag, ten-storied
buildings bedizened all over with ornaments and emblems so peculiar
to the Netherlands, with the brocaded Hotel de Ville on one side,
with its impossible spire rising some three hundred and seventy feet
into the air and embroidered to the top with the delicacy of needle-
work, sugarwork, spider-work, or what you will. I haunt this place
because it is my scene, my theatre. Here were enacted so many deep
tragedies, so many stately dramas, and even so many farces, which
have been familiar to me so long that I have got to imagine myself
invested with a kind of property in the place, and look at it as if
it were merely the theatre with the coulisses, machinery, drapery,
etc., for representing scenes which have long since vanished, and
which no more enter the minds of the men and women who are actually
moving across its pavements than if they had occurred in the moon.
When I say that I knew no soul in Brussels I am perhaps wrong. With
the present generation I am not familiar. 'En revanche,' the dead
men of the place are my intimate friends. I am at home in any
cemetery. With the fellows of the sixteenth century I am on the
most familiar terms. Any ghost that ever flits by night across the
moonlight square is at once hailed by me as a man and a brother. I
call him by his Christian name at once. When you come out of this
place, however, which, as I said, is in the heart of the town,--the
antique gem in the modern setting,--you may go either up or down.
If you go down, you will find yourself in the very nastiest
complications of lanes and culs-de-sac possible, a dark entanglement
of gin-shops, beer-houses, and hovels, through which charming valley
dribbles the Senne (whence, I suppose, is derived Senna), the most
nauseous little river in the world, which receives all the
outpourings of all the drains and houses, and is then converted into
beer for the inhabitants, all the many breweries being directly upon
its edge. If you go up the hill instead of down, you come to an
arrangement of squares, palaces, and gardens as trim and fashionable
as you will find in Europe. Thus you see that our Cybele sits with
her head crowned with very stately towers and her feet in a tub of
very dirty water.

"My habits here for the present year are very regular. I came here,
having, as I thought, finished my work, or rather the first Part
(something like three or four volumes, 8vo), but I find so much
original matter here, and so many emendations to make, that I am
ready to despair. However, there is nothing for it but to
penelopize, pull to pieces, and stitch away again. Whatever may be
the result of my labor, nobody can say that I have not worked like
a brute beast,--but I don't care for the result. The labor is in
itself its own reward and all I want. I go day after day to the
archives here (as I went all summer at the Hague), studying the old
letters and documents of the fifteenth century. Here I remain among
my fellow-worms, feeding on these musty mulberry-leaves, out of
which we are afterwards to spin our silk. How can you expect
anything interesting from such a human cocoon? It is, however, not
without its amusement in a mouldy sort of way, this reading of dead
letters. It is something to read the real, bona fide signs-manual
of such fellows as William of Orange, Count Egmont, Alexander
Farnese, Philip II., Cardinal Granvelle, and the rest of them. It
gives a 'realizing sense,' as the Americans have it. . . . There
are not many public resources of amusement in this place,--if we
wanted them,--which we don't. I miss the Dresden Gallery very much,
and it makes me sad to think that I shall never look at the face of
the Sistine Madonna again,--that picture beyond all pictures in the
world, in which the artist certainly did get to heaven and painted a
face which was never seen on earth--so pathetic, so gentle, so
passionless, so prophetic. . . . There are a few good Rubenses
here,--but the great wealth of that master is in Antwerp. The great
picture of the Descent from the Cross is free again, after having
been ten years in the repairing room. It has come out in very good
condition. What a picture? It seems to me as if I had really stood
at the cross and seen Mary weeping on John's shoulder, and Magdalen
receiving the dead body of the Saviour in her arms. Never was the
grand tragedy represented in so profound and dramatic a manner. For
it is not only in his color in which this man so easily surpasses
all the world, but in his life-like, flesh-and-blood action,--the
tragic power of his composition. And is it not appalling to think
of the 'large constitution of this man,' when you reflect on the
acres of canvas which he has covered? How inspiriting to see with
what muscular, masculine vigor this splendid Fleming rushed in and
plucked up drowning Art by the locks when it was sinking in the
trashy sea of such creatures as the Luca Giordanos and Pietro
Cortonas and the like. Well might Guido exclaim, 'The fellow mixes
blood with his colors! . . . How providentially did the man come
in and invoke living, breathing, moving men and women out of his
canvas! Sometimes he is ranting and exaggerated, as are all men of
great genius who wrestle with Nature so boldly. No doubt his
heroines are more expansively endowed than would be thought genteel
in our country, where cryptogams are so much in fashion,
nevertheless there is always something very tremendous about him,
and very often much that is sublime, pathetic, and moving. I defy
any one of the average amount of imagination and sentiment to stand
long before the Descent from the Cross without being moved more
nearly to tears than he would care to acknowledge. As for color,
his effects are as sure as those of the sun rising in a tropical
landscape. There is something quite genial in the cheerful sense of
his own omnipotence which always inspired him. There are a few fine
pictures of his here, and I go in sometimes of a raw, foggy morning
merely to warm myself in the blaze of their beauty."

I have been more willing to give room to this description of Rubens's
pictures and the effect they produced upon Motley, because there is a
certain affinity between those sumptuous and glowing works of art and the
prose pictures of the historian who so admired them. He was himself a
colorist in language, and called up the image of a great personage or a
splendid pageant of the past with the same affluence, the same rich
vitality, that floods and warms the vast areas of canvas over which the
full-fed genius of Rubens disported itself in the luxury of imaginative


1856-1857. AEt. 42-43.


The labor of ten years was at last finished. Carrying his formidable
manuscript with him,--and how formidable the manuscript which melts down
into three solid octavo volumes is, only writers and publishers know,--he
knocked at the gate of that terrible fortress from which Lintot and Curll
and Tonson looked down on the authors of an older generation. So large a
work as the "History of the Rise of the Dutch Republic," offered for the
press by an author as yet unknown to the British public, could hardly
expect a warm welcome from the great dealers in literature as
merchandise. Mr. Murray civilly declined the manuscript which was
offered to him, and it was published at its author's expense by Mr. John
Chapman. The time came when the positions of the first-named celebrated
publisher and the unknown writer were reversed. Mr. Murray wrote to Mr.
Motley asking to be allowed to publish his second great work, the
"History of the United Netherlands," expressing at the same time his
regret at what he candidly called his mistake in the first instance, and
thus they were at length brought into business connection as well as the
most agreeable and friendly relations. An American edition was published
by the Harpers at the same time as the London one.

If the new work of the unknown author found it difficult to obtain a
publisher, it was no sooner given to the public than it found an
approving, an admiring, an enthusiastic world of readers, and a noble
welcome at the colder hands of the critics.

"The Westminster Review" for April, 1856, had for its leading article a
paper by Mr. Froude, in which the critic awarded the highest praise to
the work of the new historian. As one of the earliest as well as one of
the most important recognitions of the work, I quote some of its

"A history as complete as industry and genius can make it now lies
before us of the first twenty years of the Revolt of the United
Provinces; of the period in which those provinces finally conquered
their independence and established the Republic of Holland. It has
been the result of many years of silent, thoughtful, unobtrusive
labor, and unless we are strangely mistaken, unless we are ourselves
altogether unfit for this office of criticising which we have here
undertaken, the book is one which will take its place among the
finest histories in this or in any language. . . . All the
essentials of a great writer Mr. Motley eminently possesses. His
mind is broad, his industry unwearied. In power of dramatic
description no modern historian, except perhaps Mr. Carlyle,
surpasses him, and in analysis of character he is elaborate and
distinct. His principles are those of honest love for all which is
good and admirable in human character wherever he finds it, while he
unaffectedly hates oppression, and despises selfishness with all his

After giving a slight analytical sketch of the series of events related
in the history, Mr. Froude objects to only one of the historian's
estimates, that, namely, of the course of Queen Elizabeth.

"It is ungracious, however," he says, "even to find so slight a
fault with these admirable volumes. Mr. Motley has written without
haste, with the leisurely composure of a master. . . . We now
take our leave of Mr. Motley, desiring him only to accept our hearty
thanks for these volumes, which we trust will soon take their place
in every English library. Our quotations will have sufficed to show
the ability of the writer. Of the scope and general character of
his work we have given but a languid conception. The true merit of
a great book must be learned from the book itself. Our part has
been rather to select varied specimens of style and power. Of Mr.
Motley's antecedents we know nothing. If he has previously appeared
before the public, his reputation has not crossed the Atlantic. It
will not be so now. We believe that we may promise him as warm a
welcome among ourselves as he will receive even in America; that his
place will be at once conceded to him among the first historians in
our common language."

The faithful and unwearied Mr. Allibone has swept the whole field of
contemporary criticism, and shown how wide and universal was the welcome
accorded to the hitherto unknown author. An article headed "Prescott
and Motley," attributed to M. Guizot, which must have been translated,
I suppose, from his own language, judging by its freedom from French
idioms, is to be found in "The Edinburgh Review" for January, 1857. The
praise, not unmingled with criticisms, which that great historian
bestowed upon Motley is less significant than the fact that he
superintended a translation of the "Rise of the Dutch Republic," and
himself wrote the Introduction to it.

A general chorus of approbation followed or accompanied these leading
voices. The reception of the work in Great Britain was a triumph. On
the Continent, in addition to the tribute paid to it by M. Guizot, it was
translated into Dutch, into German, and into Russian. At home his
reception was not less hearty. "The North American Review," which had
set its foot on the semi-autobiographical medley which he called
"Morton's Hope," which had granted a decent space and a tepid recognition
to his "semi-historical" romance, in which he had already given the
reading public a taste of his quality as a narrator of real events and a
delineator of real personages,--this old and awe-inspiring New England
and more than New England representative of the Fates, found room for a
long and most laudatory article, in which the son of one of our most
distinguished historians did the honors of the venerable literary
periodical to the new-comer, for whom the folding-doors of all the
critical headquarters were flying open as if of themselves. Mr. Allibone
has recorded the opinions of some of our best scholars as expressed to

Dr. Lieber wrote a letter to Mr. Allibone in the strongest terms of
praise. I quote one passage which in the light of after events borrows
a cruel significance:--

"Congress and Parliament decree thanks for military exploits,--
rarely for diplomatic achievements. If they ever voted their thanks
for books,--and what deeds have influenced the course of human
events more than some books?--Motley ought to have the thanks of our
Congress; but I doubt not that he has already the thanks of every
American who has read the work. It will leave its distinct mark
upon the American mind."

Mr. Everett writes:--

"Mr. Motley's 'History of the Dutch Republic' is in my judgment a
work of the highest merit. Unwearying research for years in the
libraries of Europe, patience and judgment in arranging and
digesting his materials, a fine historical tact, much skill in
characterization, the perspective of narration, as it may be called,
and a vigorous style unite to make it a very capital work, and place
the name of Motley by the side of those of our great historical
trio,--Bancroft, Irving, and Prescott."

