The genius of humanity is the right point of view of history. The qualities abide; the men who exhibit them have now more, now less, and pass away; the qualities remain on another brow.
In order to understand the romantic historians' heroes, their solid embodiments in living flesh and blood, one must begin with what the heroes embodied: with what Motley called "this abstraction," the People. From the rhetoric in which the historians discussed the more "natural" peoples, one can see that all four--the Whig-Republicans and the lone Democrat--agreed on the vitality of the middle class, on defining progress as movement toward popular liberty. Their belief in the causative power of principles led them to emphasize the force of national character in progressive advances. "In Netherland story," Motley wrote, "the people is ever the true hero"; and when he continued his history beyond the death of William the Silent he boasted of "the hero-people and the people-King."1 Bancroft's Americans, Parkman's Englishmen and Yankees, and Prescott's Spaniards were similarly influential and sometimes equally exalted. In contemporary politics, too, whether he demanded as Bancroft did that the People be allowed to defend their government against predatory businessmen, or whether he denied with Motley and Daniel Webster that there were in America any classes at all, each of the historians expressed serious interest in the character of the People, because he considered it the key to the nation's future. Progress depended on "the genius of the People."2
But even in the work of Bancroft, the most aggressively "popular" of the historians, the
common people--though always present, though second in creative power only to Providence--remained, like Providence, in the background. They were a perceptible force only in crises. In
crises, too, they acted, more often than not, through their agent: the great man. The People were
always present; the great man stepped forward only in moments
Each of the four historians presented at least one hero who perfectly represented his people. Even in a representative government such as that of England, the Netherlands, or the United States during the Revolution, it was natural that in times of great stress "the spirit of the people far outran conventions and congresses." Newly aware, at such moments, of some general truth--"the controlling principle of the age"--the People asserted it through the one man who was their direct representative. At the moment of decision for the Netherlands, William of Orange took the lead, and "the whole nation thought with his thoughts, and spoke with his words." The ideal of virtue, courage, and good sense, Bancroft's Washington sometimes knew better than the People themselves what was good for them. Motley's William "never followed the nation, but always led her in the path of duty and honor"; Washington was "a ruler over the willing." The most important fact about the authority of Prescott's Queen Isabella was that it derived from "the hearts" of the People. The ideal relationship stands forth most clearly in Parkman's evaluation of William Pitt, whom the British people elevated despite his lack of "strong connections" or wealth:
The middle class, as yet almost voiceless, looked to him as its champion; but he was not the champion of a class. His patriotism was as comprehensive as it was haughty and unbending. He lived for England, loved her with intense devotion, knew her, believed in her, and made her greatness his own; or rather, he was himself England incarnate.6
The ideally representative man, then, was the incarnation of the People. He represented
national ideals. He acted in the name of the People, and they acted through him. The relationship
was emotional, often almost mystical. However lofty the leader was, he loved the People. When he
The representative man was both a historical phenomenon and a literary device. For an age that glorified individualism, for historians who emphasized individual moral responsibility and to whom self-reliance was a moral duty, the historical character had to be influential. Happily, the historical subject often justifies the representative man's importance in the histories; it is not inaccurate to focus attention on La Salle in a history of the discovery of the Great West, on Washington in the American Revolution, on William the Silent in his great conflict or on Cortés in his. Motley frankly admitted the literary value of the device at the same time that he emphasized its historical validity. He regretted that in his United Netherlands he had no hero, no William, "to impersonate the great struggle with Spain and Rome, and to concentrate upon his own head a poetical, dramatic, and most legitimate interest."8
But the representative man represented more than his nation. In the struggle against antiprogress he represented the progressive principle; and when he was the true hero he stood for great moral principles, represented ideal virtues. Appearing "on the brows" of many characters in the romantic histories, the virtues did, as Emerson said, abide in men from different centuries, and on different continents.
The representative hero's first characteristic was naturalness. Bancroft and Parkman, writing about their wild native country, were able to display a kind of correspondence between the scene of the hero's activities and his natural character. The knowledge of Nature, and early training in Nature, were assets hoarded by the historian and entered in heavy black ink at proper places on the ledger of history. Bancroft, as a transcendentalist who believed that the idea of right arises "from the depths of man's consciousness," that evil comes from without, was the most explicit in recording the influence of nature on his heroes.9
Although not a major hero in Bancroft's History, Daniel Boone has an
[Boone was] the cheerful, meditative man, careless of wealth, knowing the use of the rifle, not the plough, of a strong, robust frame, in the vigorous health of early manhood, ignorant of books, but versed in the forest and forest life, ever fond of tracking the deer on foot, away from men, yet in his disposition humane, generous, and gentle. . . . Nature was his intimate, and as the roving woodsman leaned confidingly on her bosom, she responded to his intelligence. . . . Triumphing over danger, he knew no fear. . . . He loved the solitude better than the towered city or the hum of business.10
