Constitutional History of England HTML version

Although a Whig he was by no means concerned, like Macaulay, to
prove that the Whigs were never in the wrong, and, as he shrewdly
remarks, in his examination of the tenets of the two great parties in
the eighteenth century: "It is one thing to prefer the Whig principles,
another to justify, as an advocate, the party which bore that name."
No better illustration of his attitude of mind can be found than the
passage in which, treating of the outbreak of hostilities between
Charles I. and the Long Parliament, he sets himself to consider
"whether a thoroughly upright and enlightened man would rather
listed under the royal or the parliamentary standard." In these days
when, as the distinguished occupant of the chair of Modern History at
Cambridge tells us, "history has nothing to do with morality," Hallam's
grave anxiety to solve this problem may sound quaint and, indeed,
irrelevant; but there is no denying the high purpose, the sincerity, and
the passion for truth which characterise the passage in question. To-
day the historian's conception of truth is purely objective: his aim is to
discover what former generations thought rather than to concern
himself with what we should think of them. The late Lord Acton[1]
stood almost alone among the modern school of historians in insisting
that it is the duty of the historian to uphold "the authority of
conscience" and "that moral standard which the powers of earth and
religion itself tend constantly to depress." It is more fashionable to
contend that the moral standard is relative; that we cannot judge the
men of the past by the ethical rules of the present; that conscience
itself is the product of historical development. It may be questioned
whether this scepticism has not been carried too far. Hallam had no
such doubts. For him "the thoroughly upright and enlightened man" of
the seventeenth century was not intrinsically different from the
thoroughly upright and enlightened man of the nineteenth; the one
concession he makes to time is that the historian is probably in a
better, not a worse, position to judge than the men of whom he
writes—if only because he is more detached. He condemns the
obsequiousness of Cranmer, the bigotry of Laud, the tortuousness of
Charles I., the ambition of Strafford, with the same reprobation as he
would have extended to similar obliquities in a contemporary. Unless
we are to exclude conduct altogether from our consideration and to
deny the personal factor in history, we shall find it hard to say he is