Mr. Irving, Mr. Bancroft, Mr. Sumner, Mr. Hillard, united their voices in
the same strain of commendation. Mr. Prescott, whose estimate of the new
history is of peculiar value for obvious reasons, writes to Mr. Allibone

"The opinion of any individual seems superfluous in respect to a
work on the merits of which the public both at home and abroad have
pronounced so unanimous a verdict. As Motley's path crosses my own
historic field, I may be thought to possess some advantage over most
critics in my familiarity with the ground.

"However this may be, I can honestly bear my testimony to the extent
of his researches and to the accuracy with which he has given the
results of them to the public. Far from making his book a mere
register of events, he has penetrated deep below the surface and
explored the cause of these events. He has carefully studied the
physiognomy of the times and given finished portraits of the great
men who conducted the march of the revolution. Every page is
instinct with the love of freedom and with that personal knowledge
of the working of free institutions which could alone enable him to
do justice to his subject. We may congratulate ourselves that it
was reserved for one of our countrymen to tell the story-better than
it had yet been told--of this memorable revolution, which in so many
of its features bears a striking resemblance to our own."

The public welcomed the work as cordially as the critics. Fifteen
thousand copies had already been sold in London in 1857. In America it
was equally popular. Its author saw his name enrolled by common consent
among those of the great writers of his time. Europe accepted him, his
country was proud to claim him, scholarship set its jealously guarded
seal upon the result of his labors, the reading world, which had not
cared greatly for his stories, hung in delight over a narrative more
exciting than romances; and the lonely student, who had almost forgotten
the look of living men in the solitude of archives haunted by dead
memories, found himself suddenly in the full blaze of a great reputation.


1856-1857. AEt. 42-43.


He visited this country in 1856, and spent the winter of 1856-57 in
Boston, living with his family in a house in Boylston Place. At this
time I had the pleasure of meeting him often, and of seeing the changes
which maturity, success, the opening of a great literary and social
career, had wrought in his character and bearing. He was in every way
greatly improved; the interesting, impulsive youth had ripened into a
noble manhood. Dealing with great themes, his own mind had gained their
dignity. Accustomed to the company of dead statesmen and heroes, his own
ideas had risen to a higher standard. The flattery of society had added
a new grace to his natural modesty. He was now a citizen of the world by
his reputation; the past was his province, in which he was recognized as
a master; the idol's pedestal was ready for him, but he betrayed no
desire to show himself upon it.


1858-1860. AEt. 44-46.


During the years spent in Europe in writing his first history, from 1851
to 1856, Mr. Motley had lived a life of great retirement and simplicity,
devoting himself to his work and to the education of his children, to
which last object he was always ready to give the most careful
supervision. He was as yet unknown beyond the circle of his friends,
and he did not seek society. In this quiet way he had passed the two
years of residence in Dresden, the year divided between Brussels and the
Hague, and a very tranquil year spent at Vevay on the Lake of Geneva.
His health at this time was tolerably good, except for nervous headaches,
which frequently recurred and were of great severity. His visit to
England with his manuscript in search of a publisher has already been

In 1858 he revisited England. His fame as a successful author was there
before him, and he naturally became the object of many attentions. He
now made many acquaintances who afterwards became his kind and valued
friends. Among those mentioned by his daughter, Lady Harcourt, are Lord
Lyndhurst, Lord Carlisle, Lady William Russell, Lord and Lady Palmerston,
Dean Milman, with many others. The following winter was passed in Rome,
among many English and American friends.

"In the course of the next summer," his daughter writes to me, "we
all went to England, and for the next two years, marked chiefly by
the success of the 'United Netherlands,' our social life was most
agreeable and most interesting. He was in the fulness of his health
and powers; his works had made him known in intellectual society,
and I think his presence, on the other hand, increased their
effects. As no one knows better than you do, his belief in his own
country and in its institutions at their best was so passionate and
intense that it was a part of his nature, yet his refined and
fastidious tastes were deeply gratified by the influences of his
life in England, and the spontaneous kindness which he received
added much to his happiness. At that time Lord Palmerston was Prime
Minister; the weekly receptions at Cambridge House were the centre
of all that was brilliant in the political and social world, while
Lansdowne House, Holland House, and others were open to the
'sommites' in all branches of literature, science, rank, and
politics. . . . It was the last year of Lord Macaulay's life,
and as a few out of many names which I recall come Dean Milman, Mr.
Froude (whose review of the 'Dutch Republic' in the 'Westminster'
was one of the first warm recognitions it ever received), the Duke
and Duchess of Argyll, Sir William Stirling Maxwell, then Mr.
Stirling of Keir, the Sheridan family in its different brilliant
members, Lord Wensleydale, and many more."

There was no society to which Motley would not have added grace and
attraction by his presence, and to say that he was a welcome guest in the
best houses of England is only saying that these houses are always open
to those whose abilities, characters, achievements, are commended to the
circles that have the best choice by the personal gifts which are
nature's passport everywhere.


1859. AEt. 45.


I am enabled by the kindness of Mr. Francis H. Underwood to avail myself
of a letter addressed to him by Mr. Motley in the year before the
publication of this second work, which gives us an insight into his mode
of working and the plan he proposed to follow. It begins with an
allusion which recalls a literary event interesting to many of his
American friends.

ROME, March 4, 1859.


My dear Sir,--. . . I am delighted to hear of the great success
of "The Atlantic Monthly." In this remote region I have not the
chance of reading it as often as I should like, but from the
specimens which I have seen I am quite sure it deserves its wide
circulation. A serial publication, the contents of which are purely
original and of such remarkable merit, is a novelty in our country,
and I am delighted to find that it has already taken so prominent a
position before the reading world. . .

The whole work [his history], of which the three volumes already
published form a part, will be called "The Eighty Years' War for

Epoch I. is the Rise of the Dutch Republic.

Epoch II. Independence Achieved. From the Death of William the
Silent till the Twelve Years' Truce. 1584-1609.

Epoch III. Independence Recognized. From the Twelve Years' Truce
to the Peace of Westphalia. 1609-1648.

My subject is a very vast one, for the struggle of the United
Provinces with Spain was one in which all the leading states of
Europe were more or less involved. After the death of William the
Silent, the history assumes world-wide proportions. Thus the volume
which I am just about terminating . . . is almost as much English
history as Dutch. The Earl of Leicester, very soon after the death
of Orange, was appointed governor of the provinces, and the alliance
between the two countries almost amounted to a political union. I
shall try to get the whole of the Leicester administration,
terminating with the grand drama of the Invincible Armada, into one
volume; but I doubt, my materials are so enormous. I have been
personally very hard at work, nearly two years, ransacking the
British State Paper Office, the British Museum, and the Holland
archives, and I have had two copyists constantly engaged in London,
and two others at the Hague. Besides this, I passed the whole of
last winter at Brussels, where, by special favor of the Belgian
Government, I was allowed to read what no one else has ever been
permitted to see,--the great mass of copies taken by that government
from the Simancas archives, a translated epitome of which has been
published by Gachard. This correspondence reaches to the death of
Philip II., and is of immense extent and importance. Had I not
obtained leave to read the invaluable and, for my purpose,
indispensable documents at Brussels, I should have gone to Spain,
for they will not be published these twenty years, and then only in
a translated and excessively abbreviated and unsatisfactory form.
I have read the whole of this correspondence, and made very copious
notes of it. In truth, I devoted three months of last winter to
that purpose alone.

The materials I have collected from the English archives are also
extremely important and curious. I have hundreds of interesting
letters never published or to be published, by Queen Elizabeth,
Burghley, Walsingham, Sidney, Drake, Willoughby, Leicester, and
others. For the whole of that portion of my subject in which
Holland and England were combined into one whole, to resist Spain in
its attempt to obtain the universal empire, I have very abundant
collections. For the history of the United Provinces is not at all
a provincial history. It is the history of European liberty.
Without the struggle of Holland and England against Spain, all
Europe might have been Catholic and Spanish. It was Holland that
saved England in the sixteenth century, and, by so doing, secured
the triumph of the Reformation, and placed the independence of the
various states of Europe upon a sure foundation. Of course, the
materials collected by me at the Hague are of great importance. As
a single specimen, I will state that I found in the archives there
an immense and confused mass of papers, which turned out to be the
autograph letters of Olden Barneveld during the last few years of
his life; during, in short, the whole of that most important period
which preceded his execution. These letters are in such an
intolerable handwriting that no one has ever attempted to read them.
I could read them only imperfectly myself, and it would have taken
me a very long time to have acquired the power to do so; but my
copyist and reader there is the most patient and indefatigable
person alive, and he has quite mastered the handwriting, and he
writes me that they are a mine of historical wealth for me. I shall
have complete copies before I get to that period, one of signal
interest, and which has never been described. I mention these
matters that you may see that my work, whatever its other value may
be, is built upon the only foundation fit for history,--original
contemporary documents. These are all unpublished. Of course, I
use the contemporary historians and pamphleteers,--Dutch, Spanish,
French, Italian, German, and English,--but the most valuable of my
sources are manuscript ones. I have said the little which I have
said in order to vindicate the largeness of the subject. The
kingdom of Holland is a small power now, but the Eighty Years' War,
which secured the civil and religious independence of the Dutch
Commonwealth and of Europe, was the great event of that whole age.

The whole work will therefore cover a most remarkable epoch in human
history, from the abdication of Charles Fifth to the Peace of
Westphalia, at which last point the political and geographical
arrangements of Europe were established on a permanent basis,--in
the main undisturbed until the French Revolution. . . .

I will mention that I received yesterday a letter from the
distinguished M. Guizot, informing me that the first volume of the
French translation, edited by him, with an introduction, has just
been published. The publication was hastened in consequence of the
appearance of a rival translation at Brussels. The German
translation is very elegantly and expensively printed in handsome
octavos; and the Dutch translation, under the editorship of the
archivist general of Holland, Bakhuyzen v. d. Brink, is enriched
with copious notes and comments by that distinguished scholar.

There are also three different piratical reprints of the original
work at Amsterdam, Leipzig, and London. I must add that I had
nothing to do with the translation in any case. In fact, with the
exception of M. Guizot, no one ever obtained permission of me to
publish translations, and I never knew of the existence of them
until I read of it in the journals. . . . I forgot to say that
among the collections already thoroughly examined by me is that
portion of the Simancas archives still retained in the Imperial
archives of France. I spent a considerable time in Paris for the
purpose of reading these documents. There are many letters of
Philip II. there, with apostilles by his own hand. . . . I
would add that I am going to pass this summer at Venice for the
purpose of reading and procuring copies from the very rich archives
of that Republic, of the correspondence of their envoys in Madrid,
London, and Brussels during the epoch of which I am treating.

I am also not without hope of gaining access to the archives of the
Vatican here, although there are some difficulties in the way.