Bancroft ignored Boone's connection with the intrigues of Richard Henderson; it was Boone's proficiency in woodcraft that had "led him to love solitude and habitually to hover on the frontier with no abiding place." The roving woodsman, the intimate of Nature, could have no material motive for emigrating to Missouri. What is important here, however, is not the idealization of American motives, but the portrait of a man who possessed "every natural virtue," who "never wronged a human being, not even an Indian, nor, indeed, animal life of any kind."11
A perfect type for the common man, and in this sense ideally representative, Boone had neither enough education nor enough historical importance to be a hero. Thus, the same kind of conventional limitation that Henry Nash Smith has explained in his discussion of the woodsman in American fiction restricted the woodsman in Bancroft's history and in Parkman's. But the type was important in the history and mythology of the country, and the counterpart of Parkman's natural guide, Henri Châtillot, appears in the histories of both.12
Parkman's woodsman is no Natty Bumppo, no Filsonian Boone. From his own experience,
Parkman wrote of the frontiersman as "a distinct, peculiar class, marked with striking contrasts of
good and evil." Admitting that "many, though by no means all, were coarse, audacious, and
unscrupulous," Parkman nevertheless stressed their "warlike virtues, an iron endurance, an
undespairing courage, a wondrous sagacity, and singular fertility of resource." "The nursling of
civilization," he said, ". . . is helpless as an infant" in the woods. But "Not so the woodsman. To
him, the forest is a home." Often, like Natty Bumppo, he outlearned his Indian tutor. His
representative in Parkman's histories is Major Robert Rogers, who appears as the natural man--"a
strong, well-knit figure, in dress and appearance more woodsman than soldier, with a clear, bold
eye, and features that would
Just as the tutored white man excels the Indian despite the Indian's slight advantage in sensory perception, so the cultivated hero who has been trained in the wilderness is superior to the mere woodsman. Here again the historians respect the hierarchy described in conventional fiction. In George Washington, who appears in Parkman's history of the Seven Years' War and dominates Bancroft's history of the Revolution, one can see the natural virtues, and the lessons of the wilderness at work in the genuine hero. "At sixteen," Bancroft wrote, Washington "went into the wilderness as a surveyor, and for three years continued the pursuit, where the forests trained him, in meditative solitude, to freedom and largeness of mind; and nature revealed to him her obedience to serene and silent laws." From Nature and from the immortal spirit infused in him, Washington acquired "a divine and animating virtue." He was modest, pious, and so humane that in 1753 he refused to let his men kill an Indian who had tried to murder him. Parkman, too, believed that Washington's fine mastery of his "proud and passionate" nature resulted from his early natural training on the frontier. His vain effort to control a pack of unruly soldiers suffering from hit-and-run attacks over a 300-mile frontier was perfect training for his later duties.14
Although Motley and Prescott had less opportunity to emphasize the natural schooling of their heroes, Europe, too, had its wild natural scenes. However unlikely a royal hero might be to live the life of a frontiersman, each of the historians seized on the natural training when he could, and treated it in the manner of Cooper, Scott, Bancroft, and Parkman. At the beginning and the end of Ferdinand and Isabella, Prescott insisted that Isabella had spent her early years under the tutelage of a careful mother, far from the corrupt influences of the Castilian court:
far from the voice of flattery and falsehood, she had been permitted to unfold the natural graces of mind and person, which might have been blighted in the pestilent atmosphere of a court. Here, under the maternal eye, she was carefully instructed in those lessons of practical piety, and in the deep reverence for religion, which distinguished her maturer years.
Once she was brought to court, to "this abode of pleasure," although "surrounded by all the
seductions most dazzling to youth, she did not forget
Motley uses the same technique in describing the virtues of Henry of Navarre. When Henry is a progressive soldier, he appears on Motley's pages as manly and natural; when he fights on the wrong side, he is corrupt. Henry's "sensible grandfather" ordered "the boy taught to run about bare-headed and bare-footed, like a peasant, among the mountains and rocks of Béarn, till he became as rugged as a young bear, and as nimble as a kid. Black bread, and beef, and garlic, were his simple fare; and he was taught by his mother and his grandfather to hate lies and liars, and to read the Bible." This natural morality causes some confusion in Motley's treatment of Henry, as it does in his moral judgments of William the Silent. He condemns Henry for forgetting the simple virtues of his education and keeping a harem at Pau; soon afterward, however, when describing Henry's refusal of a bribe offered by Philip II, he writes proudly: "But Henry--no longer the unsophisticated youth who had been used to run barefoot among the cliffs of Coarasse--was grown too crafty a politician to be entangled by Spanish or Medicean wiles." Still natural enough to remember "some of his old love of truth, of his hatred for liars," Henry is at this point just sophisticated enough to be too shrewd for Philip II.16
The character whose unfortunate youth had not included the joys of running barefoot through Nature or of tracking the deer on foot was, of course, none the less natural for his misfortune. The epithet "natural" denoted a wide range of virtuous traits in the romantic histories. First among these was simplicity. In the judgment of individuals as well as of nations, the simpler was usually the better. The self-denying man, straightforward and, however conscious of his own ability, unencumbered by ostentation--this man was the ideal. William the Silent may have been a prince, and a rich, pleasure-loving one, but Motley makes much of his modest dress when he can, and of his "simple and sublime expression." Isabella's simple, austere frugality in matters of dress wins Prescott's special attention. And all four historians praise military leaders for their willingness to share the hardships which their men must suffer.'17 The true hero could not be so simple as Daniel Boone or Bancroft's Connecticut farmers. But, as in Cooper's novels, he had to retain a relative simplicity which, despite his occasional ability to confound practitioners of "Medicean" or "Machiavellian" deceit, could be contrasted with the corrupt artificiality of his enemies.
