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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

VII. Historical and Political Writers

§ 19. Memoirs of James II

A composite character, midway between history and memoirs, belongs to the Memoirs of James II writ of his own hand, in so far as they admit of separation from the editorial matter in which they are embedded. Of the original material the substantial portion, saved by king James at the time of his catastrophe, is said, after undergoing a long series of strange adventures, to have been ultimately committed to the flames at St. Omer, in the days of the great French revolution. A biographical work based on them was however put together in the days and with the sanction of the Old Pretender, and elaborated for publication by order of the Prince Regent (afterwards king George IV). To this Life of James II the great historian Ranke’s masterhand applied the process of analysis; but the particular conclusions reached by him cannot be summarised here. Suffice it to say that while a French translation of part I (to 1660), approved by the royal author, had been incorporated into Ramsay’s Vie de Turenne (2 vols., Paris, 1735), parts II, to 1685, and III, to 1688 (the latter in a sense supplementary to Burnet, who was out of England during the reign of James), were compiled from the king’s original memoranda, though only revised by him so far as 1678. Part IV contains passages from his memoranda, more especially with regard to the war in Ireland. James II was a prince whose own notions concerning his life and actions deserve study. Except in part I, his devotion to the church of his adoption may be said to colour the whole narrative and to absorb all political principles and moral convictions he brings into play; an example of this may be found in his judgment of Clarendon, to whose religious policy he attributes a large share in his later troubles. The Memoirs, with the same restriction, can hardly at any time have amounted to a connected narrative, or have risen to the level of a history intended to serve the cause of objective truth.