The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

XIV. Historians

§ 7. Freeman

Although, as will be shown in a subsequent chapter, many English scholars and antiquaries have, by their researches and criticisms, rendered great services to the study of ancient history and strengthened its foundations while widening and diversifying its scope, the historians who have more particularly devoted themselves to this field of labour have not been numerous. This may partly be due to a narrowing of the field, by fencing off the prehistoric section, and leaving it mainly, though not exclusively, in the first instance, to the archaeologist; partly, it is accounted for by the preponderating attention given, in the second and third quarters of the century, to medieval historical research and investigation, largely because of the popularity of the romanticists in our literature. By the side of the names already mentioned, that of Edward Augustus Freeman would have been more conspicuous than it is had not—primarily through his love of architecture—these medieval influences long sought to claim him as their own. His work as a historian will thus, as a whole, be more appropriately estimated in a later volume. But, in the first and only published volume of his History of Federal Government (1861), written when he was at the very height of his productivity, and intended as but the first instalment of a work comprising, also, the history of federalism in medieval and modern times (inclusive of the Swiss and German leagues, the United Provinces of the Netherlands and the United States of America), he produced a memorable work on a notable subject of ancient history. He was careful to insist on his proper theme being, not the history or even the military history, of a period, but the history of an idea in its actual development. In the same spirit, he abstained from identifying himself, like other historians, great or not, of Greece, with party or faction; with the result that few, if any, of his books are so instructive as this, the beginning of what might have proved one of the most important of constitutional histories. Among Freeman’s Historical Essays, those of the second series (published in 1873), devoted to ancient history, have a freshness and, so to speak, an ease of manner which mark them out among his contributions to periodicals. Finally, his History of Sicily (1891–4), almost uniquely fitted as the theme was for illustrating his favourite dogma of the unity of history, offered him an opportunity of returning to his Greek studies. He carried on the work, though not completely, to the death of Agathocles (300 B.C.), and the fourth volume was piously edited by his son-in-law (Sir) Arthur Evans. From this point, it was to have proceeded to the Roman, and thence to the Norman, conquest of Sicily, so that Roger was to take his place by the side of Gelon. This fragment in four volumes, owing not a little to the stimulating influence of personal observation, is one of the most enjoyable of Freeman’s books, and will survive by the side of works which have treated the subject of ancient Sicily with greater completeness and with more marked attention to its singularly attractive literary side.