By far the most important natural quality, however, was a moderate
Besides fair hair and blue eyes (features unusual to the Spanish type), Isabella has a warm heart. Her shy nature recoils conventionally from the idea of marrying the corrupt old master of Calatrava, to whom she has been betrothed; to describe her behavior in this predicament, Prescott relies heavily on "tradition"--and on tradition appropriate to the conventions of contemporary fiction. With perfect propriety, Isabella fasts in order to win God's help in preventing the marriage; her "faithful friend" Beatriz is ready, meanwhile, to use other means: impulsively taking a dagger "from her bosom," she "vowed to plunge it into the heart of the master of Calatrava, as soon as he appeared!" After the master, with equal respect for convention, dies "with imprecations on his lips," Isabella is in due time betrothed to Ferdinand. Prescott gives the prudent, political reasons for this choice, but he is careful to add, too, that Isabella "was not insensible to those [arguments] which most powerfully affect the female heart.''18
In her royal decisions, moreover, Isabella often consulted her own heart rather than the heads of the wise. Her response to Columbus' plea for sponsorship was dictated, Prescott says, by the "natural impulses of her own noble and generous heart," after she had refused "to hearken any longer to the suggestions of cold and timid counsellors.''19 Even her mistakes, Prescott serenely implies--with a circular logic that infuriated Theodore Parker--even the few stains on her administrative record resulted directly from her virtues. Her piety and natural humility led her to trust her "ghostly advisers" in religious matters, when her own "natural kindness of heart" would have dictated different policies. In the ominous position of the innocent young girl's confessor, the insidious Torquemada gained an influence that persuaded her, in her maturity, to establish the modern Inquisition. Her pious, humble heart trusted this priest, and he abused the trust by making her vow that she would extirpate heresy. In this description Prescott takes advantage of the conventional romantic device, used in Rob Roy and Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance, of having a shrewd or fanatical counsellor try to poison an innocent girl's mind and soul. What saved Isabella, although she could not escape all the consequences of such subtle misuse of a sacred trust, was "her sound understanding and natural kindness of heart."20
Having established that natural kindness as a fact--by assertion and a few examples of kindness, but mostly by painting Isabella as the conventional fair heroine--Prescott uses it to demonstrate the subtle intellectual power of her advisers. The fact that they could convince her to cheat the Moors of their property (a decision which "was obviously most repugnant to Isabella's natural disposition") proves, Prescott says, that before the Reformation the clergy had an overpowering influence on even the best minds. He offers no evidence that Isabella made this decision on the advice of others; in view of her "natural kindness," no evidence is necessary.21 However "indelible" the "stain" left "on her memory" by this decision, he tries to scrub some of it off by reminding the reader of her "unfeigned humility," of her "natural distrust of herself" in religious matters, and of her refusal to accept the advice of those who urged her to till all the Moors. Within a few pages Isabella is pawning the crown jewels and her own jewels for patriotic reasons, and then appearing "as some celestial visitant" among her troops, "to inspire them with her own energy" before a battle.22
Having endured successes and trials through a long reign, Isabella's "tender heart," grieving over the madness and the suffering of her daughter Joanna, leads her eventually to her deathbed. And to that deathbed she carries all her virtues, including a natural propriety so delicate that she will not allow her feet to be exposed even while she is receiving the last rites of the Church. The virtues that Prescott summarizes in his long obituary include temperance, simplicity, sedateness, magnanimity, a hatred of artifice and duplicity, unfeigned humility, and tenderness and benevolence of "heart."23
The conventionality of Prescott's fair Isabella serves a further purpose than the depiction of a
virtuous woman. It epitomizes the representative. Not only was the rhetoric of Prescott's portrait
familiar to the novel reader, but the qualities highlighted by that rhetoric explained her hold on her
people; Prescott demonstrated that both the rhetoric and the qualities were peculiarly appropriate to
the representative of Spain. Describing her appearance in the field when she encouraged her armies,
he declared that "the attachment to Isabella seemed to be a pervading principle, which animated the
whole nation by one common impulse, impressing a unity of design on all its movements."24 "Pervading principle," one should remember, is the very phrase
that Prescott used when arguing that the historian ought to keep a moral theme before his reader.
Isabella's character is the pervading principle of his three-volume work, and Prescott makes it clear
that "attachment" to her was a pervading principle because it revealed the character
was imputable to her sex as well as her character. The sympathy, and tender care, with which she regarded her people, naturally raised a reciprocal sentiment in their bosoms. . . . The chivalrous heart of the Spaniard did homage to her, as to his tutelar saint; and she held a control over her people, such as no man could have acquired in any age,--and probably no woman, in an age and country less romantic.25
Two extended contrasts--with Ferdinand and with Elizabeth--accent the importance of Isabella's sentimental qualities. The regency of Ferdinand after her death, the subject of the last section of the history, undid many of the good deeds of Isabella's reign. The fact that Ferdinand arranged another marriage soon after Isabella's death--in the very place where he had married her--emphasizes the fair qualities of Isabella. His disloyalty to her memory and to Columbus and Gonsalvo de Cordova, the noblest subjects she had sponsored, demonstrates his coldness. But this fault has been foreshadowed even before Isabella's death. Saddened by Joanna's madness and then by the infidelity of Joanna's husband, Isabella was stricken with fever. When Prescott remarks that Ferdinand, who had also caught a fever, unwittingly added to the Queen's fatal worries and then recovered, he seems to make physical recovery itself a fault in Ferdinand! Isabella's "tender heart," he says, "was more keenly sensible than his to the unhappy condition of their child, and to the gloomy prospects, which awaited her beloved Castile."26
Both in public and in private, Ferdinand shows an "impenetrable frigidity." Even his religion is closer to "superstition" than to Isabella's "piety." Because of his coldness and because only innocent girls seem to be excusable for accepting the evil ideas of sly confessors, he is condemned as a bigot; "for he cooperated with Isabella in all her exceptionable measures in Castile, and spared no effort to fasten the yoke of the Inquisition on Aragon."