With kind regards . . .
I remain very truly yours,


1860. AT. 46.


We know something of the manner in which Mr. Motley collected his
materials. We know the labors, the difficulties, the cost of his toils
among the dusty records of the past. What he gained by the years he
spent in his researches is so well stated by himself that I shall borrow
his own words:--

"Thanks to the liberality of many modern governments of Europe, the
archives where the state secrets of the buried centuries have so
long mouldered are now open to the student of history. To him who
has patience and industry, many mysteries are thus revealed which no
political sagacity or critical acumen could have divined. He leans
over the shoulder of Philip the Second at his writing-table, as the
King spells patiently out, with cipher-key in hand, the most
concealed hieroglyphics of Parma, or Guise, or Mendoza. He reads
the secret thoughts of 'Fabius' [Philip II.] as that cunctative
Roman scrawls his marginal apostilles on each dispatch; he pries
into all the stratagems of Camillus, Hortensius, Mucius, Julius,
Tullius, and the rest of those ancient heroes who lent their names
to the diplomatic masqueraders of the sixteenth century; he enters
the cabinet of the deeply pondering Burghley, and takes from the
most private drawer the memoranda which record that minister's
unutterable doubtings; he pulls from the dressing-gown folds of the
stealthy, soft-gliding Walsingham the last secret which he has
picked from the Emperor's pigeon-holes or the Pope's pocket, and
which not Hatton, nor Buckhurst, nor Leicester, nor the Lord
Treasurer is to see,--nobody but Elizabeth herself; he sits
invisible at the most secret councils of the Nassaus and Barneveld
and Buys, or pores with Farnese over coming victories and vast
schemes of universal conquest; he reads the latest bit of scandal,
the minutest characteristic of king or minister, chronicled by the
gossiping Venetians for the edification of the Forty; and after all
this prying and eavesdropping, having seen the cross-purposes, the
bribings, the windings in the dark, he is not surprised if those who
were systematically deceived did not always arrive at correct

The fascination of such a quest is readily conceivable. A drama with
real characters, and the spectator at liberty to go behind the scenes and
look upon and talk with the kings and queens between the acts; to examine
the scenery, to handle the properties, to study the "make up" of the
imposing personages of full-dress histories; to deal with them all as
Thackeray has done with the Grand Monarque in one of his caustic
sketches,--this would be as exciting, one might suppose, as to sit
through a play one knows by heart at Drury Lane or the Theatre Francais,
and might furnish occupation enough to the curious idler who was only in
search of entertainment. The mechanical obstacles of half-illegible
manuscript, of antiquated forms of speech, to say nothing of the
intentional obscurities of diplomatic correspondence, stand, however,
in the way of all but the resolute and unwearied scholar. These
difficulties, in all their complex obstinacy, had been met and overcome
by the heroic efforts, the concentrated devotion, of the new laborer in
the unbroken fields of secret history.

Without stopping to take breath, as it were,--for his was a task
'de longue haleine,'--he proceeded to his second great undertaking.

The first portion--consisting of two volumes--of the "History of the
United Netherlands" was published in the year 1860. It maintained and
increased the reputation he had already gained by his first history.

"The London Quarterly Review" devoted a long article to it, beginning
with this handsome tribute to his earlier and later volumes:--

"Mr. Motley's 'History of the Rise of the Dutch Republic' is already
known and valued for the grasp of mind which it displays, for the
earnest and manly spirit in which he has communicated the results of
deep research and careful reflection. Again he appears before us,
rich with the spoils of time, to tell the story of the United
Netherlands from the time of William the Silent to the end of the
eventful year of the Spanish Armada, and we still find him in every
way worthy of this 'great argument.' Indeed, it seems to us that he
proceeds with an increased facility of style, and with a more
complete and easy command over his materials. These materials are
indeed splendid, and of them most excellent use has been made. The
English State Paper Office, the Spanish archives from Simancas, and
the Dutch and Belgian repositories, have all yielded up their
secrets; and Mr. Motley has enjoyed the advantage of dealing with a
vast mass of unpublished documents, of which he has not failed to
avail himself to an extent which places his work in the foremost
rank as an authority for the period to which it relates. By means
of his labor and his art we can sit at the council board of Philip
and Elizabeth, we can read their most private dispatches. Guided by
his demonstration, we are enabled to dissect out to their ultimate
issues the minutest ramifications of intrigue. We join in the
amusement of the popular lampoon; we visit the prison-house; we
stand by the scaffold; we are present at the battle and the siege.
We can scan the inmost characters of men and can view them in their.
habits as they lived."

After a few criticisms upon lesser points of form and style, the writer

"But the work itself must be read to appreciate the vast and
conscientious industry bestowed upon it. His delineations are true
and life-like, because they are not mere compositions written to
please the ear, but are really taken from the facts and traits
preserved in those authentic records to which he has devoted the
labor of many years. Diligent and painstaking as the humblest
chronicler, he has availed himself of many sources of information
which have not been made use of by any previous historical writer.
At the same time he is not oppressed by his materials, but has
sagacity to estimate their real value, and he has combined with
scholarly power the facts which they contain. He has rescued the
story of the Netherlands from the domain of vague and general
narrative, and has labored, with much judgment and ability, to
unfold the 'Belli causas, et vitia, et modos,' and to assign to
every man and every event their own share in the contest, and their
own influence upon its fortunes. We do not wonder that his earlier
publication has been received as a valuable addition, not only to
English, but to European literature."

One or two other contemporary criticisms may help us with their side
lights. A critic in "The Edinburgh Review" for January, 1861, thinks
that "Mr. Motley has not always been successful in keeping the graphic
variety of his details subordinate to the main theme of his work."
Still, he excuses the fault, as he accounts it, in consideration of the
new light thrown on various obscure points of history, and

"it is atoned for by striking merits, by many narratives of great
events faithfully, powerfully, and vividly executed, by the clearest
and most life-like conceptions of character, and by a style which,
if it sacrifices the severer principles of composition to a desire
to be striking and picturesque, is always vigorous, full of
animation, and glowing with the genuine enthusiasm of the writer.
Mr. Motley combines as an historian two qualifications seldom found
united,--to great capacity for historical research he adds much
power of pictorial representation. In his pages we find characters
and scenes minutely set forth in elaborate and characteristic
detail, which is relieved and heightened in effect by the artistic
breadth of light and shade thrown across the broader prospects of
history. In an American author, too, we must commend the hearty
English spirit in which the book is written; and fertile as the
present age has been in historical works of the highest merit, none
of them can be ranked above these volumes in the grand qualities of
interest, accuracy, and truth."

A writer in "Blackwood" (May, 1861) contrasts Motley with Froude somewhat
in the way in which another critic had contrasted him with Prescott.
Froude, he says, remembers that there are some golden threads in the
black robe of the Dominican. Motley "finds it black and thrusts it
farther into the darkness."

Every writer carries more or less of his own character into his book, of
course. A great professor has told me that there is a personal flavor in
the mathematical work of a man of genius like Poisson. Those who have
known Motley and Prescott would feel sure beforehand that the impulsive
nature of the one and the judicial serenity of the other would as surely
betray themselves in their writings as in their conversation and in their
every movement. Another point which the critic of "Blackwood's Magazine"
has noticed has not been so generally observed: it is what he calls "a
dashing, offhand, rattling style,"--"fast" writing. It cannot be denied
that here and there may be detected slight vestiges of the way of writing
of an earlier period of Motley's literary life, with which I have no
reason to think the writer just mentioned was acquainted. Now and then I
can trace in the turn of a phrase, in the twinkle of an epithet, a faint
reminiscence of a certain satirical levity, airiness, jauntiness, if I
may hint such a word, which is just enough to remind me of those perilous
shallows of his early time through which his richly freighted argosy had
passed with such wonderful escape from their dangers and such very slight
marks of injury. That which is pleasant gayety in conversation may be
quite out of place in formal composition, and Motley's wit must have had
a hard time of it struggling to show its spangles in the processions
while his gorgeous tragedies went sweeping by.


All classes are conservative by necessity
Already looking forward to the revolt of the slave States
Attacked by the poetic mania
Becoming more learned, and therefore more ignorant
But not thoughtlessly indulgent to the boy
Cold water of conventional and commonplace encouragement
Could paint a character with the ruddy life-blood coloring
Emulation is not capability
Excused by their admirers for their shortcomings
Excuses to disarm the criticism he had some reason to fear
Fear of the laugh of the world at its sincerity
Fitted "To warn, to comfort, and command"
How many more injured by becoming bad copies of a bad ideal
Ignoble facts which strew the highways of political life
Indoor home life imprisons them in the domestic circle
Intellectual dandyisms of Bulwer
Kindly shadow of oblivion
Misanthropical, sceptical philosopher
Most entirely truthful child whe had ever seen
Nearsighted liberalism
No two books, as he said, ever injured each other
Not a single acquaintance in the place, and we glory in the fact
Only foundation fit for history,--original contemporary document
Radical, one who would uproot, is a man whose trade is dangerous
Sees the past in the pitiless light of the present
Self-educated man, as he had been a self-taught boy
Solitary and morose, the necessary consequence of reckless study
Spirit of a man who wishes to be proud of his country
Studied according to his inclinations rather than by rule
Style above all other qualities seems to embalm for posterity
Talked impatiently of the value of my time
The dead men of the place are my intimate friends
The fellow mixes blood with his colors!
The loss of hair, which brings on premature decay
The personal gifts which are nature's passport everywhere
Twenty assaults upon fame and had forty books killed under him
Vain belief that they were men at eighteen or twenty
Weight of a thousand years of error



By Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Volume II.


1860-1866. AEt. 46-52.


The winter of 1859-60 was passed chiefly at Oatlands Hotel, Walton-on-
Thames. In 1860 Mr. Motley hired the house No. 31 Hertford Street, May
Fair, London. He had just published the first two volumes of his
"History of the Netherlands," and was ready for the further labors of its
continuation, when the threats, followed by the outbreak, of the great
civil contention in his native land brought him back from the struggles
of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to the conflict of the

His love of country, which had grown upon him so remarkably of late
years, would not suffer him to be silent at such a moment. All around
him he found ignorance and prejudice. The quarrel was like to be
prejudged in default of a champion of the cause which to him was that of
Liberty and Justice. He wrote two long letters to the London "Times," in
which he attempted to make clear to Englishmen and to Europe the nature
and conditions of our complex system of government, the real cause of the
strife, and the mighty issues at stake. Nothing could have been more
timely, nothing more needed. Mr. William Everett, who was then in
England, bears strong testimony to the effect these letters produced.
Had Mr. Motley done no other service to his country, this alone would
entitle him to honorable remembrance as among the first defenders of the
flag, which at that moment had more to fear from what was going on in the
cabinet councils of Europe than from all the armed hosts that were
gathering against it.

