Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

affected by evidence, that it would be idle to look for a cessation of the Marian controversy as the result of any discussion; and we do not suppose that the end has been brought much nearer by the unanswerable arguments of our author. On the great question of Mary's complicity in the murder of Darnley. bis judgment is clear and positive as to her guilt; and, on other contested points, his opinions are stated with equal clearness and force. At the same time he is never a partisan; and throughout he exhibits an unfeigned sympathy with Mary in her distresses. For Elizabeth he has a far less friendly feeling, and her character is portrayed in very unattractive colors; but his estimate of her differs widely from the portrait which has been commonly drawn by her enemies. Feebleness of will, irresolution, and a habit of procrastination, have not ordinarily been associated with the name of England's imperi. ous queen. That the case of her cousin and rival presented immense difficulties to her mind, will be admitted; but it is certain that her liesitation to take the final step was the result of the peculiar circumstances in which she was placed, rather than the characteristic expression of her policy. If she inherited her father's arbitrary temper, she inherited also his inflexibility of purpose; and her occasional reluctance to act with energy and promptitude sprang from a very different source from that which is obvious in the case of Philip II. Mignet's character of Elizabeth is only one more illustration of the danger of too wide and hasty generalization. But, in respect to thoroughness of research, clearness of statement, and impartiality of tone, the volumes will compare favorably with the best of his writings; while, as regards style, they are little, if at all, inferior to the volume on Antonio Perez, and are much better than any of his later productions.

The “ Histoire de Marie Stuart” was followed, in 1854, by a monogram on the last years of the Emperor Charles V., mainly founded on the important documents recently obtained from the archives of Simancas. The discovery of these new materials had set the life of Charles at Yuste in a new light, and had made it necessary to re-write that chapter of his eventful experience. Robertson had been ignorant of the real facts, and had said little on the subject; but that little was altogether wrong. Among the writers who came forward to supply Robertson's omissions and to correct his mistakes, Mignet was not the least able or the least successful in his treatment of the subject. Writing after all of his competitors, we believe, except our own distinguished countryman, Prescott, he had access to the materials which they had gathered ; and, with his accustomed skill as an artist, he has woven them into a narrative of surpassing interest. In regard to the motives which induced the abdication of Charles, and in regard to the manner of his life at Yuste, Mignet differs but little from the other writers, though he dwells mainly on the retired monarch's participation in the management of public affairs, and utterly rejects the Jeronymite monk's story, that Charles celebrated his own funeral rites. His remarks on this point, in particular, are admirably put; and, if they are not absolutely conclusive, they at least throw great doubt on the story.

Beside these four principal works, and a very interesting and instructive series of papers on the rivalry between Charles V. and Francis I., which have appeared at irregular intervals within the last ten or twelve years in the pages of the “Revue des Deux Mondes,” Mignet has published four volumes of collected miscellanies. The first and most elaborate of these, the “Mémoires Historiques," comprises four independent essays, three of which are of great value, and are in every respect worthy of the writer's powers. The first paper in the collection is a thorough and scholarly essay on the condition of Germany in the eighth and ninth centuries, its conversion to Christianity, and its introduction into the civilized society of Western Europe. The various learning, the comprehensiveness of view, and the fondness for broad generalization, which Mignet brought to the examination of his subject, and the admirable manner in which he has dealt with it, render this memoir one of the best of his minor productions, and a solid and useful contribution to historical literature. The character of the men by whom the conversion of the northern nations was effected, the circumstances which favored or hindered their work, and the various events by which its progress was marked, are all brought into clear view, and exhibited in their just relations. The next essay, on the territorial and political formation of France, from the end of the eleventh century to the end of the fifteenth, is even more worthy of praise, and will lose nothing by comparison with the best pages of Thierry's 6 Lettres sur l'Histoire de France." Like the first and third papers in the Folume, it was originally read before the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques; and its design was to trace the history of the transformation of France from a feudal state to a monarchy, to indicate the various phases which society assumed during this transitional period of four centuries, and to exhibit. in one view the results which had been attained at the end of the fifteenth century. The chief causes of this immense revolution Mignet finds in the creation of an urban class, the establishment of a standing army, the centralization of justice, the introduction of a financial system which brought all parts of the country into direct relation with the sovereign, the extinction of the provincial dynasties which had issued from Hugh Capet, and the subjection of the clergy to the crown; and nowhere else is the gradual but sure operation of these causes exhibited with greater clearness and precision, or illustrated with a wider learning. The third memoir is on the establishment of Calvinism in Geneva. It comprises some good character-painting, as in the portraits of Farel, Calvin, and Servetus, and there are some graphic descriptions of the popular disturbances in Geneva; but, on the whole, the treatment is less vigorous and satisfactory than the reader would be justified in anticipating from an acquaintance with any other of Mignet's works. The last paper in the volume is the excellent introduction to the “ History of the War of the Spanish Succession,” to which reference has already been made.