While Isabella's character is "all magnanimity," Ferdinand is "the spirit of egotism." As "a shrewd and politic prince," Prescott concludes, Ferdinand represents "the peculiar genius of the age"--a genius described as Machiavellian. But Isabella, "discarding all the petty artifices of state policy, and pursuing the noblest ends by the noblest means, stands far above her age."27
The second contrast is gratuitous. In his obituary essay on Isabella, Prescott
Against Isabella's gentle qualities Prescott places Elizabeth's darker passions. Elizabeth, like many an unfortunate dark heroine, had no mother to teach what Isabella's mother had taught; and many of her passions were those of her father. She "was haughty, arrogant, coarse, and irascible; while with these fiercer qualities she mingled deep dissimulation and strange irresolution." She was "desperately selfish," and unable to forgive "the slightest affront to her vanity." Whereas Elizabeth was "merciless in exacting retribution," Isabella "sought every means" to be lenient, "even toward the guilty." And Elizabeth stepped beyond the bounds of fictional propriety in another way common to heroines of her type: she was more learned than Isabella. But although she was "better educated, and every way more highly accomplished than Isabella," the latter "knew enough" to patronize learning very generously. It is this difference that leads Prescott to contrast most clearly the kinds of feeling expressed by the two heroines:
The masculine powers and passions of Elizabeth seemed to divorce her in great measure from the peculiar attributes of her sex; at least from those which constitute its peculiar charm; for she had abundance of its foibles,--a coquetry and love of admiration, which age could not chill; a levity, most careless, if not criminal; and a fondness for dress and tawdry magnificence of ornament, which was ridiculous, or disgusting, according to the different periods of life in which it was indulged.30
Although the accessibility of the hero's heart could not be so repeatedly demonstrated as the
heroine's sensibility, each of the representative heroes had his share of natural passion. Bancroft
was careful to remove the immobile mask that Stuart had painted on the portrait of Washington. As
Parkman was later to emphasize Washington's "proud and passionate" temperament, Bancroft
explained away Washington's external impassiveness as the consequence of his tremendous
responsibilities: "[his] joyousness of disposition remained to the last, though the vastness of his
responsibilities was soon to take from him the right of displaying the impulsive qualities of his
nature." Indeed, joyousness was one of Washington's most valuable traits,
The hero's sensibility could also be accented by contrast with the corrupt man's frigidity. Just as Prescott's Isabella overruled her "cold and timid counsellors" when her heart responded to the grandeur of Columbus' plans, so Bancroft's William Pitt overruled Lord Mansfield; "cautious even to timidity," Bancroft said of Mansfield, "his understanding was clear, but his heart was cold." Pitt, who had risen to authority from the ranks of the People, was a man of passion both in Montcalm and Wolfe and in Bancroft's History. Bancroft praised not only his courage and his strong faith in Providence, but what Parkman called his "domestic virtues," by painting a sentimental picture of the affectionate man at home.32
Pitt's emotional nature shone most clearly, however, in his eloquence. The romantic historians' idea of eloquence was naturally very close to that of Emerson and Whitman.33 The eloquent man could establish that "electric," "impulsive" rapport with the People on which successful leadership so often depended. In the conventional description of a crucial battle it is usually by a few eloquent words at the moment of crisis that the great leader "breathes his own spirit" into his men and moves them to the successful charge. In the legislature, too, eloquence is an essential heroic trait, and the historians rarely fail to stress its emotional quality or its emotional effect. When Bancroft's Patrick Henry, who hated "the black-letter of the lawbooks," made his most famous speech, "his transfigured features glowed as he spoke, and his words fell like a doom of fate." And when William Pitt spoke to the House of Commons on the Treaty of Paris, he inspired every member: "At the word," Bancroft wrote, "the whole house started as though their hands had been joined, and an electric spark had darted through them all." Parkman called Pitt's eloquence "fiery and passionate"; Motley called William's "simple and sublime."34
In the military hero domestic tenderness seems to be nearly as important as more energetic
passion. In General James Wolfe, for example, both Bancroft and Parkman not only stress "ardor
and daring," or contempt for book soldiery; both historians also insist that "one sees him most
closely in the
This delicate balance of emotions, though often described in merely sentimental situations, was essential for the popular or military leader. If he was "the soul" of his army or nation, he had to know his people perfectly, had to feel with them, in order to be able to inspire them at just the right moment. Bancroft, for example, insisting that the Declaration of Independence was not the product of "the prevalent freethinking of [eighteenth-century] Englishmen," said that the decision arose not from the "intellect" but from "the heart" of the People. The agent best qualified to express the People's will in writing was Thomas Jefferson, who was qualified because of his feelings rather than by any ideas he had learned from Locke, Pufendorf, or Montesquieu. What Bancroft admired most was "the sympathetic character of his nature, by which he was able with instinctive perception to read the soul of the nation, and having collected in himself its best thoughts and noblest feelings, to give them out in bold and clear words." By drawing his opinions from those of Jefferson's writings that expressed tender emotions, love of Nature, and faith in the People, Bancroft painted him as one of the finest examples of the natural man. Faced with concrete evidence that Jefferson was "indifferent to religion," he insisted that Jefferson's "instincts" nevertheless "inclined him to trace every effect to a general law, and to put faith in ideal truth." Although Jefferson had told John Adams that "once we quit the basis of sensation, all is in the wind," Bancroft said that "the world of the senses did not bound his aspirations, and he believed more than he himself was aware of. He was an idealist in his habits of thought and life, as indeed is every one who has an abiding and thorough confidence in the people.37
The true hero, the hero for all ages, was not, of course, a slave to his emotional nature. Even
though the two greatest heroes in the histories, William the Silent and Washington, led rebel
armies, neither general was wholly or even largely destructive. Both were "chosen" to overthrow
usurpers in the name of higher laws, the laws of the moral world. In this sense, and even in a more
practical political sense, both were conservative. Motley presents William as the defender not only
of eternal laws but of the Netherlands' ancient charters and liberties. Bancroft argues that
Washington and his followers defended a constitutional as well as a natural right. Like Isabella,
moreover, both leaders knew where to stop. William had
It is true, though, that William's "heart" led him to make the only mistakes which Motley is willing to call mistakes. Throughout The Rise of the Dutch Republic, and in the face of evidence that he himself must present, Motley refers to William as "the first statesman of the age." This primacy includes, as Motley makes very clear in his conclusion, "profound" dexterity in the use of "the subtleties of Italian statesmanship, which he had learned as a youth at the Imperial court, and which he employed in his manhood in the service, not of tyranny, but of liberty." Despite William's inexplicable decision to leave his eldest son behind, at the mercy of Philip, when he fled the Netherlands; despite his many costly, if often understandable, political and military mistakes; Motley says twice that he was "never . . . outwitted by his enemies." The only men who did manage to "overreach" William were "those to whom he gave his heart."39 If these men were agents of Philip, one might conclude that Philip had outwitted the Prince, but this reasoning goes one step further than Motley wanted to go. Unable to admit that the great leader was inferior to his corrupt enemies in any branch of statesmanship, he tried to show that William's mistakes were the results of his virtues. One could forgive the errors of a noble heart.