He returned to America in 1861, and soon afterwards was appointed by Mr.
Lincoln Minister to Austria. Mr. Burlingame had been previously
appointed to the office, but having been objected to by the Austrian
Government for political reasons, the place unexpectedly left vacant was
conferred upon Motley, who had no expectation of any diplomatic
appointment when he left Europe. For some interesting particulars
relating to his residence in Vienna I must refer to the communications
addressed to me by his daughter, Lady Harcourt, and her youngest sister,
and the letters I received from him while at the Austrian capital. Lady
Harcourt writes:--

"He held the post for six years, seeing the civil war fought out and
brought to a triumphant conclusion, and enjoying, as I have every
reason to believe, the full confidence and esteem of Mr. Lincoln to
the last hour of the President's life. In the first dark years the
painful interest of the great national drama was so all-absorbing
that literary work was entirely put aside, and with his countrymen
at home he lived only in the varying fortunes of the day, his
profound faith and enthusiasm sustaining him and lifting him above
the natural influence of a by no means sanguine temperament. Later,
when the tide was turning and success was nearing, he was more able
to work. His social relations during the whole period of his
mission were of the most agreeable character. The society of Vienna
was at that time, and I believe is still, the absolute reverse of
that of England, where all claims to distinction are recognized and
welcomed. There the old feudal traditions were still in full force,
and diplomatic representatives admitted to the court society by
right of official position found it to consist exclusively of an
aristocracy of birth, sixteen quarterings of nobility being
necessary to a right of presentation to the Emperor and Empress.
The society thus constituted was distinguished by great charm and
grace of manner, the exclusion of all outer elements not only
limiting the numbers, but giving the ease of a family party within
the charmed circle. On the other hand, larger interests suffered
under the rigid exclusion of all occupations except the army,
diplomacy, and court place. The intimacy among the different
members of the society was so close that, beyond a courtesy of
manner that never failed, the tendency was to resist the approach of
any stranger as a 'gene'. A single new face was instantly remarked
and commented on in a Vienna saloon to an extent unknown in any
other large capital. This peculiarity, however, worked in favor of
the old resident. Kindliness of feeling increased with familiarity
and grew into something better than acquaintance, and the parting
with most sincere and affectionately disposed friends in the end was
deeply felt on both sides. Those years were passed in a pleasant
house in the Weiden Faubourg, with a large garden at the back, and I
do not think that during this time there was one disagreeable
incident in his relations to his colleagues, while in several cases
the relations, agreeable with all, became those of close friendship.
We lived constantly, of course, in diplomatic and Austrian society,
and during the latter part of the time particularly his house was as
much frequented and the centre of as many dancing and other
receptions as any in the place. His official relations with the
Foreign Office were courteous and agreeable, the successive Foreign
Ministers during his stay being Count Richberg, Count Mensdorff, and
Baron Beust. Austria was so far removed from any real contact with
our own country that, though the interest in our war may have been
languid, they did not pretend to a knowledge which might have
inclined them to controversy, while an instinct that we were acting
as a constituted government against rebellion rather inclined them
to sympathy. I think I may say that as he became known among them
his keen patriotism and high sense of honor and truth were fully
understood and appreciated, and that what he said always commanded a
sympathetic hearing among men with totally different political
ideas, but with chivalrous and loyal instincts to comprehend his
own. I shall never forget his account of the terrible day when the
news of Mr. Lincoln's death came. By some accident a rumor of it
reached him first through a colleague. He went straight to the
Foreign Office for news, hoping against hope, was received by Count
Mensdorff, who merely came forward and laid his arm about his
shoulder with an intense sympathy beyond words."

Miss Motley, the historian's youngest daughter, has added a note to her
sister's communication:--

"During his residence in Vienna the most important negotiations
which he had to carry on with the Austrian Government were those
connected with the Mexican affair. Maximilian at one time applied
to his brother the Emperor for assistance, and he promised to accede
to his demand. Accordingly a large number of volunteers were
equipped and had actually embarked at Trieste, when a dispatch from
Seward arrived, instructing the American Minister to give notice to
the Austrian Government that if the troops sailed for Mexico he was
to leave Vienna at once. My father had to go at once to Count
Mensdorff with these instructions, and in spite of the Foreign
Minister being annoyed that the United States Government had not
sooner intimated that this extreme course would be taken, the
interview was quite amicable and the troops were not allowed to
sail. We were in Vienna during the war in which Denmark fought
alone against Austria and Prussia, and when it was over Bismarck
came to Vienna to settle the terms of peace with the Emperor. He
dined with us twice during his short stay, and was most delightful
and agreeable. When he and my father were together they seemed to
live over the youthful days they had spent together as students,
and many were the anecdotes of their boyish frolics which Bismarck


1861-1863. AEt. 47-49.


Soon after Mr. Motley's arrival in Vienna I received a long letter from
him, most of which relates to personal matters, but which contains a few
sentences of interest to the general reader as showing his zealous
labors, wherever he found himself, in behalf of the great cause then in
bloody debate in his own country:

November 14, 1861.

. . . What can I say to you of cis-Atlantic things? I am almost
ashamed to be away from home. You know that I had decided to
remain, and had sent for my family to come to America, when my
present appointment altered my plans. I do what good I can. I
think I made some impression on Lord John Russell, with whom I spent
two days soon after my arrival in England, and I talked very frankly
and as strongly as I could to Palmerston, and I have had long
conversations and correspondences with other leading men in England.
I have also had an hour's [conversation] with Thouvenel in Paris. I
hammered the Northern view into him as soundly as I could. For this
year there will be no foreign interference with us. I don't
anticipate it at any time, unless we bring it on ourselves by bad
management, which I don't expect. Our fate is in our own hands, and
Europe is looking on to see which side is strongest,--when it has
made the discovery it will back it as also the best and the most
moral. Yesterday I had my audience with the Emperor. He received
me with much cordiality, and seemed interested in a long account
which I gave him of our affairs. You may suppose I inculcated the
Northern views. We spoke in his vernacular, and he asked me
afterwards if I was a German. I mention this not from vanity, but
because he asked it with earnestness, and as if it had a political
significance. Of course I undeceived him. His appearance
interested me, and his manner is very pleasing.

I continued to receive long and interesting letters from him at intervals
during his residence as Minister at Vienna. Relating as they often did
to public matters, about which he had private sources of information, his
anxiety that they should not get into print was perfectly natural. As,
however, I was at liberty to read his letters to others at my discretion,
and as many parts of these letters have an interest as showing how
American affairs looked to one who was behind the scenes in Europe, I may
venture to give some extracts without fear of violating the spirit of his
injunctions, or of giving offence to individuals. The time may come when
his extended correspondence can be printed in full with propriety, but it
must be in a future year and after it has passed into the hands of a
younger generation. Meanwhile these few glimpses at his life and records
of his feelings and opinions will help to make the portrait of the man we
are studying present itself somewhat more clearly.

LEGATION of THE U. S. A., VIENNA, January 14, 1862.

MY DEAR HOLMES,--I have two letters of yours, November 29 and
December 17, to express my thanks for. It is quite true that it is
difficult for me to write with the same feeling that inspires you,--
that everything around the inkstand within a radius of a thousand
miles is full of deepest interest to writer and reader. I don't
even intend to try to amuse you with Vienna matters. What is it to
you that we had a very pleasant dinner-party last week at Prince
Esterhazy's, and another this week at Prince Liechtenstein's, and
that to-morrow I am to put on my cocked hat and laced coat to make a
visit to her Imperial Majesty, the Empress Mother, and that to-night
there is to be the first of the assembly balls, the Vienna Almack's,
at which--I shall be allowed to absent myself altogether?

It strikes me that there is likely to be left a fair field for us a
few months longer, say till midsummer. The Trent affair I shall not
say much about, except to state that I have always been for giving
up the prisoners. I was awfully afraid, knowing that the demand had
gone forth,--

"Send us your prisoners or you'll hear of it,"

that the answer would have come back in the Hotspur vein--

'And if the Devil come and roar for them,
We will not send them."

The result would have been most disastrous, for in order to secure a
most trifling advantage,--that of keeping Mason and Slidell at Fort
Warren a little longer,--we should have turned our backs on all the
principles maintained by us when neutral, and should have been
obliged to accept a war at an enormous disadvantage. . . .

But I hardly dared to hope that we should have obtained such a
victory as we have done. To have disavowed the illegal transaction
at once,--before any demand came from England,--to have placed that
disavowal on the broad ground of principle which we have always
cherished, and thus with a clear conscience, and to our entire
honor, to have kept ourselves clear from a war which must have given
the Confederacy the invincible alliance of England,--was exactly
what our enemies in Europe did not suppose us capable of doing. But
we have done it in the handsomest manner, and there is not one
liberal heart in this hemisphere that is not rejoiced, nor one hater
of us and of our institutions that is not gnashing his teeth with

The letter of ten close pages from which I have quoted these passages is
full of confidential information, and contains extracts from letters of
leading statesmen. If its date had been 1762, I might feel authorized in
disobeying its injunctions of privacy. I must quote one other sentence,
as it shows his animus at that time towards a distinguished statesman of
whom he was afterwards accused of speaking in very hard terms by an
obscure writer whose intent was to harm him. In speaking of the Trent
affair, Mr. Motley says: "The English premier has been foiled by our much
maligned Secretary of State, of whom, on this occasion at least, one has
the right to say, with Sir Henry Wotton,--

'His armor was his honest thought,
And simple truth his utmost skill.'"

"He says at the close of this long letter:

'I wish I could bore you about something else but American politics.
But there is nothing else worth thinking of in the world. All else
is leather and prunella. We are living over again the days of the
Dutchmen or the seventeenth-century Englishmen.'"

My next letter, of fourteen closely written pages, was of similar
character to the last. Motley could think of nothing but the great
conflict. He was alive to every report from America, listening too with
passionate fears or hopes, as the case might be, to the whispers not yet
audible to the world which passed from lip to lip of the statesmen who
were watching the course of events from the other side of the Atlantic
with the sweet complacency of the looker-on of Lucretius; too often
rejoicing in the storm that threatened wreck to institutions and an
organization which they felt to be a standing menace to the established
order of things in their older communities.

A few extracts from this very long letter will be found to have a special
interest from the time at which they were written.

LEGATION OF U. S. A., VIENNA, February 26, 1862.

MY DEAR HOLMES,--. . . I take great pleasure in reading your
prophecies, and intend to be just as free in hazarding my own, for,
as you say, our mortal life is but a string of guesses at the
future, and no one but an idiot would be discouraged at finding
himself sometimes far out in his calculations. If I find you
signally right in any of your predictions, be sure that I will
congratulate and applaud. If you make mistakes, you shall never
hear of them again, and I promise to forget them. Let me ask the
same indulgence from you in return. This is what makes letter-
writing a comfort and journalizing dangerous. . . The ides of March
will be upon us before this letter reaches you. We have got to
squash the rebellion soon, or be squashed forever as a nation. I
don't pretend to judge military plans or the capacities of generals.
But, as you suggest, perhaps I can take a more just view of the
whole picture of the eventful struggle at this great distance than
do those absolutely acting and suffering on the scene. Nor can I
resist the desire to prophesy any more than you can do, knowing that
I may prove utterly mistaken. I say, then, that one great danger
comes from the chance of foreign interference. What will prevent

Our utterly defeating the Confederates in some great and conclusive
battle; or,

Our possession of the cotton ports and opening them to European
trade; or,

A most unequivocal policy of slave emancipation.