The first three papers in the “ Notices et Portraits” consist of the discourse pronounced by Mignet on his admission to the French Academy, and his replies to M. Flourens and Baron Pasquier, when they were also admitted to the same distinction. Neither of these addresses has any special importance; and they do not rise above the usual level of academic discourses. Following them are sixteen biographical and critical sketches, read before the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques, from 1836 to 1852. Among the emi. nent men whose lives and works are thus passed in review are Sieyès, our countryman Edward Livingston, Talleyrand, the physiologist Broussais, Destutt de Tracy, Daunou, Sismondi, Charles Comte, Cabanis, Rossi, and Droz. If none of these notices is of a character to add to Mignet's reputation, - and some, like that of Talleyrand, which is the longest, are quite unworthy of both the author and his subject, — they all exhibit familiarity with the lives and characters of the men described, and all contain passages of appreciative criticism. Mignet is a man of far too great learning and ability not to make his remarks on his contemporaries worthy of attentive consideration ; but he needed a broader field for the best. exercise of his powers, which are better adapted to historical composition than to biography. The last article in the collection is a “ Life of Franklin," written in 1848, at the request of the French Academy, to counteract the dangerous tendency of the socialist theories then prevalent. This practical aim gives a special character and coloring to the memoir, which is composed in a style of great simplicity and directness, and with a constant reference to the lessons of homely wisdom to be drawn from the life and writings of Franklin. For this purpose, nothing could be better than Mignets sketch; and, as an exposition of Franklin's opinions and an account of his public and private life, the memoir is worthy of high praise.

The last volume on our list contains eight notices read before the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques, subsequently to the publication of the “Notices et Portraits," and brings the series down to 1863. The subjects of these later discourses are Jouffroy, De Gerando, Laromiguière, Lakanal, Schelling, Comte Portalis, Hallam, and Lord Macaulay. Of these the last is much the best; and it is certainly the most genial and appreciative paper of its class which Mignet has ever written. The sketches of De Gerando, Por

talis, and Hallam are also worthy of special notice; and altogether the volume must be pronounced superior to either of the volumes of the “ Notices et Portraits,” except perhaps in regard to style. Here there is no improvement, if there is not indeed a steady decline in ease and flexibility. The interminable sentences of his latest writings are but a poor substitute for the sharp, crisp periods of the “Histoire de la Révolution." That Mignet's style should not have improved with practice, is one of the most curious and striking facts in his literary career; but no one who is familiar with his works can fail to notice the fact.

In this rapid survey of Mignet's various works, it is impossible not to be impressed by the good judgment uniformly shown in his choice of a subject. There is not one of his subjects, except in the case of his official discourses before the Academy, which does not possess an intrinsic and enduring interest; and there is not one which he has not treated in a manner to justify his selection of it. In each instance he bad something new and instructive to communicate; and each of his works, except the “ History of the French Revolution," is mainly founded on inedited documents, or on documents of which little use had been previously made. Though three of them were first printed in a fragmentary form, they have now a unity and compactness which show how carefully he bad meditated on his theme, and how thoroughly he had digested his materials before he began to write. The interest and importance of the events to which his several works relate, and the freshness of his materials, have doubt. less contributed to Mignet's success as an historian: but they do not constitute the solid basis of a lasting reputation; and all of his works, as we have seen, exhibit qualities of a high order.

As an historian, he has not only been fortunate in his choice of subjects, but he has also been diligent and successful in research. He has shown, at all times, consummate skill in the arrangement and distribution of his materials, and great candor and fairness of statement. With strong convictions aud but few prejudices, he has never lapsed into the partisan ;

« ElőzőTovább »