Despite his natural simplicity, the representative hero had to achieve a certain "loftiness."
Every major hero in the histories has a grandeur, and some of them have an hauteur, that the
historians considered worthy of serious contemplation. In different characters they created this
effect in different ways, but it always emphasizes the hero's isolation from the rest of humanity,
even though he remains representative. Bancroft's Washington and Motley's William were set apart
by their vast responsibilities as well as by their characteristic reticence, their suffering, and their
The very nature of the great man's mission helped to produce this effect of lofty isolation. Every progressive hero had to remain "true to himself" when others could not understand him; and when he pursued his own ambitions, he followed "not so much his own wish as a necessary law of his being.''41 In obeying this law he sometimes displayed a singular haughtiness as he brooded over his difficult plans or stood off an angry mob to prevent them from damaging the common cause.
The perfect hero was isolated even by his representativeness, for he suffered for a whole nation. "The trials of Washington," Bancroft wrote, "are the dark, solemn ground on which the beautiful work of his country's salvation was embroidered." In Bancroft's volumes on the Revolution, and even more clearly in the first two parts of The Rise of the Dutch Republic, the pathetic sufferings of the hero became a major theme. Washington endures trial after trial, defeat after defeat, desertion after desertion; William loses his possessions, his friends, his trustiest lieutenants; when he is finally forced to make his decision, William can "find no one to comprehend his views."42
Motley saw at least temporarily the danger of distorting the history of so great a man as William. Although this perception did not save him from repeated inconsistency in his moral judgment of William, it helps to explain the importance of adversity in these histories--perhaps the very reason for Motley's inconsistencies. Anyone, Motley wrote, must find it very difficult "coldly to analyse" such a "self-sacrificing and heroic" character as William's; should the historian express "the emotions which naturally swell the heart at the contemplation of so much active virtue," he would probably be "liable to the charge of excessive admiration." Then, in an image that cannot be overemphasized, Motley revealed the effect of adversity:
Through the mists of adversity, a human form may dilate into proportions which are colossal and deceptive. Our judgment may thus be led captive, but at any rate the sentiment excited is more healthful than that inspired by the mere shedder of blood, by the merely selfish conqueror.43
In all the histories, then, the great man suffers, and the extent of his suffering "dilates" him. However sure the long-range advantage of his alliance with inevitable progress, he struggles against almost overwhelming power. Sometimes he must work against the follies or shortsightedness of his own people or their legal representatives. If he is a pathfinder--a Columbus, Cortés, Pizarro, or La Salle--he must overcome not only men of smaller vision, but also the vast forces of Nature, the numerical power of savages, and the frustrating distances from civilization, from the source of his supplies, and from the scenes of his enemies' machinations.
Each of the historians pauses frequently to contemplate such a hero in the depths of his suffering. The pathos of his misery is intended to move the reader; his "sublime" endurance and constancy, to "swell the heart." Motley admits that his purpose is to describe William as "a statue of spotless marble against a stormy sky."44 Through failure after failure the perfect hero (William or Washington) may feel somewhat melancholy, but he must not despair. Often when it seems, because of Motley's emphasis, that the Prince has at last reached his nadir, Motley must recount a catastrophe that produces even greater suffering. Having lost two armies without a battle; having been surprised and nearly murdered in his tent by a force of 600 Spaniards, although his own army numbered 15,000; having been unable to force Alva into battle; William reaches the nadir of misery at the terrible siege of Harlem.
Motley's attempt, in describing this siege, to keep his great leader in control of his destiny is
almost ludicrous. After the besieged inhabitants have been starving for several weeks, William begs
them to hold out a while longer because he will soon do something--what, one never learns. He can
do nothing. After a long delay, he finally decides to send a small relieving force, and he sends word
to the besieged by carrier pigeon. The Spaniards shoot down the pigeons, discover the plan, ambush
and destroy the relievers, and then, after taking Harlem, slaughter the remaining 2,300 inhabitants.