Any one of these three conditions would stave off recognition by
foreign powers, until we had ourselves abandoned the attempt to
reduce the South to obedience.

The last measure is to my mind the most important. The South has,
by going to war with the United States government, thrust into our
hands against our will the invincible weapon which constitutional
reasons had hitherto forbidden us to employ. At the same time it
has given us the power to remedy a great wrong to four millions of
the human race, in which we had hitherto been obliged to acquiesce.
We are threatened with national annihilation, and defied to use the
only means of national preservation. The question is distinctly
proposed to us, Shall Slavery die, or the great Republic? It is
most astounding to me that there can be two opinions in the free
States as to the answer.

If we do fall, we deserve our fate. At the beginning of the
contest, constitutional scruples might be respectable. But now we
are fighting to subjugate the South; that is, Slavery. We are
fighting for nothing else that I know of. We are fighting for the
Union. Who wishes to destroy the Union? The slaveholder, nobody
else. Are we to spend twelve hundred millions, and raise six
hundred thousand soldiers, in order to protect slavery? It really
does seem to me too simple for argument. I am anxiously waiting for
the coming Columbus who will set this egg of ours on end by smashing
in the slavery end. We shall be rolling about in every direction
until that is done. I don't know that it is to be done by
proclamation. Rather perhaps by facts. . . . Well, I console
myself with thinking that the people--the American people, at least
--is about as wise collectively as less numerous collections of
individuals, and that the people has really declared emancipation,
and is only puzzling how to carry it into effect. After all, it
seems to be a law of Providence, that progress should be by a spiral
movement; so that when it seems most tortuous, we may perhaps be
going ahead. I am firm in the faith that slavery is now wriggling
itself to death. With slavery in its pristine vigor, I should think
the restored Union neither possible nor desirable. Don't understand
me as not taking into account all the strategical considerations
against premature governmental utterances on this great subject.
But are there any trustworthy friends to the Union among the
slaveholders? Should we lose many Kentuckians and Virginians who
are now with us, if we boldly confiscated the slaves of all rebels?
--and a confiscation of property which has legs and so confiscates
itself, at command, is not only a legal, but would prove a very
practical measure in time of war. In brief, the time is fast
approaching, I think, when 'Thorough' should be written on all our
banners. Slavery will never accept a subordinate position. The
great Republic and Slavery cannot both survive. We have been defied
to mortal combat, and yet we hesitate to strike. These are my poor
thoughts on this great subject. Perhaps you will think them crude.
I was much struck with what you quote from Mr. Conway, that if
emancipation was proclaimed on the Upper Mississippi it would be
known to the negroes of Louisiana in advance of the telegraph. And
if once the blacks had leave to run, how many whites would have to
stay at home to guard their dissolving property?

You have had enough of my maunderings. But before I conclude them,
may I ask you to give all our kindest regards to Lowell, and to
express our admiration for the Yankee Idyl. I am afraid of using
too extravagant language if I say all I think about it. Was there
ever anything more stinging, more concentrated, more vigorous, more
just? He has condensed into those few pages the essence of a
hundred diplomatic papers and historical disquisitions and Fourth of
July orations. I was dining a day or two since with his friend
Lytton (Bulwer's son, attache here) and Julian Fane (secretary of
the embassy), both great admirers of him,--and especially of the
"Biglow Papers;" they begged me to send them the Mason and Slidell
Idyl, but I wouldn't,--I don't think it is in English nature
(although theirs is very cosmopolitan and liberal) to take such
punishment and come up smiling. I would rather they got it in some
other way, and then told me what they thought voluntarily.

I have very pleasant relations with all the J. B.'s here. They are
all friendly and well disposed to the North,--I speak of the
embassy, which, with the ambassador and ---dress, numbers eight or
ten souls, some of them very intellectual ones. There are no other
J. B.'s here. I have no fear at present of foreign interference.
We have got three or four months to do our work in,--a fair field
and no favor. There is no question whatever that the Southern
commissioners have been thoroughly snubbed in London and Paris.
There is to be a blockade debate in Parliament next week, but no bad
consequences are to be apprehended. The Duke de Gramont (French
ambassador, and an intimate friend of the Emperor) told my wife last
night that it was entirely false that the Emperor had ever urged the
English government to break the blockade. "Don't believe it,--don't
believe a word of it," he said. He has always held that language to
me. He added that Prince Napoleon had just come out with a strong
speech about us,--you will see it, doubtless, before you get this
letter,--but it has not yet reached us.

Shall I say anything of Austria,--what can I say that would interest
you? That's the reason why I hate to write. All my thoughts are in
America. Do you care to know about the Archduke Ferdinand
Maximilian, that shall be King hereafter of Mexico (if L. N. has his
way)? He is next brother to the Emperor, but although I have had
the honor of private audiences of many archdukes here, this one is a
resident of Trieste.

He is about thirty,--has an adventurous disposition,--some
imagination,--a turn for poetry,--has voyaged a good deal about the
world in the Austrian ship-of-war,--for in one respect he much
resembles that unfortunate but anonymous ancestor of his, the King
of Bohemia with the seven castles, who, according to Corporal Trim,
had such a passion for navigation and sea-affairs, "with never a
seaport in all his dominions." But now the present King of Bohemia
has got the sway of Trieste, and is Lord High Admiral and Chief of
the Marine Department. He has been much in Spain, also in South
America; I have read some travels, "Reise Skizzen," of his--printed,
not published. They are not without talent, and he ever and anon
relieves his prose jog-trot by breaking into a canter of poetry. He
adores bull-fights, and rather regrets the Inquisition, and
considers the Duke of Alva everything noble and chivalrous, and the
most abused of men. It would do your heart good to hear his
invocations to that deeply injured shade, and his denunciations of
the ignorant and vulgar protestants who have defamed him. (N.B.
Let me observe that the R. of the D. R. was not published until long
after the "Reise Skizzen" were written.) 'Du armer Alva! weil du
dem Willen deines Herrn unerschiitterlich treu vast, weil die
festbestimmten grundsatze der Regierung,' etc., etc., etc. You
can imagine the rest. Dear me! I wish I could get back to the
sixteenth and seventeenth century. . . . But alas! the events
of the nineteenth are too engrossing.

If Lowell cares to read this letter, will you allow me to "make it
over to him jointly," as Captain Cuttle says. I wished to write to
him, but I am afraid only you would tolerate my writing so much when
I have nothing to say. If he would ever send me a line I should be
infinitely obliged, and would quickly respond. We read the "Washers
of the Shroud" with fervid admiration.

Always remember me most sincerely to the Club, one and all. It
touches me nearly when you assure me that I am not forgotten by
them. To-morrow is Saturday and the last of the month.--[See
Appendix A.]--We are going to dine with our Spanish colleague. But
the first bumper of the Don's champagne I shall drain to the health
of my Parker House friends.

From another long letter dated August 31, 1862, I extract the following

"I quite agree in all that you said in your last letter. 'The imp
of secession can't reenter its mother's womb.' It is merely
childish to talk of the Union 'as it was.' You might as well bring
back the Saxon Heptarchy. But the great Republic is destined to
live and flourish, I can't doubt. . . . Do you remember that
wonderful scene in Faust in which Mephistopheles draws wine for the
rabble with a gimlet out of the wooden table; and how it changes to
fire as they drink it, and how they all go mad, draw their knives,
grasp each other by the nose, and think they are cutting off bunches
of grapes at every blow, and how foolish they all look when they
awake from the spell and see how the Devil has been mocking them?
It always seems to me a parable of the great Secession.

"I repeat, I can't doubt as to the ultimate result. But I dare say
we have all been much mistaken in our calculations as to time.
Days, months, years, are nothing in history. Men die, man is
immortal, practically, even on this earth. We are so impatient,--
and we are always watching for the last scene of the tragedy. Now I
humbly opine that the drop is only about falling on the first act,
or perhaps only the prologue. This act or prologue will be called,
in after days, War for the status quo. "Such enthusiasm, heroism,
and manslaughter as status quo could inspire, has, I trust, been not
entirely in vain, but it has been proved insufficient.

"I firmly believe that when the slaveholders declared war on the
United States government they began a series of events that, in the
logical chain of history, cannot come to a conclusion until the last
vestige of slavery is gone. Looking at the whole field for a moment
dispassionately, objectively, as the dear Teutonic philosophers say,
and merely as an exhibition of phenomena, I cannot imagine any other
issue. Everything else may happen. This alone must happen.

"But after all this isn't a war. It is a revolution. It is n't
strategists that are wanted so much as believers. In revolutions
the men who win are those who are in earnest. Jeff and Stonewall
and the other Devil-worshippers are in earnest, but it was not
written in the book of fate that the slaveholders' rebellion should
be vanquished by a pro-slavery general. History is never so
illogical. No, the coming 'man on horseback' on our side must be a
great strategist, with the soul of that insane lion, mad old John
Brown, in his belly. That is your only Promethean recipe:--

'et insani leonis
Vim stomacho apposuisse nostro.'

"I don't know why Horace runs so in my head this morning. . . .

"There will be work enough for all; but I feel awfully fidgety just
now about Port Royal and Hilton Head, and about affairs generally
for the next three months. After that iron-clads and the new levies
must make us invincible."

In another letter, dated November 2, 1862, he expresses himself very
warmly about his disappointment in the attitude of many of his old
English friends with reference to our civil conflict. He had recently
heard the details of the death of "the noble Wilder Dwight."

"It is unnecessary," he says, "to say how deeply we were moved. I
had the pleasure of knowing him well, and I always appreciated his
energy, his manliness, and his intelligent cheerful heroism. I look
back upon him now as a kind of heroic type of what a young New
Englander ought to be and was. I tell you that one of these days--
after a generation of mankind has passed away--these youths will
take their places in our history, and be regarded by the young men
and women now unborn with the admiration which the Philip Sidneys
and the Max Piccolominis now inspire. After all, what was your
Chevy Chace to stir blood with like a trumpet? What noble
principle, what deathless interest, was there at stake? Nothing but
a bloody fight between a lot of noble gamekeepers on one side and of
noble poachers on the other. And because they fought well and
hacked each other to pieces like devils, they have been heroes for

The letter was written in a very excited state of feeling, and runs over
with passionate love of country and indignation at the want of sympathy
with the cause of freedom which he had found in quarters where he had not
expected such coldness or hostile tendencies.

From a letter dated Vienna, September 22, 1863.

