The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

II. Historians, Biographers and Political Orators

§ 29. Earl Stanhope

Philip Henry, fifth earl Stanhope, during his membership of the house of commons as viscount Mahon, rendered good service to the literary profession in general by his introduction of the bill which became the Copyright act of 1842, and to historical studies and interests by his initiation of the National Portrait gallery (1856) and of the Historical MSS. commission (1869), on which he was one of the first commissioners. His own contributions to historical literature were of a solid and enduring nature; he laid no claim to a place among great writers; but students of the national history, from the war of the Spanish succession to the great Napoleonic war, owe him a real debt. His industry was great; his judgment excellent if not infallible; and his candour unimpeachable. His narrative, if it does not enchain, commends itself by moderation and dignity of tone. He enjoyed rare opportunities, of which his readers had the full benefit, of access to unpublished sources; and although, as his Miscellanies attest, full of curiosity as to points of detail, he never lost himself in minutiae, or let slip the main threads of his narrative. His earliest work was The History of the War of the Succession in Spain, 1702–14 (1832), founded mainly on the papers of his ancestor, the highminded statesman who played an important part in the war—a well-written book of much interest, which created a considerable impression, with the aid of an essay by Macaulay, between whom and lord Mahon a long-continued friendship ensued. It was followed by The History of England from the Peace of Utrecht to the Peace of Versailles, 1713 to 1783, which remained the standard history of England for this period, though, more or less, it left aside certain aspects of the national life and progress afterwards treated by Lecky, and cannot be said to furnish a definite narrative of momentous episodes such as the American war of independence. In 1870, earl Stanhope added a beginning or introduction to his History, entitled The reign of Queen Anne up to the Peace of Utrecht. Though it served its turn, it could not but seem a meagre performance to readers whose favorites, both in historical composition and in fiction, had, with brilliant success, illustrated this particular era of English political, literary and social history. Before this, in 1861–2, Stanhope had produced a much superior work, in which the unpublished material at his command had once more stood him in excellent stead, the Life of the Younger Pitt, a biography to which he addressed himself with thorough sympathy and which will not easily be altogether superseded. Stanhope’s lesser contributions to English historical literature are numerous and valuable, and the whole harvest of his life reflects high credit on his name. His principal work is, in a measure, supplemented by William Nathaniel Massey’s History of England during the reign of George III, which reaches to 1802. It is the work of a moderate liberal, who had no sympathy to spare for the political ideas of King George III.