On hearing the news, Motley says, the Prince "was neither dismayed nor despondent." William is a
man who goes "through life bearing the load of a people's sorrows on his shoulders with a smiling
face." His "joyousness" and endurance are even greater than Washington's. After twelve years of
costly fighting, Philip II, the Spanish people, and the Dutch people have tired of the war, but not so
the Prince. "Prerogative was weary--Romanism was weary--Conscience was weary--the Spirit of
Freedom was weary--but the Prince of Orange was not weary. Blood and treasure
Neither this kind of character nor the kind of scene in which he revealed his titanic quality originated solely in the historical documents. Nor do the afflictions of Prescott and Parkman entirely explain their attraction to characters whose gigantic wills had overcome severe physical handicaps. Historical evidence often justifies the historians' emphasis and it always justifies their scenes, but one can also find the counterparts of both in Carlyle, in Byron, and in contemporary fiction. When Motley's William, for example, rode unarmed to the Red Gate of Antwerp to quiet "as formidable a mob as ever man has faced," he reenacted an almost identical scene that Motley himself had written into a novel sixteen years earlier.46
As for Parkman, it seems true that his personal troubles led him to emphasize Byronic characters more strongly than any of the other historians--and, indeed, more intensely than any other American writer except Herman Melville. But one must recognize that every one of the romantic historians portrayed similar characters in the same rhetoric that Parkman used. Long before Parkman was either a sick man or a writer, Bancroft, who remained healthy and energetic for ninety years, had packed his eleven pages on La Salle with praise for La Salle's "immense power of . . . will"; for his "sublime magnanimity," his "constancy," and his dependence "on himself"; for "the giant energy of his indomitable will"; for his ability, despite "the terrible energy of his grief," to display "the powerful activity of his will"; for his "constancy and elastic genius" when "Heaven and man seemed his enemies"; and, finally, for his ability to conquer "affliction by energy of purpose and unfaltering hope."47 Parkman read Bancroft's volume carefully in 1840. It is in this context, beside Cooper's John Paul Jones and Prescott's Columbus and Cortés, that one should consider Parkman's La Salle.
What is different in Parkman's La Salle is the oppressive atmosphere of gloom, an
effect increased by the large scale of the study and the relentless intensity with which Parkman
focuses on the single character. La Salle's faults and virtues resemble those of Prescott's Columbus;
his endurance and his difficulties, those of Cortés. But this man has no eloquence. His
profound loneliness, his inability to communicate, and the complete wreck of his final plans make
him a much more pathetic figure than any of Prescott's heroes, despite the trite language in which
his suffering and his character are often described. In La Salle, moreover, there are no
Aztecs, no Montezuma to relieve the concentration on the one man's endurance. Although
A reticent, distant man, of "reserved and seemingly cold pride," Parkman's La Salle loves both solitude and power. He is so transcendently self-reliant that he asks "counsel of no man." Committed from the beginning to vast plans of discovery and colonization, he tries to counteract in Illinois the intrigues of enemies in Montreal and of equally malicious conspirators in Paris. Suffering disaster in the wilderness, he walks back a thousand miles to Fort Frontenac. While he works desperately there to save his plans, his men in the West betray him, and the Iroquois slaughter his Indian friends. The ship carrying the furs to finance his next expedition is destroyed by some unknown catastrophe. "Man and Nature," Parkman says, "seemed in arms against him; for him there was neither rest nor peace." But La Salle is a man of "iron-hearted constancy," and he loses "neither heart nor hope" in the ruins of his plans. "Calm, impenetrable," as he marches across the country, he deserves Parkman's entire chapter on his "hardihood," for both his spiritual and physical endurance are prodigious. After describing the loss of his ship, Parkman asks rhetorically, "Did he bend before the storm?" The answer comes in more description of his incredible resolution. After a series of still greater misfortunes, La Salle (in a chapter called "La Salle Begins Anew") refuses to despair: "He had no thought but to grapple with adversity, and out of the fragments of his ruin to build up the fabric of his success."48 This is the achievement of William after Harlem and of Washington after Valley Forge, the achievement of Cortés after the Noche Triste.
Because of his magnificent will La Salle did navigate the Mississippi, but his success was only "the prelude of a harder task." Attacked by illness, "a foe against which the boldest heart avails nothing," he continued to fight both the Iroquois and his enemies in Montreal and Paris, and his reserve deepened, making him "a sealed book to those about him." Even after his return to Paris he "still thirsted after greatness." He had the basic fault of Prescott's Columbus: "he dared too much, and often dared unwisely; attempted more than he could grasp; and forgot, in his sanguine anticipations, to reckon with enormous and incalculable risks."49
As La Salle moves closer to his final, mad scheme for colonization at the mouth of the
Mississippi, Parkman reemphasizes his unbearable loneliness as well as his madness. Friendless
and unable to communicate with lesser beings, he lacks "that sympathetic power, the inestimable
gift of the true leader of men, in which lies the difference between a willing and a
. . . and here, among tents and hovels, bales, boxes, casks, spars, dismounted cannon, and pens for fowls and swine, were gathered the dejected men and homesick women who were to seize New Biscay, and hold for France a region large as half Europe. The Spaniards, whom they were to conquer, were they knew not where. They knew not where they were themselves; and, for the fifteen thousand Indian allies who were to have joined them, they found two hundred squalid savages more like enemies than friends.
La Salle has become indecisive; his grandiose plans have given way to fretting about the smallness of a meat cellar built at the new fort. As he leaves in search of the Mississippi, he is still devising plans for a meat cellar "on a grand scale." All he has left at the time of his death are his "haughty reserve," his resolution, and his hardihood.50
In almost all of the romantic histories one sees the image of this lofty type, of a large, strong man standing resolute or moving with frenetic energy as the crushing force of his enemies, and other misfortunes beyond one man's control, try to bend or destroy him. He rarely rolls on, as the star of Byron's Manfred does,
Without a sphere, without a course,
but he is always depicted as
. . . rolling on with innate force.