. . . "When you wrote me last you said on general matters this:
'In a few days we shall get the news of the success or failure of
the attacks on Port Hudson and Vicksburg. If both are successful,
many will say that the whole matter is about settled.' You may
suppose that when I got the great news I shook hands warmly with you
in the spirit across the Atlantic. Day by day for so long we had
been hoping to hear the fall of Vicksburg. At last when that little
concentrated telegram came, announcing Vicksburg and Gettysburg on
the same day and in two lines, I found myself almost alone. . . .
There was nobody in the house to join in my huzzahs but my youngest
infant. And my conduct very much resembled that of the excellent
Philip II. when he heard the fall of Antwerp,--for I went to her
door, screeching through the key-hole 'Vicksburg is ours!' just as
that other 'pere de famille,' more potent, but I trust not more
respectable than I, conveyed the news to his Infanta. (Fide, for
the incident, an American work on the Netherlands, i. p. 263, and
the authorities there cited.) It is contemptible on my part to
speak thus frivolously of events which will stand out in such golden
letters so long as America has a history, but I wanted to illustrate
the yearning for sympathy which I felt. You who were among people
grim and self-contained usually, who, I trust, were falling on each
other's necks in the public streets, shouting, with tears in their
eyes and triumph in their hearts, can picture my isolation.

"I have never faltered in my faith, and in the darkest hours, when
misfortunes seemed thronging most thickly upon us, I have never felt
the want of anything to lean against; but I own I did feel like
shaking hands with a few hundred people when I heard of our Fourth
of July, 1863, work, and should like to have heard and joined in an
American cheer or two.

"I have not much to say of matters here to interest you. We have
had an intensely hot, historically hot, and very long and very dry
summer. I never knew before what a drought meant. In Hungary the
suffering is great, and the people are killing the sheep to feed the
pigs with the mutton. Here about Vienna the trees have been almost
stripped of foliage ever since the end of August. There is no glory
in the grass nor verdure in anything.

"In fact, we have nothing green here but the Archduke Max, who
firmly believes that he is going forth to Mexico to establish an
American empire, and that it is his divine mission to destroy the
dragon of democracy and reestablish the true Church, the Right
Divine, and all sorts of games. Poor young man! . . .

"Our information from home is to the 12th. Charleston seems to be
in 'articulo mortis,' but how forts nowadays seem to fly in the face
of Scripture. Those founded on a rock, and built of it, fall easily
enough under the rain of Parrotts and Dahlgrens, while the house
built of sand seems to bid defiance to the storm."

In quoting from these confidential letters I have been restrained from
doing full justice to their writer by the fact that he spoke with such
entire freedom of persons as well as events. But if they could be read
from beginning to end, no one could help feeling that his love for his
own country, and passionate absorption of every thought in the strife
upon which its existence as a nation depended, were his very life during
all this agonizing period. He can think and talk of nothing else, or,
if he turns for a moment to other subjects, he reverts to the one great
central interest of "American politics," of which he says in one of the
letters from which I have quoted, "There is nothing else worth thinking
of in the world."

But in spite of his public record as the historian of the struggle for
liberty and the champion of its defenders, and while every letter he
wrote betrayed in every word the intensity of his patriotic feeling, he
was not safe against the attacks of malevolence. A train laid by unseen
hands was waiting for the spark to kindle it, and this came at last in
the shape of a letter from an unknown individual,--a letter the existence
of which ought never to have been a matter of official recognition.


1866-1867. AEt. 52-43.


It is a relief to me that just here, where I come to the first of two
painful episodes in this brilliant and fortunate career, I can preface my
statement with the generous words of one who speaks with authority of his
predecessor in office.

The Hon. John Jay, Ex-Minister to Austria, in the tribute to the memory
of Motley read at a meeting of the New York Historical Society, wrote as

"In singular contrast to Mr. Motley's brilliant career as an
historian stands the fact recorded in our diplomatic annals that he
was twice forced from the service as one who had forfeited the
confidence of the American government. This society, while he was
living, recognized his fame as a statesman, diplomatist, and
patriot, as belonging to America, and now that death has closed the
career of Seward, Sumner, and Motley, it will be remembered that the
great historian, twice humiliated, by orders from Washington, before
the diplomacy and culture of Europe, appealed from the passions of
the hour to the verdict of history.

"Having succeeded Mr. Motley at Vienna some two years after his
departure, I had occasion to read most of his dispatches, which
exhibited a mastery of the subjects of which they treated, with much
of the clear perception, the scholarly and philosophic tone and
decided judgment, which, supplemented by his picturesque
description, full of life and color, have given character to his
histories. They are features which might well have served to extend
the remark of Madame de Stael that a great historian is almost a
statesman. I can speak also from my own observation of the
reputation which Motley left in the Austrian capital.
Notwithstanding the decision with which, under the direction of Mr.
Seward, he had addressed the minister of foreign affairs, Count
Mensdorff, afterwards the Prince Diedrickstein, protesting against
the departure of an Austrian force of one thousand volunteers, who
were about to embark for Mexico in aid of the ill-fated Maximilian,
--a protest which at the last moment arrested the project,--Mr.
Motley and his amiable family were always spoken of in terms of
cordial regard and respect by members of the imperial family and
those eminent statesmen, Count de Beust and Count Andrassy. His
death, I am sure, is mourned to-day by the representatives of the
historic names of Austria and Hungary, and by the surviving
diplomats then residing near the Court of Vienna, wherever they may
still be found, headed by their venerable Doyen, the Baron de

The story of Mr. Motley's resignation of his office and its acceptance by
the government is this.

The President of the United States, Andrew Johnson, received a letter
professing to be written from the Hotel Meurice, Paris, dated October 23,
1866, and signed "George W. M'Crackin, of New York." This letter was
filled with accusations directed against various public agents,
ministers, and consuls, representing the United States in different
countries. Its language was coarse, its assertions were improbable, its
spirit that of the lowest of party scribblers. It was bitter against New
England, especially so against Massachusetts, and it singled out Motley
for the most particular abuse. I think it is still questioned whether
there was any such person as the one named,--at any rate, it bore the
characteristic marks of those vulgar anonymous communications which
rarely receive any attention unless they are important enough to have the
police set on the track of the writer to find his rathole, if possible.
A paragraph in the "Daily Advertiser" of June 7, 1869, quotes from a
Western paper a story to the effect that one William R. M'Crackin, who
had recently died at ----- confessed to having written the M' Crackin
letter. Motley, he said, had snubbed him and refused to lend him money.
"He appears to have been a Bohemian of the lowest order." Between such
authorship and the anonymous there does not seem to be much to choose.
But the dying confession sounds in my ears as decidedly apocryphal. As
for the letter, I had rather characterize it than reproduce it. It is an
offence to decency and a disgrace to the national record on which it is
found. This letter of "George W. M'Crackin" passed into the hands of
Mr. Seward, the Secretary of State. Most gentlemen, I think, would have
destroyed it on the spot, as it was not fit for the waste-basket. Some,
more cautious, might have smothered it among the piles of their private
communications. If any notice was taken of it, one would say that a
private note to each of the gentlemen attacked might have warned him that
there were malicious eavesdroppers about, ready to catch up any careless
expression he might let fall and make a scandalous report of it to his

The secretary, acquiescing without resistance in a suggestion of the
President, saw fit to address a formal note to several of the gentlemen
mentioned in the M'Crackin letter, repeating some of its offensive
expressions, and requesting those officials to deny or confirm the report
that they had uttered them.

A gentleman who is asked whether he has spoken in a "malignant" or
"offensive" manner, whether he has "railed violently and shamefully"
against the President of the United States, or against anybody else,
might well wonder who would address such a question to the humblest
citizen not supposed to be wanting in a common measure of self-respect.
A gentleman holding an important official station in a foreign country,
receiving a letter containing such questions, signed by the prime
minister of his government, if he did not think himself imposed upon by a
forgery, might well consider himself outraged. It was a letter of this
kind which was sent by the Secretary of State to the Minister
Plenipotentiary to the Empire of Austria. Not quite all the vulgar
insolence of the M'Crackin letter was repeated. Mr. Seward did not ask
Mr. Motley to deny or confirm the assertion of the letter that he was a
"thorough flunky" and "un-American functionary." But he did insult him
with various questions suggested by the anonymous letter,--questions that
must have been felt as an indignity by the most thick-skinned of battered

Mr. Motley was very sensitive, very high-spirited, very impulsive, very
patriotic, and singularly truthful. The letter of Mr. Seward to such a
man was like a buffet on the cheek of an unarmed officer. It stung like
the thrust of a stiletto. It roused a resentment that could not find any
words to give it expression. He could not wait to turn the insult over
in his mind, to weigh the exact amount of affront in each question, to
take counsel, to sleep over it, and reply to it with diplomatic measure
and suavity. One hour had scarcely elapsed before his answer was
written. As to his feelings as an American, he appeals to his record.
This might have shown that if he erred it was on the side of enthusiasm
and extravagant expressions of reverence for the American people during
the heroic years just passed. He denounces the accusations as pitiful
fabrications and vile calumny. He blushes that such charges could have
been uttered; he is deeply wounded that Mr. Seward could have listened to
such falsehood. He does not hesitate to say what his opinions are with
reference to home questions, and especially to that of reconstruction.

"These opinions," he says, "in the privacy of my own household, and
to occasional American visitors, I have not concealed. The great
question now presenting itself for solution demands the
conscientious scrutiny of every American who loves his country and
believes in the human progress of which that country is one of the
foremost representatives. I have never thought, during my residence
at Vienna, that because I have the honor of being a public servant
of the American people I am deprived of the right of discussing
within my own walls the gravest subjects that can interest freemen.
A minister of the United States does not cease to be a citizen of
the United States, as deeply interested as others in all that
relates to the welfare of his country."

Among the "occasional American visitors" spoken of above must have been
some of those self-appointed or hired agents called "interviewers," who
do for the American public what the Venetian spies did for the Council of
Ten, what the familiars of the Inquisition did for the priesthood, who
invade every public man's privacy, who listen at every key-hole, who
tamper with every guardian of secrets; purveyors to the insatiable
appetite of a public which must have a slain reputation to devour with
its breakfast, as the monster of antiquity called regularly for his
tribute of a spotless virgin.

The "interviewer" has his use, undoubtedly, and often instructs and
amuses his public with gossip they could not otherwise listen to. He
serves the politician by repeating the artless and unstudied remarks
which fall from his lips in a conversation which the reporter has been
invited to take notes of. He tickles the author's vanity by showing him
off as he sits in his library unconsciously uttering the engaging items
of self-portraiture which, as he well knows, are to be given to the
public in next week's illustrated paper. The feathered end of his shaft
titillates harmlessly enough, but too often the arrowhead is crusted with
a poison worse than the Indian gets by mingling the wolf's gall with the
rattlesnake's venom. No man is safe whose unguarded threshold the
mischief-making questioner has crossed. The more unsuspecting, the more
frank, the more courageous, the more social is the subject of his
vivisection, the more easily does he get at his vital secrets, if he has
any to be extracted. No man is safe if the hearsay reports of his
conversation are to be given to the public without his own careful
revision. When we remember that a proof-text bearing on the mighty
question of the future life, words of supreme significance, uttered as
they were in the last hour, and by the lips to which we listen as to none
other,--that this text depends for its interpretation on the position of
a single comma, we can readily see what wrong may be done by the
unintentional blunder of the most conscientious reporter. But too
frequently it happens that the careless talk of an honest and high-minded
man only reaches the public after filtering through the drain of some
reckless hireling's memory,--one who has played so long with other men's
characters and good name that he forgets they have any value except to
fill out his morning paragraphs.

