Home  »  Volume X: English THE AGE OF JOHNSON  »  § 15. Leland’s History of Ireland; Orme’s Military Transactions in Indostan; William Russell’s Modern Europe

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

XII. Historians

§ 15. Leland’s History of Ireland; Orme’s Military Transactions in Indostan; William Russell’s Modern Europe

Ireland found its historian at home. Thomas Leland, senior fellow of Trinity college, Dublin, wrote a History of Ireland from the Invasion of Henry II, ending with the treaty of Limerick (1691), which was published in 1773 in three volumes. Though he consulted some original authorities, he founds his work, after losing the guidance of Giraldus, mainly on those of Ware, Camden, Stanihurst, Cox and Carte, noting his authorities in his margins though without precise references. He writes in a lucid, straightforward, but inanimate style, and, though some of his statements and comments are capable of correction by modern scholars, his narrative, as a whole, is accurate, sober and impartial. The History of the Military Transactions of the British Nation in Indostan, from 1745 to 1761, by Robert Orme, published in two volumes (the second in two “sections”) in 1763–78, is a contemporary memoir, for Orme was in India in the company’s service during practically the whole time of which he wrote. It is a record of noble deeds written with picturesque details, and in dignified and natural language appropriate to its subject. Its accuracy in all important matters is unquestionable. It is too full of minor events which, however interesting in themselves, bewilder a reader not thoroughly acquainted with the history. Nor does it lay sufficient stress on events of the first magnitude. To this defect, all contemporary memoirs are, relatively, liable, and, in Orme’s case, it is heightened by his excessive minuteness. It has been observed that he errs in treating the native princes rather than the French “as principals in the story.” This, which would be a fault in a later history, is interesting in Orme’s book, as it shows the aspect under which affairs appeared to a competent observer on the spot. William Russell’s History of Modern Europe, from the time of Clovis to 1763, in five volumes (1779–86), is creditable to its author, who began life as an apprentice to a bookseller and printer, and became “reader” for William Strahan, the publisher of the works of Gibbon, Hume, Robertson and other historians. Its sole interest consists in Russell’s idea that Europe, as a whole, has a history which should be written by pursuing what he calls “a great line.” He was not the man to write it: his book is badly constructed; far too large a space is given to English history; there are strange omissions in his narrative and several blunders.

Together with the development of historical writing, this period saw a remarkable increase in the publication of materials for it in the form of state papers and correspondence. The share taken by Lord Hailes and Sir John Dalrymple in this movement is noticed above. A third volume of Carte’s Ormond, published in 1735, the year before the publication of the two containing the duke’s Life, consists of a mass of original letters to which he refers in the Life. A portion of the State Papers of the Earl of Clarendon was published in three volumes by the university of Oxford in 1767. The publication of the Thurloe Papers by Thomas Birch has already been noted in his work. Birch, rector of St. Margaret Pattens, London, and Depden, Suffolk, did much historical work, scenting out manuscript authorities with the eagerness of “a young setting dog.” His more important productions are An Inquiry into the Share which Charles I had in the Transactions of the Earl of Glamorgan (1747), in answer to Carte’s contention in his Ormond that the commission to the earl was not genuine; Negotiations between the Courts of England, France, and Brussels, 1592–1617 (1749); Memoirs of the Reign of Elizabeth from 1581 (1754), mainly extracts from the papers of Anthony Bacon at Lambeth; and Lives of Henry, prince of Wales and archbishop Tillotson. At the time of his death (1766), he was preparing for press miscellaneous correspondence of the times of James I and Charles I. This interesting collection presenting the news of the day has been published in four volumes, two for each reign, under the title Court and Times etc. (1848). Birch, though a lively talker was a dull writer; but his work is valuable. He was a friend of the family of lord chancellor Hardwicke, who presented to him seven benefices.

The second earl of Hardwicke shared Birch’s historical taste, and, in 1778, published anonymously Miscellaneous State Papers, from 1501 to 1726, in two volumes, a collection of importance compiled from the manuscripts of lord chancellor Somers. In 1774, Joseph Maccormick, a St. Andrews minister, published the State Papers and Letters left by his great-uncle William Carstares, private secretary to William III, material invaluable for Scottish history in his reign, and prefixed a life of Carstares. The manuscripts left by Carte were used by James Macpherson, of Ossianic fame, in his Original Papers, from 1660 to 1714, in two volumes (1775). In the first part are extracts from papers purporting to belong to a life of James II written by himself, Carte’s extracts being supplemented by Macpherson from papers in the Scottish college in Paris. The second part contains Hanover papers, mostly extracts from the papers of Robethon, private secretary to George II, now in the British Museum; the copies are accurate, but some of the translations are careless. Also, in 1775, he produced a History of Great Britain during the same period, in two volumes, which is based on the papers, and is strongly tory in character. For this, he received £3000. His style is marked by a constant recurrence of short and somewhat abrupt sentences. Both his History and his Papers annoyed the whigs, especially by exhibiting the intrigues of leading statesmen of the revolution with the court of St. Germain. His Introduction to the History of Great Britain and Ireland (1771) contains boldly asserted and wildly erroneous theories, particularly on ethnology, inspired by a spirit of excessive Celticism.