Parkman was fascinated by the type. His William Pitt is haughty and inordinately vain. But that vanity proceeds from his virtue, and his disdainful character--which enables him to "blast the labored argument of an adversary with a look of scorn or a contemptuous wave of the hand"--forces even the men who have served shamefully under Newcastle to serve "manfully" under his "robust impulsion." His love of power equals La Salle's; but this "British Roman" has complete control of himself. Parkman sees the type even more clearly in Frederick the Great, a military as well as a political genius. Through both the early pages and the final pages of Montcalm and Wolfe Parkman sends the almost oppressively energetic image of Frederick, scornful of his enemies, scornful of peace ("for him," as for La Salle, "there was no peace"). Frederick, too, is deserted by all his allies, and one sees him standing in sublime isolation, erect and defiant. Having "passed between the upper and nether millstones of paternal discipline," Parkman says, "he came at last out of purgatory; and Europe felt him to her farthest bounds." A collection of contradictions whose coherent center is an indomitable will, Parkman's Frederick resembles the equally paradoxical Henry IV, who typifies energetic kingliness in Motley's United Netherlands. "Surrounded by enemies, in the jaws of destruction, hoping for little but to die in battle," Frederick "solaced himself with an exhaustless effusion of bad verses . . . till, when his hour came, he threw down his pen to achieve those feats of arms which stamp him one of the foremost soldiers of the world."52
Bancroft's Pitt, though not at first so clearly "patrician" as Parkman's more aristocratic figure, is
also haughty, proud, and grand. Bancroft makes his ambition a fault as Parkman criticizes his
vanity. By accepting an
The lion had left the forest, where he roamed as the undisputed monarch, and of himself had walked into a cage. His popularity vanished, and with it the terror of his name. He was but an English Earl and the shadow of a Prime Minister; he no longer represented the enthusiastic nationality of the English people.
This weakness Bancroft attributes partly to Pitt's age and physical infirmity; had the lion been well, he might have stayed on to rule in the forest. But even in his physical and spiritual decline Bancroft's Pitt is still a lion, a lofty leader far above the party bickering of the day: "Transmitting to his substitute every question of domestic, foreign, and colonial policy unsettled, the British Agamemnon retired to his tent, leaving the subordinate chiefs to quarrel for the direction." And in the hour of England's need, though suffering severely from gout, he calls on his mighty will to deliver a final, eloquent speech to Parliament. Both Bancroft and Parkman present the scene, the effort, and the eloquence as characteristic of Pitt's grandeur.53
When they were contemporaries, it seems, there was a sympathetic bond among such titans. Count Frontenac, an old man with "unconquerable vitality" and the "elastic vigor of youth" who was "representative" of the best in French aristocracy, understood La Salle very clearly. The understanding between them was "the sympathetic attraction of two bold and energetic spirits," Parkman said; and the similarity of their traits--energy and fire, imprudence, self-reliance and resolution, "unshaken will and unbending pride"--makes of Frontenac an octogenarian La Salle. The relationship was even clearer between two greater men, Pitt and Frederick. Describing them on consecutive pages, Parkman used Frederick's famous statement that England, long in labor, had at last "brought forth a man," to conclude his own description of Pitt, the man who for four important years "towers supreme in British history."54
Bancroft extended the relationship to include George Washington, who kept in his home the
bust "of one only among living men, the king of Prussia, whose struggles he watched with painful
sympathy. Thus Washington had ever before his eyes the image of Frederic. Both were eminently
founders of nations, childless heroes, fathers only to their countries." Later, Bancroft wrote proudly
that after Pitt came to power "England, and
Endurance and constancy, then, were so important that Parkman did not misrepresent the other historians when he placed those qualities at the center of his definition of manhood. In his novel, Vassal Morton, written at a time when he suffered intensely,56 he allowed his dark heroine to define the term. While her speech illuminates Parkman's own psychology, it also describes the manhood of Prescott's Columbus and Cortés, of Motley's William and Bancroft's Washington. After Parkman has alluded to Byron in describing her, Edith defines "manhood" as
that unflinching quality which, strong in generous thought and high purpose, bears onward toward its goal, knowing no fear but the fear of God; wise, prudent, calm, yet daring and hoping all things; not dismayed by reverses, nor elated by success; never bending nor receding; wearying out ill fortune by undespairing constancy; unconquered by pain or sorrow, or deferred hope; fiery in attack, unshaken in the front of death; and when courage is vain, and hope seems folly, when crushing calamity presses it to the earth, and the exhausted body will no longer obey the still undaunted mind, then putting forth its hardest, saddest heroism, the unlaurelled heroism of endurance, patiently biding its time.57
In many of the romantic histories, moreover, these traits even go far toward saving a few reactionary characters and some others whose relation to progress is ambiguous. Although Parkman was disposed to "smile at the futility" of the Jesuits' aims,58 and although he could not even smile at their morality, he found their courage and their endurance sublime. It was not their piety so much as their self-sacrifice, their perseverance, and their endurance that compelled his admiration. Indeed, the sole reservation that Parkman expressed when he praised their physical endurance concerned the supernatural sources from which they drew their strength. Despite the doubt which this aid threw on their self-reliance, his actual descriptions of the suffering of Brébeuf, Jogues, and the frail Garnier place these Jesuits clearly in the category of manly heroes. Their willingness "to suffer and to die" belongs to the hardest, saddest heroism.59
Endurance also helps to dignify Prescott's "stern and lofty" Cardinal Ximenes, a man so
sublime that one's "admiration" for him must be "akin to terror." Although the Cardinal was
"merciless," Prescott admired not only his intellectual ability, but his resolution, his love of the
smell of gunpowder, his superiority to adversity, his unbending will, and his "heart-stirring
His duplicity temporarily muted, Alexander's endurance becomes the theme of a section of the United Netherlands. Here Motley writes from this "heroic general's" point of view. Alexander's "almost poetic intellect" and his "iron nature that never knew fatigue or fear" prove that "he deserved to be a patriot and a champion of right rather than an instrument of despotism." At this point Motley pauses to contemplate Alexander's portrait, which reveals clearly both his resemblance and his unlikeness to the progressive hero. The lighting effects are the same as those in the image of William against the stormy sky; but although he stands in the sunlight, Alexander's coloring is not that of spotless marble:
And thus he paused for a moment--with much work already accomplished, but his hardest life-task before him; still in the noon of manhood, a fine martial figure, standing, spear in hand, full in the sunlight, though all the scene around him was wrapped in gloom--a noble, commanding shape, entitled to the admiration which the energetic display of great powers, however unscrupulous, must always command. A dark, meridional physiognomy, a quick, alert, imposing head; jet-black, close-clipped hair; a bold eagle's face, with full, bright, restless eye; a man rarely reposing, always ready, never alarmed; living in the saddle, with harness on his back--such was the Prince of Parma; matured and mellowed, but still unharmed by time.62
As in The Rise of the Dutch Republic the repeated disappointments of William and his
people were an almost oppressive theme, so too in the first volume of the United
Netherlands--especially in the 130-page chapter on the fall of Antwerp--the recurrent theme is
the suffering, endurance, and ingenuity of Alexander. Here it is the anti-progressive leader
who is everywhere at once, who overcomes poverty and inadequate supplies, and whose timely
heroism saves his army when it seems certain that the Dutch have relieved Antwerp. The page
headings for this chapter reflect Motley's repeated emphasis in the text. Among them are "Energy
of Farnese with
Like American antislavery forces during the years when Motley wrote this volume, the Dutch patriots have the superior strength during most of this battle; but they lack the leadership that Alexander gives the enemy. They make inexcusable mistakes because they have no William--a moral that Motley points in his introduction to the chapter. Alexander's victory is a victory for heroic, enduring, resourceful leadership. Motley deplores the bungling progressives' leadership, pauses repeatedly to observe the condition of Alexander, and even apologizes for admiring the "wrong" leader:
It is impossible not to admire the steadiness and ingenuity with which the prince persisted in his plans, the courage with which he bore up against the parsimony and neglect of his sovereign, the compassionate tenderness which he manifested for his patient little army. So much intellectual energy commands enthusiasm, while the supineness on the other side sometimes excites indignation. There is even a danger of being entrapped into sympathy with tyranny, when the cause of tyranny is maintained by genius; and of being surprised into indifference for human liberty, when the sacred interests of liberty are endangered by self-interest, perverseness, and folly.64
Like "full, bright, restless eye," "patient little army" is the kind of honorific phrase usually
reserved for the forces of progress.
For Motley and Parkman (as for Emerson) there was something of the lament in this portrayal of the titans of the Past. But they did not retreat into the Past with "a happy sense of escape" from nineteenth-century America. Like Emerson and Bancroft, though with different political standards, they used their conventional heroes to appeal for individual heroism in democratic America. Bourgeois democracy, Parkman said, had failed to produce a race of heroes; and in the last lines of his history he challenged democracy to produce them. The United States of 1884, he said, had to "rally her powers from the race for gold and the delirium of prosperity," to turn some of her energy away from "material progress and the game of party politics." She had to "prove, if she can, that the rule of the masses is consistent with the highest growth of the individual; that democracy can give the world a civilization as mature and pregnant, ideas as energetic and vitalizing, and types of manhood as lofty and strong, as any of the systems it boasts to supplant."
In all the romantic histories, the loftiest, strongest types of manhood were usually defined through the portrayal of physical endurance and military virtues. Except when he defended "the spirit of commerce" by braving natural dangers and imperial monopoly, the businessman did not qualify. Once the principles of natural commerce had been established as law, Parkman saw the greatest danger in "the excess and perversion" of democracy and materialism. Other writers, in portraying their "Captains of Industry," their Curtis Jadwins, might borrow the military virtues; the romantic historians were not interested in business as business.
Motley was frankly embarrassed at having to make John of Barneveld a protagonist, for Barneveld was a "burgher-statesman," not a genuine hero. Even though the historian could emphasize such a character's "patrician" lineage and his noble death, there was no denying his lack of heroic dimensions. One could be the heroic representative of a nation's "corporations"67 only in a mighty struggle against tyranny. After the Civil War, which destroyed the only American institution that was "more accursed than the Spanish Inquisition,"68 America offered little opportunity for such heroism. The hero's occupation was gone.
During the war, it is true, both Parkman and Motley had found the essential qualities in young
Oliver Wendell Holmes, and in the campaign
Thus the device of representativeness allowed the historian to focus on individual characters as the organizational center of his work. The history of the rise of the Dutch Republic was "the biography of William the Silent"; the battle between liberty and despotism was the battle between William and Philip II, who represented "Spanish chivalry . . . in its late and corrupted form"; the factional war of Dutch Remonstrants and Contra-Remonstrants was a war between John of Barneveld, the representative "burgher-statesman," and Maurice of Nassau, the representative "soldier." In Montcalm and Wolfe Parkman made "the names on the titlepage stand as representative" of France and England. Bancroft's Jefferson and Washington were representative Americans; George III, representative of "kingcraft." Every one of Prescott's histories was based on the activities of a representative figure.71
The representative technique applied as well to minor characters. If Daniel Boone was the representative woodsman, Benjamin Franklin--"the sublime of common-sense"--represented the middle class. The representative French chevalier appeared as Bayard in Prescott's Ferdinand and Isabella; the English "incarnation of martial valour, poetic genius, and purity of heart" appeared in Motley's United Netherlands as Sir Philip Sidney. As the Franklin of Bancroft and Parkman represented one facet of the New England character, Bancroft's Jonathan Edwards represented "the New England mind." Bancroft's and Parkman's Pontiac and Prescott's Montezuma were representative Indians.72
In the long march of progress, moreover, certain countries seemed to have been peculiarly apt representatives of the natural virtues.