Whether the author of the scandalous letter which it was disgraceful to
the government to recognize was a professional interviewer or only a
malicious amateur, or whether he was a paid "spotter," sent by some
jealous official to report on the foreign ministers as is sometimes done
in the case of conductors of city horsecars, or whether the dying
miscreant before mentioned told the truth, cannot be certainly known.
But those who remember Mr. Hawthorne's account of his consular
experiences at Liverpool are fully aware to what intrusions and
impertinences and impositions our national representatives in other
countries are subjected. Those fellow-citizens who "often came to the
consulate in parties of half a dozen or more, on no business whatever,
but merely to subject their public servant to a rigid examination, and
see how he was getting on with his duties," may very possibly have
included among them some such mischief-maker as the author of the odious
letter which received official recognition. Mr. Motley had spoken in one
of his histories of "a set of venomous familiars who glided through every
chamber and coiled themselves at every fireside." He little thought that
under his own roof he himself was to be the victim of an equally base

It was an insult on the part of the government to have sent Mr. Motley
such a letter with such questions as were annexed to it. No very exact
rule can be laid down as to the manner in which an insult shall be dealt
with. Something depends on temperament, and his was of the warmer
complexion. His first impulse, he says, was to content himself with a
flat denial of the truth of the accusations. But his scrupulous honesty
compelled him to make a plain statement of his opinions, and to avow the
fact that he had made no secret of them in conversation under conditions
where he had a right to speak freely of matters quite apart from his
official duties. His answer to the accusation was denial of its charges;
his reply to the insult was his resignation.

It may be questioned whether this was the wisest course, but wisdom is
often disconcerted by an indignity, and even a meek Christian may forget
to turn the other cheek after receiving the first blow until the natural
man has asserted himself by a retort in kind. But the wrong was
committed; his resignation was accepted; the vulgar letter, not fit to be
spread out on these pages, is enrolled in the records of the nation, and
the first deep wound was inflicted on the proud spirit of one whose
renown had shed lustre on the whole country.

That the burden of this wrong may rest where it belongs, I quote the
following statement from Mr. Jay's paper, already referred to.

"It is due to the memory of Mr. Seward to say, and there would seem
now no further motive for concealing the truth, that I was told in
Europe, on what I regarded as reliable authority, that there was
reason to believe that on the receipt of Mr. Motley's resignation
Mr. Seward had written to him declining to accept it, and that this
letter, by a telegraphic order of President Johnson, had been
arrested in the hands of a dispatch agent before its delivery to Mr.
Motley, and that the curt letter of the 18th of April had been
substituted in its stead."

The Hon. John Bigelow, late Minister to France, has published an article
in "The International Review" for July-August, 1878, in which he defends
his late friend Mr. Seward's action in this matter at the expense of the
President, Mr. Andrew Johnson, and not without inferences unfavorable to
the discretion of Mr. Motley. Many readers will think that the simple
record of Mr. Seward's unresisting acquiescence in the action of the
President is far from being to his advantage. I quote from his own
conversation as carefully reported by his friend Mr. Bigelow. "Mr.
Johnson was in a state of intense irritation, and more or less suspicious
of everybody about him."--"Instead of throwing the letter into the fire,"
the President handed it to him, the secretary, and suggested answering
it, and without a word, so far as appears, he simply answered,
"Certainly, sir." Again, the secretary having already written to Mr.
Motley that "his answer was satisfactory," the President, on reaching the
last paragraph of Mr. Motley's letter, in which he begged respectfully to
resign his post, "without waiting to learn what Mr. Seward had done or
proposed to do, exclaimed, with a not unnatural asperity, 'Well, let him
go,' and 'on hearing this,' said Mr. Seward, laughing, 'I did not read my
dispatch.'" Many persons will think that the counsel for the defence has
stated the plaintiff's case so strongly that there is nothing left for
him but to show his ingenuity and his friendship for the late secretary
in a hopeless argument. At any rate, Mr. Seward appears not to have made
the slightest effort to protect Mr. Motley against his coarse and jealous
chief at two critical moments, and though his own continuance in office
may have been more important to the State than that of the Vicar of Bray
was to the Church, he ought to have risked something, as it seems to me,
to shield such a patriot, such a gentleman, such a scholar, from ignoble
treatment; he ought to have been as ready to guard Mr. Motley from wrong
as Mr. Bigelow has shown himself to shield Mr. Seward from reproach, and
his task, if more delicate, was not more difficult. I am willing to
accept Mr. Bigelow's loyal and honorable defence of his friend's memory
as the best that could be said for Mr. Seward, but the best defence in
this case is little better than an impeachment. As for Mr. Johnson, he
had held the weapon of the most relentless of the 'Parcae' so long that
his suddenly clipping the thread of a foreign minister's tenure of office
in a fit of jealous anger is not at all surprising.

Thus finished Mr. Motley's long and successful diplomatic service at the
Court of Austria. He may have been judged hasty in resigning his place;
he may have committed himself in expressing his opinions too strongly
before strangers, whose true character as spies and eavesdroppers he was
too high-minded to suspect. But no caution could have protected him
against a slanderer who hated the place he came from, the company he
kept, the name he had made famous, to whom his very look and bearing--
such as belong to a gentleman of natural refinement and good breeding--
must have been a personal grievance and an unpardonable offence.

I will add, in illustration of what has been said, and as showing his
feeling with reference to the matter, an extract from a letter to me from
Vienna, dated the 12th of March, 1867.

. . . "As so many friends and so many strangers have said so much
that is gratifying to me in public and private on this very painful
subject, it would be like affectation, in writing to so old a friend
as you, not to touch upon it. I shall confine myself, however, to
one fact, which, so far as I know, may be new to you.

"Geo. W. M'Cracken is a man and a name utterly unknown to me.

"With the necessary qualification which every man who values truth
must make when asserting such a negation,--viz., to the very best of
my memory and belief,--I never set eyes on him nor heard of him
until now, in the whole course of my life. Not a member of my
family or of the legation has the faintest recollection of any such
person. I am quite convinced that he never saw me nor heard the
sound of my voice. That his letter was a tissue of vile calumnies,
shameless fabrications, and unblushing and contemptible falsehoods,
--by whomsoever uttered,--I have stated in a reply to what ought
never to have been an official letter. No man can regret more than
I do that such a correspondence is enrolled in the capital among
American state papers. I shall not trust myself to speak of the
matter. It has been a sufficiently public scandal."


1867-1868. AEt. 53-54.


In his letter to me of March 12, 1867, just cited, Mr. Motley writes:--

"My two concluding volumes of the United Netherlands are passing
rapidly through the press. Indeed, Volume III. is entirely printed
and a third of Volume IV.

"If I live ten years longer I shall have probably written the
natural sequel to the first two works,--viz., the Thirty Years' War.
After that I shall cease to scourge the public.

"I don't know whether my last two volumes are good or bad; I only
know that they are true--but that need n't make them amusing.

"Alas! one never knows when one becomes a bore."

In 1868 the two concluding volumes of the "History of the Netherlands"
were published at the same time in London and in New York. The events
described and the characters delineated in these two volumes had,
perhaps, less peculiar interest for English and American readers than
some of those which had lent attraction to the preceding ones. There was
no scene like the siege of Antwerp, no story like that of the Spanish
Armada. There were no names that sounded to our ears like those of Sir
Philip Sidney and Leicester and Amy Robsart. But the main course of his
narrative flowed on with the same breadth and depth of learning and the
same brilliancy of expression. The monumental work continued as nobly as
it had begun. The facts had been slowly, quietly gathered, one by one,
like pebbles from the empty channel of a brook. The style was fluent,
impetuous, abundant, impatient, as it were, at times, and leaping the
sober boundaries prescribed to it, like the torrent which rushes through
the same channel when the rains have filled it. Thus there was matter
for criticism in his use of language. He was not always careful in the
construction of his sentences. He introduced expressions now and then
into his vocabulary which reminded one of his earlier literary efforts.
He used stronger language at times than was necessary, coloring too
highly, shading too deeply in his pictorial delineations. To come to the
matter of his narrative, it must be granted that not every reader will
care to follow him through all the details of diplomatic intrigues which
he has with such industry and sagacity extricated from the old
manuscripts in which they had long lain hidden. But we turn a few pages
and we come to one of those descriptions which arrest us at once and show
him in his power and brilliancy as a literary artist. His characters
move before us with the features of life; we can see Elizabeth, or
Philip, or Maurice, not as a name connected with events, but as a
breathing and acting human being, to be loved or hated, admired or
despised, as if he or she were our contemporary. That all his judgments
would not be accepted as final we might easily anticipate; he could not
help writing more or less as a partisan, but he was a partisan on the
side of freedom in politics and religion, of human nature as against
every form of tyranny, secular or priestly, of noble manhood wherever he
saw it as against meanness and violence and imposture, whether clad in
the soldier's mail or the emperor's purple. His sternest critics, and
even these admiring ones, were yet to be found among those who with
fundamental beliefs at variance with his own followed him in his long
researches among the dusty annals of the past.

The work of the learned M. Groen van Prinsterer,--[Maurice et Barnevelt,
Etude Historique. Utrecht, 1875.]--devoted expressly to the revision and
correction of what the author considers the erroneous views of Mr. Motley
on certain important points, bears, notwithstanding, such sincere and
hearty tribute to his industry, his acquisitions, his brilliant qualities
as a historian, that some extracts from it will be read, I think, with

"My first interview, more than twenty years ago, with Mr. Lothrop
Motley, has left an indelible impression on my memory.

"It was the 8th of August, 1853. A note is handed me from our
eminent archivist Bakhuyzen van den Brink. It informs me that I am
to receive a visit from an American, who, having been struck by the
analogies between the United Provinces and the United States,
between Washington and the founder of our independence, has
interrupted his diplomatic career to write the life of William the
First; that he has already given proof of ardor and perseverance,
having worked in libraries and among collections of manuscripts,
and that he is coming to pursue his studies at the Hague.

"While I am surprised and delighted with this intelligence, I am
informed that Mr. Motley himself is waiting for my answer. My
eagerness to make the acquaintance of such an associate in my
sympathies and my labors may be well imagined. But how shall I
picture my surprise, in presently discovering that this unknown and
indefatigable fellow-worker has really read, I say read and reread,
our Quartos, our Folios, the enormous volumes of Bor, of van
Meteren, besides a multitude of books, of pamphlets, and even of
unedited documents. Already he is familiar with the events, the
changes of condition, the characteristic details of the life of his
and my hero. Not only is he acquainted with my Archives, but it
seems as if there was nothing in this voluminous collection of which
he was ignorant. . . .

"In sending me the last volume of his 'History of the Foundation of
the Republic of the Netherlands,' Mr. Motley wrote to me: 'Without
the help of the Archives I could never have undertaken the difficult
task I had set myself, and you will have seen at least from my
numerous citations that I have made a sincere and conscientious
study of them.' Certainly in reading such a testimonial I
congratulated myself on the excellent fruit of my labors, but the
gratitude expressed to me by Mr. Motley was sincerely reciprocated.
The Archives are a scientific collection, and my 'Manual of National
History,' written in Dutch, hardly gets beyond the limits of my own
country. And here is a stranger, become our compatriot in virtue of
the warmth of his sympathies, who has accomplished what was not in
my power. By the detail and the charm of his narrative, by the
matter and form of a work which the universality of the English
language and numerous translations were to render cosmopolitan, Mr.
Motley, like that other illustrious historian, Prescott, lost to
science by too early death, has popularized in both hemispheres the
sublime devotion of the Prince of Orange, the exceptional and
providential destinies of my country, and the benedictions of the
Eternal for all those who trust in Him and tremble only at his

The old Dutch scholar differs in many important points from Mr. Motley,
as might be expected from his creed and his life-long pursuits. This I
shall refer to in connection with Motley's last work, "John of
Barneveld." An historian among archivists and annalists reminds one of
Sir John Lubbock in the midst of his ant-hills. Undoubtedly he disturbs
the ants in their praiseworthy industry, much as his attentions may
flatter them. Unquestionably the ants (if their means of expressing
themselves were equal to their apparent intellectual ability) could teach
him many things that he has overlooked and correct him in many mistakes.
But the ants will labor ingloriously without an observer to chronicle
their doings, and the archivists and annalists will pile up facts forever
like so many articulates or mollusks or radiates, until the vertebrate
historian comes with his generalizing ideas, his beliefs, his prejudices,
his idiosyncrasies of all kinds, and brings the facts into a more or less
imperfect, but still organic series of relations. The history which is
not open to adverse criticism is worth little, except as material, for it
is written without taking cognizance of those higher facts about which
men must differ; of which Guizot writes as follows, as quoted in the work
of M. Groen van Prinsterer himself.

"It is with facts that our minds are exercised, it has nothing but
facts as its materials, and when it discovers general laws these
laws are themselves facts which it determines. . . . In the
study of facts the intelligence may allow itself to be crushed; it
may lower, narrow, materialize itself; it may come to believe that
there are no facts except those which strike us at the first glance,
which come close to us, which fall, as we say, under our senses; a
great and gross error; there are remote facts, immense, obscure,
sublime, very difficult to reach, to observe, to describe, and which
are not any less facts for these reasons, and which man is not less
obliged to study and to know; and if he fails to recognize them or
forgets them, his thought will be prodigiously abashed, and all his
ideas carry the stamp of this deterioration."

In that higher region of facts which belongs to the historian, whose
task it is to interpret as well as to transcribe, Mr. Motley showed, of
course, the political and religious school in which he had been brought
up. Every man has a right to his "personal equation" of prejudice, and
Mr. Motley, whose ardent temperament gave life to his writings, betrayed
his sympathies in the disputes of which he told the story, in a way to
insure sharp criticism from those of a different way of thinking. Thus
it is that in the work of M. Groen van Prinsterer, from which I have
quoted, he is considered as having been betrayed into error, while his
critic recognizes "his manifest desire to be scrupulously impartial and
truth-telling." And M. Fruin, another of his Dutch critics, says, "His
sincerity, his perspicacity, the accuracy of his laborious researches,
are incontestable."

Some of the criticisms of Dutch scholars will be considered in the pages
which deal with his last work, "The Life of John of Barneveld."


1868-1869. AEt. 54-55.


In June, 1868, Mr. Motley returned with his family to Boston, and
established himself in the house No. 2 Park Street. During his residence
here he entered a good deal into society, and entertained many visitors
in a most hospitable and agreeable way.

On the 20th of October, 1868, he delivered an address before the Parker
Fraternity, in the Music Hall, by special invitation. Its title was
"Four Questions for the People, at the Presidential Election." This was
of course what is commonly called an electioneering speech, but a speech
full of noble sentiments and eloquent expression. Here are two of its

"Certainly there have been bitterly contested elections in this
country before. Party spirit is always rife, and in such vivid,
excitable, disputatious communities as ours are, and I trust always
will be, it is the very soul of freedom. To those who reflect upon
the means and end of popular government, nothing seems more stupid
than in grand generalities to deprecate party spirit. Why,
government by parties and through party machinery is the only
possible method by which a free government can accomplish the
purpose of its existence. The old republics of the past may be said
to have fallen, not because of party spirit, but because there was
no adequate machinery by which party spirit could develop itself
with facility and regularity.

"And if our Republic be true to herself, the future of the human
race is assured by our example. No sweep of overwhelming armies, no
ponderous treatises on the rights of man, no hymns to liberty,
though set to martial music and resounding with the full diapason of
a million human throats, can exert so persuasive an influence as
does the spectacle of a great republic, occupying a quarter of the
civilized globe, and governed quietly and sagely by the people

A large portion of this address is devoted to the proposition that it is
just and reasonable to pay our debts rather than to repudiate them, and
that the nation is as much bound to be honest as is the individual. "It
is an awful thing," he says, "that this should be a question at all," but
it was one of the points on which the election turned, for all that.

In his advocacy of the candidate with whom, and the government of which
he became the head, his relations became afterwards so full of personal
antagonism, he spoke as a man of his ardent nature might be expected to
speak on such an occasion. No one doubts that his admiration of General
Grant's career was perfectly sincere, and no one at the present day can
deny that the great captain stood before the historian with such a record
as one familiar with the deeds of heroes and patriots might well consider
as entitling him to the honors too often grudged to the living to be
wasted on the dead. The speaker only gave voice to the widely prevailing
feelings which had led to his receiving the invitation to speak. The
time was one which called for outspoken utterance, and there was not a
listener whose heart did not warm as he heard the glowing words in which
the speaker recorded the noble achievements of the soldier who must in so
many ways have reminded him of his favorite character, William the

On the 16th of December of this same year, 1868, Mr. Motley delivered an
address before the New York Historical Society, on the occasion of the
sixty-fourth anniversary of its foundation. The president of the
society, Mr. Hamilton Fish, introduced the speaker as one "whose name
belongs to no single country, and to no single age. As a statesman and
diplomatist and patriot, he belongs to America; as a scholar, to the
world of letters; as a historian, all ages will claim him in the future."

His subject was "Historic Progress and American Democracy." The
discourse is, to use his own words, "a rapid sweep through the eons and
the centuries," illustrating the great truth of the development of the
race from its origin to the time in which we are living. It is a long
distance from the planetary fact of the obliquity of the equator, which
gave the earth its alternation of seasons, and rendered the history, if
not the existence of man and of civilization a possibility, to the
surrender of General Lee under the apple-tree at Appomattox Court-House.
No one but a scholar familiar with the course of history could have
marshalled such a procession of events into a connected and intelligible
sequence. It is indeed a flight rather than a march; the reader is borne
along as on the wings of a soaring poem, and sees the rising and decaying
empires of history beneath him as a bird of passage marks the succession
of cities and wilds and deserts as he keeps pace with the sun in his

Its eloquence, its patriotism, its crowded illustrations, drawn from
vast resources of knowledge, its epigrammatic axioms, its occasional
pleasantries, are all characteristic of the writer.

Mr. Gulian C. Verplanck, the venerable senior member of the society,
proposed the vote of thanks to Mr. Motley with words of warm

Mr. William Cullen Bryant rose and said:--

"I take great pleasure in seconding the resolution which has just
been read. The eminent historian of the Dutch Republic, who has
made the story of its earlier days as interesting as that of Athens
and Sparta, and who has infused into the narrative the generous glow
of his own genius, has the highest of titles to be heard with
respectful attention by the citizens of a community which, in its
origin, was an offshoot of that renowned republic. And cheerfully
has that title been recognized, as the vast audience assembled here
to-night, in spite of the storm, fully testifies; and well has our
illustrious friend spoken of the growth of civilization and of the
improvement in the condition of mankind, both in the Old World--the
institutions of which he has so lately observed--and in the country
which is proud to claim him as one of her children."

Soon after the election of General Grant, Mr. Motley received the
appointment of Minister to England. That the position was one which was
in many respects most agreeable to him cannot be doubted. Yet it was not
with unmingled feelings of satisfaction, not without misgivings which
warned him but too truly of the dangers about to encompass him, that he
accepted the place. He writes to me on April 16, 1869:--

"I feel anything but exultation at present,--rather the opposite
sensation. I feel that I am placed higher than I deserve, and at
the same time that I am taking greater responsibilities than ever
were assumed by me before. You will be indulgent to my mistakes and
shortcomings,--and who can expect to avoid them? But the world will
be cruel, and the times are threatening. I shall do my best,--but
the best may be poor enough,--and keep 'a heart for any fate.'"


1869-1870. AEt. 55-56.


The misgivings thus expressed to me in confidence, natural enough in one
who had already known what it is to fall on evil days and evil tongues,
were but too well justified by after events. I could have wished to
leave untold the story of the English mission, an episode in Motley's
life full of heart-burnings, and long to be regretted as a passage of
American history. But his living appeal to my indulgence comes to me
from his grave as a call for his defence, however little needed, at least
as a part of my tribute to his memory. It is little needed, because the
case is clear enough to all intelligent readers of our diplomatic
history, and because his cause has been amply sustained by others in many
ways better qualified than myself to do it justice. The task is painful,
for if a wrong was done him it must be laid at the doors of those whom
the nation has delighted to honor, and whose services no error of
judgment or feeling or conduct can ever induce us to forget. If he
confessed him, self-liable, like the rest of us, to mistakes and
shortcomings, we must remember that the great officers of the government
who decreed his downfall were not less the subjects of human infirmity.

The outline to be filled up is this: A new administration had just been
elected. The "Alabama Treaty," negotiated by Motley's predecessor, Mr.
Reverdy Johnson, had been rejected by the Senate. The minister was
recalled, and Motley, nominated without opposition and unanimously
confirmed by the Senate, was sent to England in his place. He was
welcomed most cordially on his arrival at Liverpool, and replied in a
similar strain of good feeling, expressing the same kindly sentiments
which may be found in his instructions. Soon after arriving in London
he had a conversation with Lord Clarendon, the British Foreign Secretary,
of which he sent a full report to his own government. While the reported
conversation was generally approved of in the government's dispatch
acknowledging it, it was hinted that some of its expressions were
stronger than were required by the instructions, and that one of its
points was not conveyed in precise conformity with the President's view.
The criticism was very gently worded, and the dispatch closed with a
somewhat guarded paragraph repeating the government's approbation.


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